November 29, 2007

Business as Usual

Today was much like any other day in terms of work. My mod team got our "prototype" done in time for demonstration today and things went pretty well overall. The demo was too early to be particularly useful (i.e. the feedback was things we already knew, but didn't have time to fix), but I guess it was a good crunch exercise...or something like that. Actually, this was more of a programming milestone than anything and that department is really gifted and committed to the project which is awesome. They really came through on this one.

I think I am getting this whole project lead thing, though I guess my team's opinion is more important than my own :). Things seem to be running smoothly, but I guess we haven't really been going long enough to hit any major hiccups. I'm pretty much up to speed with all my other work save for my FY-Iceworld map, but seeing as I don't think anyone has really started it, I'm not sweating it too much. In the end, there are so many other things going one that seem higher priority, that I'm just not stressing out over it. I'll do the best I can with it and that's it. Anyway, I think that's about it. I'm going to enjoy a little Mass Effect before I head to bed. Night, All!

November 28, 2007

Juggling Bowling Balls

"Juggling bowling balls" is just one of the colorful analogies used to describe life here at the Guildhall, and today I guess it just really hit me. I mean, every day lately has been almost completely dominated by work, but today, confronted with the sheer amount of work that stands between me and Christmas break, I had to stop and think about it all. This place can certainly overwhelm you at times, and I think one of the real keys to success here is how you manage to deal with it. Whether its confiding in a close friend, sprinting to the "light at the end of the tunnel," or just trying to find the silver lining.

Truth be told, just as I stated a week ago, I have no doubt that this is what I want to do, but that doesn't mean it doesn't get to me. I think the important thing is to keep your eye on the things that really matter and why you're here, then just figure out a way to vent all the rest of that negative stuff, however you need to. I guess this is a bit heavy for your average blog post, but maybe that at least means its interesting.

There's really not that much to update for the day. My team had a meeting for source control training this morning, then the head designer for Activision came in for a special luncheon lecture, and then we evaluated each other's DM17 maps in level design. Then when I got home I ate some dinner on got straight to work on project management stuff, finishing my programming assignment for tomorrow, and polishing up my DM17 Matinee fly-through for Friday. I'm keeping up with my regular assignments, but I haven't had a chance to do much work on my FY-Iceworld concept and the final map is due next Friday. Tomorrow afternoon is dedicated to that project so hopefully that will give me enough time to get back on track.

Well that's pretty much the state of affairs, and now I am exhausted and in need of a good night's sleep so I'll be off. Night All!

November 27, 2007

Work Ensues

Well, it seems like my posting is going to be a bit slim for a while. I will attempt to keep to my once a day policy, but I have pretty good line-of-sight on the work for the next two weeks and it isn't pretty. Many maps, projects, and assignments, all coming to a head at the same time. On a more positive note, break is just a little over two weeks away and I'm sure I'll be busy enough working that the time will just fly by.

As for classes, things are still going well. We got our final assignment for Game Development Pipeline: Mummy Freeze Tag. It's the standard assignment from what I've heard, but the task still seems daunting. Most notably, we have a prototype due Thursday, which is asking a for a ridiculous amount of work in a very short time. I have been elected as Project Lead again, with the hopes that this time I will be able to focus more on the Project Leadership duties.

Last project, we lost one of our level designers very early and the level design lead had a lot of personal stuff going on, so I had to break away from the high level stuff just in order for us to complete the assignment. We got a new level designer and the level design lead seems committed to running his team effectively so hopefully I can focus on the streamlining the whole pipeline and ensuring minimal friction between departments. I'm pretty sure it isn't what I want to do in the long run, but it is good experience and a nice change of pace from the level design crunch.

Other than that it's just standard work/projects. We need to create a basic fly-through cinematic of our DM17 map by Friday, and we have a programming project due Thursday. Then its mostly just finals and the big term projects like our Greenlight proposal for Game Studies, the FY Iceworld map for Level Design, and mummy freeze tag for Game Development Pipeline. Anyway, I'm feeling a bit exhausted so I think I'll turn in now. Night all!

