30 November 2014

Digital Games: Week 10

Such a busy and fulfilling week with London events, writing Gantt charts, pseudocode and wrestling MMF. The once only personal weekly goals have transformed into a team chart as the five of us team members work towards the final presentation on the 10th. We continue to work wonderfully together and its fantastic to see how each of us chip in with our strengths.

Most of my time was spent organizing the assets to be completed for the demo, allocating these tasks to the team and working on MMF. Two days in and I already had a box that would pick up other boxes into their bag and drop them. A day after that and Pong created the cutest animated character for the game complete with running, jumping, grabbing and falling animations.

Most comers and goers of the Brunel game design lab know that I now live among the computers. Interesting events tend to happen around you while working on MMF, reading and typing up theory or playing a new game. This week we had university wide League of Legends tournament, organised by Iva and streamed on twitch, Eddie showed off game trailers on the new TV screen and the monthly show and tell Steam games version played and commentated on Shovel Knight.

In class, we briefly explored some of the roles of the games industry. Thoughts about life after graduation followed me during the week. A few classmates mentioned they could really visualise me in the role of a producer and I have to agree, as a jill-of-all-trades that can get very enthusiastic among people, the role seems to fit perfectly. However I still really enjoy writing about games so I feel either academic or games journalist needs to be a part of me as well. Either way, I will not be limiting myself and continue taking on those tasks that I love doing, regardless of where they sit in the games industry. I'm open to surprises.

Cybersalon - Game On: Reclaim the Game

The best about living on a satellite of London is that there are many fantastic events to go to. This month great minds of gaming gathered underground at Cybersalon, indie devs brought games and academics brought ideas. Among the games was Hungry Planet Games' Astroloco: First Contact, a Monkey Island on caffeine set in space as well as Rich Metson's Off the Grid, a political stab at data surveillance. Talks included William Latham, Chris Baraniuk and the very engaging Richard Bartle who's quotes now fill my twitter feed. Among my favourites:

Particularily interesting was how the grandfather of all MMO's, Richard Bartle's MUD, started as a political statement on their indignation at UK class structures. Future MMO's copied this without thinking what the mechanics were actually saying about the world. World of Warcraft, it can be said, is built upon the political ideologies of two angry students.

The talks were topped off with Mark Farid of Seeing I and a panel where we discussed games as a political medium, the validation of self and companionship in games. Overall a very thought provoking night with plenty of networking, games and beer.

29 November 2014

Cognitive Mapping in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

During first year in architecture, we read the quirky literature and experimented with the senses in the city. We read Downs and Stea, Debord, Lefebvre and Lynch. What we learned was twofold: 1. That we organise space in terms of memories. And 2. The organisation of space is subjective. This is what behavioural geographers call cognitive mapping, the formation of mental maps that help us navigate and remember places. Lynch breaks down cognitive maps into paths, nodes, edges, districts and landmarks. A cognitive map is made up of a combination of these. But they can also occur in the virtual.

This week I've been playing the Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a detective narrative experience which centers around exploration and object analysis to solve mysteries. The player has paranormal senses which mean he can see the haunted traces left behind on objects and places by past users.

While most virtual worlds require the use of our cognitive map, one puzzle in particular in this game highlights its workings: The Vandergriff house. Upon reading a note left at the entrance, the doorways change into veils and the spaces behind the doorway turn into rooms of the Carter house. The player must then match the correct rooms to the doorways to recreate the Carter house inside that of the Vandergriff one. There are multiple ways of solving this puzzle, here I'll be running through the way I solved it.

If one goes to the Carter house first, entering a room triggers a snippet of dialogue between members of the Carter family. Navigating through the house, the conversations that occurred in those rooms push the story a step further. Cognitive mapping is what transforms the Vandergriff house puzzle from a simple guessing game into a test of skill. By including a snippet of the story, each room of the Carter house becomes a landmark. The player can associate these conversations between family members to the room, so then what the player needs to remember is the paths between the landmarks and the edges that define them.

While I highly doubt a puzzle on cognitive mapping was what The Astronauts originally started with, I'd love to see more puzzles that test spatial cognition. There is one thing virtual reality can do that the physical can't and that is deconstruct spatiality into the impossible.

