May 31, 2008

Working Weekend

Well, putting in a 10+ hour day on Saturday never feels particularly good, but I think I managed to get a fair bit accomplished so that's something. I spent most of the day reading level design and environmental psychology articles doing background research for my thesis and then I've spent the last few hours working to get a little ahead on our next LD assignment. Tomorrow I've got to actually take all the research and turn it into a written Field Review for submission to my advisor on Monday. I also have to "research" my role for our the Homestar Runner LARP in my Special Topics class on Tuesday. Yeah, I'm serious, I'm playing Bubs. I think it's supposed to help us understand social games or something like that. The example precedes the lesson so I'm not entirely sure, but it should be fun regardless. The special topics course is definitely all over the place, but just talking with Sandy is interesting so it's a really engaging course.

My LD assignment turned out nice and the Dissonance pitch went pretty well I'd say, but I had to pull two back-to-back late nights which ended up leaving me pretty drained so I spent the rest of yesterday recuperating in my apartment. I also think the My Robot pitch went over pretty well, so hopefully it will make it into the top 5. I think there are plenty of people that dislike it on face, but there are enough people that are really passionate about it that a great team could be put together to work on it. My only worry is that the faculty are looking more at the averages than the actual scores so some of the other pitches may have higher averages, but no one is particularly excited about them. *Shrug* Nothing to be done about it now, just gotta hope for the best. If I get to work on My Robot, Dissonance, or Skies of Lanadia (the sky pirate game) I think I would be pretty happy with how things turned out.

In other news, I officially decided to accept the Gearbox internship yesterday. Shocking, I know. I thought about the alternatives, but the pros were just so heavily in favor of doing it that it ended up being a pretty simple choice. I've been itching to try my hand at real work as I imagine many of the other students have, it's a great opportunity for learning, networking, and some professional experience to put on my resume. I also think it will be, you know, fun, and could help reinforce that I can actually do this job. The project we'd be working on is still in pre-production so we'd get to have a big hand (well...somewhat big) in how the thing actually develops, which is sweet. There's also some modest compensation, which is a nice change of pace from the Guildhall as well. Anyway, I think it's gonna be good for me so I decided to go for it. It's going to take away from time I could spend on my thesis or building portfolio pieces for Bioware or Blizzard, but it feels very much like the right course for me.

Alright, that's it for tonight. Gonna veg some before bed, later!

May 29, 2008

Too Busy, Need Sleep

Almost forgot to post. Still working on presentation for tomorrow. Will update later.

May 28, 2008

No Time

It's been another semi-eventful day here at the Guildhall. I got some work done on my HL2 level (though there's still a fair bit to do) and we fleshed out the concept for the Music RTS (now called Dissonance, though there's still more to do there as well). Now, I have to study for a writing quiz tomorrow morning before I can get back to work on my HL2 level lest I fail that assignment. On top of that, I think we might have a quiz on HL2 optimization techniques in LD class. Not sure, but I'm not sure I have anytime to study for it anyhow, we'll see what I can scrape together. Then tomorrow, I need to work to create the gameplay sections for the Dissonance concept doc, and prepare the presentation. Can Friday come any faster?

In other news, I actually got offered the Gearbox internship today. I believe four out of the six level designers were chosen and three out of however many artists applied. I didn't see any programmers listed, but considering they had a second round of interviews they might have done something different. Anyway, I got the internship which is pretty cool, it doesn't explain really anything about the job except the pay and the start date. I haven't decided exactly what I want to do with it. I'm still itching to start trying out my skills in the "real world" and this is a fantastic opportunity, but I'd sort of given up the job as lost so now I'm a bit confused as to how to react. I'd already started thinking about how I want to use that time, and my thesis adviser has encouraged me to use it for thesis so I can get ahead of schedule before term 7. *Shrug* I don't know. In all honestly, I'll probably end up taking it, just so I can get a sense of really what the job is like and what I'm looking for, but I think it deserves at least a couple days of deliberation (when, of course, I have the time for deliberating).

Anyway, that's really it, I'd love to talk more about it, but I have tons of work and a powerful need to sleep sometime this week. Later!

