the online ramblings of a generally confused game designer

Monday, February 27, 2006

back to my website design roots

well, i'm back to my regular updating patterns.

Today was spent working on the game (more on that later) and the publicity for the university election. I have begun the website for the client, here's a mockup

it uses the university colour scheme, and is clean and simplistic. Can you tell I've been looking at a lot of mac osX stuff recently :)

as for my game work.. here comes a dev diary

Dev Diary: Day 21 - 27/02/2006
Sound work, and a visit from Jules

After recieving a lot of great feedback on the game cutscene from some animators, Jules came round my flat to discuss soundtracks. He had a great mix which he has stitched together from royalty free samples. It really works with the video, so have got to spend some time making it fit with the newspaper footage I have already created.

What was really interesting about the soundtrack was that it blended straight into gameplay, an idea Jules wanted to explore in the visuals too. He suggested that the last frame in the paper should be a gameplay screenshot. After checking with Adam (our engine guy) that it was possible, I suggested the idea of taking that one step further, and actually pushing through the final image into the game, so the faux 3D effect actually ends up being real. If it works it could be a really cool hook.

We also spoke about how the control system for the bike should be introduced, Jules suggested an advert for the bike in the newspaper, which would include keyboard controls, I didnt like it, as I thought it would interfere with the mood of the opening. Instead I suggested an ironic voiceover in the opening.. 'finger print scans show you are borrowing this motorcycle from it's regular owner. Welcome to the electrobike 711, to accelerate press.........'

Jules' girlfriend is canadian.. he reckons she might be able to get the accent just 'have a nice day' enough to work. It's an idea.. not sure if it will actually be used yet.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

more than a day it seems

like gnome said :)

well, yeah, Despite what you may expect I have been very busy working on the game, as well as my other ongoing projects. So into them, in fact, that i neglected this blog a little too much. Sorry, and thank you for bearing with me

so without any further ado, here's what I'm up to right now

The Crest
This is the new itteration of the crest I have been working on for a friend. Cosmetic changes include simplified fleur de lis, correction of a typo, altered ribbon detail and size and alignment changes to the dragon and hand images at the top. I seem to be nearing the client's mental image, so hopefully I will have signed off on this one by the end of the week

Election Publicity
I posted the poster design I had done for this a couple of weeks ago, well I'm just starting work now on the official promotion website. Nothing to post yet, but it's quite a simple design so hopefully I'll have stuff to show within the next week.

Road Safety
My girlfriend (who has worked on another area of the same project) is presenting my film to the client tommorow.. fingers crossed no major changes are required.

Diorama Game
Yes, well.. this is the big one.. the dev diary for today is going to be quite epic I think.. here goes...

Dev Diary: Day 20 - 26/02/2006
Immersion in the project leads to a lack of good book keeping

Needless to say, I haven't given any info on the project now for a week. The goal in this diary entry is to cover the last week's development from my perspective, and hopefully do so to the depth I have managed previously.

A day of meetings. Primary job was to make sure that everyone had completed their jobs from the last week's task list, and to hand out the next lot. Me and Jules had done everything, excluding jules' documentation of the set pieces he was working on, thats been continued into the next week. Adam had done everything needed, and then some, his work on this is incredible, check out his screen grabs over at Dave is still working on the bike model, but has made good progress given his lack of experience with the 3D software. A key fear for me and Jules is Ed, who is our coder, and we haven't seen since day 1 on the game. He has been ill, and Jules took on the job on tuesday of trying to chase him up and see if he was ok. My roles as per the group's task list are...

Texture Bike, General texture work, photoshop cutscene, informally involved in set peice and level design. Edit Jules' asset list for alleyway

Well the bike and texture work was all dependant on hearing from Dave on completion of the bike, and the set piece and design work will take place through conversation, so my major job for the week was to develop this cutscene.

