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Neverest sketches and render update

It was a year ago that I jumpstarted this game idea having shelved it. I partly lost momentum in game development when I switched to Unreal 4, trying to keep up the momentum now. Some of these ships will appear in game, but not everything I design or even build does.

neverestBoat2

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No, not all these sketches are good, the point is that as an indie developer there really isn’t time for me to sit down and just design for months, but rather it’s sketch, design, test, model, texture, light, game program, test, repeat.

IMG_8803

neverestBoat1

Dyslexic confessions of a Dad

I have a confession to make, it’s time that i told a little bit more of my story, which is really our story and what I’m tinkering with in my art studio this past year. Almost a year ago I dropped everything I was doing in my studio, the paintings, the children’s books and focused on one thing, a game I’m making to help my son (and others like him) with his dyslexia.

This is not a super easy subject to talk about, although dyslexia is somewhat common there is still a lot of judgement of both the child who has dyslexia and even the parents. The child is often judged as not being smart at all, unteachable is a word used, and the parents are judged as neglectful.

What people often fail to realize with dyslexia is that we have people who have brains that clearly work differently than others, and dyslexia is just one example of this. This doesn’t mean dyslexics are not smart, often they have ways of contributing beyond what others can because of a unique way of thinking.

One example is Jack Horner, the noted Paleontologist who has been the inspiration for the paleontologist in Jurassic Park, he graduated high school he says, with a D–. You may not be able to see that correctly, that is a D-minus-minus. In his words his teacher said that he “Failed, but I never want to see you again.”

Alongside the dyslexia is the fact that my wife and I homeschool our sons. We left Los Angeles, now almost ten years past, so that I wouldn’t spend countless hours working on film visual effects and have no relationship with my family. Over the years we have learned to juggle and share family life, and work life.

I moved from putting all my time in the entertainment industry and more time with my sons exploring museums and doing art with them. This is when I began to see the way we educate our children in museums differently, and started to come up with creative ideas for educating them visually, and interactively. I began sketching out ideas of how to use my visual effects skills in this way.

Like my son, I’m a very visual thinker and a tinkerer. Right now I like to think of more dynamic ways to get information across to people, especially when a museum display or some other form is failing to make people see it, and as a visual thinker I do think people have a failure of imagination when it comes to visualization what the world, and universe around us looks like. Listen to this veritasium video to get an idea of how the education system can fail to really inform us about just how vast our universe is for instance.

My family started out on a sometimes frustrating journey with my son’s dyslexia, which makes his own interaction with the world sometimes difficult, and can make even the smartest kids, feel like failures. It can lead to loving family members or friends being shaming and judgmental. It can lead to parents pushing their kids and asking why they “aren’t trying?”

Dyslexia is not related to the intelligence of a person, as we see with many very prominent dyslexics like Jack Horner and Richard Branson. Branson talks about his Dyslexia in the video below, and he like many see it as a positive, not a negative. I want to make it clear, I see my son as gifted, super creative, and his dyslexia as the most obvious unfortunate label that often gifted and creative people receive, making them feel unteachable and like they aren’t smart. Labels like this can undermine a person and make them give up. This is because we live in a world that only has one metric for determining intelligence (generic tests that squash creativity).

As an artist, I am well aware that the world has one metric for judging intelligence, and leaves out wide swathes of others whose brain works vastly differently.

Imagine for a second an alternate universe where instead of children being tested in school for math, memorization, and punctuation, they are encouraged to be creative, open, explore and be funny. They get to do art, build things, play music, and play and there is no test because you can’t test the best way to bring an individual’s gifts out. When you graduate you have to show your gift, a demonstration or sharing without judgement.

Perhaps in an extreme version of this alternate universe if you can’t draw, or play an instrument, make an invention out of a pile of stuff, or do an improv play then you fail. In this universe math, punctuation and memorization are not used as the metric to determine your intelligence, there is a celebration of many kinds of intelligence over memorization of facts.

Perhaps in some way in education we squash that internal education that may have been passed down over many generations. What if we are going against the very nature of a child and family that specializes in something over generations. The family of musicians, or the family that loves to study nature by scuba-diving. What if for every graduate we suppress another Mozart, another Cousteau. This isn’t about saying that we have a “genius” among us, or putting people who think differently on that specialty pedestal, but honoring something deeper in them, a specialty that their brain and spirit are working towards.

My point is that we often test people and give them the feeling that they are less than others based on tests that favor a particular brain type, a particular calling.

Before someone jumps in to suggest the many teaching approaches to “resolve” dyslexia let me say that we have tried several different approaches with professional tutoring that are very involved and take a lot of dedication from all of us, as well as mind/body exercises that are supposed to help balance the brain etc. I’m not saying that all these techniques shouldn’t be used, but so far for us, some have resulted in more frustration, and others in tears being shed. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of great information out there, and a lot of good techniques that have resulted in very good results for children with dyslexia, or that we have stopped trying. I however am very skeptical when I hear that someone thinks they have the cure for dyslexia.

While trying these tutoring programs for my son, I began to tinker in my studio with a video game idea to help kids who struggle. This wouldn’t be a game like “reader rabbit” but a game more like Myst, that i hoped would be something a child would just want to play, and that in a way I could hack their brain by just getting their interest.

I dummied up a test of the game, in software I was just learning (Unreal 4) and showed it to my wife and son. I didn’t show too much, and although I felt I was on to something, I dropped it and returned to writing, while we tried yet another approach for the dyslexia.

After another round that was frustrating for all, my wife asked me one day, what about that game idea I had. I dusted off the game and dove into it fully putting all my energy into learning the software, and trying to bring my visual effects skills up to speed in this new arena.

I’ve worked hard on this game, and I test it with both of my sons, who enjoy playing it. There is still much I’m not saying about my approach except to say this, the idea is that I want my son to have an experience that is fun, that is enjoyable.

I am trying to build an entire world in support of his struggle, but also to celebrate him and other dyslexics like him.

I personally see my son. I see him as smart, I see him as gifted, amazingly creative. If I have problems thinking through programming problems sometimes I talk to him about it to get his insight into other ways of thinking. My son is endlessly creating, he is always learning, he is not afraid to try new things, I see his intelligence each day, and I know there is no way this is going to hold him back in life.

I don’t see my game as an end all to approaches for dyslexia, i’m hoping it can be used as another tool, hopefully a fun one, to engage a child’s brain and creativity rather than pushing them to memorize and work through frustration. I’m not even judging the various approaches to working with dyslexia, but like the variation in personalities and brains, they don’t work for everyone and I just want to tinker with this a little.

There is a lot I’m not saying in this opening confession, what else I’m doing in the game, what some of the goals are. I’m hoping to make something that is artistic, and helpful, but it’s a long slog, especially when you are creating alone. I work daily with sometimes self imposed goals, like how can i make this beautiful, but also have it playable even on not very good computers? How can I make this enjoyable and keep drawing the child in for the ride?

