Sunday, 29 May 2011

'sup, Pitches?!

I could have updated about this a few days back, but Uni semester's just finished and I've been having a pretty lazy, laid back weekend with friends. Now that it's time to get my head back into work though, I guess I can share what I've been up to.

Last Friday I attended a quick meeting up in the city by, my city's game developer community. We crammed ourselves into one of the theatrettes as a few developers got up to make micro-talks (3 minute time limit) about what they were working on. There were a lot of talks by teams doing games for the iPhone and social networking sites - one team of which I remember since one of my university tutors had landed a job with them to do the art. But aside from potential designers and programmers to help me out with future projects, I wasn't too interested in these. iPhone games just seem like too much of a risk, and the most successful Facebook games don't respect their players at all (see this lecture by Jonathan Blow to see what I'm talking about).

I had expected a lot of these kinds of pitches, though. So it came as a pleasant surprise to see some more interesting talks, about 3D games or just other interesting stuff. Like the importance of making a (good!) website to get yourself out there. It was applicable since I had gone through the list of pitches on letsmakegames beforehand, checked each of their websites. There were two pitches from a company called moonstudios but their website had virtually nothing there, so I had no idea what to expect. Funnily enough, their work and pitches ended up being my favourites of the night.

Moonstudios is working on a few things. A very pretty 2D platformer called Sein being the first, and a strategy-based shooter called Warsoup being the second. I tried the demo of Sein and really liked the visuals and atmosphere of it all, but was a bit annoyed by the level design - enemy placement, the way it taught you what to do and how it introduced concepts to the player. It felt pretty clear to me that the developers needed to look for a bit more player feedback and adjust the game accordingly.

Warsoup, on the other hand, I was super (souper? ...sorry) impressed with. At least for something from Perth. I'm not exactly sure how Moonstudios is set up, whether they have a few developers over in Perth and some in one country overseas like the US or something. But it was a really neat idea - it found a niche between two popular game genres, offering something new and unique without being so radically different that it would turn off players. Definitely looking forward to seeing more of the game.

I wasn't able to stay around too long afterwards so I didn't head down to the bar with everyone else, but I did manage to talk to a few of Moonstudios' team members. One, a programmer who had studied game design at a local university, the other an animator who had studied in Perth and worked for a short time as an animator for Blizzard with Starcraft 2. I said straight up that I was a student and didn't really want a job as much as I did some tips or a bit of mentoring.

What they said was more or less a confirmation of what I already knew, but it was great to talk to them all the same. Universities in Perth are crap at teaching game design, and should only really be used for getting to know like-minded individuals, and getting the little bit of paper that says you have a degree. What I'd been thinking for a while was pretty much confirmed - use the time at University to work on a bunch of personal projects and study stuff on the internet from places like Autodesk in your own time. Join forums, give feedback on others' projects while getting feedback on your own. Learn how to use a bunch of different programs and engines, and build up your portfolio while you have spare time to do it.

There was one other talk there on the night by a guy whose card I regretfully forgot to steal, about funding for Perth projects. He said his company was looking for projects which were in development - nothing which was finished, but nothing that was a simple concept written up on a napkin either. So I'm pretty pumped now about working on a project of some sort in my spare time at uni so that I can pitch it next year should they host one of these events again.

That's all for now, though. I'll try and update with some of my 3D stuff that I've been working on in the last couple of days when I get the chance.

~ Nathan

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

3D Showreel - May 2011

Another semester at University has come to an end. Well, sort of... I'm writing this a little before I'm officially done, but I've finished all of my projects now so all that's left to do is wait on my programming exam and then my results. Whee!

I'll be honest - I'm not actually completely satisfied with my standard of work this semester. A bit of laziness early on wasn't a good start, but even still I think I could have pushed myself a bit further especially in my unit for 3D Modeling. Embedded below is my final showreel with the three projects I ended up submitting for the semester.