Jules made me a CD, which featured some crudely photoshopped images grabbed from the web put into a slideshow to set the scene. He asked me to use my 'bithellization' skills to take his idea forward, so treating his slideshow as a storyboard I decided to generate a fly-over of a newspaper to set the scene. I decided to use layered images to create a sense of 3D depth. I used flash, as I'm much more familiar with it's interface than that of after effects. I know this isn't the ideal tool, but I was up against the clock. I worked on this for the whole of wednesday, and photographed some friends

Thursday morning was spent in a lecture theatre. Sadly I got there 5 minutes late and missed the announcement of a lecture by an art lead over at codemasters the following day :( luckilly adam recorded it :). After the lecture I dragged Jules over to my flat to look at the current build of the opening, all placeholder imagery at that point. He liked it, so I carried on with the same film. Key issues were raised against the soundtrack I was using, so I simply removed it, me and Jules are going to sit down together and cherry pick the music needed later.

Finished the cutscene (with placeholder timing for now), but didn't have time to show it to anyone as I had to go to my part-time job.

Showed it to everyone via the server Jules set up for Mirror. What, you'd like to see it?.. ahh go on then

Adam and Jules like it, and I got some positive feedback via the animation newport forum, so hopefully that's pretty complete. I also did the edit on Jules that I had to do this week as per my task list.

Right, that's me done for now

Monday, February 20, 2006

a day off!

No post yesterday, as I was having a day off (a rare thing for me at the moment). I played videogames, went down the pub and had a meal with my girlfriend, so the perfect day. Woke up this morning, ready to get back to work.

Am going to work on Diorama this afternoon, so that work will be in the dev diary for tommorow (a big day tommorow with my two tuesday meetings). This morning I carried on working on the crest graphic I'm doing. I've done some alterations and added some extra things for the client.

Sorry for the micro post, but there's gonna be a lot to read tommorow, I assure you

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Hoodies are really hard to draw!

had a well earnt lie in this morning, ate two bagels and sat down with a sketchbook. My goal was to work on the concept for the main character in the diorama project.. here's my dev diary for today

Dev Diary: Day 12 - 18/02/2006
The difficulty of drawing hoodies

This morning was spent trying to develop the main character concept. I'd got a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do based on a conversation with Jules last week, based around an image he had found. The picture showed a protestor squaring off against a riot police officer. He wore a hoodie which hid much of his form, and gave him mystery. He had a horrible tuft of hair on his chin and a perpetual scowl. Me and Jules felt that we had found our character.

A key consideration was bringing him into the game in a visual and textural sense. This first draft features the white paint lines of the priests who the character follows, but applied in a haphazard way which emphasizes his aggresive and dissilusioned character. I've done away with the bag in this version, as I felt it would obscure his form, but this is open to debate with my team.

Here is a picture of where i'm at so far

i really hate the fingers on the guy's right hand :)

right.. thats me done for now.. I gotta go get ready for work

Friday, February 17, 2006

making good on my promise (soon)

I finished the road safety film! Well, until I show it to the client. But for the time being it's looking good. I will put the video online sometime soon, along with a proper portfolio site. Watch this space.. so here's what I've been up to for the last couple of days...

Design odd-jobs
Well, I've pretty much completed the election poster designs I spoke of earlier, but they basically look the same design wise as before, so I won't post them up again. I'm doing some business cards for another guy, but the meatiest small scale project I'm currently working on is restoring a family crest from tapetry and furniture.. this is where I'm at so far

Road Safety
Done.. Yay! sorry, I just wanna keep reminding myself of that

TV project
I'm in design limbo on this one, watiting to hear from the producer, I think I'm meant to be going for a coffee metting with him in the next week or two

Elephant Arms
On the back burner, but he keeps appearing randomly in sketch books whilst I try to work on my other stuff

Yes, you guessed it.. its dev diary time!!!

