December 30, 2009
Jerry was the first bird that Victoria and I got together. He died a couple of months ago, but had a great run (and a few love affairs) in our budgie world
December 28, 2009
After a two-year hiatus, I’m returning as a speaker to GDC 2010 – not with one, but two sessions! The first session is game design lecture on environmental storytelling that I will be giving together with Harvey Smith. I’m very excited for this talk, I feel that we assembled a very comprehensive and thought-provoking dissertation on this topic. Below is the official session description from the GDC webpage. I’ll post more information on time and date as it becomes available. Hope to see you in San Francisco!
What Happened Here? Environmental Storytelling
Speaker: Harvey Smith (Game Director, Arkane Studios), Matthias Worch (Senior Level Designer, Visceral Games)
Track: Game Design
Format: 60-minute Lecture
Experience Level: All
This lecture examines the game environment as a narrative device, with a focus on further involving the player in interpreting (or pulling) information, in opposition to traditional fictional exposition. We provide an analysis of how and why some games in particular create higher levels of immersion and consistency, and we propose ways in which dynamic game systems can be used to expand upon these techniques. The lecture presents the techniques for environmental storytelling, the key to the creation of game spaces with an inherent sense of history; game spaces that invite the player’s mind to piece together implied events and to infer additional layers of depth and meaning. In addition to commonly-used environmental storytelling tools (such as props, scripted events, texturing, lighting and scene composition), we present ideas for using game systems to convey narrative through environmental reaction. Environmental storytelling engages the player as an active participant in narrative; game systems that reflect the player’s agency can do the same. The lecture will analyze existing cases and provide a framework for dynamic environmental storytelling in games.
This session is aimed at creative directors, narrative designers, level designers and level artists who want to take the environmental storytelling of their games to the next level. A good understanding of the subject matter, and game environmentalal design in general, is a bonus.
Attendees leave with a clear understanding of traditional environmental storytelling techniques, the current state of the art, and ideas on how to expand these concepts to new proportions using systemic environmental storytelling approaches.
December 27, 2009
Ever since Lair shipped in 2007, I’ve been waiting to post about the next big game I’d been working on. Unfortunately, game development doesn’t always work that way. When Factor 5 folded at the end of last year the process took my projects with it. And even though I worked on two games in 2009 there wasn’t anything to post about; one game is still unannounced, while the other one ultimately got canceled.
Which is why I’m all the happier to post about my new job, which I started working at a few months ago: I now work at Visceral Games (an Electronic Arts studio), as a Senior Level Designer on Dead Space 2. This was an interesting decision for me for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I hadn’t done professional, hands-on 3D shooter level design since Unreal 2 (which was in 2003!). But I very much liked the first game, like this game’s creative director, Wright Bagwell (in fact, I’ve known Wright via the internet since our Quake modding days in 96), and got a good feeling about the team when I visited for my interview. Add the fact that I’d never worked for a company bigger than 150 people (so joining Electronic Arts seemed like a good change of perspective), and that I still love making (although not necessarily finishing) 3D levels whenever possible, and this seemed like a great, logical decision.
So here I am, hoping to contribute to a great follow-up of a great game. I’ll post more about the job and the game as information becomes available. Obviously you won’t read any breaking news here that haven’t already been published officially by EA’s marketing team. But hopefully I’ll be able to point you to a few pieces of information you might otherwise have missed.
December 23, 2009
Merry Xmas, everybody! 2009 marks the first time since I moved to America in 1998 that I won’t be going home to Germany for Xmas and/or New Years. But that’s okay! We were home in August (for my brother’s wedding) and will celebrate Xmas with Victoria’s family in Grass Valley. Hope you’re having a good break, and a great 2010!
December 23, 2009
As the year is coming to a close, I feel that it’s about time that I update my blog with the latest news on what has happened and what the near future holds. A lot has changed in recent months; nothing drastic, but enough to keep me occupied and away from the page.
From now into the new year I’ll post about those developments. New job, family additions, some game design thoughts, upcoming GDC sessions… we have something for everybody!
If you’re reading this post, you’re probably subscribed to the You Got Red On You RSS feed. Thanks for that, I’ll try posting more regularly again in the future.