A few points of note: 

- I'm actually moderately proud of how my walk cycle turned out, but that said - it wasn't looking good until last night, just under 48 hours until the showreel deadline. I followed a tutorial for modeling the man out of a cube, which seemed fairly easy for me to get my head around compared to the various alternate methods of modeling characters. 

Rigging also had a few different paths to go down, and I ended up dumping IK handles because they were just too fiddly and hard to understand with so little time. Some of my topology was off, resulting in what I'd dub "coke-can deformation" in places like the man's ribcage, where the polygons would just crumple. But otherwise some good use of edge loops in the right places managed to make him deform fairly nicely while animating. 
- The gun was my first project of the three, and is my least favourite of them all. I never managed to get the textures quite right, and the actual structure of the gun could have been improved too, from a design point of view. Using the HDRI was just a bad idea all around - the man taking the photo in the background sticks out like a sore thumb.

- The public bathroom was my favourite piece, but there's still a lot of work that could be done to improve it. I think I may have messed up the lighting at some point during the tweaking stages, and the graffiti wasn't quite right either. If I'd had more time I would have added more grime, a bump map to the tiles and the appearance of a wet floor. 
Oh, and I realise the bathroom didn't really get enough screen time and the shots sort of flew by too fast, but each of those shots took between 6 and 10 hours to render so I wasn't about to redo them with so little time to spare.

Anyway, enough bitching from me, what's done is done. I'm hoping to use these pieces as a launching pad for my future work and build up a better portfolio over the next few months. The character in particular was an interesting experience - in taking the path less traveled, it felt like there was a great payoff when I actually got things to work. Rigging is a pain, but I might just play around with it a bit more as it's only going to get easier from here and it might actually end up being something I enjoy. It was better than animating a walk cycle by hand, I'll say that at the very least.

That's all for now. Hopefully you can look forward to some more 3D work from me in the near future.


Saturday, 21 May 2011

Building the Bastion

Normally I wouldn't make blogs like this that are basically just advertisements for a game without me saying anything of much significance. Normally. But SuperGiant Games' Bastion is a game which has held my attention for quite a few months now and I can't wait to play it when it finally hits the PC and Xbox Live Arcade later this year.

For the past few months, Giant Bomb has had a feature going where they document the development process of the game. They'll give the independent team a camera and send them off for a month or two to shoot some footage, before bringing them back to the office for an interview. The interviews are also pretty interesting because most of the time the Bastion team will bring in a really early build of the game to show how they've progressed. I won't say too much else, will just let these videos do the talking. Grab yourself some snacks and a nice drink if you plan on watching though, since it's a good 2 hours+ of video altogether.

(For the record, these were recorded live. Don't worry if the footage doesn't play immediately - sometimes it doesn't start until a few minutes into the video. Just let the thing buffer for a while, then scan through until it starts)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

There's always four team members on the couch in these videos, but I should probably mention that the team is actually six members large, or seven if you count the voice work done for the narrator. It comprises of
  • Amir Rao - Design, Studio Operations
  • Greg Kasavin - Writing, Creative Direction
  • Gavin Simon - Engineering, Design
  • Jen Zee - Artwork
  • Darren Korb - Audio, Music
  • Andrew Wang - Systems Engineering
They also have some 3D models outsourced, but otherwise that's it. Pretty impressive.

I follow Jen Zee on DeviantArt already, so you can view her work here if you liked what you saw. Fucking gorgeous stuff -- it has to be said.
Greg Kasavin is also a bit of a hero in the industry to me. He used to work as a reviewer at Gamespot, and was probably my favourite while there due to the respectful way he treated each game he reviewed. His favourite games are quite similar to my own, so I have no doubt that Bastion will be something I will enjoy.

While the game looks stunning in terms of visuals and I like a lot of the small touches, such as the way weapons like the shotgun work and the way the narrator comments on the story and the world - one of the more interesting parts of the game to me at this stage is the Shrine system that the team has put in place for players to control the difficulty and rewards. Difficulty and rewards aren't often given enough attention - for example, in old-school platformers the good players would end up earning the most extra lives without needing to use them, and the worse players would never have enough. It'll definitely be interesting to get my hands on the game and see how the Shrine system works for myself.

