A Curious Case of inConsistency

A strange week it was indeed. Highs and lows all over. After a great weekend of Reenactment we returned feeling elated. With a busy morning starting with of course the important activity of playing more The Last of Us, sadly the last time I would this entire week, which then led to preparing for my first ever Job Interview. This involved testing a collection of suit jackets all of which felt perhaps like over-dressing for a Motion Capture Technician Role, thankfully this seemed not the case for the interview. We’re always told this is the case! Unfortunately despite my confidence in being an open character my confidence in fashion is almost non-existent. So despite being told I looked good it did take effort to go out, thankfully (like with generally being confident in personality) it actually pays off to look good when going out – surprise surprise. Strange how someone who logically applies confidence to normal situations and recognises the pay-off and advantage it brings and yet cannot apply that logic to the physicality. Or of course strange for the opposite to: One who looks fantastic on the outside and remains confident in fashion yet has no inner self confidence. Our human capability for denying logic even when it is applied successfully elsewhere in our lives is most confusing.

It turned out that as I prepared for the job interview I’d lost track of a meeting with my poor Father. Luckily it all worked out in the end as we went to a rather nice little brewhouse and kitchen near Guildhall in Portsmouth for a lovely catch up talk. After which the interview went swimmingly. Rather informal and just a general chat to see what the job was about. It was all incredibly positive however I cannot know the outcome of this until Monday.

So now actually onto the Course which the blog was set up to tackle…! The Define Games lecture was a lengthy talk n the history of “Gaming Platforms” being the consoles or PCs which have defined the progress of games. The benefits for example of designing games for Xbox over an Arcade system for instance. We had a look at poor Nintendo and their release of The Nintendo Switch. Which, in my mind, does not look like something that would take off. Not only this when a room packed with 150 hardcore gamers gets asked if they’d be interested in considering a Nintendo Switch a month into release only about 18, if that, put their hands up. Sadly the downside to the lecture was its length and the fact that it again was rather self-explanatory, which they did also address. A final interesting point in the lecture was to consider some games as ‘platforms’ themselves. For instance the Call of Duty games which are almost a genre in themselves now. They’re a medium on which you play that specific type of game.

Tuesday began with a lecture on modelling methods about how 3D modellers choose which way to create what you see. They also hinted that actually a model is not what you see but the data that makes it happen. This means that when asked to give the model for an item you should imply the data for it in the structures which suit your choose of method rather than the actual “model” built. This was actually slightly harder to understand than previous lectures and was some satisfying brain food that suggested the complexities of what will come later. The day also harboured a playthrough of Dark Souls 3’s new DLC which is available on my YouTube channel. Despite incredible area design and a fantastic final boss it was brought down by some strange design decisions and its unsatisfying length mixed with a non-existent conclusion which left many individuals asking “Now what” once completing the set task.

Sadly Wednesday became the beginning of a strange and seemingly lengthy time of feeling utterly awful. Seemingly lengthy because now looking back at it only being Wednesday I haven’t been feeling bad for long but instead it feels like weeks! Missing an important lecture to recover, thankfully knowing that there would be a repeat of said lecture on Friday. This does however mean I am now more or less a week behind on coding which is not good considering the work is noticeably a lot more independent and complex from now on. Wednesday did end with a fantastic Boxing session with the University boxing union which does keep me motivated for that in the future.

Thursday did go quite nicely despite still having difficulty getting motivated. More art involving charcoal which does seem to be something I can do, at some point the pictures should be uploaded to this website so keep an eye and I shall warn you when they do. Jiu Jitsu that evening also went well aside from the fact that all the submission holds previously learnt had been forgetting meaning all I could do was hold someone off as long as possible till I would go down.

Friday started with the Game Tech Demo lecture where four groups had to present their ideas. Many seemed quite professionally done however they were behind some other groups, including our own, and unfortunately the lecturer said decisions really ought to be made by this point. Due to this as our group left the lecture we quickly decided on Blender as our 3D modelling tool as it is free and our 3D modellers seemed comfortable with it despite us now learning 3DS Max. More details on this in the BSc Computer Games Technology section on this website. The rest of the day involved some concept art for a new project in Image Creation which asks us to draw concept art for a humanoid character. Mine will be a Sir Daniel Fortesque inspired character due to my love for the old Medievil franchise. If curiosity kills your cats then do google search results for Sir Daniel Fortesque and I’m sure you’ll be greeted by his affably skeletal tones.

To conclude this weeks blog it has been a strange seemingly bridge week. Now that it is over finding out whether I have this job is the first step and then to catch up/complete various pieces of work is the next or vice versa.

