YOU DO NOT REQUIRE TEA?

Ever since the first LEGO Star Wars game came out, I’ve been trying to make a 3D recreation of a LEGO minifig that has the same range of movement – bendable legs, arms, hands, that sort of thing. Then I found this custom LEGO model of a Dalek by Flickr user kaptainkobold. I thought “why not?” and with the help of the LDraw library (open source virtual LEGO pieces) made a virtual version.

The result was a homage to the Doctor wailing on a Dalek with a wrench in a recent episode:

The Daleks aren’t having much luck with serving tea, are they?

SPP3 – Assignment One

So, for the first assignment for SPP3 I have to find four full-time multimedia jobs, four full-time post-graduate courses, and “mock” apply (as in write out the paper work but not actually send it) to one of each.

Task A: Multimedia Jobs

This was tricky, seeing as most jobs usually ask for a couple years of experience; if you’re good at searching though, you can find ones that don’t have it listed as a firm requirement. I narrowed the results down to four via a combination of realism (no “Senior” positions for a first-time job – I learnt that when I attempted to apply for a job at Linneys Design near where I live about 4 years ago. Obviously, I am older and wiser now).

After careful consideration – and realising that the fact I don’t have a passport would be, to put it lightly, problematic (yes, I know we aren’t actually applying for these, but it’s still something to factor in considering how many jobs are overseas), I “applied” for the role of Game Artist at Playfish. Since I obviously don’t have the previous experience it lists as being a plus, I did my best to make my covering letter as interesting as possible (you’ll be glad to know that it’s a marked improvement from the last one I did – this time I actually have some idea of what I’m doing).

Task B: Post-graduate Courses

This one is somewhat unfair considering I’m an overly curious academic at heart, meaning there are a lot of courses I would be interested in studying. But I did eventually narrow it down to four.

Of the courses, I decided I would mock-apply for the Escape Studios Animation course. Not only would it make it even more likely I would get a job, the subject matter it would teach would be invaluable; I already know a lot about 3D modelling and texture, so I would really like to focus solely on the animation instead of having to construct my characters and rig them first. The downside, of course, is that it costs £8,750, and whilst the reaction of my parents would be amusing, that’s not something I’m about to tell them.

Another thing that’s come out of this:- my CV has improved ten-fold. I found the old one I had uploaded at Monster.co.uk the other day, and lets just say that it did seemrather amateurish (mind you, it did get me an interview for a position in the local paper’s main office, so it can’t have been that bad).

Artefact One

My research topic is “how do you convey a sense of believability and narrative in virtual environments?” Now admittedly this is an odd area to perform research on. What exactly do you investigate?

Just over a week ago, however, it occurred to me that how an environment is set out is rather important in making it believable – if you’re not inclined to stay and look around a place, then any effort put into the buildings and other elements goes to waste. The originator for this thought came from an old “God game” called Populous: The Beginning that my brother used to play the demo of and the way that, particularly in the first level, he would set out the houses in a neat grid pattern. This always bothered me for some reason and when thinking over it for this artefact it made me think back to my visit to Coventry last year, which I didn’t enjoy at all. And over the course of the week, I realised why.

Coventry was extensively re-developed after the Second World War, and one of the results was that the main shopping part of the town centre is laid out something like this:

It’s all straight lines and tall buildings with few landmarks to tell you where, exactly, you are. And as a result I got rather horribly lost when I was there. There was also something about it that I just didn’t like – I’ve always loved going to cities like York and Durham and Lincoln because of how much there is to explore – in two trips to York, I’ve lost count of the number of side-streets I walked down, and I still haven’t covered more than half the city centre.

And then I remembered what it was like going through Ravenshead when I was young – it actually took me years to realise that there were side-roads going off the main road and I actually thought that the village only consisted of that road, because we always drove straight along it.

So with this in mind and going back to my old Geography lessons, I located some free building models (found on this site) and using a program called Role-Playing City Generator (which generates village, town and city layouts), 3DS Max and Adobe Director, I constructed examples of a linear settlement and a nuclear settlement (not sure of the correct term) that could be navigated in Shockwave and put them as a download on a page of this journal with questions to gauge people’s reactions to them. Then a friend kindly offered to host them on his server so that people didn’t have to download it (click on the images to load the simulations).