I still have much work to do, but I realize at this point it might be the time to begin talking about this game, and how a visual thinker is trying to work with something I perceive as a visual thinker problem.

Unreal 4 : Save Game & Peer Support

daevGame1

Having prototyped my “edutainment” game a couple months ago, I had to pull back and make sure it was still running at a good speed, it wasn’t so this had me reconsider how much of the game I was streaming at one time as well as remodeling whole buildings and reducing textures. After that I had to work on my Save Game system.

A save game system is a very key part of the making a video game. To me it’s a big part of what breathes life into a video game. I like to think of ways to breathe life into a game, like the floating lanterns above, the subtle sounds and movement that adds to a game.

However, there is something magical that happens that most don’t think of when you can return to this virtual world and find things where you last left them. More importantly though, no one wants to play a game that they can’t save out if it takes more than an hour to play.

Unfortunately with all the tutorials and documentation about making video games, it is somewhat neglected and confusing area. Because I think the save game system can influence how the game is made (and how much time it takes to make it) I feel it is something that shouldn’t be neglected. If i had my way it would be the first thing that works right out of the package.

While at places like Rhythm and Hues I enjoyed manipulating lists of objects in ways on the computer, and over many years I got very comfortable doing this.

I found very quickly that as I generated lists of objects in my game that can be moved, that I had issues to surmount and that it is not quite as straight forward as at R&H. In particular, and as far as I can tell, to save out the positional information of objects they need to be classes. So a chair for instance would be it’s own class. I have a game that uses the alphabet, in several different iterations, so I had many classes that I had to identify and save out. That means if there are thirty of the same class of chair, one function will save all thirty but I need another function to find the other classes, like the boxes, the letters, the doors etc so I can save their states. My still somewhat clumsy skills in scripting in UE4’s Blueprint package, means that I had to laboriously put together smaller functions that scan my game for the different classes. I had to do this many many times, and I’m sure in the future I will learn quicker ways to put this together, but for now its’ about moving forward with what works as long as it doesn’t impact game play.

Not working in the industry with lots of people around me to pepper with questions about something that i know should be an easy data manipulation can feel daunting with new software. It took a great deal of digging on the web and lots of experimenting. I would probably still be struggling if not for the video above by Joel George who responded to my request to him to help me with a save game function for object positions. Here’s Joel’s response when peppered with questions by me a few weeks ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLqypbTyZG8

Much of what I find on the web is more about saving high scores, and what level the player is on, which are simple variables. Often what people demonstrate is very specific to their game play, and often may take a lot of wrestling with to get to work with what you need. What i’m doing is more like an adventure game, where I want to know where the player is, what she has moved and what puzzles they have solved. Joel demonstrated something though that many people demonstrate on the Unreal forums and on youtube and other places, a willingness to grapple with the issues others have, and offer their help in resolving them.

daevGame2

So often we hear about the people who snipe on the web, and those who bully people, but Joel and others abound on the web. The community that shares in these videos help to create a sort of virtual game company, that shares information making a small team feel robust.

Of course it is no small thing what Epic Games has done with UE4, so that the might of the Epic team is behind little indie games.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCo0SuStzZSPoti7STK4JWCg
https://www.youtube.com/user/TeslaUE4/videos
http://romeroblueprints.blogspot.com/2015/01/save-and-load-in-blueprints.html

https://www.unrealengine.com

So I’m grateful to this community, Joel, Tracey, Tesla and others who give me loads of information or sometimes one small clue that makes me crack something bigger that I’m working on.

UDK : UE4 Arrives

This week with GDC’s arrival, Epic Games announced the arrival of UE4 to everyone not one of their beta developers. With a new subscription plan, the software is $19 a month, plus 5% of gross revenue. It’s a deal that puts a game company at the finger tips of many indie game developers.

UE4 ARRIVES

After using UE3 just a couple days I would say that it’s possible they’ve taken some pointers from Unity, or maybe they’ve just moved permanently away from the graphics interfaces of old. Now widgets can be customized and set up to a user’s liking. In essence it has more of Unity’s simplicity and even the layout overall. I’m not sure if Unity is influencing Epic, or if there is just becoming more of a global expectation with 3D programs. Programs like Maya, Unity and now UDK are starting to match philosophy and layout. This may seem random to some, but take for example that until we showed Autodesk the way we use Channel editors at Rhythm and Hues, they hadn’t even had the channels available. Now the same channel editors have become par for course in software across the board.

While some of the graphics choices are a bit larger than I’d like (they take up too much real-estate than they should on a laptop) overall they feel much better, more up to date than the old.

Another oddity of UDK in the past, was saving game packages in the Engine location on the disk. This was always a dangerous prospect to me. Now, when setting up projects it sets up the project to the User/Documents area of your drive.

Blueprints vs Kismet : Blueprints is the name of the graphical programming editor that replaces Kismet. Kismet was in need of an update, and having just gotten started I can’t say too much about this, except that the idea of making kismet “prefabs” seems to be more the plan now.

Static vs Dynamic : Another change is that in the properties of a static mesh, you can decide what the physics properties are without having to convert the mesh to a dynamic mesh.

Game Types : There are some out of the box game types you can use to set up your project; side-scroller, third person, etc. Again, it seems to borrow from the simplicity of Unity, but with the working guts of UDK that has been such a draw to developers.

There seems to be a simplicity of philosophy in the new software, a real move to encourage artists to get in and work with the tools. Although at the moment I’m still getting used to a house where someone has moved all the furniture around, it’s a move in the right direction and very promising.

UDK Static Shadows on terrain

One of my pet peeves with UDK is the surprising quality of shadows as a default on terrain. Seen here is a sequence of images that simply goes over the process of shadows in UDK. I’m sure this is not a mystery to the folk at Epic games, after all the demo games that come with UDK are typically built with BSP brushes and meshes rather than relying on the overhead that comes with complex terrains, and it’s something to take note of.

Some starter info : I’m using a moonlit night, but I have turned down some defaults in UDK.

Under World Settings : I like to turn my Environment color way down, there is simply too much light bouncing around for me. So I set the color dark, and then I set the Environment Intensity down as well. This makes it much more shadowy in my worlds.

shadowWORLD_PROPS

For this test environment I’ve also turned off the default exponentialHeightFog, to keep the scene clear. The only thing I am altering in these renders are the lighting attributes on the Terrain.

NOTE : Although I will crank up the resolution of the shadow it is not recommended to do this for your game. This is A SIMPLE scene and merely to DEMONSTRATE the change in shadow quality, but real world tests of your game will show that this will not only be costly in time to bake your shadows, but also will create overhead in your maps that are loaded into memory.

