Sunday, 1 December 2013

A random post at 3 in the morning...

Hi there. Just been up doing some of my visual design work and about to log off before I come across this article about one of my favourite game producers - Masahiro Sakurai

The article describes his work on the new Smash Bros game and how much of the project he is taking on himself, including entering in most of the parameters for each character to balance the game.


“If I were to hand over the work to someone else, it would be a full-time, multi-person designated workload.” - Sakurai


It also says that Sakurai works so hard on the project that he doesn't finish a shift until after 10pm, staying in work for 12 hours. Considering that he's designing and balancing the game on his own, promoting the game and posting Miiverse updates aswell as writing Famitsu columns he must be one of the hardest working people in the industry. He probably should learn to delegate tasks to his team more granted but other than that it's inspiring to see someone work that hard on a project of this kind. Its the kind of thing which makes me want to improve my timekeeping, hence why I'm up still up at 3 in the morning...


Here is the Link for the read. Astounding: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2013/11/smash-bros-directors-job-would-kill-me/


Sorry if that didn't make any sense whatsoever, just a random nugget of motivation. Anyway my bed has summoned me so....zzzzzzzzzzzz

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Delving into game theory

Just before I go to bed most nights when I'm not washing up mountains of dishes or completing visual design tasks I take a look at my e-books and industry websites like Gamasutra to get to grips with all different aspects of creating video games. I have a keen interest in the design process behind making games and looking at different mechanics in these and how they have evolved over the years is interesting. Here I will highlight a couple of things I have looked at recently which has inspired me:

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/ChrisNonis/20130310/188193/RPG_Systems_and_two_Schools_of_thought.php

This article on Gamasutra explains the distinction to approaches to RPG design: Deterministic and Abstract. An RPG can use a combination of these two different approaches to achieve a unique 'feel' for the game.

An abstract approach is more based around more arbitrary gameplay systems which are balanced first and given context and form later. They are essentially more driven on things like hit points and magic values. Games like Final Fantasy and World Of Warcraft tend to use this approach where each monster is just a collection of hit points with weaknesses and strengths to certain elements. Gameplay elements are added in for the sake of improving and balancing the game rather than trying to copy reality.

A deterministic approach is when the gameplay mechanics used are part of the fiction of the world. This is used in traditional RPGs where creatures like trolls would have huge strength values that are out of proportion to everything else adding depth to the game world by showing how tough the trolls actually are, the imbalance in the gameplay creates a narrative and adds to the story. This allows for more freedom in terms of world building but makes it a lot harder to balance the game, especially if the game mentioned has a multiplayer mode.

A combination of these would have to be mastered for creating a unique and engaging RPG. The gameplay would have to be balanced and cohesive while still having a sense of place in the world. Some modern RPGs have started to do this well like Skyrim but there is still a lot that can be done to tangle these two systems together and create a more immersive game.

Earthbound (Mother 2)

This is a game that I have come across a few times in my research into games. Released for the SNES in America in 1995 it became a cult classic for it's parody of american culture and of the RPG genre.

It was unique at the time for being an RPG set in a modern world setting and for having no overworld map and being entirely seamless. It also doesn't have random battles like other RPGs at the time and its predecessor. The feature I like about it in particular though is the fact that it has a rolling hit point counter which means if the enemy deals a devastating blow to your character then you have a little time before the hp counts down to zero to either heal or make a last ditch attack which adds a little bit of panic and urgency to battles.


I am really inspired by Earthbound's setting and mechanics. The modern world setting is something that appears fairly commonly in RPGs now but most still tend to lack a humourous side seen in more classic games. In Earthbound the story is about children growing up but there is a lot of dark themes and subtext within the games plot like police brutality, terrorist cults and sexual crimes which aren't noticable at first glance. Here is a video by the Game Theorists that shows some examples:



Anyway there's just a couple of things I've looked at, soon I might get to a playthrough of Earthbound so I can share a proper opinion on the game (It's on the top of my playlist at the moment with The Last Of Us) I am also looking into game and level design principles at the moment so I would post with my thoughts on that in due course...

