Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why Guitar Hero rocks?

The list below is an exercise done by all students (30 people) of the master with the supervision of design professor. The exercise consists in analyzing Guitar Hero and why it works so good and succeeds. Neither the graphics nor the kind of music are taken in consideration, only the gameplay aspects that make a good game. The list isn't made by order of importance.
  • Body rhythm. Can’t play it on the sofa -do you remember body play?-.
  • How are you doing it indicator. A thermometer that goes up with every hit and goes down with every miss. This produces satisfaction.
  • A metronome on the reel show us the rhythm.
  • To have point multipliers when you're doing it well, has sense in this game because you can memorize, and each time you do it better. Multipliers are a kind if recompense.
  • But it isn’t only about memorize. There are ability components.
  • Hands synchronization. To play a real guitar is very difficult because hands must play asynchronized. In guitar hero they work at the same rhythm.
  • One button more than useful fingers. When playing with the guitar we only use four fingers of the hand. This is very interesting. Guitar Hero is a social game, where you can brilliant in front of friends or you don’t have any idea but can have lots of fun with friends. To play the fool inside video games context works, it’s fun. This is what Wii attained, people playing together and laughing at each other.
  • Progressive difficulty with songs, the faster the reel goes the more difficult gets.
  • Sound feedback, making you think you’re playing the guitar, and shows you if you got it wrong or not.
  • The colors of guitar buttons coincidence with colors of the reel. Button order have the same order as the screen order. Trying this in reverse order, would be very difficult.
  • The reel comes from far to near allowing you to get ready for the increasing expectations.
  • Notes/second.How many notes per second are fun? Few notes could be boring. This can be the most difficult thing to find.
You may think that these are only little details, but these are the things that make the difference. It looks easy to find what works in a video game, but it isn’t. Our first homework was the analysis of a video game created before 1982 -MAME is an excellent emulator to play old games-. Why before 1982? Because until 1982, the video games were more or less simple and overall, the graphics are not important. A way of focus only on the game play. I’ve chosen Tank Battalion from Namco, 1980. It’s easy to find things which work but it isn’t to explain why.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Optimization for a 3D model

Two things that video game artist should do. The first one. All 3D model have hidden polygons. I mean polygons that no one can see them. It’s important to remove all of them, because for each one, the 3D engine has to do operations. With less hidden polygons to compute, less operations faster the engine runs. Just below you have an example of hidden polygons:

Base of the house

You can see in the image above the structure of a house seen from the base. We remove the base polygon because, surely, the house is going to be over a terrain, and nobody will see the base polygon. This trick can be done in many places of a model obtaining this way an optimization.

The technical specifications of a graphics cards say that they can compute millions of polygons per seconds. It really means triangles per second. The triangle is the basic calculation of geometry of any polygon. The polygon we removed before, was formed by four vertex, which means at least two triangles. Although we only see a polygon, the graphic engine computes two triangles. If we have more than four vertex the number of triangles grow.

With lots of polygons, these are lots of calculations for the engine. Bad thing. To reduce the number of triangles is something difficult. But we can do the calculation work easier for the engine, and here comes the second thing that should have been done by an artist. For a graphic engine it’s very expensive to compute long triangles -for example a long base and a short hight-. These kind of triangles can be avoided by using the tool ‘Turn’ of 3D Studio Max.

The tool 'Turn'

This tool shows you all hidden triangles and allows you to choose the best hypotenuse of the triangles, turning the hypotenuse in all possible ways with different vertex. The hypotenuse is drawn with a dotted line. The tool is very useful specially when you cut over a polygon, because this operation generates new triangles that you don’t see and could affect the efficiency.

Walls of the house

Then, here you have one more reason to remove hidden polygons. Because you aren’t leaving a polygon, you’re leaving at least two triangles that we didn’t think were there.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Introduction to modeling

These first weeks of the master, we have two types of classes: design and art. Daniel Sánchez Crespo, the Novarama founder, he teaches design. The art class is given by an artist from Novarama. In art class we start with 3D concept:
  • Modeling a geometry
  • Mapping, to give texture to a geometry
  • High detail modeling
  • Textures
  • Materials
  • Lighting
  • Particles system
The objective of this stuff is to know how artists work. We’ve started with 3D Studio Max 2008. At university I had done a class about it, but I only remember a few things. We started with modeling. As introduction, we created a simple chair, we drew the texture and we put it on the chair. Up to now, everything OK. After the chair the difficulty level changed. And the rhythm is now fast.

The original model of the house

We are creating a house from a model already created. See the photo above of the original model -when I’ve finished mine, if it isn’t too bad, I’ll show it-. The look is awesome, with real textures, normal mapping and a great lighting. We are supposed to follow the professor’s instructions, but some times I got lost. Too fast. Thankfully, in the next class the professor repeated some steps and I assimilated the basic concepts. Everything was better. Anyway, I think that to be a good artist, of any kind, you have to have some innate ability.

