Storytelling...the beginning

 

Ah, so lets dive into video games further. This time, I would love to tell you about stories and plots and how they are woven into the gameplay and the overall gaming experience. This area of story writing and storytelling may seem a bit daunting at first but once you know how to break the story’s structure, it just becomes very easy. A lot of the body coming up is sourced from Chris Bateman’s Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames. This post is not meant to plagiarize or to demean anybody, the following content is for educational purposes for fellow game designers, developers and basically everyone who would like to know more about it.


Before writing a story, we must always decide on the characters. They are the ones that will bring life to your games. It is true that some games don’t need a story but if you want to convey an idea or a message, how would you proceed? Bioshock is a very good example of this. Characters come to life with Ayn Rand’s philosophy and the dialogues are perfect to set the tone that the game wanted to convey. Here the characters were of paramount importance. Whether it be You, the Player, or the antagonist Andrew Ryan and others.  Once you have the characters envisioned, you can proceed with what is known in the industry as the Hero’s Journey Model.

Most heroes follow this model. It begins with the Departure or Diesis- which basically is the introduction of the hero, the setting etc. Followed by the Crisis Point or Peripetia- this is the exciting part as the Crisis Point puts in motion the hook of the film. People start to ask questions such as Why this, What then, How come. It is the point where you should present the most exciting part which will compel players to actually finish the game and find the answers. Which brings us to the Resolution or Lusis. This is the climax, the end of the film. This is where you can choose what to do with the emotions of a player. You can provide them with the answers or you can leave them with cliffhanger.

Between these three major points, there are numerous minor points that you should know of- Departure->Ordinary World-> Call to adventure-> Refusal of call-> Meets a mentor-> The first threshold-> Threshold Domain-> Initiation->  Roads of Trials->  Allies and Enemies->  Innermost cave-> Crisis Point-> Return-> The Road Back-> Resurrection

Once you have mastered this model you can always add and iterate this model based on your requirements. The Crisis Point may not have to be in middle if the audience is already familiar with the character.

Talking about characters, lets begin with Archtypes

A threshold guardian is the character that must be defeated and bypassed in a hero’s journey, so that the Hero can enter into the other world and begin down the Road of Trials- A threshold guardian can be the lover who forces the hero in a “you will have to choose between your quest and me”

The Trickster is a after a character who could be on the side of good or evil, but is most often working his own benefit.

The Herald is the messenger that (according to the adage) we are not supposed to kill.
The news maybe good or bad, but whatever the Herald brings often sets the Hero down the road, or introduces a reversal as a plot point.- In the Hobbit, Gandalf first function as a Herald for Bilbo, later as the wizard (mentor) in both the hobbit and the lord of the rings.

The shapeshifter is the character who “went over to their side or came over to ours”, the undercover agent and the betrayer/Traitor. They build tension into the story as we, the audience are never sure what role they really play until the denouncement climax of the story, film or game.

The Shadow is the bad guy. Some of these might have no depth at all but some might be complex due to tragic character flaws.

Well that’s it for today folks, I have to do research for a game I am making.

Next time I would like to talk about Structures and Progressions system in videogames. Later :)

The reality is broken

What is a game? That’s the most fundamental question asked by Jane McGonigal @avantgame in her book The Reality Is Broken 

So let’s take a look at what she means.

<DISCLAIMER> (The content featured below are not meant for copyright infringement but rather for educational purposes)

"When you strip away all genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.”

The goal is the specific outcome that players will work to achieve. It focuses their attention and continually orients their participation throughout the game. The game provides players with a sense of purpose

The rules place limitations on how players can achieve the goal. By removing or limiting the obvious ways of getting to the goal, the rules push the players to explore previously uncharted possible spaces. They uneash creativity and foster strategic thinking.

The feedback system tells platers how close they are to achieving the goal. It can take the for of points, levels, a score, or a progress bar. Or, in its most basic form, the feedback system can be as simple as the player’s knowledge of an objective outcome:- “The game is over…”. Real-time feedback serves as a promise to the players that the goal is definitely achievable, and it provides motivation to keep playing.