Fear not, passion for the course remains but it is just a case of being physically under the weather more than anything.

 

Practice makes Permanent

 

One month in and I’ll be honest. I missed my first lectures this week. Two of them in fact, and on the same day. Thankfully, according to the many supportive individuals all studying in the course, nothing too much was missed; nothing that couldn’t be salvaged from a quick trip to Portsmouth’s own Virtual Learning Environment “Moodle” for the powerpoint. So Monday’s first lecture was actually one ePortfolio one simply saying what’s already been said meanwhile the later one was about Analysis vs Reviewing games. Once again the text speaks for itself but of course it is necessary to know. The difference between Analysis and Review is one is a subjective look at the art while the other is a critical objective approach. Which being which is self-explanatory. The first reason for missing lecture was a lack of timetable reading skills, perhaps a powerpoint would be useful to explain the components needed to improve on this, and the other was an incredibly in-depth and meaningful philosophical conversation with a flatmate and admittedly I wouldn’t trade those for the world.

Monday did hold perhaps one thing video-game related. Year Walk is an interactive exploration of Swedish folklore that… little did I know… was a horror game. Here Avastrat goes on a jolly walk through the wood, approaches the well-drawn form of a mildly haunting singing women. You’re tasked with following her into this hollowed out tree to then solve a puzzle which could have simply been solved through luck. Then finally you draw near to her and… Her face contorts and lurches forward with an ear-rending scream. This somewhat put me into a cold sweat for the rest of the playthrough but braving on I continued for as long as I could until completing it later that evening. To all those curious to see this panic it is available on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eURd0bdeO2s

Tuesday was far more “Productive” with another free day! This time however our Game Tech Demo group had an excellent meeting which put our confidence up. Game Design documents will now be our project for next week including an asset list to understand what steps need to be taken. Another incredibly important point is that I was lent “The Last of Us” which is considered by many to be the game of the decade (Though that’s certainly a large statement) but almost universally accepted as the game of 2013. Having not known the hype and been in the dark on this game for 3 years I’ve finally gotten my hands on it and… It’s most definitely good. More than that I have yet to say having played only about 4-6 hours in which clunky controls and stupid deaths have gotten in the way of an otherwise immersive game. My best description is an interactive and amazing series of The Walking Dead, that’s a compliment!

Wednesday was interesting with another coding workshop which re-inspired the logical side with an interesting array of ‘And’, ‘If’ and ‘Else’ statements which decide what happens if certain variables are met. Completing this and yet not having completed Week 3’s workshop it would be until Friday that Week 3 was finally completed. After another mini-meeting for the group with three of us doing some concept art inspired by iRobot, Ex Machina, Star Wars and Portal. Conor had some exceptional designs which we’re all mighty excited to see implemented. After was an optional talk on the post-production team called “Envy” who use the industry-standard Avid to work on TV shows like “The Voice” to produce the final product. It was incredibly interesting and humbling to hear that the poor guy gets 140 CVs a week applying for jobs. So he was basically saying keep it to a paragraph or two and then present the cv while also personalising it to Envy, the company like to feel special like any other. This Avid talk was all new to me so it was good to get a little insight to the Television side of the industry. In Envy everyone starts as a runner, simply doing the teas and coffees, but progress can come at anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months depending on your adeptness at the software etc. After this I attended part of a weekly life drawing session where I was greeted with this stark naked man on a stool. Once the initial shock had worn down it was time to prepare the tools and draw. Unfortunately too much had been done this day and with the mind jellified I left thinking the student rep meeting was at 4 not 5. Thankfully this gave a much needed break involving rice pudding and more “The Last of Us”.

Finally the Student Representative meeting was good fun but still not particularly informative as to what specifically we do either way people seemed to like the idea of fortnightly course lunches implemented. So that’s the first goal, based on what happened on that first day last month.

Thursday involved another drawing session and this one came to great success, artwork may eventually be presented on this website and I will endeavour to warn you when this is the case! Either way it helped to reinvigorate me while also showing that charcoal is a utensil I felt drawing, perhaps because it avoids the fear of having to use colour in images… All this excitement and the fact that there was an interesting talk moments after packing up led me to leaving the art folder in the room and wandering down in deep conversation. Typical. It was indeed a great conversation which also made me late for study support to help with Week 3’s coding. Maybe I’m being too honest on this blog, but as Henry in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” says: “One should never do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner”. If there’s a life lesson to learn from that novel it should most definitely be this. Thankfully the support, which admittedly I thought was in groups and turned out to be 1 to 1 (a good sign for all those who wish for it), was still there and so structures in coding were explained enough for me to finish it the next day. Thursday night involved a much needed chill out session with close friends eating pancakes and later playing Halo and trying Gears of War for the first time, not my cup of tea but I do like the taste of Earl Grey and Fennel Tea so I’m a bit weird anyway.

