Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The Year of Dreams

Happy New Year everybody! It's pretty crazy that we're moving onto 2016 already, but before we do, I wanted to take a moment to look back at some cool things that happened in 2015. The gaming industry as a whole had a really good year, and a lot of amazing new surprises got announced throughout this trip around the sun. My New Year's resolution last year was to write a blog post a month. As you can tell, I fell a bit short of that goal, but I did at least manage to keep the blog somewhat active for most of the year. Here's hoping I continue that pace going forward.

In terms of art, I had one of my most productive years yet, so I'm definitely going to file 2015 on the "good shelf." Surviving in this industry is tough, and it can be really frustrating coming out of college and facing so many hurdles and rejection on the path to starting a career. But after a long time, I'm finally starting to feel more confident in my work and develop a more positive about my future. Hopefully it only gets better from here on out!

In 2015, I traveled to California three times (once for GDC, once for PSX, and once to teach at iD Tech Spring Break Camp), I spent the summer teaching in Seattle, I worked on my first ever Kickstarter campaign, I released my first ever mobile game on iOS, I got to work on my first Steam game, I got the chance to work with the wonderful folks at BrightCovers, and I worked on a whole slew of other interesting small projects. It was definitely a milestone year for me in terms of new experiences, and I'm really excited to see what comes next.

In these posts, I tend to have a lot of talking and not enough images (especially considering this is an art blog!), so I'm going to include a ton of pictures in this post. Without further ado, here's what I've been doing:

I've been doing a lot of work for Bright Covers, a local patio covering company here in Cleveland. I've been creating instructional videos for the assemblers as well as some promotional material to show off the product.

I came up with a few new rendering techniques along the way that I will definitely be utilizing again in the near future.

Here's the full animation that instructs owners how to construct their new unit.

I'm also in the process of creating some new mascot characters. This is still a work in progress, so he's not quite done yet. If you happen to attend any of the local home & garden shows though, you might be able to see the finished product!

As I mentioned, I also got to work on an early access Steam game called Grimoire: Manastorm. My role on Grimoire was mostly behind-the-scenes rigging and weight painting tasks, but it was a fun job nonetheless. If you follow the game on Steam, stay tuned for an upcoming update that will incorporate all of the cool cloth physics I've been working on!

On another note, I'm not sure if I posted this on the blog, but Wave Crash is officially out on iOS now! It's completely free and available right on your iPhone or iPad. Check it out! We put a ton of hard work into it. Going forward, our crew has some exciting new plans that may or may not include the use of VR headsets, but I'll talk more about that at a later date.

I also did a bunch of animation work earlier in the year. This is using a pre-rigged model, so the focus here is the wall running animation.

 As many cool projects as I worked on this year, I feel I didn't quite make as much personal artwork as I did in the past. I'm happy that work is keeping me busy, but it's still important to continue doing artwork for my own sake as well. And so for 2016, my goal is to draw one finished scene each month. I'm leaving the specifics of that requirement a bit open-ended, but each scene should be finished enough that I would be willing to submit it to my deviantArt gallery (and not in the scraps section!). I think it's an achievable goal, and it will be fun to go back to what got me into art in the first place: drawing for fun!

On that note, here's some of the personal artwork that I did manage to do this year. It's mostly related to The Nays (the series my sister and I created), so most of it hasn't been released online until now.

This was a Christmas present for my sister. Disclaimer: I have no claim own over any of the music, but the goofy voices are 100% mine!
These are clothing designs for two of my characters from The Nays, Shaw Braves and Chozu Eisu. They are two of the original characters from the beginning of the series, so they go through a lot of different designs.

And here we have a bunch of minor characters from The Nays. I've continuously been trying to draw every character in alphabetical order, but the series has quite the large cast so I'll probably be working on this until the end of time!

These are scenes from a fun 2-hour animation project I worked on back in September. The goal was to spend no more than 2 hours on each scene.

 For this one, I got inspired to make something using the old Gameboy color palette. This is Mar Keys from The Nays.

These are some new characters from the Shard of the Orient eventure in The Nays. This story is told in a somewhat unconventional way, and you can check out the official website here (the layout and pictures are still not 100% but the story is all up there). It will probably be like jumping into a random TV show on season 4 episode 7, but if you're interested feel free to read it!

And I think that sums up all of the more significant projects of the year. I warned you it would be a long post! Thanks for taking the time to check out all of my work. I don't have a huge following online or anything, but if just a handful of people find some of these pictures interesting, then maintaining this blog is all worth it! I think 2015 was a really great year and I plan to make 2016 even better. See ya guys next year. Until then... Adios!

