Development Blog

Nexus – The Beginning Trailer

I just wanted to post a short sample trailer we made for Nexus. We wanted something shorter to show off the game rather than a 9 minute level walkthrough, so we cut up a quick basic trailer. You can view the trailer below.

Posted in: Capstone Games | Nexus
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Nexus: Vertical Slice

It is difficult to describe the stress that all teams felt this final week as we all pushed towards Vertical Slice. Most teams pulled all-nighter’s several times in a row working to get in as much as possible. We’ve all worked so hard on our games these past six weeks that it’s tough to see anyone’s game get cut.

However, as Rick told us, the industry is cut-throat and tough. It’s about the bottom-line and results. FIEA tries and succeeds at mimicking the industry as closely as possible and Vertical Slice does just that. Yesterday we saw two games get cut and we saw 22 people having to deal with the anguish. At FIEA you talk and work with 60 people for so long that most become great friends. As such it’s really hard to see anyone have to go through that.

To Organ Grinder and Erado I must applaud you. Day in and day out I saw both your teams work incredibly hard and both of your games were very impressive and unique. It’s tough for me to see them go so I can’t possibly imagine how difficult it must be for both teams.

While I am sure you’ve heard this already, you should be very proud of your work. I must also commend you both on remaining in good spirits even after hearing of the news. I wish the best of luck to the members of Organ Grinder and Erado as they transition into the remaining Capstone games Scarfell, Nexus and Dead West.

With that said, and given the situation, I won’t go in to much detail about Nexus this week. For the most part we spent time polishing things up and adding in a final cinematic for the event where Chris obtains the Nexus. We also integrated the voice overs that we recorded this past week from UCF theater students. Special thanks to Jay Ferrence who voiced Chris Reynolds, and Roger Thacher who played Sal. Thanks also to Evan Crawley and Lucy Caputi for our musical composition!

We are glad that we made it through Vertical Slice and we look forward to continuing our work. Thanks are in order to the entire Nexus team for the great work these past two months.

Congratulations are in order as well for Scarfell and Dead West.

That is it for Vertical Slice. Once again, I must applaud Organ Grinder and Erado for their efforts. I look forward to working with some of you if given the opportunity.

Look for more status update posts in the coming months as we continue our work on Nexus.

Below, you can watch the Vertical Slice video update for Nexus.

Thanks for reading!

Videos

Nexus: Status Update Week 5

Vertical Slice is rapidly approaching (6 days away) and all five teams are working incredibly hard to make sure their game is ready for next Friday.

It is an exceptionally stressful time around FIEA. We have been working on our Capstone games for roughly two months, almost three if you count the time a lot of teams spent working during the Winter Break. So naturally everyone is on high stress as none of us want to see our hard work get cut. With that in all of our minds this past week, we continued to press forward.

With Nexus this week, we were looking to get in the final pieces of our gameplay. While we have implemented and demonstrated our powers on an individual basis, we have not yet really shown how these powers could be used in specific scenarios.

One of the first things we did this week was finalize a few design ideas. We came up with some ideas for a few puzzles that would help demonstrate various ways of using the powers. Once we felt comfortable with the designs, it was time for some programming magic.

The main goal for the programmers this week was to implement a unique puzzle event system. The goal of this system was to make it accessible to the producers so that we could place puzzle objects in the levels and set various conditionals without the need of a programmer. Once those conditions are met on the puzzle actor, through Kismet, we can perform a variety of actions or events such as opening a door, or creating a new path.

Using this new puzzle event system, the producers laid out three puzzle scenarios this week to demonstrate the practicality of these powers.

The main overarching puzzle is a giant power generator. Once the player obtains the Nexus, the machine malfunctions, the room lights up in a sort of “red alert” fashion, sound effects will play, and sparks will fly across various power conduits.  The goal for the player is to disable this machine before it explodes.

The first puzzle area for this larger power generator puzzle was coined nicely by Rick as the Devil’s Canyon. In the “Devil’s Canyon” there is a large Gravity Nullifier machine that is affecting gravity in the area. As you walk into the area there are boulders flying around everywhere. Your goal is to find a way past those boulders so that you can reach the first power cable.

There are several ways to get pass the flying circle of boulders. First, you could grab a massive boulder nearby that is too heavy to be sucked into the gravity vortex. Using the Float power (new working name for Physics Gun) you can use this boulder as a shield. You hold it out in front of you and the other rocks bounce off as you walk through the path to the next section.

Another way to handle it is to simply blow up the Nullifier. Using the light bombs, you can take out a panel from the machine and then take out the main core. You could also pick up that same giant boulder and throw it into the Nullifier to destroy it. Once you destroy the machine, gravity in the area returns to normal, all the flying boulders fall to the ground, and you can pass through freely.

At the end of this path (Devil’s Canyon) is the first power cable and another puzzle object, a plug. The goal here is to disable this plug and restore order to this particular power cable. Like the Gravity Nullifier machine, there are several ways to disable this plug.

