Tech Talk – Entering the Scary World of Coding

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When students first come to VFS one of their major worries is often: will they be able to handle the coding?  The answer to me is obvious – and it’s almost always a resounding yes!  That is because the curriculum at VFS has been designed to teach everything you need without prior knowledge of coding.

People also ask me a lot – don’t you get bored teaching introductory programming in term 1?  The answer is definitely not.  The more advanced classes are great fun too, but for me my favorite class is week 7 of Programming 1.  Seven weeks earlier, twenty or so students start my class; most with no experience coding.  And seven weeks later they are producing group projects with thousands of lines of code.  Seeing that transformation and their confidence developing never gets old.

Coding is not for everyone though and some students decide in the end it is not a career they want to pursue – so does that mean they can’t make games?  Absolutely not – there are so many different disciplines that go into making games, from art to design, audio to production.  However even if you choose one of these other great avenues, you will benefit from the knowledge you gained about what programmers do and how they work.  That is why it’s a core part of the curriculum that everyone learns in their first term.  If you want to learn more then you can choose to go deeper in later stream choices.

But I’m biased – don’t take my word for it!  Here are the thoughts of three students from last term that have just finished Programming 1:

Juan Carlos Perezcruz Pintos

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Image Based Lighting

One of the cool things about creating art using a computer is that you have unlimited choice to alter, adapt and update a composition of an image that you are working on. When I’m working on art for a game, I often like to render the scene out to get a better view on my progress. Maya is very good at rendering scenes using its default lighting. But what if that’s not enough? Well we could create some lights of our own, maybe the 3 point light setup. That could be time consuming, and I just want to have a decent render for checking purposes.

Maya allows us to take advantage of a technique called image based lighting

Image based lighting is a rendering technique that takes advantage of High Dynamic Range images or HDRi for short. Most modern cameras and Smart Phones can now take these, which presents some interesting options for us. You can use your own panoramic HDR images taken with your smartphone, to create a dynamic background and lighting tool. Here is an example of how you can make a simple model look spectacular using HDR images for lighting.

A model of my dream car that I made, a Ford GTO.

Ford GTO in wire frame screenshot. Not a very interesting scene. Default lighting.

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Mythology 101: Episode 4

Last week in Episode 3 we talked about the Australian Aboriginal mythology. The core of that episode was how their myths are focused around creation and how things came to be, if you think about the origins of your game world, that might help build your story. In Episode 4 I want to go in a different direction again, let’s take a look at Chinese mythology, and see how that might help your designs.

The most common image that comes to mind when you think of Chinese Mythology is the dragon. I’m going to save the dragons for next episode, and instead focus on the other creatures of Chinese Mythology.  Let’s look outside the common place and discover the types of creatures that we might be able to use to influence our characters and enemies. What craziness exists in the myths that date back to 2000 BC, and inside of those myths can I find some creatures that could make my game better or different?

An A to Z of Chinese Characters

Ao-Kuang

Ao-Kuang is the most powerful of the ocean dragon kings, I said I wouldn’t talk about dragons, but they are the only ones that start with the letter A.
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HTML5 – The Future of Online Gaming


HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is the scripting language of the internet. Anything you see in your browser window starts with HTML.

One of the biggest challenges of being an educator is to continually evolve your curriculum to stay one step ahead of the curve. We caught wind of HTML5 a while back and have been keeping a close eye on its evolution. It has not taken off as fast as we expected, however, there are a lot of great features that show promise. For example, the ability to be supported on many platforms including mobile, recognition that it is the new online standard, and faster performance than previous versions of HTML.

What does it look like?

One way to see HTML is to right-click on this blog posting and choose “View Page Source” from the context menu. Below is a code snippet of a simple HTML5 page:

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The 28th Graduation of Game Design

It’s June already, and once again the Game Design program has a reason to celebrate. Another group of amazing students has battled through the year, and has truly earned a reason to be proud. It wasn’t truly over when they finished their final projects, it’s tonight, the night they get their diplomas and learn who has won the end of year awards.

The Graduation and Awards show on June 20th has a mix of parts: one part formal, and one part fun. The formal part of the evening began with a speech from myself, then the student-elected class speaker Ornella Carolina Mastretta had a few words, and finally student selected Instructor speaker Chris Mitchell closed the speeches with some heart-warming words.

There was laughter, there were tears, but mostly there were great reflections on the friendships that have formed, the experiences that the class have all been through together, and some useful advice for being successful, as they move onto the next phase of their lives. The formalities were wrapped up with the handing out of diplomas and the embarrassingly long handshakes that make up that portion of the evening. Congratulations to Lorena, Jethro, Francisco and Harry who all graduated with honours.

Next, during a short break, parents, friends and family members were invited up to the 2nd floor production space, where they could see the area that the students’ final projects were created, play the games they made and have some snacks and refreshments.

After the break, the Awards show began… Read More

Mythology 101: Episode 2

In the first episode we talked about a couple of the Roman myths, and commonly known characters such as Cupid and Mars. The focus of episode 1 was to look for common stories of mythology and use them to provide a spark or an idea for story or mechanics. In episode 2 I want to go in a different direction, let’s take a look at Greek mythology, and dig a little deeper.

Greek mythology is probably some of the most well known because of the movie industry. Movies such as 300, Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans took some of the most common stories and brought them to the silver screen. Oh, did you think Sam Worthington was the first Perseus?


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Game Design Readings: Understanding Comics

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So I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but throughout my career I’ve been asked to chime in on a great many artistic issues. It’s a collaborative process but also an intimidating one to non-artists like myself. Clearly there is a minimum standard of artistic knowledge that should be held by anyone in game design, and clearly it needs to be presented in a clear, easy to absorb form.

