March 31, 2008

Serenity (Prayer)

God grant me the strength to change the things I can,
The patience to accept the things I cannot change,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

While I haven't exactly been the most devout Christian as of late (another Guildhall sacrifice, though not without significant blame cast on myself), I find thinking about this does, in fact, help me to find serenity. There are always things we want to change, many things that we wish could be different, but ultimately very, very little of our lives are actually in our own control. Take my level design midterm for example. We just found out we are supposed to have one of our rooms for our DFS completely finished by Friday for our DFS.

There are a number of requirements attached to the assignment, but basically we need to take one part of our DFS and polish it to final quality in the next four days, while at the same time, of course, we have a DFS milestone tomorrow as well as an Ethics assignment due Friday. Not to mention, I have a meeting with the head of the MIT program to start talking about thesis proposals Friday during lunch. Needless to say, many to the LDs were dismayed by the news of this assignment and immediately began to become upset at it. Well, that and the grades from the speedmaps last Friday. By and large though, it isn't really phasing me. I mean, I know it's gonna be crappy in some places, sure, but as I said earlier, I've sort of reached the acceptance phase of my grief and now I'm trying to move past it all.

It can be hard though. There are a lot of frustrated, jaded people among the C9 level designers right now, and I'm not sure that's a situation that's going to change anytime soon. Maybe, the transition I went through is something everyone has to go through and I was just lucky enough to experience it early. I don't really know, I hope that's true, I hope my friends start feeling better about things, and I'll do whatever I can to help, though just trying to maintain a positive outlook doesn't seem to have helped so far. Anyway, I've got a few things to do on my DFS before tomorrow's submission, and I need to decompress a little before I can get to it, so I'm off. Peace out.

March 30, 2008

R & R

This was one of the most relaxing weekends I think I've had in a while...I don't think I really had less to do, I just approached it a bit differently, and less stressfully I think. Well, ok, maybe I did have a little less to do than usual. I spent most of my work time on Saturday filing my taxes and finishing up my DFS, and I spent today equally divided between Extinction and DFS work.

My Extinction work was less than I would have wanted, but it was unfortunately limited by a few pipeline problems. The level wasn't in the state that it was supposed to be in this morning so me and another designer needed to work on it at the same time (which is almost never good), and the art packages (i.e., how Unreal holds together assets like models, textures, etc.) were not complete so much of the level was bubble wrap (i.e., Unreal's default texture, which looks like crap). Anyway, I got another iteration on the level lighting and added some rough particles to our waterfall and river. They definitely need a lot of love to create the effect we want, but it's a good place to start at least.

My DFS is almost ready for Blockout, there are just a few minor tweaks I want to make before final submission and demonstration. You can run through and complete the level in it's entirety and the encounters are at least somewhat tuned for this iteration. I added some basic objectives which I intend to improve upon over the next few iterations (much like everything else). It's a rough first version of what I am trying to create, but it's a good first step, and we have two weeks after this milestone to make it pretty and another week after that to polish up the gameplay. Given the experience I've had with Doom 3, I know the first polish pass can and will take an enormous amount of time, so trying to lay as much of the groundwork now as I can that way I'll be prepared to move forward as soon as I receive feedback on this build.

Other than work, this weekend has been spent playing Crisis Core and watching Battlestar Galactica both of which I highly recommend. And on that note, I think I will get back to one or both of them before I have to head off to bed and another exciting day here at the Guildhall! (limited sarcasm intended) :-P

March 29, 2008

"Lazy" Saturday

Well, it's been a pretty good day overall I'd say. I woke up and played a fair bit of Crisis Core before filing my taxes, then I played some Soulstorm with Rick, I finished the last two episodes of BSG: Season 1, and then I spent about 4 hours working on my DFS. There are still some things I'd like to do with it before Tuesday's demonstration, but overall I think it is starting to come together. That's about it really, now I think I am going to call it a night and relax a bit before bed. Later all!

March 28, 2008

Friday Lost

Well, I had to violate my Friday rule for what I believe is the second time as long as I've been here. For those who don't know, in order to safeguard my sanity I have set Friday nights as a guaranteed no work zone. Usually this isn't too hard as there can't be anything due Saturday and it's very rare that I have a weekend which is truly packed with work. Unfortunately, today's speedmap was due at 9:00 P.M., and like pretty much every other LD here, I took every minute of the 7 hours we were given (which shot right through dinner I might add). I think the level came out pretty well, perhaps not as dazzling as my first "speed" map, but this one included some actual gameplay, and it took me less than 40% of the time! It's hard to take screenshots of scripting or gameplay but here's a few elements of my second speedmap:

The light on the left is blinking/buzzing and that panel is more than it appears!

Perhaps this does something?

Oh, goodies!

I picked up the armor and an imp spawned! How original is that?!

After I try to exit I play a creepy sound and screw with the lighting (and, of course, spawn more imps!)

Kill this last guy and the lights will come back on...

Overall, I think the speedmap went well, and I enjoyed digging into the scripting and setting up the encounters. Building things in Radiant can take a while and making them look good can take even longer, but setting up basic scripted sequences and encounters is a breeze. It almost makes me wish I had more combat in my DFS, but hey, there are always redesigns! Anyway, it's been a long Friday (Ethics presentation this morning and the aforementioned speedmap this afternoon/evening) so I'm gonna relax a bit. I just got my copy of Crisis Core from GameFly so I am looking forward to kicking back and enjoying it for a while. Later!

