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Week 15 – Memories, predictions, and preparation.

The first year of graduate school ended this week. First year of grad school sounds really strange. Having a game sounds strange. Having a game people like sound extraordinarily strange. But good. All of it. Really really good.

This week we were in crunch mode for EAE Day. Unreal 4 has some peculiar things it does with imported models from Maya, so most of the time was spent getting that to work. Special commendations to Joe who has just been a rock star these last few weeks. He’s developed the toon shader on his own with little documentation to reference, fixed a lighting problem we were having, and built, implemented, and repaired an absolutely beautiful hallway.

sKOzRloCory developed textures and props for the levels, as well as assisted the rest of the art team in whatever they needed, and Kyle made a particle effect for the premonition exit (it’s smoky and goes “POOF!” in grand comic book style). I worked on the logo and menus for the game wrapper (the bit at the beginning and end of the game as well as the popup menu when you hit pause).

sVAMbd4-1024x574Tony, Brenton, James, Vinod, Abhishek, Sidd, and Skip are the real heroes of the story though, they worked their collective tails off to get a working game in just a couple days. Matt kept the team running and on schedule, I’ve never seen such an up-to-date backlog, and Tina brilliantly kept up with the social media and helped the EAE Day prep.

Photo Apr 24, 2 28 34 PMEAE Day went beautifully. We had two computers to show off the game, we were well placed in the C4 secret lab, and the game looked great. Tony and Matt hung out near the game for most of the day, with the rest of us running around the main studio wrangling people into the other room to come play our game. The game is still buggy, but the mechanic demonstrates really well, and people were able to understand it fairly easily. We got some really good feedback, the most important being “This is fun.” I know that seems like a fairly obvious statement for a game, but at this stage in the development process, it’s actually kind of difficult to be able to show people easily what’s fun about your game. But we’ve done it! I am so proud to be a part of this team, I feel like we’ve really come together toward a common ever since ditching the robot game idea. I guess working toward a common goal will do that to people.

We have a meeting next week to talk about our plans for the summer. About half the team will be away doing internships, some out of the state, so communication may be hard. With the IGF deadline looming at the end of October, we’ll need to have a solid development plan in place for the 8 weeks we’ll have to work on the game when we come back as a team in late August. There will be no time to waste! There may be some work done over the summer, I know I’d like to do as much as possible, but we’ll see.

I have several other projects I’ll be doing over the summer, so I’ll probably keep up with this blog, but likely not weekly. I like being able to see where I’ve been, the blog posts have been so fun to go back and read from this last school year. It’s been an amazing journey, and while definitely one of the most brutal, also one of the most emotionally, personally, professionally, and creatively fulfilling.

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Week 11 – Game Developers Conference, best food on the planet, and paradigm shifts.

I’m just going to preface this with the most important thing I learned at GDC this year:

If I do nothing, then nothing will happen.

-Alexander Bruce, Anitchamber

I had three goals for GDC this year – Get a copy of Unreal 4 to play with for our game, make sure the U’s booth is the most popular, visible and exciting place to be besides the IGF pavilion, and to go to as many panels and workshops as humanly possible. I succeeded in all of those things, but not in the ways I expected.

Epic announced at GDC this year that Unreal 4 would be available that week and for $20 a month for schools. So that was cool and saved me from having to cry at their booth. Kidding, I had this elaborate pitch to give them about the U and UDK and how exciting we are, blah blah. Unnecessary, but it is still awesome to be able to use the new version and it’s features.

The University of Utah booth was one of the highest traffic booths around the IGF pavilion, much to the chagrin of the other schools at the event. Our booth was vibrant, colorful, bright, and teeming with activity, mostly due to Cyber Heist and their IGF Student Showcase win. We had a steady flow and the students were great and handled the people like pros. I didn’t have to be there much, and actually mostly stopped by to grab people for lunch or other events, then took off. So congrats to my cohort, the Cyber Heist team, and a big thanks to Corrinne and Hallie for letting me come and go during the expo.

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I was able to attend pretty much every panel and presentation I wanted to, I went to a bunch on design and the indie scene, a couple art ones, and of course, Roger’s Panel:

Photo Mar 18, 10 58 56 AM

 

Probably the most important presentation I attended was by Alexander Bruce, the developer of Antichamber (and the quote above). The presentation was about how Antichamber had been in the making for about 9 years and almost killed him. He described how many conferences and competitions he went to, the people he talked to, the feedback he received, the iterations, the madness, and the reward. There were times when Bruce became very emotional about the process but it just showed how invested he is in the game and the community. It was very moving and very motivating. I’m going to make my team watch the full presentation when I get back.

