12 Apr

The Quest to Learn to Make Games: I Found a Team!

I found a team to collaborate with!  I’m totally psyched. I’ve been invited to join a group of 5 guys (including me) with the goal of executing a small game project.  We are still working out the details and doing some conference calls (via skype) to talk about what idea we’d like to develop and getting to know each other so there’s nothing to share on that front but it’s great to be in communication with a group of guys who share my goals.

Some of us met through the Unity forums collaboration section and have agreed that we will use Unity as our development platform.  There’s a range of experience levels in the team but everyone is contributing at least one core function. So far the functions are music, two programmers, one artist and a guy who has already developed a series of games and has an animation background along with some programming.  In addition to our core game dev functions the guys all bring a couple of additional skills like business development and accounting from their day jobs.  It’s worth noting that we are all spread out all over North America and everything is happening over Skype and email at this point.  I’m looking to get us on some kind of document sharing platform like Google Docs or Evernote soon to cut down the volume of email a bit.

We are all contributing ideas for a theme and game mechanics at this point.  We are trying to approach the project from a more business oriented and less hobbyist-like perspective and so will try to make some of our decisions based on things like demographics and available market data.  We’re hoping to do something small and achievable with a team of our size and get a prototype together in a 2-4 month development window. Needless to say I’m super psyched! For the time being we’re sort of in stealth mode so I can’t really share too much detail wise but the guys on the team know about this blog so I’ll see what they’re comfortable with me sharing on here.

The lesson that I take from this and that you guys can use is to put yourself out there! Forums seem especially good but use whatever means of communication at hand. Unless you let people know that you’re looking to collaborate and learn together nothing can happen. And if you do you might find some great people to create something with!

Mentioned in this post:

The Unity collaboration Forum

05 Apr

Beginning 3D Game Development with Unity by Sue Blackman: Epic Review Pt.2

Unity 3d interface with cube

Disclosure: the links to the book in this post are affiliate links (more info here), this means that if you choose to buy the book through my link I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I am reviewing this book because I’m actually working through it, any income earned will help to support my creative projects, pay hosting fees etc.

Having just finished Chapter 3 of Beginning 3d Game Development with Unity by Sue Blackman I have to say so far I’m quite enjoying it.  Chapter 2 was a discussion of Unity’s interface basics. For someone who has done the basic tutorials this should be somewhat familiar although there were a few points I did find helpful.  One was the fact that by pressing V key you can cause an object to snap to the vertex normal of another. I can imagine this would be very useful if you want to build something out of primitives like a wall of bricks. Great tip that I didn’t know yet. I also got some more clarity around the Center/Pivot and Global/Local toggles at the top of the interface next to the transform tools. Essentially what these do is allow you to toggle the orientation that the object will be transformed in, whether they are related to themselves or to the world at large.  The rest of it was fairly familiar and I am guessing it took me about 30 minutes to go through it. I did it in bed last night and it was pretty un-strenuous.

Chapter 3 is where Blackman introduces scripting. For us non-programmers this is where the water starts to get a bit hot.  I have to say I was really pleased with the way Blackman introduced things. It’s definitely not an in-depth programming tutorial but if you’ve done the free scripting intro tutorial provided by Unity it serves as a nice refresher and fleshes out a few points I was weak on.  Two things that I liked were her explanation of dot notation and the explanation of the way that Unityscript can declare a Game Object as a variable. This is something I really struggled with when I was just hacking around and I was happy with the way Blackman approached it here.

Thinking about my skill level in relation to the book I think this book is a nice jumping off point after you have done the Unity Lerpz tutorial, Car Racer and Scripting one, as I have.

I’ve decided to start logging the time I spend on each of the chapters in this book.  This chapter took me about 45 – 50 minutes of focused work including a bathroom break and responding to a text for work.  This is actually a great tip that Blackman gave back in chapter 1: log your time as you progress through your game development and the book. The idea being you will then know how long it will take you in the future to achieve similar tasks. I love this tip and have started doing it. I think it’ll be really cool to know how much time I spent overall reading the book and doing the exercises and will also help you guys to know if the book is a good fit for you based on how much time and effort is required.  I will also be using this when I start prototyping my cloud game idea and will keep a separate log for time spent on this blog.  Since I got through that chapter fairly quickly I think I’m going to move on to chapter four, Terrain Generation.  I’m psyched!

Beginning 3D Game Development with Unity by Sue Blackman: Epic Review

You can buy Sue Blackman’s Beginning 3D Game Development with Unity  here from Amazon either as physical or kindle edition.