March 27, 2008

Bucket of Sunshine

Well, so my general approach to the Guildhall lately has been to just try to keep a positive attitude and not stress out over what I probably shouldn't be stressing out over, and it seems to be working...kinda. At the very least it's noticeable considering a friend of mine at school asked how I manage to stay so positive. She went on to say she admired my attitude, but that I really should be more bitter (jokingly...I think?) This is, mind you, a scant few days after I basically bottomed out, so I guess it's an improvement. I can at least say that I've been feeling better, which may or may not be associated with not having much do the last couple of days. Except, of course, for the 70 minute Ethics presentation my team is supposed to give tomorrow.

Anyway, I prefer to think it has to do with a change in my mindset over a number of things that are a bit more personal than I care to go into right now, and maybe has a little bit to do with getting more sleep ;-). That's about it really, nothing monumental to report: more work on TGP, more work on DFS, preparation for tomorrow's presentation, and shake from Sonic to cap it all off. Could be worse :).

March 26, 2008

Through the Looking Glass (or something like that)

It's interesting how things can seem different, just looking at them from a different perspective. While it is true that nothing has changed in my actual workload, it's nice to at least try to have a positive attitude about everything. The Guildhall doesn't make it easy though, or at the students don't. Everyone's still pretty bitter/jaded/frustrated about things and that can seep into even the most positive of mindsets I'd imagine. Anyway, things are going well on DFS thus far, I'm starting to finally understand how to run Scrum effectively, and our Ethics presentation is at least compiled. Not edited, formatted, or rehearsed, but at least compiled. With a speedmap this Friday and our next DFS milestone on Tuesday, this weekend may be a bit of a bear, so I am trying to brace for that and accomplish as much as I can on my DFS while I have the time. On that note, I should try to get a little done with what remains of the night, later!

P.S. I just bought Smash Bros.: Brawl from GameFly and now they are sending me FFVII: Crisis Core, hooray!

March 25, 2008

A Minor Retraction

While nothing I said yesterday was untrue, a fair bit of it is, in fact, tied into my emotional state, which is, of course, inexorably tied into the Guildhall. There was a lot to be gained just by venting, and I'm glad to hear from a number of you that I have a great deal of support and good faith behind me (not to mention that you all are in fact reading my humble little blog on occasion). Venting around here can be a bit difficult as it's hard to vent to people who are going through the same thing. Sometimes it's good to commiserate (say over a tasty beverage), but other times it's like trying to spit into the wind. Everyone's complaints and bitterness sort of build on one another and ultimately I think it makes people feel worse, at least it does for me.

There are a couple things I (and anyone who was/is worried about me) can take solace in:
  1. This is transient. I've only about eight more months of time (six of classes) until the program is over and I am on my way to my dream job. Everyone without exception has said that actually working in the game industry is easier that the Guildhall, oftentimes, much easier. Crunches are far less common, far less severe, and more completely shared by the entire team (i.e., everyone feels it). The industry is trying to get away from the intense work that has characterized it in the past, and it's getting there, but it's a long journey and the the industry is still relatively immature. Luckily, the Guildhall has taught me something else about what I want and how much I am willing to endure, and that will help me find the right job when the time comes
  2. It's always darkest before the dawn. Due to the term change it's hard to compare exactly what we are going through, but generally it seems that everyone says Terms 3 and 4 are the hardest. Considering we more or less had the two of them smashed together, it seems very likely that this is as bad as it will get. Yep, it sucks sometimes, sometimes it sucks really hard, but it's already week 3, and after this term, it is theoretically "all downhill from here."
There is one last point which dawned on me today. Or more appropriately, Rick helped illuminate it over our past few discussions, as have many others. A great deal of this is on me. While that is not to say they don't push us extremely hard, they do, but I push myself even further, and do things that undermine my own sanity. I don't want to delve to deep into what's going on inside my head, but suffice it to say, there's a lot in there, not all of it good, and not all of it valid. I am working to be more reasonable in my expectations, more forgiving of my failings (real or imagined), and more confident in my approach, but it's an ongoing struggle, as I'm sure it is for many.

I just want you all to know that I am fine, and on some level I am happy that I am here. Maybe not happy...proud? The point is, it's getting me to where I want to be, and looking back on it I am very proud of all that I have managed to accomplish. It has challenged me more than anything else in my entire life, and more than I expect most things will, but I have continued to succeed, and despite my misgivings have been called upon time and time again by my fellow students to lead our projects. I am still a student, as a level designer, as a young professional, and as a leader. Sometimes the lessons I learn are painful (sometimes seemingly without reason), but I recognize how I have learned, and how it is allowing me to become the person I want to be. (yeah, I know that was a bit corny, but I needed to offset the despondency of the last post)

It's easy to get bitter, depressed, and jaded here, especially when you are surrounded by other bitter, depressed, and jaded individuals, but my goal from now on is to somehow try and rise above it. I'm sure I won't always succeed, and there's a good chance I'll be back on here complaining about something before too long, but that's the nature of things. Anyway, I've got some things to do so I should be going. Take care, all!

March 24, 2008

Why Am I Here?

No, I do not mean this post to be some metaphysical analysis of existence. I mean why I am I here, where I am, doing what I am doing. If you asked my 6 months ago, I think I could have answered it in a flash, but every day I feel like the answer grows a bit dimmer in my mind. Every day, I grow less sure of why I am putting myself through this. I think it goes without saying that this will be one of the most depressing posts I have written to date.

Generally, I try to keep these posts somewhat impersonal to maintain some tone of professionalism and I try to keep my breakdowns relatively vague. But as they seem to come more and more frequently, I'm left trying to find more numerous outlets to vent my frustration, especially at around midnight. Right now, this place has just made me so angry, and frustrated, and stressed, and about seven hundred other different emotions along the same line. The expectations are unreasonable, the timelines are ridiculous, the pressure is immense, and the recognition and reward are pretty much non-existent.

