1st month in retrospective

Setting out to make your own video game has revealed a lot of interesting things. I needed to brush up on a lot of artistic skills I have left to rot over the years and I needed to learn some new ones.

All creative processes are a form of art in my opinion. The process of making it, should be yours, just like the end result should be. You have to find that middle ground where you are willing to adapt and improve methods and add to your own, or incorporate your methods into proven ones. Anything that that will make a solid streamlined workflow that works for you particular style of approach.

We are all intelligent beings that can solve difficult problems, and you should take the tools you are given at each point, to a place where you can´t get any further before asking for better tools. Understand their limits and their strengths.

Understanding I would categorize as a place where you can map a particular solution to an unrelated problem.

“If you can´t explain yourself to a 5 year old, you don´t really understand what you are talking about”.

If you just memorize the solutions and can only apply it to a particular set of problems, you most likely have an excellent memory, but your deductive reasoning ability has to improve. Just like with programming problems, the solutions are either heavy on memory and require little calculation, or they are light on memory but harder to calculate. For anything you set out to learn or master you should be finding correlations and connections to previous skills, so that you don´t have to rely on memory too much. Our memory degrades faster than the computers, but our deduction ability improves with practice and such practices can actually help with memory and other brain health.

But in the set of making computer games, there are not many rules to follow. But understanding what you are doing is a very good thing.Know the difference between the strengths of high level utilities and the low level utilities. Don´t get stuck in routine or some OCD approach about having to work a particular problem in a particular way.

And in the last month I have spent a lot of time understanding the workflow and strengths of various tools that are needed to create computer games and content for computer games.

Most of the time was just to get familiarized with the tools and workflow needed to create games and content and to not allow myself to fall into a trap of preconceptions and formulas.

Know what needs to be done and with what. If there is a better way to create an item. Learn how to!

Image Editing tools:

Photoshop is very strong at compositing and manipulating images in 2D, but it might not have all the tools you need or best suited for you particular workflow. But it can do all the image editing you need to capture a particular vision. Get religious with the layering features of it, its masking ability and color adjustment tools.

ZBrush is also very powerful creating high detail 3D objects that can be used in 2D compositions, but gets overlooked because of a certain workflow attached to a particular adobe product and artists will struggle to create shapes in hours that can be done in minutes within that particular tool.

Sketchbook Pro is very good for just sketching and creating artistic 2D images where you rely on tools very similar to traditional drawing tools with some added benefits. A very simple design that can produce very powerful images.

Wacom tablet is a must for a lot of things related to creating content. Be it sketching, painting or modeling. You want the high precision and the pressure sensitivity to make the most of your digital imaging setup.

Modeling Tools:

Maya is very good at modeling in a certain way. But, when it comes to sculpting, you should not really bother with it. You can basically model anything you like in it, and the new modeling toolkit does help a lot with the previous set of constraints that were hurting its modeling tool set. It is much like programming in assembler, where you have control over every polygon that is added to your model and other properties that might need to be applied to the geometry. Such as shaders, materials and animations skeletons. With proper weight binding and setup. Know where it succeeds and know where it fails.

Zbrush stands heads and shoulders over other tools when it comes to sculpting and creating very high detail models. It has a very unique workflow, but when you get comfortable with that, the set of tools it brings to your arsenal are very nice. Shadow box modeling where you basically just draw masks on the three perpendicular planes in three dimensions and it will create a unified projected piece in the center. You can use its z-spheres to create the building layout for complex characters and items, and all their sculpting tools to create interesting detail and even paint on the geometry directly, where the detail can be spit out as color, bump and displacement maps. But in some cases you do just want the geometry and create the UV map yourself, but you should know and understand what those cases are.

Animations Tools:

Maya is actually a very good 3D package that basically has everything you need. But, where it really stands out is the animation tools that it has at the moment. It is very easy to make simple animations, and to manage complex ones. It now has the Human IK tool set to help you construct rigs and get them ready for animations with a certain presets of restrictions.

Ipi is a do it yourself motion capture software that hooks to very cheap gaming hardware that you can setup in your own home with very professional results.

Game Engines:

Unreal is very good at making FPS shooters like unreal, and it has all the tools you need to create other types of games but the sad side of it is, is that to utilize the free version of it, they will ask for a large percentage and royalties if it so happens that your game can make you a decent living.

Unity is the youngest game engine and most fitting for indie developer needs. It has a very familiar workflow and navigation that is similar to Maya but tailored for games and not content creation and can support multiple target platforms for the growing gaming market. It is very easy to setup prototypes and is actually serious about making the front end of making games a lot higher level and creatively driven, rather than programming process oriented and bringing in old style game development pollution that is still hurting a lot of gaming studios today.

Custom game engines are not difficult to make if you know what you need and don´t get lost in creating a generic game engine platform that can be reused by multiple platforms and multiple games. It is faster to create a target oriented 3D renderer for each project than it would be to create an engine for all of them. But keep in mind that if you are missing the front end for your particular renderer; that is the tools it needs, such as the relational setups, materials assignments, authoring shaders, authoring animation and scripting gaming logic, you would have to adapt it to tools that are already available. Such as making plugins for Maya or other 3D package that can be extended to manipulate all the content you need. You can do a lot with simple engines and powerful tools, but you are not producing much with powerful engines and simple tools.

Sound and Music:

Reason is a nice package to create various types of sound effects and music. It is very effect driven and can produce very high quality recordings.

Ableton Live is another package that is more tailored towards live artists and recording live music, but you can also create any sound related item you like, but the workflow and its strengths are very different from Reason.

Game Mechanics and games:

Making games interesting also requires that you understand what makes games interesting and understand what interests you. The rules you apply and the experience you want to make does not have to follow a particular set of rules. But it needs to be interesting to others besides you. The context and theme of your game is also very important to help people engage in it and to enjoy it. You can make your games very complex and have many ways to solve the problems, or you can look at something like design by subtraction so that you only have what you need to play and enjoy the game.

Prototypes are also needed for items that you don´t have any reference for. Also if you are combining items that otherwise have not been combined before. Do they make for a fun time for you or anyone playing it?

Use board game pieces where applicable and use Unity where the board game elements would either distort the mechanics, or give of false impressions. The setting and theme might actually play a huge part in making a particular mechanic interesting, so put in a little effort to simulate that so you can combine the two.

The next move for me is to make another prototype and maybe wrap up the first one. But I am starting to lean towards one particular game idea that has very simple mechanics. If I am satisfied with those mechanics, I will start to throw together the setting and theme through concept art and content.

Work continues!

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