September 17, 2009
Man, I love a good level design rush. When you’re in the zone creating a level, it’s a lot like playing a well-designed game: there’s tons of meaningful short-term tasks for you to do, each of which gets you closer to the greater goal of finishing the level. And you just find yourself doing “just one more thing” until it’s way past midnight. Monday night was one of those nights.
I found myself wanting to create a quick demo showcase of my level design abilities, and figured a little Gears of War level would fit the bill. “Just a quick demo.” When I started it was 7pm in the evening, and 10 hours later (8 that night, and another two in the morning) I had finished my first ever GoW level, showcased below.
Seeing how little time I had and how this was a showcase more than a fully fleshed out level, I decided to focus on one key attribute: “scenic vista”. I wanted to use a big, picturesque landscape as the backdrop, using all the skills and techniques I had acquired in my last few professional gigs; and I wanted to put a quaint (if that attribute exists in the GoW universe) mountain village on top of that. So I used all the tricks in my book to simulate and render out a nice-looking terrain (which ended up a 6700 tri static mesh with a 2k diffuse and normal map), which tiles 9 times to create the backdrop. The “city” itself is just a single road, and is heavily referenced from SP_Eba for quick turnaround. Throw in some atmospheric settings, cover nodes and enemies, and you have yourself a quick but pretty neat demo level.
This isn’t a complete map by a long shot, of course. More of a vignette, a small scene that describes the feel of the environment. The level is tiny, doesn’t fit into an overarching narrative and has no history. But I had a lot of fun assembling it, and in the process I reacquainted myself with UnrealEd (which I hadn’t used since the Unreal 2 days) and dug into the Gears of War asset library.
September 2, 2009
I finished Batman: Arkham Asylum yesterday and really liked the experience from start to finish. Great job by developer Rocksteady! I went in expecting a Bioshock version of Batman, which might have slightly thrown off my enjoyment for the first couple of hours. But once I realized that this is actually a stealth game/brawler, and once most of the core mechanics had ramped up, I kept playing and playing. The best compliment I make is that it kept getting more interesting the further in I got, rather than less. New gadgets and little twists on combat and stealth kept everything fresh until the very end. The sense of character was outstanding in places – taking down 7 or 8 armed guys late in the game, with the Joker taunting his own guys in the background and the AIs playing more panicked voice lines for every guy who disappeared, made me feel like a 100% badass dark knight. “Fear me, I’m coming for you next, thug!” Brawling with all mechanics in place – which includes knife guys (need to be stunned before hit), stun baton guys (don’t attack from the front!) and weapons (don’t attack at all!) – was great as well. Once you start stringing together combo hits the action just flows beautifully, and the game puts a positive spin on blocking by using an appropriate counter mechanic, rather than the bland “I negated an attack but didn’t advance the action” standard. I never reached the 40 hit combo achievement, the best I could do is 28. But I certainly tried for it every time I went into combat! Very nicely done.
September 1, 2009
This year marked the first time since its inception that Victoria and I didn’t get to go to the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. My brother’s wedding in Germany was a tad bit more important Through a DVR glitch (okay, I just forgot to set the recording) we didn’t get to see the telecast, either, but I dug up the final few laps on YouTube. And damn, this actually looked like a fun race! A year after a sleep-inducing pole -> victory lane routine by Helio Castroneves, this race actually had some drama and fun racing action! If you didn’t look towards the very front, that is… Dario Franchitti, uhm, won the race from the pole. Still, a step in the right direction, and a lot better than any Formula 1 racing I’ve seen recently. The “overtake button” adds some much needed action.
While we’re at it, here’s the web trailer I created for the raceway a few weeks before the event. Click to see the 720p version.
September 1, 2009
When I visited home last week, my dad (of all people) scoffed “Your page isn’t about anything but cars these days, is it?” Touché! There hasn’t really been a lot of content lately that didn’t revolve around Infineon Raceway, which is usually cheap content. You may have noticed some recent signs of life, but it’s been a while since I updated regularly. So I think a quick “state of the union” post might be a good idea. What’s up with me and the webpage?