I mean, I've worked 12-16 hour days every weekday and 8 - 12 hour days each weekend for far longer than I care to remember, and what has a gotten me? A few better grades? A boatload of high expectations? A good chance of an ulcer and high blood pressure? I'm not really sure, all I know is I keep going and every day it seems like it gets a little harder. At some level I think I'm still excited to go to school and learn this stuff, but at the same time, I know what awaits me when I get there: stress, ridicule, and a complete lack or recognition or even understanding of what I am putting myself through just to stay here. And I know I'm not the only one, in fact, I don't know if any of the level designers feel any different.

Every time I think about it, I just want to give up. Sometime I forget what keeps me here. Is it some belief that finding a job myself would be that much harder? Just not wanting the stigma or guilt of letting the program or the faculty "beat me?" Not wanting to have wasted the last 9 months of time and money? Sometimes I really, really don't know, and that's where my problem comes from. I feel like, if I can't even remember why I am here and why I am enduring this, than why do I stay. Maybe it's those few small nuggets of joy and accomplishment that drift by every once and a while, or maybe it's the dream job I feel is just on the other side of this (enormous) hurdle.

The truth is I'm really not sure, and this place takes it out of you like nothing I've ever experienced. The university where I attended undergraduate, Case Western Reserve University, was often remarked by it's students to "suck your soul out through a straw." If that is in fact the case, the Guildhall does it with a coffee stirrer and a black hole on the other end. It's actually kind of sad just thinking about where my friends and I where a scant few months ago. Still optimistic, idealistic, and excited, though tempered by our first exhausting term, but still generally in high spirits. Now, the smiles have died, and the spirits are anything but high. Typically we only smile and laugh as we complain about our workload or the many ways in which the school is utterly hosing us.

As I said, this place really takes it out of you, and I'm just not sure how much I have left to take. I'm not sure if one day I might just wake up and realize I can't do it anymore. I'm not quite there yet, but the idea certainly isn't inconceivable to me. I'm generally of the opinion that nothing worth having in life comes easy, and you really have to work to achieve the things you want, but it doesn't have to be this hard. It can't. Anyway, that's my bitter diatribe about my place here at the Guildhall right now. I hope that in sharing it in some small part I've been able to get it out of my own head, at least for a little while.

I'm just so close to giving up that I feel like one minor thing could tip the scales, and that frightens and infuriates me that I should be so close to that all the time...

March 23, 2008

Casual Work

Well, not to terribly much to report on for the day. I wrote my essay on The Prince this afternoon (yep, that's right), met with my ethics group to go over our presentation for Friday, went out to dinner with a few of the level designers, and blocked out the first three rooms for my DFS. The term is starting to take shape and hit the sort of steady work stream I've come to expect. This next week is bound to be a little bumpy with the First Playable milestone for Extinction on Tuesday and the ethics presentation on Friday, but it shouldn't be too bad as far as I can tell.

Blocking out the rooms for my DFS was easy enough, though I think the original design feels a bit cramped in some areas. I'll have to examine a few areas in the game to figure out what needs to be changed. That's about it. Still watching a bunch of Battlestar Galatica while I work on my levels, which is nice, it definitely makes things feel less like work, though I'll have to find something else once I make my way to episodes I haven't seen before. Anyway, I think I'm gonna watch one more BSG before I head to bed. Night All!

March 22, 2008

My Average Saturday

I wish I had something incredibly exciting to post about, but today has been remarkably uneventful and somewhat dull really. I work up at around 11:00, played Knights of Honor (which I'm sure you've never heard of) for far too long (about 2:30 P.M.). Exercised, ate, showered, and got to work...sort of.

The level for Extinction wasn't ready so instead of starting on that as I had intended, I spent most of my afternoon reading The Prince. Then I ate dinner, watched some Battlestar Galactica (Season 1 so I can refresh my memory), and got to work on lighting the Extinction level a bit better. Actually, I watched BSG straight through my work on Extinction, so I guess it's not all bad. I spent all day in my apartment though, so I think I've been going a bit stir-crazy.

I guess working pretty much all the time is starting to take its toll on me. I just need to step back a bit and relax every once and a while. Tomorrow's schedule doesn't look to stressful, so hopefull I'll be able to get a little R&R before next week, which is shaping up to be a real pain in the...well you know. Anyway, I'm going to relax for a little bit before I should head to bed. Night all!

Good Friday

Tired. Just got back from a birthday party for a friend. Now I need sleep.

March 21, 2008

Ok, Body, I get it

Well, after pulling an all-nighter Wednesday night to get my LDD done, apparently my body had had enough. It gave me enough energy to get through my classes and presentation, but then I got home, laid down on the couch, and passed out for about 15 hours. I woke up somewhere around 4 AM and wandered over to my bed and finally woke up at around 9:00 AM. I've never slept that long in my entire life. Just thought I'd share. I've got today off so I think I'm going to try and make the most of it...whatever that means =).

March 19, 2008

Five Stages

I feel oddly calm.

