Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Level Design

Interesting level design is the only thing that makes games playable. You can have the prettiest of artwork, the most amazing interface but if you don’t have interesting level’s it will all be work nothing. This is why industry hires a person for this specific job role. Level designers use the same programs as we would use but in a different way. They would use placeholder assets instead of game ready ones in order to build a scene to test out its flow and direction.  Below is an interesting video on the game damnation, it describes that they wanted scale in their levels and at the start of the project they though 4 stories was tall. They also make note that usually games start with an overhead plan, something top down so they can map and area more easily but with this game they did the concept art first. A peculiar way to do it but they said that it was easier for them to extract from concept images for the level design of this particular game. And so they started off with this small village and then they advanced to make it a canyon with multiple heights. It was then the level designer’s job to decipher the sketches into workable levels.

“Level design is based on games that which type of game it is. Before implementing we should be very clear that how many players are in the game, how many levels we are going to create. First we have to know that what we are going to make a 2D game or a 3D game. Because here realism do some matters. In 2D games it doesn't matters too much but in 3D games it gives a biggest difference. In 3D games we have to give a close attention on Texturing, lighting, and all the other things would be in three dimension.”

This extract is taken from http://www.ukessays.com/essays/video-games/2d-and-3d-games.php where they compare 2D and 3D games. Now is not the most profound statement about game design but in a way I disagree and agree. For me there isn’t a lot of difference between a flash game and a xbox game. They have to share the same components. It has to be centred in a universe, you have goals and conditions, and you have tools to help you achieve these goals. Saying 2D games don’t have a close attention to lighting and texturing is wrong. Games like Limbo work highly with the interactive lighting as part of a gameplay element and it is extremely important. Although other games...umm…not so much. Flash games are the pornography for kids, its there when you are bored and have nothing better to do than to sit in front of a screen playing with yourself…to graphic, possibly.
Below is a powerpoint of level design from the lead designer of splash damage the company that made Brink. It talks about interesting level design and how it’s accomplished. Things like dynamic object, modular assets, it goes on to explain about symmetrical layouts are balanced but boring where asymmetrical layouts are much more interesting and promote asymmetrical game design – more realistic. Also how designing maps for multiplayer is different than single, if you think about it, it makes sense. It is hard to produce a game that is both good at both, take brink for example it highly promotes interesting stylisation and online gameplay yet in my opinion it failed as a game. I think this because they made a big point about stylisation of your characters and they made it a first person. Why would someone go to all that effort to create a character that only others can see? It makes no sense in my eyes. They also made the mistake of a rather weak single player as they thought the multiplayer would be the key selling point. The thing is you can create a single player with no multiplayer can it can become a huge hit. But to create just a multiplayer game with no single is pretty impossible. Now I know online gaming does this all the time but I’m talking about 360 and PS3 games. It’s a hard thing to do, assassin’s creed now has a multiplayer but is entirety different from the single player and I think that’s how you have to do it. Almost treat it as you are creating two games, things have to be different. Assassins Creed single player missions might be follow this guy but don’t be seen. The designers can strategically place things to help the player. In a Multiplayer where they have to find their targets it becomes a lot harder and you have to think about the world in a different way.

I have no idea if I’m making sense anymore but below is a good link from the world of level design, a really informative website and he sets challenges. So if you are stuck for any summer work or just practice projects here he sets 4 week projects so you can try and mange your time effectively.

With Group Project over I'm actually writing blogs, damn it feels good to get some work done and I do enjoy blogs when they are interesting to talk about :D

Game Engines...my enthusiasm grows

A game engine is the main software used within a game, it manages all the internal aspects of the game like culling and artificial intelligence. There are different engines for 2D, 3D, mobile games, as well as game mods.

