Postponing the Inevitible

It’s coming to the point now where i will have to start getting more practical; I mean I should of been doing practical a long time ago… -sigh-
So what have I been up to?
Apart from being distracted by the unavoidable responsibilities at home and becoming a slight hindrance to my group -insert horrific sobbing here- I have at least set out my thoughts and plans in a more manageable approach. My google drive now holds my weekly plan of…weekly plans, which is a completely new experience for me for as you can see organizing is just not my forte, but its helped out a bit.
Onto the main subject, when I was planning out my puzzle, it was hard for me to articulate, to the point that drawing it out just didn’t help put it into perspective; I needed to know how it would work. What did I do? I tried making it. Now please don’t laugh, I’m not a clever bunny, in fact a rabbit would most likely out smart me, but I tried. Thankfully I had some card lying around my bedroom (yay for hoarders!) and some other bits and bobs to attempt this miniscule hopeless excuse of a contraption:

Tadaaaaa... Don't laugh! (Pardon the Hello Kitty Pj's)

Tadaaaaa… Don’t laugh!
(Pardon the Hello Kitty Pj’s)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see here, the three wheels will not be entirely visible in the room, and still seem to take a lot of space. But that can be adjusted and corrected later on. It’s not anything special, but it gave me a better understanding of how it would roughly work. And so I went on to do a very basic drawing of it too:

I don't have the patience to detail right now

I don’t have the patience to detail right now

And to top it off, i did a little concept of what the outside of the building would look like:

Oh boy...

Oh boy…

The look of the building was inspired by pretty mineral rocks with their precise points and angles poking out at whatever direction they desire.

So where does this take me now? Modelling. I don’t have a huge issue with it, in fact, when i know what I’m doing, I enjoy it, and thus enjoying the result even more!
But in all honesty, I’m terrified. This module feels too big for me, like its more than a challenge. I can barely get a grasp of anything I do and needs to be done in UDK (and even 3DS). I get this helpless feeling, and I’m incredibly sorry to my group for being so weak in this subject. But i need to pull my socks up and try harder. Lets just hope I don’t f**k this up eh?
Wish me luck.

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Here we go again

Its been awhile… sorry.
It’s funny, the idea of this blog was pretty exciting and I thought I’d commit to it but I guess not. Don’t get me wrong, I love blogging, so I’ll try to be a little more loving towards it ūüėČ
But I’m not gonna lie, something did force me back on here, and that’s my Platform Evaluation module in my second year at uni. Yes, I am back with my old friend UDK, and actually we’re no where closer to being friends, but who knows, this could be the year? The year we join forces and take on evil! Modelling the salvation of this world!!! Importing justice!!! And at the end of it all, we’ll hold hands and walk towards the sunset…

Anyways, for this module we had the option to either work in a team or by ourselves. I chose to work in a team for reasons, good reasons, such as spreading out the work load, team mates helping out one another (which i need a lot) and just the opportunity to experience working in a team. And for our brief all we have to do is to design a level, a working prototype, which includes new things we learned (I’m still a noob to this so everything’s new to me…).

So, lets start with the Basics:
After a lengthy discussion (which took 4 weeks) we finally decided on an idea based around a mysterious island entwined with puzzles (no not Myst). The idea was born from the recent incident in Pakistan, where a little island emerged from the earthquake. And from there we branched out with a concept of the island being a mystical representation of the protagonists life. I suggested the protagonist to be a girl, just for something a little different, and so there’d be less for us to model!
Actually, when I think about it, its not just an island, its a collection of small islands…that float…in the sky (no not Bioshock Infinite), and google tells me that this would be called an¬†archipelago,¬†but I wonder if it’s still called that if they’re floating in the sky…
Moving on, There will be a center or starting point island which will be surrounded or branch out to four other islands. Theses islands will consist of puzzles that, once solved, grants the player a fragment of a story which ultimately tells the story of how this protagonist died. Yeah, the girl is actually dead.

