Ever since I was little I was always way more excited about games than almost anything else. Movies were kind of cool but I could take them or leave them. No matter how good the movie is, it always feels like you're on the outside looking in. Books can probably match the level of excitement I feel for games, though the time in between books can become exhausting. Regardless though, it's hard to match the feeling of falling into a really good book. Unlike with movies, it feels as though you can actually walk around the world and experience everything. However, games have always held a special place in my heart and it's certainly a large part of the reason why I wanted to go into game design. With games, you are actually exploring the world on your own and can change the flow of certain events. When Deus Ex: Human Revolution came out I thought the game looked interesting though nothing particularly amazing. I really liked the concept in general, about human augmentation and the resistance that would inevitably follow such a drastic change in humanity. However, I wasn't really going to play the game because I probably wasn't going to buy it. I don't pirate games, I have a lot of reasons for that of which I won't get into here other than perhaps to say there's no valid excuse to pirate games.
One of the more interesting aspects of game design is actually looking at a level after you've already played around with the tools used to develop it. When you first start game design, you should start to see some of the concepts that are used throughout game industry as a whole. Certain practices in level design, directing the player, set design, difficulty management, etc. But after you've actually created your own levels using the game engines of your favorite games, you should to see everything in a new light. Professional developers will usually be able to get those engines to do things that you simply haven't done yet and analyzing what processes they used to get those effects is important. It's important because no one can take the time to teach you every last detail of every single engine. These days you can find video tutorials or documentation for just about anything but even those don't cover every last detail. So while those tutorials or documents can be extremely powerful tools, they also tend to be limited by the fact that they won't take the time to hold your hand to do every little specific thing. They require you to take the initiate to use the skills you learned from those tools to then create whatever else you might want.
There are a few sacred Gamer holidays; E3, GDC, the last friday of Oct. and first two of Nov. (really needs a name... but it tends to be when the biggest titles of the year come out. Or are delayed from), things like that. However, there's one that will always hold a very special place my heart: April Fools. Because of the way the game industry operates, though it can be a really rough industry it also tends to be one of the most light hearted and of course fun loving. So every year, companies unleash their April fools pranks upon the world. Some are content patches for short periods of time like Ultra Rapid Fire (URF) in League of Legends or Zombie punting in Dying Light. Some have crazy announcements like Corsairs Mechanical Gaming Mouse or last year Destiny announced a collectors edition would include a trip to Mars. Then there are the obligatory Half Life 3 rumors and stories though to be fair that's a year round thing. People just tend to bring them up more on April fools. In all it's just a wonderful day to be a gamer. It's a day that reminds us that at their heart these companies really do make games because they want to add a little fun to the world. To anyone who wants to bring up the fact ; yes, I realize that these types of stunts increase awareness, and foster good will amongst gamers as well as some other good stuff for the bottom line so that is most likely the real reason why they do it. To those people I say; shut up, I'm having enough fun and I'm going to choose to not see the business aspect of today for once. Fundamentally games are about having fun, and April Fools serves as a reminder for the developers to have a little fun.
If you haven't heard of The Witcher yet then I highly recommend you go check out the series immediately. The world has been lovingly crafted over the years, the gameplay is exception, and the story is easily one of the best. While games like Skyrim is a bit more customization, The Witcher has always felt more personal to me. Every choice you make actually feels like it has a huge impact on the game, and they aren't simple moral choices. The entirety of the Witcher's world is made up of a moral grey area most of the time where either answer could be right for different reasons. In fact, in the Witcher 2 there comes a point at which you make a decision that separates the game into two almost completely different stories. I'm currently playing through the game again to make sure I attend to the secondary path in it's entirety and it's hard to put the game down. There's a reason why I didn't play the game a second time through immediately because I really couldn't afford to spend all that time again right in a row. Plus by now all the DLC for the game has come out. Have I mentioned it was all free? Yeah, CD Projekt RED is kind of awesome like that. Every piece of DLC is always free, they made additional tweaks to the game just to make it play better, and games have consistently been phenomenal to start with.
