Thursday, 31 January 2013

Look before you.....

New Motion Controller Tech

Motion controllers are all the rage, although i still find the idea of playing traditional games with motion controllers a bit irksome. If i play games i want to be sat on my chair/sofa moving no more than my thumbs, not creeping round my living room pretending to be Sam Fisher for reals. Also the tech still has a long way to go before accuracy, and latency issues are sorted.

However a new motion controller being released this year called Leap looks like it might be a great addition to any existing display, and at $69.99 doesn't look like it'll break the bank. Check out the video below for more info.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Personal Professional development

Giz a Job!

Identifying my strengths and weaknesses and how to apply them to my career is an essential skill. With my work and interests before and outside of college I'd already decided I'd like to do 3D modelling, but in which field? 

I've always loved games so wanting to get into that field with the modelling skills i have already is a natural choice. However the games industry is extremely competitive and the skills i already have are transferable across a variety of industries. I'd be more than happy with an asset creation job as i feel it's a good match for my level at the moment.

The website gives a rundown of the essential knowledge and skills needed to make it in a variety of different jobs within the creative industry.

My current skillset includes:

  • Understanding and proficiency in 3D graphics software, 3DS Max, Zbrush, and Silo.
  • Skinning and rigging using 3DS Max
  • Hardsurface modelling
  • Asset creation
  • A passion for games
  • Attention to detail and the ability to evaluate quality
  • Spatial awareness and the ability to visualise layouts; imagination and creativity
  • Some experience with modding game engines such as; Cryengine, UDK, The Elder Scrolls Creation Kit).

The jobs I'm interested in:

  • Games Design
  • Designer-Interactive Media
  • Technical Artist
  • CG Modeller
  • Level Editor
  • Quality Assurance Technician
  • Creative Director

The skills i need to focus on:

  • Working on my drawing skills, particularly in relation to anatomy, the use of light and shadow, and colour theory
  • Organic modelling
  • Environment modelling, layout, and level design
  • Ludological studies, game theory and mechanics
  • Some basic programming, Actionscript, C++, etc
  • Information design and user interface skills
  • Texturing; UV mapping, texture creation and technical limitations
  • Topology
  • Studio working practices, economics, and management.
  • Compositing, post-production

The seven wonders of Minecraft...ok two of them!

For creative minds the sandbox environment of Minecraft offers almost unlimited possibilities, from computers created inside the game, to 1 to 1 reconstructions of the Starship Enterprise. Few have been more impressive than the reconstruction of Middle Earth as shown in the video below.

Slightly less impressive is my server over at but is open to anyone that wishes to join (just no giant penis sculptures OK?).

 Well colour me impressed again with this gorgeous reproduction of Game of Thrones in Minecraft created by WestorosCraft, you can almost smell Kings Landing! Some people clearly have too much time on their hands!

Digital Skills Acquisiton

 Pyro the Pachyderm

Well...after being on a roll before Christmas the wind has been taken out of my sails a little on this module. The brief is to create a thin character...really....i just did that? This is where being alone on the course is a bit of an issue, i mean i know i went nuts before Christmas and did far more than was required of a first year degree course but this has really put the brakes on my flow.  Oh well, it gives me a chance to practice my design skills and also concentrate on using Adobe Illustrator. I was allowed a little leeway when it came to my designs...i could do a larger character if i wanted.

I really love the style of the Elephantmen graphic novels, they tell the story of a group of genetically engineered animals, bred for war, and their struggles to cope as they're released back into society after the conflicts, I think that it'd make a great idea for a game.

After sketching a few different ideas i decided to use Elephantmen as my inspiration but with a twist. I decided to set my game on a different planet called 'Pachyderm' where the inhabitants have evolved from elephants, at constant war with their ultimate foes the MICE!

We were required to produce a character turnaround sheet to be used later for point to point modelling in Cinema4D (yuck!!). I've turned my character sheet into a set of stylised blueprints to reflect the mechanical, spacey themes I'm going for in the development of my designs.

Stay tuned....more to come!

Cryengine 3 Tech Demo

I love the engine behind Crysis as much as i love the game, the meme 'can it run Crysis' is still in popular use when it comes to benchmarking PC harware.