Considering that the estimates I just made amount to about 7 more hours of work I need to do tonight. Maybe I'm overestimating a bit, I'm not sure, I suppose I hope I am though the chances of getting a legitimate night's sleep seem pretty far off. Yet I feel oddly calm, like I have accepted my fate. It made me think about the all-nighters I've pulled so far here, and it also (strangely enough) made me think of the five stages of grief. For those that don't know they are:
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
As I sat and thought about the five stages, I realized how closely they mirrored what I had been going through lately. I'm not sure that I've been grieving exactly, but I think the truth in this psychology goes beyond loss, but how people tend to deal with a difficult situation. I think I definitely experienced this:
  1. Denial - I think the speed map was my form of denial. I didn't want to work on another document, I wanted to work on a level, and so I continued to put it off, focusing all my energies on the the speedmap. I ignored the fact that I had fallen incredibly behind and was going to have a very difficult time if I didn't correct this mistake, but instead of dealing with it, I just ignored it and dug myself into a deeper hole.
  2. Anger - Well, I know I experienced this, hell you only have to sit with the C9 LDs for a few hours to realize that all of us were feeling this about this particular project. It wasn't expressed as pure unmitigated rage, at least not by me, but everyone was mad at someone or something. The professor, the school, the other cohorts, the assignment itself. It was unfair, unreasonable, etc., etc. It's not to say some of those complaints were completely invalid. They definitely make us jump through some exceptionally unreasonable hoops. Maybe anger wasn't the right word for me, but I've definitely been feeling frustrated.
  3. Bargaining - Yep, I definitely went through this one too, hoping that somehow God might hear me and plop a fully completed LDD down in my lap. I even considered approaching the professor and asking for an extension, though given our recent conversations, I would have been very surprised if he granted it.
  4. Depression - I think this is where I was yesterday. Everything seemed overwhelming, I wasn't sure what to do, or if it was even possible for me to do it all. I fell apart. I wasn't even sure I wanted to do this anymore or that I could. Maybe not give up game development altogether, but find another path.
  5. Acceptance - I'm pretty sure this is where I am now. Despite having an amazing amount of work due tomorrow I don't feel stressed, at least not consciously. Maybe because my "grieving" is over, maybe because I finally feel like I have a solid grasp on my DFS and all I am doing is putting it down on paper. I'm not really sure, but I feel pretty in control right now. I mean I've had longer nights and probably had more difficult requirements too, so what was I so worried about?
I think that I spent more time worrying about the assignment, railing against it, and wishing it didn't exist instead of just dealing with it. I admittedly don't even understand my disinterest or dislike for the assignment. I've done plenty of docs in the past and I haven't had a problem. there isn't even really that much going on right now. Now, I did dig myself into a big hole with the speed map, and that is a mistake I hope I have learned from and can at least partially avoid in the future. Unfortunately, that doesn't change the situation I am in now, starting a 7 hour block of work and 10:00 P.M. Oh well, anyway, that seems like a suitable conclusion to my little psychoanalysis. Have a good night all!

March 18, 2008


It's been an oddly stressful first few days here. I mean, not odd that it's stressful, it's always somewhat stressful around here, but odd in how stressed out I think we've all been vs. the amount of work that is currently being asked of us. Right now there isn't an exceptional amount that needs to be done. I mean, DFS is spiraling up (LDD due Thursday) and Extinction is on its way, but I feel like I have, in fact, been asked to do more in less time. Nevertheless, I am (or was?) already starting to feel hopelessly overwhelmed and wasn't really sure how to cope. I know it sounds weird, but I was struggling so I sought help.

I talked to one of the professors about my struggles and how things seemed to be affecting me as well as seemingly the rest of the LDs if not the entire cohort. I think he was initially surprised that it was happening so early, but he divulged that Term 4 is generally thought to be the most difficult term, and the fact that we have two large projects (TGP and DFS) going on at the same time (which hasn't been done since cohort 4 I believe) isn't helping any. He said that students typically go through a sort of "panic attack" somewhere around week 5 so it was a bit unusual to see it in week 2 (though if you consider the fact that we shortened the terms by 3 weeks, they might be closer than it initially appears).

Anyway, we talked for a bit about me specifically and how and why things might be affecting me, and it was his belief that my primary issue was probably one of time management. Mostly, allowing myself too much time to work on things, case in point my Doom 3 speedmap. Admittedly, I was really happy with the result, I think I learned a lot and it demonstrated a fair amount of proficiency within the editor, but was all that time necessary? If I had actually limited myself to 12 hours, what would the result have been? 10? 8? I don't really know the answers to these questions, but I am working to find them. Theres an important law called Parkinson's Law that says something like: work expands to fill available time. The problem that I had was that I wasn't really restricting the time that I assigned to certain tasks, I would just work on them until I was happy with them and that worked for me so far, but I think it Term 3 it began to break down and here it broke down entirely.

I have really high expectations for myself, which has generally served me well and I think it continues to do so to a point, but then there is a point at which it's just crazy and potentially detrimental to my professional development. Games in general straddle this border between the commercial and the artistic. On the one hand, an artist will want to work on a piece of art until it is a masterpiece, on the other, the company wants it within a limited timetable and usually as soon as possible. What was my solution you ask? Well, clearly to sacrifice sleep and everything else I could to meet my expectations within the company's timetable. While this ultimately made the company happy, it was probably one of the worst things I could have done.

Not only did I push myself to the brink of exhaustion, I continued to do so as I wished to continually surpass myself to indicate that I was continuing to grow and learn. Extra bad. Anyway, this may sound like a bunch of garbled psuedo-psychology, and maybe it is to a point, I'm just trying to express my thoughts as I have reflected on my time here thus far and what caused me to crash as of yesterday (I think my earliest crash to date). I'm not thinking a great deal about how the whole thing flows as a post or maybe even how all the sentences fit together, just getting it out of my mind and onto the paper, a sort of stream of consciousness post.

That was actually another point of discussion was basically trying to get things out of my head, particularly tasks. Basically trying to get everything I could plan for down on paper into a legitimate and actionable plan and everything else out of my head. This may sound like rudimentary task planning to all of you and maybe it is. Maybe you figured it out in college or at your first career job, but I've just never really had to think like this before. Where the requests on me where so drastic and overwhelming that I had to make serious choices about where to focus my time, and then accept the consequences. I think that before now, even here, there was enough time to do everything as far as I wanted to do it, all I needed to do was sacrifice a little sleep here in there. Each term it got harder and required more sleep, and then this term I ran out. There just isn't enough time to do everything I want to as much as I want to. I know, great revelation right?

