Animex Week – Day Four

It was the final day of the Animex Festival and I have to say the entire experience didn’t disappoint, although today was the day I was looking forward to the most. There were some really strong speakers on the planner from some very famous companies, including Bethesda and Bioware. I was also really interested in the other VR talk from Supermassive Games, given that they’re a British company and I really liked their recent game Until Dawn.

The schedule for today was as follows:

  1. So, what’s the story… with Bethesda’s stories? – Emil Pagliarulo, Design director, Bethesda Game Studios
  2. Game design and VR: working with new rules – Gary Napper, Game director, Supermassive Games
  3. Night of the living Dev: A guide to surviving the games industry – Louise O’Connor, Executive producer, Microsoft Rare Ltd
  4. Designing to be overlooked – Asa Roos, Senior UX designer, Bioware
  5. Purpose and personality in the first-person animation of Overwatch – Matt Boehm, Gameplay character animator, Blizzard Entertainment

I think the day was actually a lot more focused on other aspects of building a game and not necessarily the animating, so it really felt more like my kind of schedule. The meet-and-greet the night before was a little sub-par, if only because we were in a different part of the University that Monday’s lounge night and there were A LOT of people. It was difficult to ask the questions I had from the speakers, especially since I didn’t know the content of the talks from today at the time.

So, what’s the story… with Bethesda’s stories?

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There were three main points Emil put across throughout his talk: KISS (keep it simple, stupid), write what you know, and great games are played, not made (a Bethesda company motto). The story of a game can have the upper layers, but it should have a strong central theme (or themes) running through it. That way, when you’re writing your game you need to find a theme that’s strong enough to survive the whole game.

Skyrim ended up with a classic theme of a messiah, the one who would save the world, drawing on the biblical story for its inspiration. Fallout 4 is set in Boston, where Emil is from, so he could draw on his own life experiences to recreate the location and themes.

I liked the analogy given about how Bethesda were setting out to create their next great American novel. They would have the pages, rip them out of the book, make them into paper airplanes, and send them off flying. It was up to the player to decide whether they wanted to find them all and piece that story together. The player might also decide their time is more well spent on 300 hours of building shacks or searching for collectable bobbleheads. The point is, it’s all about the player and how they choose to experience the world.

I was happy to know that the dialogue system they used is also a downloadable program where you can experiment and write your own dialogue; that’s now added to the summer checklist!

Game design and VR: working with new rules

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This. Talk. Was. Amazing.

I know I keep saying that, but I really feel like this has been my favourite talk of the whole week, just because of how much I took away from it about VR experiences. Gary Napper was also an excellent speaker who really made me feel motivated to run home and look into everything he mentioned in that too-short one hour talk.

While there might be rules about VR, not all rules apply to all games, and it’s important to know that a lot of the established rules are broken even as they’re being written. VR is such a wild frontier of game development that it’s constantly adapting and changing to suit new needs.

Above all else when making a VR game, you should decide on what kind of movement you want to use (locomotion, teleportation, no movement, etc.). He recommended looking at Supermassive Games’ Tumble VR for how they approached a simple concept but made a really delightful game. Thumper and Here They Lie were also mentioned. The book The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell was recommended along with 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick for level designing.

Some of the topics that have to be considered when building a VR game are:

  • Movement and the potential for motion sickness – it was important not to mix up motion and the feeling of motion sickness
  • Physical drain and time spent in the game – playing with motion controls can be more tiring than expected
  • Visual fidelity doesn’t necessarily equal reality – the experience should always trump graphical fidelity
  • Personal space is important – the physical space of VR feels a lot closer when an NPC is in your face giving you instructions
  • Framing and composition – you can’t actually frame in VR because you can’t force the player’s head to look somewhere, so it’s about adapting to the hardware

Overall, Gary said he’d always prefer to include a physical interaction in the game as opposed to a lot of text-based stuff.