That'll be all for now. Give the videos a look, hopefully you like what you see. And if you do, be sure to buy the game when it comes out and support good independent developers. Cheers!

Friday, 20 May 2011

The End is Nigh

For this semester, at least. Just one week left for most of my units. I have another few weeks to go before my exam for programming, but I'll kick back and relax a little before that anyway. Definitely won't stop me from staying up all night 7-9 June to watch E3.

My new head of course briefly went over the second semester units for our course today, and thankfully a game design unit is now available. The course handbook doesn't say it has anything to do with game design, but he made it sound like games were a pretty big part of it so I quickly enrolled anyway to secure myself a spot. If it turns out he's lying to us I can always pull out during the first week, I suppose.

Since this elective is being done in place of 3D, I'll get to do programming again next semester which is pretty cool. The game design unit itself doesn't sound all too different from what I've been doing in my spare time (or from that project I posted about from last semester), and the course coordinator never got back to me on whether group projects were allowed for it. I'm happy the unit exists, but I still think it's probably a good idea to take initiative and start up a study group-type thing.

What the unit consists of? From what I hear, the first half of semester consists of bringing (one of) our favourite game(s) to class to show off to everyone else, then deconstruct why they're so good to the rest of the class. The other guys in my class immediately fired off, saying stuff like "if anyone brings in COD I will hit them" and while I'm no huge fanboy of the Modern Warfare franchise I found it fun to argue back that it was actually well designed. They might not like the game (or at least the majority of the audience who plays it), but you cannot argue that the game would be nearly as popular as it is if it was poorly designed. But I digress.

I didn't even touch this game until last year, actually! It's kinda great. Multiplayer is good, but I've only played it at a couple of LAN parties with friends - online multiplayer would probably only reduce my appreciation for the game.

A pretty-freaking-huge list of my favourite games can be found here. While I'll admit that a few of the top entries are only really there because of nostalgia, I have a fair few options of games I can take in to show off and talk about. I'm leaning towards Metroid Prime at this stage, but I would be happy to talk about
I'll probably end up deconstructing the design of some of these games on this very blog anyway. But I'd like to choose one of these which has (a) impacted me in a pretty big way and (b) isn't likely to be chosen by other people in my class. Metroid Prime seemed suitable for this since it's a pretty old game compared to the rest (almost ten years now) and was developed for the Gamecube - a console I doubt a lot of students would have even touched. There's a bit more I can pick apart in its design than some of the other games, but it's actually really surprising how well it holds up. I'll write up a full blog on that later, though.

Model detail might be a bit rough now, but I think I can still say this game is gorgeous in 2011.

I'm not too sure whether we're only going to be bringing in one game each, but it would be nice to be able to look at those last three entries on the list too (plus Portal). Mainly because I'm looking to hopefully kickstart a career with an independent project, so deconstructing indie games might be more beneficial to me. But I guess that's what this blog is for.

Between now and the start of next semester though, I'm hoping to do a few things in terms of extracurricular study...

There's a conference for Perth game developers going on next Friday which I'll probably attend -- I'm not sure about the standard of games from Perth, but it'll be good to network with a few people at least, particularly programmers.

My university doesn't have an advanced unit for 3D and the intermediate unit is coming to a close, so I'll need to develop those skills in my spare time. While I want to be a game designer or director, getting to that is quite tough without getting your foot in the door first. I think the advice  I read from a lot of developers was to pick a side - programming or art - then develop your skills and specialise. I enjoy taking my programming units for a more well-rounded knowledge, but I'll probably end up specialising in the 3D art side of things anyway.

In terms of game design, I'll try and make it my goal to write up a concept for a game per day or so, or at least do some further research into current niches of the industry. I'm not sure if I'll post this work up unless something comes out of it -- while I'm not really scared of anyone stealing my ideas, I'm not sure whether there's anything beneficial to myself or others by posting blogs about ideas themselves unless they've been developed in some way.

