Game design and Star Wars

While I may have dropped the ball on updating this poor blog over the last little bit there has still been lots going on.

Let's start with the release of Rogue One, one superb little film that scratches the Star Wars itch with great enthusiasm. I watched it again yesterday and revelled in the starwarsiness of it all. I had just been getting back into the Fantasy Flight X-Wing game and seeing all those space battles unfold on the big screen reinforced how great that game is at bringing that same feeling to the tabletop.

The most fun games of X-Wing so far for me have all involved multiple players in some form of teams. The game is just super fun as it evokes the star wars dogfight feel, the different ships, special characters and the whim of the Force and its effect on the dice. Even with my smallish collection there is lots of variety to behold - yet the lure to purchase more is so so strong.

One of the reasons I wanted to mention all of this is something we have been talking about amongst our gaming groups - designing games to make losing fun, as fun as possible. What logic you can bring to the design of a game that can make losing really enjoyable. In a competitive game (where there is conflict between players) it can end up being not so fun for the losing player/s depending on the game. X-Wing is (I think) a fun game win or lose (the wonderful Shut Up and Sit Down review makes a similar point).

What makes it so fun to lose, I think there are a few factors. First the game is often well balanced, meaning it can come down to a roll or two that decides the fate of your pilots - but that is far from enough. The Narrative that grows out of the play is engaging win or lose - this type of storytelling has more in common with sport where it is emergent from the play. In this case it can manifest with the abilities of Chewbacca, R2-D2 or Darth Vader which informs the narrative even more. Other things that can make losing fun include time - the game is relatively quick to play with a chance you can make a comeback with a lucky roll always there. The 'way' you lose sits very well with the strong theme and it just looks so good on the table that there is a certain amount of joy in just watching. I will give this some more thought and post pack when I have more to offer...

This pic shows my Y-Wings under-performing the other day but looking super-great while doing so. "Gold squadron starting their attack run!"

Now I just need to organise some more gametime...


Netflix Stranger Things

I freely admit to be quite late to the Netflix bandwagon, but now that I am there I am really happy with all the viewing that is to be had, even if the Australian selection is limited. Some of the shows I have been enjoying include Blacklist, Continuum, Daredevil, Orphan Black and a heap of documentaries. But my favourite so far by quite a margin is Stranger Things

The show is compact (just 8 episodes) and sticks to what it is doing without losing focus. The 80s feel is superb and really takes me back while also just giving the show a feel that plays into what it is building for us. The characters are good and the plotlines are worth following - a great piece of tv!

There are 80s cinematic references throughout, but one of the things I liked most was seeing the kids playing Dungeons and Dragons and even using D&D for exposition - super!

Lets finish this little slice of fandom with a look at the wonderful poster by Kyle Lambert who brought this style to life with these characters. He walks us through some of the thinking and process on his Behance page - using ProCreate on his iPad Pro first then finalising everything in Photoshop at higher res.


Live and Streamed RPGs

I (and some gamer friends) went to see the last DragonFriends show for 2015 Monday night and had a blast seeing the live antics of a bunch of comedians playing Dungeons and Dragons. The podcast is a riot of course, but that doesn't quite compare with the hilarity of being there live and seeing how much fun is had by all (as well as the extra bits that are cut from the cast).

I didnt get to see these guys at PAX (was in the DMing session) but they clearly picked up a whole new legion of fans following their live panel there. This is actually a pretty special thing we have going in Sydney and I am looking forward to supporting them in 2016. Visit their site to see the cast and to dive straight in and listen to the podcast adventures with special guests included.

The closest to their show I had seen prior to this live was the Dicestormers live panel which was just as funny and ridiculous, particularly with all the zany input from the audience (pacifism, mankinis, fear of cats and lots of cats). The Dicestormers made good use of Syrinscape (because they make it) which is great, still not as amazing as the live music the DragonFriends bring to their show, but we could use Syrinscape in our games whereas getting a live muse is hard. So, another cool Sydney group that has heaps of video and podcasts of a variety of game systems as well.

This idea of watching other people gaming is starting to flourish, maybe on the back of Twitch and the whole streaming scene, but with these tabletop RPGs we are getting something unique as each set of characters and story is new and different.

