Monday, 8 December 2014

Side Scroller Game - Post Mortem

So the last six weeks of the course have been taken up by one year wide group project. As a year we were to create a fantasy side scrolling game in Unreal Engine 4.
We were tasked to create four levels with the themes hot, cold, scary and happy, four NPC's and two main playable characters (male and female.)
The year was divided up into different teams based on their chosen skill. I worked on the character team and was given the task of creating the two main playable characters.
As the idea developed the main chracters eveolved in

I feel one of the things that went well for me this time round was my time management. I completed the two characters well within the time frame and keep to the deadlines we were set along the way.
I am happy with my designs and felt that this was a good learning experience for me to work on my anatomy, proportions and cloth sculpting skills.

My main disappointment with my own work is that I feel my material definitions weren't up to scratch. I feel that they need to read better as what they are. I also feel the colours are a bit blocky and need more variation and wear and tear. I will be redoing/improving the textures before putting them up on my portfolio.

The main problems I encountered through out this project were adapting my work pipeline to be suitable for the group project. Working as part of a group requires one to be flexible in your job role and be able to adapt to situations.
The main way I overcame this issue was that I talked to the other teams and worked out what other departments needed first and prioritized certain parts of my pipeline. For example, the engine team needed the rigged character to test in game, so I rigged the character first and textured later.
Another problem I encountered was in deciding the colour palette of my two characters. It was particularly challenging as the character must fit into all the levels, which all have different colour palettes.

To work out what would work best, I placed all the screenshots of the levels together and did paint overs of my characters in each scene, to see what would be consistent across the levels.
If we were given a similar project again I would have done all of my detailing in zbrush first. I ended up hand painting all the albeido and height maps for the belts, shoes and boots. At the time I thought I would save time but it actually took me longer than sculpting and baking.

I was relatively happy with the outcome of the project, it is certainly a nice feeling seeing your characters running around game levels.  It was a great experience to work as part of a larger team and work towards the same goal. I would like to redo some elements of my character for my own sake as I would probably give the characters a different colour palette to suit them better and improve my materials.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

King of the Dead

Yesterday we handed in our first little project, it was a group project titled 'King of the Dead.'
The brief was to produce quality work and original ideas in a short amount of time. We were to make a character on a throne, a wall behind the character and a floor below. This was to be compiled in UE4, be visually striking and encompassed a unique idea based around 'King of the Dead.'

We started our project by establishing what we would like and what we wouldn’t like to have in the project. As we were encouraged to think outside the box and come up with a unique idea we decided it would be best to avoid typical themes like the grim reaper, excessive black, day of the dead etc. So after putting a general pinterest board together we narrowed our ideas down to two main starting points. The first idea was that of somewhat different, a mouse surrounded by cat skins, The roles reversed to create a comical dynamic. The second idea being based on the idea of a lake that is deathly (based on a lake in Tunisia that kills any birds that land on it) and the film Under the Skin where the main character tempt men to their death. Our visual cues for this idea were mainly like a white beacon in a dark environment, main focus on the character, the contrast drawing the eye.
We decided to go with the second idea and focus on it being very ethereal and almost enchanting.

Style Inspiration - Otto Schmidt
Style Inspiration - Otto Schmidt

I started with a few concepts to establish mood and think about composition, after meeting with the rest of the team we decided that one of us should see whether our base idea would work in engine. So while the others finalised concepts I started setting up placeholders in engine and working out how to create a convincing water texture, particle effects, etc.

My mood thumbs
Final Concept by Finn

After setting up a basic place holder level I created a water material, atmospheric particle effect, atmospheric fog, first pass of lighting.
Once we had the concepts finalised I went on to add more accurate placeholders, closer to the concept, so we had the composition we were after. I also added the planes around the placeholders for the fog alphas, and applied Finns textures once he had painted them.

Paint over of Chelsea's throne concept to decide the pose
Progression of the placeholder level to the final level

With the placeholder level set up we could move onto assigning jobs from the asset list. I was assigned the character body. Using Ed, Rachel’s and Chelsea’s concept I did a quick visualisation on the throne to decide the pose. With the pose established I could jump into zbrush, get the sculpt down, retop and get it all baked and textured.
In regards to the texture I kept it pretty simple as I knew I would be using emmisives on the character as it will be the main focus of them image. 

Once I had finished up the character I moved back to the engine, getting the lighting sorted once everyone had dropped their assets in, quickly modelling the boat and polishing the finished look. 