Our group split up into major parts of the production of this level, though we still made decisions of the game together. One of my roles is to provide some concept work and puzzle ideas and because I focused on the puzzle more, i didn’t actually do any concepts of how the entire level would look. Unfortunately, the group is still constantly bringing up new proposals and ideas for the level, which would manipulate the islands appearance, so although having a lot of concept ideas would be great, time is of an essence and is ticking against us.

Puzzle Ideas:

We ended up coming up with the idea of thinking up a puzzle each.
I thought of two but of course went with one.

So here’s the first idea:

 

1383435_10200722737413440_1355991376_n

Ok i suck at planning out a lot of things, and worse at explaining too. So please bare with me as I try to explain, I mean its a pretty basic concept, nothing genius or incredible, but hopefully decent.
Basically, there will be a room with 3 wheels in it. The wheels will have four parts which will be slightly thing (but not really see through) and each section will have different shapes. From behind, a light will beam through the wheels creating a shadow on the opposite side.
When the shapes are aligned correctly, they will create an image, thus solving the puzzle.

 

The cog-like wheels and the shapes that create the image

The cog-like wheels and the shapes that create the image

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puzzle solving image

Puzzle solving image

 

 

 

 

I thought it would be cool to do the image of the girl falling as the puzzle solver.

 

 

 

 

 

I also came up with another idea, and although it would be a little challenging for me to do (and I chose not to go with it) its still something to consider for my plans:

1391998_10200690662131578_101386436_n

So this idea takes up the whole island and takes place outside. Its the classic shine-the-light-mirror-to-mirror-to-hit-the-target puzzle… hah.

1379357_10200690662051576_1226038243_n

 

A few ideas for what the mirrors could look like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And last but not least, the character herself. 1378472_10200690662371584_2008892891_n

 

 

 

 

 

Level Design: well done genius!

So for starters, let me just explain my relationship with 3D level design. Its like a snowman trying to embrace a hot stove which undeniably would result in a miserable puddle of failure and¬†befuddlement. And I’m the snowman’s nose, the carrot, lying in failure and befuddlement… Didn’t make sense? Yeah that’s the point.
I just can’t seem to get a good grasp of UDK, and when I do manage to do something, it’s rare that I remember how I did it if i need to to do it again… gah!

Ok, so confusion to the side, I took a really silly approach to this module, and that’s not doing it. No, not because I didn’t want to, but because I stupidly thought I wasn’t meant to start on my level yet and just went along with the tutorials in class. Clever. So, I’ve had a late start on this which doesn’t pair well with my perpetual battle with understanding UDK.

To start off, this is the plan of what the overall level will look like:

IMG_2780

What its meant to look like is an overview of a cul-de-sac neighborhood of flats. But for some odd reason, there’s a little house at the top of the street (the pink block). So the atmosphere and look of the level is meant to be quite dull and dreary, the flats aren’t gonna look very flattering….yup. But the house will be somewhat adorable and brighter in¬†color¬†and light. If I have the time and skill, the lighting around the house will be brighter compared to the rest of the street.

The house itself is actually inspired by the lovely home of Carl from the Pixar animated movie¬†Up. Unlike the surrounding flat buildings, you’re able to go into it and explore the interior (yay more work for me). This is where I’m focusing most of my skills on, adding 3D modelling and little poorly done interactions here and there.

IMG_2781

First Floor

IMG_2779

Second Floor

I also planned out the inside of the house; the second and first floor, which is loosely based on the Up house plans:

So here we go, lets see how I do with this… wish me luck…

There’s A Reason Why I Don’t Own A Spaceship

Guys, we have it easy. I’m definitely not the best player out there, in fact I suck. But I get by.
Back in the days though! There was no mercy! No mercy!!

I’ll explain my rage in a bit, for now, lets have a little gander at R-type!