Dev Diary: Day 11 - 17/02/2006
Bugs Bugs Bugs

The last couple of days I've been quite busy in other areas of my life. However the key issue NtROPy wise was that of the bugs. I posted my bugs in an alley photoshop on the forum for our team, and was immediately critiqued by Jules. He felt that the bugs were 'purty' but not in any way intimidating. I understood his point, but completely dissagreed with it, as I didn't think the enemy had to neccesarily scream out 'nasty'. We seem to have come up with a compromised design of leader, larger bugs, surrounded by smaller escorts. These are more imposing, but maintain the style I wanted. heres a concept pic.. complete with an early attempt at the main character.. but there is a lot more work to do there...

goodnight, and godbless

ps.. splinter cell CT is way better than it has any right to be, plus it's gonna prevent me from playing Ico for a few days.. for shame

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

sorry... I broke my promise

No roadsafety imagery today, as I have to go to work... here's my dev diary for the day.

Dev Diary: Day 9 - 15/02/2006
A larger scope, a smaller job

Had a meeting at Allt-yr-in today with the team minus Ed. The main purpose was to discuss the project, and work out the geography for it. Jules and Adam came up with an enormous level featuring the alleyways, along with a plaza, warehouse and railway tracks. I pointed out that this was an enormous undertaking, so we decided that, for the time being, we would focus on the warehouse scene. Jules has mapped out the route, and passed it to Adam to have for Tuesday. We also spoke about the challenges presented by the interface, and I have suggested not having a HUD, but having energy levels for the cycle displayed on it, creating visual feedback for the player. I continue to sketch out main character concepts, as well as trying to develop the flying bots design.

The flying bots have been the focus for me today. I suggested the idea of creating an insect like swarm of nanobots (inspired by seeing 'prey' by Michael Crichton on my shelf this morning). I'm going to have to build on it, but I envision a swarm of electronic bugs. They would move close to the character, trying to shock them with built in tazer waves. Here's an alteration of a photo online, featuring the characters, note the reinforcements flowing round from the right, which would be a way of upping the difficulty for more talented players.

- btw.. in a couple of weeks we will be needing testers. If you own Half Life 2, and would like to be involved, post a comment. Also, please spread the word via your blogs if at all possible.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

valentine's day.

lol, given the day today I am rather busy, but had a couple of meetings which were very relevant to the development of the Diorama project, so had to post a Dev Diary before I forget it all. No pictures today I'm afraid, although if you're all very good I will post a host of pictures from the soon to be completed road safety video tommorow.

Dev Diary: Day 8 - 14/02/2006
The pitch is presented to the group and lecturers

Today featured two meetings. Both were primarily based around the pitch, the first in the morning with the design team, and in the afternoon the coders were involved also. I presented the pitch written yesterday, although I altered the tone as Jules was not keen on the police persuers being only an 'implied presence'. I accepted this point, and we asked the group for their thoughts on that, along with general advice. Their key views were;
  • The game was too complicated and featured too many assets. We were asked, for the time being at least, to focus on one area of gameplay, the bike or on foot segment. We chose the bike segment, mainly because it was so different to what other groups were doing. We also felt that this would lead to some really interesting level designs
  • There needed to be a real sense of danger pushing the player on at all times. Barry suggested the HL2 man-hacks as an example, that having a swarm of entites chasing the bike through the air would be reasonably simple to produce, and add real pace and fear.
  • It was suggested that the bike needed to look good from behind, as the game is third person. The same with the rider.. this will inform our further design.

We then wrote up a task list for this week, so we could present it to the programmers. I've reproduced the list here;

Mike - Conceptual art for the main character, texture work once models start being made, story redraft (trying to fix off a back narrative to inform everyone's designs and code), designs for the follower bots

Jules - Work with mike on follower bots. Intorducing self to photoshop. Developing set peices for the game

Adam - Blocked placeholder geometry.. ie making traversable space of blocks representing the buildings and obstructions in the final level. White textures only.. just to keep everything clear.

Ed - Tieing physics engine into bike. Start off simply using a cube resized to the dimensions Dave gives you, then incorporate his model when it's done

Dave - Model Bike. Then start work on modeling the amended world asset list (bear in mind that YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO MODEL EVERYTHING YET! )

The sum total of all this should, in theory, be traversable working environment which we can start building upon and working back into in the following weeks. Hopefully this time next week I will be able to post this up.