There have been multiple 3D game engines in game history, but here are some of the most influential ones that made the industry a success. The first game engine to start using texturing and some basic 3D components was Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 produced by id Software. It was basic but it was a big hit, and started of the industry in 3D game engines. The makers of Wolfenstein would go on to create Doom. Doom took texturing to a new level with texturing floors and ceilings; it also brought forward more than one floor the player could reach within the game. The next in the series of defining game engines is Quake in 1996, yet another engine made by id Software. This brought the first 3D models instead of 2D sprites, vertex shading and 3D realtime rendering e.g. lightmaps, also full 3D game physics. Instead of every game company having to make a game engine, id Software released theirs to the industry, to give them a building block for making games, obviously with new graphics, levels...etc. Half-Life was released in 1998 made by Valve software. It was based on the quake game engine, but added some major changes to its structure. But apart from that, it introduced intelligent game play, with puzzles and challenges, this allowed gamers to think and learn from the game. The game became wildly popular hitting a genre hot spot at the time. In the same year Unreal was released, made by Epic Games. The Unreal engine was completely new and wasn't based on other engines. It has evolved into more advanced and complex engine with stimulating graphics, dynamic AI and more photorealism within the game world. It as developed into one of the most influential game engines known, used in games like Bioshock, Gears of War, DMC5, Alice Madness Returns…etc. In the image below it shows how the engine has developed from the first one to present day.

Other not so well known engines are;

Lithtech by monolith, this game engine wasn't as complex as quake or doom, but it was highly praised for its programming. It was originally called DirectEngine as it worked on Microsoft's DirectX technology, but the deal was cancelled they continued to make it, and finally changed their name and release a game. It's first title was Shogo, a Japanese anime, this was the start of a new player audience in games. Used in games like No One Lives Forever 2 and F.E.A.R.

Source by Valve in 2004, this game engine combined a lot of components used in other game engines to make it better including, real-world physics, animation, AI. More and more polygons were being added to the game to make its characters and environments look real. By this time game developers were trying to make games more stimulating and make the graphics more realistic and creating more defining games for different genre's to attract a wide audience.

Torque game engine is made for games on the iphone, this new technology develops 2D and 3D games for this mobile. The iphone has introduced touch response in mobile gaming so increasing the interactivity with the game player. Touch response character recognition is the future for platform games as well as mobile. Other engines like EDGELIB, also are designing games for the iphone. With all the attention on iphones will other mobiles be left out? The next stage in mobile
gaming will be to create more realistic graphics, but with a problem of how much space can be used within a phone it's a difficult task.

A game engine is spilt into different areas, rendering, collision detection, artificial
Intelligence, sound and physics. Graphic rendering, this includes culling methods, rendering techniques, lighting, textures, fogging, shadowing, depth testing, anti-aliasing, vertex and pixel shaders and level of detail. Culling methods, Culling is where to make a game faster you can cut out things that aren't shown in the scene depicted. There are different types of culling methods that do different jobs.

Binary space partitioning (BSP), used both in 2D and 3D games, it splits the game world into sections and determines where the player camera is at and then culls the polygons that can't be seen.

Portal based is where “rooms” are split into sections. Then through doors and windows...etc a portal is added and connected to another room. By doing this you can render the room the player is in and cull the rest.

Backface culling determines what view of a polygon you can see and then culls the parts you can't see. For example as you see in the diagram below if the player could only see the green side of the cube then it would be rendered, then all other sides would be culled. View frustum is a fancy term for player sight so if an object is out the plane of sight then it is discarded, so it doesn't waste rendering time. For example if a ball is behind the camera, this means its behind the near plane so doesn't need to be rendered.
Occlusion culling is where polygons that can't be seen within the view frustum are culled.

Game engines have multiple rendering techniques to make things look pretty and less shit below are some of these techniques;

Radiosity is where light is used to illuminate something e.g. a room. It makes shadows from objects in the room and also brightens up near by objects making them look realistic.

Ray tracing is where light is traced through a game scene. It's primarily used for mirrors and transparent objects e.g. glass, as it traces the light path when it bounces off the object and simulates its direction. This is a good technique and makes the game more realistic. Lighting detects whether a pixel is visible and adds light to it from a nearby light source.

Shadowing is where shadows are created through light by detecting whether a pixel is visible. To make a person look real in a game they must have a shadow. Shadows create great ambience in games, but also is a good rendering techniques as it can mask textures while making the scene look realistic. Real-time shadow is when shadows follow a pattern as they would in real time, like the sun travelling across the sky.

Fogging is a great technique to create a scene and create perception of distance, and also reduce rendering time. If objects too far away depending on the percentage of fogging you use, you can't see through so object is culled, this is shown in the image below. Also through fogging objects doing have to be textured, they looked obscured, so again cutting down on rendering time. Particle systems can also be used to create some fogging techniques.

Depth testing makes sure that only close surfaces can be seen, so for example if you looked at your player hand in front of the screen, depth testing does a mathematical equation to figure out the distance and then shows the detailing on the hand. If your players hand is farther away, it calculates and decreased the amount of texturing.