FIRST RENDER : I set up a quick environment to show what shadows of my trees will look like on the default UDK ground. It’s passable, we have shadows out of the gate.

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SECOND RENDER : I added a 16×16 terrain to my environment, and added a quick grass texture. There is no height change in this render, so it should be pretty clean. Now, to the new user of UDK this will look pretty promising. This is a render from the Editor window, but it’s deceptive and disappointing. When in editor mode our shadows are dynamic shadows, because they haven’t yet been rendered. To use dynamic shadows throughout our game would be very heavy in UE3 (we’re promised real time shadows in UE4).

treeShadows_EditorWin_1

Confusing to many who setup a scene in UDK and are seeing great shadows, is the surprise of going into game mode, and seeing your shadows evaporate. The reason can be found in the terrain’s settings. You can see the Static Lighting Resolution is super low, this line and the entry below it are what we want to focus on.

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_Default-SETTINGS

THIRD RENDER : Static Lighting 2 :
This is what the shadows look like after we bake out our lighting. There is simply not enough resolution someplace, so we lose any fidelity in our shadow renders. If we double click on the Terrain, our terrain Attributes will come up, and we can see the default static lighting Resolution is set to 2, and that Override is turned off. (Actually this is a mistake, the default is actually a more discouraging 1 – and that number can not exceed 4 without hitting Overriding Light Resolution. If overriding that number doesn’t make you nervous it should. You have reached a dilemma, and will face quality vs speed issues after that number goes up.)

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_Default

Now we can start doubling that number to 4 and 8, but our progress making better shadows will be slow. So we jump to Default Static Lighting : 16 However, before you type that in, make sure Overriding Light Resolution : is ON ! Otherwise it will bounce back to 4.

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_set16-SETTINGS

FOURTH RENDER : Static Lighting : 16
In this render we can see a great improvement in our shadows. Remember at this point to Play your game and make sure the shadows are the same as in the editor window.

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_set16

FIFTH RENDER : Static Lighting : 32
For this demonstration I’m doubling my numbers and keeping them power of two, but this will not be our end game, this is more about demonstration. We are seeing a much higher quality and I could live with this render and get back to other tasks. Still, I want to push it one more notch and see what I get.

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_set32

LAST RENDER : Static Lighting : 64
A thing to note is that I also turned on specular highlights on my terrain in the attributes, but here we can see a higher quality. It looks good. The trade off will be how much time I am willing to wait for shadows to bake to get better results.

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_set64

This tutorial was not meant to be an end all on the subject of shadows but I hope it gives guidance to the issue of what happens to terrain shadows, so that someone making a UDK game can consider some of the hidden things about UDK before proceeding too far in design. Shadows themselves are a complicated area, the information will vary for different types of objects. Terrain, static mesh, dynamic mesh all have different requirements. There is also a zone around the player which has dynamic shadows, and may be seen at times as it follows the player through the game, this is because you will have a near area in game you interact with in terms of lighting, casting your own shadow, or using a light that is carried in game).

One thing that is clear, for now in UE3 if you set your shadows to dynamic your game will not likely be able to handle shadows for long, although it will be tempting to use, you need to think smart about how to bake shadows, set up lighting UVs on objects and break your game up to make sure the lighting can still bake. Be careful how much you crank up that number for static shadows while you’re testing.

For the record : I am currently using a Static Lighting value of 10 in my game, but the results in overhead will vary depending on the size of your terrain, and the number of materials you use to paint your terrain. These numbers make my lighting too heavy to bake out daily while developing. I test small areas of my game by keeping my game areas as streaming levels, so that I can test parts of the whole and consider how to make my work, and game more efficient, while still trying to make the game look good.

UDK can be a very intuitive software to use, but shadows are a sticky point in UE3, that will challenge your patience as you wait for scene lighting to bake out. To me the end result is one of the most rewarding but lack of computer power for an Indie developer makes it one of the most challenging to deal with.

Uncorporating.

Can I coin the word, Un-Corporate, instead of Incorporate?

Incorporate carries so much pressure in this world, you must incorporate to create a business, and businesses are typically about getting bigger, making more profit each year, and getting the goose to lay as many golden eggs as possible. Corporations are usually interested in the bottom line, not the individuals in a company and many companies are guilty of not treating artists well (I’m referring here to the visual effects and gaming industry but the same can be said about many corporations I’m sure. The bottom line is workers at most companies are not part owner of the company, they fill a role and as one manager told me, everyone is replaceable).

I’m not a big supporter of the must grow model. As an artist, the idea that corporations can drive art never seems like a good plan to begin with. The idea that companies think that they can just grow infinitely seems beyond flawed, after all we live in a world with limited resources, yet we have this paradigm that everything must get more profitable (i.e. sell more stuff) every year. Can we really?

Let’s look at the latest criticism of a company like EA games, who won the award two years in a row for worst company. Their focus was on releasing games on time, and making sure no one could hack their games, is how the story goes online and it’s likely true. I’m not saying that they aren’t doing amazing things, but there is a clear focus on deadlines and profitability over all else.

Then there are companies like Mojang, who created the ever-popular Minecraft and have until now resisted the pressure to go public with their company, and I applaud them for not falling into this trap. Go bigger, let someone else own you, and then watch yourself implode when your investors are disappointed with their returns. The day Mojang opens up to the stock market, I’m thinking their days are numbered, or at the very least their creativity will suffer for profitability as the company becomes a true Corporation.

As an independent artist, that likes to make games, write books, and paint I’ve been more about keeping things small and getting more and more personal at this point in my life. For big companies efficiency also means the opposite of what I find I need in my life. Artists perform smaller and smaller pieces of production.

When working at Rhythm & Hues I once proposed we go the opposite way, and put scanners at artists stations, give technical directors zbrush, photoshop and anything else to make us creative. This was not one of my most well received ideas.

I realized over the years, that I’m an artist who likes to work in his studio and have all those things at my finger tips so I can do just that; explore, create, make mistakes and try again. I like being an artist who learns different thing, so yes, I enjoy using game engines, and sculpting in Zbrush and painting in various painting packages. To me the more experience I have, the more effectively I should be able to wield my preferred mediums, but in the corporate art world, this is not a paradigm that typically exists. Artists see one small part of the beast, and as you gain experience you are encouraged to stop practicing the trade to manage teams of artists, until eventually you are cut off completely from the thing that you once did as a creative endeavor, in favor of a pay raise and a title.

I guess the bottom line for me is that I hate to be pigeon holed. I love to paint, and I love to create on the computer, and write, etc, and yet there are some things I miss about working for a big company which is what brings me to the wish to Uncorporate.

—-

What’s missing, in working independently in my studio is my daily interaction with friends and colleagues, creative people.