24 November 2014

Digital Games: Week 9

While I spent most of my teenage time playing online RPGs through e-mail or forums, I have never played tabletop RPGs. This huge gap was corrected when three of us coursemates got together to play a short, two-player campaign in Vamprie: The Requirem. At 11PM we went in thinking it would only take 3 hours. It lasted until 7AM. There was something very magical and very tirering about emerging from such an immersive experience to the sun rising that I can only compare to the first time I took off an Oculus Rift. Overall, it's definitely something I wan to do more of.

We have received our grades from our first theory assignment and I am extremely happy with mine. The essay centred on "The Role of Spatiality in Creating Immersion in Digital Games" and without saying too much, I'm looking to expand on it in various ways.

Level - Glass.png

The design assessment, too, has begun. We are to create and pitch a game by the 10th of December in teams. Our team has been very organised and very quick at getting things done. In the first day we already had a company and a high concept of the game. Within the next few days, three of us sat down to sketch a few levels. We worked very well together! Giovanni was particularly good at narrative while Pong was very good at mechanics. We bridged the two really well and created a document of these levels which the rest of the team expanded on. In this document, we first discussed the narrative, illustrated how this narrative would look spatially, then showed the individual mechanics and puzzles inside the level. I specialised in illustrating the bridge between narrative and mechanics.

While we are all involved in a bit of everything, we have assigned "leaders" to particular sections of the assignment who organise and make sure our presentation answers particular aspects of the requirements. I have taken on the role of Technical Artist so much of my time will be spent creating the demo for the game, doing soft programming, managing the asset pipeline and making sure the game design is feasible for us to actually create. My main concern is that it might be too much work and many hours fighting with MMF2.5 however I can already sense how rewarding playing the final demo will feel.

As for the demo, I have expanded on the "Sir, don't forget your hat" experiment. Now, more than just collecting and stacking hats, the character can upgrade them. The code has expanded massively and I've learned quite a bit about more complex value systems and ways in which we could create the demo for the design assessment. Sections of the code and various screenshots are found below and you can download play the game here.

At this point, the character could only put on hats in different orders and take them off. The code was fairly simple however it got more complicated when I added an upgrading system for each of the hats and a final condition when you upgrade and wear all the hats.

As a guest lecture, we had Richie from UKie. He was very engaging and showed us quite a few resources that we have as game students in the UK. For those game students reading this that might not know, UKie offer networking events, course support and overall awesome links between students and the UK games industry. For those looking to improve their job opportunities, discuss what they might want to get into once graduating, ect, their website is http://ukie.org.uk and every student is registered for free.

17 November 2014

Digital Games: Week 8

Reading week (which consisted of more writing than reading) is finished, the theory assignment has been handed in and I've taken the first three days of this week to shut myself in my room with takeaway and play The Witcher 2. However what was meant to be relaxation soon turned into a semiotic analysis of "Polishness". Theory classes are officially following me everywhere and I love it!

I've recently gotten into the habit of explaining each weeks theory to non-game design friends which has really helped solidify the concepts as well as see its applications beyond the scope of games. This week's field was rhetorics where we practiced in class by analysing a series of game covers. Outside of the class, a friend made me analyse a cover for a TV series I had not seen. Using rhetorics and semiotics I was able to guess the characters and their relationships. It was good practice and proved how important the image is along with the messages it conveys.

This weekend was filled with games in London. The first was an unexpected turn through a wander in Shoreditch where we stumbled into #conkerking, where you held wallnuts on strings and tried to destroy each other. Neither myself nor my partner knew this game but were later told it's a traditional game in the UK. Found in a corner off the side of Brick Lane it was a pleasant surprise that had a flow of people lighting up at the chance of playing games together. Sadly, I lost horribly at this game but nevertheless, it had both of us laughing.

Near Bethnal Green, comedians McNeil and Pamphilon performed their sketches with 8-bit retro games. With the audience, we'd play a series of games such as Mario, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, ClayFighter and Aaaah For the Awesome. We even got to see Videogame Guy play Mario with his hands and Sonic 2 with his feet at the same time and beat both in under 1 minute. Impressive!

In design classes we practiced a bit of MMF2.5. It has been something I have been neglecting these past weeks due to essay work so this class was a good reminder this is something I need to keep practicing. We explored alterable values by creating a system that would recognize if the player is wearing a hat or not and then upgrade the hat.