First, you can do exactly what you did with the Gravity Nullifier and just throw light bombs at it until it explodes. Second, you could also use Mass Transfer. You can give the plug a lot of mass thus increasing its weight to the point where it eventually breaks off. Lastly, you could again find a rock and smash it into the plug to destroy it.

Once you have removed the plug, the power cable will stop flashing red, stop sparking, and it will disable that piece of the machine. The player would then have to get to the other main cables and disable those as well to return order to the machine.

Getting in some of these scenarios this week was huge. It really allowed us to see the powers in action and it gave us a great opportunity to figure out even more unique ways to use them. We plan on polishing up the puzzles we have currently and we are focusing on making them a more cohesive experience for Vertical Slice.

Aside from the cool puzzle event system, the programmers continued their work on the boar AI. This week for the boar, they were able to get the AI to follow light sources. So the player can throw a light glob off into the distance and it will distract the boar. It will become aware of the light and it will run off in that direction. We look to finish up the boar for Vertical Slice by having it take damage.

The last thing from the programming side is level streaming. One of the things we looked at long ago back in December when we chose UDK was how it did level streaming. After some research we found that level switching wasn’t too tricky in UDK.

For this week we were able to implement level streaming by connecting the Cave Entrance to the Nexus area. We combined both maps into a new UDK map called Main and we streamed it from there. To initiate the level stream the player simply pushes a boulder down through a trigger volume. It then activates a radial impulse and breaks some well-placed boulders and opens a path. With the path below clear, the player can fall down to reach the Nexus area.

As the programmers were getting in puzzle events and level streaming, the artists and producers continued to flesh out the two levels. We added some light maps and continued to tweak lighting.

One of the big changes this week in terms of level design was a slight redo of the Cave Entrance level. This will serve as a short part of the Vertical Slice presentation where the player will not have any powers. Here is where the player will encounter the boar. Having no powers, they will have to find a way to avoid the boar as they continue on their way to the Nexus area.

Once they get passed the boar they can push the boulder mentioned above and get to the Nexus. Once the player obtains the powers, we are planning on re-introducing another boar. The second encounter will be different as you can now fight it using your powers.

With that said, we made minor tweaks to the Cave Entrance design. Instead of platforms and columns it descends into a small pond of water where the player will meet the boar. From there it spirals back up to the level streaming boulder.

While working on touching up the level, the artists also worked on unique assets for the Nexus area. We were able to get in the Gravity Nullifier machine I alluded to earlier (which you can see below). They also worked on the power cables some more and started creating the unique plugs that the player needs to destroy.

On top of that, they continued their work on the Chris model this week. After some critiquing, they touched up the Chris high-poly sculpt and began work on the low-poly version. At the tail end of the week they were able to complete a first pass of the low-poly model with UV and textures (you can see both the high-poly and low-poly below).

Finally, the artists completed all their work on the boar. They retextured it and it is complete and ready for Vertical Slice.

That’s pretty much it for this week. This coming week is crunch time as Vertical Slice is Friday. We have decided to do a status update on Tuesday (with Vertical Slice on Friday the teams were given the choice), but I won’t be writing another post until after Vertical Slice.

Until then, as usual, here are some more images and this week’s video status update (narrated by yours truly this week).

Artwork

Videos

Nexus: Status Update Week 4

This week was less about reworking our first level and was more about new additions. This week we started working on our second and final Vertical Slice level. We are calling this level, for lack of a better name, the Aztec/Nexus area. This area is where the player will obtain the Nexus and acquire the powers.

Before we could begin creating the level, we had to first really flesh out and determine what it was we wanted to accomplish with this level. We had several discussions before on how we wanted the player to obtain the Nexus, but after our level 2.0 redesign in Week 3, we took a step back and assessed how much we thought we could get in for Vertical Slice.

We originally had ideas for there to be a Nexus room after the Cave Entrance level. Once you obtained the Nexus you would go into a separate area where you would use the newly founded power. In the end, we were concerned with time and decided to consolidate it all into one room.

With that determined, we started working on the new level. For the beginning of the Nexus level we wanted to go with the Aztec theme. As such, we used some of the hallways and bridge pieces that we created for our first shell.

You will start out the Nexus level by falling into an area that has man-made walls and columns. From there you will walk down an Aztec hallway where you find a lot of flora and roots, many of the same types we used last week in the Cave Entrance level. As you continue down the path, you will eventually come across very alien technology.

That is something to mention. This week we decided that we would showcase the alien technology a lot more. We originally planned to have no alien portions for Vertical Slice, but we felt that it added more unique pieces to the environment and kept it from being another stale temple/cave level.

After the Aztec hallways the player will come upon a giant electric machine being powered by the Nexus. Here they will obtain the Nexus which causes the machine to malfunction. This creates a puzzle for the player to solve using the new Nexus powers.