I also want to play around a bit with Unity (since it's being used at Uni next semester) and UDK as well as Flash and some engines for smaller games over this break. Will probably look at some tutorials and import my Maya scenes just to see how everything works and to familiarise myself with the programs. I think a large problem of mine so far has been the fact that I am intimidated by totally new software, but the only way to fix that is to get out, start reading stuff and start messing around instead of sitting around worrying about how I can never get stuff to work.

I think I'll leave things there for now, though. This blog has gotten pretty long without saying anything of too much importance to others... it's just another one of those wordy, bloggy-blogs. But I felt like updating on how things are going and where I'm headed with my studies anyway. Cheers for reading!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A Newbie's Venture into Game Design (3)

Part 3 - Development and Where it All Went Wrong

So far in this series of blogs I've shown two portions of my game design process - research and concept development. Today I look at actual development, or the making of the game.

Step 3 - Development

In this case development included:
  • Sprite Creation
  • Animation of Sprites
  • Coding and Compiling

After a bit of research, I decided I wanted to create the game in Flash. I had played around in Game Maker already but didn't quite understand how to work it, and I still wanted a visual interface to work with even if it wasn't a proper game engine. In hindsight I'm not exactly sure why I decided Flash was a better idea than Game Maker and I may have to go back and check. Perhaps because there was less documentation and tutorials for it? Less community support?

Here's the thing and mistake #1. My goal was to create a fully functioning level of a platform game in under six weeks, with no knowledge of object oriented programming. Knowing basic functions of code in other languages meant nothing. This was like being dropped into the ocean after my only prior contact with water was getting my feet wet in the bathtub at home. This was a dumb idea.

Let's put aside my mistakes for now, and focus on what I tried to do. My first task was to animate the player character; give him an idle sprite, as well as a running animation. I took my concept art and got to work on spriting out the character. David Hellman's assets for Tim in Braid were a huge help to me, as - let's get this straight - I'm not a natural animator. I've had to create two walk cycles for my course this semester and they haven't been all that much better than my attempt for this game.

If you remember in Part 2 of this series of blogs, I talked about spriters using symmetry to avoid extra work and assets. This was something I could have taken note of when spriting my character if I was making him simple like 8bit Mario, since I ended up with 15 frames of animation in his run cycle rather than 7.

Below is the original set of images I used for the character's run cycle.
Original sprites
I prototyped these by creating a simple flash animation with the run cycle, even though the cycle wasn't complete (the character switches legs after looping). But I quickly realised they weren't going to work.

Technically I could have let the shoddiness slide, the problem was mainly with how jerky it was going between the idle animation seen on the very left while the character was waiting for the bus, and the run cycle. Sure, I could have added some sprites for him turning around - but then I'd also need another separate idle sprite. And why go to all the effort of creating new sprites if they were only going to be used for that single portion of the level's start? May as well just work on making the whole run cycle better instead. So that's what I did.

Better. I know I've only included half the cycle again, but you'll get to see the other half of the images in a bit.

Here's the final series of images for the character's run cycle, based a bit more closely off David Hellman's assets for Tim. They're still not perfect, but at least they worked.

I'm not here to teach you guys how to draw up walk cycles though, so I'll get to the point. My next point of focus was trying to prototype character movement. There were some lovely Flash tutorials for this on youtube which showed everything step by step, so I was really grateful for this while I waited for my Flash Programming book to arrive. They showed how to import images, how to code in movement with the arrow keys, how to program jumping and velocity and traction. Did I understand the syntax of the code and would I be able to write it again myself without looking at something for help? Hell no! But I was able to create my working prototype and that was enough for me.

Click here to try out this prototype. Arrow keys are used to move and jump. If it's not working, try clicking the white space first.

I was pretty damn happy with myself after getting this thing to work, I have to say. All I had to do now was find some code for a platformer and make a few edits in it for my own character and sprites, right? How hard could it be?

My Flash Programming book ended up arriving in the mail soon after I finished this little demo. And of course, I skipped all of the simple game examples and went straight to the last chapter on building a platform game.