May 27, 2008

Totally Boned

It's been a rough day today. Not like the rough days of last term (thank God), but a number of unexpected turns that have made this week look to be a lot more busy than I had originally anticipated. My rather unproductive weekend is at least partly to blame. Not so much for the Thesis research I had intended to do as I ultimately went a different direction from the topic I would have been researching, so it would have probably just been lost work. I could have, however, used some of my many wasted hours to finish my level for LD5 which is now woefully underdone. This all wouldn't be a big deal had I not received the most important news of the day, the top "10" (I think there were actually like 13, but we are supposed to combine some of them) concepts for our big project.

I am happy to say that one of my ideas was, in fact, in the top 10. Not the one I expected most certainly. In fact, up until almost the night before I wasn't even sure I wanted to give the pitch. That's right My Robot made the cut and Geomancer was nowhere to be seen. My opinion is that Geomancer smacked a bit too much of boardgames and hexes for most people to appreciate it (sad though that may be). Anyway, that's not the "interesting" part. The interesting part is, I'm not on the team currently designing My Robot. That's right, the faculty has decided that in order to get a fresh look at the ideas none of the original designers are working on the next pitch for their project. Moreover, personal rankings (i.e., how much we liked a given idea) supposedly weren't even factored in to the assignments. There were completely random with the exception of some minor considerations to specialization and personality.

Needless to say, I was pretty peeved for multiple reasons. First, I had an idea that I was very passionate about stripped away from me and handed to people who are mostly disinterested in working on it. I have no doubt that they will do their best to handle it professionally, but it seems like an awful jagged pill for most people to swallow. Add to that, that I was also placed on a project that I'm not terribly interested in. Well....I take that back a bit. It's not that I'm not interested in it, I actually think it could be interesting done well and with the right team, I'm just not sure that's me. I was tasked with the attempting to design Music: The RTS. It is a real-time strategy game pitting various musical factions (e.g., Rock, Electronica, etc.) against one another in a battle to control the "airwaves."

The most notable problem with this pitch is that it lacks any real gameplay mechanics, it's mostly just a theme, and interesting theme perhaps, but a theme nonetheless, and that is not a good start to having a complete concept document written by Friday morning. So now I am tasked with trying to think up some way to make this work (the original designer himself says he's not really sure) while at the same time trying to "help" the team pitching my original idea from completely tearing it apart. I'm not sure really how much time I intend to put into the latter, but when the LD assigned to your topic tells you before it is assigned that he would have no idea what to do with it, it starts to make you worry.

Anyway, that was today. The good news, I did make the Top 10, so my ideas aren't complete crap (hooray!), and I managed to finally settle on my Thesis topic so I can begin work on it in earnest. Well, I haven't exactly nailed down the topic, but I have at least limited it to a particular field, which is good. Now, I really have to get to work as I have a meeting with my team tomorrow morning to figure out what it is we want to do with this game. Night, all!

May 26, 2008

Killing Mime

Well, I guess it's been a little while since I wrote anything. I'm happy to say it is because I've been spending my time enjoying the holiday weekend, perhaps a bit too much...I had a fair number of tasks I had intended to work on, and I'd say I got about half of them done. The rest of my time was spent relaxing and playing a lot of videogames.

The weekend started with my laptop half-dying Friday evening as I was working my way through playing Half-Life 2 (for class, seriously we have a quiz tomorrow). It turns out it was just the monitor (or at least connecting to an external monitor works) so it didn't really disrupt my ability to work. I spent the rest of Friday night hanging out with friends playing Rock Band and Smash Bros. Melee until about 2 in the morning.

Saturday I started out by running a few errands, then I came home, updated my resume (to apply for the game designer and lead level designer positions on our next project), and played through a bit more of Half Life 2. I bought Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode One and started playing through that a bit. It is surprisingly good, it seems like an excellent example of how to do a light adventure/RPG hybrid. I'm definitely enjoying it. I then spent the rest of the night (which ended up lasting until 5:00 a.m.) playing Galactic Civilizations 2 as I led the robotic Yor Collective on its bloddy campagin to conquer the galaxy.