Overall this project went really well, we quickly managed to unify an idea that we were all happy with and we managed to organise our time so that we finished in advance of the deadline, giving us time to meet some stretch goals. 

My only concern about the project is that I ended up doing the majority of the engine work. I tried to encourage others to have a go but I think because we encountered a lot of problems trying to move the project from computer to computer it meant that people didn’t get to use the engine as much as they would liked to have. 

We managed to stick very closely to our key concept and create our own unique stylisation inspired by the source artwork by Otto Schmidt. As much as we would have liked to get it closer to the art style, I think in the time we had it was not completely realistic. Being able to create material shaders and other technical things to get it to fit the style exactly would take longer as we would have to work out how to do it, which would be quite complex. I feel we created a great interpretation on the style which is still ethereal but stylised. In the future I would like to spend more time working on the technical side of creating a stylised look in engine. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Angry Birds Transformers!

Guys! The Game I got to work on over summer was released today! Get downloading!

It's called Angry Birds Transformers and I had the chance to work on concepts, models and other art jobs for this project.

You can get it on iOS now and on Android at the end of the month!

It's super fun retro 80's style transformers for the new and old school transformers fans!

Check it out!

Downlaod for iOS here!

Gameplay Trailer

VHS Rip Trailer

Music by Vince DiCola and Kenny Meriedeth

Friday, 10 October 2014

Back to uni from a valuable summer.

I'm back in Leicester, commencing my final year of uni... oh dear, final year eekkk.

So, it's coming to the close of the second week back and it already feels like we have been here for ages. Been great catching up with everybody and with a fair few of us off working in industry over summer there has been lots to talk about.

Speaking of working over the summer I had an amazing chance to go work at Exient in Leamington Spa for 3 months.
Exient are a mobile games developer, past titles being Angry Birds Go, Angry Birds Star Wars and Diggs Nightcrawler (full list on the website.) I had the opportunity to work on the latest mobile title and given the opportunity to work on concepts, models and other art jobs.
My time was really great there as I learnt so much about the working environment and the games pipeline. My design and concepting skills improved thanks to my time there, but I think the most valuable thing for me was actually learning how to function as part of a games development team, learning to adapt.

My style of working changed so much from the way I work in uni, any sense of preciousness over work goes out the window and a sense of the end product as the ultimate goal becomes prominent. It's about working efficiently and to a good quality in a decent amount of time.
Within my two weeks back I can already tell that my work ethic has been changed for the better, albeit I don't always like working after 6pm anymore, but I now can properly focus 9-6 and feel a lot more productive.
It really has been an invaluable experience and the team there are a genuinely amazing bunch of people, I found it easy just to fit into the team and get on with work, it was sad to leave so soon.

I'm fully back into the swing of things with uni work, first weeks task to create materials in Unreal Engine 4 (which is super awesome by the way!) so playing in engine has been a nice warm up. And straight onto a small group project and getting to do some character work.


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Year 2 Review - Self doubt and Crazy talk

So, we have just come to a close on our 2nd year at De Montfort University.
This sure has been a big year, I feel I have developed so much. Just putting our final submission disk together was making me really see how far I have come. Looking back at our very first projects, I am crying to myself, thinking ' what the hell was I doing??'
My artistic judgement has come on in leaps and bounds, and with Mitch joining the teaching staff, we have been learning techniques I never thought even existed.

This year has been so exciting, yet at the same time very sobering. It seems that everybody has had their little epiphanies, realising that actually, what we are doing is freaking hard.
We called it the 'mid game art crisis' after the first term, a lot of us became very existential and were strongly questioning whether this is what we should be doing.
Am I good enough? Is this what I really want? How much work can I put in without killing myself?
After watching John Cleese's talk on creativity I have realised we were all very stuck in the closed mind mode, especially as we were all in the same place, it was hard to get out of.
The way I looked at it was; what else am I passionate about?
Turns out, this is the only subject that I truly care about. I question myself daily on whether or not I am crazy for wanting to pursue Character Art; Watching Rich (last years graduate) struggling for some time, and seeing the standard I am expecting to get up to is absolutely terrifying.
But Rich made it, he worked his ass off and he is now in a position he wanted to be. It give me hope, after speaking to some character artist's and receiving some feedback and helpful tips, it started bringing me out of my closed state of mind.
Gradually we all relaxed a bit and managed to get back to our open minded state.
Once we got there, the rate of our development rocketed, we were all at full steam, pushing each other to achieve more than we ever thought we could. I am so thankful for what we have here at uni.