From the top, the two “villages” look like this:

Some of the responses I got I was expecting, particularly those saying that they spent longer going around the second village. With the first village, as one person pointed out, you’re likely to just walk straight through it and possibly not notice the side-road, as is what happened with me and Ravenshead. It occurred to me that linear settlements are the environmental equivalent of the long corridor in games – you just want to get through it as quickly as possibly. It also reminded me of a chapter in The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell where it talked about if you placed a line on the ground going straight ahead or to something, people would go straight along it.

Several responses were gained whilst in an IRC chatroom. Whilst this didn’t garner many individual results, it did raise a couple of points that I hadn’t previously considered. There was a consensus that the second village was more interesting “because it has these twists and turns in it” (Bert Loos, although he also admitted to nearly getting lost in it), and a couple of others said that they preferred it because they were adventurous people. One person, Aaron Bulger, gave the most thorough response:

I immediately began by following some of the paths in the hills, then returned to the village, in which my navigation was more of a meandering. I spent much more time off the beaten path in the second and was interested to see how the paths fit together.

The Art of Game Design addressed this as well; by adding more lines on the ground, people were more likely to veer off in different directions.

However, there was some difference of opinion as to the reason why Village Two was preferable, and it unexpectedly fed into the narrative part of my research topic.

One person, who went by the username “Dog”, said that the second village looked “more friendly”, and gave a rational for why this was: “Order+uniform=bad. Zigzags+non-uniform=good.” Another person, who went by the name of “Blub”, preferred Village Two for a very different reason: “[it] gives you more possibilities to escape,” whereas with the linear one “it seems to be that you can only escape in two directions.” This was because they were a really paranoid person, and it wasn’t something I hadn’t even thought about. If you were in a linear settlement there isn’t many options for you to hide yourself if you needed to, but in a place like Village Two you have far more corners to duck around and lose someone. But the reverse could also be true – someone could be hiding in the second village and ambush you, and in the first one they would have little opportunity.

The results of this artefact were far better than I expected. Without any prompting from me, some people inferred some kind of narrative on the environments, and their reasoning for their choices was very insightful. To build on this unexpected outcome, my next artefact will quite possibly look at how the sizes of buildings can induce a sense of foreboding or welcoming, such as with Coventry, being surrounded by tall buildings on all sides was somewhat claustrophobic.

Another Client update

Quick memo to self before I begin: make sure the chair is properly positioned in front of the computer if you don’t want another late night crick in the neck. I’m going to be feeling that in the morning.

I was really drawing a blank for other cover variations since the last post, not to mention racking my brains as to what exactly do I send my client. The whole proposal would be a bit overkill, maybe just bullet-pointed sections – a proper write-up will be handed in on the actual deadline.

Anyway, whilst wandering around the Arboretum next to our main University building on Tuesday, we stopped by the large aviaries there. And they had a lot of Cockatiels in there – here’s a picture of one that was very happy to come over and pose for us:

And this trigger a small brainwave. Quetzacoal, the Feathered Serpent (bit of a leap, I know. I do it a lot). So I went on another moodboard making spree:

I knew I wanted someone in a mask, and I was thinking along the lines of shamans – I also admit to being influenced by Princess Mononoke. The simple sketch at the bottom, second from right, is actually one of mine from a few years ago. This brainwave was the push I needed to come back to it.

This one has the most variations, because the first one, as you’ll see, looks silly. The second one is good, but a bit dull. The third has the most life in it I think:

Obviously backgrounds need addressing, but that will come in the main bulk of creating these covers. One thing that you’ll see in my own notes on the second picture, is my indecision over the type of mask (which I copy-and-pasted from the second version to the third because it had taken me ages to decide on the look of it to begin with). Below is a comparison of the draconic and avian masks on version three:

Really not sure which is better.