Friday was another chatty day for this rather chatty guy. Reading back over the blog presents the life lesson “Talk less”. Yet Henry from Doria… Nevermind. Except such talking has led to some new individuals being introduced into these exciting times. From freerunners to friendly freshers; everyone was interesting and I await more great days getting to know these people! With an evening booked to get me having a couple of drinks, which thankfully didn’t happen, we had a great night anyway involving 3 contrasting games of Pool. Perhaps luckily this blogger typically only likes the more expensive stuff and even then doesn’t find them satisfying enough to guzzle down one after the other so instead will happily break into some Port and Cheese on a Sunday evening, I did warn you I’m weird. The first game of Pool involved losing disastrously meanwhile the second being a tense match with the winning move being a beautiful shot placing the black ball into the hole… followed by the white. Having not played in a long time this meant that this rule was long forgotten so after a quick victory dance I was told we lost. The final game however was a resurgence that could only be dreamed of with some incredible shots from both teams but my friend and I’s assured victory…

Hang on. This is a blog about Computer Games Technology not Tabletop Game Stories!

Perhaps a slightly less productive week but one that ims the beginning of a balancing act which shall come through practice. After that disappointing session of MMA a couple of weeks ago there is still one thing I remember. The teacher scrapped the idea of Practice makes perfect because if you practice badly then you wont be perfect, you’ll be bad. So instead told us that Practice makes Permanent. If you practice perfect then you will be permanently perfect. Maybe this week was bad practice but it is a step in the right direction for University life, unless of course you readers would highly object to this statement. Let us learn from the mistakes and also the benefits of all this talking to find that perfect practice for us to make permanent.

Programming your Life

Despite a positive and productive week perhaps my proudest achievement was this Sunday’s marathon of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. Having strangely not read a book properly in a couple of years, regardless of the fact that prior to stopping I was an avid reader, it was time to sit down with a classic whose name has rung in my head for a long time. What I learnt from this new novel is that as long as I don’t act like Dorian Gray in these next four years Computer Games Technology should be a fun ride. Unfortunately however this is not the place for a discussion on classical literature so let us jump straight in at Monday’s ePortfolio meeting!

According to our lecturer, the affable Peter Howell, this unit can actually be done in not longer than an hour and yet is the most failed unit of them all. People consider it “pointless”, as spoken about in one of the previous blog posts. Poor Peter begged our year to be different from the last few and to actually complete this unit because it does attribute to your degree and is therefore not pointless considering how easy it would be to simply complete and hand in.

Speaking of Peter he was interestingly involved on the level scripting for Amnesia: The Dark Descent and explains how he never wishes to see another door in that game again, because most of those he had to script using a rather buggy engine. Amnesia Machine for Pigs he also explained was going to be far better than the product and how most of the game was sadly removed for some reason or another. So there’s a bit of industry insight for all ye Horror game fans.

Soon after this meeting we had another Define Games lecture. This’ll be weekly, so please bear with me… I’m sure a lot of the same things will crop up again and again! It was more or less continuations of last few weeks with talk on what makes games games. An interesting tidbit that did stir the brain was a definition that suggested players should be “Emotionally attached to the outcome”, can you think of a game that you’d bother playing if you weren’t? Personally it is surprisingly apt at defining most games I’ve played, if I wasn’t emotionally attached to the outcome even if it were simply for the feeling of victory then why even pick up the game in the first place. Mobile games maybe, but even that is about the satisfaction of the moment to moment gameplay. In the lecture we did a “Bot or not” quiz to see whether poetry was written by humans or bots. Worth checking out and does show how AI and computers are beginning to be capable of replicating the art of humanity perhaps for games as well in the future.

A reality check for some but also simply a logical conclusion is the concept that games need money to be made, money requires people’s support and people like and look for fun in most games. So the unfortunate side to making games is you also need to make money therefore, like in film, theatre and all the rest; if an idea couldn’t make money no matter how innovative or unique it will probably not be made.