In that vain it makes sense to have a set of links here to some of the wonders out there that allow us to see inspiring games play out with celebrities, actors, writers, gamers and people in the right place at the right time (Roll+Luck).
Warning: there are so so so many hours of great stuff hiding behind these otherwise innocent looking links:

Dragonfriends
Dicestormers
Tabletop
Critical Roll 
Aquisitions Incorporated
More D&D Streams
RollPlay
Roll20 vids


The Lost Childrens Place

It was a relief to get all the work done for our little group's final design project, the design for the Lost Children's Place - a park of healing and well-being for the adult survivors of child abuse. Here is the video that walks through the project from start to finish. This is our grad project which is part of the Masters of Design here at UNWS Art & Design, though I am taking the course to complete my Masters of Digital Media.

The project got such a good response from people who identified with or empathised with the scale and seriousness of the issue and the design we crafted as a response. Taking the notion of 'designing for change' with a suite of research and inspiration we have a scheme that would deliver an uplifting experiential park in Sydney's Domain.

You can see these images in the video as well, but I thought it would be nice to see a few of them again as they were quite fun to create. They were all done on the SurfacePro3 using Photoshop with just some quick sketching, simple inking and washy colouring.

More to come on the other components and the Exhibition as well.


Lost Children's Place Wk8

Update on the Masters project as we gear up for the week 8 presentations starting tonight. It has been great working in our little group on our evolving concept for the design of a park for the adult survivors of child abuse, Lost Children's Park. The week 4 post covered the proposal, this week is about the concepts and design development.

One again we created a video for our presentation which allows all the tutors to see it as well as anyone else we need to bring up to speed or explain things to. The video is pretty self contained, but if you after more of the pitch then watch the first video then go on to this one:

We have a rich suite of precedents and a set of ideas relating to waves and ripples that are coming together in the design. The 100 page supporting doc is overflowing with research and design explorations including pics of the sand model and many many sketches.

For some reason I did many sketches on paper for this phase rather than the SurfacePro, maybe being outside for some of the time was a factor but there was something therapeutic about using pencil and paper (even if I REALLY missed my undo and layers and such). Here are a few of the sketches anyhow:


Design Studio Week 4

Yes, somehow 4 weeks of the course have raced by already. After the class initially trended towards most people doing solo projects (including myself) to a few weeks later where almost everyone is in a group of 2 or 3 people. My group (Creative Brick) had 3 cool members for this first phase though we lose our artist going forward from here. I have really enjoyed being in the group, feeding off each other's ideas, sharing the load and playing to the strengths we each bring. Our Project Proposal document was pretty cool (60 pages of research and precedents etc) and our presentation video fun and to the point.

After coming together as a group with some similar goals around adult play, experiential design and positive thinking we settled on the potentially darker topic of Child Abuse. Our aim though is a design solution that is respectful but uplifting and positive rather than heavy and morose. After some brainstorming together and on paper we took these conceptual ideas into VideoScribe to create the video below.

This 4 minute pitch intends to sell the idea, how important creating a place like this is and give some hints as to the type of solution that might come. This was my first play with Videoscribe which does much of the heavy lifting in creating a presentation like this. Specific drawings and lines I created in Illustrator first on my Surface Pro 3, using the pen not the brush to get the stroke data in as well. I had a rough idea how the whole thing might look then just started bringing in the content and the ideas looping around as I went. B added the voice over afterwards and the cool pen noises complete the picture. In the software you bring in the text or a graphic and setup the screen, and a set of parameters around transitions and timing and build it up piece by piece.

Over the weekend (how gorgeous was the weather) I took heaps of pictures of the site and was doodling away thinking of the mood I would like a place to impart. Seeing kids playing with bubbles or or drawing with chalk on the pavement or people sitting out eating their lunch or reading or listening to a busker were all good ways to generate positive memories. Despite our project being fictional, I could see it as real, from the site to our clients and the real need.

The sketches here aren't designs for the place, but do show some of the thinking around the design being multi-sensory, being fun and characterful, being emotive and caring. You can see things like water and bubbles and nature and quirky fun in abundance.

Oh and I almost forgot, we were asked to create a personal design philosophy, a manifesto and this is the one I created. I hadn't done this before and it was interesting to see what came out of this exercise for me. I disliked most manifestos we looked at, they present as egotistical rather than inspirational.


E3ness

When E3 rolls around we get an explosion of reveals and information on a fleet of new games. There are already just so so many games vying for my attention that seeing all of the new goodies is just overwhelming - what might actually grab enough attention for me and my friends that it will see play. I just don't have enough time to play lots of things and really enjoy games so much more when others around me are also playing.