Other Links & Resources for this Post:

Blackman has a thread going for the book on the always helpful Unity3d.com Forums.

The scripting tutorial I mentioned is available here for free.

04 Apr

Beginning 3D Game Development with Unity by Sue Blackman: Epic Review Pt.1

Beginning 3D Game Development with Unity by Sue Blackman: Epic Review

Disclosure: the links to the book in this post are affiliate links (more info here), this means that if you choose to buy the book through my link I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I am reviewing this book because I’m actually working through it, any income earned will help to support my creative projects, pay hosting fees etc.

I just picked up Sue Blackman’s book ‘Beginning 3D Game Development with Unity at my local megabookstore. I think I paid a little more than I needed to, as the physical book can be found on Amazon for cheaper but I was impatient.  It’s a big huge tome, about 1000 pages. I joked to my girlfriend that if it didn’t turn out to be good I could always use it as a weapon for bashing people to death.  It contains a single project that you work through: creating a 3d point and click adventure game in Unity.  I thought this sounded like a fun and fairly complex project and so decided to check it out.  Having done three of the available free tutorials on the Unity site, a 3d platformer, a racing tutorial and a scripting tutorial, I wanted to continue with something that was a bit bigger and that makes use of some more advanced concepts.  As I go through the book I’m going to do a running commentary on this site so you can follow my progress and also get a review of the book to decide if you think it will work for you.  Also hopefully this will help to keep me motivated and on track in finishing the book and working through the examples!  I am definitely guilty of having bought big how-to books in the past and trailed off midway.  Hopefully you, faithful readers can help keep my feet to the fire in finishing the book and this review series!

Having just read the first chapter I like the book so far. Blackman speaks in an authoritative voice about the history of adventure games, basic game design considerations and provides a primer for 3D artists moving from creating pre-rendered 3D art to real-time games.  I know a bit about some of the very basic concepts involved in creating 3D assets. Nonetheless I found Blackman’s explanation of real-time specific concepts like shared or averaged vertices and vertex vs. pixel lighting to be enlightening (no pun intended).  Having a review of normal mapping and occlusion culling, which I sort of understood, was useful as well.  Generally speaking for someone like me who knows some of the generalities of 3D having things re-explained in a straightforward way with a focus on real-time rendering has increased my confidence for tackling the more complex material to come.

Her discussion of game design was also helpful for me. Although some of it I had absorbed before from various sources I found that running through the list while thinking about my current idea really sparked off some inspiration. I had to put the book down and grab my laptop to take down some quick notes in Evernote. If nothing else this was very helpful as a little shot of inspiration. As someone who loves checklists running down her list of considerations for planning an idea really got my creative juices flowing and gave me some motivation to move to the next step.

She provided a nice four or five page history of the adventure genre, starting with text based games and moving through a brief history of point and click adventures. This included an interesting discussion about how the evolution of graphic technology affected the fate of the genre moving from text, to computer drawings, to pre-rendered 3d, to low res real time 3d and now into the current generation of HD real time 3d.  Her argument is that the shift from pre-rendered games like Myst and Riven (which I really loved as a teenager, and even my dad, a total non-gamer liked) to the low res 3d of things like Lucasarts Grim Fandango hurt the adventure genre, both in terms of the visual effect produced and in the cost of production (lots more art assets to produce). With the advent of real time 3d, games like Doom made a lot more sense as they provided an exciting new immersive experience and didn’t rely on the visual beauty of lots of art assets to be successful. I find these kind of discussions of the intersection of art and technology very interesting and Blackman clearly has lived through these shifts and has a valuable perspective.

With the MASSIVE success of Doublefine’s Kickstarter campaign for their untitled new adventure game it seems that there is a real hunger for these types of adventure games. Now that the visual technology has improved and it is possible to do good looking adventure games in real time 3D I’m curious to see if we see a new resurgence in the genre. I think purely on the strength of the groundswell of support for Doublefine’s game we’ll see some developers re-evaluating the genre and perhaps dipping a toe in.  The success of Doublefine’s campaign (and some other less dramatic and well publicized campaigns) feels like an important moment for the indie game development movement. I am pinning my hopes on this movement for the development of the artistic, deep and innovative games that I’d like to see so for me this is terrific news.  I plan to do a series of posts on the crowd-sourcing movement for raising money for game development soon since I think although it’s a little less relevant to me and my fellow newbs on our quest it’s very inspiring in terms of hopes for the future, once we’ve made some stuff and established a following.