Night of the living Dev

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This talk was hilarious and I could have watched Louise O’Connor jump about all afternoon. She had such energy about the industry that was really translated through her talk – although it wasn’t about a Shaun of the Dead game (unfortunately!), it was horror themed because that’s her personal passion. She wanted to show us how surviving in the games industry was very similar to surviving a zombie apocalypse. This was all something I could really get behind!

  • Lesson 1: Stay in peak condition – be at the top of your game and the best of the best
  • Lesson 2: Find your allies – networking, putting yourself out there, and making connections is very useful as opposed to sitting by yourself in a corner expecting to be noticed
  • Lesson 3: Learn to improvise – take advantage of the things (tools, allies, etc.) at your disposal
  • Lesson 4: Learn to adapt – your ideas aren’t always set in stone and being flexible is very important
  • Lesson 5: Don’t be a dick… enough said
  • Lesson 6: Kill the infected – ideas can fester and infect quite easily, so it’s important to kill them off early before they contaminate the rest of the project
  • Lesson 7: Don’t underestimate anything or anyone – there is a lot of competition in the industry, so while they might be after the same jobs, the other students you’re with also can make amazing allies given the chance
  • Lesson 8: Keep it simple – very similar to other talks given
  • Lesson 9: Have fun!!
  • Lesson 10: Watch out – keep an eye on other developers, learn from people in the industry, etc.
  • Lesson 11: Keep your humanity – inject as much of your personal passions into your projects as you can
  • Lesson 12: Never stand still

moving-forward

Designing to be overlooked

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Thinking about User Experience in a game, I never really put the connection together that you might have someone dedicated to that job – which feels rather stupid now. Asa Roos couldn’t talk about the project she’s currently working on, so instead she spoke about her experiences on the Mad Max game.

Being a UX designer, the focus encompasses both the UIs and the experiences the player goes through. It’s about the way the player is introduced to the game and how the game speaks to the player. Asa expressed how important it was to test early and test often – she would always encourage developers to build for the players, not for yourself.

There are some core rules of usability that she shared with us: learnability, orientation, efficiency, memorability, accessibility, error forgiveness, and delight. UXD is about contextual design; the end product depends on the context in which/what/who it was created for. Part of the job includes making menus, so workflow charts are used often, with wireframes and mockups following. Tutorials are also part of it, where someone like Asa has to make sure the player is properly introduced to the game and knows how everything works.

Another recommended book was Game Usability by Katherine Isbister, although it’s more geared towards mobile app development than console/computer games. I think the biggest takeaway was that it’s important to involve UX design early on in game development – things like localisation, tutorials and user enjoyment should be part of the production, not just an afterthought.

Purpose and personality in the first-person animation of Overwatch

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I think a lot of the audience was starry-eyed about the Blizzard talk, mostly because Overwatch is such a big deal at the moment, but I actually haven’t had a chance to give it a try what with school being so busy. However, Matt Boehm gave a delightful talk about how even big companies like Blizzard need to have fun and cheat a little to make their characters look more appealing – it was a great talk to finish of an excellent week.

He started off by telling us a couple of things they like to focus on when animating for something like Overwatch, which has more cartoony motions, big arcs and great silhouettes. Overlapping action, overshoots, squash, stretch, and snappy, textured timing all are important. A lot of the teams all sit down together to discuss where to begin with a new character; the departments need to figure out how the character will move, what abilities they’ll have, what personality they want to come across, and so on.

It was interesting to see how the 1st-person rig actually looked from an animator’s perspective – they really do cut out everything they don’t need, usually including legs (unless they’ve got a melee kick attack), torso, and heads. As a result, the animator can just focus on the parts that are important and will be seen by the player.

We were shown how they do all the different kinds of animations, including attacks, idle, running, and reloading. The biggest part of animating in 1st-person was not to obscure the player’s field of view with any of the actions while still making sure the action looks good – sometimes there had to be adaptions made if the action was being seen from 1st-person or 3rd-person, because the animations don’t always work for both.

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