Here are some of the trailers (who doesnt love a good trailer) for things that most pique my interest:

The Last Guardian

Unreal Engine - Free, Kites and GDC

Plenty of changes of late in the Unreal Engine department. First the engine is now free for everyone (no more subscription fee) with royalties only coming in after you make some $$$ from a project. This makes the engine even more approachable (and for us at the uni took all that admin away as well).

The reason for this post though is to give some serious props to Epic's new cinematic. Here you can marvel at the lovely giant world, the lighting, the animation and the whole narrative experience brought to life by UE4.

Then comes GDC where they walked through all the tech that went into the cinematic, much of which will come into the engine for all of us soon as well. They also talked about their workflows and tech choices - very cool.

I have a queue of online courses in DigitalTutors (and the Lynda.com ones too maybe) to get my brain back up to speed with 3dsMax/Maya, UE4, Mudbox and even more Photoshop - get to work Graham!!


Overwatch

We had a fun conversation over lunch around various models for subscription streaming (tv/movie) services - comparing the lowly options here in Oz with things like Spotify and how games have adopted different models over the last few years. When you see the amount of income a success like World of Warcraft can bring, you can see the appeal of subscription models - but with the popularity of transaction models now, the world has certainly moved on.

Anyhow, that is a rather lame introduction to the point of this little post. Blizzard are releasing a game with an all new game - this time with all new characters = Overwatch. I admit I dont know that much about the game itself, though it looks like Team Fortress 2 with a more diverse (MOBA-like) cast of heroes to battle things out. Blizzard are renowned for the polish they bring to any title and their ability to refine a game genre - so I expect the same will apply here.

Blizzard are also famous for their cinematic trailers and this one is another wonderful piece of work. We get bucket loads of cute while at the same time introducing a small set of the Overwatch heroes themselves. This is a pretty classy video all round:

There is also the gameplay trailer where things feel similar but there are things that are off-putting for me. In the cinematic there is a protracted battle between these heroes as they wore each other down before one side retreats - in the gameplay trailer heroes last mere seconds against single attacks.

Lastly here is some of the artwork on the Overwatch site which are kinda cool (they all seem to have cybernetics in various amounts which is interesting)...


LoL CG and Such

I feel as though I may have done a post not entirely unlike this some time ago, but that doesnt seem to be stopping me. While I dont play much League of Legends at all really, I do love to watch it: just like other team sports this has it all - heroes, drama, spectacular plays and thrilling comebacks. RIOT esports have done a great job of building up everything around their events with all the commentators on the analyst desks and the casters themselves.

The recent Oceanic server event which will actually see us have a Nautilus Champion artificial reef is a pretty cool example of how they are engaging with fans of all types. Plus how cool is the new Music of League of Legends :-)

I feel like I should be supporting one team but there are so many cool personalities out there. I like how smiley some of the guys are like WildTurtle and KiwiKid and all of CLG look like they are having a good time. OCE is starting tonight and it has been fun seeing the EU and NA superteams doing their stuff.

Anyhow, as I get to know the game and the champions and the world a little better very cool videos like this one actually hold more meaning as the moves and character of everything is amplified or refined. Plus seeing how they went about making the video inspires me to knuckle down and learn some more 3D CG apps!!

While we are here, what about another pair:

Here are a few links to people modelling: VID1 VID2 VID3

Aaaand some images from the New Dawn cinematic (check the site for more incl drawings):


It Awakens

It is time to get this blog back up off its backside, so maybe a good way start is to take the easy way and craft an entire little post here around the sheer joy that can be had from watching the Star Wars epVII teaser.

They have managed to craft something that really invokes something exciting, we get snippets of so many little pieces that are Star Wars for us. With the music and sound effects setting things up for elements of new and old weaved together - so so good. Apart from the risk of having my expectations too high, I have loved all 6 films so far and I am sure this will be wondrous...

Anyhow, while we are here why not revel a little further. This little shot-for-shot version uses original trilogy footage to the same audio and pacing.

One of the cool things was all the fan art that sprung up scant moments after the teaser was released, here is some to inspire us further. These are from ComicsAlliance page:

But wait, lets end by including the original trailer for The Phantom Menace, maybe something for those of us who love the film, Jedi at their prime, droid armies, politics, pod racing and so much more.