The professor recommended the work of Andrew Loomis about drawing, you can find it free on the web. Also, he recommended a book called Modeling a character in 3D Studio Max by Paul Steed. To end, some interesting links about computer graphics:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The beginning

Sorry, no much time to write!

As you know on Monday 6th I began the Master, we began with an introduction of the course, then each student said which were their favourite genre and video games. The director, Daniel Sanchez Crespo, told something interesting about many of these video games. The second day we started with game design, also with the director. After this class, I realized that I had been listening to him for three hours without distraction -something very difficult to do-. The director didn’t talk about video games -well, at the end a little bit-. He explained things about the human being and why he loves to play. It was a kind of anthropologic class, since the cavern men to our days. So, why do we play? There are three points:
  • To do and learn new things that could be useful.
  • To challenge, thinking in natural selection, where only who adapts to the environment survives.
  • Because it’s something innate to mammals.
In the end, these three points are due to the brain, who, when it believes that it is doing or learning something useful pays the body by segregating an hormone called dopamine, the hormone of the reward. I’m not going to develop this theme you have all the information about dopamine in the Wikipedia. I’m explaining it all very resumed.

He continued explaining the games evolution, their exponential growth since the Industrial Revolution, when the concept of pay to play and new kind of games appear. Then, in the Twentieth Century the National Institute for Play appears in the USA and creates a lists of elemental forms of play. The examples of play forms are of video games, but could be of any type of game:
  • Attunement play: Ico, when I've played with this game I'll write about it.
  • Body play & Movement: Wii, the best example.
  • Object play: Rubik's cube.
  • Social play: Any MMO.
  • Imaginative and pretend play: Any classic game.
  • Storytelling-Narrative play: Any classic game.
  • Transformative-Integrative and Creative play: Little Big Planet.
Nowadays, most video games are in included in imaginative and pretend play and storytelling-narrative play, but as the director said, we have to find the new potential markets, as Nintendo has done with the Wii -body play- or games like Nintendogs -attunement play-. The director sticked out the games Ico and Shadow of the Colossus of PlayStation 2, who play with the emotions of the player. I haven’t played with them, actually I haven’t got a PlayStation 2 -I was a proud owner of a Xbox, but dreamed of these games-. By luck, a friend is going to lend them to me -thanks Jordi! I’m anxious to play them-.

But I think, that that some things, can’t be done in the final project of the master. We don’t have enough time to do a long video game. Also, the director said that we’ve got to think about the final project as a demo of ten minutes that make us think that this game is awesome. This will be our presentation into the business. Then, we have to surprise, looking for new things. Let’s see what happens.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Open Pandora

I read, again at Vida Extra, a news about a new platform -sorry Sergi, another platform on which we should to think of to develop games- called Pandora:

Pandora is an "opened" portable console. When being cradled in Linux allows any developer to program its applications and games for this platform. Their appearance and size are similar to the ones of a Nintendo DS.

An Open Source console, what a great idea! I can't wait to have one in my hands.

Technical comparative between Nintendo DSi, PSP-3000, iPhone/iPod
Touch and Pandora just below. The sources of the three first columns 
are from Vida Extra -whose source is Dandel, whose source is
 Joystick-. The data of the fourth and last column is from the Pandora's 
Spanish site.

Nintendo DSi
iPhone / iPod Touch
Screen sizeTwo 3.25-inch displays4.3-inch display3.5-inch display4.3-inch display
Screen resolution256 x 192480 x 272, 16.7m colors480×320800×480, 16.7m colors
CPU speed / typeOne 67 MHz (ARM) and one 33 MHz ARM7TDMI2MIPS R4000-based; clocked from 1 to 333 MHz620 MHz ARM 1176, underclocked to 412 MHzTexas Instruments OMAP3530 625 MHz, core ARM® Cortex™-A8
Form Factor5.85 x 3.33 x 0.99 inches16.7 x 2.9 x 0.9 inches4.5 × 2.4 x 0.48 inches (iPhone); 4.3 × 2.4 × 0.33 inches (iPod Touch)5.5 x 3.3 x 1.1 inches
Camera2 cameras: one VGA and another one of 0,3 megapixelsGo!Cam, 1.3 megapixels optionalIPhone has 2 megapixels cameraNo
MemorySD slot, internal storage (unknown size)Memory Stick (up to 16GB)8-32GB of internal storage256 Mb FLASH NAND memory for internal storage. Two slots for memory cards up to 64Gb
InternetWi-FiWi-FiWi-Fi (iPhone also has EDGE or 3G)Wi-Fi
Touch ScreenYes (single-touch)NoYes (multi-touch)Yes
Online StoreYes (DSi Shop)Yes (PS StoreYes (App Store)OpenSource

1: Approximate size, based on Nintendo's assertion that DSi is 12 percent thinner than DS Lite

There are more technical aspects on the official sites. It seems to me that we're in front of the best portable console in technical aspects until now. You've lots of videos, they aren't of great quality. You only have to look for them on YouTube. My favorite is this one of Quake 2. Look at the high frame rate!