November 26, 2007


It looks like that super-substantial post is going to have to wait another day. I've been a little de-motivated since coming back from Thanksgiving so I did some small personal tasks and decided I'd just play a little Mass Effect before getting to work in earnest. That was around 8:30 and I just stopped playing about a minute ago. I suppose the upside is that the game really is that good and that addicting. The downside, of course, is that I am going to need to try desperately to resist temptation as I simply do not have the time to just sit around and play games all night. Given that right now I'm pretty exhausted, I'd say my body needed a night off (I know, a strange thing to say after vacation), and I hope to wake up tomorrow refreshed and ready to go. At least somewhat...

As for Mass Effect, everyone pretty much knows that I had very high expectations for this game and so far it has met, if not exceeded, them. Obviously, it is pretty much impossible to judge an RPG without having fully experienced its story, so I will withhold any judgments until after I have finished it, but if it continues on this course, it will certainly be my game of the year. I mean I am already thinking about playing it through a second time which, for an RPG, would be rather exceptional. Anyway, my bed is calling and I must get some rest, it's going to be a rough couple of weeks...

November 25, 2007

The Void

Well, it has been quite I while since my last post due to holiday travels combined with the release of Mass Effect. I know you are all thinking that that means this next post should be really substantial, and I agree with you, the next post will be. As for this post, I just got in from my flight that was due in at 9:00 P.M. CST, and the combined pressure of the airplane cabin and constantly whaling infants has basically drained any will I had to do anything even remotely productive. So I promise tomorrow's post will be a glorious retelling of my many Thanksgiving adventures (which are largely composed of eating and playing 20+ hours of Mass Effect), but for tonight, I leave you with this simple haiku:

My flight was delayed
It is almost 1:00 A.M.
Time for Mass Effect?

November 20, 2007

The Shortest One...

It's kind of funny, but staying up working until 3 AM and getting around four hours of sleep for several nights (which included the weekend) doesn't even seem to phase me anymore. It's just the cost of doing business, and I don't really even think about it. Though I can't say that doesn't mean I won't pass out as soon as I get on that plane tomorrow. I have at least a few items to polish on my Beta before I submit it on Wednesday, and at the same time Mass Effect should be readily available to begin taunting me with its awesomeness. Anyway, it's time to get my precious four hours of sleep. Later!

November 18, 2007

My Sunday

Well, it's late Sunday or early Monday, I'm not quite sure which is appropriate, anyway, it's late and I've spent pretty much the entire weekend working, and neither of my levels are "done." I'm ready for both of my beta testing sessions tomorrow, but that still means I need to polish up our CTF level for it's Tuesday morning presentation and drastically polish up my DM17 Beta which is due on Wednesday. I'm not sure if I am just slow, thorough, or overly neurotic, likely some combination of all three, but I have to put a lot of effort into these levels to get them to the point where I'm happy with them, and this was the first time I really felt like I didn't have enough time to do my work right.

Well, maybe that's entirely right, not enough time to do these levels right and maintain my sanity, I could have pulled a number of all nighters to get things picture perfect, but I think that might have cracked what remains of my flagging devotion to doing well here. That's not to say I don't like it here or that I dislike level design. Actually, it's the exact opposite, I love it. I don't know when it happened but at some point I realized that I really enjoy this and I'm good at it. I love coming up with a concept and watching it turn into something real. I love watching people play and enjoy one of my levels, knowing that that joy came from me. I am working harder than I ever have in my entire life, and it doesn't really phase me, sometimes I just feel I don't have the time to get the best out of my work.

Now that being said, there are other things I love that being here doesn't really allow for. I love sleep, and on most nights I'm not getting nearly enough and certainly nothing close to 8 hours. I love having a personal life, being able to go out with my friends or god-forbid have a date, neither of which I have been able to do more than once this term and maybe a handful of times since I got here. On that same note, I love meeting new people, well ok, maybe that's a stretch, but at least I appreciate the opportunity. I love playing videogames, and since I got here it's basically a trade-off between that and sleep, and sometimes it's hard to decide :).

