Animex Week – Day Three

For the third day (which was actually the fourth for Animex itself), the programme moved on to the games industry after spending two days on AVFX in movies. I have to admit I was looking forward to this part of Animex more, although the previous days were still amazingly useful! I was also really keen on the fact that there were a few VR talks, which I thought would help with the synoptic project in year two.

The schedule for today was as follows:

  1. Shooty Shooty Gun Hands: making a VR experience from the ground up – Wyeth Johnson, Lead technical artist, Epic
  2. Making games for kids – Chris Walter, Games producer, BBC Children’s
  3. In conversation with Rhianna Pratchett – Rhianna Pratchett, Scriptwriter and story designer, and Gabrielle Kent, Animex festival director
  4. Dialogue systems in Double Fine games – Anna Kipnis, Senior gameplay programmer, Double Fine
  5. Animating the mechanical creatures in Horizon Zero Dawn – Richard Oud, Lead animator, Guerilla Games

I was also thinking the dialogue system talk would be very cool, since it was being presented by a gameplay programmer and could be something I’d be interested in – I was hoping for some tips and tricks of things to focus on in the summer, along with all the other things I’d planned on doing (Unreal, I’m looking at you).

Shooty Shooty Gun Hands


This talk was absolutely fantastic. So much so, Marc and I were both eager to get the Robo Recall game for our VR at home and see how they did things first-hand. The other glorious thing is that Epic actually provides every piece of the game on Epic Game Launcher, where they encourage people to look at it and learn from it to make their own VR games.

I actually took three pages of notes on this talk, which I don’t have to reiterate here, but I think all of it will be useful for synoptic pitching/game-making. I think the best lesson I could take from the talk was the overall design process Epic used when deciding on what to put into the game – although I’m sure they use the same process for all their other games, too. It was implementing Design Pillars, where there were strong statements about the game that they would adhere to. They weren’t actually about game design, but rather just established space in which ideas could live or die.

Some of the pillars that were mentioned were:

  1. Fantasy fulfillment or letting the user be The One
  2. Make a game that would only work in VR, something unique to the device
  3. Grounded feels good, so everything can be based on real world relatable things
  4. Stick to a 20-minute macro loop, so people could play the game in 20-minute long chunks

I think we’ll definitely be using this idea for the synoptic project, since it helps bring structure to the game and makes you less likely to pick game aspects just because you like them, even if they don’t fit into the game itself.

Making games for kids


This talk was delivered by a Teesside Uni grad and Chris Walter did an excellent job of getting the point across that, just because you do something in school, it doesn’t mean it’s what you’re going to do for your job – you might find something else that interests you along the way that you’d rather be doing. I think this is a good life lesson to learn; I’ve personally experienced the same thing, after all, so I wholeheartedly agree.

Overall, he’s a games producer for the BBC Children’s, making content for children in an age range of 2 to 10 years – which turns out to be a lot more difficult than one would expect if one didn’t have kids. They don’t actually do a lot of the development in-house, but the games made are built in HTML5 for its scalability.

He also solidified the importance of audience research and knowing what sort of people will be playing your game. For the games to succeed, you need to find out what’s already out there and talk to the people you want playing your game. I think this is a really good point for any kind of game, not just for ones geared towards children.

In conversation with Rhianna Pratchett


I actually didn’t take any notes for this segment, since it was more of a “fireside chat” between Rhianna Pratchett and Gabrielle Kent – very anecdotal with a summary of how Rhianna got into writing for video games from her journalism degree. While it was very interesting, it didn’t offer as much insight into the finer details of the industry like some of the other speakers.

Dialogue systems in Double Fine games


Once again, I took a lot of notes on this talk, mostly because it’s something that interests me as a potential career option. It was very interesting to see the breakdown of how they organise their dialogue systems, what sort of state machines they use, and while they use propriety adapted scripting language at the moment, they had used LUA as a scripting language during their use of the Red Engine.

Anna Kipnis reiterated how Tim Schafer looked at the characters in his games: “No two characters would approach a problem or react to events in the same way.” They would create character charts to fill out the personality of that character and round them out, which would make them more real and memorable. Anna took us through the dialogue databases they keep, their line descriptor asset system, and how useful things like scratch recordings can be.

While we might not have a dialogue-heavy system in our synoptic project next year, I’m looking forward to how much further I can research the importance of dialogue in a self-made game during my summer “down time.”

Animating the mechanical creatures in Horizon Zero Dawn


Going through the animations for this amazing game just felt like a really lucky experience. The game is an IP of Guerrilla Games, where they pitched it to Sony along with 40-50 other games and were given the go ahead. The studio had done 1st-person games before, so moving to a 3rd-person, open world game meant they needed a new pipeline and tools. They went to animal and creature courses, did a lot of research into nature and how they could emulate that in the game, which once again reinforced the importance of getting as much research as possible.

Richard Oud also established the importance of setting goals for yourself when making something (such as how he wanted the robots to be believable or that they should feel grounded with weight but still responsive). The other amazing part he told us was how they went straight from concept into Zbrush, which then was given to the riggers, and given back to the animation department to animate and put into the blending software Morpheme (by NaturalMotion).

Much like Double Fine did, Guerrilla Games also partook in personality tests for their characters, so they could have a sense of personality and a starting point to give them life. I think the really fantastic part of the talk was seeing the development of the animations and how it was all right to push the boundaries between a robotic look and an animalistic feel. They really put an emphasis on the attacks, with 80% of their polish time taken up by them to make them clear and readable from any angle.


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