So first off, the visuals are stunning. There’s absolutely no laziness in the art, especially within the limits that was given; if anything the limits were pushed. For a simple concept of a game, the background art does well to keep a steady flow of entertainment and atmosphere, and expanding the world as the spaceship goes deeper into the level. The colors do well to¬†differentiate enemies and color of fire from both enemy and spaceship. The color also adds life to each individual which pop out of their 2D constraints.
Enemies are¬†unpredictable from where they will enter the screen, keeping players on their toes. And they don’t always follow in a straight line, as some will come in a scattered group. The game tries to use as much space as it can, placing enemies on the bottom as well, which means more to aim, fire and dodge.
The upgrades in this game are awesome! Each type of weapon upgrade has its own way of firing and effect. Like the charge up ones, and the beams that bounce off everywhere and missiles flying at different directions! What I also like is the manner in wish the ship upgrades. The upgrades attaches itself to the ship in a magnetic way, extending it in a really nice shape.

So I also found a link where you can play the first two levels of R-type:

http://www.classicgamesarcade.com/game/21604/r-type-flash-game.html

And this is where my rage comes into.
I can only go so far in the first level, the FIRST! The game is so different from just watching it and playing it, honestly, I didn’t think it was gonna be that challenging! Like I said, I’m not a fantabulous player, but nor is R-Type a fantabulous friend. The unpredictable enemies? They really mess you over, especially because they shoot unpredictably too.¬†You know what they do? They shoot you in the back once you think they’re gone! Yeah, space isn’t a nice place to be in you guys! Don’t go there! If your parents are thinking about moving to space, call the police! That thought right there is inducing child abuse and totally encouraging bullying.
Clearly you have to play this game at least a thousand times before you know what the hell is going on…
The ship is so fragile, I was a bigger threat to myself than the enemy because I’d go too close to the ground and hit it and die! The spaceship doesn’t even endure a few scratches, it just plays the amateur dramatics card straight up! Kaboom! “Owww my engines been hit!” Man up and grow a pair Arrowhead!
I guess in my¬†defense for being a crappy player is that I’m not used to playing on a pc. No joke, I’m struggling badly on Super Meat Boy because I’m too lazy to hook up a controller to the game… I’d suck at that too, but not as much…

Show; Don’t Tell

Silent characters or also known as mute characters. Throughout the game, they will not utter a word but when the moment comes, will grunt, wail in pain or do a little battle cry. Silent characters work in different ways and seen to in different ways.
We have the mutes, who are known to be unable to speak, though we have some characters who do not speak mainly because they don’t have anyone to speak to like in Doom.

Then there is the secretive kind who is open for the player to self-impose themselves into the character. This type is very common and in most cases loved. Unusually, although these characters don’t speak in game they still manage to have a back story and NPC’s will treat him like a drink buddy, which adds to the allure of being that character, sort of like buying a house that’s been lived in by a nice family, making it all warm and cosey… right?…. Did that even make sense?
Japanese games love hyping up silent characters, just to add that mysterious touch to the broody protagonist, but although they are so reserved and silent, they still get a lot of attention and happen to be the center where their decision matters.
Whats really interesting, is how the NPC will not react in any way to show that the protagonist is in fact not saying a word. They respond to the unspoken words naturally which really pushes the experience of players feeling as though they are involved in making decisions and being the protagonist.

A really good silent character is Jack from Bioshock. Throughout the game, you, both the player and Jack are told to do a number of things to get closer to the goal of escaping; to

Would you kindly be a puppet for your own amusement?

“Would you kindly be a puppet for your own amusement?”

the players knowledge that is. Eventually, when meeting the truth, Jack finds out that he has been¬†subconsciously obeying commands starting with “Would you kindly”. Now not only does Jack feel hate and confusion, but so does the player who at the point is fully immersed as the protagonist. The player will also feel cheated and lied to, and though they may have thought they were doing what they wanted, the player is made out to feel like a mere marionette.
Heck at the end of the game, i was scratching at my wrist believing I had the same chain tattoos as Jack!