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The history of computer games - Part I

As part of our critical studies module on our course we are required to write about certain topics to do with video games like the history of the medium, its affect on culture and principle mechanics of games. This is an areas I have some personal interest in as I also want to pursue a role of game designer at some stage and I am getting into the process of sucking up any information I come across whether its level design theory, story progression or more things directly linked to my course like Gnomon workshop DVDs (Which I've just borrowed a load of from the library for my current 3d project)

Ok so enough of the tangent, lets jump in to computer game history...

Substitute Pac-Man here for Rollercoaster Tycoon and then this would be me.


Computer Game History - Part I: Waaaaay before Pong.

The History of video games doesn't just stretch back to Pong and the 70s/80s uprising of arcade games, it goes further back than that, way back. To understand the history of games we must understand the history of how they came into being and the only way we can do that is through looking at the history of computers themselves, lets start with a man called Charles Babbage.

In 1822, Charles Bubbage designed the difference engine. Used for automation of creating mathematical tables, this machine was beyond its time and wasn't fully constructed within Babbage's lifetime. Modern computers still use its basic foundation of being able to program in a routine and get an output.

Babbage couldn't construct the difference engine in his own time because they didn't have lego back then.
HP (Not that brown stuff you ruin your bacon sandwiches with) or otherwise known as Hewlett Packard first came on to the scene with their Audio Oscillator 'HP200A' which was developed in Packard's garage in
1939. This kickstarted the company which has later gone on to lead many of the major innovations in computing. Hewlett, W.R. (1939). Variable Frequency Oscillation Generator. United States Patent Office: United States Patent Office.


HP500A
The first half of the 20th century were known for their straight to the point naming of things. Following in that tradition I present to you the 'Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device' from 1947, which is known to be the world's first electronic game. The game takes advantage of a oscilloscope screen to display targets, while the player fires missiles at them in a similar vein to the military radars at the time. It is a purely mechanical device and has no memory, programming or computer generated graphics but still it is an important milestone.

Noob. Look at him camping.
Jumping ahead to 1958 we have the Sage lightpen which was a revolution in input devices. The light pen worked in conjunction with the screen to work as a pointer, this was something that video games have adapted later down the line as the basic controls of arcade shooters and input accessories for consoles. It is also easy to compare this to the pointing functions later on used in the Nintendo Wii and the Playstation Move.


3DS Max Week 2 and 3 Review

After completing the Dalek project in week 1 as an introduction to modeling in 3DS Max we continued to develop into other key areas ; in weeks two and three our focus was texturing and UVW unwrapping.

First of all on the second week we were given a small task to create a red telephone box from provided reference and texture it correctly, this was done by a process known as UVW Mapping.

I will go into more detail in the next section for the main task where I go through my process but first here is my result of the this small piece:

Red Telephone Box - 248 Tris.
Main Wheelie Bin Task:

The following is taken from my wheelie bin design document with slight alterations and some added bits:

In our third week of Game Production we were set a task to create a wheelie bin asset using reference and textures gathered from the environment. We were told to create the wheelie bin within 600 tris and to utilise a 1024x1024 texture in a 32 bit targa format which utilizes alpha channels.


Texture Gathering

I went out with some fellow course members to go texture gathering, we came across some bins just up the road from Bede Island and worked on gathering all the textures and reference necessary. We found a black bin first with the Leicester City Council logo on the front and gathered images from that.

Black Bin Reference Collage
I also gathered images from another bin so I have the luxury of choosing a bin to model, the blue one was nice aesthetically but I preferred the black bin overall, also the handles on the blue bin looked really complicated to model when I purely wanted to focus on UVW and texturing for this project.

Blue Wheelie Bin - harder to model and in my opinion not as good looking as the black bin.


Creating the Wheelie Bin

To start the process of modelling the Wheelie bin I set up my references in Photoshop by cropping unnecessary parts and resizing for import into 3DS Max. I applied from what I learnt in the Dalek project to do this.

I started building the model by creating a basic cube primitive and modifying its shape according to the references.
Bin basic model with references set up and transparent material applied.