Team Vanquish Issue 8

Here's the cover for Issue 8 of our FATE Core supers game, this time featuring Team Vanquish as they go undercover into Batovia. The team is looking to uncover something of the origins of their latest team member Odette (Echo) and the notion that she was created by Dr Von Batt  a Silver Age villain who has his own nation in the heart of Australia. Nigel is loving the disguise as a Bond-like gambler, heading into Batovia's biggest casino called The Batcave.

This was all done in Photoshop again, with all the stages of sketching concepts, refinement, shading, colouring and then the background/layout. The vid as just put together in Premiere - and here it is all super-sped-up - somehow it took me ages...


Creativity

This little post was inspired by the John Cleese talk below that covers (in his usually comical way) thinking around how to set things up to allow creativity to happen. He talks about two basic modes: Open where creativity can happen and Closed where creativity doesnt occur but we become very efficient and focused on completing tasks. There is a great deal we can draw inspiration from here, even if one might debate the premise or find other ways of working. Great Stuff!

The follow-up thinking for me has been around where inherently creative tasks or multi-modal tasks might fit into this paradigm. Painting, designing, composing for example which rely on an ongoing dialogue of creativity and analysis while also actually delivering on the tasks themselves. They imply either a very rapid transition between the two modes or something actually cooler.

When I am drawing for example there are different levels of the creative process, how am I going to portray my idea, how can I find an interesting way to explore the details of the world or place or people, how am I going to use the limited skills I have to make something emotive and cool etc etc. There are creative choices and ideas at the same time as lines are appearing on the page inviting other ideas at the same time. That said there is some significant amount of craft going on, the practice of drawing rather than actual creative input - so it is a mixture or at least a SCALE rather than a pure switching of the two modes...

I really liked the piece in the video where John Cleese talked about the environment being safe for bringing in ideas and that working in a group of good friends being beneficial. I like these types of collaborations as well, whether it be in some creative output or in the context of something like a roleplaying game session. Playing something like FATE is highly creative for all the participants and we neeeed to feel free to throw things out there that then get expanded upon.

These process videos I have been making I think reveal a little of this - many of the concepts are coming from the group creative play sessions then as I try to think about the characters and situations more I need to design and create something with the drawings ans presentation...


Drawvids

I have been enjoying creating the WIP or process videos for my stuff, just letting Chronolapse do its thing and then packaging up at the end. Using traditional media we need to film things and there is a super collection of some actually talented artists creating some pretty cool comic sketches. The Visual Zen Advocate YouTube channel has a host of vids, mostly from conventions which should be inspirational to anyone who likes this sort of drawing. Whether armed with pencil, pen or stylus - there is so much to be inspired by here. Just being inspired enough to keep practicing is good, let alone trying to actually bring some of their stylistic skill to bear.

Check these out - inspiration in every second!!!


Team Vanquish Issue 2 Cover

Going back in time a little for the next cover for our FATE Core supers game's fictional comic - featuring the first appearance of Ray-X. This was all done in Photoshop on the Surface Pro 3 and I did intend to do much more extravagant versions of the heroes in the lenses with some kind of cool x-ray overlay, but this inverted sketch logic works pretty well and lets me get onto the next cover. I liked Ray-X during the game, even if he is a bit of a cowardly weasel. The heroes made a mistake of leaving the mystery girl they rescued from the mansion with her - thinking he could help solve the mystery of who she was and what was wrong with her without everyone finding out. The video shows the creation of the piece with bits sped up between 3 and 6 times (plus a few pieces chopped out where I got distracted and Chronolapse just kept grabbing)


Creativity by Design

I had a great time at the UNSW S2 Learning & Teaching Forum yesterday. Great mix of Keynote (Shirley Alexander), parallel sessions and the posters. Shirley really kicked things off with a bang, walking us through the great vision she has for UTS and its approach to learning that impacts pretty much all aspects of the uni. She talked about a vision that included all their space (huge redevelopment budget for the campus, but no new lecture theatres), learning styles, value of the on-campus experience, analytics and so much more. You can get a feel for some of the ideas on the UTS Connected Intelligence Centre as well as their Learning 2014 info.
There were a suite of parallel sessions, I was most enthused by Richard Buckland, who just never fails to lightup and inspire a room. This time he was talking specifically about building a community and the positive impact that has on course performance.

As for the posters on show, there were 22 of them set out in the room with their creators there for some conversations inspired by the work. I gave a preview of the Creativity by Design poster done by Dean Utian and myself here in UNSW Built Environment. We were looking at the positive results that come from employing tasks for students that allow for more creativity, in the presentation at one level, but preferably where creativity/design is present in the actual creation of synthesis of the product itself. I really liked the collaboration on this, from Dean and I nutting out the idea, refining the details and all the presentation development - teamwork can be very cool.

