Friday, 19 July 2013

Life Changing or Career Building?

Having been obsessed with games since i was about 6 or 7 years old i think it was inevitable that one day i might decide to become part of the industry. Whats the best way of doing that though? Could you do some kind of internship and just work your way up? Sure you could however these days internships are only really given out to people who already know what they're doing, companies using them as low paid work horses. For me university was the best way. Not only were more and more courses being set up for games but i could always fall back on animation and try to get into the industry that way. 

Now I'm here at university, is what I'm being taught the best thing i can learn? Well this is the dilemma that all universities must face. The battle between teaching Technical skills or Soft skills. i want to have a brief look at what exactly both these sets of skills are and what their pros and cons might be.
Technical skills attribute to a person's skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity. These are skills needed in the profession, things like knowledge of 3Ds Max or Photoshop. Limited knowledge of technical skills and relevant software knowledge can mean that people are forced down a pathway that they may not enjoy. Although always required for a job, Technical knowledge alone will not guarantee you one.
Soft skills are personal attributes that enhance an individuals interactions, job performance and career prospects. Being friendly, open and willing to communicate are all great soft skills that are needed and wanted in the industry. These are the type of skills needed if you are wanting to get past the interviewing stage. The game industry is all about working in teams and so being friendly to others and being able to communicate your input to you peers is key if you want to have a successful  career. As with nearly everything it's obviously good to have a balance of both. Not only do you need the necessary technical skills for a studio to be interested in hiring you but you need soft skills in order to take on the interview.
Mr Miyagi requires balance in all things

I think my course has got the balance pretty well. Firstly to even get on the course you have to show you have some kind of technical skill through a portfolio. From there you would have an interview so the tutors and some of the students are able to assess your soft skills. Its extremely important for the interview to happen because once you know that someone has good enough soft skills you can then focus on technical skills for the majority of the course. We're taught both current and past ways of creating assets and how to use current software, using our educated guesses which would be the most useful to us in the future. Our taught techincal skills are art fundimentals, perspective, colour, light etc, and the learning of 3d software. We also have guest speakers that are able to teach us the most current technical skills as well as offering great soft skill advice.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Creativity, the talent myth and craft

Right, well. This has often been a topic of conversation with my friends, especially those that do art or music, and I've often thought about it myself during those fantastical shower thinking sessions where you don't realise quite how long you've been standing under the shower only to come up with amazing theories on life and the universe that get forgotten the moment your foot touches the mat when you get out.

Creativity, What is it? Personally i think creativity is all about thinking, ideas and idea generation. Thinking outside of the box, breaking boundaries. Some people might think it is limited to writers artists or musicians but i would have to disagree. I believe that creativity stems into everything and is a fundamental part of life and moving forward. Scientists are a prime example of creative people that don't do arts. Imagine, if you can, a world before the knowledge of gravity. Then one day a person gets hit on the head by a falling apple and is able, from that one little moment of thought provoking action, theorise gravity and start the laws of physics. All people are creative in different ways. We don't all have the same thoughts, ideas or even thinking patterns, some people think laterally others find it extremely difficult. Having a look on they seem to have a similar definition of creativity; "The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination".
Sir Isaac Newton, creative genius

Now talent is a different kettle of fish. I think that talent is naturally having assets that are key components to being good at something, through both nature and nurtured pathways. For example being a good fighter pilot requires good reaction times, good eyesight and knowledge of how a plane functions. someone might be a naturally "talented" pilot if their reaction times and eyesight are amazing due to good genetics but i don't think it ends here. If a person if particularly interested in something from a young age they will often be perceived as "talented", so in this situation having such a interest in planes that this pilot has read all about planes for the majority of their young life they would be able to learn how to drive that plane quicker than others simply due to the fact that they're so interested in the subject of flying that they practically know how to fly a plane before being shown. I do hope this actually legible, its a rant I've been wanting to do for a while.
Consulting again, talent in their eyes is "a special natural ability or aptitude".  What a load of bullshit. So people are born with innate ability to be to amazing at rocket science? No. I believe people are given assets that make that more reachable, they aren't just given special powers when you're born.  If you were to put two people up against each other, both trying to become a pro golfer. One is able to become pro in 5 years of playing, the other isn't able to reach pro ever. The one that would be considered talented is almost definitely the one with genetic coding that is preferable to being a good golfer, better hand eye co-ordination and faster muscle memory, things of that nature. Although the other might never become pro i am sure that he'll definitely get much better at golf, even if at a much slower pace than the other golfer.
I need to think about this for a bit.....

Maybe the natural preferences heighten the highest limit of a person, rather than restrict the one with less preferable assets. So the non-talented golfer, although a good golfer, was unable to ever get better past a certain point. So here i am thinking that maybe people were limitless, i guess that's where my hypothesis crumbles because everyone has limits. ah, i think I'm getting depressed at this point, i don't like that fact i might have a limit to anything. That i might get good at drawing to a point and then never be able to better myself no matter how much time i put into it. 

The most important thing however is no matter how talented you are or how creative you might be. You have to spend time on you craft to change yourself from being just talented to being genuinely skillful at the practice you're doing. This is why I'm on this course, to spend time on my craft so one day I'll be awesomely skillful and get into a dream job.