It’s true, I have sort of a paleo-lifestyle. Not only do I work from home, but we try to foster a lifestyle where we are with our kids, so we home-school, my wife works from her office and this all makes things more complicated I admit. It means working for myself I don’t just have unlimited time in my studio, for now it means my time is somewhat limited, but then again the time I spend in my studio is of my own choosing right now, and that’s a pretty big gift which is in no small way due to the my wife now supporting us as I dabble in various arts, since I quit teaching a year ago.

Once I’m working in my studio though I feel that loss of community that I had at corporations and even teaching. I want to be able to share my ideas, or get feedback on why a particular piece of programming isn’t working. Instead I find myself going to facebook to see what people are up to, and I end up reading five little articles and get completely sidetracked for an evening from my goals.

Now it’s true there are forums I can go to and sign up for. There are Indie gaming communities, there are places like Unity forum and the Unreal Game Forum. These places though are not exactly communities in the manner that I’m hoping for. For starters, I don’t really know who people like “Snake-Man” are. People hide behind Avatars. Hiding behind Avatars means you don’t have to actually connect with people as humans, and it makes it easy to troll sites and knock people down. There’s a lot of trolling on sites, essentially you’ll ask for help on a tricky bit of code, and get a vague and condescending answer which is the equivalent of “fuck off” but not in so few words.

I have just found a writing community here in Boulder. They are real people and not avatars. They get together every two weeks, and this has lead me to my idea of Uncorporating as an Indie game developer.

The idea in essence is to get some like-minded indie game developers together and start my own private forum. It would be a forum by invite only to allow some isolated indie game developers to have a place to find critique and support, and where their work would stay private, not get exposed to the entire web but to a select few that choose to Uncorporate.

The idea of Uncorporating is to share in a way that is not competitive but supportive. I feel that there is some loss working in a vacuum and that independent teams who band together can be more than the sum of their parts, and have a better chance at making creative pieces.

That’s the theory anyway. Look at film-makers such as Guillermo Del Toro. He credits part of his success to bouncing ideas off of people like Alfonso Cuaron. His small group of independent film directors would critique each other, and support each other and I believe it made for a strong group of like-minded directors doing unique works as seen in works like Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, Gravity.

So that’s where I am. I’m on the fence, trying to decide if I’ll launch my small forum, to Uncorporate as it were and find some like minded indie developers to form a small community. I’m not sure what’s stopping me at this point, self doubt, fear or rejection surely (why won’t Guillermo Del Toro return my emails?).

My web developer tells me, “If I build it they will come” but I feel skeptical and yet longing for some of that community that I once had around my work.

Frictional Games

I have been sitting on some technical/art books for awhile now, compilations of things I was teaching and running the Game Art department at RMCAD. However, in the last few weeks a favorite game company of mine, Frictional Games, has released a new title : Amnesia : A Machine for Pigs.

amnesia-1

So since my brain has been elsewhere lately, and because I feel it is timely to discuss Frictional Games right now, I thought I’d put my chapter about Frictional out into the world, because honestly I have no idea when i’m going to finish my books. The goal of the book of course was to be a companion to programs at art schools where students were studying making video games. The idea was to talk about budgets, stories, design, all based on the program I created at RMCAD. In the book I also planned interviews, the first one I did was with Jens Nilsson of Frictional Games.

It isn’t just for students of video games that I have this in mind, but for friends who are in transition in the wake of the collapse of VFX/Animation around the world. You see, one reason I’m a fan of Frictional is that their games are awesome and scary. Another is because I believe that the paradigm of big companies is not the only paradigm, and that indeed more interesting stuff is being done by small creative teams like Frictional. Additionally Frictional does something that I used to do, they telecommute. Something that places like R&H were one of the first to try, but later became hesitant about. However smaller teams can do this because it keeps overhead low.

I’m all about keeping overhead low, and creativity the priority.

Okay, here is the chapter thus far.

I wrote to Jens Nilsson at Frictional Games, the game company behind the Penumbra series and Amnesia to get some quotes for this book but Jens’ responses were so grounded and open I decided to print the interview completely here in a chapter by itself.

Frictional in my opinion are one of the most creative and insightful companies regarding games and well worth listening to for any indie developer, and probably worth paying attention to if you are one of the big companies burning piles of money.

Daev : Is it true that you all went to school together and developed a game engine in school ?

Jens : More or less, to not go into too much of the details: I studied at one university and a friend in my class came in contact with Thomas over the Internet. Thomas was then studying at another university.

A year later the three of us did a thesis and game together called Energetic, the first version of the engine was created by Thomas for this game (I think he used some parts from an earlier project of his). The next year Thomas and I were part of a group that studied over the Internet and part of those studies were to do a game modification, instead of doing a modification, a second version of the engine was developed by Thomas and was used to what would eventually become the penumbra tech demo.

Three people from that group continued working with a new game, Penumbra Overture and this is when the engine was updated once again and finally became the HPL engine that was used to create the three Penumbra games.

Daev : Assuming you went to school for programming what lead you to video games?

Jens : It is the other way around I would say. While I am not a programmer, rather one of the things I do is scripting (or perhaps gameplay programing some might call it?). My interest in video game development was there long before I did any studies related to it. The same is true for Thomas. Both of us have experienced the urge to create something of our own when playing various games growing up. In Thomas case it meant that he started programing and doing projects on his own with a tad help from others. In my case it was doing modifications to games and eventually sound and music for games in collaboration with others that eventually created the know-how and interest for all sides of game development.

Daev : The story goes that three of you worked remotely and met everyday online for meetings and to review progress.   Is this true?

Jens : Yes, we were three people that worked full-time on Penumbra Overture. We did this from our homes and communicated mainly through text on, I think it was, MSN. We used a SVN server (still do) for the development process, so we could easily work together on the project and constantly experience the progress.

We were not only three people, we had help from contributors that did for example music, story writing and audio programming on the promise that if we got the game completed and managed to earn any money on it they would get paid (as we had no money except our own saved money we lived on while working). We did manage to get the game completed and we did manage to make deals with the game, but unfortunately not all of those deals were with serious companies, so we had problems earning money on it. We did eventually pay everyone the promised amounts but it took almost a year after the game was released, while not an ideal situation we did manage to keep the company going.

Daev :  How big is Frictional now, does the same paradigm still hold?  Three guys working remotely?  Six?   25?

Jens : We are now 10 people that work full time at the company, but it is the same structure of remote work from our homes. We also have outsource people like in the past and work with larger outsourcing companies for certain bits (such as producing lots of filler objects for levels). We have often talked about getting an office, but the problem is that the 10 of us are spread out over Sweden, Spain and the UK. We are quite happy were we are and not too eager on having to move all to the same city…

Daev : How long did it take you to develop Penumbra, and was it just the three of you?