Anyway, that's where my mind is at right now...trying desperately to plan efficiently and effectively and be realistic about what I have time for and what I am capable of. Actually, the professor I talked was pretty encouraging on this point. He didn't say I needed to settle for less (though maybe I should lower my own expectations in a few places), he actually said he thought I was capable of doing things in less time than I gave myself credit for. Ultimately falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy of assuming something to take 15 hours and then having take 15 hours. a more positive note than simply "settling for mediocrity" as Rick would sarcastically say.

Alright, well I've used the time I alloted for blog writing today on this crazy/rambling post, so with that I bid you all a good night. Bye!

March 17, 2008


I stayed up way too late polishing my speed map (yeah, I worked on it some more after my post). I got an A which is good, but I am completely drained and unable to focus on anything. I have no idea how I am going to finish the half the stuff I have to do in the next week. I am going to bed right now and I am really hoping that tomorrow I can wake up ready to attack my work full-force. I think the workload here is really starting to catch up with me...ugh...

March 16, 2008

Wait...what happened to my weekend?!

Well, I just finished my "speed" map, and I haven't even started my LDD. Crap. I'm not sure if I put too much into my speedmap room (probably) or if there just really wasn't enough time this weekend. Probably a little of both, but I would have at least liked to have started my LDD. Really I'd like to have gotten most of it done, but that might have been pushing it. I still have the greater part of the week and nothing else due, but getting things done during the week is always a challenge...always. Anyway, I'm tired, and I realize this post isn't really making a lot of sense, and I don't currently have the energy or brain power to make it make sense. So to make up for my lack of writing ability I bring you...screenshots!

I'm actually really happy with how the whole thing turned out, it feels almost official (though it should, since I was using an actual room from the game as a guide). Perhaps it wasn't the most efficient use of my time, but I enjoyed it and I am happy with the results, so I'll take that. =)

March 15, 2008

I <3 Radiant

Well, it's been a long day mostly full of work, but it's been pretty enjoyable all things considered. I really like working in Radiant, and I really like doing actual level design. Last term, the only level design I really got to do was in Oblivion, and since that editor is entirely mesh based (i.e., models made in some other program and brought into the game), that didn't really give me a lot of freedom. Working in Oblivion was more like decorating a set...all the pieces were pretty much defined I could just choose how and where to place them.

On the other hand, Radiant has such a robust bsp system that you can make all sorts of shapes and structures completely out of brush work. Add a powerful dynamic lighting system to the mix and you've easily got my favorite of the editors we've worked with so far. That's not to say it doesn't have it's drawbacks, I'm sure it does, but I think it's definitely the one of had the most "fun" working in, and the one that I feel gives me the most power to accomplish what I want. I mean, I spent most of the day working in it and I would still describe the experience as "enjoyable," so take that for what it's worth.

Anyway, as previously stated, it's been a pretty long day and I need to get a good night's sleep so I can be ready for another one. I didn't get nearly as much done as I would have liked and my LDD for DFS is due Thursday so I need to get moving on it pretty hardcore tomorrow. Also, I still need to finish my "speed" map which needs a bit of love, but here's a screen of the work in progress, night all!

March 13, 2008

Insert Witty Post Title

It's been an exhausting first week of term filled with all the unreasonable requirements and first week freak outs I've become used to. Today we had to submit our project statement and present it to the level design class, and tomorrow we have a thrilling Ethics class in the morning and a speed map in level design tomorrow afternoon (apparently focusing in lighting). I feel pretty competent in Radiant and I understood the lighting and patch (i.e., curved surfaces in Radiant) techniques we covered on Wednesday, so I'm not too worried about it, though I'd like to review some things. My role as team lead over the past few semesters means I haven't gotten quite as much experience on actual level design, so I am hoping to do more with Extinction and my DFS project (currently named 'Separation Anxiety'). I think I've got some cool concepts that should be fun to put together.

Next week is looking pretty busy (surprise!) as well. We have a level design document for DFS due on Thursday, the First Playable milestone for Extinction is a week from Tuesday so we need to start making sure things are ready for that (and I need to start preparing a presentation), and I imagine we'll probably have something else going on in Ethics. That's really it, it doesn't seem like that much on paper but the level design doc is pretty massive and the team game stuff takes much more time than is probably conveyed by "make sure things are ready." Anyway, I've been running a little hot lately so I am going to try to take it easy tonight and just play through more of Doom 3 (which is actually class/project related) and practice a bit more in Radiant. Night all!

March 12, 2008

Status Reports

I'm curious how I can be so busy that I can barely find time to write a blog post, yet worried as to what I will write on my team status report tomorrow morning. I know I've done a lot (or at least feel like it), but I probably should have written it down :). Anyway, I just finished preparing for a DFS presentation tomorrow morning and now I need to get to bed so I can get to school in time for my morning Lead Scrum. Later!

March 11, 2008

More Like Rolling Downhill

Getting back into the Guildhall feels more like rolling downhill than hitting the ground running: you keep picking up speed, you have very little control, and even hitting a small bump can really hurt. Things have ramped up here way too fast for my taste. There's just so much to keep track of sometimes, I feel like my head can't quite contain it all, or I need to take a second to think about it and write it all down, but that second is surprisingly hard to find. It's been a remarkably rough couple days, not for what I've had to do, but what I've been asked to do. I'm trying to remain positive and keep school from getting to me, but it's hard sometimes. Anyway, I've got loads of work to do, so I better get to it. Bye!

