One of the more hidden features of the PlayStation 3's 2.10 firmware update is the spectacular Earth-based music visualizer, seen in motion on multiple user-posted YouTube videos and in stills in the pictures below.
The feature's creator, Kyoto-based Q-Games (PixelJunk Racers), which was commissioned by Sony to create the visualizer, has been talking to Gamasutra about the feature's genesis, its use of NASA data, and possible expansion concepts.
Q-Games' chief of technology James McLaren spoke to Gamasutra about how that project got started, explaining: "Originally, we were working on the Gaia project (our name for the earth viewer) as a possible boot sequence for the PS3. The waving cloth background, also created by Q-Games, got the nod when the PS3 launched."
McLaren continues: "We persevered with Gaia, and this visualizer came out of that ongoing work. We've had this under our hats for a while, so it's nice to finally see it released into the wild."
He added: "What you are seeing is a slimmed-down version, due to Flash ROM restrictions, so we are happy to witness a positive reaction on various internet forums."
But how were the effects in the visualization created? McLaren explains: "This representation of the earth is a 3D model with some shaders and SPU trickery going on. We tried to accurately model the earth's atmosphere and have all the correct highlights on the oceans, etc. The texture data is sourced from the NASA Blue Marble project."
"They have some data that they've patched together from hundreds of satellite passes over the earth, which is really top-notch quality, as you can see. We really owe NASA a debt of gratitude for the data, as without it we wouldn't be able to produce something that looks this good."
Is Q-Games helping out Sony with any other updates in the near future? McLaren explains: "Unfortunately, we can't really say much about that. We'd certainly like to expand the current Earth visualizer and allow people a little bit more user control, something we've seen a few requests for on various online forums."
However, he notes in closing: "Perhaps a future update might include the full Blue Marble dataset, but that would need to be a hard disc-resident version..."