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Game Development Using Funny Cat Pictures

I really really really really Don't know what I am doing.

Trust Me, I am an Engineer

Memory Cat, needs more memoriez

Picture of a Cat panicking

I can fix this, sorta.

Picture of a Cat panicking

We Didz it yey!

Nexus: Status Update Week 11

Heavily prototyping the new power system was the goal for this past week. The producers prototyped a lot of different scenarios to test out the new power system.

The goal of all of this prototyping was two-fold. First, we wanted to continue to make sure that the new system was actually fun and playable. From our prototypes, we discovered that it was indeed an improvement over the original system and we all feel that the change was definitely for the best.

Second, the prototypes were being used to test out puzzle ideas for the Sun God area (a section of the Aztec Bridge area). Through the prototypes we were able to implement some new unique puzzles this past week. We also figured out the pulleys system in UDK and we were able to integrate that into our puzzle ideas.

One of the main puzzles derived from the prototypes was the dangling lanterns we are using in the Sun God area. To start, one of the lanterns in the area is lit by flames, with the rest being unlit. The player first has to use the new power system to create an elevator to get up to the upper platform where they can access the lantern.

From there, the player’s objective is to use the powers to collide the lanterns found in the area. Once they collide, the unlit lanterns catch on fire. This was an idea that we really liked and through prototyping we were able to figure out how to transfer the fire and we learned that it made for an engaging gameplay scenario.

The end goal is to position a Servant Statue and light it on fire using the lanterns. From there you would push the statue using your powers to a specified location were the Servant Statue would offer up the fire to the Sun God statue. Once the fire touches the Sun God’s orb, it lights up and unlocks the first piece of the Aztec bridge.

Aside from the prototypes, this past week we also mapped out most of the Bridge area as well as defined how the player will go about receiving the powers. We created a power progression process that will ease the player slowly into the power system.

The prototypes and design ideas kept the producers busy, but the producers also spent some time this week working on a lot of organizational stuff. I myself reorganized most of our Perforce structure this past week. The original system we had in place was not efficient for the artists and I worked with them closely to create a folder structure they felt comfortable with.

The new structure is in place and should definitely help keep the pipeline moving a bit more efficiently as the artists now know where to easily put their content and the producers know where to look for new assets.

On top of that, we also iterated on our Production pipeline this past week. Post Vertical Slice production has been challenging for us since we haven’t had that inherit pressure that comes with Vertical Slice.

Prior to Vertical Slice it was merely get something up and quickly so it could work and we could show it. This made us make decisions quickly. Now we have to build levels and systems to full completion. This has led to some analysis paralysis and we’ve been struggling a bit.

First, we started out by creating a new updated burndown chart of the tasks we need to complete and modified some of our projections for better accuracy. Now that we’ve done a lot of this before, we now know how long it is going to take for certain tasks.

From that we have created a new two phase level design system. First the producers go through a design process where they create the layout, purpose, game script and come up with a list of key art assets. This is mostly identical to our original pipeline.

After that however, we now have a higher emphasis on prototyping. As mentioned earlier we prototyped a lot of the puzzles this week and this is something we will continue to do. We will try out various puzzles and ideas and see which ones are the best to keep for a given level.

Finally, to finish up Phase 1, there is some internal playtesting, tweaks and the continuation of any art asset creation and programming tasks.

Once that Phase is complete, the level is then handed off to the Phase 2 team. The Phase 2 team handles most of the polish as they add in music, cinematics, sound effects and place the art assets created from Phase 1. At the end of Phase 2 there is some more playtesting, both internal and external.

While the Phase 2 team is working on polishing the level, the Phase 1 team now starts designing and prototyping the next level. This is in an effort to stay ahead so that when Phase 2 is complete on the previous level, the Phase 2 team can instantly get to work on the next level.

In the end, this system is not much different than our original pipeline. The major changes are more prototyping the puzzles and a lot more of the polish aspects. This modified pipeline is more transparent and has allowed us to force the pressure on ourselves as everyone knows who is responsible for what and there is clear due dates for each phase. We are confident this new pipeline will help us get back on track.

While producers prototyped and organized, the programmers continued to fine tune the traversal system. They worked closely with our animation team to start getting very accurate animations. We did hit a snag with a deforming rig that set us back, but we have learned a lot from the process.

For the most part though, we cannot venture forward with traversal too much at this point since we are in the process of redoing Chris, which includes a new rig. Once we get the new rig, we can then continue to get new animations for traversal.

While working on traversal, we also modified how we did our AI system. We’ve cleaned it up and made it more effective and easier to use. A Producer can now just plop in an AI actor class into any of our levels. The new AI system is better structured now that we’ve had time to take a step back and re-access without the time crunch of Vertical Slice.

For this past week in particular we were able to get AI for three new enemies! Using the Spider models completed by the artists this week, we were able to implement three spider types a Spitter, Spinner and Swarmer. We can easily place these enemies now with the improved AI and they each have their own characteristics and movements.

While working on those two items, the programmers also continued their work on the power system. They added in constant force so that the player no longer had to continue to tap the button to use the powers.

This was something we noticed from our internal playtesting session this past week. To use the powers you had to spam the buttons and this was cumbersome. Now it is simply a constant force based on holding the trigger buttons.