You can buy Sue Blackman’s Beginning 3D Game Development with Unity  here from Amazon either as physical or kindle edition.

Other Links & Resources for this Post:

Blackman has a thread going for the book on the always helpful Unity3d.com Forums.

Find the free tutorials I mentioned on the Unity3d.com site here.

Evernote: awesome note taking software, free.

Doublefine’s Kickstarter page.

01 Apr

Let’s Learn To Make Games 2: My Game Making Goals

Here’s what I’ve got:

Goal 1. Learn Unity:

I’ve selected the Unity game development software to learn.  Unity really seems like an exciting tool. It’s quite user friendly, has an incredible community and is making some very interesting moves in creating things like the Unity Asset Store, a market for game art, scripts and other resources which is built into the software.  Cool. It also has the capability to target a whole range of platforms including Mac, Windows, iOs, Web Player, Xbox 360, Ps3, certain TVs and I’m sure they’ll continue to add more.  Theoretically you could create a game in Unity and then deploy it to various platforms without rewriting the entire thing.  And you can get a very full featured license for FREE (see links below). Super cool!

Goal 2. Document and Share:

Blog, podcast and record video of my progress. I know that there are other people in the same situation and I hope that by showing my actual process in making my first game I can help them and make their lives easier. Ultimately I want to see more people making cool creative games. I think this is the only way we will see game making develop into the deep art form I think it can be. I especially want to support the non-programmer types like myself who come from more of an art, writing or music background. I think the more people like this that can come into the field and make things the more diverse and interesting the art form will get.

Goal 3. Concept / Intellectual Property I can be Proud of.

I have two little boys (ages three and one and a half) and they love playing with games and toys on the iPhone and iPad. I want to make something that I would be happy to let them play with and that they could enjoy. Making a game world which is something beautiful, welcoming, non-violent and which would be a healthy thing for little kids to look at is very motivating for me. Ideally there would be enough there as well to appeal to grown ups too, or maybe slightly older kids.

Goal 4. Create and Sell:

My goal is to make a small 3D game using the Unity 3D engine and deploy it to whatever platform I can.  I’d like to end up with iPhone and iPad but will happily stop off at a web playable or downloadable Mac/Windows release on the way there.  If it turns out that the idea works for one platform more than another, so be it.  Whatever platform I end up on I want to try to market and earn some income from this game.  The key word here is try. This is not a get rich quick plan but as much as I want to learn to MAKE games I also want to learn to EARN from games as well.  I have a family to feed and would like to do it creating things I am passionate about. Learning Unity means I don’t have to lock into learning a certain tool or language for a certain platform right away.

The idea as of now:

I’ve got pages and pages of notes in Evernote with little half baked game ideas in them and two Unity projects I’ve started that are a bit stalled. I’m thinking I need to really get things as simple as possible so I can start something and get a prototype working. Here’s what I’m thinking: a game with a cloud that flies around and rains on a landscape causing plants to grow. I think it will be a race against the clock where the cloud is constantly being evaporated by the sun and has to stop over puddles to replenish itself while watering a certain percentage of the level. It’s not that refined but I’m hoping to get a little prototype going and play with the basics to find some fun in there. If nothing else I think my kids would like the ‘paint’ like component of it of watering on a patch of ground and changing it from dirt to grass and grass to flowers, etc.  I want the world to have a lush, colorful feel.

I know a lot of people are very protective of their ideas but one of my concepts with this blog is to try to be open. If someone takes this idea and develops it I like to believe that the intangible vision that I have outside of the core mechanics will make my version unique enough that it will connect with an audience. I really don’t believe in ideas as being valuable, I feel that it’s more about execution. I think I could create something with this that would be special and so am not that worried about someone else creating something similar after reading about it here. I would respectfully ask if you’re thinking about copying this idea that you come up with your own idea please and leave it at that.

The other bonus effect I’m hoping for here is that someone will read about my idea or see my prototype as it develops and want to get involved. Sort of like the open source movement where by opening up the process you get a lot of great minds involved in the problem. Everything about this blog is an experiment so we’ll see how it works!

What do you think? Is this a misguided plan? Does my idea sound dumb? Am I the greatest? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment.