March 10, 2008

Off to the Races!

Well, term started with a bang as per usual...ok, maybe not a bang, but certainly some significant work and awareness of just how much we have to do this term. We didn't have our usual morning class, so I watched the movie we were assigned to watch for Friday's class (12 Angry Men), then I hurried to run some errands before heading into class. Level Design was reasonably tame at least in terms of what we did, but we went over the syllabi for both our Level Design class and our DFS, and it definitely looks to be a busy semester.

After class I had to run out to get food for my team's first "core hours" only to find out that that the Subway had managed to lose the order. Finally, our core hours ran a bit late since we decided to show 12 Angry Men to help everyone prepare for ethics class (thus I ended up watching it twice, which probably wasn't the best plan). Now, I need to make some basic arrangements for my team and my scrum meeting with the leads tomorrow morning, not to mention finish the 12 Angry Men assignment, and try to start working on my DFS project proposal which is due this Thursday.

As I said, definitely hitting the ground running, though by this point I feel pretty used to it. It's actually kind of nice to be back to work again...kind of nice :). Well, I better get to it, later all!

I should probably be asleep...

I don't actually have a morning class tomorrow (due to the professor's schedule), but I do have them for the rest of the week, so I should probably start trying to get my sleep schedule back to normal. I got caught up playing Lost Odyssey which is really, really good. I can't really explain whether it's the story itself or the way it is told, but I am really enjoying it, and I would highly recommend it to any old school Final Fantasy fans. The story is interesting and the characters are remarkably likeable (for being an immortal badass, Kaim is surprisingly tender). I honestly can't understand why it didn't receive higher marks. Rick posited that JRPGs had fallen out of favor with reviewers much like adventure games and a few other standard genres in the past. He may be right, but I think there are still a number of JRPG fans here in the States and if you're one of them I urge you to at least try the game out. Buy it, borrow it from a friend, rent it or "Gamefly" it, whatever, just give it a chance and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

I know my initial concerns that it was going to be another Blue Dragon (which started off too slowly and blandly to grab me), but it's definitely hits the ground running, and keeps things interesting. As long as I am doing some quickie reviews, I should also say I tried out Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles for the Wii today, and my advice to you is don't. It is a dull, sub-par light gun shooter that simply rehashes the storylines you've already seen if you are a fan of the series. I only played the first mission (a set of levels around the Resident Evil: Zero storyline), but unless something crazy happens, I don't imagine ever getting much out of that game. I was hoping for some more cool Resident Evil storylines or a more in-depth look at Umbrella, but it just doesn't seem to be there. But hey, that's what Gamefly's for right?

So my break is finally at an end, not as game-filled or productive as perhaps I might have hoped, but a good mix of the two. I managed to get a fair amount of personal work done (networking, cleaning up the apartment, other junk) and I played a good amount of games though I only managed to finish one this time (Assassin's Creed) as opposed to the three or four I finished in the one week break between terms 1 and 2. Still the break was incredibly refreshing which was nice and just what I need to prepare for the coming least I think so. I suppose my performance and general mental health during next term will be the judge of that.


As for my thoughts on Assassin's Creed...I thought it was a good game that did a lot of things extremely well, but made some key missteps in the gameplay department that kept it from being great. So, first the good stuff...
  1. The graphics and art design are amazing, the cities look fantastic and really feel alive, and Altair's (the main character) animations and model are top notch
  2. Altair's movement control is fantastic. It's easy to navigate complex structures and situations and you look amazingly cool doing it.
  3. The combat is fun. A bit simplistic for my taste but ultimately it's fun and you look really badass, so I can't complain.
  4. The story is actually pretty interesting. Though perhaps not executed as well as possible, the story beats are interesting and the intertwining between the future and the past is awesome. The game ends on a massive cliffhanger, which bugs me, but at the same time made me start thinking about where they're going with the series so I guess it can't be all bad.
Now, onto the bad stuff...
  1. Repetition. Basically, you do the same handful of tasks far, far too many times. I'm not talking about variations on a theme, like occur in most games, I'm talking the exact same tasks, you perform somewhere around 20 times. More variation in the missions (and the assassinations for that matter) would have gone a long way here.
  2. The future. Now, I actually appreciate the information and story that is presented in the future portions of the game, but the gameplay there is non-existent. You can walk around and if you are near something that you can do something to, you press a button (the game informs you with a big message that says press any button). The information presented is cool, and it's actually fun to figure some things out (like a coded message contained in one of the emails you read), but the gameplay is boring and Desmond just moves too damn slow.

As I said, I enjoyed the game, and I very much like where the story is going, but somewhere in the middle of the game much of what I was doing felt more like a mindless grind between story bits than legitimate gameplay. It's definitely something the team can improve upon for the next iteration, but it keeps this one from being truly great. I'd say about a 7.8, definitely good and exceptional in some areas, but it doesn't quite come together in the end.

With that, I now should go as I have allowed myself to stay up an additional 30 minutes to write this post. Goodnight all!

March 8, 2008

Games, games, games...

Well, as my break draws to its close I continue to enjoy what's left of it by playing many a game in the little time remaining. I played more strategy games with Rick, a couple rounds of Soulstorm and a game of Sins. Also, my Gamefly games arrived today so I had a chance to try Devil May Cry 4 which is pretty badass. I'm playing God of War on the PSP at the same time, and both games have very different combat styles so it takes a little adjustment to move back and forth (much like playing Frontlines and CoD4 back to back). I also received RE: Umbrella Chronicles for the Wii, but haven't had a chance to try it yet. I've got a few errands to run tomorrow but nothing that should preclude me from continuing my steady regimen of games and sleep. That's really about it, not much to report, just relaxing and getting ready to run headlong into Term 4.