 

Luckily for us, one artist/author has created just such a resource, albeit for a different industry. Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art is a phenomenal resource for any game developer. McCloud does it by the simple expedient of writing an ever evolving comic starring himself, then constantly changing the art style and presentation to match whatever artistic concept he’s talking about. It’s a brilliant concept and goes through a stunning amount of content in a short space of time.

It’s of course centered on the art of comics but it’s done with such skill that it applies to any related artistic field, including of course games. In reading this book you learn the basics of comic grammar, but also types of transitions, iconography, how time works in presentation, how line influences communication, interplay of words, images and colour, and even the artistic process that leads to artistic creation. It’s also a delight to read, the best textbook you were never given.

Part of the work even dedicates itself to the “Are comics art?” debate and nicely enough, the arguments mirror exactly the struggle we in the game industry face when our detractors ask us to explain ourselves and prove our worth. It is, as Scott McCloud himself puts it, “A really stupid question.”

In short it’s a simple but powerful book that any game developer, comic fan or not, should take time to read. It’s a detailed look at the history, purpose and art of comics but also an important resource for any non-artist seeking to educate themselves.


Chris Mitchell teaches Pre-Production, Game Theory and Project Design at VFS

Indie House: Developing Games Professionally From Home

I’m sad to say that my duration as a full-time instructor here at VFS Game Design is coming to an end. It was a very difficult decision for me to make, especially since working here has been a wonderful and fulfilling experience for me, because of both the students I have had the pleasure to teach, and the other instructors and TAs I got to work alongside.

The reason I am leaving is because I am entering the game industry as a full-time indie developer once again. But this time things are a bit different, this time, I’ll be working out of Indie House. So this post will be about Indie House, what we are doing, and hopefully will serve as an inspiration to those of you who want to get into making games.

WHAT IS INDIE HOUSE?

Indie House is a large house located in Richmond, BC, Canada, and is currently occupied by four full-time indie game developers who are all working from home. We have all known each other for many years, have collaborated on many games and projects together, and all make a living doing what we love… making video games.

WHO IS INDIE HOUSE?

  • Chevy Ray Johnston – Yours truly, a programmer, artist, and game designer most famous for creating the widely-used FlashPunk game engine
  • Matt Thorson – Creator of dozens of indie games such as the Jumper and Give Up Robot series, and the upcoming multiplayer combat game, TowerFall!
  • Alec Holowka – Unity master, creator of the award-winning Aquaria, wonderful musicvideo tutorials, and the popular Infinite Ammo podcast
  • Noel Berry – Creator of many web games including Prism Panic, Broken Robot Love, and Chunkadelic, also a talented web designer and artist

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Competitive Gaming: A Twist

 

VFS Level Design Instructor Lanh Doan received bad news last year, due to health reasons he was going to have to take a break from teaching. Lanh was going to be spending a lot of time recovering and getting himself healthy again, and this meant a lot of quality time watching TV and Movies… more importantly it meant  he would be spending a lot of time on his computer. A lot of people (like me) would spend most of that time just playing games and connecting with friends, but Lanh wanted to continue to develop his skills, and there was no better way than competitive gaming.

This was not what most people would expect from competitive gaming, as  a Level Design expert Lanh had a different idea, enter competitions in Level Design. The Gnomon Workshop, an online training site for Artists, was running a monthly contest with a different theme, and awarding prizes to the best entries.

“I came across it when I was researching, development tools for UDK and noticed a familiar name in the industry, Alex Alvarez, an amazing 3D artist that I’d been following for a while.  He is now the founder of the site which is very popular and produces the best educational Dvd sets out there.”


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Question Block : Casually Kickstarting

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Welcome to another edition of Question Block. As always, if you have questions you would like to see in a future edition, post them in the Comments section below or email rdonaldson@vfs.com. And now, on with our show…

I recently read that Ubisoft has seen revenue growth in FY13 because of its core games like Assassin’s Creed, Just Dance, and Far Cry 3, and less growth in its casual games. Does this mean they will focus less on developing casual games? They are also depending on the success of new consoles. How much will the success or failure of the new consoles affect the company?

We have seen something of a platform transition in the casual space in the past year or two, as companies shift away from Facebook in favor of mobile devices. This has caused a bit of a downturn in revenue for many casual developers as they wind down their social titles, and Ubisoft’s casual arm is no exception. Keep in mind that Ubisoft makes a lot of casual games for platforms like Wii and DS as well, and with slow sales of the Wii U and 3DS, they aren’t reaching the casual install bases they found on Nintendo’s last generation of systems. Despite the slowdown, it’s almost certain that Ubisoft will continue to support casual to some extent, so we can expect that its performance in that space will generally follow the market. Whether that means casual revenue will be at higher or lower levels than before remains to be seen.

Ubisoft has tended to have a very diverse portfolio of games, and some of the titles that we as gamers might dismiss are actually some of their top sellers. True, Assassin’s Creed III shipped 12.5 million units to retail to date, but Just Dance 4 has shipped 8.5 million! (Though keep in mind that shipping to retail doesn’t necessarily mean impressive sell-through numbers.) This pervasive strategy helps the company weather transitions rather well, since it means it has products spread across many different platforms. That said, certain consoles skew towards certain demographics, so a slowdown in Nintendo console sales will lead to a downturn in Ubisoft’s casual revenue; poor sales of Sony or Microsoft consoles would have a bigger impact on Ubisoft’s hardcore franchises.

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