Voluntary Participation requires that everyone who is playing the game knowingly and willingly accepts the game, the rules, and the feedback.

The above definition may surprise you for what it lacks: interactivity, graphics, narrative, rewards, competition, virtual environments, or the idea of “winning”- all traits we often think of many games, but they are not defining features. What defines a game are the traits- Goal, Rules, Feedback System, Voluntary Participation. Everything else is an effort to reinforce and enhance these four core elements. A story makes the goal more enticing, Complex scoring mechanics/metrics make the feedback system more motivating. Immersive graphics, sound, 3D environments increase our ability to pay sustained attention & advanced algorithms increase the game’s difficulty as you play.

Well this pretty much sums it up for what the def. is of the video games.

Next time we will go in detail about video games with a help of a book Game Writing:Narrative Skills for Videogames  by Chris Bateman

The Production Pipeline

So, today we talk about the production pipeline. You might wonder- what is a production pipeline? Well its a method or a process through which a video game or an animation film is created. Some of the things mentioned in this article are also related to the process of how modern films are made.

The Production Pipeline consists of the 3P’s:

Pre Production

Production

Post-Production

Pre production 

In this stage, the game idea is pitched to the team and the lead director and the investors. And if approved it goes to Storyboard/flowboard to showcase a bit about what the game is about in the forms of sketches and concept art. If all goes smoothly, it proceeds to the Game design Document-which is like the Bible of the videogames.

Production

Production involves the actual creation of assets and the world environments. Stuff like 3D modeling, texturing, animation (character design, world design, world objects, level design)

After all this is done, the last step before this moves to the post-production is the Technical Design Document which involves the integration of the assets to the Game Engine(Game Plan, AI, Audio, Networking, Special Effects, IO Programming)

Post-Production

This phase involves the testing phase such as white box testing, black box testing, beta testing. After all the bug tests and stress tests are over and done with, the final game code is announced as ‘Gold’.

 

I hope this was a good video game education today. Next time, I a going to introduce a few key chapters from one of my favourite video game design books. Watch for this space!

 

Song of the Day- DMT by XXYYXX

Diffusion of Departments

So the last time we talked a bit about the structure of a typical Triple A Studio. Now its time to go much deeper.

Programming Department


Lead Programmer- AI Programmer, UI Programmer, Gameplay Programmer, Graphics Programmer

Technical Director- Tools Programmer, Networking Programmer, Level Programmer, Physics Programmer

Whew. A lot things might be new to you so let me explain a bit as far as I know. A programmer is someone who codes and implements your core idea into workable, form. All video games need a programmer, Yet there are some games which were made by just desingers using special tools and softwares. It is often a projected view in this industry and the web design industry that if someone can hire a programmer for cheap, why hire the expensive one. Well, I ain’t no programmer yet :) but I do know that those programmers who were not hired just because they were out of the “budget” could have done 10X of the work more effectively than the cheap one. I know for certain that the expensive ones would have made the code so complex yet modular that in the future you could use parts of it for a new project. Okay, next up is the AI programmer who basically designs and develop the artificial intelligence of characters…how they behave, how they react when they see the protagonist, how they respond to the environment and so on. Many programmers have a certain disdain for being assigned as the UI Programmer, its not a difficult area per se, but they feel they can utilize their coding skills somewhere else. The best thing to do in these cases is to group one with a UI artist or a designer so they can both tweak and flesh out the user-interface. The Gameplay programmer has a lot of brunt to bear. All the necessary game mechanics, features, physics are undertaken by the gameplay programmer. They way a rifle feels in your hand, or the way your character jumps and slides smoothly under an obstacle…thank the gameplay programmer for that! I am not entirely sure of the exact roles of a graphic programmer although I do have a rough idea. Basically, all the lighting, the environment lights, particle effects, visual effects and graphic quality is handled by the graphic programmer. It’s a graphic programmer’s job to tweak the graphics and visuals for high-end devices and the low-end devices while keeping the game playable under a respectable amount of FPS(frames per second).