Tommorow I have to meet up with the team to map out the bike route, as well as going into the uni to edit the road safety film together.

Anyway, I have to go now, gotta start work on the Gnocchi :)

Monday, February 13, 2006

a mix of a day

Really starting to get worried about my inability to sleep now, it's been building for a few days now, comming to a head last night with some weird sleep deprived sketches. For that reason I had a lie in this morning, and then had to go into town to buy up ingredients for the meal I'm cooking my girlfriend tommorow (I have trouble heating up a frozen pizza).

Anyway.. in the limited time I've had I've completed the shots on the road safety video. I just need to cut it all together now and present it to the client. Based on what they say I may be able to wrap it, or alternatively work back into it. Completing this project has reminded me that I have to have a web site to hold my work, as I'd really like to show this video off. So that'll be the next project.

And as for the Diorama project...

Dev Diary: Day 7 - 13/02/2006
A redesign on the bike, and a pitch for our idea

Today I put in a couple of hours on the project. Jules had objections to my bike, referring to it as a 'kid's bicycle'. Though I didn't feel that was entirely true, I did feel there were ways I could extend the bike to make it look a bit better. I have combined a sketch he did for me, and my original design, to come up with something of a compromise. This has been presented to the group via the forum, hopefuly we can iron this out in tomorow's design and production meetings.
My other job for the week was to produce the design brief.. I've placed it on the forum, but here it is for the readers of my blog...

The game begins at dusk. A student stands amongst the protestors in the middle of a crowded road. Reaching down slowly into his bag he pulls out a homemade bomb. As he lifts it up those around him back off in horror, screaming for him to stop. He doesn't listen, throwing it at one of the riot police surrounding the protestors. It explodes, killing instantly a number of police. Running out of the group through the hole he has made he smashes the padlock on a nearby electric bike, jumping onto it and speeding down a back alley.

The gameplay can roughly be split into two sections. The first takes place on the back of the motorcycle, speeding through back alleys and accross the smaller roads of the city. This incorporates simple driving dynamics and physics to produce exciting gameplay. The second section takes place on foot, as the character is forced from his bike by a depleted energy cell. He runs and leaps accross rooftops chased by police helicopters, the animations involved making use of parkour movements in order to produce exciting and dynamic characterization. The player can lose in two ways, either by falling to their death in the rooftop section, or by slowing down too much and being caught by the ever present police persuers

Primary Challenges
- vehicle physics and implementation (produced by modifying HL2's buggy code)
- main character moddelling and animation
- world building and texturing
- sound work

Advantages of this Concept
- enemy presence can be implied by sound and lighting, no need to model and animate multiple characters and vehicles
- all based on code employed in the original HL2 solo campaign
- simple control system that's instantly accessible to players.

Right, thats it for the day.. i'm gonna go play splinter cell ct (7.99 in Game, a bargain) and have a rest :)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

work, save, work.. repeat

the laws of working creatively with a computer

- Do not trust your computer.. it will betray you the first chance it gets
- Do not trust those who fix your computer, they wait for this betrayal then screw you over
- Save every ten minutes to avoid the problems created by the first 2 laws
- Forget the third law at your peril.

And so I lost 3 hours work, and my processor seems to be on the brink.. will have to call for help in replacing it (luckily I have a 3 year cover plan, unluckily it's with PC world)

That said, the roadsafety video is going really well (despite having to redo my work for today twice)... my rocket van is now in space.. take a look

yep.. i'll explain the zebra at some point.

A larger post when I can, I promise.. if i disapear for a couple of days then my computer died :'(

Saturday, February 11, 2006

will work for pixels

Yesterday was an odd day. I had a day shift at the pub, so I didn't really do anything towards any of my ongoing projects. I did however take on some odd design jobs from a couple of the regulars. I'm doing some business cards for one guy, and a website and poster for a guy who's running for Student President here at the University, here's the poster I did for him (the picture is a placeholder from a Computer Arts CD, as I don't have a pic of him yet.