 Crysis 3 is currently under development, with all sorts of new goodies under the hood, the developers give a rundown of what to look forward to. Love the volumetric shadows!

Forever Alone :(

Due to clerical error and the lack of advertising/marketing it seems I'm the only one on the Games Design course this year. I think Newcastle College jumped the gun on this one and so hadn't really planned all the modules for the course. I'm currently with the animation students which is all well and good (i realise there is a lot of crossover) but I'm having to fight my corner a little to carve out the best tuition i can for the skills i need to know.

Animation for Games

It's alive!

This brief seemed to be a little vague as the topic was so big. We were asked to create a game animation relating specifically to the use of pseudo 3D (2.5D) animation techniques. It was a thrill to research the techniques used in some of my favourite games, almost like reliving my childhood.
Sprite sheets were a common technique to create character animation cycles during the 8-Bit and 16-Bit era, the technique is still in use in the development of modern games such as Braid. 

 Braid, a platforming puzzle game, developed by Indie Developer Jonathan Blow, and released across multiple platforms in 2008 to critical acclaim, had a unique painterly style, but updated the platform game genre for a modern audience.

Continuing with the development of my main character, i struggled to get the desired body shape/proportions in 3DS Max. I'm really more used to using Max for hard surface modelling rather than the organic nature of character design ( Hey, i like big stompy sue me!)
I was recommended to try Nevercenters' Silo, it combines the commonly used modelling tools, with the sud-divisional power of Z-Brush, all wrapped up in a clean, easy to use, interface. Silo enabled me to achieve the smooth, cartoony, stylised look that i wanted for my character.

After rigging my character and then skinning it i spent about a week learning to weight the skin to the bones of the rig. It's a great tool in Max that i've been dying to learn so this was the perfect opportunity. When you first add the bones to the skin, and add a basic animation layer, the mesh animates as if it's made of jelly, so great care has to be taken to weight how the mesh deforms around the bones.

CAT comes with a basic character walk cycle but i had to heavily modify it to fit my character. I wanted him to strut his stuff like a BAD ASS!

I made a walk cycle, sprite sheet for my character, as at this point i was unsure whether i wanted a full 3D game or a 2.5D platform game, so both options are available.

I also setup the starting environment, i was a little obsessed with having bamboo assets in the scene, I'd have them as secondary animations, being broken asunder as the character swings his scythe wildly. Taking the character further I'd obviously work on texturing, but also secondary animations such as flowing bandana material from the back of his helm, and vials, potions, and herb pouches bouncing around his belt.


Old Skool isometric Kickstarter

Obsidian Entertainment the developers of some of my all time favourite games (KOTOR II, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Fallout: New Vegas) are bring back one of my favourite genres of gaming the isometric RPG. Reviving the style of Baldur's Gate, and Fallout 1 + 2, some of the original developers of those games, from Black Isle Studios, currently work at Obsidian, so i can't think of anyone more suited to this task.

Project Eternity has smashed its Kickstarter goal so it's speeding ahead with its development. Check out the video below for an inside look at the games development, and insights into the whole crowd-funding revolution.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Sequential Imaging

I Really didn't notice the King Kong similarities until afterwards...OK

In this brief we were asked to take our concepts and storyboard a thirty second animation from them. After roughing out basic camera stills an animatic, a functional animation, was created in Adobe Premier to give a sense of  camera movement, timing, pacing and sound design. 20 points to those who spotted the Wilhelm scream, my homage to countless films. I really enjoyed getting the timing for the shots just right, i found it was particularly important to have a quick pause in any camera movement where you wanted to focus the audiences attention.
It was also a chance to learn and implement the 'Rule of thirds' with regards to camera composition. When setting up a scene it's important to have the focus of the scene in one of the red cross positions as seen in the image below.

This is the most aesthetically pleasing location in terms of composition as it creates more interest, rather than centering the focus of the composition.

The story sets up the dilemma that propels my hero character into the narrative, the Wicker Man army kidnaps his sister.

I really wanted to do the whole animation in 3D but first i had to model my characters. I used Ivy_Gen in Max to produce a still of the Wicker Man. I was persuaded to animate what I'd done unfortunately the mesh was pretty dense as I never designed for it to be animated. That led to issues when i started experimenting with skinning, rigging, and Maxs' Character Animation Toolkit (CAT).