This wasn't exactly smart. But now that I've taken up a programming unit at uni and finally learned how the structure behind most coding languages works, I can say that the book probably wouldn't have been of much help anyway even if I had started at chapter 1. The author's code had been written quite horribly - variables were named in such a way that I didn't know what was referring to what when it came time to modify the code. Plus he didn't really explain what I was coding, he just threw a bunch of code at me to type in.

One last sprite sheet with some additional sprites and the scale of characters-to-screen size.
I'm not even going to bother linking to the next prototypes I created for the game. Needless to say, they were bug ridden messes which didn't really resemble any kind of game I knew (they definitely weren't fun, I can tell you that!). Along came the deadline and the end of semester, and reluctantly I handed in my file and prototypes for display in the exhibition. I still managed to earn myself a High Distinction for my research effort on the project, but a simple number written on paper didn't really make me feel like I had accomplished anything noteworthy.

I post this blog up as something to learn from, a guide for myself (and possibly others) in the future. And because I don't really have any fear of people "stealing" my ideas here... they weren't really all that innovative in the first place and it was more parody/homage than anything else.

I'm slowly going back through that Flash Programming book now, armed with the knowledge I've taken from my programming unit this semester. I'll try and get into it a bit more when this semester is finally over and see if I can make something during the holidays... fingers crossed on that one.

Anyway, big props to anyone/everyone who endured through these blog entries. It's been pretty enjoyable writing them and looking back at what I've done; hopefully just as enjoyable and maybe a little bit insightful reading them.


Sunday, 15 May 2011

A Newbie's Venture into Game Design (2)

Part 2 - Conceptual Development and Targets Too-High

Continuing our look at my first-semester project on creating a game. Last time we looked at the research stage of things - picking a genre, identifying the key players in that genre and what worked for them, and perhaps what didn't work so well. Knowledge we could apply to the creation of our own game.

My game was to be a parody of sorts of the classic Super Mario Bros. Its original name was Bus Route Runner, based off a personal experience of mine where I missed the bus to school and decided to run the entire route to get there in time for an excursion (instead of, you know, going home and calling a parent to take me instead).

Dumb anecdotes aside...

Step 2 - Conceptual Design

So I wanted a platform game, like Super Mario Bros. I had already analysed several other platformers, and now needed to come up with a number of things for my game. These included
  • a player character design
  • level designs
  • object design
  • enemy design
  • power up design

So I started sketching stuff up.

Storyboard for the opening cutscene of the game before the player gained control.

Initial character in various states of movement. Turned out I had subconsciously borrowed his design from a Flash Game I'd played on Newgrounds called "Take a Walk" (interesting concept, check it out sometime). So I went back to the drawing board to develop his design a bit.

Character design development. A lot of this didn't really matter in the end since I ended up using a really basic sprite-based character anyway. For more complex characters in other games, I'd definitely go through this kind of process (and probably extend it, too)

Just laying out what colour each part of the character should be. Nowadays what I'd do instead would be to scan my character design into photoshop, then create several dozen different colour schemes and print them out before deciding on what looks best

I initially used a striped tie for this character's design, but it was pretty hard for me to sprite and the initial way I had drawn diagonal stripes didn't lend itself well to sprite flipping. In sprite based games, you may notice that characters are designed to be symmetrical. It's a lot easier to flip the sprite around (and saves a lot of memory) through a single line of code like


than it is to create a separate sprite. This information would have helped a lot when it came to animating the character, but I'll get to that later. For now, more crappy conceptual art!

Some simple power-ups, based off power-ups I had observed in other games which worked.

Obstacles and enemies, based on the setting of the game. Apologies for crudeness, a lot of these were whipped up the night before a tutorial so that I had something to show to my class and tutor.

The end-of-level flag and school. Crudely designed, again. This part was meant to parody SMB a bit more than the rest of the game, just sad I wasn't able to implement this.