Anti-aliasing is where an unwanted shine is took off an image, take the picture below you see a lot of aliasing, but when anti-aliasing is applied the image looks smoother and more clear. Anti-aliasing is used on screen text too, to smooth pixelated writing.

Vertex and pixel shaders, shading is a good tool for a more 3D effect on an image. On the latest games per pixel shading was used, this calculated the shading due to lighting and other effects on a per pixel bases making games look realistic. Different shading techniques are used for different effects, ghosts, water, ball, rough object.

And blah blah blah I’m bored of game engines.Other stuff they have are as follows;
Animation systems, this includes path-based, inverse kinematics, forward kinematics and particle systems.
Systems, this includes physics, effects, sound and networking.
Artificial Intelligence, this includes AI agents, world navigation, behaviours, neutral nets and fuzzy logic.
Middleware, this includes rendering, sound, AI, physics, animation, modelling, texturing.

And now I never want to see, hear or learn about game engines again. It’s so tedious writing about stuff you don’t care about. I hope you appreciate my exuded passion.

Sneaky Milkshake

              The most challenging, tiring, enjoyable experience of my university career so far. The Queens project has taught me a lot about team work and having the role of team leader I have found it so awesome. In my spare time I usually talk to people about 3D randomness or research into multiple things like map types, texture limits…etc, and this experience has really helped me in the group project. I have basic knowledge in everything so I could extract that knowledge to make judgements to do with texture limits…etc. My 2D this semester pretty much been non existent, I tried to get some done every now and then but I was either modelling and texturing for the group or researching into things we need to do for the group. It did suck all my time out and when I got a break I usually slept. The presentation at the end with rainbow bunchie was kind of a reflection of as a group we stuck together and we were crazy at the start and even more so at the end. And I did try to keep the group in a very light hearted jokey manner throughout the project. Often calling people names to invoke an equal response back. It broke up the tension and created more of a fun atmosphere rather than a strict professional one.

            Now I’m no god either I had my flaws as group leader. For one I could have been more strict to people that didn’t hand in on time. Also my assets were late probably due to going to Paris for a random weekend. Also I probably forced my ideas onto others to forcefully as well as this doing talks with the interviewees meant the group was left alone for 3 hours, this became a problem due to people can only be in certain days and if we were having a meeting or distributing assets then it had to be put on hold.  These are the things I think in my spare time I could have changed or done differently.

            The project came with a couple of major challenges like our team mate fall out. I’m kind of going to be vague with this but I feel I should talk about it to help other to be second years if they ever find themselves in the same predicament. 

                 This as I see it was a good and bad experience in multiple ways. It’s a shame it had to happen as it would have been nice to keep a good nature between the group. One of our members voiced his opinion and to be honest he was rejected because we panicked that we would get behind other groups and we should be in the next stage of production. He found it hard to communicate in the first place and so this caused a break in contact from this member and for us to fall behind. We then re-concepted and re-thought up what he had voiced as a means to integrate him into the group again. He made some valid points but unfortunately it seemed like he took the first responses very personally but didn’t try to rectify it. I tried to contact him and organise a meeting in order to discuss his feelings with the project.
            I then found out that he gotten some bad news, this is hard for anyone to deal with and I offered to talk to him, giving him advice and reaching out to him. This meant he was unable to commit and distanced himself, this was hard as I didn’t know how much work to give him and how much time. I emailed him, feeding him positive responses to him and it seemed as if he was coming around but he still just wanted to get on with his work at home as I think he felt threatened by the group.

           I then took the liberty of leaving him alone for a while, I felt it best if I didn’t try push him too hard back into the group. Don’t I know, my mum has been trying to get me to dye my hair back to black for years now and I just keep getting it pinker. As the project came to an end I got busier and it was harder to try and integrate him back in. I kept this quite vague for a reason, I’m not writing this blog for egotistical reasons and I’m not writing it for bitching. I merely want to describe how my group project went and the challenges we faced. And if anyone else faces the same problem then the advice I can give is diplomacy, compassion and structure.