Yesterday, I started by finishing the aforementioned Galactic Civilizations 2 campaign, and then went to work designing an RTS civilization for my Special Topics class. I was tasked with creating some unique aspects for the British civilization in a hypothetical World War I RTS. After that was finished I played a bit more of the Penny Arcade RPG and again got sucked into another late night session of GalCiv. This time I lead the peace-loving Iconian Refuge to culturally subvert the galaxy with their addictive colas and trendy fashions (if you've never played Galactic Civilizations, shame on you, but I apologize if that sentence made absolutely no sense).

Finally, today I again began my day by concluding the Galactic Civilizations 2 campaign started the night before, and then spent most of my day finishing up my play through of Half Life 2 in preparation for tomorrow's quiz. I had intended to use more of this weekend to work on my current Level Design assignment and starting to compile the research for my thesis field review, but a combination of freedom and Galactic Civilizations got the better of me and sapped most of my productivity.

I don't really think it's a total loss however, as I haven't entirely settled on my thesis topic yet, and I don't expect to have too much trouble catching up on my LD work. At worst, I've probably given myself one or two long nights, but nothing I'm not used to. Plus, the weekend was thoroughly and will no doubt help improve my productivity in the coming weeks. On that note, I think I will use the few remaining hours to relax a bit more before getting back into the grind. I hope you all had or are still having as good a Memorial Day weekend as I did. Take Care! Later!

May 23, 2008

Rapid Idea #2: My Robot

Hey all!

Sorry my post yesterday doesn't really count, and I had intended to post this yesterday as well, but anyway, here it is. This is the document for my second idea pitch, which I gave today.


My Robot

High Concept

My Robot is a Pokémon inspired Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) set in the far future where robot inventors battle one another using their creations in order to prove their worth. The player is a young inventor who can use his skills to invent new parts for his robot companion. By improving his robot, the player can advance through the grand robot tournament and become the next chief inventor at the largest robotics company in the galaxy.

Why It Needs To Be Made

Monster battle franchises like the Pokémon series and the Monster Rancher series have been very popular and successful throughout their lives. Unfortunately, the cost of this success has been a great deal of repetition without any real innovation in either series. My Robot captures many of the same collection, exploration, and experimentation aspects of those games, and builds on them by adding a fresh, unique new theme and deeper gameplay. The game’s similarities make it immediately recognizable to an established audience while the new gameplay and theme help differentiate it and make it more appealing to a wider base.


The player’s main ability in My Robot is the ability to invent things. Using scrap scattered around the galaxy, the player can invent new parts for his robot, and then configure the robot to do battle. Inventions consist of a piece of primary and secondary scrap and an optional piece of special scrap. The player can discover new inventions through trial and error or through hints from the game’s various NPCs or books. All the scrap combinations create something so players are encouraged to experiment. The available parts break down in the following the categories: heads, torsos, arms, legs, armor, and special attachments. Based on the parts equipped, the player’s robot has different core statistics and access to different abilities.

The flow of My Robot is similar to a typical JRPG. There are both towns (safe areas) and fields (dangerous areas) for the player to explore. The point of the game is for the player to improve his robot and win the tournament. In towns, the player will be able to buy and sell scrap/parts, and acquire quests to gain scrap, parts, and money. In fields, the player can explore looking for scrap/parts and accomplishing quests. While in fields, the player may also encounter hostile creatures or robot inventors. When the player encounters one of these, combat begins and the player must defend himself using his robot. Initially, the player starts on the small, backwater planet of his birth, but by defeating the tournament coordinators he can gain access to additional planets with new scrap, parts, quests, and coordinators. Only by defeating all the coordinators, can he gain access to the final planet and win the tournament.

Combat in My Robot occurs over a series of turns using menu commands. Combatants take turns (starting with the player) attacking one another until one side flees or is defeated. Each of robot’s attacks take a different amount of energy to use, and the robot regenerates a certain amount of energy each turn (determined by his parts). Attacks will do damage to the opponent and if a combatant’s health reaches zero that combatant is defeated, and the victor gains rewards from the battle. In addition, there are two important properties that affect combat: elements and materials.

