GDC 2012

This was my first time at a conference, let alone such a big one like the Game Developer’s Conference.  While I wasn’t as outgoing as I probably should have been, I still really appreciated being able to hangout with all my ETC friends in a setting outside of class and the ETC building.

As to the conference:  It was quite something.  The amount of expertise being crammed into a two-block radius was palpable, and I can’t wait until the GDC Vault opens and I can watch all the great talks that I had to miss to listen to other great talks.

Now, I’ve made great improvements in learning the names of people I see everyday, but I’m still terrible at the names of “well-known” people so I won’t drop any here, but they certainly said a good number of things that other people and sites have taken note of.

I will say that I did learn quite a bit about producing, which has encouraged me to be more proactive with my project this semester, as well as about animation and portfolios, which has discouraged me from thinking that my knack for 3D art last semester is such a big deal.  I also met a considerable number of random people, though I found that many of them did not seem so interested in talking (trying to network with the big wigs? or perhaps that’s the characteristic of game developers?  OR maybe I’m really not that interesting?!?)

Global Game Jam 2012

Global Game Jam 2012 ended earlier yesterday.   The Pittsburgh International Game Developers Association held their event at the Entertainment Technology Center, right in my backyard, and there were about 100 Jammers who came.

While I wasn’t actually a Jammer, I did volunteer to help and I don’t regret it.  I got to hang out with cool people while having time between events to go back to my project room and do backlogged work.  Admittedly, most of the work was setting up and cleaning up food, but as someone who is interested in producing, I respect the fact that these things have to be done so that the more awesome game-making can get done.

The jam theme was the Ouroboros, and there were a lot of cool games here in Pittsburgh:  Some were simpler and casually fun; others tried to make you really think about the idea of biting your tail.

There was “Hebi Hanabi” made by the ETC stars Scott Chen, Brian Lee, Zero Liu, and Kaiyang Zhang.  They took the classic “Snake” game about eating eggs to grow longer and added two-player combat with the cool mechanic of actually having to bite your own tail to launch projectiles at our opponent.  A novel re-invention of “Snake,” their game was quite  polished and aesthetically clean.  They, in fact, won the Judges Award and Player’s Choice Award.

Another game worth mentioning is “Super Ouro Bro.s” which, despite the gimmicky name, had a really neat mechanic.  This game was made by Jing Li, Michael Lee, Dan Lin, and Felix Park; the latter three are of renown for their ETC project called “mindful xp” about meaning, expression, and games.  The mechanic was that every level a new enemy was introduced and the AI for that new enemy did something both predictable and frustrating:  It did exactly the same actions that you took in the previous level!  In the end, you were fighting yourself; now that’s “biting” yourself in the tail.”

I enjoyed quite a few of the other games that my friends made and would write about all of them, but it is 2AM and I have a project advisor meeting tomorrow; look for the games here:

And don’t forget to check out some of the other cool games that other people all around the world made.

Building Virtual Worlds Round 5

Final presentations for our Round 5 projects have ended.  The theme this round was to make something for the BVW Show.

You can see the game that my team produced in my portfolio under “Games: Building Virtual Worlds.”

My team from Round 1 got back together again for this round, looking to capture some of our previous magic.  This time, we made an ambitious choice to combine multi-player strategy gaming with a show element, and struggled through quite a few iterations of the game but the final product is pretty solid.

Luckily we decided to approach this round with a “lightening round” idea and polish it as much as possible; unfortunately, though, our choice in mechanic slowed us down a lot.  Coming up with a compelling strategy game takes a lot of balancing between control, random elements, and interest curve.  Moreover, multiplayer meant that there was a lot more implementation that would have to be done.  In fact, we changed our idea a multitude of times between interims and didn’t have our final design until after the last interim before finals today.  We went through ideas such as a silent auction to see-saws to scales and pulleys before settling on a simple tug-of-war style mechanic.  In regards to implementation, we started with Unity Phone, which still wasn’t ideal for having a lot of players connected reliably so over the course of the first few weeks, Zero spent most of his time with the help of Emmanuel developing a new web-browser based interface that people could use through their smartphones.  Turns out that this worked much more reliably than using the phone servers.

As to my contribution; I really did get a lot of opportunity to polish this project the way that I wanted to.  At the beginning while we were still finalizing the mechanic and aesthetic style, I took the initiative to model a whole multitude of low-poly prizes (cars, blenders, TVs, sofas, etc.).  Though these did not end up taking a main role as I had hoped, I did get to include them in the background of the final build.  The final tug-of-war mechanic did allow me to have a lot of fun animating our little characters, and they have a variety of different animations for each emotion.  What I am most proud about though is the subtle fact that they wave and acknowledge the guest when they receive a new command.  As to the overall environment, most every subtle detail that I wanted are there:  There are cameramen around the set that just rotate slowly and even a lighting grid on top of the ceiling  where little simulated spotlights are hanging from.

I had a lot of fun polishing this project, and the team was great.

EDIT:  This world made it into the Final Show!

Building Virtual Worlds Round 4

Final presentations for our Round 4 projects have ended.  This round we had to make a game that “told a story,” and my team decided to use Kinect as the platform.

You can see the game that my team produced in my portfolio under “Games: Building Virtual Worlds.”

My team decided to address a more serious topic with our game this round I think the result turned out well.

The brainstorm process was a bit slow again, but this time because we had too much to work with.  Daniel Aum had a great idea for a complex and very cinematic story but we didn’t have the resources to execute the whole thing.  Many thanks to Chris Klug who helped us streamline the story down to what it is now.  We ended up capturing the essence of the story we wanted to tell, and Daniel did a great job too in choosing a subject that was well-known enough that we didn’t have to waste time in-game setting up any of the back-story.