With our plans in place for this area, it was time to get work. Our first object from the programming side was to get even more powers in the game. First, we further developed the tentatively named Sticky Light glob power. The player could now throw light globs and they would stick to the environment and cast flickering light. On top of the Sticky Light Glob, we were also able to get in the Light Bomb as well, which acts a grenade with splash damage capabilities.

To get both the light glob and light bomb, the programmers had to setup a whole new projectile class. Once this was in place they created those two powers. While those were certainly awesome, nothing prepared us for what came next: Gravity Nullifier. The programmers this week got in the Gravity Nullifier power and it just opened the design flood gates for everyone.

The Gravity Nullifier basically creates a zero gravity field that removes gravity within a small radius and it slightly forces objects up into the air. From there they can be manipulated with light globs, Mass Transfer, Physics Gun and Force Target. Gravity Nullifier really seemed to bring the powers and game mechanics to life. The other powers are great, but Nullifier, combined with the rest, started solidifying them all.

With new powers in the game, we continued work in our other areas. The programmers continued their work on Combat AI. For this week we had a bot that was able to detect the player and chase after them. If the AI got close enough it would begin charging towards the player like a boar. The bot would continue to follow the player until it broke line of sight.

The last thing the programmers worked on this week was more AnimTrees. They tried to get some of the newer animation iterations into the game. While we are still working on trying to get the motion capture data into UDK, we decided this week to use another resource.

Very early on, way back in December, we found a tool that allowed us to extract some animation sets from games that were built using Unreal. In our case, we were able to get a hold of some animation sets from Mirror’s Edge. While of course fully temporary, these animations allowed us to use one of our character rigs to create solid placeholder animations while we continued our work on the motion-captured animations.

Speaking of rigging characters, the first thing the artists completed this week was the Mercenary character, tentatively named Sal. The artists UVed and textured him, and with the help of the Central Tech Art Lead, Barak, we were able to get him rigged and in game.

We attached some of the Mirror’s Edge animations to the Mercenary’s skeletal mesh. While this was a solid upgrade on animations, there was still a slight problem. The animations we used were meant for a female character. So, Sal, while a rough tough Mercenary, walked in a very feminine fashion. We were alright with this for the meantime as we knew we were continuing our work on getting solid animations in for Vertical Slice.

With the Mercenary done, this week the artists started modeling our main character Chris. They began work on the Zbrush high-poly sculpture and we hope to have Chris ready by next week. They also continued work on the Boar model. It was UVed and textured this week and it should be in game next week.

On top of characters, the artists of course worked on level assets. The first thing they completed was rigging and slightly animating some of the flora. We added these into the Cave Entrance level and to the new Nexus area shell. These brought more life to both levels as there was now moving flora. The artists also created cobwebs that we added to both levels for even more depth. We are looking at getting both the flora and cobwebs to respond to character movement.

A lot of work went into Week 4 and Nexus started taking shape. The Gravity Nullifier power really showed us the potential for our mass power mechanics. From that, the designers have started developing some more concrete and final puzzle ideas for this Nexus level that utilize all the powers we have in place.

Our status update for week 4 went very well. Like it did for us as a team, the Gravity Nullifier really helped the professors see what our mass mechanic was capable of and they too were coming up with a lot of ways to use the powers. With the great feedback in mind, we immediately went back to work to make sure that we can get Nexus where we want it to be for Vertical Slice, which is a mere twelve days away.

Until next time, here is some more concept work. Also, don’t forget to view the Week 4 status update video below.

We have created a Facebook page. If you are interested in Nexus, you can join the Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/nexusgame

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Videos

Nexus: Status Update Week 3

A lot has happened with Nexus these past two weeks. With this post I will be covering just the events of Week 3. However, I have also written a post for Week 4 which you can find here http://www.andrewbertino.com/nexus-status-week4.

In Week 3 we found our “soul.” I ended Week 2’s post discussing how we felt uneasy about our first iteration of our first shell. While it looked really good, it seemed empty and unexciting. In Week 3, we reassessed what we wanted to do with this shell, finalized it, and then created what we called Level 2.0.

For this new level, we decided to cut our original ideas for a puzzle room, a combat room, and the bridge areas, and instead decided to significantly extend the cave entrance part of the first shell. Rather than separate rooms and a giant antechamber it was now going to be a large cave area. While extending it, we also decided to give it a significant shot of life.

To give the level some life, the first thing we did was add in some flora. Our artists created plants and an awesome root system that we used throughout the area. We also added in different lighting and new blended materials. These were all great additions, but it still needed more. So we topped off the new shell with a lot of Kismet events that gave the environment that extra realistic spark.

As you would walk through the level, you would run into falling boulders and tremors that would affect the environment. The screen would shake and boulders would fall. That was another key addition in Week 3. We were able to control the camera a lot more and we were able to create an introduction camera cinematic as well as several other cinematic angles of the cave.

To go along with all of the new additions, we also included background music that help set the tone and mood for the level, including cool water dripping and falling rocks sound effects. Finally, we threw in some placeholder voice-overs to give it a final touch.