Yet, with people I am close to getting jobs, and the potential of me doing some internships (possibly a year long) I am starting to feel myself slip back into that closed minded state. I don't feel am I ready to go out into the big bad world yet. I mean, I am still in my safe game art bubble, the majority of it got popped compared to my euphoric mind set in first year, but I still have the stability of the people I trust and the creative environment we thrive in.
Luckily I am looking to do internships with my close friend Ben, so I am not completely alone, but I am still so afraid that my skills still aren't good enough. One of Emma's feedback for us when we presented our work, was that our confidence doesn't show. I agree, I say I have started to relax to feedback, which I certainly have, but I still find myself making excuses all over the place. I talk my work down, it is silly really as when you are in the presence of somebody working in industry you sort of automatically put yourself lower than them. Which isn't completely bad, but it is hard to over come that lack of confidence in your own work. It is something I need to work on.

As John Cleese said, confidence is one of the keys to getting to that open minded state. Not ego stroking, but just believing in yourself a bit. I guess it stems from education on the whole. My entire educational career (up to uni) has been people telling me that I should be doing something sensible like maths or science, that I will never make a living out of Art, what I love. It is not that I want to prove them wrong, I am purely following this path as it is what I care about, it is my passion, but the implications of that are that sense of self doubt. With opportunities presented to me like this, it seems that maybe I may be able to make it, that I do have potential.

Either way, I still feel I have matured in my outlook on things, as Anna often says what seems to keep getting us down is that fact that we can now see the bigger picture. That hill called university we have to climb seems minuscule compared to the mountain that is the games industry. I do have more confidence in my abilities, but I also doubt myself regularly. While this can be bad, I do not see it is a completely awful thing. For every time I doubt myself I remind myself why I am doing this and I tell myself that I am doing the right thing. That keeps me going, along with all the amazing people that I surround myself with.

On the whole, this year has been very 'eye opening' I feel I am developing my work ethic as well as my artistic judgement. I am happy with my progress, but I know I still have a long way to go. Pray it never ends as I don't know what I would do if I was not constantly trying to better myself.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Life Changing or Career Building?

As the games industry is constantly changing and developing, it is often hard to know what to teach students on specialist courses to go into the games industry. It is hard to keep up with what the industry is doing, but there surely are skills that are always going to be necessary.
As most students join these courses with little or no 3D modelling experience, so it is something that undoubtedly needs to be taught. It takes time to learn new software and get used to the pipelines and processes of 3D art. Unlike traditional artistic skill, learning 3D is more of a mechanical process. 

You can learn pretty much learn anything if you invest enough time and effort into it however. With a structured learning course and being surrounded by similar minds looking to learn similar thinks, the rate or learning can be accelerated. For example, sat on your own trying to learn 3D studio max can be a daunting task, but when in an environment surrounded by people working towards the same goal, you all learn it easier and collectively.

But what is necessary to succeed in the games industry? Often learning the technical side (once you have a basic grasp of 3D modelling) is a case of doing a little research and practising. Learning core traditional skills takes a lot longer, and will serve you much better in the long run. Technology is constantly changing, but with great traditional skills, they can be transferred no matter what the situation. 
Game developers will look for employees who have strong 2D skills as well as technical skills. Flexibility of style is also important, as in smaller companies you may be expected to work on various different projects in various different styles. 

I think that a strong foundation in traditional skills is very important but having the technical skills is necessary to take on a job in industry. It varies on your role, some jobs need more traditional skill than technical. For example if you are working on developing a game environment, you are all well and good having some well made sound assets, but if you have no understanding of composition or other traditional skills, you will find the overall environment will look disjointed and wrong. 

I think one of the strongest things about my course is that we are very much based in 2D, our fundamental skills are in observation, composition, perspective, etc. But then we also get to learn a lot about 3D modelling, game engines, sculpting, etc. We treat 3D as an extension of our core 2D skills.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Interactivity design

Companies are always trying to find ways to innovate and involve the player more with the game. They want them to interact more and create a bigger sense of immersion.
Motion control has been on the rise over the last few years with the PS2 introducing the ‘Eye toy’, Nintendo creating a whole console around the use of the Wii Motion controller, and moving on to the Wii U. Microsoft and Sony have been playing around with the Kinect and Move.