Finally, the programmers worked on data tracking and metrics system. We got UDK talking through a DLL to an external application where we can track the players location and height. Using this we created a small application that allowed us to show a map of a danger room and show the position of the player, nearly real time.

You could jump in the game and it would send out that information and update a mini-map. The map is a bird’s eye view of the level that shows you where the player had moved. This is definitely a great start into tracking metrics in our game and will be great for playtesting.

While, the programmers and producers were doing their thing this past week, the artists were busy working on enemies and our new Chris redesign. They were able to get the high-poly sculpt of Chris ready to go and have since even gotten the low poly completed. Chris should be ready to show in the next few weeks.

They also worked on creating the new enemies mentioned above, the spiders. We also got animations in for those, as well as worked on some new animations for our first enemy the boar.

The artists also continued work on the Aztec Bridge area as they completed the Sun God version of the God statues. They also reworked one of our original bridges and created some new statues as well. They also worked on a matte painting to use as the canyon background for the Bridge area.

Well, this wraps up another post. We won’t be having a video status update this week, but we will definitely have one for next week. In the meantime I will leave you with renders and concepts as usual.

 

Artwork

 

The 2011 IGDA GDC Scholar Experience

Two months ago, on my way out to dinner, I received a phone call. It was an unrecognized number from California. I thought to myself for a moment and it hit me. It couldn’t be I said to myself. After answering the phone, my assumption had proven true.

On the other end of the phone was Gordon Bellamy, the Executive Director of the IGDA. He informed me of winning one of the twenty-five IGDA scholarships for GDC 2011. I honestly don’t remember much of that conversation as it all happened so fast. But I do recall my responses, which were pretty much comprised of awesome and thank you.

When Tom sent out an email about an article on Gamasutra talking about the IGDA scholarship, I never expected it would lead where it did. I honestly assumed it was a long shot. But I took my time and submitted the application.

These are the events that led me to the phone call from Gordon. I had become one of the twenty-five GDC 2011 Scholars and I was going to San Francisco for GDC, an event, prior to a year ago, I assumed I would never get to attend.

My experience as an IGDA scholar was both memorable and rewarding. The people I met and the skills I learned in the week at GDC were amazing. From the private tours of studios, to the networking we were able to do with Zynga, Microsoft, Epic, and other companies, the experience was really like nothing I had been a part of before.

Aside from the meeting with companies, having lunch with Zynga, and all the completely awesome things Jack Bogdan, Sheri Rubin, and Gordon planned for us, some of the best experiences came from meeting and talking to the other 24 scholars.

GDC and this entire experience of being an IGDA Scholar, if nothing else, taught me one thing. I am a game developer. Sure I am still a student and should consider myself as such, but with talking with the other IGDA Scholars, and attending a lot of the talks and tutorials at GDC, I realized that amidst FIEA and the scholar experience I had become a game developer.

Being an IGDA Scholar and attending GDC was really the first time I felt like one and not just another student. I had conversations with 24 amazing people and we all talked about the projects we were working on, the assignments we were completing and the trials and tribulations we faced every day while working on our respective game related projects.

We talked about managing people, development methodologies, programming topics, engines and more.  It was great to meet and interact with such a dedicated and passionate group of people. We came from countries all across the world but were united under one thing, our passion and love for video games and the industry.

The experience taught me more than that of course. On top of feeling like a developer, I also realized that this was really what I’ve always wanted to do. When I came to FIEA I first received that reminder. It was where I wanted to be and I couldn’t be happier making video games with 60 other passionate people.

Being a GDC scholar was again a reminder that I was in the right place. It was a realization that hey my dream is coming true and I was living that same dream with 24 other people who too I am sure have the same dream and goal as me.

Through the scholar program I’ve met and talked to so many great people, and that includes my mentor. Part of the scholar experience is being paired up with a mentor. At GDC I met up with my mentor on two occasions. My mentor was Dustin Clingman, the CEO of ZeeGee games here in Orlando, FL.

Dustin was very helpful and taught me the networking ropes at GDC. He taught me about various networking techniques, introduced me to people, and we talked about some of things I was working on at FIEA.

Aside from the great tours, the talks with companies that the IGDA set up for us, and talking with all the other scholars, just having the chance to go to GDC was amazing. I went to the Producer Boot camp, sat in some writing sessions, toured and talked to a lot of people on the Expo floor, watched the experimental gameplay sessions, and even went to a talk from Will Wright.

I learned a lot about production, development methodologies and a lot of little things that I could take back and apply in my projects at FIEA. Plus, I mean seriously. I got to see Will Wright in person. Two years ago that notion would have seemed ridiculous.

In the end the entire experience would not have been possible without the IGDA. They have done an amazing job with the scholarship program and again the events they were able to plan for us scholars were stellar and informative.

The IGDA is an impressive organization that I don’t think gets enough recognition. They are great group of dedicated game developers who are daily trying to help each other and help budding young developers. They are doing great work with programs like the GDC Scholarship program and they are trying very hard to help students make contacts and get jobs in the industry.

I can easily say the program that the IGDA setup for us scholars will undoubtedly be a huge factor when it comes time for me to find a job. I almost cannot fully put into words the gratitude and appreciation I have for all those involved in setting up this scholar experience. It was one of the best weeks of my life and it truly was a dream come true.

Nexus: Status Update Week 10

This week we focused mostly on our traversal system as well as some prototyping of our new power mechanic.