I also learnt a little trick for being able to see the inside of the model better using a transparent material instead of using the x-ray shortcut. The problem with using the x-ray shortcut is if there are multiple objects or planes with the filter they stack up opacity and become nearly opaque so with using a transparent material instead I can control how transparent the object needs to be so I can see the entire model.

I modeled the main section of the bin and the lid in separate parts so the mesh was easier to create. Also other details like the wheels and the little brackets under the lip were modeled separately.


UVW Unwrap and texturing

I finished the modelling stage and proceeded to texture the bin. first I selected all the faces and added a UVW modifier in the bin’s modifier stack in Max, I then opened the UV Editor so I can start to make edits to the UVs.

UV Editor window, with some of the faces organised and the rest in a pile of mess on the left.
I started off by unfolding most of the faces and organising them into the texture space. This was a long and tedious process that taken up most of my time, it’s an area I will look into in more depth on future models as correct unwrapping is an integral part of a quality model.

During this stage I also cut down on some slightly more complex geometry at the hinges which was taking up too much texture space and helped me in the long run, at this point I didn't know about how the polys needed to be maximum 4 sides so I would have to come back and amend this later.

Below is my finished rendered UVW Template to import into Photoshop to create the textures, next time I will experiment with some of the more advanced options in the UV editor to help me create a simpler template as this one had a lot of separate components.

UV Template rendered out for use during the texturing stage.


Texturing

I brought the template into Photoshop and added it to a new layer set to screen so the black turns transparent, on a background layer I added a solid colour similar that of the bin to prevent drastic colour bleed.  I got my 4 main photos of the bin from side, top, front and back and brought those in and started collaging them together according to the template.

I used copy merge with alpha maps and clone stamp to get rid of seams and cover unwanted parts of the image as well as adjustment layers to balance out the colours.

Final texture sheet.

Above is my final texture sheet comprised of the various different elements collaged together. The wheels were of a slightly different colour so I placed them on a different block colour background. The shadows on the top of the bin sides were hard to link up and they still have come out quite blurred but now it will be something to think about next time as I get into texture painting more.
I also created a little gradient for the wheel axle as the references I gathered didn't show it particularly well.


Finishing touches

It was at this stage I did some cleaning up on the model like getting rid of faces with more than 4 sides and all the unnecessary vertices.

I played around with some of the smoothing groups to create a more solid form, this made an issue apparent with the sides where there appeared to be a triangle seam. I attempted to fix it through various methods but nothing seemed to work so I’ll look into troubleshooting videos and upload to Dmuga after so I can fix this issue and gain critique on my model.

I also had a little issue with the rendering inside 3ds Max shortly before saving as some reason when switching to shaded mode some geometry shown through that wasn't supposed to. I fixed this by staying in realistic and turning shadows off which improved the rendering.



Conclusion

Creating this model was a challenge especially as I've just started out using 3ds Max but I managed to overcome some of the new hurdles like unwrapping and texturing and came out with a pretty decent result in my eyes. There were some things which I could improve on if I went back to it though:
  • Textures – Mike gave me some advice on my texturing, commenting that the directional lighting should be taken out as much as possible. This is an area I will improve by looking at some professionally made texture sheets to see how they establish the form of the object without using too much lighting information. The lighting was noticeable a lot on my texture in my lid and under the lip of the bin where there was intense shadow from the texture.
  • UVW Unwrap – The UVW unwrap is clean but pieces are very segmented, looking at some professional texture sheets I can see how they place the elements so I can see how it is done correctly.


Now that I can reflect upon my model I can see where I need to improve, Polycount seems to be a quite knowledgeable resource I can take advantage of so my next step is to copy professional methods for modelling and apply them to my own work.

Here is my final result of the wheelie bin project including wireframe and views of the different sides:

Wheelie Bin - 484 Tris. Textured using 1024x1024 32 bit Targa image
Hope you enjoy my work once again. I should be getting my computer back soon just waiting on the text from the techies saying it's fixed, as soon as I can I'll upload my second weeks worth of visual design stuff. :)

-James


Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Quick Update (with doodles)

Just a quick one really, progress on this blog has been a little slow lately as a result of my computer playing up by deciding to not let any input function whatsoever. Now it's in the possession of the techies at the su until the weekend so next week there should be a lot more on here as I can access all the images I painstakingly cropped for this blog and I shall be working on numerous projects during reading week or whatever it is.