Lastly there is the reactive silent character, who acts according to the games script. They apparently do speak in the game, as characters will treat them as though they have. For example, we have our beloved Link from the Legend of Zelda games. When asked of his name by Princess Zelda, no sign of showing that Link speaking appears, yet the princess says “Link?” as though he did tell her his name.

 

Reference:

http://www.giantbomb.com/silent-protagonist/3015-54/

http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2012/10/22/the-importance-of-silent-protagonists.aspx

http://www.gamefront.com/silent-protagonists-why-games-like-skyrim-would-be-better-without-them/

My Hero

Most protagonists in video games will be a type of Hero. And as mentioned in a previous post, the hero will have a goal which enables to channel their personality through. With the help of¬†Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames, the personality section explains the¬†position¬†of a hero and different types. I also looked through the book¬†1000 game heroes, just to add visual flavor to the endless black and white squiggles. Interestingly, this book puts heroes in categories according to genre, classics (could also be based on nostalgia), Licensed heroes, strange and sexy. Although its not rich in information, it’s come in handy for visual research, and associating with stereotypes.

The Traditional Hero

Game Writing states that heroes come in all shapes and sizes (…yeah, sure.. if they’re not human) but then it does point out the most common to be of a traditional, strong, intelligent and noble type that goes about saving the weak, adventuring and restoring happiness. It then gives an example of Link from the Zelda series, who is in the magical category in 1000 games.
Link is devoted to Princess Zelda and goes through all sorts of adventures, including time travel. What I think puts Zelda in any sort of category of¬†heroism is the nostalgic value he has both as a title and from a personal view of the player. As Zelda is a silent character, we see ourselves in him, running through the forest just like many of us at the time of playing would of done. Which is great because the idea came to Miyamoto’s mind¬†when he thought back to his childhood, doing the same thing!
Batman! Super intelligent, super rich, and super buff. Bruce Wayne uses his wealth and intellect to create his super persona, Batman, in order to face his evil nemesis’ and protect his city. Being a comic hero, everyone already has a familiarity with Batman and understands his past, which leads to the empathy of players when fighting crime in the suit of Batman.

The Reluctant Hero

Now these heroes don’t willingly dress up in latex and tights to save the day but are actually thrown into their role, whether its to protect themselves or those around them, or just to do the right thing because for some reason (and according to the game) they’re the only ones who can do it.
Take Gordon Freeman from Half-Life, fighting his way through an experiment gone wrong in order to survive. Survival is one reason for players to feel involve, but I think its his physical appearance and job that makes him so likable and relatable. He has the classic¬†association¬†to what a ‘geek’ may look like, and as the audience seems to be of that type, players feel as though one of their people is finally in the spot light! And on top of that, he’s a total science nerd! Though this could be an offensive stereotype I’m putting out there, I will point out that its the most real one to relate to without having to emotionally scar the player and make them seem too out of the ordinary.

Another reluctant hero is Raziel, who is betrayed by his master Kain and condemned. Able to escape, but completely mutilated and eroded to the point of losing his lower jaw, Raziel swears vengeance on Kain, as he gains strength by sucking the souls of those he fight, he comes upon a secret which places Nosgoth (the kingdom Kain hails) on his shoulders, which makes him responsible for its safety.

Anti-Heroes

Like the reluctant hero, but to the extreme. These guys will have no intentions of being good, and will not always have dashing good looks; which emphasizes their absolute reluctance of doing something heroic. Take for instance Kratos, who again has been mentioned in previous posts. Although his main personal quest is to deal with the ones who have wronged him, his actions ultimately lead to the balance of the world.

He Made Me Do It!

Personality. The most vital ingredient when making a character, and the bridge between player and avatar to connect them both. These characters will have a purpose in their game which affects how they act and what their morals are either against the players will or according to how the player progresses. And it’s decisions like these that influence the player and manipulates their decisions or views in game.