Some basic terrain to use as platforms within levels, and how exactly they would work. Notice the roof of the house has an arrow showing where it's possible to drop down. Long grass was meant to slow the player down if they ran through it. The cars would possibly have their alarms set off after the player jumped onto them.

Tutorial signs and terrain in levels.

Looking back, the last of these images is the most interesting to me in terms of design. I've always been a fan of games which forgo wordy tutorials in favour of subtly hinting you about what does what in an interactive way.

Take the beginning of Portal 2, for example. A computerised voice first tells you to go and look at a painting on the wall and tells you it is art - to show you how to move around and change your viewpoint. Shortly afterwards, a helpful character known as Wheatly busts into your room and asks you to talk. A spacebar prompt appears, but it only seems to allow you to jump - not the kind of feedback Wheatly was intending, but he plays along anyway.

The game has just taught you its basic controls, while remaining interesting and without breaking the fourth wall. There are a lot of other examples I could have used here, but there are also a lot of games that don't do this and resort to that screen full of text or a diagram of a controller with arrows shooting out in every direction. That's bad.

Since this was a platform game I didn't need to use a design element like this. An alternative would be to use some brief text at the bottom of the screen which would fade in if the player hadn't moved after a few seconds. But it was cool to explore some different ways to show what to do... even if the signs drawn above probably weren't the best and wouldn't have helped much.

List of concepts to include in the game

One last thing before I go, since this blog is getting way too long as it is. This was a list of things which I wanted to include in the game and what would be included. The bottom list was a list of stuff which I could cut if time ran short (which it did). Normally this list would be a lot longer, especially when working with a team, because you would need to convey clearly to everyone in that team what everything in the game did. It's great having a neat concept in your head, but you're not going to be able to do everything yourself. If you want that vision to match your final product, you need to write your concepts out clearly, otherwise once you delegate roles to other team members who knows what you'll end up with.

At this point last semester, I had bought a book on programming games with Flash and had done a few tutorials. I had a bit of experience creating sprites, but probably not enough to finish all the assets for a game in time for a deadline looming just six weeks away. And while I had programmed a few things in C++ and in the past, creating a full, working flash platformer was not the place to start here.

Never underestimate how much work you have to do and the skills you have. While it's great to be innovative and ambitious, you need to know your limits or else you won't get off the ground.

Next: Part 3 - Development and Where it All Went Wrong

Author's Note: remind me to never play with the formatting on blogger again. Or the font styles. Editing is a pain the ass.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A Newbie's Venture into Game Design (1)

Part 1 - Research can be Fun!

This is going to be a series of "this is how far I've come", or reflective blogs. You've been warned...

Last semester I started my design course at university. Most of the units were pretty laid back and/or irrelevant, but there was one in particular which depended on what you made of it. The unit required students to look at a designer they idolised, then take their work in another direction in some way or form.

I had 14 weeks to create something, and I didn't want to piss it all away making some shitty diorama or fashion garment like half the students did. So I decided to go with Mario and Zelda series creator Shigeru Miyamoto, and try to make a game of my own.

In hindsight, with no real prior coding experience this was a bit of a mistake. But I still learned some great things from the process and from doing everything on my own. I'll be using this blog to show some of my work from this project.

Step 1 - Research
This was easily the most fun part of this test project. After looking through Miyamoto's works, I decided that I wanted to make a platform game in similar style to Super Mario Bros. This seemed like a simple task at the time, but we'll get into the problems I faced a little later. For this stage I went out and found several popular 2D platformers and played through the first level of each.

I then mapped out each of the first levels, and took note of where power-ups, collectibles and obstacles were introduced, and how they had a positive or negative reinforcement on the player. I then looked at the screen-to-character ratios for each game, the art styles and animation. I wrote down what worked and what didn't work so well so I knew how to avoid making the same mistakes.

I wasn't exactly sure if this was the same kind of process which would occur at an industry level, at least not in games that were trying to do more than mere mimicry. But it made sense to me and helped me decide what I actually wanted in my game and what I did not.