Anyway in the meantime here is some doodles done around a week ago, I heard you like dragons?

A dragon experimenting with biro crosshatching and a tripod alien as inspired by some of the third year work on the War Of The Worlds project. Ignore the random awesome face in the top corner of the dragon doodle, unless you don't mind awesome faces that is.

A robothing and some bat studies I did after receiving some critique from a fellow student on my dragon, I was advised to look at some wing designs from different animals to be able to apply this to a dragon concept. Bats were used a lot in the design of the dragons in Skyrim.
 Next, some still life done in my free time:

I started doing these after Heather said that I needed to improve my measuring and get into the habit of doing drawing exercises and thumbnails. This is invaluable practice that I'm trying to do as often as I can. For this page I didn't focus on the shading too much and tried to get the contour and form correct.

This was more experimenting with shading using dark pencils, I am getting more in the habit of using these pencils especially since we are focusing on rendering techniques at Bradgate Park and the New Walk Museum in which the darker pencils lend to more contrast.
Next couple of posts should bring this blog up to date, I have a whole post lined up with my 3D work aswell as a summary of my first day at the famous Bradgate park and following visits. Stay tuned guys. :)

Thursday, 17 October 2013

First week of visual design

This blog has suffered from a slow start to which I apologise. Hopefully this large slew of pictures and progress should make up for my lackluster posting in the first week or so, hope you enjoy.

Landscape Drawing

So first, landscape drawing. For the first week of landscape drawing we went out with Jack Greasley to draw the River Soar by the university and practise single point perspective. We drawn thumbnails in order to capture the horizon line and vanishing point and then used these thumbnails to develop a final. For the first week we were just getting into things so I might come back and do some more drawings of the river later down the line, also below is some landscape sketches from freshers week as I thought they might be good to drop in.

This drawing is of the lovely view from my ground floor room in Victoria Halls. I wanted to get some quick drawing done during freshers so I was still productive.

This drawing I also did during freshers of the graveyard and church opposite Victoria, when the course starts you will see a marked improvement.
First Page of thumbs, just getting to grasps with the perspective.

Slightly more detailed thumbs. Next time I'm going to try and do a few more really basic thumbs to block things in a bit more.

More thumbs, trying out some reflection shading aswell.
Some random sketches of other things around the river for reference, sorry about the contrast in the middle. (Or not if it's just my screen brightness)

Here is my final for the week, I decided to go for the more industrial looking bridge as I found it a bit more challenging and interesting to look at. I thought I would include at least one swan in the final since it became a bit of talking point during the week.

Here is my final for week 1, done using a 2b and 4b pencil, next time I will go a bit darker but this final was just testing the waters. I was exhausted at the end after sitting on the pavement getting shouted at by cyclists all day but I am pleased with the result, next time though I will work on improving my rendering of foliage and concentrate on the shadows more so the drawings have a bit more depth to them.

Life Drawing

We then did life drawing in the afternoon with Heather, as I haven't done life drawing for a couple of months it was nice to get back into it and I come out with some nice results. I especially enjoyed the exercises we did at the start with the continuous line and opposite hand drawings as I did them in college and we didn't have much guidance but with Heather helping us along those drawings come out surprisingly nice and I'm going to make an effort to start doing some in my own time.


First Life drawing on course - continuous line

Right hand drawings - It was quite surprising how these turned out as these were opposite hand, I might get in the habit of doing these a bit more.

Silhouette sketches, handy for helping think about the form a bit more. 

Onto standard drawings...

I didn't like how I did the face on this one, reminds me of Nicolas Cage a bit.

Another standard life drawing, this one turned out pretty decent aswell in my opinion.
Ok that's it for now, week two stuff should be on here tomorrow which includes drawings I've done of the archway on Castle View before the heavens parted plus some random doodles of dragons and 3d texturing work for the week. I look forward to sharing more stuff. 