As a reminder, the new power system involves the player having two shards at their disposal. At the moment, we are using the sticky light globs from before, but soon they will be replaced with shards.

The shards the player obtains will not only serve as the focal point for power usage, but they will also be a driving force in the environment, on the enemies, and they open up new possible ways to explain a lot of the alien technology. It is a very unique idea and we’ve latched onto it.

With these shards that the player can launch, they will use both of them in conjunction to be able to push or pull objects, add or subtract mass, and even nullify gravity.

So the new system does not remove or get rid of any of the original powers (aside from damage grenade) it simply is just an encapsulation of the powers. It is a system that now guides and manages how the player goes about using these powers.

From this new power mechanic, one of the things the producers have been working on is this Cool Stuff Wall. Daily, we add post-it notes to a wall in our concept room that contains ideas on cool ways to use the new power mechanic.

For this week, we took several of those cool ideas and started prototyping them in a producer danger room (as a reminder, this is what we call our prototyping rooms). We tested out this idea of creating an elevator by sticking a shard on a platform and then one on the ceiling. While standing on the platform you can attract forces between the two shards and it will slowly lift and pull the platform.

We also looked at ways of using the powers for combat. For example we put a shard (again still a sticky light glob) on the floor, which attracts our boar enemy. From there we put one on a column and we attract the two forces and slam the column down on the boar.

We’ve explored some of the cool ideas on the wall and we have many more to test out and prototype. Soon, we will narrow the list down, figure out which ones we like the best, and then decide which ones create the best opportunities for awesome moments in our levels.

Speaking of levels, also this week, the artists have continued making concept art and some more unique pieces for our next level, the Aztec Bridge area. In this area the player will have to cross a giant bridge in an outside environment.

Our artists really wanted to get out of the caves and temples, so we decided to have a portion of the game take place in an outside setting. This would give us a different type of level that would change things up a bit and give us a new set of challenges like skyboxes and global lighting.

What the artists created this week were some of the pieces of the canyon walls, the skybox, and the two main center pieces for the bridge, a Servant Statue and a God statue. For this bridge, the player will have to solve several puzzles in the area.

Once they complete these puzzles, the servant statues will rise and offer their hands up to the Gods. The Gods will then lower down to the servants and accept their offering. In doing so, the two statues connect to make a bridge that the player can cross.

What we have so far for this area is definitely far different than anything we have created for Nexus up to this point and we feel it will be a unique level.

While the producers have been prototyping and the artists have been making pieces for the bridge area, the programmers have been hard at work as well. They have implemented a pretty great start on our traversal mechanic.

For this week, we were able to show off the ability to climb walls of various heights. To do this, the programmers set up a system that is very dynamic. These objects do not have pre-set hand-holding positions and they are not set up as events to climb.

The programmers used a system where rays shoot out of the main character Chris that allow us to judge how high an object is and where it is located in relation to the player. Once the player reaches a distance close enough to the climbable object, the ability to climb is activated and then it uses the rays to determine how high to put the hands.

They then programmatically control the hand positions and which animations to use for climbing. If it is a tall climb, Chris will jump up and grab. If it is a short climb, he will just push off his hands and vault over.

This system is a great first start.  It is big considering that the powers in our game can frequently change the position and height of many of the objects in the environment. So without this dynamic system it would be hard to always determine where, when and how to climb.

We look forward to the continued progress on this system. Having this system being dynamic will help free up a lot of the design as we won’t have to limit ourselves to pre-set heights.

While working on the traversal system, the programmers also implemented a lot of the structure for our new power system so that the producers could prototype the cool ideas. On top of that, they also cleaned up and restructured some of the AI so that it could be easier to create new enemies.

Finally, they also began planning out and mapping a metrics database system that we can use to track metrics, create heat maps, and even use for play testing. They have designed the architecture behind the system and they have developed and application that talks to UDK and acquires time stamps and player location data.

That is about it for week 10. Now that we have the traversal system in and working, we will be tweaking that constantly over the next few weeks to fine tune it. We will also continue our work on the powers prototyping, as well as constructing more of the Aztec Bridge area, which we hope to show next week.

As always, until then, I’ll leave you with concept art. Also, don’t forget to view the Week 10 video status update below!

 

Artwork

Videos

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Outside of Capstone

A little while back I wrote a post about some of the assignments everyone was completing outside of the Capstone games we were making.

Since we are getting closer to the end of the second semester, I thought I’d update everyone on some of the other work we are all completing outside of our Capstone games.

The Producers have been put to work this semester. As I mentioned earlier, we were working on making our own Flash games, by ourselves, without artists or programmers. We were tasked with making three Flash games. We recently just finished our third and final Flash game.

We started out by creating a Flash game entirely by ourselves. Then we did a pairs game where we had to create a game with another Producer. This taught us how to work and divide coding tasks. Finally, we worked on team game with a total of four people.

For the team game we had to publish the game on the web either on its own website or on Facebook. The game also had to track and use metrics. To do the metrics portion of this assignment, I actually worked with Ron Weaver to create the PHP/MySQL side of the FIEA metrics database so that the Producers could use this system in their team Flash games.

After completing the Flash games, we have just recently started our level design assignments. We first had to complete a Solo Level design. For this assignment we had to create a level using an existing game editor. We could use editors such as Forge, Star Craft II, or GECK. We just had to create a level using the editor of our choice. I created a track using ModNation Racers.