I think what I finally realized is it has taken a lot of sacrifices to get here and to keep going. I'm not sure if I blogged to this point, but we lost another level designer recently (one of my teammates on the CTF Mod no less) and another is soon to leave and actually go out to industry. It all made me think about why I am here and how to keep going despite stress, exhaustion, and a number of other terribly valid reasons to give up and go home, and then it finally hit me. I love this work, this really is my calling, I can't imagine anything that I would willingly work so hard for, and that's something amazing I've been trying to figure out for a while. Now the key is going to be to keep that passion despite the best efforts of this place to break me.

Anyway, I've been rambling on for long enough and I really should get some rest. The next few days are sure to be killer. G'night all.

Are We There Yet?

It's very late and I'm tired. I spent most of the day working on our CTF level which still isn't done, and I didn't do any work on my map which needs to be ready for pre-beta testing Monday afternoon (and subsequently the Beta version of the map is due Wednesday). Well, it is what it is, guess I'll just keep going at it, but not anymore tonight. Now it is time to sleep...

November 16, 2007

Friday Night Hype

Well, I finished the singleplayer of Call of Duty 4 tonight (on Veteran to those of you thinking it's not such an achievement), and I must say it is simply one of the best shooters this year if not the best. I'm still debating whether Bioshock qualifies as a "shooter" rather than an RPG with heavy shooter elements.

Speaking of RPGs with heavy shooter elements, Mass Effect (and my brief but long needed Thanksgiving "break") is now only a few days away and I cannot wait. I know there have been sporadic debates around the net as to the games merits, but it seems that everyone agrees the story is awesome, which is more than enough to sell me. I have my collector's edition all preordered and ready to go, now I just need to finish a couple major projects between then and now. Should be cake, right?

November 15, 2007

Another Short One

Sorry, this may be par for the course until the end of term, or at least until Thanksgiving Break. I spent most of the day working on our CTF map or my Shotgun mutator and then I spent most of the night creating assets for my DM17 level. VERY slowly creating assets I might add. I can't seem to get my waterfall to not look cartoon-y. I think I'm going to go talk to the the Art Level Design professor and see if he can help me straighten things out.

Anyway, it's late, I'm tired, and I've got a long few days ahead of me. If there's one thing I can say it's that there is a remarkable amount of fulfillment in what I do. Watching the level slowly come together and watching the joy that it brings people is just awesome. Alright, that's the silver lining for the day, now it's bedtime.

November 14, 2007

A Short One

Sorry, this is going to be a pretty short post as I should probably get to bed ASAP. Today wasn't terribly eventful, we alpha tested the map I am working on for our CTF Mod (and the underlying code) and things went pretty well. Most of the game functionality is stable and the map seemed pretty well received. There are a few modifications to make to the overall layout, then still plenty of work to be done making it look more real.

I'm behind on my DM17 map, at least behind the schedule I had set for myself, however unreasonable it may have been. I think that between now and Thanksgiving "break" I need to really crack down and get stuff done, but I've just been exhausted lately which makes work more difficult and much less efficient. Anyway, as I said, it's late I'm tired, and I need sleep if I'm going to pump out the sheer volume of work I need to within the next couple days. Night All!

November 13, 2007

Best Holiday Season Ever?

It seems to me like every year me, my friends, and typically a large majority of the media gush over the games of the holiday season claiming that it may in fact be the "Best Holiday Season Ever." This season is no exception. I mean let's just look at at few of the most recent releases (or upcoming):
  • Ratchet and Clank Future - Excellent
  • Call of Duty 4 - Excellent
  • Assassin's Creed - Excellent?
  • Super Mario Galaxy - Excellent?
  • Uncharted - Excellent?
  • Mass Effect - Excellent
Just to name a few. The ones with question marks I don't own so I'm not sure about them (yes, I don't yet own Mass Effect, but I'm willing to bet it will be excellent, any takers?), but all signs point to them being very, very good. As we close in on Thanksgiving, I'm not sure what lies on the other side between turkey day and Christmas, but as it stands I can probably think of about a dozen things to throw on my Christmas list.