-JMB

Thursday, 3 October 2013

3DS Max First Model - Dalek

As part of our game production module we were tasked to model a Dalek in 3DS Max to learn the basic modeling tools and how to stay within a triangle limit. Here is the brief of the project and the reference images we had to work from:

I struggled at first with the layout of 3DS max. In college I used Cinema 4D in which the layout is far easier to use and navigate. After spending a night modelling the Dalek and following some basic tutorials I started to learn some of the functions of the buttons in the program and managed to navigate and model fairly quickly afterwards.

I worked on the model until around half three in the morning, this was because when I modeled it initially I underestimated how quickly the tri count can increase to high levels where the model weighed in at around 2800 which was way over the limit imposed on this task. I spent a couple of hours remodeling and optimizing certain parts of the model so it eventually weighed in at 1499 tris, this taught me a lot about optimization and which details matter.

First attempt - 2727 Tris and missing some important details.
Dalek Model - 1499 Tris
I considered this my final for a bit until I was told that I forgotten the skirt section just underneath the neck of the Dalek. Also I figured out what was increasing the tri count: A small sphere. So I fixed these issues and added a ring around the eye piece to finish.

Dalek Model final - 1485 Tris

Starting again

My name is James Broderick and I am studying Game Art at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. I have always aspired to work in the games industry and I am working to get into employment after university at a games studio. My dream is to eventually start up my own games studio down the line so I can work on my own projects, I know first though I must gain the experience to get there.

Before studying at De Montfort I studied Interactive Media with Games Design at City Of Bristol College where I dabbled in different areas like web design, animation and games design. Although from the start I was set on working my way towards the games industry in some form, I am always tied between the game design and the art. Hopefully as the course continues and I develop as an artist I can also develop my knowledge as a game designer aswell, both these parts and how they fit together really fascinate me.

Anyway a little about what I'm into: I am an avid gamer who mostly sticks to Nintendo games and Final Fantasy although recently I've been trying out some different kinds of games to mix it up. My favourite films are Star Wars, Inception, Kill Bill, Looper, Alien. I like raving to The Prodigy in my bedroom as well as listening to Florence + The Machine, Kasabian and a multitude of film and game soundtracks and Ministry Of Sound anthems.

I have set up this blog so people can follow my progress as an artist and designer through university and maybe beyond. For my older bits and bobs from my college years go to Noxarts - Old College Stuff if you want to track my development even further back.

Links


Here is some other links where people can follow my work, usually if there is a substantial update on one of my other pages I will write a short post about it here anyway:


James Broderick @ Pinterest

This is my Pinterest page where you can get a feel for what kind of things I like. I create a lot of moodboards for projects as well as a board to track my art development and pin other cool pieces of art, architecture or other things I like. If you wish to follow my progress then following me here and on Pinterest would be appreciated. Also any image on this blog which you want to pin to your board you can do easily by simply hovering over an image and clicking the little red Pinterest icon.

James Broderick @ Wysp.ws

The Wysp site I use occasionally to upload digital stuff, I prefer to Deviantart at the moment as it is smaller and people rate your progress rather than the individual merit of each piece of art. I may create a Deviantart account eventually though so stay tuned.

Noxarts Portfolio Site (Work In Progress)

The Portfolio Site I created while still in college so that contains my older stuff, when I get time I will overhaul the website so it will have my university work, update all the information and improve the layout. I do plan on integrating it with the blog somehow but so artwork I upload here will upload onto the gallery there but I will have to figure out how it will work first.

Starting again

So like the old version of this blog I will post as frequently as possible. I prefer to post longer posts with a load of information than little tidbits, this will probably happen more with any traditional artwork on here as I usually take my work to the library and get it all scanned at once to save me time, however digital projects I usually upload during progress and post several smaller updates. Look forward to a load of 3DS max updates soon as I wrangle through a load of tutorials to get to grips with the software.

So welcome to my blog, I hope you will enjoy what is to come over the next three years.

-James