This assignment introduced you to level design. Currently, this week, we are now building levels in UDK. For the next four weeks we will be building a solo level in UDK, and a team level.

While the Producers have been doing their thing, the Programmers have continued their work on their engine for the Xbox. Using their Xbox Dev kits, they create several new parts of the engine each week. They run each piece through rigorous unit testing using a system called QuickBuild. They also test it on their Xbox Dev kits.

Creating an engine has been very hard work for the programmers. They spend most of their time on the assignments, with some time set aside to help with the capstone games when they can. They typically have two assignments due each week.

In the next couple of weeks they will be done with the engine. They will then vote as a class which engine they like the best and then the entire Programming track will make a game using that engine.

Meanwhile, the Artists have been busy continually working on the same assignment for quite a while. For this assignment they were tasked with actually modeling the face of another fellow artist. They first had to do a Zbrush sculpt of the person, and then added in cards for hair, etc. After some tweaks, they then had to do some facial rigging and blend shapes. They are now working on lip syncing.

The second semester has been a lot of work. Juggling both the heavy course workloads and Capstone is definitely challenging and we are all putting in extremely long hours.

However, the experiences we are learning this semester are essential, and to boot we are gaining a lot of war stories, which will be great for interviews! Plus, the rigors of FIEA will prepare us for any crunch time hours we will have in the industry.

Nexus: Status Update Week 9

Vertical Slice, GDC, Spring Break, a week of classes, and the flu has all come and gone since my last post. A lot has happened in three and half weeks and I am just now getting around to catching up on the blog.

After Vertical Slice I headed off to GDC, which was an amazing experience. I won’t get into any details about GDC, but while I was gone, Nexus was obtaining and integrating new teammates and there was a lot going on at FIEA.

Right after vertical slice, if you were on a project that was cut, you will be reassigned to a new team. Typically faculty tries their best to go back and see what game you rated highly during the pitches so that they can place you on that team. They also ask the team for any special requests, and they also entertain requests from individuals themselves.

From that, the remaining Capstone games, Scarfell, Nexus and Dead West each required new teammates from Erado and Organ Grinder.  Aside from teaching us that projects can and do get cut, FIEA also teaches you the difficulties of acquiring new team members.

It is always a challenge for any project to acquire new people. It is tough on the team and it’s of course tough on the new members. Those coming from Organ Grinder and Erado are naturally still disappointed about having their work cut. Meanwhile the teams obtaining the new members are trying to reassess their game, all while trying to get the new teammates caught up.

For the most part, the week after Vertical Slice is re-organization, code clean up, and just overall ramp-up. You need to make sure the new teammates are given their new desks and you have to get them up to speed on how the team does things. This includes Perforce and coding standards as well as possibly learning a whole new engine for some people.

One thing with Vertical Slice being six weeks in is that it hovers closely around Spring Break. This year Spring Break was a week after Vertical Slice. Suffice to say motivation was probably lower than normal and the teams were slow to ramp up. Also, we were all naturally pretty tired from Vertical Slice, so motivation itself was low to begin with.

As such, the teams struggled out of the gate and the Status Updates this week were pretty rough. In the end, it was an interesting lesson for all of the teams.

Classes have been back for a week now and all of us are getting back into our natural flows. So with that brief overview of what happens post Vertical Slice, I will dive back into Nexus and update everyone on what’s going on.

First, Nexus acquired six more members. We acquired three producers, two artists and one more programmer. Five out of the six new teammates had worked in UDK before, so for the most part, there was little ramp-up in terms of engine. However, there was one Producer who came over from the Vision engine and they had to quickly learning UDK so that they could hit the ground running.

Overall, everyone seemed to get adapted quickly and the Nexus team was starting to refocus. We sat down and figured out what our plans were going forward. There were a lot of design meetings to determine what kind of new levels we wanted to introduce and there was also a lot of ramp-up meetings.

Time went by pretty fast, as it usually does. Spring Break was nearing an end, and we had a status update on Tuesday. As I alluded to earlier, the three teams, Nexus included, didn’t have much to show. During the break, we did a lot of planning and a lot of clean up.

First, we re-organized our UDK packages. During the heat of Vertical Slice sometimes you just forgo structure and organization even though you shouldn’t. But you do just to make things go faster and easier. Sadly, this was slowly coming back to bite us as our packages were getting messy.

So we reorganized the packages, moved assets to more logical locations, renamed files to meet naming conventions, and even removed a lot of duplicate files. We also spent this time re-organizing Perforce a bit and doing a bit of code clean up.

While that was all great and was necessary, it certainly wasn’t something we could show during the status update. This is where we fell back on figuring out what we wanted to create.

First, we decided to pretty much put the previous two levels we had created aside. They fit our needs for Vertical Slice, but they were never our original intended levels. They were awesome levels so we will be using most of the assets we created as we develop our new designs.

One of the first areas we fleshed out is an Aztec bridge area. The artists started doing some concepts for the various pieces we had in mind for this new section and we started determining some of the possible puzzle elements and ways to use the powers.

The artists spent most of Spring Break doing their concept work and even working on some of the Zbrush sculpts for the unique assets for the new area (you can see some of the concepts below).

While the artists were working on concepts, the team reassessed the mechanics a bit. From this, we came to a conclusion that while our powers were functional and seemed pretty cool, they were uninspiring and were not fun.