Every robot or creature has some kind of material such as plastic, metal, or rubber, and attacks and special abilities have different elements such as electrical, chemical, or heat. Certain materials are resistant to certain elements and vulnerable to others, for example rubber parts are weak against heat attacks, but strong against electrical attacks. For robots, their armor determines their element, and creatures have natural elements. Choosing the right parts when facing an opponent is critical to success. The player can change the robot’s equipment at any time outside of combat.

Why Is It Fun?

My Robot combines the fun of several different game types into one simple, accessible package allowing a variety of players to enjoy the game in their own way. It has the collection aspects of a monster battle game, the exploration of a JRPG, the experimentation of a puzzle game, and the customization aspects of a mech builder. In addition, My Robot represents a unique combination of gameplay and theme that is remarkably uncommon. This makes it fun for long time fans of the gameplay while at the same time drawing in new fans with the exciting new setting.

Why Is It Memorable?

One of the most important and memorable pieces of My Robot is the relationship that the player develops with his own robot. The robot has a distinctly playful and loyal attitude like that of a faithful pet. Throughout the game, the player sees his robot grow and change as it receives different improvements and upgrades, but that attitude is always very clearly present in their interactions. By maintaining focus on this relationship, the player becomes invested in the health and well-being of his robot, and thus deeply immersed in the game world.

Final Thoughts

The design described here is extremely ambitious, and all together it is probably well outside the scope of what we could do with the limited time and resources available. Nevertheless, a successful project based on this design could be to create a demonstration that encapsulates a good portion of the gameplay. The interesting challenge would be to trim down the feature set without completely compromising the core vision of the game.


As of today, all the pitches have been given and now it is up to the reviews of my peers and the faculty to decide if either of my ideas deserve any further attention. 10 concepts out of the initial 62 are now going to be chosen for the next round of development and pitches. Here's hoping I can make the cut!

In addition, by next week we need to have applied for any lead positions we are interested in for the next project. I'm definitely interested in being Game Designer or Lead Level Designer, but I am still debating whether or not I want to apply to be a producer on the project. It's unclear if they are even planning to place any of the LDs in the producer positions, but assuming that they are, I still haven't decided if I want to do it or not, and I'd hate to back out later. It's not that I wouldn't enjoy it, or that I think I'm not capable of doing it, simply that there's going to be a lot to do with my Thesis and another DFS over the next two terms and I'm not sure I want to load that much pressure on myself. Not to mention, I've done the whole producer thing and this gives someone else a chance to get that experience. Still many of my peers continue to encourage me to apply, so I am at least considering it at this point. Either way I want to be game designer more than anything so that is my first priority. Alright, well I've got a little more work I'd like to do before I can start enjoying my Friday night. Later!

May 22, 2008

Game Hangover

Don't ever decide to play Galactic Civilizations II at 11:30 P.M. Ever. At the very least don't ever let me do it again, this is one of the worst, most persistent headaches I've ever had.

May 21, 2008


Hey all, don't have much time as I am still working through some of the details for my pitch on Friday and I have Thesis class tomorrow morning so I can't stay up very late working on it. Obviously the pitch isn't quite done, so I can't share it yet, but I will when I have it ready, probably tomorrow. Alright, bye all!

May 20, 2008


It seems like I haven't been able to keep my mind focused the past couple days. I'm sure that the allure of my new GalCiv 2 expansion may have something to do with it, but it seems like its more than that. I don't know, it just feels like I'm in a daze or something, and my mind seems to keep wandering to the most random topics as I am trying to focus on work or other things. It hasn't had any particularly negative effect thus far, but I do need to snap into focus so I can get my next game pitch ready. The first one got a good grade and was generally well received which is about as much as I think I can ask for though I have know idea if that means it's actually capstone material.

We playtested the C8 TGP games today, and they were definitely cool in their own ways, but they seemed at bit more "standard" than the things we are pitching. That may be due to the makeup of their teams (which are exceptionally low on programmers) or it may simply be the way these things work out, I'm not really sure. Nevertheless, I don't want to set my games up for failure, but at the same time I don't want to propose something "standard." I don't know, I'm probably over thinking things a bit. As I said, I've been a bit all over the place lately, and I think my mind just needs a little rest before I can sit down and focus. Anyway, I think that's all for tonight, later!

May 19, 2008

Was there something I was supposed to do?