The short answer is that life has been busy in the last few months. I don’t work for Factor 5 anymore, and I am taking some time to figure out what I want to do with my professional career for the next few years. That status puts me in a weird state; on the one hand, I have tons of time to do whatever I want to do, including blog posts. On the other hand, I’m busy figuring out Life, the Universe and Everything, which doesn’t leave much time for the webpage, at all.
But I want to get back into blogging soon. I’ve been thinking about a whole bunch of stuff, much of which would make for good web content. I’m a game designer at heart, and I want to make that topic the focus of this blog again. Hopefully, I’ll arrive at at least one actual posts per week on that subject, on top of a the recurring themes that were running earlier this year. Speaking of which, what’s up with…
- Beyond Belief 2008? Don’t remind me. The short answer is that the level is pretty much done, but hasn’t progressed much from the state that it was in for my beta test back in March. It still needs difficulty settings, a bunch of tweaks based on the testers’ feedback, and a complete VIS pass. Which takes roughly three days on a quad core pentium, a computer I don’t have access to right now. With everything else going on, I don’t see this being released anytime soon. But I do plan on releasing it! This level is getting comfortably close to “cannot finish something” territory, and I have never let that happen… In the meantime, I’ll send the beta version to anybody who would like to play. Just drop me a note!
- The monthly hike series? My knee happened. It’s been broken since I was 15, with recurring periods of bustedness in between. And almost 4 months ago, one of those periods started when I twisted the knee out of its socket while sleeping during the night. I pretty much wasn’t able to walk for 3+ months, let alone hike. So there haven’t been any hike posts. I did my first short hike after all this time just today, though, and as soon as I get back in shape enough Victoria and I will try to pick up the series.
- The Silent Reviews? Well, the page doesn’t look very attractive when it’s the only content appearing for several weeks, for one. And honestly, I was just running out of stuff to “review”. I’ll probably go back to the monthly snapshot posts instead.
I think that’s about it for now. Thanks for visiting, or still having me in your RSS reader! I’ll try to be more interesting again soon. Before I do that, I have at least one more racing post to get out my system, though
August 28, 2009
Very amusing. Look at the email I found in my Gmail inbox today (it’s an obvious scam, of course):
32 Newman Street
London ,United Kingdom
RE: Employment Opportunities At Winterwood Investment
My name is Bishop Gate I work with Winterwood Investment we came about your email address and your brief profile through an email listing affiliated with the US Chamber of Commerce.
This is to seek your employment as a representative to this honorable company Winterwood Investment we take delight in supplying of products such as Building materials, Toys, Amusement equipments world wide.
Presently we are experiencing difficulties in receiving payment from our overseas customers in Australia, Canada and USA. However if you are the type that like or prefer working from the house you can grab this opportunity by becoming one of our privilege directors.
Your duty will be base on clearing and receiving our due payments in your location have it noted that for every transfer to your account that is cleared or payment receive by you, you will be entitle to 10 percentage of the total sum.
If this part time employment invitation meets your acceptance indicate your interest by furnishing this office with the understated information’s:
Full Address:( not p.o.box):
Note that your responsibility is to receive payment from our customers in Australia, Canada and USA in your account and deduct your payment of 10% and you send the balance.
Do email the above information via this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks as we look towards a positive response.
Mr. Bishop Gate
For: Winterwood Investment
Looks like the Nigerian kings and governments are extending their business relationships into the United Kingdom and have created Winterwood Investment, an “honorable company” that “take delight in supplying of products such as Building materials, Toys, Amusement equipments world wide”. Good to know that…
- the US Chamber of Commerce maintains a huge database of Gmail addresses, including mine!
- “Mr. Bishop Gate” doesn’t have a firm grip of correct punctuation, capitalization and or basic spelling, but still wants my help.
- the official company email is on Gmail. Really, no top level domain? Maybe that’s how they got my Gmail account when signing up at the US Chamber of Commerce themselves!
- I can “grab this opportunity by becoming one of our privilege directors” if I am “the type that like or prefer working from the house”. A privilege director? Sounds important! Where do I sign up? Oh…
- there’s no request for my bank account information? I have to wait for a reply from your email address to be scammed? That sounds like too much work, to be honest.
I halfway tempted to reply to the email with some fake information, just to see what the next steps would be. But I’m too busy washing my hair today…