A good meeting or two was spent on this topic and out of it was born a new mechanic. We have kept the powers mostly as they are, but we have modified how the player goes about using the powers.

Originally, mass was going to be our main resource. The player would have a set level of mass and they would manipulate objects and themselves by giving or taking away mass. We have thrown that out and have instead replaced it with something we are tentatively calling “shards.”

The player will now have two shards as their resource, one on each hand. To be able to use the powers, the player must launch a shard and place it on an object. They will shoot out a shard and hit an object and then they will shoot out the other shard on a different object, or perhaps even the same object. From that they will apply mass, and the forces of attract or repel on those shards themselves, rather than manipulating the actual object like they did before.

This new way of controlling the powers opens up a lot of more opportunities. We feel it gives our powers more of a unique system that we can use to build cool amazing ideas. Before the player could just spam the powers and they were hard to use. Now, there is a system in place that makes it more fleshed out and engaging.

The player could throw two shards onto two objects and smash the objects together. Or maybe they could throw a shard on the roof, and then the other on a platform and using attract and repel forces they could create a makeshift elevator. Maybe they could throw a shard on one gear, and then the other on a second gear and cause them to rotate in their proper direction.

In the end, this decision wasn’t made lightly. We sat down as a team and we all made sure this was the new mechanic we wanted. Everyone had to be on board with as there was no going back. Everyone agreed and this will be the new mechanic in Nexus!

Well, that was mostly what we discussed during our Status Update this week. We showed a lot of the cool concept art and we discussed our new mechanic. We also talked about the new traversal system our programmers are working on. Sadly we didn’t have anything in engine to really show this week, but we are confident in our new mechanic. We have the basic system working in UDK now and we have some of our initial ideas in place.

With that, we are certainly looking forward to demonstrating our new mechanic next week!

Until then, I will leave you with some of the concept art we showed on Tuesday. Thanks for reading a long post and we look forward to sharing a new mechanic and the start of our new level next week. Also, we will be continuing our video status updates next week, so look out for that as well. Thanks again!

GDC 2011 Recap: Part 4

This is Part 4 of my GDC recap. If you missed any of the other parts, you can read them by clicking on the links below.

Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 2.

Click here to read Part 3.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thursday was sort of a big day for me. It started out first thing in the morning with a private booth tour of Epic with the IGDA Scholars. Holy crap. Here I stood a budding young game developer working with UDK and Nexus and now was my chance to get some behind the scenes face time with people from Epic.

They showed us the new March build of UDK and showcased the Samaritan Demo, which is freaking amazing. It really showcases some of the new DX11 stuff they have added including new depth of field, lens flares, and subsurface scattering. It also demonstrates the new Nvidia APEX cloth physics system.

Working in UDK, it was neat to see some of the Kismet events they created for this demo. The Kismet was pretty intense and they had amazing Matinee sequences. The March build was released yesterday, and we will be switching to it very soon as there are many features we would like to use on Nexus.

Afterwards I got a chance to talk to the Recruiting Manager at Epic for a bit, Tim Johnson. I showed him a video of Nexus, which subsequently actually killed my iPad during my demo. Thankfully Zach had it ready on his iPhone and we were able to showcase Nexus.

He told us it was great to be working on this stuff as it certainly helps showcase our talent and showcases that we have worked on game projects. He also recommended that we get it out there as much as possible so that we can get tons of feedback and make improvements.

Overall, the Epic booth was pretty cool and it was great to get a sneak peak at some of the crazy stuff they pull off with their engine.

After that the IGDA Scholars got to meet up with Microsoft. We talked with Microsoft reps for a bit and we got to ask questions about what they look for in new hires, and I asked what they look for in producers. For the most part what they said they look for is a lot of what we experience at FIEA. They look for producers who are working on games with a team, and producers who are used to working with scheduling, design, and overall team management.

The coolest part though was at the end when we received gift box number two. Microsoft gave us all FREE Xbox 360, 250 GB with Kinect bundles. After promptly giddying like children, we took a group picture. I can’t thank the IGDA folks and Microsoft enough for that one. It’s a pretty amazing gift. Now what to do with my current Elite model is the next question.

After the early morning excitement, it was mostly a nice, quiet day. Zach and I met Tom and Ron for lunch where we got the chance to talk with a lot of people from Bethesda who worked on Fallout 3 and who are currently working on Skyrim. This was of course very exciting and informative as we picked their brain about what it was like to work on such complex games.

From there, we all returned to the Moscone Center and went to the Experimental Gameplay Sessions. This was kind of an odd, zany, but pretty awesome session where we got to see some pretty crazy, but innovate gameplay mechanics. There was one game called Maquette that was particularly interesting. It dealt with the concept of recursion and it was really a cool demo that showcased taking a piece of the world from one place and having it affect another piece somewhere else.

Once we completed the GDC events for the day I went back to the hotel and crashed for a bit. GDC can be a pretty tiring experience going from place to place and event to event, so I wasn’t afraid to take a quick nap. After my break, Zach and I met up with Tom and Ron again, as well as a lot of former FIEAns.

This was really cool. We met up with former FIEAns for dinner and drinks and it was really great to get a chance to talk with them about their experiences at FIEA and where they are now in industry. It was the first time ever that there has been a FIEA reunion. So now I can say I was at the first!