Stuff mentioned in this post:

Download Unity for FREE from Unity3d.com

Unity Asset Store

Evernote (awesome free note taking platform for desktop, web, mobile)

01 Apr

Let’s Learn To Make Games 1: My Blogging Goals

A little bit about me:

Hi, I’m Matt. I am not a coder, nor am I an artist. I make beats and DJ and have released several albums, have toured all over the USA and Europe and I teach people how to make music for a living but I don’t know jack-ola about making games.  I am a game development newb.  This is my quest.

As I’ve entered my thirties, had two sons and settled down a bit I am looking to do something more challenging that engages different parts of my brain. I love to write, think and design systems. This passion is what brought me to want to design games, along with my enjoyment of playing them (obviously!). I am also very interested in the idea of creating a small, digital business that will allow me the freedom to work on creative projects and earn the income I need to support my family without having to work for someone else or divide my time between my self expression projects and my money earning projects as I now have to with my music career (producing and teaching).  I hope that by making games I’ll be able to do something interesting and creative all the time and make a reasonable living from it.

With this blog I am hoping to do a few things:

1. Help People. I want to provide a resource for people like me who are starting out, know nothing but are passionate about creating interesting game experiences.

2. Make Friends. I want to gather together a community of people like me, hopefully collaborate with some like minded people and generally not feel like I’m totally alone in the cold dark internets.

3. Earn Money. I am hoping that if I provide enough valuable information for people through this site that I will be able to earn a little bit of money doing it, bringing me closer to my goal of creative self-reliance and allowing me to focus more on my passion. My plan at the moment is to try to include some advertisements and affiliate links to the resources and products I use in my journey so that if anyone else wants to use them I can earn a small commission at no extra cost to them.  I believe honesty and transparency are the best possible business approach and so any affiliate offers will always be clearly labelled.  My plan is to only promote affiliate links to resources which I am using and can wholeheartedly recommend.  I really want to be a trustworthy voice and so will never promote anything that I think is crappy.

4. Market. Build interest in my game projects for when they are ready to release.  Hopefully by the time I am done with my first game and ready to sell it there will be a few people who have followed it’s progress on this site and are interested in playing it.

5. Demonstrate a model. I think this blogging/game making model works well for small developers and other people who make things.  I want to show that it can work for a total newb like me too and hopefully show people how to do it as I go. As a result I will try to mix in some blogging/marketing talk with the game development stuff along the way.

Reading this it may seem like a reasonable plan. The funny part is how little I actually know about making games and how sucky I am at the moment. This would probably be a good time to post a youtube video of me yelling at my computer as Unity gives me compile errors over missing semi-colons just so you all can get a feeling of how far I have to go.

Is this a good idea? Am I just another dumb newb being wrong in the internets? Did I just stumble across THE ULTIMATE PLAN FOR TOTAL GAME DEVELOPMENT DOMINATION?!?!?! Let me know via the comments.

01 Apr

Video Games as Art Pt. 1: Possibility

Faye Wong in Chungking Express, 1994

I’m 33 and grew up with video games as a part of my life. I have many many happy memories of playing various games both alone and with friends and family, of being totally engaged, drawn into a world and playing all day, all night, till five o’clock in the morning trying to see what came next.  I miss that. When I was younger it was not so hard to find that feeling. There was a lot happening in the world of games, both technologically and creatively. It was exciting and as a young kid and then as a teenager I was, shall we say, easily amused.  As I, and my generation have grown up, I feel that we’ve left games behind to some extent.  Many of us still play but those moments of total immersion are fewer and harder to come by.  As some of us accumulate responsibility in the form of jobs, children, girlfriends and wives many of the gaming experiences which we still enjoy become out of reach due to timing issues and the fact that our girlfriends DEFINITELY do not want to sit and watch us fly a spaceship through endless boring space and talk inscrutable jargon to unseen people over a headset for hours and hours (I’m looking at you Eve Online).

The reason I’m starting this project and my own journey into game design is because I want to reclaim some of those lost experiences, and create new ones which I haven’t had before. I went to film school for a few years at NYU and studied, along with how to make films, the history and critical theory around cinema.  When film making was first discovered by the Lumiere brothers in France it was perceived as a technological novelty.  Look a train is coming at you out of a tunnel! People dove for cover, and then laughed.  No one considered it to be a valid artistic medium for the expression of big ideas or unique experiences, including the Lumieres themselves.  This was in 1895.  It took almost a century for artists to take the technology and use it to create experiences like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972), Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre (1981) and Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express (1994).  In the hands of passionate artists what was a visual novelty became a powerful medium for expressing big emotions, thought provoking ideas and intense visual beauty.

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