Next up

Design Department

Lead Designer- 3D World Modeler, 3D Entity Modeler, 3D Character Modeler, Character Animation, Entity Animation

Game Designer- Story Writer, Dialogue Writer, Level Designer, Interface Designer, Motion-Capture Artist.

The Lead Designer, 3D World Modeler, 3D Entity Modeler, 3D Character Modeler, Character Animation, Entity Animation have a lot of similar rules. Some of them create 3D visual and physical model of environments and the game world, then some of them create enemy NPC’s that are in 3D while some create character animation which have realistic movements and other animation required by the character,

Art Department

Lead Artist, Art Director


Well sorry to disappoint but I hardly have a clue about the people in the art department. If any of those reading my blog, do comment and let me know and I will update the article with the correct information.

Sound Department

Lead Sound Director- Voice-over Artist, Sound Effects, Music

Music Director- Composer, Orchestra, Music/Score Arrangements

Sound is seriously one of the most underrated fields in the video game industry. However it is one of the most as it can have an immediate effect on the player. Some games employ player’s agency#1 to influence sound and vice versa. Ever heard of creepy footsteps behind you and making your character turn in a jiffy? You could appreciate the Sound Effects Engineer for that.

Quality Assurance Department


Main Team- Game Testers, Multiplayer, Localization Team.

Q.A Lead- Compatibility, Beta Testers


This department provides a great opportunity for gamers to get into the industry if they do not have an education of game programming or game design. Of course, game testing is not as attractive as it sounds. You don’t get paid to play games, you get paid to play shitty versions of the game until you and other tester’s efforts improve the quality of it. Those bugs that you didn’t know about in Starcraft 2 were examined and tested by testers doing one action of a character multiple times in different areas until it was bug-free.

Management Department

Producer, Studio Head, Line Producer, Associate Producer

Basically the people who have the crew under their pockets. This is where the money trickles down in the form of paychecks.

Business Department


Publisher, Studio Head, Lawyers

People looking after the IP(Intellectual Property)- the game that the people in the studio work so hard for. They have all the big shots lawyers who fight copyright infringement eve though they sometimes don’t win.

There are a lot things that I have missed and might have overlooked so I really urge you peeps to please, send me those through the comments. Any point or any role in a particular studio, you are welcome to explain the process and I will update it. Its time we start to acknowledge video games as the ultimate medium for entertainment and education.

That’s all for now folks. Next time, its the process of how a game is made and this applies to almost every video game ever created.

Song of the Day-  If You Stayed Over (Reprise) by Bonobo

What's a game?

I am a video game design student in Banglore, India. And I thought it would be good to publish what I think constitutes a ‘game’.

For me, a game is an activity performed by will to participate in competition, glory, leisure, to take out frustration or live one’s imagination.


The above definition by now must have given you a rough idea of what a game is but what kind of things come under a game? Let’s take a look:

Fun- Is your game engaging?

Goals- what is the objective of your game?

Challenges- what kind of obstacles do you have?

Re-playability- will you play your game again?

Story- Does the game have a story? Characters? Any of them interesting

Appeal- Is there any novelty factor in it? What’s the USP?

Platform- Is it for the PC, Mac, iOS or some other?

Audience-Is it for the niche market or is it mainstream?

With these in order… lets go through what goes on in a triple A (AAA) gaming studio.

Most of these big studios, take it Bungie, Bioware, 343 studios, DICE, Capcom and many more have departments which comprise of Programming, Design, Art, Audio, Quality Assurance, Management , Business, Marketing and relative departments. The gist of all this is that each and every department has its own specialized set of crew who are very good at what they do and are proficient in communicating and collaborating with other departments. You see, making a game is a task, making a good game is a huge undertaking but making blockbuster games with several platform ports at launch…that is in an entirely different league. Of course, there are certain developers who have successfully attained success producing a game, most of them being just a one-person game. What I saying is, its good to have focus on something, but if you want to be really good and want to be indie-make sure you have enough experience in the video game industry and that you are comfortable donning multiple hats. You will be donning them.