Now, a software recommendation for you all: if like me you’re not entirely comfortable at drawing people (I’m more successful when drawing in a sketchbook than on a computer) and can’t get to life drawing classes, get hold of DAZ Studio. It basically lets you position a model (already rigged with limits) and light it, like so:

It’s free to download and they’ve made a whole bunch of models free just the other day. Now I just need to figure out how to get my hands on Poser’s Wooden Mannequin model…

Oh, and the thing that inspired my second cover concept? Turns out it was this:

My love for that art style must have made it take root in my subconscious (we still don’t know who that is yet). At least I won’t go mad from trying to figure out the source now.

Final Visualisation Project update

Sorry sorry, this slipped my mind. Didn’t help that our internet went a bit doo-lally for a few days (a fault at the exchange which, despite affecting the whole area, no-one reported for at least six hours until we phoned up).

Before I go any further – I have gone through the camera match tutorial, however my copy of Max was being slightly awkward and making adjusting proved nigh impossible. However, I do understand the basics as I can recreate things from photos quite easily, and will do so if I’m a bit stuck for something to do.

So, my visualisation project was recreating the palace of Xerxes from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga. Which went… Well, not disastrously wrong, just not as good as I wanted it to turn out.

As you can see in the last five, the shadows were being fickle again. And the interior dome… *cringes* I have no idea what went wrong, but Max would not let me fix it. Every time I tried: “Max has encountered an error”. And this was like 5 times in a row. I wasn’t about to push my luck really in case my laptop started smoking like a pop tart.

I think I probably forgot to alter the colour on the pillars, and lower the tile size of some textures, because it looks really nasty when viewed close up. And I mean pixellated nasty.

But overall I am rather proud of it – roll on the Xerxes flashback so I can compare!

Final Animation post of the year.

Okay I admit it. This should have been up before now. In my defence I hit a sort of burnout after hand in and combined with me being scatterbrained it ended up low on the list.

I’ll say this: modelling and rigging characters = piece of cake. Wiring parameters also equals piece of cake. Cameras and x-referencing scenes to avoid a program crash (I hit double figures during this. You do NOT want to know how visualisation went in that regard) equals a pain up the arse. I also learnt to next time not model anything in excess of 100 units tall because this makes the sets you need to build ridiculously huge. Once you’re hitting 4 digits in the XYZ coordinates it starts getting unbelievably silly.

The best thing I ever learnt during this project was just how damn useful hiding stuff is. Even if you’re reaching stupid amounts of polygons, hiding stuff you don’t need is a lot less taxing on the processor. The best thing I learnt though on top of that was that you can hide some of the polygons of an object. It was an absolute godsend when using morph targets let me tell you.

Anyway, here are screengrabs, in order, of the three featured characters’ rigs, one character that never made it into the final animation (the proportions are considerably off on that one), a couple of the two ‘sets’ and finally stills from the animation itself, where it becomes obvious that the lighting went bonkers.

The final animation has no sound effects (except for a couple of “voices”), instead I used royalty-free music from this site. I think I’ve also “Gainaxed” the ending (meaning that it doesn’t really make sense – “Gainaxed” refers to Studio Gainax’s ultra-confusing ending to Neon Genesis Evangelion). Also, I swear the shadows were turned on for the lights. *checks* Yep, they were on. They just refused to work how I would expect them to work (like, you know, actually cast a shadow on the other objects!). Also, can I just say that rigging and animation a 4-legged creature is very tricky? I may know a lot about animal biology, but trying to get it to walk right was still a serious effort. Anyway…

After The End is set in a world where humans are long gone, leaving being a myriad of weird creatures, which are constantly menaced by these robotic “angels” (I never figured a name). In this, it all starts when a strange wraith-like creature called Dormin happens across a broken piece of horn…

Couple of fun facts – 1) The reversed dialogue I used for the Angel is part of the Zagreus poem from the Doctor Who audio of the same name (yes, I am a total geek) and 2) Dormin’s arm does a rather bizarre 360 at one point (the bit when he reaches his hand out in the tunnel). It’s hard to spot due to the lighting, but it’s the only time it does that in the whole thing (I didn’t know how to get the elbow to work with a look-at constraint).