Generalist to specialist

The games industry as we know it has flourished in the past couple of decades, so much in fact that it is hard to go a whole day without bumping into something game related. It could be an advert on the TV or just someone playing temple run on their phone at the bus stop. With the demand for games being so high it is really no wonder that it is now a multi-million dollar industry. With all the money being pumped into the industry and more people wanting to become part of it, development studios have become huge and have made it harder for the type of "bedroom coders" to get successful. With development studios becoming so big, hierarchies have been put in place so there is order in the development process. These "hierarchies" mean that the industry has become much more specialised than it used to be. This doesn't mean that smaller teams are completely gone. In fact thanks to Kickstarter, Steam Greenlight, PSN and Xbox Live Arcade, smaller "indie" teams are becoming quite common place. Games like Super Meat Boy, Limbo and Castle Crashers doing amazingly well, so well that they have outsold games with much larger development teams.

Smaller development teams generally means more generalists, Super Meat Boy had a team of 2 actually making the game with one extra person outsourced for music. One person doing animation and art and the other being the coder. Although a bit more general than you might find in a large team, the team was specialised in their respective areas.
Team meat makers of Super Meat Boy

No matter how specialised the industry gets, studios will always prefer to have someone that is both generalised and specialised, known as the T shaped employee. I first learnt of the T shaped employee from the "Valve handbook for new employees" that all new employees at Valve are given (bet you couldn't have guessed that). Their reasons are as such " An expert who is too narrow has difficulty collaborating. A generalist who doesn't go deep enough in a single area ends up on the margins, not really contributing as an individual." Obviously their logic is unflawed and shows why it is really so important to become that perfect T.
Valve T-Shape Employee

Im working towards becoming one of these T shaped employees. I have focused my specialist sights on character art but i understand how i need to become a generalist to a certain level. I believe i have a good ability to bring character into my work but my lack of experience and knowledge in 3D holds me back a bit. I think its extremely important during these first two years to build a good solid foundation of general knowledge, learning all about software and all relevant techniques, with the intent of showing it all off in the third year.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Interactive Design

As i type, tea and giant bag of Doritos in tow, I've taken a quick look around my room to see what gaming peripherals i have lying in my room. Keyboard, mouse, xbox controller and headset. I play a lot of games, probably over 50 hours a week, yet i have no need for any kind of gun peripheral or 3d magic specs to be able to play my games and have fun, so then why have games developers of the past generation decided that gaming peripherals are the way to go? "They're trying to make the experience more realistic!" Well ok but if i wanted to realistically blow someones brains out I would go and join the army or if i wanted Mario kart to feel more weighty I'd go driving like a mad man in my badass 1.2 Clio. I use my gaming more as a tool to escape from this crazy world, because for a few hours everyday i can be a sword wielding maniac or maybe a poshly dressed genius detective or something, rather than being called a "lazy student" or walking to the corner shop just to see that Freddos are now 50 pence (i mean seriously wtf) so in this case "trying to be realistic" doesn't work ."They're trying something new!" i hear you shout. That's all well and good but please make sure your ideas work properly before selling them all over the world. Playing tennis with the Wii was super fun until i realised i could play better slouching on the sofa with a burger in the other hand. Trauma Centre: Second Opinion being almost impossible to play due to how shitly accurate the Wiimote actually was. But then in the corner of my eye i see my sticker covered Guitar Hero controller resting against my wall and i start to remember all the fun i had with it.
such a fun game

Maybe I've become cynical in my old age but I never remember seeing a Powerglove or dance mats and thinking "OH BOY I NEED ME ONE OF THOSE", maybe it's because my first gaming experiences came from the computer and the super Nintendo but i think instead of helping immerse myself most peripherals have been really under par and often taken me out of immersion or made me stop playing altogether. Most are expensive, highly gimmicky and don't work as well as a conventional controller.

The 2 unique controllers that i have found actually enhanced games would be the Guitar Hero controller and the new Wii U gamepad. I am going to help developers here and break down why these have worked so if they decide to make their own "unique" controller, if they read this little list, it will be a hit with all the kids. So here we go:

  1. Accuracy

    Both of the controllers are highly accurate. The guitar controller uses simple switch mechanism for the plectrum which is reliable and feels authentic. i never felt that i failed on a song (a rare occurrence of course) due to the controller not responding. The Wii U gamepad is a much more accurate machine than its predecessor's, with much better accelerometers and gyroscopes that pick up all slight movements accurately. All with a large lovely high res touch screen that is just as reliable as the rest of the remote.
  2. Cheap

    You might be thinking, "but its like £40 for a Wii U gamepad and I'm sure the guitars were similar too" but you're wrong because they both came with the game/console. They also don't need you to buy any add-ons to play a different game mode or game unlike the Wii motion plus which required people to spend extra money to make the Wiimote as accurate as it should have been on release.
    stupid motionplus

  3. Ergonomic

    I mean i know its not hard for the guitar controller to have gone wrong but some peripherals are just outrageously idiotic in their design. Virtual boy being the best example i can think of. What designer thought, lets make our "portable" 3D console a pair of goggles so heavy you can only play them on a table with a stand or by ducktaping the thing to your head. Why not move all the weight to a small bag and just have the screens at the top with a wire connecting them i mean seriously.
Nice and "portable"

So to sum up this post, i don't really like peripherals please stop making them.