Kratos_to_the_extrmem

Obey the God of War

Lets take Kratos, from the God of War series. Tormented by his past, wearing the ashes of his family, and wronged by almost everyone, its pretty obvious that this guy is a very unhappy man. And angry. Really angry. Right from the start menu we are looking into the face of our protagonist, with not even a glimmer of content present on his face. Gradually his anger rises in later installment, as his body moves with every breath he takes, staring right into your soul. This one-to-one approach puts the player in a position of complete obedience to Kratos, and almost harbors his rage when learning more about his story.
In his blinding rage, Kratos rarely holds any consideration for anyone that crosses his path, and if killing that being gets them out of his way, then so be it, and the player can’t argue with this. Even when dealing with helpless people, anyone showing signs of weakness and of no use to Kratos, will be dealt with against players will and gradually they will feel as though these actions are necessary. The players morals are diminished when put into the role of a raging badass, and even their conscience will be muted because of the godly powers they have at their fingertips. And with that feeling buzzing through their veins, having sex with mythical babes feels like a much deserved reward. But not always do we submit ourselves to these emotionless actions and actually feel a moral engagement, a cringe, a twitch of pain or remorse for the crimes committed.

In the book Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames, there is a chapter about character personality, and in one section mentions how personality can be used to conceal purpose. Which is where our buddy Kratos is mentioned, where he kills a man in order to open a bridge to further is journey. The man is depicted as an object of gameplay, such as the rope for the bride, rather than another being.

However, we do come across many games that give us the choice to act according to how we feel, which reflects on good or bad karma and effects both how the character is seen both visually and socially (in-game). For example, Fallout 3 and infamous have a good and bad system that spreads through that virtual world. NPC’s will react according to what the players moral views stand. So if Cole takes the route of ‘infamous’, there will be posters depicting him as a villain and citizens will not be cheering for him. But this is all due to the players decisions!

Scrolling Along

You might be thinking, “Gee that looks a lot like Gradius!” First off, since when do you say ‘gee’? and second, it sort of is! Parodius is a parody of the game Gradius, it has the same mechanics and features but with silly characters and references to Japanese culture, sexy bosses and accompanied by classical music. Now you might say “Why blog about Parodius instead of Gradius?” Well, because of it being a parody, there are differences in some interactions, that are also added, the environment and other features that keep the player entertained.
First off, as any typical side-scrolling shooter does, the ship has many upgrades that supports the player as they defeat the incoming enemies. With Parodius having different silly characters to choose from, each have their own style of upgrade. As seen as with the octopus, when upgraded he shoots out bubbles!
Much like Gradius, the player can maneuver past obstacles going up or down through different sections of the level. This adds a little variety to something that seems to be going only one way. The player also shoots through obstacles to make way.
Parodius has a bell that occasionally enters the scene which the player can shoot. Shooting it enough times changes the color and depending on the color will effect how it benefits the player when they collect it:
Red- More points
Green- The player and it’s mini helpers will grow and be granted invincibility for limited time.
White- Turn into a paper megaphone that shouts out phrases and Einsteins equation… which deals out more damage

I really like the environments and crazy themes in this game, and gives me something to reflect on with my own work as it’s not set in a typical outer space scene. And the music really adds to the energy and chaotic surrounding, so the player has no reason to feel bored, but is at risk for getting distracted.

Who We Are and Who We Want To Be

One of the most interesting finds concerning my essay is a book called Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators. In this book, the photographer brilliantly shows the player opposite their online persona.
What really got my attention was how much their avatars meant to them in a way that it was a vessel to express themselves compared to their real life disabilities, gender or social standing.

An overweight man played as a tank protecting the weaker players and being the heart of strength in the team, and because of that appreciated position he had, it affected his social life which was eventually attended to once realizing what was happening to him. Another man had a different standing online, where he made many friends, one that lead to marriage with a woman, even though he was married in real life. The marriage was nothing beyond friendship, and he even got permission off his real wife who apparently had respect for their friendship and also helped when comforting his online wife.