The term Systemic also raised its head, perhaps worth a note,  which suggests games consist of players, technology and the program acting together in a system. This implicates that player input is necessary for the game to act, logical I suppose but it can point out the idea that in some games a player could be doing something quite unique to the system and is almost creating something unintended. Look at Minecraft perhaps, the combination of blocks to form a structure no-one else has accomplished. As a player you’re almost coding the system into that unique shape.

Tuesday saw a lecture in 3D modelling which was jam packed with more logical and fundamental concepts which perhaps could go without saying but are so important it is worth saying anyway. Such as the conversion from 3D world space in a program to the 2D viewing angle which you see on your monitor is simply called “Projection”, who’d have thunk?

Perspective projection is also what it says on the tin as it replicates a human perspective within a game engine. Showing the 3D models from various angles depicted as we would see a real world object.

Terms like “Clipping window” suggest what we see through the camera plane which then projects that data to our monitor. It does perhaps show just how much work computers do moment to moment when running engines or rendering games. It is all instant on the monitor and yet there are hundreds of micro-processes happening in milliseconds to make that response time.  The measurement for clipping plane distance, how far one can see, is called view volume and dependent on that variable is where the near and far clipping planes are. So trees load on the far clipping plane so that you can see them in the distance whereas maybe leaves do not. We were taught to recognise the individual co-ordinate systems within the world co-ordinates in a program like 3DS Max. Each 3D model has its own co-ordinates as one would when standing in the real world. For the computer to render the viewing angle or camera it has to have its own co-ordinate system.

Many seemed to think it was complex and it does sound it but it is far more simple when recognised it is basically a way of the computer processing how to simulate the real world. These processes run through in order is called the “Graphics Pipeline”.

So the next few days did somewhat blur together giving you all a break from the incessant ramblings for some shorter snappier descriptions.

So on the Wednesday we had a recruitment fair which seemed oh so useful for everyone but Computer Games Technology. Thankfully my safety net plan is to finish University and study for a PGCE, long story as to what inspired me but in short my Primary School headteacher was a legend, and there was a teaching talk to accommodate this. To put the icing on the cake for this plan was the idea that even when you do a PGCE and get a scholarship to do so you are not committed to immediately start teaching. It may seem a bit cheeky to do all that work and then not teach but the plan is to study and in the meantime get some game/s made, perhaps also getting that Grade 8 Singing theory nailed while on the job. If that were to kick off then the world could perhaps be my oyster but if it were not to there’s either the industry to join or a teacher to become. Both of which are safe and reasonable options for someone who struggles with job-think.

Straight after this, Wednesday was a wonderfully busy day, was the meeting for a little in-house University project involving game development which sadly I doubt I can talk about. Yet there’s an opening for a First Year managerial position which sounds perfect. That application is going straight in my basket.

Finally to wrap it all up there’s the excitement of programming structures with a long workshop to code a football system… Fun… With football not being a particular favourite (myself being a hipster when it comes to sports) nor coding lengthy scripts being top of my enthrallment radar admittedly I’m a little bit behind. Let’s hope Peter will get around to structuring his routines, schedules and his codes. Is it too late for him to turn his life around? Find out:

NEXT WEEK!

Be Prepared

With less to say but plenty more done this next week more or less continues from the last beginning with discussing more of the definition of games. It was useful reading the textbook as this set both myself and another student up well to deliver our excitable definition of Video Games.

First however we had a lecture on our ePortfolio. This is a unit entirely on creating a website which gives a portfolio of completed work. Well… Suits me. This is all online and many argued the lecture didn’t need to happen as the resources are on the university ‘moodle’ page but it was necessary as without it many would be unaware of the importance of our portfolio including most who complained.

Defining Games was far more interesting with our look at current definitions of “Video Game” from philosophers, dictionaries and the industry-standard. All surprisingly are either too vague or too broad. After ten minutes of discussion we were all to present one. My compatriot was immediately triggered by the influence “fun” and “entertainment” had around the room despite the prevalence of games which instead invite experiences or training. So with great discussion we formulated one which seemed fairly solid however it remains perhaps too broad to be industry-standard.

“An interactive digital system of rules and signs, given meaning through interpretation”

Despite its focus on digital and interactivity so therefore definitely defining a game the problem lies in breadth. We attempted to define a video game and yet this could also define a Wikipedia page game or a game using texts over the phone.

We also discussed what features a game typically has and why. This led us to brushing over fundamental human needs and survival and then noticing how many games fulfilled these criteria in our lives for instance in finding shelter and gathering resources. There was also a slide showing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a general approach to our basic human needs. Other theories were presented including Roger Callois latin words suggesting the different types of games. Most of which is at least briefly mentioned in the unit textbook (Game Design and Development -Fundamentals of Game Design – Ernest Adams and Andrew Rollings).