Jens : We began on Penumbra Overture at the end of the summer in 2006 and it was released in February 2007 (if memory is correct), we started planning Penumbra Black Plague during the development of Overture. Due to the publisher problems we had Black Plague development stalled, but eventually picked up again and I think it was released in March 2008. Then we quite directly had a plan for Penumbra Requiem and got started on that right away and that eventually got released in August 2008.

After that we were back to publisher problems, but we managed to keep going (thanks to not putting all eggs in the same basket, we controlled Linux and Mac versions and always had a secure income from them and we had the online rights to Penumbra Overture so had some security there as well). In 2009 it looked very bad, we even had told the employees this was the last month we could manage to pay salaries.

Then there was a Steam sale of the Penumbra Collection and thanks to us having the online rights to Overture we shortly there after got the biggest single payment we had ever received before, with more coming later through the publisher and the Black Plague/Requiem sales going through them. We saw an opportunity and took it, we asked everyone to work for as little as possible and to work as fast as possible and that lead to the release of Amnesia in September 2010, under total control by us to avoid any further publisher fiddlings.

We were 3 to 4 full-time people for all the Penumbra games + the outsources who’s combined work hours would equal to about one more person.

Daev : How long did it take you to program your engine and come up with the game mechanics?

Jens : I think I covered the engine aspect in the previous answers (First engine in end of 2004, beginning of 2005. Then reworked during 2005-2006 and engine used for first proper game pretty much developed during the whole development up to the release in Feb 2007. Then from there the engine has been in an constant continued development) . The game mechanics has been a constant development and tweaking process that is continuing even today. If we look at the physics interaction it is still something we discuss, test and try to improve for each game. If we look at what we think we should occupy the player with in the games that difference heavily from game to game as we examine and rethink previous attempts and try new things. We are quite set on trying to change how story driven games are experienced, yet as everyone else, we struggle with the past of growing up with games being games.

Daev : How successful have you been?  I don’t need to know how much money your games have made but can you estimate how many games you’ve sold since you began making games?

Jens : We spent four years being very unsuccessful. Or rather we did pretty good games, at least unique games and we managed to get quite good coverage and reputation with those games. The publishers did a good job making the game available for purchase in stores as well as through digital download. But even so it was very difficult to earn enough to support even a small company like ours with very modest demands for what a monthly salary had to be.

I think these years are those that are the most important to consider if you are an aspiring developer, to keep costs low, to avoid time and resource hungry events (don’t visit shows to “make connections”, it is not worth the cost) and to think about how you can reach the potential customers with as few middle hands as possible. There are lots of unknowns and if you keep it all as simple, small and effective as possible you increase the chance of being able to follow through.

It is also important to not forget about marketing your game while you are making it, lots of lots of games are released by developers and publishers that do surprisingly little to get the word out. If you do get a publisher, don’t rely on them doing all the marketing, do your own marketing as well. By marketing I am not thinking of anything that costs anything other than time, so all ideas you can think of to spread the word.

Since the release of Amnesia we have been very successful. With the history we have had we know the fortunate situation we are in now and so have concentrated on making sure we have a financial stable company. This has meant that we can assure the employees they have solid jobs, as well as being able to do projects like the new Amnesia game, where we fund the development made in collaboration with another company.

If we add in all bundles and such were Amnesia was bought as part of a package, I think Amnesia has sold about 1.5 million copies.

Penumbra series have over time sold quite well, but we have sales we have never seen properly reported or paid for so the actual number is hard to know. But probably around 200 000 copies, not counting the humble indie bundle sales of Penumbra Overture.

Daev : A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations :  I often quote Clint Eastwood from Dirty Harry to my students and say they have to know their limitations.  They can’t come up with ideas to create MMO games or games with co-operative AI if they can’t themselves actually do that programming.  So I have them consider what they are capable of and what do they really want to show off as art students (they are not programming students).

The question is, If Clint Eastwood asked you what your Limitations are, could you answer us and you don’t have to imagine he’s holding a gun or calling you “punk”.

Jens : The art department has always been our number one limitation. It is the most resource demanding part of game development and it is not possible to compete in that field with the large companies. This limitation has led us to always try and come up with alternative ways of describing an event, which could be through sound or text instead, in an effort to build up a base for the player’s mind to kick in and do a nice job imagining how it would look like visually. It is also the cause for the physics interaction that has been more or less unique to our games through the years. We could not afford creating animations and specific models for all objects to be found in desk drawers etc, so the idea to use physics as a replacement was born from this limitation.

Daev : What made you think that you could start up a small Indie game company and compete with the likes of games that have millions to tens of million dollar budgets as well as deep marketing budgets?

Jens : This was never a driving factor for us. We simply wanted to create our own games and make a living out of it. I think it might be important to realize the effort behind it. We did not study and then got into making games and running a company. We spent a life time of interest in doing game development and running small companies and freelancing. Then as we were in our twenties we studied at the university, while at the same time continuing doing game development projects in our spare time and finally when we were around 24-26 years old we started Frictional Games. So we came in with a lot of experience and know-how, with work experience doing projects for some larger companies and even then we had four years of struggle before having anything that remotely had a base to support us as an actual company with OK, but modest, salaries.

So in short, what made us start a small game company was our long interest in doing game development, not working in the game industry. I don’t think we would have worked with games today if we had not started our own company.

Daev :  Do you have a budget for marketing or do you rely on Word of Mouth, the internet, and sheer luck?

Jens : We have not really had any budget for marketing. We have spent time doing the marketing the old fashion way, sending our PR, videos, demos and so on. Then contacting all sort of media asking for interest in previews/reviews, then keeping track of their replies (or no replies) and repeated the inquiry if needed and finally been able to secure most of them doing articles on the games. With Amnesia we also burnt simple DVDs, printed out a cover letter and sent the snail mail way to publications we could not find any online contacts to. For example  Game Informer was one of these we managed to get a review from by doing this and their very positive review I believe helped spark the interest in the beginning.

We hoped to get some sort of viral thing going, but any attempt to artificially create that does not really work, but as time passed after release more and more reddit posts and youtube clips appeared. We have tried to keep track and do fun things with them and be very open to sending review copies to anyone that asked for it.

I don’t believe in sheer luck, but I do believe in being able to create as many opportunities as possible for being in the right spot at the right time.

Daev :  Where do you see the Indie game market evolving to over the next decade?

Jens : Probably that there will not be an indie game market, rather it is simply how you do digital game distribution. If you look at smartphones, I’m not sure you think much in terms of this is an indie game and this is a publisher game, the difference in quality or type of game does not seem to be linked to a specific type of company where you as a user have to define it as indie or not. So the majority of all games will just be plain “games” and then there will be a specific label for the big budget games instead, rather than the other way around as we have today.