CAT is an amazing tool but because i couldn't easily preview my model, animating in Maxs' viewport, it led to issues that could only be seen after rendering, like the snapping knee and flickering shadows.

I used elements of the environment I'd created for the concept art module as the basis for my scene. This is one of the stills in 3D, it would be where the children are playing at the beginning of the animatic. I was still missing a crucial element, my main character!

Introversion at Eurogamer

More Dwarf Fortress? Yes Please

A great talk by the guys at Introversion (Darwinia, Defcon, Uplink) about their upcoming game Prison Architect and, the trials and tribulations of running an Indie development studio.

Concept Art

Kung-Fu Drood ? 

I knew this module would be a challenge for me as I'm a bit out of practice with my drawing skills. I was asked to produce character and environment thumbnails like those created in the conceptual stages of games design.

Silhouette is key

By quickly sketching in Photoshop with a large round brush, playing with shapes and forms, it's possible to rapidly develop character's. 

My first attempts threw up a variety of designs (just squint your eyes). I decided to concentrate on a shape-shifting, druid/crow, character, too much Game of Thrones i think!!

I wanted a dynamic character, one that could change forms in one fluid movement during combat.

With the release of WoW: Mists of Pandaria and popularity of Kung-Fu Panda, i decided it was time to level the balance and chop some pandas heads off!

Kung-Fu Druid was born!
I used illustrator to ink up the poses of my character that i'd done on paper. Then painted them up with Photoshop. Pretty pleased with my first digital matte painting :)

I wanted my environment to have a mix of Celtic and Asian influences but with the idea of underlying, ancient, mechanics protruding from the environment. I quickly reverted back to 3DS Max to develop concepts. I also experimented with Vue X10 for the first  time, it's a piece of software I'd always wanted to try, and it's one I'll be using in the future.

Vue produced a great silhouette backdrop when i rendered out the Z-Depth of the environment i created using it, i need to improve my Photoshop skills to blend the floating islands more naturally into the background.

I rebuilt the environment in Max trying to set up a little settlement around the lake as the starting area for my character. I love the Ink and Paint render in Max so used it to capture the work in progress. Given more time I'd model a few more building assets, set up pathways and railings, vegetation, and work on the textures, but the seed of my game idea is there!

QuakeCon 2012 - John Carmack Keynote

 Ow my eyes!

I remember when i was a kid Virtual Reality was all the rage, the whole thing was cumbersome, expensive with terrible graphics, and vomit inducing, so never took off. It looks like it's making a comeback and I'm excited :) 

John Carmack the grandaddy of first person shooters and founder of Id Software, has been working on bringing VR bang up to date, with the Occulus Rift. In his keynote speech he gives a very scienfic explanation of why VR failed in the past and what he's been working on to get it back on the scene.

 Loved the part where he beamed freakin lasers into his eyes! FOR SCIENCE!

Breaking boxes

Further education to further my delectation

Life's a funny thing, after finishing school over a decade ago with high hopes and prospects, little did i know that taking a retail job to survive would become my career. It's a vicious cycle, once you get pigeon holed, it's ridiculously difficult to break out of that box.  Retail was only supposed to be a stop gap providing me with financial stability while i concentrated on further education.

Ever since i can remember I've been obsessed with computer games, you'd think at 33 I'd have grown out of it, but my passion has only grown stronger. I've been building my own PC's since i was 13, in the last decade or so, taking advantage of  increasingly powerful graphics cards, I've justified the expense buy also indulging in 3D modelling, using 3DS Max.

Over the last couple of years all the blocks have started to fall into place. 3D modelling has helped me fulfill my creative spirit whilst combining my technical know how. I set up my own homeserver to host games for friends, be part of a render farm, NAS, and host my own website with my portfolio.
The work I've done managed to secure me a place on a new FDA Games Design course at Newcastle College in September, enabling me to follow my passion and break out of that box :)

'Give a man a job he loves and he never has to work another day in his life'

This blog will be kept up to date with all my latest work, projects, and links for all things Game Design related.

If you're still reading, check out my renders and other interests on my personal website