Sound for Games

Sound design in games has become just as important to a game than graphics in recent years. Its a highly under appreciated job especially as some games would simply be nowhere near as good without the work of their sound designers. Dead space, for example, would almost certainly not be a trilogy if the sound design in the first one not been so incredible. After being forced into playing the first few levels of the Dead Space, i was really shown the power that sound design brings to games. My character was merely walking through half lit hallways but the combination of scratching, monstrous sounds and eerie violin screeching meant that this was the scariest goddamn hallway I've ever been in. The sound being so good during that first part of the game that i was actually slightly disappointed at how unscary the monsters seemed in comparison to the sounds they were making.
unfortunately only applies to the first Dead Space

Sound for games, i believe can be broken into two catergories. The first being "general soundtrack" and the second being "sound effects". General soundtrack is the overall blanket of sound that games have. The type of sounds that you would sing as you would walk down the street, like the skyrim main theme or the mario theme or something. Although it is generally used as background noise it can be very good for rooting the type of atmosphere the producers are trying to make. Skyrim for example used the main theme tune when you were scuffling with dragons to help the feel of "holy shit i'm fighting a dragon". Sound effects in my opinion is what really gives a game some "real" feeling. The dragon fighting scene for instance with the main Skyrim theme is pretty cool however you aren't all emmersed without the sounds of the dragon's roar or the clashing of metal to dragon scale. The best use of sound effects to create immense emmersion (try saying that five times) would have to be Battlefield 3 by EA.

 A video where the lead audio designer for Battlefield 3 talks about his experiences in making the sound for their games. The most important thing in my mind from this video is the fact that they really had to experience what a battlefield would be like. If you can make an impact on the lead audio designer, make him really feel what its like on the battlefield, then you've already won half the battle of making honest realistic experienced sound.

A video i found about the layering techniques used by the team when making Star Wars Unleashed 2. This technique is used by nearly every game and movie that I've bothered to watch the "behind the scenes" of. In games especially, layering is used to boost the sound above the layers of ambient sounds and music. It helps create sound with more depth and character than the recorded ones. A good example of how layered sounds is used would be from the game League of legends. Rengar is one of the "champions" you are able to play as, a bipedal lion with an affinity for murder is the briefest description of him i can muster. His roar, the subject of layering sound, was created using layers of real lion roars and explosions to make him sound the the big badass character he is .

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Game engines

Game engines are the foundation on which a game is made on. Every game is built off one. Flash or indie games, although they generally don't use big well known engines such as Unreal or Cryengine,  will have a rudimentary engine built by their programmer in order for the game to be made. Engines, like that of a car, limit how good your game can potentially be. An example comes from when me and my friends ventured into making a flash game during one summer, unfortunately none of us knew how to code so we enlisted the help of someone from the site Newgrounds. We had told him our idea and what we wanted to do but due to his skill level a lot of the basic gameplay elements we needed couldn't be made, we later scrapped the game. Commercial engines such as Unreal, Cryengine and Unity don't have as many limitations as a lowly coder in his bedroom although there are some significant differences between them that i want to talk about in this blog.


going by this list of most popular game engines:, Unreal is actually the least popular of the three engines i am going to talk about today. Although not as widely used as Unity, The amount of AAA game titles that use Unreal is quite staggering. Gears of war, Batman Arkham Asylum, Bioshock Infinite, Dishonored some good examples of games that use the Unreal engine.
Bioshock Infinite
Gears of War 3

  • Free student versions (allowing people to learn it before getting into the industry)
  • Depth of field, Bloom, Motion blur, rendering techniques that can help push a game to become more realistic
  •  Better for interior scenes
  • Physics engine is one of the best in the world
  • Lighting is restrictive in Unreal 3 with only 4 dynamic lights (although Unreal 4 has more, but is next gen)
  • assets can only have a max of 6 material ID's
  • can become quite complex if needed to be changed from a first person shooter


The most popular game engine on the list but probably the least known. Used on some extremely popular games such as Battlestar Galactica Online and Temple run.
Battlestar Galactica Online
Temple run

  • Extremely multi-platform with rumours of even google is trying to get it working on Chrome
  • Scripting languages makes it a good choice for people who are not programming gurus
  • Free version has restricted use
  • No realtime shadows
  • Rendering quality doesn't match up to Unreal or Cryengine

The second most popular of the three, Cryengine is starting to be used more and more for the rendering quality alone, always seemingly next gen. Cryengine has been used on games like Crysis and Ryse.
The beautiful Crysis 3
Ryse coming later this year

  • Development is all in real time allowing a faster pipline
  • Engine is extremely strong, allowing for much higher tri counts and texture sizes
  • Lighting is dynamic and easily editable
  • Not the best for indoor scenes
  • If working on a large scene or level can get very laggy as it is all real time