Many players were the opposite gender to their avatar, for many points. One of the main reasons was how it affected their gameplay experience and how other players reacted to them due to their sex. One teacher had changed from a male alter_4character to a small childish female character purely for the reason that it got more attention and was approachable when selling things at the market. One woman played as a man to avoid sexist ridicule of her abilities and¬†harassment¬†so players could appreciate her abilities fairly. Which in fact, isn’t fair at all, showing how players are forced to be something they did not envision just to play a game peacefully.
On the other hand, a man played as a bubbly cheerleader for he felt like this avatar represented his true self.

avatar_creatorOne of my favorites to read was about a disabled man who made his ideal figure and representation and made friends regardless of  his disabilities in real life. A similar story but about a group, took turns in controlling a girl avatar, and enjoyed the opportunity the game offered them that they could not do in real life.
Situations like this are why avatars can be so important for some people as it’s presented as a second life for them. It helps to break the barrier that they may encounter due to their physical appearance and thus produces a more truthful¬†¬†relationship, and in saying that I mean, whether or not the avatar is a true representation of the player, their¬†behavior¬†will still impact their experience.

Meet The Sims

Most of us, at some degree, love the Sims! A virtual dollhouse with a huge ocean of fans varying from gender, age and background. Unlike other games, where we are often fending for our lives against some unfamiliar species and thrown¬†into unlikely scenarios, shooting energy balls from the palm of our hands, flying across landscapes, picking up heavy objects with insane strength and- I’m going off track… -ahem!- While most other games are breathtaking as mentioned, the_sims_3_pets_45Sims is set in an all too familiar (but fictional) world. But no, it’s still enjoyable to an extent that you will keep playing it as there is no end to the game with endless potential to keep the player engaged.

As this title has advanced and now on its third installment, with a handful of expansion packs, the psychological mechanics of the Sims have improved adding to the life-like element. The most vital, inner core and fascinating feature of this game are the avatars; the Sims. Given that its a virtual dollhouse, in no way is the player completely in control of their Sims. The Sims will not always rely on the player to give them controls, because they are able to independently take care of important needs like eating or going to the toilet (saves the cashmere carpet that way).

Typically when given the option to customize a character, we take pride in making the perfect and ideal form to us, thus¬†making the gaming experience more personal and enjoyable. The Sims enable us to do the same thing, and the most common form we create is a representation of ourselves. And that’s a representation with certain additions, dream hair or eye color, stylish outfits and that inner personality trait that we have never had the guts to unleash in real life.

Along with making ourselves, we also fashion Sims after people we know in real life, like friends and family or a crush~
Although Sims is a simulation of an ordinary life, expansion packs add flavor to the experience, introducing themes that further develop what we can do with our Sims and give them more opportunities and keeping us entertained. So life in the suburbs isn’t all that peaceful ūüôā

The Sims not only encourages the player to keep their Sims happy, but also gives them an opportunity to experiment with things that they wouldn’t do in real life, or can’t. This results in Sims abandoned in a swimming pool with no way of getting out of it and eventually dying and watching them starve to death in an empty house with again, no way of getting out and other life threatening scenarios. Mentioning these examples, doesn’t exactly mean that we are all secret¬†sims-torture-pool-bsociopaths with hidden intentions to kill, but shows the curious approach people take to see what the outcome is… while laughing at it. But never the less, there are positive and negative approaches to the game players can take, in which they are either influenced by curiosity, or how their real life has affected them and whether they are creating their ideal world of happiness or a chaotic town for funsies!

Interestingly, the game has been played for reasons other than entertainment. One being used by a soon to be mother, as a parenting insight on how well they will cope in the real world, and apparently it helped!
One use was a really touching approach for a young adopted boy who had trouble talking about his past, so instead created a visual recap of his past with him and his parents and what happened.

Reference:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200310/the-sims-suburban-rhapsody

http://thesimsofficialmag.com/07_psychology.html#.URBEHx1g9vd