CreatingArtGame

Creating the Art of the Game by Matthew Omernick was a quick and easy read. However, I wish I had noticed the age of the book (and also the age of the reviews on Amazon). This book is seriously dated, and it has not aged well. Although some of the topics are still applicable, and lot of the stuff he talks about is ancient in the game dev industry. All things considered, it’s not necessarily a bad book, it’s just not very useful at this point.

The book covers a number of fairly basic topics regarding art creation for video games. Some of what is discussed includes: gathering reference, modeling theory, texturing, lighting, user interface, and tips and tricks. It became clear a few short chapters in that this book was really geared at beginners. I mean total beginners, as in still in high school, no experience whatsoever. Had it not been so dated, I could still recommend it to high school students. The only problem is that a lot of the content is not very useful anymore. He talks a lot about things like vertex lighting (saying per-pixel lighting is to intensive for real-time use), faked shadowing using square/circle textures, planar reflection by duplicating and flipping geometry, etc. These are all pre-shader era techniques and are somewhat amusing to look back on.

Omernick refers to the Playstation 2 a lot (the popular console at the time) and makes some interesting predictions about what the “next generation” (now the last generation) would be able to do. Clearly the guy has worked in the industry and knows what he is talking about. It’s just that the state-of-the-art has advanced considerably in the past 10 years, and this book does not stand the test of time. However, I did learn a trick or two regarding texture creation (which fundamentally has not changed much) so I don’t feel too bad about spending a few days reading this book.

Unfortunately I don’t think I could recommend this to anyone at this point, given the beginning level and dated content. No worries, on to the next book.

technolustNow this is my kind of game: a cyberpunk first-person adventure set in a dystopian future. Native Oculus Rift support. A NSFW TRON poster (though I bet they will take that out). This just looks too awesome for words. I backed the Kickstarter for $50 bucks, but I’m willing to up the ante later in the campaign if necessary. Really anyone with an Oculus Rift, or that plans to buy a Rift, should throw some money down on this project. Of all the things I’ve played in VR, I think this is my favorite. And I’ve played a LOT. Get on this.

Learning C# with Unity

Honestly I’m not sure why I bothered with this book. It’s not that it was a bad read per se, but it’s really for stark beginners. Learning C# by Developing Games with Unity 3D by Terry Norton is really for people that have little or no experience with programming. Meaning if you don’t know what a ‘variable’ or a ‘method’ is then this book will probably be helpful. It’s really intended for artists using Unity who want to add some scripting skill to their knowledge. If you are already a capable programmer (in C# or not) then this book will probably not be that helpful.

Personally I’ve been programming in many languages for years, however I’ve only really dabbled with C#. So I figured this book could be a good refresher. Unfortunately it is on such a basic level that it doesn’t really cover the features that make C# unique. If you have any programming experience the text will seem remedial. Some of the topics in the book include: variables, functions/methods, classes, and dot syntax. The main example project covers creating a state machine to handle switching between different screens. In actuality, this is a good introduction to programming though it doesn’t teach you nearly enough to be able to start creating a complete game in Unity. However, it is called a ‘beginner’s guide’ so it’s not like it was mislabeled.

Learning C# by Developing Games with Unity 3D comes in at just under 300 pages, so it is not a long read. I think I finished it up in less than a week. So I’m not terribly upset about taking my time to check this out. To the book’s credit, I did learn one new trick: how to have a component act as a singleton, so I did gain something. I do think if you are an artist with no previous programming knowledge, this could be a great intro into the field. However, to get anything serious done you will still need some other books to take you to the next level. Overall not a bad book, but if you’ve already be coding for any period of time you can probably skip it.

 

The guys at Sixense have just released a new video showing off the 5 STEM motion-tracking system that they are Kickstarting. The Sixense version of the Oculus Tuscany demo was already one of the more impressive examples of VR I have seen, and that was just using the Razer Hydra. This new demo ups the ante with a total of 5 trackers, resulting in a convincing full-body simulation. I have already backed the Kickstarter and I suggest, if you haven’t already, that you do too. This technology looks way too awesome to pass up.

Shadowrun Returns

Let me just say this right off the bat: Shadowrun for Super Nintendo is my all-time favorite game. All time. It was great. Set in a future cyberpunk theme urban sprawl, you are basically a gun for hire. Or at least you were. You wake up in a morgue back from the dead with no memory of your life. You spend the rest of the game trying to discover what happened. It had RPG elements, action elements, adventure elements. You could hack computers and get money or steal information. You could go to a bar and hire guns to help out on your mission. It had an innovative dialogue system where you would get words in your “dictionary” that you could ask people. You started with nothing, but as you talked to people you would get more words to ask. It was awesome. Especially for 1993.