The Wii U features a touchscreen pad which can supplement or replicate the television.  For example, when playing Mario the pad gets the maps as well as having the playable area on the television screen. For first person shooters you can buy plastic replica guns that the Wii Motion controllers slot into, which requires you to use it to aim and shoot the targets.  Using it like an actual gun.
This is all very interesting, but since its release it shows that people are less into the physical exhaustion to play a game and opt for the sofa and a bowl of crisps.
Playing an aircraft simulator, you a buy a joystick, because pilots use those right?  You buy s racing wheel to play a racing game (or truck driving simulator in my boyfriends case) and pedals and a gear stick. Devices like these were popular because they were accurate to the game and helped immersion.  Things like rumble controllers have a similar appeal, they just add that bit more depth to the playing experience.
This kind of interactivity is quickly getting out dated, with technology moving at record paces there are new exciting things coming out all the time. The most exciting and relevant at this moment in time is most certainly the Oculus Rift.

The Rift is an upcoming 
virtual reality head-mounted display, being developed by Oculus VR. During its period as an independent company, Oculus VR had raised US$91 million for the development of the Rift.’ - Wikipedia

So with so much money being pumped into this project it hold a lot of potential. It allows the player to actually be within the game, there have been many interesting and exciting examples of its use over the internet, my personal favourite being;

The Oculus in addition with omni treadmill seems to be the most exciting and most immersive gaming platform to date. The potential for them both will give a really immersive experience (even if you might look a little bit silly!

Monday, 10 March 2014


So, I will just start with this video. It is quite a long, and I am sure nearly every other person writing about creativity has used this an an example too, but it is well worth a watch. John Cleese makes some invaluable points on creativity; I want to discuss what he had to say on the matter.

Firstly it is important not to treat creativity as a talent, because it is not. It is more like a way of thinking, a way of life, Cleese discusses this and then goes on to discuss the different states of mind. He narrows it down to two types of thinking, the open mode and the closed mode.
So the main traits of each mode are; in the open mode, you are relaxed, you are playful, both of which are key to being creative. Where as the closed mode, is usually under pressure, you are questioning yourself, being critical and makes it a struggle for yourself to be creative.
As I am well aware being under pressure and being a bit anxious makes it incredible hard to be creative, pressure stops natural creativity. But of course, sometimes we are under pressure and are expected to be creative and do work, can we adapt to work under both modes? Or just avoid the closed mode all together?

Cleese also addresses this; to stop pressure on oneself, planning and reviewing our progress would help with that. Planning and reviewing can be done in the closed mode, being more critical of oneself and being more organised. Where as when actually working you want to be relaxed and have an open mind.
'To be at our most efficient we need to be able to switch backwards and forwards between the two modes. But here is the problem, we too often get stuck in the closed mode'
We must learn to use both modes to progress and influence our creativity. But it is very true that we too often get stuck in the closed mind. You know you have a problem to solve, yet you sit and worry about it, and every other mundane problem that pops into your head.

He also goes on to discuss the best way of getting back into the open mode and to let yourself be creative.
He states that you need these things; space, time, confidence and humor.
You need your own space, somewhere quiet, secluded and private. You need to create a little oasis for yourself where you can relax and let your mind wander.
Secondly you need time, give yourself enough time to relax, let the other problems fade and then enough time to let some creativity happen. Undoubtedly as soon as you have time to yourself your mind will buzz, worrying about day to day tasks you need to have done or other projects you also need to work on. Getting into the right mind for precisely what you are working on is the hardest part.
Cleese says that part of being creative is having the ability to over look these little problems, to tolerate them for the time being so that your mind can relax and be free to create. If you can achieve this, you will spend longer looking at the problem, which in the long run can lead to more creative outcomes.

Once you have your oasis and you have let your mind be completely open, it is still important to have some confidence. The worse thing for crushing creativity is the fear of being wrong, the fear of failure. It is important to look at creativity as subjective, it is never wrong and never right. It is important to believe that whatever happens, whatever brain farts you have are ok, anything may lead to a breakthrough.
A good way of helping your confidence is through humor, the best way to get to the open mode is through laughter.
I can strongly relate to this, the amount of times I have been sat around with friends, laughing over silly ideas we are coming out with, that then may lead onto a sound and strong idea, especially throughout our group project.
'Humor is an essential part of spontaneity, an essential part of playfulness, essential part of the creativity we need to solve problems no matter how serious they may be.'