Drinks with FIEAns was a great way to end Thursday.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The last day of GDC had arrived. The day started with the last IGDA event. We met up for an IGDA Student Roundtable meeting, where we talked about the awesome new programs and events that the IGDA is trying to kick start. The IGDA is doing an awesome job reaching out to students and I think they will be a huge asset in getting a lot of young talent into the industry.

After that it was time to hit the Expo floor to see FIEAs very own A.J. Jeromin conduct a talk for Autodesk. AJ is part of the art faculty and he got to demonstrate some of the stuff we do at FIEA and how we use the Autodesk line of products. It was some great publicity for FIEA as he got to show off the Cohort 6 capstone trailers and even a tour video. Nikki Smith, a Cohort 6 Artist, now at EA Tiburon, also got the chance to talk about how she used Motion Builder and other Autodesk software for the Capstone projects.

I hung around the Expo floor for a while after that and checked out any remaining booths that I missed. I went to the Trinigy booth to see if they had any cool information I could take back to the other two Capstone games Scarfell and Dead West, since they are both working with the Vision Engine.

After some lunch it was time for my last two sessions at GDC. I first went to a Sims 3 UI discussion where they talked about the various iterations, processes and thoughts regarding how they designed the Create-A-Sim feature in the Sims 3. Being a fan of UI and usability, I found this very interesting as they discussed the challenge of trying to keep the system simple for the Sims 3 user base, while trying to build what is actually a pretty complex system.

Finally, to wrap up my GDC experience, I sat in on Will Wright’s postmortem for his first game, Raid on Bungeling Bay. It was a great talk and Will Wright is pretty awesome. The talk went over how the game got started, how there was piracy even back in those days on the Commodore 64, and how Sim City was built off a World Editor he used on the Commodore 64 called WEDIT. Also, he stopped for ten minutes to randomly discuss the Russian Space Program in the 60s and 70s. It was just a whacky and fun talk and it was really an amazing experience getting to see Will Wright live. Will Wright Classic Postmortem

To end GDC and my trip to San Francisco, Zach and I once again met up with Tom for dinner. Andres also joined us. After dinner we walked to Fisherman’s Wharf and we did some sight-seeing. The last thing we did was meet up with Ron and we caught an improv comedy show. It was a nice quiet ending to a pretty busy, fun-filled week.

Wrap-Up

Well that is it for my experiences at GDC 2011. It was an amazing time and I learned an incredible amount of information. I got a chance to meet 24 other amazing IGDA Scholars and I met a lot of industry professionals. I met past FIEAns and I got a chance to tour a bit of San Francisco. It was definitely one of the best weeks of my life and I can’t thank enough the folks at IGDA, Jack, Gordon, and Sheri for giving me the opportunity to go to GDC.

Thanks for reading my long GDC Recap posts. Nexus should be returning to full swing this coming week and I should have a status update post next week!

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GDC 2011 Recap: Part 3

This is Part 3 of my GDC recap. If you missed Part 1 or 2, you can read them by clicking on the links below.

Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 2.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday was a mixed day where we had some time in the morning to do some GDC stuff, but there was some IGDA events planned for the afternoon.

In the morning, I went to watch Satoru Iwata’s keynote speech . This was definitely cool as I was able to see a gaming icon live on stage. His talk was interesting as he discussed how things have changed so much in 25 years (it was the 25th anniversary of GDC this year). He highlighted it by showing just how quickly things have changed with Pokemon. It went from link cables, to infrared connections, and now to Wi-Fi in just a few years.Shot of Iwata's Keynote Speech

From there it turned into a Nintendo press event as Reggie Fils-Aimes came on stage and talked about the various new features of the 3DS and how it will continue to shape innovation.

After that speech, I sat in on the Game Writers’ Roundtable. This was really an interesting session. One thing we all learned during our first six weeks of Nexus is that none of us have ever penned a script before, and certainly not for a video game. Writing for games is challenging so I thought this would be a good session to sit in on.

I learned a lot actually. It was mostly tips and tricks on how to write in smaller and smaller chunks. One of the key tips is that it is crucial to use imagery or the environment to do a lot of your story telling. Not many people like reading fields of text, so you have to tell your story visually and let the player fill in the details while only giving them the crucial text.

Hopefully some of the notes I took from this session can help us out as we further continue our writing for Nexus.

After that session it was time to meet up with the IGDA Scholars once again. This time it was for lunch with Zynga. This was really awesome. Zynga wined and dined us and we got to sit and talk with people from Zynga about what kind of projects they were working on, what kind networking and bandwidth issues they deal with, what they look for in new hires and more. It was a great opportunity to sit and talk with them and we all had a great time.

Post lunch with Zynga, we had a little time before the next IGDA event for the day, so I went down to the Expo floor where I checked out the Sony booth and got a picture of the NGP. I also played some Killzone 3 in 3D. I then hopped over to the Crytek booth where checked out CryEngine 3 to see how it compared to UDK. I also played some Crysis 2 in 3D. Sony's NGP

From there I actually got some hands on time with the 3DS. I have to say it was mostly underwhelming to be honest. Street Fighter 4 and Resident Evil: Mercenaries both looked solid in the 3D department, but it wasn’t anything amazing. Sometimes it was even more of a distraction. I tried out Zelda: Ocarina of Time in 3D and it was actually distracting.