Aside from environmental changes, we also wanted to give the player something to do. Our big decision this week was to give the player the Nexus powers immediately. Our original plan was to have a quick tutorial level where you could learn to push objects and engage in combat without powers. Then eventually you would find the Nexus in the next level. However, we felt that for at least the meantime, until we got more features and assets into the game, we would showcase the ability to use the powers from the beginning.

As such, since we could now use powers in level 2.0, we created columns that the player could add or take mass from in order to create bridges, and there were also rocks and objects that you could push or pull out of the way.

Since we decided to allow for the powers earlier than expected, we needed to start getting more powers into the game. Before working on the powers themselves though, the programmers had to adjust the camera.

For Week 3 the programmers were able to implement our “Action” camera mode. In normal “Exploration” mode the player can walk around the environment and view freely. With a middle click of the mouse button they will enter Action mode and can now use powers with a targeting reticule.

On top of adding in the camera, they also worked on determining what objects had focus and what objects were selected when using powers. With those systems in place they were able to start adding in some powers.

First, they got the Mass Transfer power working. We could now take mass from an object, and give it mass as well. After that, they were able to also get in Targeted Forces so that we could apply force to a certain direction on an object. Finally, they implemented what is tentatively called the “Physics Gun.” The Physics Gun allows you to pick up and hold objects where you can then launch them or drop them.

In conjunction with developing the powers, our programmers also began work on Combat AI using UDK path nodes. They also learned more about AnimTrees and began figuring out how to work with the animations.

With these new powers ready to go and with the other tasks complete, we were able to add them all into the new iteration of the shell. With the powers, and the combination of all the new art assets, music, and sound effects, we were really able to capture a great mood for the first level.

Aside from powers and level design changes, the artists continued their great work with assets, textures and lighting. They also continued their work on the Mercenary character as well as the Boar. They got the Mercenary character Zbrushed and created the low-poly version. All that was left was UV, textures and some rigging.

The last thing we tackled in Week 3 was getting some of our motion capture animations into the game. We processed some of that data from Motion Builder into UDK and we were able to get a first pass of our animations. The animations have proven challenging and I think all teams have learned just how hard animations can really be. They take a lot of work to get right. Thanks to Casey, the Central Animation Lead, for being patient with everyone as we all figure out the animation process.

Week 3 ended very well as the professors agreed that our work really did help capture the soul of the level. We got more feedback in our status update and we were ready to get back to work as we headed into Week 4.

With that said, below is some artwork from Week 3. Also, we completed our first status update video! You can now see the game and how it looks by playing the videos below.

Lastly, we have also created a Facebook page. If you are interested in Nexus, you can join the Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/nexusgame

Artwork

Videos

Taking a Step Back from Capstone

Capstone undoubtedly pre-occupies most everyone’s time in the second semester. It is to the point where it is typically all you will hear about when any FIEAn talks about the second and third semesters. While of course Capstone is the foundation of the FIEA experience, there still is a lot of work that goes on outside of the projects that can be equally important.

With this post, I am looking to step away from Capstone a bit and talk about what else has been going on this semester. There has been a lot of work for everyone to do on top of Capstone, making the second semester extremely difficult.

I’ll start with what the Producers have been doing this past month. So far the Producers have been getting their hands dirty. Aside from learning the engines we are using for Capstone, the Producers have had to learn a great deal about scripting.

For the first three assignments in Ron’s class this semester we have to make our own Flash games without the help of programmers or artists. We started off by each making our own Flash game. Then we have a Pairs and Team Flash game assignment after that.

We have completed our Solo Flash games and are now halfway through our Pairs games. Needless to say a lot of the Producers are getting a crash course in programming. With that said, I think we are doing very well and everyone is making pretty solid Flash games.

For the Solo Flash game assignment, I made a game called Node. You can find out more information about Node, and even play the game by clicking here.

Having some prior scripting background with PHP (and some Python under my belt from last semester), I was fairly confident that I could make a solid Flash game. As I worked on it though, I found it really challenging. I learned a lot about game states, game loops, and overall gameplay programming. While tough, I still enjoyed it. I have always liked programming.  The instant reward and feedback that programming can offer is awesome. You can just see something come to life before you.

As we worked through our Flash games, I think the Producers realized just how hard this can really be and I think we gained even further appreciation of what the programmers and artists do. This is one of the goals of these Flash assignments (aside from us getting more technical chops).

On a side note, speaking of PHP, last week I also had the chance to dust off my PHP skills. For our Team Flash games, which start next week, we will have to track metrics for our games. To do that, FIEA needed a new DB and PHP setup to work in conjunction with an AS3 DB connection wrapper that Ron wrote. So last week I worked directly with Ron to set up some PHP pages that will take in information from Flash, update a database, and then return XML data.