To lead on from that, surrounding ones self with creative open minded people, always helps increase your own creativity. I am incredibly fortunate to be constantly surrounded by people I trust and am relaxed around, who all have wonderful creative minds. One of my favourite things about our community at university is how we all bounce off of one another, our ideas are pushed further and we all develop as a group of creatives taking pride in each others success.
In my opinion, getting into the open mode is easiest in that environment, I would not have developed as an artist as fast without that surrounding me.

Sorry guys! (No regrets)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

From Generalist to Specialist?

One of the main things that has been introduced to us as we progress through the course is that often you are required to specialize to get a job in industry. After having more of an understanding of how big AAA companies work, it is clear why this is the case. In some companies your job role may be so specific that you may only be creating armor plates for a character or are in charge of only the foliage of a level. Yet, because the industry has developed to this point of such specialization, it seems that now it is starting to reverse slightly.

With a wave of new small companies opening, particularly with the growth of the mobile games industry, it is again seeming more like being a generalist is not exactly a bad thing. I keep hearing the phrase of 'T shaped' workers floating about, with a little bit of research it comes from the Valve Employer's handbook. The 'T shaped' worker is described as having a broad range of skills and deep expertise in one area. So for a character artist, you have a deep understanding of creating characters, but also a sound understanding of rigging, rendering, animation, etc.

Even to get into the AAA development, I still feel that it is important to keep up with lots of different skills. After speaking to past graduates who are in industry they still work on a variety of things, be that bug fixing, texturing, learning in-house engines, or just learning new programs in general. I think that one should stay flexible and keep an open mind to a variety of skills. What happens when you have done everything you can do? If they employee has other skills, they can go help in another area, someone without those skills can not. So surely the employer would see the person with more general skills as a better investment?

So as well all struggle on deciding where we want to specialize our skills, maybe it is better to stay a bit more general.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Sounds in Games

Sounds, be that effects or music, in games can make so much difference to the atmosphere of the game; A well placed creak can create a sense of tension or a somber song may get them close to tears. Sounds can have a very powerful effect over the player, when used intelligently. In my opinion a good soundtrack and thoughtful sound design can make a game timeless.

One of the most important parts of a game is creating the immersion, that sense of being a part of the game. Things like bad level design, bad visual design and bad sound design can break that barrier and the player will not be able to connect with the game as the developer planned. I would argue that sound has one of the most important part to creating this sense of involvement within the game. Making sure all the surrounding sound effects are accurate are key to this. Sound is also a big part of level design as intelligently placed sound can help make the player progress in the preferred way through the level, it is an important part of triggered events.

If done well and successfully sound can help to create a sense of tension, stir emotions and even play on nostalgia.
Some games execute the tension very well through their sound; one game that stands out to me as doing this is Outlast. Even from the start up menu you have this horrible sense of tension and dread (even to those who do not know what they are about to inflict upon themselves.) Whenever I play this game with friends, the moment we hear the opening sounds we are straight back to feeling on edge and unsure about the whole situation. Even when in the middle of a level, you are constantly questioning what all the sounds are; some of the levels even revolve around the use of sound. For example, the guy we are avoiding at the moment has a chain that drags on the floor as he walks, so as soon as you hear that sound you know you have to hide as fast as possible. Then once hidden it is a question of whether it is your own breathing you can hear or someone else!

This game gets me every time! 
Possible SPOLIERS! 

Sounds also help to create emotions in the player; one too many games have had me bawling my eyes out and I can bet you that music in the game has helped achieve this effect. A good example of this, is in the opening of The Last of Us.


This opening is so well done as it established this personal relationship with the characters within the first few minutes of meeting them. In addition to this development the sounds and visuals support this well; when the music starts at the part where one of the characters is dying in the opening, it really stirs those emotions (makes me cry every time.)

Music from older games really starts to play on nostalgia these days, music from games we played when younger really stir our emotions when we hear them. When you hear a song from a game you played years ago it fills you with that sense of excitement and enjoyment you got from the first time you played it. Prime examples (at least for me personally) are the Legend of Zelda theme and the Elder Scrolls theme, whenever I hear these themes it makes me want to go play them all over again. When a song has this effect over you, you know that the games soundtrack was a very well done and successful one as it still remains in your memory.

My inner adventurer is crying with excitement!