I took this from an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto on the matter. This little portion of level 1-1 has to be one of the most genius things I have ever seen in game design, now that I know the reasoning behind it.
Mapping out one of the opening levels of Super Mario World
And here's the first level from Donkey Kong Country 2, just to see how a game with different collectibles, enemies and producers differs in its design.
I have several more sketches of these first levels from various games, but I won't bother boring you to death with them. Point is - it felt important to me to look into this stuff before jumping into development. I needed to know exactly what other games were doing, so that I made the same rights and avoided the same wrongs, and so that I could work on differentiating my game from the rest at as-early a stage as possible.

Next: Part 2 - Conceptual Development and Targets Too-High

Friday, 13 May 2011

3D Modeling Work - May 2011

Today I decided I'd post some of my uni work, seeing as I can't think of much else to update with. Plus I'd like to have some references here for later, so that I can look back on how far I've come.

These are three scenes I'm doing for a class this semester, which are all due in two weeks in a proper animated showreel with music and stuff.

Project 1 - Still Life Object. I chose a gun since it was just a common object in games. I designed this particular gun myself based off of a few other gun designs, sketched it up then modeled it out. At the top is a basic clay render; the bottom two images display some textures that I've messed around with. Still not happy with the textures though and continuing to work with them now.

Project 2 - Architectural Interior. I chose a bathroom, because in games there have been some pretty interesting (and mostly disgusting) toilet blocks. Think Goldeneye's, coming down from the vent and shooting the cap off that guard's head in the next cubicle. Or the disgusting toilets of Fallout 3 and Bioshock, and that one at the start of Gears of War. Or outside of games, think the  bathroom scene in Trainspotting.
Most of the other people in my class chose a living room or a bedroom, so I kinda wanted to do something a little different, yet still be able to do some cool mood lighting with.

I'm happy about the tiling in this scene. The ugly yellow lighting is also good for the mood, but it does have a bit of a glare on some walls that I'm not so happy about. Otherwise for this scene I just want to touch up some of the textures here and there to make it more grimy, but the priority of this is pretty low compared to my other projects.

Project 3 - Simple Textured Figure with Walk Cycle. I'm quite behind with this project. Was originally going to model based on Finn the Human from the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time. But I haven't modeled one continuous object before and haven't rigged a model before, much less a human. Finn is different from most humans in that he has elastic limbs which would require several dozen bones in order to make them look right. So unfortunately last week I had to make the decision to scrap my work on Finn and just create a generic human instead.

The model on the right is this generic human. I've been following a tutorial for him, which went over how to create such a model by gradually extruding from a cube, adding edge loops and divisions in the right places when necessary. He looks a little weird at the moment, but he's definitely set up for rigging in a better way than my original Finn model seen on the left. Here's hoping things go well with him!

That's all for now, though. Hope this was a nice insight into my work for you. Hopefully I'll be able to see you again in two weeks' time with some nice, completed renders. Ciao!

Game Marketing and a look at Super Meat Boy

In between my masses of uni work yesterday, I found myself reading an article on regarding marketing in games. It was pretty interesting, and while it didn't really reveal much that was new to me, it did manage to serve as a nice reminder of one of the most important aspects of the game development cycle.

Unless you stick to the blockbuster games of the year, you might already have an idea of just how many fantastic games have underperformed or flopped on their face because of poor marketing. Games like Okami, Psychonauts, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. These are just immediate examples that come to my mind, but there are many, many more. And it scares me.

Picture it for yourself: working on a game for 18 months or more, creating some of the most innovative and brilliant gameplay - only to have your game ignored because of lack of advertising or releasing it the same week as the new Call of Duty? Maybe this is a bit of an understatement, but that shit would suck.

The interesting revelation of the article in question wasn't the fact that marketing was important, though. It was the fact that marketing starts with the conception of a game. From day one you are (hopefully!) deciding who your target audience is and the features your game will include. Once you've got that, making advertisements is a cinch - hell, if the gaming community likes where your ideas are headed they'll do a lot of the tough work for you.