UDK : Randomly placing pickups

This is not a real post, this is me trying to muddle my way through a gaming issue. Putting pickups in UDK is a pretty easy task, but I want them randomly generated. The reason is that my games depend on it being random, and non-repeated so that you can play through the game as much as many times as you like, and the game is not predictable.

At first glance this method works. My pickups appear, and I can intersperse them throughout an environment where ever I put in pathnodes, however for some odd reason they shrink to nothing in about five to ten seconds and I am left aghast. Hoping that by sharing multiple minds will help to solve the problem and then benefit from what it is I’m doing.

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Making Mistakes in Artwork.

I came up with a quick idea for a game this week. I wanted to mock it up quickly and I gave myself a mandate. Finish it by end of week, or kill it by end, one way or another. I have one day left, and although overall the game is close, I always feel this need to perfect it, improve my assets, etc. I start to spiral out quickly.

I know I talk about this a lot. I have this idea that creating a game, shouldn’t always be like making a tent-pole production film that involves hundreds of people and a budge of 200 million dollars. I have no problem with companies who do that, I think that’s awesome for artists and the gamers, and pushing the state of the art.

I’m more interested in the smaller, personal projects though. When I sit down to write a short story, I’m not thinking, “This will take me about a year to create!” I’m hoping I can finish a first draft of a story in one sitting, because when I’m in a flow that’s how it comes out for me often. When I have to force things, the story or artwork shrivels up and dies.

I saw this all the time when teaching, both in myself and my students. If there was a great expectation that a zbrush sculpt, or a drawing was going to be “it” then there is this stiffening that happens, and often procrastination. It drags out, and goes no where. I saw in my students this timid dabbling, instead of broad re-working of their drawings and sculpts. The reason is often because of risk. If you push too far, you may destroy the artwork, but by being too timid, it can fail to come to life. Another reason is that some art ideas become precious to us, and we can’t part with the initial concept and see what else “it” wants to be.

To me part of the creative process involves being loose when I sit down to work. This is difficult business in creating games, because it is in fact highly technical with lots of road blocks to get in the way.

My philosophy about the games for an indie person though is to create a sort of backlog of ideas and assets and get ready for the lightning to strike. You have to be sketching in the game world with those assets you have already, and not always be “experimenting” with some killer game play idea that would actually require six months to a year for one person to execute well.

When teaching, my students would pitch games in class. The goal was to choose one as their “pre-thesis”, each semester there was at least one person who pitched this idea;

“This is an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game idea, and you can customize your character from one of several races..” The idea would go on, and often involve dragons, amazing powers and weaponry, and scores of animated cut scenes. I would try to steer them back to the ground. It’s not that those things are impossible at the student level, but starting simpler (single player for instance) is still a lot to accomplish when you’re talking about actually producing that product as your thesis.

In this vein I still try to counsel ex-students of mine, who are staying on the Indie path. “Don’t get too complex” I caution. “No, don’t think of your game as a triple-A title, please.” I beg. “Be nimble. Be fast – if you build an asset, test it in game same day.”

The reason is simply this. We need to make mistakes, whether that’s in a drawing pad, or writing short stories that we later realize suck big time, or a game that is oddly reminiscent of Kong. Doing those things, even if they aren’t a masterpiece, means cutting your chops and building a repertoire of skills so that there is improvement. It means you are doing, what you want to do, even if it isn’t triple-A caliber (yet).

It also means having some closure on something. The big things, the big games, the novels that are 300 pages, the massive oil painting, those things are sweet.

I’m just advocating for the sketches in between too.

Phil Fish : cyberbullied out of games?

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”
― William Golding, Lord of the Flies

There are lots of reasons to love the internet, but something I hate about the internet is the Lord of the Flies like anonymous sniping that goes on.

What I hate, is the way people can wear each other out, masked behind an anonymous title. People wear their mud mask as they flog someone online, they pick them apart, make personal attacks or repeat misinformation all from behind a mask.

What people don’t realize is that this amounts to cyberbullying, it is encouraged by the anonymous nature of the internet but they are bullying real people.

I don’t claim to be an expert on cyberbullying, but I’m writing tonight after reading what happened to, Phil Fish, the indie game developer known best for his game, Fez, and for his part in the film Indie Game, The movie.

The short story is that Phil Fish worked for years creating Fez, and during that time fell into conflict with his business partner while creating the game, and finished by himself. Solo. If you’ve seen the film, you know it was quite stressful and very compelling because he was human. I don’t know how anyone can watch that and not have their heart go out to Phil. He did it though, he finished the game, and it has become a huge indie success, so much that of course, Fez II is, or I should say was, under development.

What happened this past week though is that Phil got into a heated war of words (140 characters or less) with Marcus Beer who criticized Fish.

Here’s another thing I hate about the internet; it’s too easy to blast someone in real time, instead of waiting until you run into them at the family reunion, or in the coffee shop or the next convention a year down the line. You know, in other words when you’ve had time to process your anger and simmer down and not retaliate in real time.

After the heated war of characters between Fish and Beers, Phil Fish announced that he was shutting down production on Fez II, in short saying that all the pressure and hate he receives from the game community has been too much. So to be clear, it isn’t necessarily the back and forth with Beers that has prompted him to shut down but the community at large. My article here is not even about the war between Beers and Fish, but rather the accumulation of hate posts I’ve seen that followed the heated battle.

Reading posts online I can understand Phil’s point. The number of times I’ve read people blasting him, are astounding. Understand these are people who don’t know Phil but can’t wait to blast him apart.

Now let me interject something personal here. I am not proud of everything that has ever tumbled like vomit from my own mouth in my life. Meaning I’ve said things I regret and can’t believe I’ve uttered. They’ve flown out of my mouth before that prefrontal cortex could stop them. I hope that doesn’t make me a despicable person in my ENTIRE life, when I lose my temper, or say something incredibly stupid, and I’m not at my best. I confess though, I have not been perfect and I am profoundly haunted by the things I’ve said or done at my worst times, and always hope to become a better person, a better father, a better husband, a better friend.

Unless you are like the Dalai Lama who meditates for hours every day, I believe that as humans many of us are not always at our best, and indeed we live in a culture where there is continual stress that typically centers around work.

Personally, I can’t imagine being exposed to a constant barrage of snarky comments online. The few I’ve received for videos I’ve posted on youtube have the effect of feeling like real personal attacks. I feel my pulse quicken. That’s just one snarky comment, Phil Fish is exposed to a vast number of attacks on him as a person.

In the end it feels like nothing short of cyberbullying to me, to see people lob one insult after another at Phil Fish and join in. Obviously people know that Phil Fish DOES read what people say about him (although he shouldn’t) and they are joining in, sort of Lord of the Flies ready, to stab the pig with homemade spears while they hide masked in digital mud and feathers.