Crysis 2 and Killzone 3 were solid in 3D, but I am still very hard pressed to jump on the 3D bandwagon. After trying all of these out, I am still not fully convinced it’s the next big thing. However, time will tell and as developers further work with the technology I am sure there will be huge amazing leaps.

After perusing the Expo floor it was time to meet up again with my fellow IGDA Scholars as we sat in on the PlayStation Move update. Here we learned a lot of the technical information behind the Move and we also learned about the Move.me program. Move.me is a program they are starting that will allow developers to make applications for the PC that utilize the Move system.

The IGDA Scholars were then given a more private tour of the Sony booth. Afterwards the awesome people behind the scholar program, Jack Bogdan, Sheri Rubin and Gordon Bellamy handed us the first of our mystery boxes. We received some pretty awesome gifts at GDC for being IGDA Scholars and the first was an OnLive Microconsole. Major thanks to the IGDA and OnLive for those!

After receiving this awesome gift I met up with my IGDA mentor, Dustin Clingman, the President and CEO of ZeeGee games in Orlando. We talked for a bit and he introduced me to a lot of people and taught me some of the networking ropes. He ran off to dinner and I actually caught up with Zach and we went to the IGF and Game Developer Choice Awards show. Those were both totally awesome, and Tim Schafer was a riot as the host of the Game Developer Choice Awards.

To wrap up the night I once again met up with Dustin at the W Hotel where we chatted some more, I met some more people and we continued to discuss various networking methods and strategies.

I really appreciate the advice from Dustin and I thank him for showing me the ropes and introducing me to new people.

That is it for Part 3. Coming up next is Part 4, the last two days at GDC.

GDC 2011 Recap: Part 2

This is Part 2 of my GDC 2011 recap. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tuesday was an all GDC day. We did not have anything scheduled for the IGDA Scholar program. This gave us Scholars time to sit it on some of the summits and tutorials. For Tuesday, I chose to sit in on the Producer Boot Camp.

At the Boot Camp, there were several speakers including Rod Fergusson from Epic, Rich Vogel from BioWare, as well as speakers from Crytek and ngmoco:).Producer Boot Camp Rating Form

The entire tutorial session was really an enlightening and amazing experience for me. First off, I actually knew what the hell they were talking about. It was really one of the first times that I felt I was actually a part of the industry. Sure we’ve been building games at FIEA, but Rick, Ron and the faculty certainly do a hell of a job teaching us industry terminology and techniques and it was apparent how much I had already learned in my six months at FIEA.

Rod Fergusson’s talk in particular hit home for me. He talked about how the Producer should be the one to do whatever it takes to get to “ship.” The Producer should buy the pizza, be the last one out of the building, or even do coffee runs. These are some of my core tenets. I’ll do whatever is required of me and I will buy the team food, or just stay there with them, whatever it takes to help them out. The talk was a confidence booster for me as I could say, hey, I guess I am doing something right.

Rod Fergusson’s talk was first and from there we went to Caryl Shaw from ngmoco:). She discussed how different it was from producing large scale games for EA and Maxis to producing smaller iPhone games. While there are certainly similarities, there are also a lot of differences. It was interesting to see the different challenges and problems she faced as a producer on iPhone games. Smaller team sizes, shorter development times and just overall platform differences.

The folks at Crytek had an interesting talk about what the difference was between a Project Manager and a Producer and how each both have roles on a project and that both must work together during development. Picture of Producer Boot Camp Screen

Rich Vogel’s talk was also interesting. He discussed Agile development and Scrum in particular and how they used it at BioWare. This was a really great talk, and once again it was great to see the things we are learning in class appear at GDC.

The Producer Boot Camp taught me a lot about what a producer should be doing in industry and how being a producer varies from company to company and from platform to platform. I came out of those talks feeling really good about being a producer and I felt that FIEA is definitely preparing me for industry.

After that I actually met up with Ron Weaver and met with John Austin the Managing Director at Joystick Labs in Durham, NC. After talking with him briefly, and showing him a video of Nexus, he had to run, and so did Ron and I.

Ron and I then met up with a fellow FIEAn from Cohort 1, Carlos Barbosa, who is currently a Designer at EA Tiburon. We had dinner and then went off to do some partying. As I said in Part 1 of this GDC recap, Tuesday was my main partying night.

First off we went to the Zynga party. Holy crap, this was a pretty awesome party. There were free drinks for starters, but there was just a lot of people and it had a very nice expensive flair. With how much money they are making these days, I am sure Zynga can afford it.

At the party I had the chance to meet the General Manager of Zynga, Jeremy Verba. Ron and I talked to him for a bit about some of the Flash games we were working on for Prod II. We also bumped into Andres Cantor, another fellow FIEAn, from Cohort 5. He is working at Zynga and we had a brief chance to talk.

The Zynga party was pretty wild, but eventually calmed down and we soon left. After that I hung around with Carlos some more as we went to the Marriott hotel where we met up with some Nvidia people.

This was a pretty awesome experience. I really got to see the life a producer. Carlos spent most of the time talking to the Nvidia guys about ways to help each other out. I will keep what was discussed private, but it was just really interesting to see what is required of a producer sometimes as Carlos discussed a great deal with the Nvidia reps. Even during drinks and partying, it was still business.