Get used to seeing blood-stained saw blades in this game. There'll be a lot of 'em.

Super Meat Boy was the game that I was instantly reminded of upon reading this article. Created largely by two people, there was no confusion over what type of game SMB was and who it was directed towards.

The game was hardcore. As in, balls-to-the-wall, mind-numbingly difficult. Masocore, if you will. The devs knew this was the kind of game they wanted to create from the beginning, but with some super smart design decisions they were able to make the game stand high above other similar games in the genre.

Masocore games are difficult by default, but Team Meat knew that the difficulty of SMB had to stem from challenging levels where timing was key. Not stupid surprises and gimmicks (like in I Wanna Be The Guy and Megaman 9). Not from slippery controls - they made it their mission to make Meat Boy's controls as tight as possible so that when you died, you had nobody to blame but yourself.

Another large problem of Masocore games is how easily they make you want to quit them forever. Super Meat Boy still keeps its levels frustrating, but it managed to cut out a whole lot of unnecessary crap that would have made things even more frustrating even after you'd died. Upon dying, you'll be zapped back to the start of the level to retry in less than a second, giving you virtually no time to throw your controller across the room.  The music is also fantastic and will continue playing no matter how many times you've died - by contrast, IWBTG's music started over every time you died, and while it had an alright soundtrack, the original songs didn't loop properly - possibly because the designers thought you'd definitely die before it got to loop anyway.

I might be getting a little off topic here, but anyway. Point is - Super Meat Boy was a great game with a sense of direction. It knew what it wanted to be, and because it was so well designed it had a myriad of features which made advertising it that much easier - both for the professional advertisers and regular gamers spreading the love through word of mouth. While its target market was the hardcore, its brilliant design gained it fans from all sorts of other corners of the gaming community too. Try and please everyone and you'll end up pleasing nobody - but try and please a select group of people, and somehow you might gain everyone else's attention, too.

Super Meat Boy is a testament to what small game developers can do with the right sense of direction. As of April 6th 2011, the game has sold roughly 600 000 units across all platforms - a tremendous feat for an independently developed download release. Designing games, I shall always keep it in mind as one of those true, inspirational success stories which only come about so often.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Humble beginnings

So hello there. Name's Nathan, but you may know me by another alias if you've followed me on the web in the past, namely fishtrek or kowbrainz.

I'm currently a design student at Curtin University of Technology, based in Perth, Western Australia. My long term goal is to break into the videogame industry in some big way, whether it be through joining a well known, pre-established studio or creating one of my own and making a game that actually sells more than a couple dozen copies.

I didn't always know I wanted to become a game designer, but I think it's been something stuck at the back of my mind for a long time. Games have been a big part of my life since I was about six years old - some classics I fondly remember from back then including Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong Country and Wolfenstein 3D. There are many others but I don't feel like wasting your time listing them all.

May not look like much now, but this game was a-freaking-mazing back in the day

When I was in primary school, at about eight or nine years old, I would often draw up concepts for games. Character designs, level layouts, ability lists - a whole heap of stuff that goes into making games. Back then I borrowed heavily from my favourite games so I probably wouldn't be able to make anything without having my ass sued to death. But it was the creative process that counted.

Throughout the rest of school I would often try to convince myself I wanted a "proper job". One I could actually talk about with others without getting smirks or being told to grow up. Dentistry, writing, architecture, graphic design, programming - all this kind of passed through my head at one point or another, but they weren't really things I wanted to focus on completely. Some of these opportunities had money behind them, but money was never something that I wanted to follow either. Give me enough to feed myself and a roof over my head, maybe enough to buy a new game every now and then and I'd be more than happy.

Now that I'm studying at uni, the worry of not having enough money for the bare necessities creeps up every now and then. There are a lot of people in my course who'll say negative (yet somewhat realistic) things about how slim the chance of getting hired for a games company is. Maybe it's naive for me to think otherwise, but I feel like if I really want this I just have to keep going at it. I'll get a job to fall back on if need be, but losing sight of these goals isn't something I want to happen any time soon.

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