That will teach me to buy a game on a Monday. I picked up the new expansion for Galactic Civilizations 2 and ended up spending the whole night playing the first mission of the campaign. The series has only gotten better with age, and it is still as addictive as ever. The new expansion is the last for this iteration of the series (though GalCiv III is no doubt in the future) so they included a whole bunch of editors for making custom maps, tech trees, and scenarios. It's more of a sandbox game ala Civilization so there isn't as much that you can do with it, but that should mean it shouldn't be too cumbersome to learn and it might be fun to make a simple scenarios with some unique situations. Anyway, I'm just thanking my lucky stars that right now I can afford to waste a night playing games, though I don't imagine that will last too much longer, and there are a handful of more productive tasks I could have done tonight. Oh well! Good times, good times...

May 18, 2008

The Way a Weekend Should Be (mostly)

Ah, this was just a fantastic weekend, I got some work done, I had enough free time to go shopping and actually play a few games, and I don't currently feel behind on anything. Let's compare this to my first weekend last term where I spent around 18 hours over two days working on my first "speed map." This was of course after a week of 12+ Extinction core hours, a DFS Project Proposal, and an Ethics essay all in the first week. Yep, I'd definitely say this is an improvement. I don't expect it to stay this happy and carefree all term, but I hope that this is another sign that the worst of it is over.

While I was getting organized for the coming week, I was cleaning out some of my folders from last term and I happened to run across one of my weekly task list that I had printed out to discuss with the professor. The sheer number of tasks on there and estimated time to complete them blew my mind. It's like last term feels like some sort of dream. I know it actually happened, I know I experienced it, I can remember it (well, most of it) but only as a sort of vague dream. I guess it's one of those mental protection mechanisms, the ability to forget pain.

Anyway, not too much happened this weekend. I got my grade back for our first Half Life 2 in-class assignment. Technically, the grade was pretty much only participation. There was a list of requirements, and so long as you met them you got 100, even if the overall composition of your map was bad. Still, he included a grade for how you would have done if it had been graded normally, and I did well on both counts. I am starting to appreciate Source in a few dimensions. While I ultimately don't think it is as attractive as Doom 3 (which may be personal preference) or as easy to handle as Radiant, I do think Hammer does a lot to help out the designers and make it easier to work more quickly/efficiently. The one thing that does scare me though is the compile times, I've heard tell of some maps taking over 8 hours to compile fully, and almost 2 to compile "fast." That doesn't really seem helpful to an iterative design approach, but I guess we'll see what happens.

Other than that, I've just been working to familiarize my self with Half Life 2 and Hammer, and working on coming up with ideas for my thesis. If you all are interested, I can post some of my ideas (we had to write up three of them ) and you can feel free to poke at them. Or I might just do it anyway if I can't really think of anything to write. I guess from where I was a year ago I would have been curious to know what goes into a level design thesis, though now it seems to make total sense. Funny, huh? Alright, well that's all for tonight, later!


Oops...picked up Guild Wars: Factions at the Best Buy and I've been playing it for the past few hours. Today was a nice, light work day w/ some personal errands and a little bit of schoolwork (mostly running through some Hammer tutorials and playing through Half-Life 2 for Game Design class). Tomorrow should be more or less the same, which is good. The term has at least started at a more reasonable pace than last term, I just hope it lasts. Anyway, it's late and I'm tired, so I should go to bed...

May 15, 2008

A Quickie

Not a lot of time to post tonight, I've got my Geomancer pitch tomorrow morning, which I still need to do some preparation for, and I'm not feeling very well, so I know I don't have a lot of useful hours left in me. As of today, I've now had each of my classes at least once, and its shaping up to be an interesting semester. There's not a lot going on right now as things are just winding up, but I'm throwing a lot of myself into these game design pitches as its something I'm really passionate about doing, and I want to see if I have the chops for it. Anyway, I really should get to work, so I'll cut it off there and catch up with you all later. Night!

May 14, 2008

Rapid Idea #1: Geomancer

So here's the game I'm planning to pitch this Friday. I spent most of the day coming up with it, documenting it, and trying to mock up at least some of the gameplay in a little program called Game Maker. Let me know what you all think, and what I can do to improve both the game and the pitch (except for the general layout, which was specified by the professor).



