Author Archives: Ryan Alexander

Darksteel Knights Website

I produced the ‘Darksteel Knights’ website for a group of players (guild) that play the Guild Wars 2 massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Upon the games release on the 28th August 2012, the guild had over 70 members actively playing. I proposed a guild website that would allow members to organise events and for members to communicate with each other when not in-game.

I registered the domain name and set-up a sub-directory within my own personal websites FTP server for web-hosting. I then redirected URL visitors from the website to the FTP directory through the use of an add-on domain with my web host, this allowed the website to be set-up and installed with minimal expense.

I installed phpBB; a mysql customisable discussion community, onto the web space which would allow guild members to register to the website, participate in polls, post new topics and reply to existing threads. The forum was split into sections for different areas of discussion and a variety of themes were trialled. To add additional functionality and accessibility to the website I installed board3 portal which ‘adds an easy to use, slim and customizable portal as the front page to your phpBB3 forum’. Once installed, a variety of ‘mods’ can be installed and configured acting as ‘modules’, which can be manipulated at the administrators discretion.

Darksteel Knights Website

Darksteel Knights Website

The portal system was customised to include mumble (VOIP software) information, useful links for guild members, highlights recent topics, shows active polls and a calendar for future events. Selected members were given moderator privileges to enable the website to be maintained and actively updated.

Disclaimer: I cannot take full credit for the websites appearance as ‘Luke’, one of the members given administrator/moderator privileges created the main ‘Darksteel Knights’ logo.


Home Server Setup

To widen the capabilities of my home network, I incorporated a small home server. The HP N40L Microserver was chosen due to its low power consumption (average 44watts~ over 1 week using power meter) , low noise output (1x 120mm fan, 1x 40mm PSU fan) and for its eco but robust AMD Turion dual core processor that enables multiple virtual machines running their own software to run simultaneously.

HP Microserver N40L – £239.99 (£100 cashback offer)
Corsair Memory XMS3 8GB DDR3 1333 Mhz CAS 9 Dual Channel –  £33.36
XFX Silently Cooled HD 6450 Low Profile AMD Radeon Graphics Card – 1GB –  £29.98
Samsung F4 2TB 5400RPM Hard Disk Drive – Already Owned
Samsung F1 1TB 7200RPM Hard Disk Drive – Already Owned
Samsung F3 1TB 7200RPM Hard Disk Drive – Already Owned

Total Cost: £203.33 (after cashback)

Additional to the above specifications, the system came with a 250GB disk drive pre-installed which will be partitioned into four drives for future virtual machine installations. The pre-installed 2GB of ECC memory was replaced with the Non ECC 8GB kit and a 24 hour Memtest86+ full scan was carried out with zero errors to check that system stability was optimal. The server can only occupy low profile add-on cards however the ATI 6450 HD graphics came supplied with a low profile bracket which removes the unneeded VGA port but still provides full functionality. Additionally the graphics card has HDMI output which allows sound to be carried in this way (no other audio output source) and supports video transcoding which was vital for the servers purposes.

The home server is currently running Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter as its primary operating system and is serving the following purposes:

  • Media Server – stream movies/music to PC’s/Laptops/Xbox/PS3/iPads/iPhones and android handsets on the network.
  • Active Directory – manage user accounts and permissions across the network.
  • Virtual Machine Box – for testing out software or linux distros.
  • DNS Server – running a home for grouped computers on the network.
  • File Server/ NAS – Over 4TB data capacity available to selected network users.
  • Print network – Connected to a printer for all connected peers to use 24/7.
  • Computer Backup – Full system images can be automatically configured and stored.

Future planned uses will include.

  • Web Server – existing solution adequate for current uses.
  • Virtual Private Network – To connect to the home network from any location.
  • Home Security – I have already experimented with webcam 7 which allows IP cameras to be installed but currently lack the recording hardware.
  • DVR (PVR) – Install a TV card into remaining PCI-E expansion slot to record TV shows for playback on connected devices at a later date.



Future upgrades will include a solid state disk drive for the operating system to increase access speed and read/write speeds and a PCI-E x1 Dual/Quad Tuner TV Card

Update [December 2012] – Due to the current network layout in my current home, the signal strength and wireless range struggled at times when streaming video files over the network. This has since been eradicated by installing 2x 500mbps power-line adapters and a spare wireless n+ router which is now serving as an access point – article to follow.

Update [January 2013] – To allow faster file transfer speeds between wired devices a gigabit switch has been implemented to alleviate the previous 100 Mbit transfer speed restriction – article to follow.

Final Year Project [Virtual Open Day]

The Final Year Project was a very significant piece of work which commenced October 2011 through to May 2012. A general outline of the project can be understood from the dissertation’s abstract.

Project Abstract
With the number of applicants to British universities rising every year, thousands of prospective students attend open days to obtain more information about the available academic institutes and the courses available. Due to a number of circumstances, these students are sometimes unable to attend their desired university open day and currently there are only a few methods in which these students can obtain information without actually attending the universities themselves.