End of Vacation Laziness

Well, my vacation is almost over and to celebrate (or mourn?) its end I've been being lazy and totally unproductive, which has been fantastic. I finished Assassin's Creed today and played a remarkable number of online games with Rick (Frontlines, Call of Duty 4, and about 8 matches of DoW: Soulstorm). I should have my final thoughts on Assassin's Creed up in the next day or so. I thought the game was pretty good overall but there were a few shortcomings in the gameplay that kept it from being great. Also, it ended on a massive cliffhanger, which I hate. Still the ending was pretty good despite that, so take that for what you will. Anyway, I better get to bed so I can start getting back into a normal sleep schedule. Later!

March 5, 2008

My Real Vacation

Now that my delusions of doing an advanced CoD4 project over the next few days are completely gone I've been starting to actually relax and enjoy what little remains of my vacation. I ran a few more errands today and picked up a copy of Dawn of War: Soulstorm and God of War: Chains of Olympus. Both games are pretty excellent (God of War is pretty much as good as the consoles on a handheld which is just crazy) and I've also been playing a fair amount of Frontlines with Rick. In addition, Rick recently sent me a free month on Gamefly which I have just activated and is sending me a copy of Devil May Cry 4 and Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles. So it's fair to say I have a number of things I'd like to play over the next few days.

Frontlines is actually quite a fun game, perhaps not enough to pull people away from their nightly CoD4 game, but definitely a fun and unique experience. Sadly, the game's multiplayer is plagued by horrible networking issues which make it very difficult to enjoy. When the game is running with a large number of players and minimal lag, it is awesome. Its combined arms fighting and focus on teamwork make it a very strategic and enjoyable departure from most of the 360's multiplayer lineup. Sadly, finding a lag-free server that has more than two people in it ends up being an epic quest somewhat akin to a Greek poem like the Odyssey or the Iliad.

Oddly enough, the biggest problem seems to be with the game's dedicated/ranked servers which just seem plain broken. Sometimes they won't even let you join (despite not being even remotely close to full) or the game is waiting for one more player before starting the game, but the server won't actually let anyone else join. It mars what is an otherwise fantastic multiplayer experience, and if the devs don't address it soon the window of opportunity will pass as players will just decide not to deal with it anymore. Rick and I will keep trying as we really do enjoy the gameplay, but there's only so much that even we are willing to take before it's back to CoD4 or on to something else.

Anyway, that was basically my day, now it's back to playing games and ignoring work. Later!

My Thoughts on Internet Gaming (thanks to Penny Arcade)

People have told me about this comic, but I'd never actually seen it with my own eyes. I completely and wholeheartedly agree with Gabe's theory, and I would add Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 to the list of evidence. Something about anonymity and people who are basically forced to listen to you makes the great majority of internet gamers become total D-bags, go figure...

March 4, 2008

Piracy Rant

I'm not sure exactly what triggered this train of thought, maybe it was recent discussions of piracy among my Guildhall classmates, maybe it was an article I recently read about piracy and how it is virtually destroying PC gaming, maybe it's simply my emerging career path as a game developer. I'm not really sure what the direct cause is, but I constantly have had my stance on piracy questioned and challenged without really any outlet for my own opinions, but then I realized: I have this outlet. Anyway, this isn't exactly work related, but I didn't do much today besides run a bunch of errands and play a few games, so this is probably more interesting than running through a list of the days events anyhow.

So as I said earlier, I am staunchly against piracy in all forms, but for this discussion I intend to focus on software piracy as it is the closest to me both as a gamer and as a developer. I oppose piracy for a number of reasons both moral/ethical (pirating is stealing and stealing is wrong...duh) and more economical which I'll get into in a minute. I believe, however, that the former reason is the easiest to promote and defend.

There are relatively few people in our society who would say that stealing is not wrong, with perhaps the exception of stealing in order to survive (not really topical when we are talking about music, movies, or software). That point isn't really up for debate, so if stealing is wrong than the debate must be that piracy isn't stealing, which has been my experience in the many debates I've had. Let me start by saying, unequivocally, that piracy is a form of stealing, there is no real way around this with the exception of delusions and justifications. The basic definition of stealing is:
to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right (1)
In turn, the definition of piracy is:
the unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrighted or patented material (2)
Where I get confused is where people see the distinction between these two statements, so let's look at some of the standard arguments:
  1. It's not stealing because I'm not really taking anything. While this is somewhat true in that you haven't taken any physical item from anyone else, you have deprived them of the money they have earned by making a product that you clearly wish to have. That money goes towards paying salaries, overhead costs, and profits for shareholders that ensure the games you like keep getting made.
  2. Intellectual property is meant to be free, you can't own ideas. This line of thinking is complete and utter crap. It's a good thing that Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or Bill Gates didn't think this way or we'd probably still be using quills and candlelight. As society continues to evolve, we move more toward being defined by intellectual property, than physical property, this the future. Stop being a bum and get a job.
  3. I know it's wrong, I just don't care. This is probably the most defensible position for a pirate. You accept that what you are doing is unethical, it just doesn't bother you enough to not do it. I'm not sure how someone can act in this fashion, but there's not really anything I can say against it since you've agreed with me as much as you can.
Now, assuming that most people can get to the point where they realize it's unethical they just don't care enough to stop, we come to the other reason I oppose piracy: Economics. Anyone who has been in an economics class or even seen one on TV understands the basic concept of supply and demand. Supply is how much of something there is and demand is how much people want it. As long as there is excess demand, there is profit to be made and people/companies will try to collect that profit by creating supply (in this case, software). Now how do these entities know what the demand is you ask? The answer is market signals.