High Concept

The world has been torn apart by a great magical cataclysm, and all that remains is a barren wasteland. The landscape is still charged with magic and as one of the few surviving geomancers, you are charged with restoring the land. However, the other geomancers also wish to see the land restored, but dominated by their own element (e.g., fire, water, earth, etc.). You must carefully gather mana from the land and invest it wisely to ensure your element is the one that survives.

Why It Needs To Be Made

Building and strategy games arguably offer some of the deepest gameplay available, but in doing so, they are often exceedingly complex and difficult for casual users to engage in. Geomancer strips down the complexities of modern strategy games into a simple set of rules all surrounding one resource: mana. This will allow casual users to get engaged in the deep and engrossing decision making of strategy game without getting bogged down in a complicated rule set. In addition, everyone loves magic and Geomancer would allow for dazzling magical battles across the landscape as the different sides vie for supremacy.


Geomancer is a “real-time” strategy game played from a top-down/isometric perspective on a hex based grid. Though all the actions in the game occur in real-time, it has few, if any, of the standard RTS precepts. Each player starts with a single territory (i.e., hex) that contains their geomancer tower. From there, the player can use mana to convert neutral and enemy territories and cast spells to weaken his enemies or strengthen himself. Spells are used to convert territories, construct buildings, attack enemies and so on. Mana is gained over time, and the rate is determined by how much land the player controls in addition to the effects of any buildings and spells.

Players can invest mana in their own territory (increasing its strength) in order to protect it from enemy conversion as the cost of converting a territory is dependant on its strength. Initially the entire map is a barren desert (with some unique features for the sides to fight over) except for each player’s starting territory. Without the help of spells or buildings, each player can only see territories that border his own territories, so there is a “fog of war” aspect to the game as well. As players convert territories, the lands visually change to reflect their controlling power (e.g., lush forests, vast oceans, fiery volcanoes, etc.), and the player gathers more mana. The goal of the game is for the player to be the last remaining geomancer by converting the territories containing the other geomancer towers without losing his own.

Why Is It Fun?

Geomancer focuses on the simple, primal strategy of claiming territory like classic board games such as Othello or Go, but in lieu of a more contemplative, turn-based setting it occurs in real-time, which makes the game more fast-paced and action oriented. Geomancer has enough simplicity to allow casual gamers to enjoy watching their land rise (and fall) while still being deep enough to appeal to a more hardcore audience.

Why Is It Memorable?

The distinctiveness of the different sides set Geomancer apart from other strategy games. Instead, of simple palette swaps and minor unit variations, the different factions in Geomancer will be visually distinct and each geomancer will have access to unique spells and strategies. Also, the distinction between the sides is immediately recognizable and visually compelling. As vast oceans and towering volcanoes clash with huge tidal waves, eruptions, and other dazzling spectacles players (and even viewers) are immersed in the game, resulting in a deep and memorable play experience.

Final Thoughts

This game would work very well with the current specialization distributions as it there is little need for heavily constructive level design, and substantial work for the programming and art departments. The challenge in making Geomancer will be to combine approachable simplicity with strategic depth. Critical to this effort would be creating AI players that are interesting and fun to play against. The focus for the game should really be the same as the old slogan, “minutes to learn, a lifetime to master.”

May 13, 2008

Ideas are Easy?

So, we had our first game design class today and we've already started idea generation for the capstone projects. Basically, the process is two rounds of "rapid idea generation", and then we start paring down from there. Supposedly, we should have the designs picked and start assigning the teams around mid-term. What this means is, everyone is working on creating a pitch for this Friday and next Friday and those 60 pitches will comprise the pool from which the final games are chosen.

There's more to it than that, and in all likelihood the final designs will differ markedly from their initial pitch, but as most of you already know, I really want to get into game design and I think getting my design chosen here would be a great step. Technically speaking, the game designer position and the actual game design have been separated, so even if my idea isn't chosen I'll still be going out for the game designer role.