This afternoon, I start the master!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Waiting for monday

I'm counting the hours till Monday 6th when the Master begins. In order to calm down I've looked for things about the Master. There is something that maybe, only if I've time and money, I would like to do some of the courses of BCNPlay, done by the same people as the Master, the Pompeu Fabra University. It's a summer school about video games, where you can acquire new knowledge, for amateurs and professionals. It has courses about, for example, design and creativity or shader programming, all courses are in the context of video games.

In the Master as in BCNPlay, we found the name of Daniel Sanchez-Crespo as director of the courses. Here he has his personal web -I think-. There you can find lot of information about him: documentation, presentations, articles, etc. I've seen that he is the founder of Novarama, where they work with the platforms Game Boy Advance, PC, PSP, Nintendo DS and Xbox360.

I've found an interview of him here from iCatFM -in Catalan-. He talks about BCNPlay '08. I think the best question is the last one: "which platform do you prefer?". His answer being more and less:

[...] Nintendo's consoles have reached their limit [...] Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are very good platforms [...] but PSP is the console with which you can innovate more [...] You'll see next year.

Perhaps we should think in a PSP video game for the Master!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Video games history

I read in Vida Extra a news about history of video games. It's the first part of a documentary from Discovery Channel called in English, if I'm not wrong, Gameheadz: A Video Game History. I think it's only the first part of the documentary because it ends with Tetris and GameBoy, just when my history with video games begins -a long time ago, what times those!-. I haven't been able to find a continuation. I have read something about a DVD, but without success. If someone knows or finds anything, please write to me, I'm very interested!

The video is in Spanish:

Here below the links:
  • The new on Vida Extra, here. It includes the video in Spanish and the sources where it was obtained.
  • Here the documentary in English with subtitles in ¿Korean? -who knows!?-.
  • The documentary in English without subtitles and divided in five parts: first, second, third, fourth, fifth.
45 minutes of video games history that I recommend to everybody. I think it's very interesting to know how things were born and grew. You'll find peculiar anecdotes, and maybe some inspiration. I suggest watching it in English -without subtitles-.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Some first decisions

Some time ago, I met with Storm Bastard -it's his war name-, who is a good friend of Pau Novau. Sergi -Storm Bastard's real name- is going to be my companion in the Master in Creating Video Games, and we talked about the video game we'll make.

Sergi has some good ideas about the main characters and the aspect of the game, crazy ideas, but they're fun, lots of fun. But it's still too soon to write about them. Before, we will have to find in the Master two artists who like the ideas and want to work hard on it -something very difficult to find-.

The first decision we have to take is whether we want a video game for Xbox 360 or PC, maybe Wii is possible. Work for Xbox 360 implies a development with XNA, what implies creating a graphic engine from zero. This means dedicating less time to the story or playable elements, basics to obtain an amusing game. But XNA has a community with forums, tutorials, samples, tools, Microsoft behind the tool, etc.

Also, Xbox Live Arcade is a great platform of game distribution and a perfect place to be published and to obtain a certain recognition -if the game is well done-. And who knows if some money to finance the next video game.

I think that it's another advantage to develop for Xbox 360 because you don't have to worry about software and hardware configurations, something that happens on the PC and gives you headaches. This advantage could turn into a disadvantage, because not everybody has a Xbox 360, instead many people have a PC, but it's also true that not everyone who has a PC uses it to play.

However, PC is the platform for games creators per excellence. For a long time, people have been developpings for PC, there are lots of libraries, add-ons and tools, with a big community working every day on it. There is a tool well known called Ogre, a graphics rendering engine that can be used to create games and it's Open Source. The Teddy Incident has used this graphic engine -and other tools-. There are other graphics engines as Torque that doesn't look bad -but it isn't free- and lets you create video games for PC, Wii, Xbox 360 and, even iPhone.

We have to study the all options better, seeing what advantages we prefer and what disadvantages affect us less or with what tools we can work. Then we'll choose a platform for our game. Anyhow, let's wait for what the professors from the Master have to say. For sure, they can give us a better orientation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Final Projects of a Master

On Tuesday 23th of September, I went to the presentation of the final projects from the Master of Design and Creation of Video Games. A master of the UPC that also takes place in Barcelona. There were 6 video games. But I'm going to write only about two of them. The two I consider are more remarkable.