The following project is aimed to solve this problem by creating a virtual open day within a game level environment for the Nottingham Trent University. The virtual open day will be produced using the Source Engine and will be made playable via the top selling multi-platform ‘Half Life 2’ game. The Computing and Informatics Building (CIB) on the Clifton Campus will act as the focal area for the projects purposes, allowing students to explore and obtain university information from within the premises. Extensive research has been carried out, including over 100 reference photos of the building’s interior and exterior features. The open day has been modelled within the game level environment to its correct life size proportionate scale and its contents constructed using modelling manipulation software. The virtual open day provides the ability to explore the perimeter of the CIB and a large proportion of the ground floor. Over 100 textures and 40 customised models have been constructed to replicate the buildings appearance.

The open day was fully developed to its project planning specification and was supported by ongoing user feedback. Current students at the university agreed that there was a very close likeness between the virtual tours university construction and the real life building architecture. Further areas of improvement outside of the projects scope have been identified to potentially improve the effectiveness.

Final Year Project Poster

Final Year Project Poster

Please see my earlier blog posts for additional final year project information.

Final Year Project 3D Models

A gallery has been created below containing all examples of the models that were constructed for the purposes of the virtual open day; all models appear in (ascending/descending) order of their production date. The models have been presented in their rendered texture form to show their end appearance, their rendered wireframe view to showcase the geometry and the texture map images included to represent the texture production.

Model efficiency was always a primary consideration throughout all object developments. From most CIB viewing perspectives there will be a large number of models viewable to the user at one particular time, slower computer systems can sometimes struggle with large workloads so it was essential that model polygon, vertex and triangle count where kept as low as possible. This was due to one of the early project objectives which stated that ‘Efficient production of models to ensure that the end product is streamlined and accessible for all individuals’ system hardware specifications.’

Final Year Project Comparison Images

Following the completion of my Final Year Project, I decided to take some ingame screenshots from the same location and viewing perspective as the reference photographs captured during the early research phases.

Upon viewing the photographs and ingame screenshots side by side (below), the similarity and likeness to the real-world environment and the digital simulation can be compared and appreciated.

University Building Exterior [Photograph]

University Building Exterior [Photograph]

University Building Exterior [Ingame Screenshot]

University Building Exterior [Ingame Screenshot]

University Building Exterior 2 [Photograph]

University Building Exterior 2 [Photograph]

University Building Exterior 2 [Ingame Screenshot]

University Building Exterior 2 [Ingame Screenshot]

CIB Reception Area [Photograph]

CIB Reception Area [Photograph]

CIB Reception Area [Ingame Screenshot]

CIB Reception Area [Ingame Screenshot]

Entrance Corridor Area [Photograph]

Entrance Corridor Area [Photograph]

Entrance Corridor Area [Ingame Screenshot]

Entrance Corridor Area [Ingame Screenshot]

Continue reading

Final Year Project – Progress Videos

Progress videos were recorded continually as the project advanced and uploaded to YouTube, this enabled the project supervisor to track progress and for feedback to be obtained from all audiences.

I have highlighted the noticeable changes between the videos.

The full playlist can be viewed here.

1/7 – 8 Feb 2012

  • General building shape constructed with exterior door/window openings.
  • Window/ Entrance door frame constructed in 3DS Max and inserted into Source SDK.
  • Temporary textures used.
  • Temporary lights to illuminate environment.
  • Interior layout constructed through use of the architect floor plans.
  • Pillars positioned.
  • Door interaction testing.

2/7 – 21 February 2012

  • Desks in open area sized up correctly and positioned accordingly.
  • Glass added to containing doors.
  • Texture creation (skirting, roof tile, wood, dividers, brushed metal).
  • Texture scale adjustment.
  • Exterior Textures.
  • Reception desk constructed from SDK brushes and textured accordingly.
  • Lift and general structure implemented.
  • Key models converted from Counter Strike Source game to Half Life 2 directories.
  • Sign fonts determined.
  • Light experimentation.

3/7 – 28 February 2012

  • Stairs construction commenced.
  • Overlay testing.
  • Map optimisation.
  • Exterior enhancements.
  • Computer models created and placed in computer rooms.
  • Signs implemented for ease of player navigation.
  • Lighting changes.
  • More 3DS models created.

Continue reading

Ultimate Chocolate Cake Application [HCI]

As part of the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) module at university. I was required to develop and implement a digital learning application for a specific target audience (ages 10-14) to obtain information and hopefully learn from their experience by using the tool. The particular assignment I was given required me to digitise the BBC GoodFood Ultimate Chocolate Cake recipe. We where told that we could develop the assignment in whichever coding environment that we wanted. Known for its worldwide accessibility and in order to expand my application knowledge, I chose to learn and develop using Adobe Flash CS6 along with Actionscript 3.0.