This was an awesome opportunity. It was good to get a refresh of PHP and it has given me a solid portfolio piece as I can now say I created a PHP/MySQL DB system for collecting metrics. Thanks to Ron for the chance to work on that. I am looking forward to using it with our Team Games.

Anyway, back on track. On top of the Flash games, the Producers also had to do a One Page Design Document, which are basically visual representations of game designs or game features.

To go even further, the Producers have also had a lot of Project Management homework for Rick. We have had to make schedules, analyze the five Capstone games in terms of market viability, assess our capstone game’s methodologies, and develop Razor statements, all while still doing core mechanic design documents.

The Producers have been hard at work, but nothing compared to the Programmers. Paul has them working extremely hard and they basically live, breathe, eat, and sleep C++. Over the last month the programmers have been working, piece by piece, on their own Xbox engine. They have completed assignments relating to Linked Lists, Hash, Stack, and they are currently working on a Datum assignment. They have put in a lot of work into the engine so far, all while balancing the challenging work that comes from Capstone.

The artists have been very busy as well. On top of all of the art assets they have to make for Capstone, they have been having weekly assignments in Brian’s class. These past two weeks they have been doing high-poly Zbrush sculpts of fellow FIEA artists. They are learning new tricks and skills in Zbrush. They have also done some more animation work in Motion Builder.

The biggest thing the artists have done outside of Capstone was the art tests. The first week of classes the artists were given actual industry art tests. They were given a choice of three tests from BioWare, Sony, and Sega. These tests included creating a bust of a character, an environment piece, or a set of animations. They had to complete these art tests and get feedback from the real industry folks who were giving the art tests. This was an awesome experience for the artists.

We have all been working crazy hard lately. As I alluded to earlier, second semester is challenging. It is a lot of work and a lot of pressure as we all work to make sure we have the best showing we can for Vertical Slice. A good number of us are here well into 5 AM, coming right back again at 10 AM to do it all over again.

FIEA takes dedication and a lot of time management.  However, I have said it many times before. It’s still one of the best experiences around. Even through all of the hard work we still have a lot of fun. We are all passionate about our projects and the work we do for our classes. But even with lack of sleep and a lot of pressure, I don’t think any of us would rather be anywhere else.

Awarded an IGDA Scholarship to GDC 2011

Roughly a month ago a few of us FIEAns applied for a scholarship opportunity from the IGDA, the International Game Developers Association. They were offering 25 All-Access passes to GDC 2011 (Game Developers Conference). To apply, you had to be a full-time student, an IGDA member, and you had to fill out an application through their website.

The application asked you to answer questions that were judged by a group of game developers. They asked us to talk about our previous volunteering efforts for both our community and the gaming community. They also wanted information about a time where we learned from a game-related project. The last question asked us why it’s important that developers help other developers.

Time went by, we all began ramping up on Capstone, and we really forgot about the review process. Regardless of the outcome of the application process, I was planning on attending GDC anyway as a few of us were set on attending. I had the flights booked already and was just waiting for the results before ordering my ticket to GDC.

I was on my way out to dinner. I had literally just opened the door of the FIEA building to go to my car when I got a phone call. Surprisingly enough I actually heard it for a change. Typically I never hear my phone as it’s on vibrate, but this one time I actually heard it. I look at my phone and I see Unknown Number from California. I looked at it twice and I said out loud, it couldn’t be. No, it couldn’t be. It was.

The IGDA personally called me to congratulate me and offer me one of the 25 All-Access passes to GDC. Needless to say I was taken aback. I was not expecting this and I think the only thing I could say during the entire phone conversation was “awesome” and “thank you.”

I am honored to receive the scholarship. I think all the FIEAns who applied are equally deserving and I wish we could all go. I look forward to meeting the other scholars. We come from several continents and it’s going to be a great opportunity to meet them and talk about our experiences. Here is a link to a list of all of the scholars: http://www.igda.org/scholarships

Part of the IGDA scholarship is that for the entire week you get a mentor, someone from industry that you can talk with and learn from. This will be an amazing opportunity to talk to a real game developer, pick their brain about topics, and further my knowledge of game development. The IGDA also has major plans in store for us that week in terms of studio tours and more unbelievable opportunities, none that I will spoil here.

The folks at FIEA are all really excited for me and I appreciate their kind words. In fact, excitement was so huge that I even got acknowledgment from Sarah Lundy and the Orlando Sentinel: http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/tech-blog/2011/02/student-at-ucfs-graduate-game-development-program-wins-all-access-pass.html

Word’s really can’t express how fortunate I feel to have this opportunity to attend GDC. I would really like to thank the IGDA for this chance to further my goals of becoming a game developer. Needless to say GDC will be amazing and I look forward to sharing my experience here on this blog. From February 27th to March 5th I will be in San Francisco, CA for GDC. Look for those posts later this month!

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Nexus: Status Update Week 2

After our first status update last week on January 18th, the team convened and assessed where we were, how we were doing, and we outlined the goals for not only the next week, but the next month, up to Vertical Slice. We laid out what it was we wanted to have accomplished by the cut round.