There was some trial and error in the logic used to make the character wear the hat. I started out with: upon player collision with the hat, the hat would destroy itself and the character animation would change to one with him wearing a hat. After some deliberation, I discovered a more practical way which was: upon player collision with the hat, change the alterable value to 1. When the alterable value is equal to 1, the hat position is equal to 0,5 relative to the position of the player. This worked much better and meant that the player could take off the hat and upgrade it into two spiffy new designs.

1 November 2014

Digital Games: Weeks 5+6

There have been some key advancements over these two weeks. The first news is I have been elected as student representative, meaning more invulcration with the course, its professors and fellow students, an activity I've been absolutely loving. Secondly, myself and another student have organised and started conducting a weekly theory text discussion where we build upon our understandings of each weeks readings. Other students have also organised technical sessions where we teach each other Unity3D and Unreal Engine. After a very chaotic and busy week 5, a clear structure is beginning to emerge.

Most of week five was overshadowed by a very long yet exciting weekend working at the MCM Expo London Comic Con. I assisted old university friend and creator of Deathbulge, Dan, managing his stall, diffusing his comics online and at the event, accounting work of his sales and general support.

In between handing out business cards and jotting down numbers, I played a few tablet and analogue games at the Esdevium and Indie Go Game stalls. One highlight was Dobble, a very entertaining and quick paced card game with various forms of play, ending with myself and a stranger screaming at each other and laughing at the ruckus we were causing. The other game was one who's name escapes me now, which I played while discussing the creation with the programmer. It features a series of hilarious mini games set in the wild west all centered around the core mechanic of spinning the barrel of a gun. With it you can shoot coins, dance, banish bad guys, jump across cliffs, all with the funniest death animations that made the inevitable failure incredibly fun.

Comic Con ended with Dan and myself going for a much needed celebratory dinner and pint with Dave and Rob of Cyanide & Happiness. It was Dan and mine's first time working at a convention, let alone one with over 110,000 attendees. The entire experience ran smoothly and it's time to confess, I much prefer witnessing the geeky goodness from the content creator side of the stall, rather than as merely a consumer. Standing at a game booth, beaming enthusiasm and engagement at visitors while analytically observing their play is an activity that feels natural to me and I cannot wait to be doing this with my own content.

Back on the course, our weekly game design classes have concentrated on art, from communication to creation. In week 5 we practiced free-hand drawing where we drew objects, our hand and a classmate. There was very little time for detail but enough to practice some techniques. In the 6th week, we practiced world and character building in a team of four. We used a random concept generator to come up with a game idea then moved on to describe and develop it. Our random concept was : "An adventure game where you banish unicorns to warp spacetime." The description we came up with of this world along with the mood board can be found here. In the last few minutes of the class, using a wacomb tablet and photoshop, I sketched some ideas for the cultist character of this world.

We wanted to communicate a tribal cyberpunk cult, a blending that proved challenging. There are quite a few things I would change to the character I had at the end of the class. For example, the side horns, while quite aggressive, feel too goat-like. These cultist are sacrificing unicorns and wearing their skulls therefore the anatomy of it needs to be appropriate. The blue lines in the drawing were added after a brief discussion with our professor on how to communicate cyberpunk. While it's true that lights are the most signifying of cyberpunk, it feels inappropriate to that world. Instead, I would like to try drawing more inspiration from Italian futurism or Lebbeus Woods. My final problem is with the dagger. A good communicator of this high-tech future is in their tools. With more time I would have given it it's own design analysis.

As a side course, a group of us have started teaching each other Unity 3D. This week, Roman guided us through creating a simple popcorn making environment. While I'm already familiar with the program, it was nice to refresh the memory and pick up more on the programming side of Unity 3D. Roman did an excellent job teaching our group and I am definitely looking forward to more meetups like this one.

These two weeks theory topics, film and literature theory, have been especially amazing and relevant to my essay but I shall not be talking about it here. Just know there are hopefully great things lying in the future and project ideas that have bounced out of theory lessons which have gotten me very enthusiastic. Every day I'm engaged in something to do with games. It's fantastic! This course really fits me like a glove.