The main point that I got from the talk was the phrase that kept coming up – If I do nothing, then nothing will happen. It was kind of like a light shattered in my head (I know that is a mixed metaphor, but that is kind of what happened). Ever since I was diagnosed with chronic illness way back when, I’ve had a different outlook on life, but this was something different. I’d been looking at having a life without fear, hence the major life changes I’ve made including coming to grad school to make games. But that phrase added a new component to my motivations – Life is about action, not just overcoming fear. I don’t have to overcome something in order to do something. It may seem pretty obvious to some people, but it was kind of revolutionary to me. No more reaction, only action!

So that was a cool moment. Other highlights from GDC was the IGF awards, where Cyber Heist was up for best student game.

 

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I thought I was going to pop I was so excited. And then I vowed that I would be in that same place next year with my team. Even though the team didn’t win, they still had a great time and it was amazing to even be nominated.

Photo Mar 19, 8 30 21 PM

 

Many shenanigans were had, people chatted with, parties attended, drinks consumed (so many drinks), meetings, meetings, meetings, and risks taken. End of story? I did something, and everything happened.

Now here’s a picture of Roger looking epic:Photo Mar 20, 12 09 36 AM

 

Week 10 – Spring Break is a time for reflection

Not much to report this week, just prepping for GDC and the rest of the semester. But it’s also a good time to recap the semester and give some thoughts.

This semester started out a little rough, what with my surgery and all. I was lucky enough to get on the team I wanted via text message to my teammates, which was awesome. I really do feel privileged to be working with the people I am working with. I feel like we have a really broad skill set and strengths, and any deficits we might have can be easily overcome.

I’m equally happy to be part of a more collaborative cohort overall. Because the artist distribution ended up being a little uneven, we decided that all the artists would be available to help each other out no matter what team they are on for a credit on the game. It worked out well so far, Mark, Kyle and I did concept art for Shane’s game, and we are constantly giving each other feedback. We might even start meeting as a group more often so we can keep up with what everyone else is doing and see if there is anything anyone needs help with.

I like the idea of more cross-team collaboration, I think it’s a shame that some of the other teams from the other cohorts I’ve seen have silo’d themselves away from each other. It’s never a bad thing to me to get more eyes on the material and ask questions and experience the game through new eyes.

I’m very excited for the upcoming Game Developer’s Conference. I feel like this year I have more of a grip on what I want to see and what my role at the conference will be. I’ll be at the booth for sure, but there are a lot of talks, panels, and other things and people I want to see. Really looking forward to it!

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Week 13 – On teams, freeze rays, and hot sauce.

So this week was… interesting.

At the end of last week it was mentioned that we’d be able to pick our own teams this next round. What that meant was up to us to decide. Immediately, artist Joe tagged me to be on his team, and we met up with Tina, Sidd G, Skip, and Shelwin. We tentatively invited Owen not knowing if he was able to be on our team. The studio quickly became a feeding frenzy of people recruiting and being recruited to different teams. Everything was in a bit of disarray until Monday evening when it was somewhat decided that we should stick to the traditional team structure so all would be fair among the teams.

But it wasn’t.

Suddenly there were orphans who were once part of teams standing alone. This included myself and some other severely talented people. So quickly, I got Owen on board and we picked up Peijun and Dayna on engineering, and acquired Jed at the last second. The other orphans filtered into other teams needing artists and engineers. I was feeling good about our new team. But then we learned that we would be down two team members halfway through the project – Owen’s twins are due any second, and Peijun is leaving to go back to China for the break. So we had a choice – stay together and get as much done with the full team as humanly possible, then punt the rest of the time with the remaining three team members, or dissolve the team into other teams. Dayna and I were heavily on the dissolve side. Since we are publishing this prototype (more on that later) we decided that spreading the resources among other teams would result in a higher quality game than staying together and attempting to piece it together at the end. It also alleviates the pressure on those team members that have to leave half way through. Owen and Peijun were torn, they really liked the team and wanted to work with us all. I reminded them that this isn’t the end and there is still the opportunity to work together on the thesis game. Jed wanted to keep the team together and see what we could do. In the end, we all voted to dissolve, it was best for the team members and the group as a whole.

So, I was then immediately picked back up by Tina and Joe’s team, where I originally started. But that is exciting because I get to work with another artist! Something that I haven’t been able to do up to this point. Our engineering team is top-notch, and Tina is always fun to work with.