Anyway, I've spent a fair bit of today brainstorming and trying to vet out a few of what I feel are my best ideas. At this point I'm probably thinking a bit too much about some of the details, but I really want to make sure I understand this game before I pitch it, and I've been seeking as much counsel and feedback as I can. Once I have the idea a little more baked I'll post some more information as I would love any feedback you all can offer.

Beyond that, we had our first "special topics" lecture which was very interesting. A couple industry professionals (brothers actually) are teaching the class which is about basically anything. They have a number of different things they want to talk about, but at least today they also dedicated a lot of time to more free-form conversation about the issues that we will be facing as designers. I think everyone felt really good about being able to ask the questions that have been on all our minds for some time and get a straight, no-nonsense answer. I'm not exactly sure how we will be graded/tested in the class since all the material seems so disparate, but it is definitely very interesting material and a marked departure from our standard curriculum.

May 12, 2008

Term 5: Day One

Well, today marked the first day in the new term. As I was driving into class today, it occurred to me that the events of last term already seem so far away. It felt more like I was returning after a summer break than simply a week off, it felt like I hadn't seen most of my classmates in quite some time. I'm not sure if this is simply because last term was so dense that it occupies a large span of time in my mind (despite being a mere eight weeks in actual length) or if it is my mind reacting to that traumatic period by trying to block it out as much as possible. Either way, it felt good to be back, or at the very least, I was feeling optimistic about returning, which is a good sign.

Not to much to report on today, we had our first Level Design V class today which was basic syllabus, course guidelines, and the introduction to our new editor, Hammer. For those who don't know (which would have included me a few months ago), Hammer is the name of the editor for Source / Half Life 2. We covered only the most basic topics like how to make bsp brushes, add models, and do simple environmental lighting (i.e., light from the sun), but my initial impression is it is a bit more cumbersome than Radiant. The compile times are longer and lighting isn't in real-time so you need to compile the lights in order to see your changes. It would seem, however, that it calculates light bouncing around the area, which creates more realistic looking lighting using only a few sources, at least I think so. Doom 3, on the other hand, had real-time lighting, but didn't figure anything out on it's own, you sort of had to paint in the lighting exactly how you wanted it, which is both positive and negative for various reasons. Anyway, I've been told I'll like the editor and it is additive which I prefer, so I'm keeping an open mind, but overall I really like Doom 3 / Radiant, so Hammer will really have to impress me.

That's pretty much it, I've just been trying to play through HL2: Episodes 1 and 2 as quickly as I can so I can get used to the assets and what they've done with the game so far. I know, I know, hard work, right? Tomorrow marks our first game design lecture and our first special topics lecture with Sandy Petersen (Ensemble Studios), both of which I am excited about so I'm looking forward to it. I'm enjoying this time when we don't really have any homework and I can get excited about the upcoming material as I know it's sure not to last for very long.

May 11, 2008

Justifiable Blogicide

Well, it's clearly been a while since this site had anything close to regular posting, up on to about two weeks now I think. The end of last term was a whirlwind of work and exhaustion and so writing just sort of fell by the wayside as I struggled to get everything done on time. Then, during vacation, I definitely had the time available to write, but I was simply investing all that time into R&R and writing hadn't even occurred to me. Anyway, here I am now, and hopefully things should be getting back to usual as the term revs up. I guess I'll start with a quick recap of the last couple weeks.

As I said, the end of term was crazy, final deadlines in TGP and DFS and final exams in my other classes, not to mention organizing the wrap party for our TGP teams (along with Jane, of course). All's well that ends well though, I did exceptionally well on my exams and DFS, and the Extinction RTM delivery went off with only minor hitches. Most notably, the last night of integration was a bit crazy and things we actually had fixed or changed somehow didn't make it into the final version. Still, the final game ended up being solid and enjoyable, and a distinct departure from standard Unreal which was a goal for all the departments.

Similarly, there are still plenty of things I'd like to improve upon for my DFS (which I may update at some point), but the final product was still pretty impressive all things considered. I'm definitely getting better at scoping things out, though I'd say my DFS was still I bit beyond what I could reasonably do in the time available. Anyway, everyone that's seen it, including the professor, has been very complimentary so I think that's a good sign. My other finals were relatively easy so I did well there.