We will go through the studio departments in-depth next time. So long.

Song of the Day- All I Need by Beth Hirsch

GGJ'13 Results

The GGJ has ended and it was super-awesome! A lot of people were new faces and for the majority it was their first time doing a game jam. Me and my buddy Rajat Verma were the designers and from the developers side, there were four of them who had a few years of exp. in DirectX. With the team now complete. We though it was our lucky weekend since we had not one, but FOUR devs. ready to work on our pitch. No wonder we were elated the whole time. The first few hours were introductory talks by some notable local game devs. and studio heads. Most of their talks involved monetization and mobile games with a few inclusion of social games. I was quite intellectually engaged from what I got to learn even though I had a roundabout knowledge about some of these things before. Quite a few of them had little clue as to what was being talked about. But I am happy they at least managed to learn something important. I for one was looking more forward to talks in line of narrative medium and how video games could be used to implement intricate stories and instill thoughtful ideas among the gamers.

It was now time for the real event to kick in! The topic for this year’s game jam was presented to us in the form of a soundbyte: http://d.pr/a/P5HB 
With the theme now perfectly clear, we started generating ideas and I was pleased that even the developers took active part in suggesting and improving the ideas. We decided that each of us will write down 10 game ideas and scrap the top five because those ideas would be the most common among groups (Thanks Behance - for the tip through 99u)

Here are my ideas in case anyone is wondering: 

  1. RPG with Monsters
  2. Runner game with the objective of saving a beloved one.
  3. Medical patient-soon to die.
  4. Platformer to collect hearts.
  5. Doom-like FPS/ Shoot-em-up
  6. Musical game involving RPG elements.
  7. Two-dimensional game involving the destruction of circles in a wide-area effect.
  8. 1-bit game about destroying procedurally-generated shapes to find a treasure with the help of an audio clue.
  9. Racing and obstacle avoidance game involving blood vessels.
  10. Game based on friendship- a hidden object game. 

After an exhaustive review of game ides from all of us, we came to the conclusion to make an endless-runner type of a game involving the protagonist to search and rescue the damsel-in-distress (Sorry, Anita Sarkeesian, but most of my team members don’t think in a modern way)

We settled for the game and aptly named it Heart Runner.

Heart Runner involves you, the Alpha Heart who starts his quest to find his beloved, Beta Heart, who is supposedly lost in the land of Legonia. You must hurry and see to it that she is well before she is consumed by the Dark Territory of Legonia.

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Our team, Modular Beings, was a self-assigned group of individuals, each with their own skills and strong points who contributed to the game. I was assigned as the UI Designer, Level Designer and the Gameplay Designer. Rajat had the fortune of being the Character Designer and Environment Artist and the developers had their won thing going own. Let’s just say they weren’t as communicative as we would have liked them to be.

The first 24 hours sailed past smoothly, we were heavily driven and wanted to give our best in what we were supposed to do. The real hitch came on the second day during the development phase. We were completely stumped as to what direction should we take our project to. The prototype was just no upto the mark at all. There was no physics at all, no top-notch animation sprites. And the gameplay was just dismal. Now some of you may point out that this is a game jam, nobody is supposed to make a full-blown top-notch game, It is highly impossible especially for someone on their first jam. Well, the thing is, I wasn’t going for the full blown AAA style of result! Play games as minimal as Super Hexagon and Super Meat Boy prototype and you see the polish. That’s what I am talking about. Our game doesn’t even have to have loads of features but what I expected from the developers was a certain level of polish which was non-existent. It was a big blow to our morale because even though they had 3+ years in Direct X, they couldn’t come with something good. Something that just felt right with the controls. We adjusted our tone and emotions after some time and confronted them again about the result and they told us that Direct X is hard and it takes for them to do it properly. When we told them that they could have or rather should have done it in a language much faster than DX and which could be meant for rapid prototyping, they replied they knew no other language. All four of them…knew only Direct X and did horribly. I mean, yeah, I did lose my cool- this just wasnt justified, at all! We discussed each and everybody’s skills and they should have let us known that they knew only one language and that one that took a long time for the results to show! Newsflash! We didn’t have enough time. We barely had about 10 more hours and everything was now left for the devs. to call upon their magic. With the designers work done, I decided to do some additional work, one area which was completely overlooked-Sound.