The most interesting project I've inherrited is using photography of furniture and fabric samples to reconstruct a coat of arms. A great little project, and one I'm being paid in advance for (shadow of collosus, here I come).

Today, of course, my focus has again been on the concept art for the diorama game. So.. it's time to do another exciting Dev Diary (feel free to just scroll past it for the pretty picture at the end)

Dev Diary: Day 5 - 11/02/2006
A missing picture, and a new approach to Bike Design

As explained in earlier entries, the first half of the game takes place on a motorcycle. That gives us one major design job. I've been sketching that bike for a week now, using reference imagery of bikes from a number of books. Because I know I'll forget to reference them later, here they are

HOUGH, R & SETRIGHT, L.J.K. 1977. A History of the World of Motorcycles. 3rd edn. Surrey: Biddles Ltd.

How Things Work 1. 1972. Great Britain: Hunt Barnard Web Offset Ltd.

VAN DER PLAS, R. 1991. Bicycle Technology. San Fransisco: Bicycle Books, Inc.

Also based on an early sketch Jules did his version, which I have now lost (sorry Jules) but which pushed the design in a more streamlined direction. The result looks more like a bicycle, as the electric motor which would be present in a bike in the next ten years would take up far less space. The sketches which show the progression to this design will be in my final design dev diary, but for now heres the height of where I'm at now

thanks for reading :)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

getting down to the concept art

I've done a bit of work on the road safety film today, but my focus has been on the diorama project (i refuse to call it NtROPy, I hate leet speak and I hate pompus puns). Sorry, but I have to use the right language again.. but don't worry, there's some nice new pictures at the end.

Dev Diary : Day 3 - 09/02/2006
An impromptou meeting and the resulting sketches

Had a lecture today with Barry, which had the bonus of collecting 4 of the design guys on the project, who between us represented 3 of the 4 groups. Jules called a meeting (which he has always been a fan of doing, and we gathered in the bar with my sketchbook and a pile of ideas). Our goal was to try to build up some shared designs between us, so as to create consistency and to push forward the design elements which all 4 projects share. With that in mind people spoke as I sketched. The final results (with additional wacom colouring) are at the end of the post.

The first issue was that of the riot police costume. Most of the guys there had a pretty good idea of how modern day teams dressed. Most of the sketches I'd done so far were either the combine from HL2, or Fatman from MGS2.. it wasn't that I was plagerising, it was just that I was following the same design trajectory as previous design teams (something I'm reasonably proud of actually, as both games feature great character design). In conversation though the group felt the need to 'Brit-up' the riot gear, so the helmet was raised to resemble a bobby's helmet, and the green colour was added so as to make the characters slightly more militaristic. The idea of glow in the dark gear was raised, but that didn't make it into these sketches.

The other key job was the priests. My designs for the protestor's being in average joe costumes were liked, but the head dress I designed felt against the religious dogma of the priests, as they were all about individual freedom and liberation. Therefore more face had to be visible. A simple, messiah like, character was arrived upon. He would wear simple hand made clothes, forgoing technology. Another key change was to alter the red colour to white. This was felt by several of the guys to be more representative of the pure, individualistic nature of the group. The bright white light that they would see on being removed from the world which they did not believe. The facepaint represents this colour, but the lines also make the link to the barcode shape, which also has societal connotations. It would be rough, as if applied with the outstretched fingers of the priest's hand. These shapes would extend to the back of the head, so making the characters more interesting if seen from behind

... ok.. so here are the pics

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

diorama becomes 'NtROPy'

A busy day today,

First on the Road Safety video, I've done a couple more shots.. including that super cool rocket transform.. almost, almost added a transformers sound effect.. i resisted though. I'll carry on with it tommorow, hopefully I'll get another chunk done.

The big job today was my Diorama project. From now on I have to keep a development diary for the project, so expect a lot more information than I usually post. The development diary will be signalled by this text...

