Wednesday, December 17, 2014


The feedback we received when we showed it was right in line with what we thought it would be. Good idea, simplify it, and nail down the mechanics, cause currently it wasn't fun enough. Helpful, and reaffirming that we were moving in the right direction, but it would have been nice to get there faster. Getting a track design that the engineers could test their physics on proved to be challenging. Our producer Jon did a good job of taking the reins and getting the track to where we needed it to be, While Wuchen did a lot of work modeling and rigging the character.

Unreal Surfers

The game I envisioned in my head was completely dependent on getting the movement of the surfer feeling fun and accurate. There are a lot of surfing, snowboarding, and skateboarding games, so there's not really a point in rehashing that. Almost all of the surfing games made were basically simulation games where you road up and down the face of a wave scoring points by doing tricks. I love Kelly Slater Pro Surfer, I thought it was a blast, but I'm a surf enthusiast. I don't really see a surfing game out there that's fun for a general audience, or one that has gameplay that is fun unless you like surfing. What I felt was missing from the marketplace was a game that showcased surfing movements and was fun.

Getting the physics and the feel of the motions would be the most difficult thing, and once we got that nailed down, designing the track would be the next thing to focus on.

The idea was to create a simple figure 8 track so that the engineers could get they physics and mechanics feeling how we wanted.

For some reason, the simple figure 8 track didn't happen, and we started testing the mechanics first using race track pieces found in unreal, and just a flat plane. This was fine, but in hindsight we probably should have started with a figure 8 track. I designed a more complicated track, thinking another team member was creating the figure 8 track. This was the first track I designed. I'm not a modeler, so forgive the clunkiness.

We threw it in unreal and there were a ton of issues with scale, track width, and collision. It was clear we needed to iterate faster and more simply to make the progress we wanted to make. 

2 Down to 1

The team making the eye tracking software game came up with some cool ideas. They wanted to create a game where you played as a dragon protecting a temple. Obstacles and rewards would fly around the temple, while the dragon either ate the spirits, shot them down, or moved around the obstacles. They wanted to do it in a japanese print style which is a really cool idea.

After a couple classes I would meet with them, they'd moved pretty far while I wasn't with them, and eventually, I dropped out of the team. They didn't need me, and I was creating some artwork for the other game and spending all my time there, so it made sense.

Artwork for Unreal Surfers

2 Projects - wha?

In my last post I mentioned how stoked I was to work on our last prototype. Working in the Unreal Engine, the lack of restrictions, the opportunity to choose our own team members and work with guys that I had enjoyed working with in the past, or guys I hadn't yet worked with but wanted to, as well as the chance to make whatever game we wanted was a pretty enticing proposition. So enticing, in fact, that I decided to work on 2 different teams making 2 different games. Not too bright huh? Knowing a little about Bob and Roger's expectations of students, and their desire to get us to think outside of the box, I didn't see this as a problem, and didn't worry about asking for permission.

We quickly organized into the teams grabbing individuals we had worked with and wanted to work with again, and started pitching ideas. There were a few great ideas pitched. I pitched one I was interested in making which explored the concept of wealth disparity and distribution. We riffed on this for a while until it turned into something I didn't want to make. We discussed some games made for the medical market using eye tracking software. The couple that had pitched it had some applications to the idea that I thought were really promising and I voted to work on their project. About half of the group didn't want to make a medical game and split off to make a platformer game that showed some promise. We discussed further the medical game and organized our team around that.

During this process Roger announced that one of the teams found themselves without an artist and asked if any artist was interested in joining them. I wandered over to see what games they had come up with to see if I'd be interested. They had a few generic ideas on the whiteboard, and some existing games, like mario kart that they were using for inspiration, but nothing that showed any promise. I was about to walk back to my other team when an idea came to me for a game. In one of my design classes I made a prototype of a platform racer. A driving game where the car raced around a track jumping and driving through a platformer type race track. This track had jumps to different levels, mazes, collectibles, hidden paths, etc. I said if they wanted to make a prototype of that game, I'd be interested in working on their team.

Needing an artist they quickly agreed that they'd be willing to make that kind of game. At that time Roger swung by the group and let them know that if they were to make a surfing game, that would probably seal the deal for me. Roger knew my affinity toward surfing games and animation and knew that I'd be a sucker for this type of game. I let them know I'd be interested in either a racing or a surfing or hoverboard game, but that surfing games, while I enjoyed them, were pretty boring to most people. I didn't want them to make a game they didn't want to make, so I headed back to work as they discussed their game more.

A couple mornings later I woke up with the idea of a hoverboard racing game where the track would mimic the path of a surfer on a wave, and the movements would be typical surfing movements of carving, turning, and catching air on a wave, while the player raced through the track collecting fish tacos. A game I would totally love to make. I drew up some designs, went to class that day and pitched the idea. While they were designing a hoverboard platformer, it wasn't too far of a stretch to do this, and they were all on board with it. (Probably desperate for an artist)

I went to my other group to talk about their game, and their game was so cool, I also wanted to be a part of that. So at that point I was on 2 teams contributing artwork and design ideas to 2 groups.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Final Prototype - Unreal, no restrictions, choose your own team, history and expectations.

For the final prototype we were to develop a game using the Unreal engine. This announcement got some applause in our class, as evidently many of us were waiting for a chance to make a game and gain some experience using this engine. To add to the good news, Bob and Roger also allowed us to create whatever game we wanted, no restrictions or parameters, and they also let us divide up into the teams we wanted to. This was great news for me as it allowed us the freedom to have the kind of experience I felt would be the most beneficial to all of us.

I understand the principle of restrictions being important in creative endeavors. I also understand that having those restrictions are part of the industry, and is the environment that 99% of us will work in for most of our careers. However, that's exactly the kind of experience I was looking to get away from when I chose to go to school at the U. I've been working in the industry for more than 10 years, I've been working under restrictions, and outside requirements for all of my career. I came to school to get away from that, and have a chance to freely develop what myself and my team members were capable of and wanted to develop.

As I learn about the kind of environment that existed in the computer science department at the U during the 60s and 70s, I realize that's the kind of experience I was expecting in a graduate multidisciplinary video game program.

We know that much of the graphics technology we use today was developed by University of Utah computer science students under the direction of a couple key professors at the time, David Evans and Ivan Sutherland. Some of these students included Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar, John Warnock, founder of Adobe, Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, Jim Clark, founder of SGI, and Alan Ashton, founder of WordPerfect to name a few.  In hearing some of these former students talk about their time at the U, they often cite the environment created by Evans and Sutherland as a key contributing factor to much of their success. They relate how these 2 teachers provided a free, open environment where students were self-directed and motivated to study and explore whatever facet of computer graphics they wanted to. To be fair, they also cite the timing of their time at the U as integral to their success. At the time these students were attending school, the government was throwing a lot of money at the program to help develop the graphics technology they were developing.

In hindsight, it's probably unfair to expect lightning to strike twice at the U, but when this final assignment came to us, I felt it was a chance to work, even if for only a few short weeks, under the kind of environment that I was expecting to find when I began.  So I was pretty stoked.

Chem-Bot Prototype

This is what we landed on for our prototype. In this level the goal is to suck hydrogen and oxygen molecules into the chamber to create water molecules. Once you've created the water molecules you shoot them out of the chamber to extinguish fireballs that are floating around the level. While I think there's a lot we could change and iterate on, I'm happy with how this one turned out.