This team starts the presentation with the game trailer. As you see, it is a third-person genre with a graphic style like Fable . It take place during Napoleon's era. The game is for Xbox 360, it has been done with XNA, which means that the graphic engine was made from zero. They continued with a technical demo, where they showed aspects such as:
  • Dynamic Day/Night
  • Long Range View
  • Dynamic GPU GeoMap Mapping
  • Dynamic Shadows
  • Bloom Post-Process effect
  • Custom Material Shaders
  • Object Instancing
  • Advanced Frustum Culling
  • Realistic Particles System
  • Animated Vegetation
I suppose I will write about these technical terms in future posts. When I was watching it, I though of the technical demo of Crysis. They have done a great job. The only defect was the animation of the main character when he walks or runs. Strange movement. But I don't understand why, because the other animations, specially the fighting ones, are very good. I remark one where the character makes a final attack that looks like one in the film Troya. It's a handmade animation done with XSI Softimage.

Anyway, I was very impressed, thinking how would I be capable of doing something that looks similar to this. But, when I saw the next game, I realized my self that the story and characters are more important than technology -what doesn't mean that it isn't important-. You can have the best technology, but without a cool main character, charismatic secondary characters or a good story, you can forget about success.

The Teddy Incident

You're a little boy who is sleeping. You see how your teddy bear wakes up and goes through the corridor. At the end of it, a door is opened. Suddenly, a horrible shadow captures you teddy bear. You hide in your bedroom. You take courage and decide to go and save it.

Now, add to the story and characters the 3D platform genre with Nightmare Before Christmas style -not so dark-. You'll obtain The Teddy Incident. In the previous link you can download the game and some tools. Perhaps, apparently it's not a technical wonder, but it's the best finishing. A video game I would buy. Appealing and colourful graphics, funny story and characters with lots of personality. An awesome game.

One of the people behind the video game is Pau Novau. He has worked as programmer and artist. He has also created a useful tool. A tool to animate the characters. It's based on the Animation Blending. Explained in a simple way, joining basic and simple animations you obtain a complex animation as a result. You can find more information about his animation system here and the runtime on Sourceforge. In spite of being written that it's only for Ogre 3D Engine, Pau has told me that it works with any 3D engine. What a master!

Congratulations to all the teams and please excuse me for not having time to write about all of them!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Big expectations

Some days ago, I went to the offices of the Master in Video Game Development, to give my university title. The person on charge is a cool guy that showed me the temporary facilities. Temporary because the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) is building new facilities, but not any facilities. UPF is building the communication campus in Barcelona innovation district, 22@. A place were we'll have all the tools to create anything from video games to animated films.

Returning to the guy, when he took me to the classroom, he explained things we would do. Apart of the Master agenda, the most outstanding things were:
  • Some Xbox 360 to play.
  • Edge magazine, Spanish edition -I would prefer the English edition because the Spanish one has a month of delay-.
  • Close contact with the people from Master in Animation. Because interactive movies are a new tendency in video games. See The Bourne Conspiracy, Heavy Rain, or Splinter Cell Conviction. -I will talk about this tendency in future posts-.
  • Video games conferences with people from video game industry. They're trying to bring the creators of Gears of War to the UPF, for example.
But the thing most awesome was the idea to choose the two best video games projects, and join all teams to improve these two video games and participate in contest around the world. See the game Galaxy Scraper, finalist in the Independent Games Festival '08. The new in Spanish here. This game was create with only 5 people. Think what could happen with a team of 15 people.

Another good news. The guy said companies as Konami and Codemaster were coming to Barcelona to open offices. That means a close contact with the Master. But I haven't been able to find anything on this for the moment.

Anyway, big expectations. We will see what happens.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

First post

Welcome to the blog!

Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a Engineer in Computer Science who is going to begin a Master in Video Games Development -or Master in Creating Video Games as they say-. I need a place to share and to explain what we do. Because, if you're capable of explaining something and others understand it, this proves that you've understood and assimilated this knowledge.

The course begins in October 2008 and ends in November 2009 for only 30 persons: 15 artist and 15 programmers. I feel very lucky to be included. The course has two big blocks, in the first one, artist and programmers work together, because it is important to know the role and the work of the other. In the second one, you go to the specialized branch. Finally, you are in a team of two programmers and two artist -more and less- where you get to develop a video game.

I have many expectations with the course. I love technologies, animation, cinema, and overall, video games. In the future I would like to work in the business. But I'm going to take this course along with other project: eventuo. It's a big project, my partners and me are very involved in it. Take a look at our blog (Spanish).

I hope this post will be the first of many and that you will enjoy all of them.