The charges are that Phil is arrogant, a baby, and other things… okay, we get it. Phil has reached his tolerance level, that is not our business, take your own inventory, do your twelve steps and get out of his business. An adult needs to step in now, tell the kids to put down their spears and let Phil get back to his craft without worrying about an onslaught.

Look, it’s true, Phil Fish has had an emotional response. I’m not here to argue whether Beers or Fish said something harsh or hasty.

Having read what he wrote on Twitter I haven’t concluded that he is an evil or bad person. I’ve concluded that someone pushed his buttons and he responded when he shouldn’t have. Watching Indie Game, I already concluded that Phil is a sensitive and creative person. Did he keep it all together in the film? No, that’s part of what made him compelling but he was under pressure others in the film were not under, without the support network to help him through it. It’s that intensity that is likely responsible for his creative work as well. Creative people often are the sensitive people in our culture. They may take things harder than others who can let it roll off their back, that doesn’t make them bad or mean people, it’s part of what makes them unique individuals. Instead we live in a world where if you are hurt we hear, “Walk it off” or “Get over it”. To me these are phrases that should never be uttered to anyone and those are nice phrases compared to the things I’ve read online.

My advice to Phil Fish is to take some time. Unplug from the internet right now and in general unplug from that barrage on the internet forever. Take a break, let things simmer down.

Pull back from the general discussion online and any heated debates and make your own decisions, make your art for yourself first and please don’t remove yourself from the Indie game scene, creative individuals are needed to challenge the perception of what games are or should be.

I want to believe that there is a place for indie people, creatives like yourself to make games.

My advice to everyone else commenting on Phil Fish personally, is to put down the spears. Stop and think if you should say something online if you don’t want to say it from behind the anonymous mask you wear and consider whether the beast is really “out there”.

Dreaming Out Loud

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Having taken some time away from making games to focus on only writing, I am back to splitting my time between creating games and writing in my studio. So, I begin with a short story concept and then try to figure out how to deliver it, in indie fashion, without the huge over head that most “gamers” are so used to now due to the Triple A game titles that have ballooned now like the tent-pole movies that are made in Hollywood. Essentially, the belief that bigger is always better.

Being a fan of short stories (and not of endless games that go on forever) I approach the game as a place to bring people into a story. The images you see on this page are just some recent explorations in creating environments like a painter rather than treating the game world like pixels. To me there is a story even if the player isn’t aware of all of it, and a painted world, the style of the artist behind the brush. This is hopefully one difference that can occur in Indie games, and we see it clearly in games like Fez and Super Meatboy. Personally, If I don’t feel compelled by the painted world or the writing, then it all fizzles out for me as I imagine it does for many.

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Aside from my goal of making a “short story format game” I am trying to enjoy the process of creating. In other words if the enjoyment of the process fizzles, then I’m going to let go and do something creative that will let me create without the technical road blocks.

As an artist and writer, I want to treat the game environment as a canvas that I’m painting on, and trying to bring my audience into that canvas. What I’m saying is that as an artist I’m far more comfortable with writing and visual arts rather than the technical side.

I can do it, but it isn’t where I thrive, and I feel that the game engines are still road blocks to more creative games because individual artists and writers cannot sit down like a pianist at a piano and just create from that unconscious place without the technology getting in the way. Imagine if every note a musician wrote had to be programmed, and they couldn’t actually touch a piano, but rather a robot played it in another room, with a glass barrier between artist and medium.

That is partly what making games is currently like to me and likely many who steer clear of it entirely.

This means trying to find my comfort level in this medium where I can created un-impeded by the technical constraints of the medium. It’s a tough nut to crack because in the end even with powerful game engines it’s still highly complex, and the promise even of engines like Unity and Unreal have their flaws which I won’t get into analyzing right now.

Part of the production process that I always talked about with students when teaching is building up a library of assets so that when it comes to the game, you can create environments and explore. I have hundreds of assets that I’ve made for games over the years and I’m trying to mix and match them to create this world. Making games is so complex compared to the act of designing a game or writing a game. To make an environment it often takes thousands of assets.

The approach I’m taking as an Indie artist is to NOT emulate triple A games, but rather to know my limitations. If I chose to have assets along the lines of Bioshock Infinite then I would need to realize I’m competing with hundreds of artists who have labored for years creating those worlds.

Having worked in production for years on animated films, visual effects and video games, I know what it takes to produce a big game and I’m trying to produce something with that knowledge so that I don’t fall into the trap that many do, which is to say biting off too much.

To me, knowing how to trim down your game as an Indie developer should be like writing short stories. Let’s say you want to publish in a Sci-fi magazine, so you have to obey the limitations of that publication. If a publication demands that you keep your writing to 3000 words or less, then that is the limitation.

Putting boundaries around the format of a game can be liberating. Putting some time structure around it can allow for an Indie artist to be more like the short story writer. Short story writers write many stories and submit them all over the place in hopes one will land. If you spend two years working on your Indie game, and it doesn’t fly, then you are stuck with beginning again.

I’m not even saying it won’t take me two years to finish an indie game, but my goal is to eventually make it happen like that creative flowing process that partly comes from that unconscious place while you do it. To do it in small groups or individually so that the work becomes more personal and more akin to literature rather than action movies with guns and gratuitous half naked women shots (think both recent Star Trek films or Transformers). Everyone comments all the time that video games are not an art form yet, but with the millions of dollars and talent going into them they aren’t likely to get there because there is too much riding on their financial success and because they are taking their beat from Hollywood films. Not to say that films can’t be art, but who among us thinks of Transformers as art? (Note this is not a critique of the artistry that goes into those productions – two different subjects).

Making indie games is daunting. This is why you’ll hear people like Jonathan Blow, who made the popular game Braid, talk about all the games he began, but never finished. Even for indie games there is typically a huge investment in time involved with making a game, which is why so many games with months of development end up in a scrap heap as people move on.

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I’m not claiming to be the only person interested in this. At some point I should probably write about some of the short games I have played that I feel do fit the short story format. You can play the games in under an hour and feel like there is artistry and creativity unimpeded by delusions of being “triple-A”. These games I find far more compelling than the huge triple A must have games, which in the end feel like they are designed to suck up my life and keep me from doing creative work, sleeping or spending time of with my family all of which are priorities in my life, not “finishing” Halo 4.

In the end I’m not trying to talk about what people should do, in creating games. I’m just talking about how I’m trying to approach this, and why I feel compelled to bang on what I think is a visual medium still in it’s infancy, and despite the fact that I made my first game in the 80’s using Basic programming on a Timex Sinclair, I still find it technically challenging to bend this medium in a way that expresses what it is I wish to say.