As for making games, it's busy as always. One of the level designers on my team has some personal issues to attend to so my team of four level designers has been reduced to three including myself. As a result I have a fair bit more work on my plate than I thought, though when I showed my professor one of the meshes I am making for my DM17 map he said it looked great so that help bolster my confidence considering I had been trouble creating it. Basically all my time lately has been devoted to the team project so my DM17 map is being forced onto the back burner until I have more time to devote to it. It looks like it's going to be another long weekend. Well, at least Thanksgiving isn't far off and then it's just a short sprint to the sweet respite that is Christmas break. Mmmmm...can't wait..

Actually, you know what the sad thing really is? I've already started thinking about personal level design projects I want to work on over break. Something other than a fragfest FPS for a change. No offense, UT2004, you just aren't exactly my kind of game... Actually, my brother and I discussed working cooperatively on a NWN mod in response to the recent Bioware request for writers posted on Penny Arcade. He wants to try his hand at writing, and I want to do some level design outside of the FPS genre. Could be fun... Alright, I should get back to work. Later!

November 12, 2007

Checking the Box

Long task lists are both simultaneously satisfying and infuriating. You get the joy of crossing a lot of things off your list, which is nice, but when you consider that you added most of those throughout the day, and the one thing you had on there this morning still isn't done at 10:00 P.M. and it's a little disheartening. Nevertheless, it was all work that needed to get done and it all amounts to the same amount of time spent, no matter how you slice it.

As mentioned previously, this week is remarkably deadline free, though that doesn't mean a dearth of work needing to be done. It just means an exercise in keeping yourself motivated enough to keep moving on multiple projects with longer timelines. To be honest, I'm not sure I've yet had the chance to work on a level for more than a week so this is a new and different experience. Take today for example, we did our first "speed map" in level design.

The concept of the speed map is that you have 15 min to draft a quick paper design and then an hour to build your level. Then the whole class spends the rest of the time testing the levels, and giving constructive feedback. Then the paper map and final product end up getting wrapped up in a grade to be determined later. While it is expected that your map will look like absolute crap and may even contain some minor (or major) technical issues, it is nevertheless a somewhat harrowing experience.

Formulating a level (based on some defined visual and gameplay concepts) and then creating even a rough approximation of it in 75 min. can be stressful if you let it. I wouldn't say I let it stress me out, but I wouldn't say I didn't either. I finished my level in time, and was relatively happy with the end product, especially for my first speed map. There were some minor flow issues, but no technical problems, and I think I leveraged the themes pretty well. Overall, I think the experience was a positive one, though it makes speed modeling seem a bit simpler :).

November 10, 2007

Call of Duty 4, FTW!

So midterms are over, and went really well so I decided to treat myself to Call of Duty 4, as a sort of celebration. I had been eyeballing it all week and reading countless glowing reviews, so I decided to pick it up, and I must say it is awesome. I was really expecting a lot from it and I think it has even exceeded my high expectations. The single-player material is intense, fun, and exciting apart from a few really hard sections (though I am playing on the hardest difficulty so I really have only myself to blame), and the multiplayer is just phenomenal. I might even say it's better than Halo 3. Now, before you run off to grab your torches and pitchforks I should point out I mean it is better for me, and the kind of gameplay I like.

One of my favorite multiplayer FPSs was Battlefield 2. I probably haven't played a multiplayer shooter as much with the exception of maybe Tribes. Anyway the point is, the reason I enjoyed BF2 so much was because I really enjoy that style of gameplay, the strategic stop-and-pop vs. the more action oriented run-and-gun fragfests, but that doesn't entirely convey my feelings. The multiplayer flow of CoD4 is some blend of the two, it's far closer to the strategic style, but it has just enough "action" to keep things from getting bogged down like some of the online modes for the tactical shooters like GRAW or Rainbow Six. Add to that a persistent RPG style leveling system and class creation system, 16 maps with numerous gamemodes, and a very capable matchmaking system, and you have all the ingredients to keep me enthralled for many nights on end. I can't recommend it more highly, and I would definitely rate it is my favorite multiplayer game of the year above tough contenders like Halo 3 and Team Fortress 2.