          Be diplomatic as you have to manage the group as a whole and be considerate to all members. Role as a team member means you have to make judgements that will benefit the group and sometimes you will have to be assertive sometimes but make sure you hear everyone out and give them a chance to speak. Be compassion, if family issues ever arise then make sure to not shout and yell at them. Shit happens in life and the worst case scenario you might have to distribute some of those person’s assets to other people just to get them done. And structure, plan quickly and effectively if you do this you can make sure you have a contingency plan. We wanted to have our assets all completed by the end of March. Of course they weren’t but if you try and stick to these deadlines you will have more time for the tweaking part at the end. I wish I did have more time, the last week of the project was me just writing notes to Rob about things that could be changed and things that need done. I could have gone on forever writing notes and I would have eventually reached equilibrium with the level.

The level came out better than I could have imagined, that’s thanks to my group members and we pulled it all together in the end. It is no surprise that we were the underdogs for quite a while but when now looking at it finished is awesome. Of course I could still sit and change things until kingdom come but I think we produced something that was different. I love the basement and decontamination area, they have a strong visual style and that’s what we were going for. It’s so nice to have a piece of 3d that I can go home and show my parents this is what I produced with a small team. All in all I loved my group project experience and it was such an awesome project.


Games provide a source of entertainment that other media don’t, interactivity. Now there is some extent of interactivity with everything, you have to pick up a book to read it, you have to play attention to a film, but in the sense of actually doing something that will affect the situation then games are the only source of true interactivity. Of course some oppose this like Espen Aarseth but he just likes to oppose anything to do with games, interactivity, ludology, linearity…etc.

 There is an on going argument within the games industry. Because it’s a problem where games are becoming more real and with inventions like kinect we get more active with gaming. This is a good thing but will it get to an extent where we fully emmerse ourselves into a 3D universe and forget about our everyday life. The industry is constantly growing and it is inevitable we will get to a point that moral decisions will be made. I’m speaking in a really weird cryptic way for some reason but what I’m saying is if we do get full emersion with a game then there is going to have to be a time limit, a trigger that saves the game and shuts it off, forcing you back into the real world to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to survive. I feel like some kind of sci-fi novelist.

But I think I started on the wrong foot, lets talk about what was interactivity 30 years ago. It was just sitting in front of a computer in front of a screen and control pad. Has it changed that much? Not really to be honest, but looking back at pong, one of the first games. It had some conditions and a goal; games these days have multiple conditions and goals making them much more playable and re-playable. Sometimes games make a curve to try and reach more realism and that can either work out or not…although I don’t know where that relates into interactivity? Oh I remember the more interact suggests more realistic but that’s not the case. Heavy Rain by Quantic Dream tried to do something that simulated more realism through QuickTime events. The graphics were awesome but it got lots of bad feedback as people referred to it as more of a film than a game and by doing the QuickTime events it broke you out of your suspension of disbelief. So enhanced realism = no interactivity.

The Wii has become increasingly more popular since its release. It promotes movement while playing games; this is good for tennis, bowling…etc. Not so good for hardcore gamers and is mostly aimed at a young audience and the old biddies. The graphics are way more low spec than Xbox and Playstation but it doesn’t need that as its aimed at a different audience.  So no realism = lots of interactivity.
Of course there is some midway point that has to be reached, semi-realistic with more interactivity? We are now tackling interactivity in a different way these days with the Iphone and Ipad. They promote a different kind of gaming experience. As well as this we have the whole minority report of sliding documents around with “SensitiveWall”, “SensitiveFloor” and “SensitiveTable” projects reaching us soon. I think I’m purposely talking crap now.

Below is a youtube link on the comparison between consoles it even throws in a bit of quicktime event so you can see how the PS3 is tap LT and RT where the Wii you have to physically move those bingo wings in order to survive.


Thursday, 15 March 2012

Sound Ramble

Now I did a blog all about the rules of how to make an interesting environment which I stand by but I did forget one thing…sound. Sound in media is really important it is the thing that can portray the emotion of a particular scene. It can affect your mood and create tension. It’s a very powerful tool and the best way for me to communicate this is through taking about some of my favourite things, Julie Andrews eat your heart out. Do you know I was researching music and then got distracted buying DVDs and watching trailers for at least 3 hours…not impressed.

Silent Hill
          I’ve probably mentioned the Silent Hill franchise like a million times now and most often it’s about the sound. It has one of the best soundtracks a game can offer because of one guy. Akira Yamaoka has an amazing understanding of sound and his ambient tracks create an awesome atmosphere. I play silent hill for two things, the creature creations and the sound. If they get this down, which they usually do, then you’ve got a good Silent Hill game in my opinion. Although too much of a good thing…but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

 I purposely choice an older silent hill game and a newer one for the contrast but also the consistency Akira has. Why do piano music work so well in horror games? One of these days i want to see a trombone solo for a change.

