Monthly Archives: January 2014

Syn bit set? Packet loss?

Today Cyber Heist was selected as an Independent Game Festival (IGF) finalist (IGF 2014 Student Showcase Winners Link at Gamasutra) meaning they were in the top 8 of the games submitted for IGF.  The news is great for the EAE program.  I would like to deliver a similar or surpassing experience next year with our thesis project.  My team has a lot of work to do between now and the IGF 2015 contest.

Recently I have been fortunate to have three advancement opportunities.  I had a hard time deciding which opportunity to pursue since choosing more than one was not an option.  In the end timeliness was a dominant factor in my choice.  I anticipate providing value to the team I am joining with my experience in networking, databases and web transaction.  I also anticipate learning and advancing my knowledge.  Overall, I am excited.

I will be adjusting my schedule to accommodate my new work schedule.   I am also going to attempt to schedule time for exercise since a concern of mine is having the energy to pull 55+ hour weeks.  My wife has mentioned that regular exercise enhances energy levels.  I am certain that for approximately four weeks I am going to be tired and grumpy.

Engine Development and Windows 8 Build Issues

Today I spent a considerable amount of money on tuition.  I am going to spend a less considerable, but still significant amount of money on GDC.  In consideration of all the money spent I will need to make the experience I am gaining through my graduate studies worthwhile.  I will finish the post by referencing the contents of the subject line.

First, “Snow Place Like Home” needs a Windows 8.0 build since Windows 8.1 is not backwards compatible with Windows 8.0.  I have made the build, but getting the build to pass certification has been a task.  Evidently the manifest configuration is different for the build of Windows 8.0.  The resolution will be creating a new build with the manifest changed to comply with whatever they find while doing certification.

Second, I have been working on adding real-time input to my game.  In particular real-time input requires delving into kinematics.  I currently have an acceleration in the game, but stopping the character is not feasible since there is no friction.  I am going to figure out how to implement friction as well as a numerical approximation of the differential equations (some fast version of Euler’s method, possibly Runga-Kutta).

Projects has been an interesting course.  Work is not being partitioned well.  We are presently down to five game ideas down from one hundred.  I still don’t feel like we have a strong thesis question.  Our strongest thesis question is along the lines of, “How do we explore relationships with inanimate objects?”.  I realize that we were short on time to develop the ideas, but a lot of the team was excluded from development of the ideas.  During the presentation the team was surprised by the direction of our ideas.

Path to Industry

I have been working on finding a direction for my graduate degree.  On paper people with graduate degrees look better when experience is similar.  Optimally I would be able to accumulate industry experience while finishing my graduate degree.  If the experience of industry and academia are to be separate however, I am working to find a solution that provides optimal amounts of both experience to ensure I am a valuable addition to the future engineering team with which I work.

The premise of the Master Entertainment Arts and Engineering graduate program is to provide an academic context for the study of games and a game studio experience as a path to industry.  I have found that academic and industry experience are complimentary, but different.  The problem with academic experience is that the impact of a failed end result does not necessarily take money from the program.  Worth noting is that we are paying for our experience in the graduate program.  I will explore some of the differences between the academic and industry experience.

In the academic experience the funding as I understand is from grants and tuition.  The academic institution is held accountable by granting organizations and by enrollment numbers.  Enrollment numbers go up by offering an experience that promises to confer skills that will allow employment within the academic institution or in industry.  Demand increases the charge individuals will pay for the promise of conferred skills.  The process appears to be a needed step to industry if only for social proof of skills.

Industry experience as I understand is a series of projects that require learning specifically for the needs of the project.  Failed results on a project cost significant amounts of money as each individual working on the project is being paid some amount.  Success therefore yields money for the company given the product is marketable and purchased.  Money made from a product benefits the employees of the company by providing continued projects by which they can earn income.

Given the perspectives academic experience provides a social proof of skills and industry experience provides direct proof of skills through duration of employment.  Both are valuable.  I am unable to predict the future, but know that so long as I am able to acquire the social proof conferred by a Masters degree in addition to direct proof through industry experience and successful (needs a quantifiable criteria) projects I will be able to find employment that procures the mental challenges I require and enough funding to support a family.  At the current time the knowledge is based on faith.