Luckily, there isn't much actually due next week so I could afford to take a light Saturday of doing some project management and getting my tasks organized for the coming week, along with a few chores/errands, so I had plenty of time to enjoy the experience. It's not that there isn't a lot to DO next week, just not a lot to turn in. We have testing for our Beta version of our DM17 map a week from Monday and we have our extended CTF mod due on the 20th. Add to that some Unreal scripting for programming class and the fact that I haven't even started my FY Iceworld yet which is due, in its entirety, a week after our DM17 map. There hasn't been much time to look at it, and it's been hard enough holding the designs for two maps in my head at the same time, three might be pushing it. Nevertheless, this week might be a good time to at least start concepting out the theme, and plan what unique elements I will be adding to meet our requirements. But for now, those things are far from my mind as enjoy the rest of my Saturday mini-vacation...

November 8, 2007

Congratulations! You're the Project Lead!

Hooray! Wait, no, that's just more work... :)

We got our assignments for our next team project today, and as we had suspected it ended up being that our small 6-person teams ended up getting merged into much larger 13 person teams with similar goals to the last project. This time we need to two maps, 30 meshes, and 30 textures, though we were allowed to extend off of our previous projects. Sadly, my group was one of the smaller teams that got broken apart, so I doubt you'll be seeing anymore floating islands or catapults. I was assigned to the soccer team which was the professor's favorite of the six, and was admittedly pretty cool if a little rough around the edges.

Given that the teams had doubled in size, I think it became clear to all the teams that the sort of ad-hoc no leads, completely collaborative style of teamwork wasn't going to work in this case, so we all went about setting up department leads and in our case a project lead. I'm not sure if I'm actually a good leader or just the most willing to go up to the board and start organizing things, but the team named me the project lead and elected/appointed a member from each department to be the department leads. The leads all seem pretty motivated and quickly began organizing work with the other members of their department, so I think we did well there.

I requested each lead give me a schedule for their department within the next couple days, and then I get to go about creating the master schedule. It's a lot of the sort of mundane project management that I am happier letting people like Jane handle if they are so inclined, but I seemed to be the only one inclined on my team to do it. At least it should mean a proportionate decrease in my LD tasks for the project which will allow me to focus on other things. Anyway, I should get going, I just finished studying for a midterm tomorrow and now I need to work on my map, which needs to be done for testing by tomorrow afternoon and...well, right now it just isn't.

As for screenshots here are a couple from my LD midterm on Monday:

The theme we were assigned was 'Caverns' and it had to include a terrain with multiple layers, a little pool of water, and multiple small rooms attached to a larger central rooms. There were also some simple requirements like it had to have a teleporter, a jump pad, and some pickups. I think it came out pretty well for being concepted and built in three hours. Soon we start "speed mapping" wherein we build a map in about an hour (or less, I'm not sure) and then playtest it for the rest of the class period. Not quite sure I'm ready for that, but we'll see :).

November 6, 2007

Less Is More

Well, today marked the second of my three midterms this term, my text adventure. Ultimately, I think my program met the requirements of the assignment just fine, but because I was ridiculously overscoped I didn't really have time to implement even half of my original design or to polish what eventually was left. I recognize the importance of adages such as , "less is more" and "quality over quantity," and I feel that in this case I ended up casually disregarding them, which resulted in something I was less pleased with it than I would otherwise have been.

Anyway, it's done, so I'm not going to lament it any further, just putting it on official record that I need to start spending more of my initial concept time to create ideas which are within the scope of the time allotted. I think overscoping is natural at the beginning of project (and actually beneficial), but ultimately, if it is to too great a degree you end up wasting a lot of time trying to include ten things instead of doing three or four things really well. Alright, I'm tired and I've got plenty to do tomorrow so I'll catch up with you all later. Night!