After hanging out with the Nvidia guys for a while, the night was at an end. I headed back to the hotel and promptly crashed. But it was really an informative day. I learned a lot about being a producer on Tuesday.

With that said, that is it for Part 2. Thanks for reading and look for Part 3 soon.

GDC 2011 Recap: Part 1

While I wanted to keep everyone up-to-date on a daily basis while I was at GDC, it clearly didn’t happen. GDC is a pretty busy week and it has you going from talk to talk, booth to booth, and party to party. Top that off with being an IGDA Scholar and my week was full, busy, and amazing.

Since I was not able to keep the blog updated, I will now take this time to recap my week at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, CA. I will also write a testimonial of my experience as an IGDA Scholar in a separate post. Since there is a lot to talk about, I am going to split this GDC recap into several posts.

First off, it should be noted that this was actually the first time I had ever left the Eastern Standard Time Zone. I’ve been many places across the East Coast, and I’ve been on Cruises, but never have I traveled to another time zone. Needless to say, that when I got in on Sunday, I was pretty tired.

Nothing exciting happened on Sunday, February 27th, it was merely a travel day. I got in around 9:45 PST and checked in at the Courtyard Marriot with fellow FIEAn programmer Zach Ellsbury. I got to sleep pretty early that night in preparation for a very busy Monday.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday and Tuesday at GDC was full of awesome tutorials and summits. However, being an IGDA GDC Scholar meant our schedule for Monday was full of amazing tours and events. The day started out by meeting the other 24 IGDA Scholars at the W Hotel.

It was really great to finally meet them. We’ve all been in contact since we found out that we were chosen as scholars a month ago. So it was awesome to finally put an actual face to the Facebook profile. We all chatted amongst each other for a while and then it was off on our first tour – Double Fine!

To preface, we had to sign NDAs at Double Fine, so I can’t discuss too much of what we saw, but I can say that it was an amazing experience. To see a studio in action while we toured was pretty exciting. We met and talked with several of the developers at Double Fine. We talked with Zack Karlsson, Vice President of Business Development (he actually gave us the tour), a technical artist, an animator, and we talked with the great Tim Schafer himself, maker of such awesome classics such as Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Psychonauts.

Double Fine was an awesome experience. We got to see what life is like in the studio and we got to see some of the games they were working on. We also received some valuable information from the staff including how they got into the industry, what their processes were for game development, and more. Before we knew it though the tour was at an end and we had to leave. After our tour we had a quick pizza lunch before heading to our next tour location, LucasArts.

We had to sign another NDA at LucasArts, so again I can’t speak too much about what we were shown, but I can say how gorgeous the location was. From the facility, you had great views of downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the surrounding area, the Presidio, was amazing. It definitely would be an awesome place to work just on location alone.
Me With Vader Suit

The campus was quite large as it is headquarters for more than just LucasArts. LucasArts is located in the Letterman Digital Arts Center which also includes Industrial Light & Magic, Lucasfilm, and Lucasfilm Animation.

To start our tour we had the opportunity to be a part of a Q&A session with four LucasArts employees. We were able to ask them questions like how they got into the industry and what their day-to-day life was like at the company. We also got to ask them what they look for in new hires. It was a great experience to get behind the scenes information from the developers.

After that, we were given a short presentation about the company started by George Lucas and how it grew. We also learned about the various internship programs offered by Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries. From there, we continued our tour of the facility checking out the ILM offices in the process. Again, the facility was quite large and it contained a lot of ILM and Lucasfilm history.Yoda Fountain

The tour wrapped its way back to the entrance where we all got pictures next to the cool Yoda fountain, as well as pictures of the full-sized Darth Vader suit. All-in-all the LucasArts tour was enjoyable. It was interesting to see the difference between a smaller studio like Double Fine and a larger studio like LucasArts, and having the tours back-to-back made the stark difference that more apparent.

From there we hopped back on the bus and were off to Playdom. At Playdom we were graciously fed pizza and snacks, much obliged to the Playdom staff. After pigging out, we all sat down to hear a very interesting talk from Eric Todd, the Creative Director at Playdom. The talk was about the trends in today’s social gaming market and how things have changed in a short period of time.

The talk was very informative. It discussed statistics and gave information about daily active users, or DAUs for the most popular games and how they have boomed recently. It also went over how cloning was a big thing for a while and that games were coming out so fast that a lot of them were all just the same game.

The talk also went over some good ways to differentiate yourself in the social gaming market. It’s normal to use a lot of common genre’s or themes when coming up with ideas for social games, mainly because the audience you are catering too is most familiar with those themes. This is why there was a huge boost in cloned farming, city building, and other similar games. One way to change that is not to necessarily go crazy and find an original theme, but rather take the common themes and find a new pattern or a different way of using that theme.

Finally, the talk discussed how to retain users and how to attract new users and how much was spent marketing to users. It also discussed when the appropriate time was to pull a game off Facebook if it wasn’t doing well.

The talk with Playdom was a great ending to the day. It was a very busy and full day, so when the bus returned to the Moscone center, we were all pretty tired. A few of us stayed around at the W Hotel and had a few drinks, but there was no crazy partying on Monday night.

Most of us just went off to dinner or to bed. I went back to the hotel and did some work on Nexus for a little while and cleaned up emails. Not a glorious partying night, but I saved the partying for Tuesday night, which I will discuss further in Part 2 of the GDC Recap.

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