In the hall we had our poster with the supporting video playing beneath it which gives examples of the idea both from a hypothetical standpoint and from the Cinematic Space course. We primarily used Photoshop & Premiere to get the drawings, layout and video elements done. I had lotsa fun drawing the 'characters' first but then iterating the poster layout, message, text and impact before we even got to the video. There, creating the hypothetical example, adding the blinks and editing down all the content and extra info was a fun exercise - esp trying to keep it short while allowing enough time to read the important pieces on the day. I am keen to see how it goes down at the Universitas 21 conference later in the month...

Vanquish Odette Cover

Rounding off the individual covers for the whole team we have Odette. She is the new member of team Vanquish in our FATE Core supers game. She is an NPC and supposed 'daughter' of super-villain Dr Von Bat. Nigel (the Conductor) is infatuated with her at the moment and she is also apparently artificial which will be awesome to explore more in the game.

I thought, having her peeking into frame would be a fun way to show she is new to the team and I wanted to play with hints of her artificial nature. Her hair has extra angles, there is the barcode tattoo, the blue tinted black hair and the binary code highlights. Even if the characters in game didnt find out she was created for a while, we the reader could have picked it up earlier.

Again this was all done in Photoshop, but the WIP video done with Chronoloapse captures and Premiere explains the process quite well I think...


Darker Steve and some Worlds

After my Team Vanquish cover 4.4 featuring Minecraft Steve, apparently the intent was he had darker hair, so here is a quick edit.

The only other reason for this post is to say how much fun I am having with the 2014 League of Legends World Championships (quarter finals at the moment). I loved the game that Cloud 9 brought even though it wasnt sufficient to get past SSB.
I love how excited the commentary team gets when the players are just this good and the stakes so high. Even though the champions hitting the rift are generally very limited, it can be fun seeing something interesting get a pick now and again. It is certainly fascinating seeing how flexible the meta is when the teams are this good.
Game 4 of Samsung Blue vs Cloud 9 - how epic was that!


Vanquish Cover with Steve

Here is Issue 4.4 (or the fourth variant cover for issue 4) of the fictional comic for our FATE Core supers game featuring Team Vanquish as they set about being heroes in a fictional Sydney. I am still working on this set of covers for Issue 4 (gameday 4) which featured the dramatic events of the Gala dinner atop Pyramid Tower.

Seraph had gone to some effort to setup Steve with someone nice, but Steve was on another page - geared up to stream the event to his online fans wearing his denim suit. This was but the start of the drama...

Anyhow, here is one vision of Steve whose Minecraft-like powers make him a valuable team member but socially the relationship has been strained. This was all done in Photoshop on the new Surface Pro 3 built upon the template for the other covers (see other posts). I like watching the timelapse for this sort of thing as it not only shows the way I went about the drawing, but shows where I changed my mind, where I altered things, decided on the wink, changed his hair and so on. I probably would have liked him to be slightly more cartoony, more stylised - but am pretty happy with him. Now to see if he matches his player's vision of him - or the rest of the gang for that matter...


LOL Vids and Worlds

I freely admit I am a crummy League of Legends player, I only know a few champs and dont play those very well. That said there is something wonderful about seeing the game at the level of esports and particularly the current world championships. I have been known to criticise the whole meta logic of how the lanes are played aspect of the game - but at this extreme level the structure just becomes flavour rather than rules = awesome.
I am still lost seeing all the abilities going off everywhere and only understand a small amount of the commentary, but I am still completely swept up in the action, the excitement, the emotion and all the highs and lows.

Here is the awesome promo video created for the World Championships showing off just enough of the game and these sports heroes to inspire the legion of fans and players out there. The stylised vision of the game at its players is wonderfully executed. I love that sequence in the clouds with the flashes of the champions and even the principle of the streaks of light is pretty evocative. So much style and flair along with the stirring music is a pretty nice way to kick off the Worlds.

But watching the games live is pretty sweet, they have done a great job of bringing the commentators, experts, interviews, music and graphics together with the game and the players to make the spectacle as exciting as possible. Just check out the Riot Games Twitch or Youtube channels for all the fun.

While we are here, I also like the new vid for Shurima, it is nice seeing so much going into the videos for Riot's uber-game.