I did extensive sound research and was able to find footsteps SFX for the character running through woods, snow, and grass. I had breathing sounds and ambient environment sounds, such as birds chirps etc, too!
For the soundtrack, I visited a dependable sound site called FMA
I mean, now that I look back, we had a lot of assets that just went unused.

It was time to showcase our work and as the presenter of our team, I was nerve-wracked. We didn’t have a good game game. It just barely worked and we had to insert level backdrops from some random good-looking game.

The presentation went well but we could notice a few nods of disapproval from the audience watching the gameplay demo. 

The biggest disappointment is that the developers did not even bother to hand us over the .exe file of the game! No worries, you can try out the game here Heart Runner. I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t even work on your computer.

However you can have a look at some of the work I did for the game and please do critique, I really need all of it to improve my game.

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Well thats the game, or what’s of it. 

As an endnote, I would like to just mention things that I found to be of value during my exp. in GGJ

Emphasize on KISS (Keep It Simple, and Stupid)
Do rapid prototypind: Fail Early, Fail Fast
Remember MOSCOW- Must . Should . Could . Would
Focus on constraints
Communicate with your team.
And most of all- Have fun!

GGJ'13

Hello folks, its that time of the year again where you stop all you are doing and engage in something so meaningful that you forget about your bodily functions. Yes, I am talking about the annual event Global Game Jam-where creatives join forces to make a game within 48 Hours. Its the Holy convention of all video game events. The Global Game Jam or GGJ and similar prototyping events have given birth to many notable and award-winning games such as The Binding of Issac  World of Goo Costume Quest and my personal favorite Crayon Physics by Petri Purho (an indie finnish developer). The event is not just about creating games though, its about interacting with different people from various fields. I think GGJ is a great networking place and you don’t even have to create a game. Just go there, enjoy your drink, play games and meet new people. Tomorrow at the event, I will be present with my team and I hope that I will be able to squeeze some time to perhaps broadcast/share ongoing things happening at GGJ if possible through images, videos or soundbytes. Stay tuned as I also might share some podcast interviews of some notable people present at the event who will be sharing their industry secrets :P and answering any questions that YOU post. So don’t shy away if you have any doubt or need tips because you’ll get them from the experts! And now I present you a little gift to kick start the event. Feel free to share and download! 

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Do comment about the poster or about the game jam. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Welcome aboard people!

Hello everyone, let me just introduce myself here and the reason why I am writing this blog. I am Anmol Bahl and I also go by the handle Elusive Anmol. I am currently studying game design at ICAT. I live in India, more, specifically, Banglore- a nice city with a great weather.

Like most of you, I got into gaming at a very early age but due to the Indian economy and my family’s financials I could not nurture my passion well until when I reached the age of fifteen. That was the year when I first got my own computer and finally the chance to dive in and learn through the internet (I was computer literate though just didn’t have a computer).
You see, because of the things my family had to go through, I as an individual lagged behind  others who are situated in developed nations. Take for example-by the time, I got my hands on a good point-and-shoot camera, my friends (in another distant country) already had DSLR’s, they were shooting professional quality images and so on.

Now because I am not the only one with these problems, I have decided to share whatever I have learned to the less-privileged and anybody with access to my blog. I will try my best to stay on course with the topic but video games are just way too diverse, so I will be including a lot of stuff that you may or may not find relevant to the topic but you are more than welcome to stay and have a good read. Enjoy your time at extralife404 and if you’ve got anything to add, please do so in the comments section made just for you and your thoughts :)