So, this prototype is going to be published on the Windows App Store. We had a huge presentation from Randy, Tech Evangelist (yes, that is a thing) from Microsoft telling us about the cool features in the hardware and software options for the new Windows stuff.  We will be publishing the prototypes on the MSAS because it is ridiculously underpopulated and easy to publish. Plus we get a whole bunch of MS swag and software to play with.

So, we wanted our game to be casual, have an audience of people that received new fun things for the holidays, and people who will be needing distraction during family functions. We wanted something with repetitive play and big payoffs to keep people coming back. After tooling around with the design box for a while, Joe and I came up with a game where you defend you winter getaway cabin from the hordes of snow goons trying to destroy your fun.

I threw together some concept artwork for the monsters (snowmen, penguins, and yeti for now) and a couple weapons to use (hairdryer, hot chocolate hose, and a sun gun) to melt the icy monsters before they get to the house. The bad guys will also be capable of tossing snow at the house, potentially destroying it. Concept sketches at the bottom of the post.

We presented to the group and received some excellent feedback, the most exciting of which is the potential to craft the main weapon instead of switching it out mid-game. So you start with a hair dryer, and after the first wave you can go to “The Attic” and rummage around until you find something like a motor or super heating element to enhance the original blow dryer. This has huge potential I think, and the changes you make to the weapon can be visually represented at the beginning of the round. You can also choose to make upgrades to the cabin to make it more snow-proof.

I’m really excited about this prototype, I think it’s really fun to develop and should be fun to play. And really, nothing is better than penguins with freeze rays.

 

winstateconceptColor3conceptColor2conceptColor1 weapons

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Week 8 – What I did on my Fall Break and the pointlessness of purple.

So many things to talk about. First, I’ll start off with a retrospect on the first 8 weeks of my graduate career.

Time

When I decided to come back to school, I knew it was going to be a massive time commitment. But honestly it’s been one of the best ways I’ve found to help me structure my time in a much more productive way. Specific assignments and tasks, it turns out, make me much more inclined to learn about something rather than just going “Hey, I think I’ll try to learn Maya today…” like I attempted over the summer. Not surprisingly, I didn’t open the program once until my first day of Game Art I. But having that kind of structure and people to report to and give me feedback has been most invaluable. I really feel like it’s helped me progress as far in as little time as I have.

Teams

I love working in teams. I feel like this is something that working for 5 years between school has taught me. As mentioned above, I like having people to report to that give me feedback and brainstorm with me about how to make something cooler. It’s also nice to get to know everyone on a professional and personal level. It’s great to see the varied skill sets of the different people and learn all about what they like, what they love, and what they hate about games.

The Other Artists

This is where things get sappy. I really couldn’t have asked for a more talented, enthusiastic, diverse, and supportive art team than this one. Every one of them has so much to share with the rest, and they do, and I feel that we have a very close-knit community because of it. From the prototypes to Gabe’s class, it’s always so fun to see what everyone is working on, the approaches they took, the skills they share, and just the camaraderie. I often feel like I am the weakest of all of them, but they still treat me as equal. Which leads me to my next point.

Not trying hard enough

One of the things I worry about most is that I’m enjoying the hell out of grad school because I’m not trying hard enough. I still seem to get around 6-7 hours of sleep a night, I’m not struggling too much with the homework, and I still manage to be productive at work and with my friends and family. But a lot of the time I feel like my work is sub-par and just isn’t what my team is looking for or what they need. Especially with the Game Arts I class, my recent work has been abysmal but I am limited by my knowledge of the software and overall lacking in technique. I try to research what I can but a lot of times I don’t even know what to google and that extends the time it takes me to complete a project. It’s frustrating to me and I’m sure my teammates. I feel like if I just had more time I’d be able to complete the projects and solve the problems, but I know I’m never going to have more time than I do right now, and even less in the near future.

I can’t fix the time issues, but I can be a bit more proactive about how I approach them. I seemed to have decent luck with researching the hell out of techniques before beginning a project, that way I don’t have to start over on many of them like I’ve had to in the past. This will save me some time for revision and polish. I also think I need to care a little bit more about my projects. To be completely honest, I’ve fallen into a trap of “this is good enough for my skill level” thinking, and that is dangerous to my work and my academic career. So I am going to work harder on caring more, trying harder, and really focusing in on what I want to accomplish on a project and how to accomplish it (for school, work, and my personal life). It is as Ron Swanson says:

Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.

 Ninja Edit: This is not fishing for compliments by the way, I’m being totally honest and trying to articulate my emotions for a completely accurate picture of what this program is and what it’s taught me. The Feels! What do they want with me?!