Studying the past to invent to future

As members of larger teams we were tasked with researching the games from IGF and GDC experimental games in order to find a key element that makes a winner.  The outcome was that there is no winning element.  The goal therefore is to find something unique to iterate on.  Individually we wrote eight game ideas that fit the criteria of winning IGF game.  We were reading our game ideas when Jose gave us a new method of developing ideas where people said one word and other people wrote whatever game idea came to mind on a whiteboard.  The process generated a lot of ideas rapidly.

Ethics in Games will be an academic course where we write papers and develop a toolkit through discussion and analyzing games which pose ethical questions.  In addition there is a hefty amount of reading involving ethics and games.  I picked the course because I felt it would be the most academically rigorous.  Yesterday I picked up two humble bundles featuring two of the games required for the course.  The games in the bundle that are required for the course are Shelter and Papo & Yo.  I have never played the games and will be analyzing them from an ethical standpoint during play.  Making a “Let’s Play” or something similar out of the experience might be interesting.  In the end I will write a paper on them.

I have received the rendering system from my instructor for Game Programming 1.  I will be hooking the rendering system written in DirectX 9 to my current game engine.  I will also be re-factoring and improving my game engine to be more portable and optimized.  In my spare time I have been working on understanding rendering in both DirectX and OpenGL.  I have worked with both, but I have been gaining new insight into their function.  The result has been an easier understanding of lectures given in Game Programming 1.

Spring Semester 2014 : Start

A new semester has started.  I started the semester by coming in on Monday and applying to internships.  I am excited to have the opportunity to build a career in the games industry.  I will be applying to more companies as the semester progresses.

On Tuesday we had our first game projects course of the semester.  We are dividing into teams and will be creating a game that will be submitted as a student game to the Indie Game Festival (IGF) and be our thesis game for our Master of Entertainment Arts and Engineering degree.  Dividing into teams has created some drama.  The drama will reserve itself.  I am currently a member of a team with six producers, four engineers and three artist.  My gut tells me that the ratio of producers on our team is too high when compared to other members.

I have grown a strong appreciation for version control.  From my prior work in industry the idea seemed like something nice to have, but working in the program has shown me the importance of having version control in place for the entire project.  The entire project includes art, documents and other assets.  Version control ensures that people are getting work done, showcasing the work and subjecting the work to peer-review.

We were tasked with studying prior winning submissions to IGF from two specific years.  The years my team was assigned were 2012 and 2007.  The process behind the study was to split the team into two with one group studying games from 2012 and the other 2007.  The task proved too slow and further division occurred into each member being assigned a single game.

I was assigned the game “And Yet It Moves”.  “And Yet It Moves” was a winner of IGF in 2007.  I was able to play the game for approximately half an hour.  The game explores the question “How can we make a physics based two dimensional platform game?”.  The game allows the player to change the orientation of gravity.  Controls use W,S,A,D for movement and right, left, up and down arrows for gravity orientation.  I am unsure if using two “sticks” was common in 2007, but in-game physics were new and exciting.  Half-Life 2, a commercial three dimensional shooting game, was released in 2005.  The most interesting feature in “And Yet It Moves” is the way the game incorporated pit traps, such as those found in Mario or Sonic platform games.  The game includes large tears in two dimensional space that cannot be entered.  The game is casual with a system that starts the player at a nearby checkpoint when they fall to far, are crushed by falling objects or enter a torn region.

The game programming class for spring semester will be entertaining.  We developed data structures as part of an engine to create an academic interactive console experience.  Our final project last semester was a memory manager.  We were allowed a lot of creative freedom to create the best memory manager we could in a limited time.  For me the memory manager was created over the course of two days since I was busy working on “Snow Place Like Home” our final prototype from our rapid prototyping course.  As our first assignment for spring semester we will be utilizing a render built by the instructor to move our console experience to DirectX graphics.  As side projects I will be working on my own rendering system using DirectX and converting “Snow Place Like Home” to Android and iOS by writing rendering systems using OpenGL ES.  I will also be working on development for our thesis game for submission to IGF.

Today I have read the preface of the book, “The Videogames Ethics Reader” by Jose Zagal.  The course associated with the book is called “Ethics in Games”.  We were offered four options and I selected ethics since I am curious about how to engage players emotionally using games.  The course will be the most academic of my three courses during spring semester.

I look forward to the semester.  There are a lot of opportunities ahead of me.