Ultimate Chocolate Cake App

Ultimate Chocolate Cake App

Ultimate Chocolate Cake application features

  • Introductory screen providing a brief overview of the application and the information required to carry out the cake baking process.
  • Subtle 2D kitchen design chosen with a 3D depth of field ‘feel’.
  • Images/objects within the kitchen environment where custom created so custom created using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Fireworks to provide a consistent design throughout (without clashing images from different sources).
  • A clip art styling was chosen with solid black outlining to represent an objects shape, and colour filled respectively.
  • Text names applied to objects with comparable appearance e.g. plain flour, self raising flour.
  • Four colour coded shelves with items methodically placed in the order they are required.
  • Click, drag and drop functionality implementation to enhance interaction.
  • Optional help feature – provides written instruction and neon glow around the required items if the user requires assistance.
  • Scene updates as the user successfully completes a task and removes unrequired items.
  • Multiple application error prevention techniques applied to stop the user making mistakes.
  • Animations implemented throughout the system to provide a more feature rich visual application, to retain the user’s attention and to keep them visually involved.
  • Optional back feature allows the user to return to the previous step opposed to having to manually restart the application.
  • Full screen manipulation – specific tasks enlarge to the centre of the screen and fade the background.

You can test the full screen version of the application here or test the minimised version below.

Call of Duty: MW3 Video Game Guide

A requirement for the ‘Multimedia Portfolio’ optional module during my final year at university was to create a new piece of work or begin a new project and then present it on a purpose built portfolio alongside two other pieces of work.

The multimedia portfolio that I developed can be located here.

To represent my new piece of work, I decided to make a WordPress based blog  containing video guides and game play walkthroughs for ‘Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3’ (CoD:MW3), which was conveniently released when the project requirements were listed.

  • Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3, released 8th November 2011.
  • Fraps video recording software purchased to capture high resolution, uncompressed, lossless game footage.
  • CoD:MW3 ‘campaign mode’ mode was played through on Veteran difficulty to suit a larger target audience.
  • Game played on the highest most difficult setting to enable viewers the worst case scenario solution.
  • Additional ‘special ops mode’ and ‘hidden Intel location’ videos where recorded to help players with all game elements.
  • Over 600GB of raw video footage was recorded.
  • Adobe After Effects CS5.5 was used throughout the editing process; unrequired game footage was stripped from the videos, personal watermarks with university student numbers were implemented to protect video integrity.
  • Videos encoded and rendered to 720p resolution with QuickTime .MOV codec and .x264 compression to reduce file size, but maintain visual quality.
  • YouTube account setup with university login user id (see links).
  • Videos uploaded to YouTube, playlists created, annotated and public ‘visibility’ applied.
  • WordPress website created, videos embedded into blog post format and tagged/categorised accordingly.
Adobe After Effects Project

Adobe After Effects Project

The videos have unintentionally proven to be incredibly popular with the YouTube community, gaining over 20,000 views in just under 2 months from the original upload date.

Viewers have openly shared comments on the videos, which has made the effort which was put into this large project worthwhile.

Modern Warfare 3 WordPress Website
N0226460 Youtube Channel
Youtube Playlist 1
Youtube Playlist 2
Youtube Playlist 3
Multimedia Portfolio [Now archived/out of date]

UPDATE – January 2013
54 YouTube subscribers
95,000 video views.

Project Proposal [Final Year Project]

Virtual Computing and Informatics Building Open Day for Prospective Students

It has come to my attention that many universities are trying to come up with new ways to advertise their facilities and to demonstrate the courses that they have on offer. NTU open days are a brilliant way of getting a feel for university life and for course information. However due to various constraints prospective students are often unable to attend i.e. availability, small number of open days, expense (particularly for international students).

I plan to use the half-life 2 source engine 2009 to develop a virtual open day based in and around the Computing and Informatics building (CIB) for prospective students, providing them with a realistic simulation of one of the most important buildings throughout their time at university. The end product will allow students to roam in and around the university building providing them with all the information they require for their desired course.


  • Accurate representation of the CIB building to ensure that level design consistency is maintained throughout the map. Width and length measurements of the building will be obtained from satellites; smaller objects will be measured manually.
  • Realistic textures will be designed using Adobe Photoshop, high resolution photographs will be taken inside and outside of the CIB building providing extensive research talking points and references for custom models/textures.
  • Models will be designed and textured using 3DS studio max application and then imported into the source engine with collision models to allow for a streamlined experience.
  • Professional level design and modelling techniques will be used to optimise usability and allow all individuals to be able to explore the area without performance issues.
  • Further scope ideas time permitting may include multiplayer map elements to allow players to explore the building simultaneously for a richer more interactive experience.
  • Previous students work can be displayed to demonstrate the learning outcomes of the different modules.

Typing Test

Just for a bit of fun, I decided to carry out an on-line typing test. I picked a random test from the list and defined 3 minutes as the duration.

The results indicated that for this particular test, that my adjusted typing speed minus the errors was 70 WPM (words per minute) compared to 36 (the average).

Typing Test Results

Typing Test Results