I really pushed myself this round, and I really enjoyed it.  This was the first time that I had modeled and rigged humans, and they turned out really well.   I even had a go at putting bones in the faces and animating the mouths and eyelids.  The buildings were really ambitious, too.  I didn’t have CityEngine or any other procedural city-generating software so I just made 3 different types of floors, 3 different types of roofs, and a generic door, and mixed and matched building heights, orientations and texture colors.  The amount of scene work I had to do gave me a lot more exposure to Unity3D than any previous round as well.

I have to thank and apologize to my texture artist, Dan-Ah.  I made so many models that she became back-logged I had to UVW unwrap most of them for her especially since she had to spend so much time texturing our two human characters.  This was an enlightening experience though and I found that certain ways of modeling are not as UVW unwrap friendly.  I think 3D modelers and texture artist should coordinate to understand the difficulty of each other’s roles and pipeline better between themselves.  Something that I know some other teams in the class have had difficulty with.

Building Virtual Worlds Round 3

Final presentations for our Round 3 projects have ended. This round was a one week lightning round, where the theme was to make something “fun to do.” My team picked Kinect as the platform this time around.

You can see the game that my team produced in my portfolio under “Games: Building Virtual Worlds”.

This was a fun concept and we put together a scalable game rather quickly. Brainstorming was rather slow at first but I think most of the team latched on to the “ball pit” idea I had when we were able to prototype it quickly. Emmanuel added the “match three” mechanic and we had a game.

Brian did an amazing job creating a unified aesthetic this round; this was the first round where I had sketches from the texture artist of what the characters should look like and that I didn’t have to design them myself.

What most of the time was spent on was supporting our programmer Xing and getting our slightly more complicated than expected “match three” mechanic to work. Many thanks to Emmanuel in that area as well; he is a programmer, too, but had the role of sound designer for BVW, and really had an opportunity to shine this round.

Building Virtual Worlds Round 2

Final presentations for our Round 2 projects have ended.  The theme this time was to design a game that even a naive guest could understand and use, and the platform my team got assigned was Kinect.

You can see the game that my team produced in my portfolio under “Games: Building Virtual Worlds.”

This was a very difficult round in terms of finalizing our game concept, but I really liked the result in the end.

Our group ran through multiple iterations of this game.  At first we made a music-creation game with pentatonic scale notes at various Kinect arm angles, and though it worked, we discovered quickly that it was still very hard to create a compelling piece of music unless one was a composer.  We also tried to have the various positions and gestures control random sounds on top of a base soundtrack, but we found that to be even more chaotic and dissonant at times.  All during this time, we were also trying to get random light and particle effects to occur with each of the different positions and gestures and this was just as difficult to read.

AT this point, we came away with a few key realizations:  We needed more game-like elements rather than simply “toy”-like effects; secondly, we needed to take the music out of the player’s control (being a musician is much harder than Guitar Hero had us believe); thirdly, we needed to unify the aesthetic/theme and scale back on all the excess nonsense.

What we finally settled on turned out particularly elegant.  You can see from the demo that it’s simply a “keep-it-up” game that encourages movement with “dance” and music as the background aesthetic.  In fact, the Kinect code tracks joint rotations without discriminating between dancing or spastic twitching.  It’s clean, it’s simple, and it works.

As to my contributions as 3D modeler. I had the dancer silhouette done very early.  I really liked the subtle personality that the disco-clothes flares gave our avatar.  The band members in the back did not come to be until we finally settled on our third and last iteration of the game.  We already had the abstract texture bars but realized that we needed a little more to give the player some emotional attachment to keeping the bars up and I decided that band members might just help.  I really had a lot of fun giving them different and crazier animations as the levels went up and I think everyone else who watches the game enjoys them as well.

All-in-all, one of the best games all semester.  Arnold Blinn from Microsoft’s Kinect Fun Labs liked it a lot when he stopped by as well.  Great work, team!

Building Virtual Worlds Round 1

Final presentations for our Round 1 projects have ended, and boy what a first round.  The theme this round was that the guest should be helping one character who is afraid of another character, and the platform that my team got assigned was HMD (Head Mounted Display).

You can see the game that my team produced in my portfolio under “Games: Building Virtual Worlds.”

This is the first time I’ve made a game like this, and have been “the” 3D modeler;  It was quite an experience.

The team decided to tell a feel good story about a boy in elementary school trying to get the courage to approach that “special” girl on the playground.  The context is Valentine’s day, and the guest interacts as the boy’s imaginary friend.

I played it extremely safe this round in terms of aesthetic style, but even so the game turned out really well.  John – the texture artist – and I agreed to do a very simple, crayon/stick-figure art style, which no only fit very well with our story but also kept the work load from getting out of hand for this first round of the semester.

I was really happy with this decision as it gave me a lot more opportunity to first mess with basic shapes for most objects as well as leaving only one set of non-basic objects to work on (the hands); moreover, with the saved time I had time to mess around more with animation and getting our characters to emote in subtle ways since they don’t ever actually talk.  If you pay attention, the boy and girl’s feet always point outwards when they are happy and inwards when they are sad/shy.  I really enjoyed making little animations like those; I think I am developing a sense that when animating a character, every part of the body should participate even if it is minor and subtle.

The team I worked with was great, too.  Our programmer developed an amazing gesture system to work around the fact that someone using the HMD is “tethered” and can’t actually move around or move their fingers.  Our texture artist is great with props and made us themed “imaginary friend” gloves for the final presentation (on Vimeo).  Our sound designer composed all the music himself and you can hear it change in complexity as the game progresses, with more layers being added.