November 4, 2007

Sunday Night Exhaustion

I'm starting to think it's a bad thing to be exhausted, before the week begins. Though, I suppose tonight is better than last Sunday, where I was forced to pull an all-nighter just to finish some basic assignments. I don't mean to complain really, I actually rather enjoy the work I am doing, I would just enjoy it much more if it was over about twice as much time. As it stands, it just stresses me out. Anyway, as I said, I don't want to complain about things, I don't have the time or the energy and it will just end up bumming me out.

Alright, so let's see, I promised some basic work updates, let me see if I can find a few screenshots of my most recent stuff...

Seabase Prison
This was my second map in level design and it was built entirely using Unreal assets and BSP. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out overall. There were some visual things that I didn't have time to add in, but overall I think it came out really well.

Outside the undersea area

Inside the undersea area

One of the base's outer hallways

Looking at the base through one of the window in the elevator

Above the water, the landing platform

Teleporter under the central platform

Looking at the platform from the elevator

Infringement - CTF Mod
I came up with the design, but I did almost none of the art (I did the models for the islands, that's it), so I can't claim any credit for how it looks. Ultimately, our artists did a great job with the visual theme, and I think they came up with something really memorable. Also, the gameplay from jumping to island and the catapults that fire you the entire length of the arena proved to be a big hit, so I guess it was a couple long nights well spent. =)

Our floating arena

Inside the red base

A working catapult (it would throw you to the other base, and most likely kill you :) )

The blue base

The ruins on the central island

Looking out from the red flag spawn

Ultimately, I'm pretty proud of what I've managed to create so far this term, it has just taken a lot out of me. Anyway, I should get back to working on my text adventure, and just for funsies, here's a screen of that as well...

I just thought juxtaposing that next to the other screens was amusing. Well, I'm off. By the way, just let me know if you even want to try out any of the stuff I have worked on and I will be happy to share it as time and filespace limitations permit. =) Night all!

November 3, 2007

Code Like Hell

Though I have been taught that "Coding Like Hell" is a bad practice that is to be avoided, it feels like that is exactly what I have been doing today, though I have only myself to blame. For programming class, for our midterm project we are asked to make a very simple text adventure that involves a few rooms, items, and puzzles for the player to encounter. What does that mean I decided to do? A free-roaming, Elite/Pirates! style game involving stat growth (actually that is one of the assignment requirements), upgradeable equipment, multiple vendors, random enemies, side quests, and an actual final battle/objective. Yeah, I'm not making this up. This may be perhaps the worst overscoping I have yet managed.

The thing is, I get really excited about game design, and when that happens my excitement, tends to overrule my common sense and desire for free time. Also, at this point I am so used to working through the entire weekend, I'm not even sure what I would do with my free time if I had it. Anyway, I've already slimmed out the design significantly, but I've written enough code that supports the rather grandiose design, that I will at least need to work relatively hard to connect the dots. I think the final product will be really cool, and far more interesting than a random, "Look I Can Code!" text adventure, but I suppose that is all predicated on my finishing it before the due date. Oh well, I'm happy with how the assignment has gone so far, it's just taking a bit longer than I would like.

Anyway, I'm done working on it for now. I think I am going to enjoy a little gaming and then head to bed. Sorry the posts have been a little sparse lately. Last week, I pulled two all nighters and one where I was working until 3:00 A.M. and I'm pretty sure my body is still recovering. Still, I can't imagine anything else that would make me work this hard, and that tells me something. Alright, night all!

P.S. I'll try to post work related updates (i.e., screenshots and the like) tomorrow, at least I'll try to try...

November 1, 2007

A Moment's Peace

Ignoring the fact that my text adventure (due Tuesday) is currently still in the concept phase, and I haven't yet started my Level Design Document (LDD, due Monday), there is nothing that needs to be done right now. Considering I pulled an all-nighter last night in order to finish our CTF Mod and that we have no class this afternoon, I am going to take at least a brief respite from work to rest and recuperate. Whether that involves playing some games, taking a nap, or a little bit of both, has yet to be determined. But for now that's where I'll be, and if I do manage to get some work done tonight, all the better!