Dev Diary : Day 1 - 07/02/2006
First design meeting and initial meeting with group

The day started with a conversation between design students on the context and content of the game. We looked at the narrative treatment that Dr Mike (the AI lecturer) had put forward, and adapted and extended it so as to create an engaging experience within the remit of the project. His story was a Deus Exesque conspiracy thriller with two warring factions and the player stuck in the middle. They were the genre's usual religion vs millitary types. We developed this narrative by drawing back to a much simpler, and smaller scale. We decided to make the game focus on the origin story, how the conflict actually began. The overall narrative is one of a protest got wrong, and a city wide riot resulting. Each group (2 designers 3 programmers) will create a small story within the context of the game's world.

After sandwiches with Jules (and a run for the bus) we relocated to the other campus, to meet with the programmers. I got the job of pitching our alterations, which people seemed happy and engaged with. After a cringeworthy 'introduction' excercise, we split up working out groups. Me and Jules beelined towards each other, then towards Adam (who was the only programming student I knew, and one who me and Jules know is good). We then set about chatting about where we wanted to take our segment. We decided to make a game about the person who causes the riots. After breaking up a peaceful protest by throwing a grenade at the police, the player takes over, riding a motorcycle away, followed by a rooftop chase in an attempt to escape. This offers some neat design work, as well as some meaty vehicle simulation for the programmers. We each took our to do list, and went off to work on the game

new tasks set for me today
Bike Concept art - deadline: next week
Pitch documentation - deadline: next week


I'm gonna have to write alot in that diary, oh well, it'll beef up my blog I guess. Heres some concept imagery I did today.. protestors and headgear for their leaders. I thought revolution red could tie together the many disperate characters which would be involved in the protest, and give a sense of visual consistency. Those that are in high positions would wear clothing designed to feature the colour, whilst their followers have added accessories and face paint to create the look.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


Sorry for the lack of posts, just had my head down creating assets for this road safety film. Here's a screen grab from flash of one of the shots I'm working on right now

Its looking good, although I intend to play a bit with the colour scheme. Bear in mind that it's meant to look like a kid's collage.

I'm looking forward to the next shot.. the van turns into a rocket ship, and ever since buying a dvd copy of the transformers movie I've wanted to give that a go. I will have to go source some clunking metal sounds for that tho.. ohh, and fire sounds. Luckily I have a mate at the university who is far better with sound effects work than I am.

More updates on my other projects when I actually do some work on them :).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

shakey weekend

Wow.. lots of stuff to report on the ongoing projects.. I think I'll split everything off into individual projects.. as each has started to grow only slightly out of control. Oh, and there's now a couple more.

Elephant Arms
After having some conversations with colleagues I've worked out a final design for the character, won't be uploading it for a while, as I'm concentrating on prototyping the gameplay. I will be uploading that when I have it in a suitable state. So far I've found a couple of problems with the gameplay design I described earlier, but that's lead to some pretty cool solutions. More on that as I continue to prototype it.

TV show
Heard back from the guy I'm working for (he'd been having some technical problems). I'm meeting with him in a couple of weeks to discuss the direction to take next.. Hopefully with some storyboards and finalized character designs.

A new one. This is my next game as part of my degree course. I'll be collaborating with another designer and three programmers to produce playable 3D game content. Should be interesting, as I've done very little in this new-fangled third dimension. Have yet to meet my team, and it will probably be randomly decided by the lecturers, but I've got my fingers crossed for Jules from Mirror. Our skill sets complimented each other really well, and it was great to work with someone completely willing to tell me he thought what I was doing was crap, and accept the same back. A part of the grade is based on our ability to write about our progress and keep diaries, so expect my posts to contain plenty of detail on this one.. my first meeting is on Tuesday.

Road Safety
Another new one, well an old one really. The animation students of the university have been producing safety videos for kids (think those Hedgehog adverts 'look, listen, live'). They've apparently got a couple left that need doing, so I'm going to help out with that. Should bolster my animation and editing skills, and provide me with a decent piece for my showreel. The money is nice too :). More on that when I know what specifically I'm doing, and indeed if I'm actually needed.

Well, that's all for now.. hopefully I'll have something pretty to upload for the next post