Shadow of the Colossus
         Oh SotC, I do love it so much, I was so looking forward to the remake of this game before I found out it was a remaster. I don’t know why games are doing this to me, I wish they would remake the whole game, don’t they understand how much revenue they would get? They have done the same with FFX my favourite game but it’s just a remaster. I want to see Zbrush aeons and the temples in all their glorious detail. But anyway I’m getting off track. Composed by Koh Otani it has perfect music to fight the colossi that matches the powerful giants and their scale. The soundtrack is very much suited to the game. This is an old game now and I just read an article on the music being influential in gaming history and the producer stated that in the goal for the future is to have transitional music so it all feels like one but it changes with the situations you are given. It sounds pretty cool but sound is powerful but also it’s like a tillable, our brains are programmed to notice repetition and so players I think would become bored listening to the same thing.

I tried to stay away from the more well known music titles of SoTC and introduce you to others you make have not heard. Even the music has a sense of epic scale to complement that of the games.

       Bastion excels in a couple of areas, its art direction and its soundtrack. Jen Zee one of my favourite inspirational artists worked as art director on this game and it looks stunning. The music was down by Darren Korb and for me it took a weird twist from the world it was in. This country western ethic theme and has a soul quality to it. This is the only way I can to describe it and yet it works. Apparently after reading a short interview with Darren he said he didn’t want it to be like any other game and so developed a new genre called “Acoustic frontier trip-hop”. This game is stunning the only flaw I have is that I find it hard to work PC controls and the main character is a bit to “bulky” for me.

I do love the singing tracks within bastion but its ambient tracks are amazing, i do love quirkie-ness-ness...yeh.

Heavy Rain
         Probally one of the most awesome soundtracks in a game, because it’s very much like a cinematic experience I think it can get away with more from a sound aspect as it is scripted. In other games you don’t know what the player is going to do and so usually a generic ambient music is played. Heavy Rain differs as it goes through the experience in a very linear path but it’s one of these games that people hate or love. I personally love it but I know a lot of people feel it’s not a game. 

Its becoming more and more evident i am partial to a bit of piano. I think has the versatility to have very power strong music but also very soft cry with a box of tissues as well.

Assassin’s Creed, Inception, Pirates of the Caribbean, Batman…etc (Just Hans Zimmer in general)
            Assassin’s creed has one of those really nice melodic soundtracks that is just nice to listen to but one of my favourite songs from the franchise is actually from the latest where Mr Hans Zimmer got involved and opened up a competition to the public to chant a song. Whoever won would go down and work with the man himself and record it for the game. This is an awesome thing where the games companies are reaching out to its audience to get them involved and I think more games should do it. Now I love Hans Zimmer’s works but I have one problem they are all starting to be very similar like I can tell he can done the music. Now that’s not necessary a bad thing because you have a distinct style but it seems for games and films he goes for this orchestral airy feel, he also likes to build up to a climax. But with the research I just did into him I do appreciate him more as he does change style for animated films and what not but I do think his older work is more versatile than his latest yet I like his latest stuff more…I’m never happy it seems. But so Hans Zimmer doesn’t get all the credit he also works occasionally with Lorne Balfe and worked on inception, Sherlock Holmes, Dark Knight, Crysis 2, Call of Duty…etc.  

I thought it would be interesting to put up the video for the girl who won the competition, its really awesome, just a normal girl and its just nice to see that instead of big stars like Leona Lewis *cough*FinalFantasy*cough*

             I know what you’re thinking but you would be surprised at how awesome some anime soundtracks are. Naruto is huge in the world of anime and manga and so has attracted its fair share of crazy fans. But it also attracted something else. It’s art style has changed dramatically over the years, the music has gotten exponentially more recognisable and new tracks are being added all the time, the story has increased 10 fold since it’s debut. What this shows is a transition of animes into something more. I'll only put one track as i'll know it's pushing you to even watch that, p.s. i hate cheezy vids so close your eyes lol

So based on some of the games and films I just mentioned what can accompany do to make an awesome soundtrack. To me it has to be odd, if it doesn’t stand out you’ll get a soundtrack like L.A. Noire, it’s all very nice but it’s not memorable and so it fades into the background.