It's not an exact science, but people are always trying to understand how to read the market, to understand what people are going to do and why. One particularly prevalent market signal are sales, as a classmate of mine would say, "the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior". That is, if a certain game sells well it is reasonable to assume that a similar game by a similar developer (or the same developer) will do equally as well. So by going out and buying that new game for $60 (or and indie game for say $25), you are telling the market that you like this game and would like to see more games like it in the future. I don't care if you pirate the game and then go telling people how great you think it is on every forum on the internet. Ultimately companies care about one thing and one thing only: profit, and if you're pirating the game you are helping ensure it fails, plain and simple. Much like the former point there are some standard arguments to this point as well. For example:
  1. I wouldn't have bought it anyway. Perhaps a valid argument if you pirate the game, play it for an hour and discard it, but playing through a 40+ hour game then saying you "wouldn't have bought it anyway?" Come on, be serious, if this argument was even remotely true some of the most hardcore gamers I know would pretty much only own WoW or Everquest.
  2. There isn't enough piracy to really affect a big company. Did you know that the PC piracy rate is estimated at around 80 to 90% in the US. That means that around 80 to 90% of PC game installations are pirated versions where the developer and the publisher receive no money whatsoever. I know that sounds outrageous, but just try searching for "piracy rate" on the internet and see. This may arguably have little effect on a large company with a diversified portfolio, but it could easily put a small company out of business. Accepting that these numbers are probably somewhat bloated (by pirates who just grab copies of everything for example), it still means there's a lot of money left lying on the table. It's not wonder PC gaming is sliding so heavily toward MMOs. You can't pirate your way into one of those and if you do, I imagine they'll figure it out pretty quick.
  3. I'm not hurting anyone. Wrong. If that makes it easier for you, you go ahead and tell yourself that, but there are real people whose lives pretty much depend on these sales. After having experienced what they go through to make these games possible, I couldn't imagine taking their hard work and just walking away with it, without even giving them the credit (and compensation) they're due.
In the end, I don't expect this little rant to really change anyone's opinions about piracy, and likely there are many individuals who've written far more detailed analyses of the factors and arguments at hand. Still, I needed to get my thoughts on the matter off my chest, and this seemed like a pretty valid forum in which to do that. Piracy is a bad thing, beyond being clearly immoral, it is slowly crippling PC gaming and ensuring that in the near future the only thing left will be MMORPGs and flash games. I don't know if that's what you want but I know I don't.

Major Tom over and out.

March 3, 2008

Shortest. Project. Ever.

So after our first official meeting the Call of Duty 4 project has basically been canceled. After yesterday's meeting I think everyone could feel that the scope of what we were trying to accomplish was just too big for the time we have available and our limited experience with Radiant in general and CoD4Radiant in particular. I think everyone was a bit disappointed as well as relieved and I don't think anyone was too terribly surprised. This last term was pretty hard on a lot of us, and this week is pretty much all we have to recharge for next term, so I think everyone is better off not being tied down to anything too heavy.

I still intend to work with the editor over the week and try to at least get something playable out of it before the start of term, and another one of the designers is actually running with the original concept in the hopes of bringing people back in at a later date. The size of the team (6 designers in all by the end) had just gotten out of hand, and the team's size lead to an equivalently overscoped map that we were intending to create in less than a week with no prior experience with the editor. My feeling was that at best we could make something we were reasonably happy with and kill ourselves in the process pretty much guaranteeing burnout next term.

Anyway, that is the state of things. I spent a couple hours beating my head against a weird bug in some of the CoD4 Compile Tools, and a fair amount of time today working through my driver safety course so I can get my ticket dismissed. My level right now is just the big box I intend to put everything else into over the coming days. I will post some work in progress pictures once the map is at least mildly photogenic (or at least has something to see other than a gigantic wall. Now I need to fold some laundry and relax a bit before I need to head to bed. Later!

March 2, 2008

Volunteer Experience?

Well, today's meeting lasted about five hours longer than I expected or intended. Yep, that's right, I had a nine hour "meeting" on a Sunday on my "vacation." Admittedly, I almost entirely did this to myself, and quite beyond the fact of choosing game design as my career path. I decided a little while ago that working on a CoD4 map would be an interesting and fun use of my time, and given the current Infinity Ward map contest and the fact that we are using Radiant for our big solo term project next term, it seemed like this week was the perfect time to do it.

Unexpectedly, the size of the project very quickly grew to six level designers in total working on this one level. The result is the logistics of managing everything have become suitably more complicated and as the project's organizer of sorts, I've ended up taking the lead yet again. It's not that I mind, though I guess I am feeling a bit of stress to try and manage this project in addition to getting caught up on normal life tasks which have gotten away from me over the term. Vacation is basically the only time I really have to truly discharge from the giant ball of stress that is your average Guildhall term, and I want to make sure I'm not letting that get away from me.

Last term was already grueling, so giving up what precious recovery time I have doesn't seem like a very intelligent idea. Honestly, the project's scope definitely got away from me and has lead to a few more managerial responsibilities than I really intended. I suppose it's good practice just like the team project, and there's really no deadlines or grades attached to the project so I shouldn't really stress about it, but I don't want the rest of the team to feel like they are wasting their time. Anyway, I should figure out what exactly I need to do tomorrow as the last is certainly not insubstantial. Have a good night all!

P.S. I think the concept for our map is actually relatively original and could be a very interesting playspace, so it definitely has potential, but (as always) the devil is in the details. I'll try to keep you all posted as things develop.