The only other notable thing from last term were the Gearbox interviews, which as far as I know no one has really heard anything about. Supposedly it was only going to take about a week to figure things out, but beyond some of the programmers being asked for follow-up interviews, no one really knows what's up. I'm not sure what I want to do with this summer, or if the internship is even the best thing for me, but I would like to know one way or the other so I can start figuring out what it is I am going to be doing. The break after this term is the last big chance to work on stuff outside of school, so I intend to take advantage of it as much as possible. Several companies I would like to work for have specific requirements on portfolio materials, so I need to start figuring out who I am targeting and how ASAP.

Break was very nice, though not nearly long enough. One week was just about enough time to get over this last term, but not enough to really recharge and get prepared for the next one. I know it sounds a bit odd to those of you in the workforce who get 2 or 3 weeks all year, but I feel like the end of last term felt something akin to returning from war. Granted, I have never been to war and I don't really mean to compare my situation to something which is clearly far more grave and traumatic, but I feel like the weariness or "shell-shock" is at least similar. Actually, the shell-shock point is an interesting one, because I think I experienced it to a certain extent toward the end of my break as I started contemplating my return to the Guildhall. I'm fine now and mostly prepared to start the new term, but I definitely did not want to come back a few days ago.

I don't mean to speak ill of the Guildhall in general, I actually think it has done a remarkable job of preparing me for my coming career. It's just the intensity that sometimes scares me and ultimately feels a bit unnecessary. Though I think last term was even more intense than they had intended. Looking at the C9 level designers during last term, I think it was clear to everyone that something was fundamentally wrong. We were tired and broken, one or all of us had seriously considered quitting at least once, and I still am not sure exactly how I made it through. The last couple weeks feel almost like a dream or a nightmare my mind had taken great pains to block from my memory.

Anyway, I'm sure I could go on and on about what I do and don't like about the Guildhall (as I have already), but overall I think the preparation is top-notch if you can endure it, and I think they are working to make enduring it easier on future cohorts, for whatever that's worth. As for me, I think I am mostly ready to being my next term and I continue hoping for the best in this term and beyond. Now, I am going to enjoy my last few hours of freedom. Night all!

May 7, 2008

Radio Silence

Hey, I'm still alive!

A combination of work, exhaustion, and laziness/recuperation has kept me from posting in quite some time, though I don't think there is a great deal to update on. The end of the term was actually quite a bit less stressful than the rest of it, at least the last few days. I pulled an all-nighter to get my DFS ready for my scripting milestone, went out and bought GTA IV, then subsequently passed out for about 15 hours to let me know that it had had enough. I felt great the next morning though, and managed to get my Penny Arcade essay done and submitted by the April 30 deadline. Since then I've been playing a lot of GTA IV and avoiding anything resembling work which apparently includes my dear blog.

We had a big wrap party for both the team games on Friday, which thoroughly enjoyable and a great way to end the term. I then headed home on Saturday and I've been sleeping on my brother's couch. I get to play GTA IV on his sweet TV and people take me out to eat all the time, it's pretty fantastic. That's pretty much all I've been up to. GTA IV is just as good as they say. The characters and story are incredibly well done, and the writing is top-notch. It still has the Rockstar trademark satire, but if you can get past that (or at least recognize it) you'll find a deep story with a remarkable cast of interesting characters. In addition, what really sells it for me is that they've made the shooting so much better. The lock-on system is akin to Crackdown's aiming system with the added ability to "free-aim" whenever you want by only holding the trigger half-way. I've played it for 30+ hours at this point and I just think it is fantastic. I repeatedly get engrossed in the story and often end up playing it for longer than I intend to.

In addition, the cityscape and world deserve special recognition for their sheer level of detail. The city is gigantic and nearly all the areas feel remarkably unique, which makes it feel like an even wider place. Add in a fully functional internet, radio news the reacts to your actions, and hours of TV programming you can watch at any time, and the depth of content is just astounding. The care that has been put into detailing the city and linking together all the different information sources (radio, TV, and internet) is almost unbelievable, and it creates one of the most immersive well-thought out environments to date.

Anyway, I could go on and on about GTA IV as it is definitely my favorite game this year and arguably better than those of last season as well. On that note, I will continue my ritual relaxation in preparation for next term. Later!