If I can’t find my comfort level with the medium then it will be like other mediums that are not a fit for me, pastels or charcoal, things that litter the bottom of my art bin while I move on to things that resonate for me and allow me to continue living an active and creative life.

Skimming Stones

At the end of winter semester at Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, I resigned from my position as Head of Game Art to pursue my personal projects. Since then I have been doing just that on several fronts at the same time working on games, paintings, writing, and pulling together my notes on creating games.

Although there are a lot of things I’m working on I’m going to try and confine this post to my first product that I released today to the iTunes store for the iPad. It is called Ten Monkey Marbles and a link can be found here.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/10-monkey-marbles/id594412373?ls=1&mt=8

Ten Monkey Marbles is meant to be my way of starting out and beginning the process as an Indie Game studio. The story itself is a counting book for children, and is meant to be a small introduction to the Monkey Marbles concept I came up with years ago while on Sabbatical from Rhythm and Hues studios. Monkey Marbles is a longer book and more complex which may not work well as an interactive, but I will put it out into the world at some point.

The concept of Monkey Marbles occurred to me in a moment of silly word play while skimming stones at the beach in Los Angeles. I had been working in my studio a lot, and listening to a lot of Bob Dylan. His syncopated lyrics had stuck in my head and I started to make up my own song in that syncopated way in the first draft of a song or poem came out. I went home and wrote it down and had the basis for Monkey Marbles.

It began with these words which I still imagine singing in a mock Dylan voice; “Innocently me, skimming stones into the sea, when I heard a sound far of from me, innocently me.”

No it wasn’t meant to imitate the real versing of Dylan but it didn’t matter because I knew immediately I had something, monkey marbles.

All of this as an indie artist and game artist is like skimming stones down into the unconscious to see what gets struck. You skim stones and sometimes they go far, and sometimes they don’t even skim once. As artists we don’t really know what we’re going to find when we skim stones down into the unconscious but we follow and hope that something will happen, some sound will come back from far off. To me so much of the process being an artist is about trying to facilitate that unconscious process in order to come up with something.

The skimming of stones is one thing, you throw but what we’re really looking for is that interaction between the medium of the stone and the water, the ripples that grow from each point the stone touches and then how they interact.

I know this sounds rather vague in some ways but when I teach this and talk about it, I give drawing demonstrations and show it in action. I sketch a haze onto a page using pencil or marker or even chalk in photoshop and then I see what images come up from the haze and focus in and pull out the creature, and sometimes an entire story comes forth.

The thing I try to remember whenever I work is that the more I try to control things then often the harder it is for it to come forth spontaneously and I guess in the end that is exactly what I’m talking about. When things feel forced and over-worked you can feel it, but when they feel spontaneous and alive they grow of themselves.

A good example is the recent portrait of Kate Middleton. Although the portrait is executed with the finesse and competence of a great painter it has lost the spontaneity and truth that is Kate Middleton.

Games are like this too. When we as artists make all our decisions before hand it’s difficult for a game to grow within that context. We need to set up an environment where we can be spontaneous in creating game play and stories and drawings and yes even portraits of a duchess.

In the end we can tell when things are flowing and spontaneous when we are in the flow while doing our art. Often when we aren’t in that spontaneous flow it is reflected back to us by our audience who will tell us that they don’t feel the connection we had hoped for. All we can do is continue to skim stones, experimenting more and in the end not be afraid to try again.

UDK on a Mac Pro

I am currently developing a game that I hope to launch on Kickstarter shortly, it’s almost in place and as my last semester running the Game Art department at RMCAD wraps up next week, I hope to launch my kickstarter campaign soon after.

I thought though I’d write a little about developing on my system, a 2009 Mac Pro. Since my HP system died I have felt very reluctant to get another PC. They just seem to die on me quickly. So when I decided to switch from developing games in Unity to UDK, I decided to bootcamp Windows on my Mac Pro. I like having everything in one place, because developing an indie game by yourself is a lot already. Having to hustle assets from one system to another every day just extends development pipelines. I lose precious time, and have junk mounting up in multiple places.

Additionally, all those good things on my main mac system; my Wacom Cintiq, my speakers, my 30 inch monitor go to waste. I end up crouched over a tiny monitor when developing in UDK, my main system and monitors waiting for me to do other tasks, which is about half my time.

So I bootcamped my computer, giving a full 1 TB hard drive to Windows. I also split the memory, 8GB for my Mac, 8GB for Windows, 4CPUs each.

A couple months ago I installed a new graphics card, the ATI Radeon HD 5770 1024MB, and finally the last piece, VMWare Fusion. Unfortunately when I ran UDK on the windows side it ran terribly, with terrible compression in the graphics and very slowly even with the default scene and nothing else.

I called people, I researched on the web and I couldn’t figure out a solution to VMWare running it’s own “virtual” graphics card.

Which is code for crap.

Tonight I installed Parallels as a test and re-installed my game on here. I was encouraged by the fact that the game was now working, the last iteration I put on here two months ago had a little lag, but if I don’t run in what Parlallels calls “Coherence mode” then it runs with very little lag.

So I re-installed my most recent game which is far more heavy than the one from two months ago, but it has also been optimized considerably. In fact it now runs better than on the laptop, my FPS (Frames Per Second) going from an average of 11 FPS, to between 18-20 FPS. I don’t detect any lag with the mouse and keyboard, but to me the real test will be with the xbox controller which I feel makes me more sensitive to any lag time.

It feels refreshing to play my game finally on my main system, 30 inch monitor, sounds projecting on three speakers around me (so important) instead of the crummy laptop internal speakers I’ve used.

So far I am happy with Parallels, and take back every bad thing I said about them when I had used them about five years back.

Parallels seems to have grown up, and it all somehow makes sense to me, to be developing a game about a virtual game world, using virtual computers. Indie game developing is starting to feel virtually real to me.

Casual Games and thinking Small, with a capital S.

I was up late last night reading a book someone recommended while I was at the Colorado Game Developer meeting just earlier in the evening.  The book, called REWORK was put out by this company, www.37signals.com, I purchased the book through Amazon’s App on my iPad conveniently.  Here is a quote from the book that I love.

“Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination in itself.  Have you ever noticed that while small businesses wish they were bigger, big businesses dream about being more agile and flexible? And remember, once you get big, it’s really hard to shrink without firing people, damaging morale, and changing the entire way you do business.”

Continue reading Casual Games and thinking Small, with a capital S.

Art is Fun! or A Raw Deal for Artists

Someone said to me today, not for the first time, that art is fun.   The question being, why are artists stressed out and so serious about life and work?

My answer is kind of complicated.   Art is enriching and enjoyable.  Writing stories, playing music and creating drawings and paintings and video games are all creative works of art, I’m just not sure I would characterize any of them as fun.

Continue reading Art is Fun! or A Raw Deal for Artists