For those unfamiliar with FIEA’s Capstone process, the games that are chosen in first semester get about two months of pre-production before they have a go/no go status update called the Vertical Slice. For Vertical Slice, not only is all faculty present, but usually there is at least one industry professional. The faculty and the industry professional watch all of the presentations, and then afterward, they determine which projects get green-lit and which games get cut.

While being cut is certainly tough, this is a very unique part of FIEA. Having your game cut is a very common occurrence in the industry and it is something FIEA tries to emulate. They want us to experience this challenge because typically 1/3rd of games started in industry get cut.

With that in mind, we set our goals for the cut round and for the coming week (1/18 – 1/25) and continued our work.

One of the first things we did was make some slight camera improvements. Brian Salisbury, the Art Director, commented on how we should finalize a camera angle as that will affect our lighting and how we display the art assets.

Camera was certainly on our to-do list. We took Brian’s advance and almost immediately started working on tweaking the camera to the desired angle. Our vision for the camera is something similar to Mass Effect where you have a free-roam mode, but then you can lock onto something and the camera will move further back into a behind the shoulder shot.

The programmers tweaked the camera pretty close to our liking and mapped it to the Xbox 360 controller. The left analog stick controls the character, while the right stick controls the camera. Clicking in the right stick “locks” the player on a target and they can strafe, etc.  We are pretty pleased with the camera angle at the moment, but we expect to tweak it considerably when we start implementing our targeting system for the powers.

We also took a look at animation integration. We have been in the Motion Capture studio twice already to record some walking and running animations, ladder climbing, power usage, and basic combat. We are working to get the motion capture data into Motion Builder and onto a UDK rig. The process and pipeline is nearly there and it should be completed soon.

Programmers also focused on getting in some basic puzzle mechanics. We found that Kismet was not playing nice with some of the mass properties we needed to apply to objects. To remedy this, the programmers completed some Kismet / Unreal Script integration and created new Kismet actions that will allow the Producers to freely create the mass based puzzles that will we need.

To wrap up the programming side of things, we also worked on opening and closing the basic journal system I mentioned last week. Our main goal with this was to make sure we have a better understanding of Scaleform as it will be something we will need to use in the future. Since it is not vital, we will hold off on the journal system until after Vertical Slice. We simply wanted to gauge how difficult it was going to be to accomplish.

Meanwhile, the Producers were trying to keep a step head, per our hybrid development methodology. In this past week we planned out the next two areas, including drawing up the Visio documents for them as well as mapping out triggered events. We also fleshed out and added a few more puzzles to the puzzle repertoire and integrated our first puzzle into the main build via Kismet (it was previously in a separate UDK map). We also continued populating the UDK level with the awesome artwork coming from the artists.

The Artists continued to churn out some really impressive stuff. One of the big break-throughs this week was finding a way to reduce texture sizes through material blending in UDK. Every year Brian and the faculty harp that teams must get better at using smaller texture sizes. With the process of creating blended materials using Lerps in UDK, we are able to create awesome materials using only 256 x 256 textures. Without using the blending, we would have had to create larger, more detailed textures to create the same material.

The artists also continued creating more assets for the level, with a direct focus on the Bridge areas (this was the concept we showed last week with the statue heads). While adding to the level, they also completed work on some pretty awesome particle effects for fire, water and dust.

In conjunction with the environments and particle effects, we also began working on a character model. Rather than working on Chris first, we took a different approach. We decided that we would first make a secondary character in the game, a Mercenary character that traveled to the underground city with Chris.

We chose to do this as we felt it would be more advantageous. By doing the Mercenary character first, we would learn the entire process, figure out the pitfalls, and then be able to apply what we learned to the Chris model. We figured this would produce a higher quality version of Chris as we would have a little more experience under our belt.

The last few things the artists worked on this week were a Boar model in Zbrush, some more lighting, and they figured out the collision pipeline. We sculpted out a basic Boar that will be used as a combat enemy in the earlier stages of the game.  We had issues with collisions last week and our character was walking through the floor. But we have figured out the problem and have cemented a stronger collision pipeline.

With the tasks completed for the week, we began planning out our next week of work (1/25 – 2/1) so that we could discuss the plans during this past Tuesday’s update.

As of now, the status update on January 25th has come and gone. Afterward we were feeling very uncertain. After a lengthy discussion on Wednesday, we have decided to cut the designs for the next two areas that we created this past week. We have since revamped a lot of the designs to create what we are calling Level 2.0.

We had a very good meeting Wednesday to iron out a lot of concerns. We got everything out on the table and realized that while we have made a very amazing level so far, it was missing “soul”, a tone, a large emotional grab. The environment was gorgeous, but empty. You couldn’t do anything with it. There was nothing to interact with.