While Shadowrun Returns might not quite match what I remember of the original SNES title, it does a damn fine job at what it does. Basically the world is similar, and even the main character from the SNES game makes a cameo. Magic has returned to the world, along with ogres and elves and all that. Shadowrunners rule the streets. From simple hired guns (street samurai) to hackers (deckers) to mages, there are lots of different classes to choose from. The story follows a string of mysterious murders and the investigation to find the killer. Well, there is more than that but I don’t want to give anything away. The game is what I would call a turn-based strategy RPG. There are lots of RPG elements and stats you can level up. This effects everything from your hit points, to the chance of success with any particular weapon. So this takes a note from the mechanics of the original pen-and-paper game. This works well, and the combat is still satisfying. There are also some cool missions, or at least one really good one at the end, where you have to hack into security systems and fight of guards on an espionage mission. Good stuff.

So the game is great, and you should buy it. However, I did feel like it was extremely linear.  In the Genesis version of the game (1994) you could take all sorts of side-missions to beef up your stats or make money. It was awesome. They had drug deals, extractions missions, VIP escorts (no, not that type of escort), hacking, the whole nine. In Shadowrun Returns there is only really one side-mission in the whole game. So you are basically watching a good interactive movie. Granted, it’s a 17-hour movie, and it’s great, but I would have liked more choice. There is also very little exploration, it mostly feels like an “on-rails” affair. That said, it’s still a blast and any fans of cyberpunk fiction will probably get a kick out of it.

All in all a great addition to the Shadowrun universe, and a refreshing break from all the first-person 3D games that are all the rage. I do wish it were a little longer, and more of an open-world, but I guess you can’t have everything. However, it appears the modding tools are good, and there is already a good amount of user generated content available. Plus, a DLC campaign is slated for early next year. This game has my cyber-seal-of-approval.

Remember Me

Remember Me is an action-adventure title recently released by Capcom (developed by Dontnod). It is set in a futuristic Paris, and follows a “memory hunter” named Nilin. Basically, in the future people can erase (or alter) their memories, and there is a big evil corporation profiting off the situation. Nilin is part of the resistance, called Errorists, that fight the corporation.  Nilin starts the game with all her memories conveniently erased, and fights throughout the story to regain her past. An interesting premise, though you can tell the story borrows concepts from other popular science fiction. That said, it’s compelling enough to take you through the game.

Aside from the story, I found the locations and environments to be very detailed and well designed. The graphics are using the Unreal Engine 3, so there are no complaints there. I found the environment modelling to be top-notch, and loved the detail put into everything. A lot of the time, you will be running through the level quickly and even miss all the little things they modeled, like the inside of a shop you can’t even enter. They really went out of their way to flesh out this world. Although there is a lot of detail in the world, most of it is not interactive. You can climb on things, ledges, windows, etc. but only in pre-defined spots. So it’s not like you can go exploring the city any way you like. It’s very controlled and you really can only go on that one path.

One thing I loved about the game, beside being in the future (and I’m a sucker for the future), was that the main character was both female and black. Well actually, she was multi-racial, which may even be more edgy. This is a breath of fresh air from all the games that pit the savior of the world as a white male. So kudos for the developers for trying something different.

Probably the best part of the game is the memory remix scenes. Basically what you do is hack into someones brain and alter their memories. This can have interesting effects, like convincing a woman that her husband died and things like that. This then changes their actions in real-life. This is really an original concept, and was implemented flawlessly. During these sequences you can rewind and fast-forward, through a scene that could play for about a few minutes. During that time you can alter certain objects or actions in the scene to change the memory. Some scenes could have 5 or 6 different objects to interact with, which adds a lot of possible branches for the scene to go in. This is clearly the selling point of the game, and it’s nice to see the polish they put on this. Unfortunately there are not a lot of these memory remixes during the game. There are maybe only 3 or 4 scenes throughout the whole experience. Even so, they add a lot.