One of the things that people seem to kind of take for granted are all of the little choices throughout a movie or a game. I recently had the pleasure of watching a movie called Sunset Boulevard for one of my classes. Admittedly it wasn't a movie I probably would have ever watched on my own but it turned out to be an exceptional movie. While the plot wasn't necessarily anything special, the characters really carried the entire film. However, throughout the movie it was blatantly clear that every little choice that they made was done with purpose. They even acknowledge that perhaps the plot isn't necessarily outstanding in the movie in a very off handed way. But I want to talk about one thing in particular in the movie that struck me as an amazing choice that most people even today don't really consider; none of the doors in Norma Desmond's mansion had doorknobs or locks. Now this is explained away in the film in that Norma can become suicidal at moments so it was recommended by doctors so that her butler Max could get to her in just such an event.
It's something that gets brought up fairly often so I might as well elaborate on it. Yes, there is a League Of Legends club here at the school and they are very active. It's not uncommon to find people in the commons until the early hours of the morning just playing and having a good time. Really though one of the best things about the school is that there are all kinds of games being played here and it brings people together. You hear all of this stuff about gamers being anti-social and just sitting in dark rooms all day but really that isn't entirely true. It does happen, but more often than not it's actually just something that brings people together. Friends made here tend to be the same people that you are working with during projects and on various other forms of homework. So having something fun you can do together is just a great way to unwind afterwards. Each year we actually all get together in the theater to watch the League of Legends Championships on the large projector screen and it's a blast! Pizza, drinks, yelling, and laughing; just flat out fun times had by all.
So there was a lot that happened at GDC this year. DirectX and Vulkan 3D APIs that I talked about in the last post just scratch the surface. Among everything that happened at GDC, Valve arguably had the most extensive and most industry-changing announcements. This blog post on the Valve website goes over most of the stuff that they announced in more detail, and the Steam Universe website has plenty of awesome info about each product as well as some sweet pictures that I'll post below.
For both Game Art and Animation and Game Programming, what exactly sits in your portfolio when you go to find a job should be somewhat obvious. With Game Design it can seem like things appear just a little bit murkier. You learn early on that much of your job as a game designer is documentation. Then you start learning mechanic, concept and level design; all of which can be substantially more visually exciting to look at but not always. Plus with level design, you can't always expect that developers would have everything you need them to have in order to play your level. So what do you do? What do developers really want to see from Game Designers? Well we recently had the opportunity to speak with developers from EA and Blizzard and they revealed some fairly enlightening things.
So part of getting into the game industry is having a portfolio to show off what you've accomplished. Don't think of this as a "good idea" but a requirement. If you don't have a solid portfolio then your chances of getting a job is virtually zero. It's something that you develop the entire time you're in school or even just stuff that you develop independent of school work entirely. I also feel the need to stress something that is stressed by my teachers frequently: you are developing this portfolio the ENTIRE TIME you are in school or in general over a period of years typically. Some people think that they can develop their portfolio after they graduate and "have all the skills" to create something truly great but this almost never works out. While it certainly isn't impossible, each of my teachers have said that they've seen this strategy work exactly zero times. So any time you are working on a project you really should put as much effort into it as possible because you never know what will end up as a portfolio piece. Steve Merka, a lead mobile designer at EA, has even stated that you are much better off with a single exceptional piece than a bunch of good pieces. In fact, we got some awesome advice about what to put in a portfolio from several developers from the industry. However, that post will have to wait until tomorrow.
Originally this post was gonna be me spazzing out about more video games, but right as I created a blank post I ran into a tweet about DirectX 12. DirectX has been around for AGES and it's what most game companies use to actually get their games running in 3D on PC with the Direct3D Drivers, so hearing new information about DirectX is basically hearing new information about the future of PC gaming!