In lieu of this, we sat down and restructured our level a bit and have planned out a more consolidated approach for the next few weeks before the cut round. The player will now get the Nexus powers a lot sooner and we have plans for including a lot more interactivity within the initial levels. As it is right now, you just run right through it and that is it.

We are looking into simple additions such as basic platforming, crouching, and cutting through vines, anything to make the environment a little more interactive. We are also planning on polishing up this first area by adding cobwebs, bats, flora, etc. to give it more life.  We are also looking at getting in some basic cutscenes as well.

Week 2 went pretty well for Nexus. However, after our discussion on Wednesday, we are comfortable with our new approach. We feel it is the best decision and direction for the game. I won’t go too much in detail of what we have actually changed until next week. In the meantime, below are a few more concepts and some screenshots of the level from UDK.

RPP Round 5 – Polish

It has been almost two months since RPP Round 5. It is crazy how fast time has gone by. At the time, I decided against posting about Round 5 as I felt it was more important to discuss other FIEA topics outside of RPP.

However, I have just recently posted a new video on YouTube of Under Dog (the RPP Round 5 version) and I thought I would write up a quick post about Round 5.

RPP Round 5 is all about the polish. You take a pre-existing game made earlier in RPP Rounds 1 through 4 (this year it was only 1 through 3 due to other circumstances) and you polish one of them up. You touch up the graphics, clean up bugs, and sometimes even add new content like multi-player or more levels.

This year with RPP Round 5, the selection process was a bit different. In the past, choosing a game was on a first come first serve basis. You were given your teams and you chose the game you wanted as long as it wasn’t already taken. This year, the selection process was a draft.

We were given our teams and a random draft seed. The team with the first pick had their pick of litter. They could choose any game they wanted. It did not matter if any of the people on the team had worked on the game originally. After that pick, it would then pass onto next team and so on and so forth.

The team I was working with had the 10th pick out of 12. When our turn came, we decided upon Under Dog. It was pretty cool to get the opportunity to work with Under Dog again as I enjoyed it back in Round 2.

We had big plans for polishing Under Dog. Our goal was to add four player multi-player to the story mode as well as survival mode. We also wanted to add in the bark mechanic, something that was cut from the original Under Dog. We wanted to get a new playing stage in the game, new souls, and new dog models. We wanted four new dog models, each with different speeds and abilities to coincide with the multiplayer.

In the end, it was tough to get most of our ideas in the game. Round 5 coincides with so much work that it’s hard to get to everything. We had RPP Round 5, capstone game pitches, the programmers had a huge project in programming class, Producers who took scripting had to make a text-based adventure, and the artists had a final project.

In the end though, we were pretty pleased with how much we got in considering the work load. We got in four-player networking within Unity, a new Cerby model with four different colored textures, new souls, and a new arena called the Under Dome.  We decided it was more economical to just add different colors to Cerby rather than create new models. However, the bark mechanic was once again cut.

There is a war story to be found amongst all of this though. Quite literally the night before the final presentation, networking decided to fail entirely. We had to stay up all night, rebuilding networking and getting all of the new assets back into the game, including new voice overs and cutscenes.

It was extremely difficult but we crunched, had a few cups of magical Burger King Coffee, and we were able to pull off a working game right at the last minute. Kudos goes to Steve Grier, our programmer, for somehow pulling that off. It was extremely stressful, but we were all pleased with the final product.

I would have posted the build of the polished version, but the networking is finicky and requires a decent amount of set up to get working. As such, I recorded a video of the polished version and posted it below.

That about does it for RPP Round 5 and for RPP as a whole. RPP was intense. It really gets you thinking like a game developer, and does so really quickly. You are a given two weeks to make a game, and you go. There is no hand-holding, and no showing you how to do it. You just crunch away and figure it out yourself. The lessons we learned from RPP will undoubtedly help us in the months to come as we continue work on our Capstone games.

Nexus: Status Update Week 1

This post continues off of the Nexus: Introduction post.

After being placed on the games, Winter break was upon us and we had a month off. But it certainly wasn’t time for a break. The Nexus team hit the ground running and we immediately started Pre-Production.

We broke off into sub-teams and began laying out the ground work. Producers started working on design tasks, and started defining the Mass mechanic, health system, and various other gameplay systems. Artists began their concepts for environments and for unique objects (columns, statues, etc.) Programmers were first tasked with engine research.

As I mentioned in one of my prior posts, Gamebryo was no longer an option. As such, and with a great deal of research from everyone at FIEA, we found a pretty substantial list of possible engines. The choices were UDK, Vision by Trinigy, CryEngine, Source, and Unity.

UDK is a first for FIEA as typically it was not allowed for Capstone use as you cannot get the C++ layer with just UDK alone. To get C++ access you need to get the full Unreal Engine. However, given the situation, the C++ layer requirement was lifted and UDK became a viable option.

We created a list of pros/cons for the engines, chose three, and put a programmer on each one. We looked at Vision, Source, and UDK. The goal was to test out the basics of each engine and see how easy it was to get something on screen, import art assets, etc. After a week of work, we had an engine meeting, viewed the engine demos, and decided upon UDK as our engine.