However, the game isn’t all praise. I found the combat to be somewhat clunky, and look me toward the end of the game before I got all the combos down solid. There is a system where you can customize your combos. This sounds cooler and deeper than it really is. Basically there are 2 attack buttons (one punch, one kick). There are also 3 or 4 pre-designed combo sequences. What you can control is the power and effect of each hit. So some attacks will refill your health, others will be more powerful, others will increase your cool-down (needed for special attacks). This is great, but I wish you could actually have adjusted the combos themselves, or had more control over the sequences. It’s not entirely broken, but the fighting could have been a lot more fluid. The part of the fighting I did like were the special moves, which are varied and all powerful. Some make you go berzerk, others allow you to turn enemies into bombs, another will make robots explode, another makes you invisible. Overall this adds a much needed interlude to the somewhat monotonous button mashing.

Of course, I was playing this in stereo 3D on a 100+ inch projector using the DDD TriDef driver and it worked well. Although there seemed to be parts of the game when the frame-rate chugged for a few seconds, overall the performance was good and the 3D looked nice. There were only a few small issues, like with real-time reflections, but overall support was good. I’m becoming more and more impressed with the DDD solution, and I was glad they had a profile for such a new title.

Overall, I was happy playing this game for the 12 hours it took to finish. I realize it wasn’t an A+ title, but I sort of knew that going in. If you are a sucker for futuristic sci-fi (like I am) then you will probably find something worth playing here. If you are looking for the next Assassin’s Creed, then you should probably look else-where. That said, I had fun with it.

Game Coding Complete

Finally, I’ve got around to reading (and finishing) Game Coding Complete, and it’s up there on the list of great game development resources. I’d been meaning to read this book for quite some time, but got distracted with DirectX and Windows hooking for use with my 3D driver. Now that I’m back on the 3D engine kick, it seems like a good time to hit this book. Reading through this, I was thoroughly impressed by the content and the writing style. Don’t be discouraged by the lengthy size, this text is well worth the time to read.

The authors, both seasoned game developers, working on the Ultima series and various Sims games, have a lot of collective knowledge and it comes through in the book. There are a lot of snippets and stories about things the went right (or wrong) on the production of some of the games they worked on. I found these insights to be refreshing, and certainly interesting to read about. It also helps to teach people what professional game development is like, and things to expect if you are looking for a job in the industry.

Aside from the stories, there is a lot of topics covered in the book. They go over game loops, component architecture, process system, an event system, 3D math, DirectX, audio, collision and physics, scripting with Lua, AI, a game editor in C#, debugging, version control, multi-threading, etc. Really almost everything you would need to know. They weren’t joking when they said “Complete.” Although the book is long, it’s really amazing what they managed to cram in there. Granted, most topics only get one chapter, which isn’t really enough to fully cover everything. But it’s a great overview on a ton of stuff.

I found the coverage of the event and process system to be every insightful, and I will probably be using a variation of these in my own engine. The event system basically allows different objects to fire events at key points, and then have other objects respond without tight coupling. The process system allows objects to spawn logic loops, that will be updated along with the rest of the engine. So, for example, the player can hit a key to throw a grenade. That would fire an event, which would spawn a grenade with the proper velocity. The grenade itself would have a process, that would count down a few seconds and then explode. At the time of explosion, this could fire another event, which would then cause the audio system to play a sound and the particle engine to create a visual effect. This is a very clean way of handling events and processes, and this is probably the single more useful thing I found in the text.

If you are looking at creating your own game or engine, or just want to see what goes into a commercial title, Game Coding Complete may be one of the best resources to do so. While there is a good amount of C++ code in the book, it is not so much of a “cookbook”, it is more of an overview of architecture. The writing style is casual and friendly, and I really love all the stories told throughout the book. This is a great resource, and should not be missed. My only regret is that I did not read this book sooner. Highly recommended.

The Oculus Rift is great and all, but it still feels pretty constricting using VR sitting in a chair. The Virtuix Omni plans to change that. Commonly referred to as omni-directional treadmills, the Omni allows you to feel like you are walking, or even running, around a virtual space while in real-life you stay safely in the same spot. This project in particular is a passive device, with no moving parts, which means it could be provided for cheaper and in a smaller package than otherwise possible. The Kickstarter to slated to go live June 4th and I will, no doubt, be one of the first in line. Now all we need is cheap wireless data-gloves and I’ll be all set.

Among The Sleep

Seems like Kickstarter is just churning out hits lately, and this project could be the next success. It’s an original horror game where you play as a two year old boy. The early prototype videos look compelling, and I like that they are attempting a different theme with the title. Should be awesome, but they still have a ways before meeting their goal. So, if possible, please pledge your support for this game on Kickstarter. Also, rumor has it that the developers are interested in supporting the Oculus Rift. That would just be awesome if that happened. So, yeah, please back this project. Thanks.