The next few days was more of the same from last week. We investigated variables and how to avoid making mistakes in your code. Again this was fundamentals so nothing too exciting for the few veterans that littered the workshop.

Our group meeting for the project demo proved incredibly productive as our settled idea begins. This wasn’t the only time we’d meet that week as our Friday lecture involved a bonding quiz, typical ice-breaker, and a talk on Tuckman’s group theory “forming, storming, norming and performing” which he advised us to study.

Meanwhile the next drawing class came with a draw-back in my case. Freshers Flu had caused an eternal hunger. After a couple of life model forms drawn using a technique involving not looking at the paper the stomach refused further work. The things we do for food.

Speaking of Fresher’s Flu. Some have had it bad, others worse. It is unfortunate but it is likely to happen. Be prepared.

Let Them Come

Three weeks in and now having to write for week two. With the culmination of events leading to this point time has swept away both extraordinarily quickly and yet dutifully slowly. When reflecting on the days the calendar has moved apace but thinking on the present moment the hours gently drift. Having been one mostly in command of the time following the motto: “You don’t have time, you make time”; University even surprised myself. Supposing you do sign up to all those unions and actually attend them then you really will be busy. Though not everyone signs up to Jiu Jitsu, Tabletop RPGs, LARP, Boxing, Rowing, Climbing and fits in a Radio show on the side; At least know that Computer Games Technology has had noticeably fuller weeks than more traditional courses.

So let’s jump right into the beginning of week 2:

The lecturer that last week took us to the pub had given me the chance to attend a third year lecture further clocking up contacts and understanding of the next four years. This opportunity was nigh and so off went a first year to his lecture without battery on his phone. With much flurry at realising the lecture hall number was nestled within an email I embarked onto some stranger’s phone to log in and retrieve details. On entering I was ushered into a seat and so began an excellently led and highly amusing talk on the third year compulsory project.

It was magnificent.

It confirms that by that point we actually will know what we are doing and that we will be capable of working in the industry. A variety of choices were displayed all of which asked for by professional clients. Working products must be completed to the necessary degree for military, medical or social purposes. A VR historical theatre; A VR Aircraft Carrier simulation to train certain tasks; testing a new Military engine designed to outmatch ARMA’s current engine; An Augmented Reality Mary Rose game for the local exhibition; and Audazzle a company that intends to have games made for the deaf or hard-of-hearing. All sounded wonderfully challenging but most importantly possible.

With much fervor, though interspersed with personal and emotional developments typical of both the age and the settling in, the next few days were embarked upon.

Coding started well. Taught from the ground up and at a snail’s pace the first few weeks, much to the dismay of coders with previous experience, the fundamentals were ingrained immediately. The IDE (Integrated Software Development Environment) we are using is Visual Studio 13 which can be, as a student, downloaded onto your home computer to practice with. It is nice enough to use especially with the basics but perhaps those with more experience would prefer something else. As this is not my expertise I shall refrain from commenting further.
We were given hints and tips in reference to games and what coding needs to do for instance providing output – what you give to the player for interacting. This is fundamental to video games and it is also the coders job to put it into practice. Much to my luck and not to many others we must also begin a coding blog to post online updating the lecturers of our work.

The next unit that was begin this week was “Image Creation”. This was a joy to participate in but did come with mixed reception. We are to do life-drawing.
Concept Art is important in video-games; it is known within the industry that programmers and artists must work together more often than they would like therefore even the programmers must be taught some form of drawing and artwork. Personally it was delightful. Having always wished to learn to draw but without the patience to play around with brushes and strokes it was a chance to fulfill a dream. We even had a model who performed poses which we must use various taught techniques to reproduce on paper. According to the others he even removes his shirt, being a wrestler this was gratefully received by many in the group. I have yet to experience this aspect but considering others have been taught different techniques it should come soon and when it does, you will know.

Finally on the Friday we were set the task of creating a game demo. This seemed a little vague but with some digging we revealed that the demo must be the “minimum viable product”. The lecture was more about the assembling of the group we’d be placed into. Yes: Placed into. We had no choice. For many this has turned out well but of course some will be less pleased. Admittedly I am more than pleased with my group. We seem to gel well and get the job done. We’re all excited to begin the concept that has been proposed by the group and so onward we must march. With full access to University Facilities and supported by industry professionals this project is most definitely plausible.

There we are. A weeks worth of lecturers, seminars and workshops. This course continues to shape well and there are still more units to begin. Let them come!