With UDK chosen, it was time for work. Programmers started learning UDK and UnrealScript, and the Producers looked at learning Kismet and level design. Artists learned about the various texturing capabilities, Shader and effects support, and the various other artistic powers that can be found in UDK.

After that, we really nailed down and began creating our pipelines. Artists established their 2D asset pipelines, programmers got their coding standards in place, we setup our Perforce standards, naming conventions, etc. We also decided upon a development methodology and created an interesting design pipeline.

Choosing a development methodology is something you need to consider early in pre-pro. For Nexus we have gone with a very hybrid approach. We began with Waterfall as we planned everything out, defined documents and systems, and laid it all out on the table. With everything set, we then went into Spiral where we began building prototypes and art assets. However, both of these needed direction. For that, we came up with our design pipeline.

Producers start out by writing up documents that we call Level Design Pyramids. With these documents we plan out the various levels of the game. The document covers the story, the tone and feel, and briefly discusses the cutscenes in the level. It also talks about what gameplay systems are needed for that level, what animations will be used, what objects and traps will be found, etc.

From this document, we draw up a visual layout of the level, first in paper and then in Visio. Once in Visio, we take that document, hop into UDK, and create a base shell. Once the shell is established, we run through the shell and we replace it with UDK included textures. This allows us to get an idea of size and feel for the rooms.

From this, we run through it again several times and determine what types of assets we will need such as walls, floor textures, columns, vases and unique assets like statues, doorways, and arches. With this, we break everything down into tasks and set out on two week Sprints.

The programmers build up the gameplay systems and prototypes, the Producers work with Kismet events and continue to map out all of the mechanics, and the artists continue making assets. However, right before the end of the Sprint, the Producers exit the Spiral and go back to Waterfall. We then create the next design pyramid document. This is in an effort to keep ahead of the programmers and artists. Once the Sprint is ended, we have more work ready to go and the cycle repeats itself.

Something borne out of our approach is the interesting way the artists do their concepts. For environments, they literally take screenshots from the shell in UDK and they frame their concept right off the shell.  These concepts give us a very sound idea of what that exact room could look like. Below is an image demonstrating that process. On the left is the original UDK shell, on the right, the concept painting.

Nexus Bridge Concept

From this design pyramid process, we have begun and completed a lot of ground work on our first area. The entrance cave to this first area has been worked on and iterated several times, from the base shell, all the way to high quality assets from the artists. If you look at the screenshots below, you can see it starts as the shell texture and then gets better through iteration.

Shell Screenshot - Base Shell Shell Screenshot - UDK Texture
Shell Screenshot - High Iteration

While the artists and producers spent time getting the entrance area looking solid, the programmers continued their work. They worked on our Danger Room, which is what we call our prototyping room. In this room we try out our puzzles, mechanics, and anything else we need to test. We are currently finishing up our first puzzle and the Mass mechanic is almost complete.

We have also begun work on traps, lighting torches, and various other triggered events using Kismet. The programmers are also working on our journal system (the feedback method for the player), animations, camera movement, and more.

For Nexus, I contribute anywhere I can. My main focus is organization and scheduling, but I am always helping out wherever I can. I have worked with the artists to help organize reference images, find screenshots of Shaders, and been there to help out whenever I can.

Of course I also work with all of the other Producers on the design tasks such as figuring out mechanics, level designs, and making gameplay decisions. Since we are going to have a lot of events in Nexus, I am now also beginning to pick up more Kismet so that we can have several people working heavily with that.

This is where we are currently. Just this Tuesday we had our first Status Update. For Capstone, each week, you will give a presentation to the faculty, just like you would in industry. Our first update went very well and our progress was well received.

After the status update, we planned out our next month of work, refocused our efforts a bit, and we now have a very exciting plan and we are eager to get to work.  It will be a lot of work, but we know we can’t sit idly back. While we are certainly proud of the work we have done up to this point, we cannot rest. We must continue to push forward and strive for better and better iterations. Vertical slice will come before we know it and we will do everything we can to convince the powers to be to “green-light” Nexus.

Amongst all of this work for Capstone, there are still classes to attend and homework to be completed. The Programmers are hit hard by Paul in semester 2 and they literally build their own engine for the Xbox Development Kits. Producers are also forced to get down and dirty. We have to make our own games in Flash and will eventually be doing level design in UDK. Artists started right off the bat with a huge task. They were given real industry art tests. They were able to choose from a character model, an environment, or an animation. Everyone has been very busy.

I hope to now get back on a weekly posting pace, at least to the point where I can briefly update you on our progress right after our status updates. I look forward to the continued work on Nexus. Thanks for reading!

Here are a few more pieces of concept art:

Nexus Hallway Concept Nexus High Grass Concept
Nexus Objects Concept 01 Nexus Chris Concept 01
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