Monday, December 14, 2015

RPGs and Playstation Experience

Hey guys! Been a while, and I have a lot of cool new stuff to share. I've been keeping busy with game development, 3D animation, drawings, and lots of traveling. I'll save some of the bigger news for my huge year-end post that will go up around New Year's. For this post, I'd like to concentrate on two exciting events that have happened recently: Playstation Experience and the release of RPGMaker MV.

So last week, I got to attend the second annual Playstation Experience in San Francisco. It's a huge gathering of all things Playstation and it was full of awesome game announcements, demos, displays, free goodies, and really excited people. It was a ton of fun and I would definitely love to go back again. As my friends and I described it, the convention almost felt like a mini-E3 that just focused on Sony stuff.

 The event was more consumer oriented than some of the past conventions I've went to, but I still got the chance to meet up with a bunch of fellow developers. I played the new Shadow of the Beast, which surprisingly was really faithful to the original (including some of my favorite songs from the old soundtrack!). I tried Severed (new game from Drinkbox) and was really pleased with how similar the visuals are to Guacamelee. I played Street Fighter 5 and King of Fighters 14, both of which felt like really solid additions to the franchises. (I even managed to win a match of KoF, time to go pro!). 

I also got to play the Uncharted 4 multiplayer which was neat. The booth was set up like a tropical oasis with multiple teams scattered throughout the area. I'm definitely more into the single player campaign than the MP though, so I also made sure to check out the panel with the mocap/voice actors. They went into a lot of detail on what things are like behind the scenes over at Naughty Dog, so that was a really cool experience.

But without a doubt, my favorite part of the convention was getting the chance to try out the Morpheus (or Playstation VR as it is now called). I've used a bunch of other headsets in the past, but none of them have given me quite as mind-blowing of an experience as the PS VR did. First off, you can comfortably use it wearing glasses! Personally, I think that is huge since taking off my glasses to use an Oculus always seems to dampen the experience for me.

Secondly, the sense of space is incredible. I played The London Heist which made use of two PS Move controllers instead of a standard Dualshock. To anyone who still remembers motion gaming as a Wii waggle-fest, let me tell you... this is miles ahead of that! I looked down at my hands with the headset and saw my character's hands. When I pulled the trigger on the controller, my character gripped his fingers. The relationship was one-to-one! There is a part in the demo where a character hands you a cell phone. You can't hear what he's saying until you physically put your hand up to your ear. It was just brilliant!

I know my words can't do it justice but this is something that I feel everyone needs to experience. I was still a little bit skeptical on VR but when you get the full experience with motion controls, it is completely unlike anything we've ever been exposed to before. I can't wait until this thing hits the market!

I could ramble on about the conference forever (in fact, we did over at Final Save Point), but I also want to get to some of the development stuff that I've been doing. A little over a month ago, the new version of RPG Maker officially launched. Named MV, for the first time ever this version supports custom resolutions, mobile/browser builds, and a ton of amazing features through the new plugin system. As you may or may not know, I've been obsessed with the program since RPGMaker 95 and it was what really got me into game development in the first place.

Although it's certainly not as beefy as a full engine like Unity, the program has always had a special place in my heart. And with the ability to go up to 1080p, I can finally develop professional quality games in it! So far I haven't created anything in MV that I intend to release commercially, but I have put together some interesting projects.

In addition to some sample projects to try out the engine, I've created a few games about The Nays. The first is a port of a game I started in VX Ace that can now realize its full potential in the more advanced RPG Maker. The game is about a small detective agency and it's a sequel to a game I made way back in RPGM2003. I'm taking advantage of the quest journal plugin to keep track of cases, and I've already begun work on a custom UI. It's probably my biggest ongoing project in the engine.

I also started up a goofy little baseball simulator called Biggert City Baseball. A long time ago, I used to have this electronic baseball toy that would simulate a baseball game by "spinning a wheel" and coming up with random outcomes when you press the button. I got the idea to recreate that in video game form using creatures that my sister and I designed as part of The Nays universe. I'm envisioning it as a sports/RPG hybrid where you play games of baseball, but in between you can wander around towns and increase your stats / recruit players.

I got really fired up about this and managed to program most of the core gameplay in a single day or two. When a batter comes to the plate, it cycles through a list of outcomes and stops on one when you hit the button. Depending on the batter's stats, they are more likely to get a certain type of hit (power hitter might have 5 frames to hit a homerun where a contact guy only sees it for 2 frames). I'm still tweaking the values, but technically you can play through an entire game and have most of your results displayed on screen somehow. I also drew up the entire field, so progress on this game is moving right along.

Overall, the RPG Maker MV release has been pretty amazing. I've been fairly active over on the official forums and it's been a lot of fun being so involved in the early development of the engine. If you're at all interested in game development and don't know where to start, this is a really great place to get your feet wet.

Anyways, this post is getting pretty long so I think I'll cut it off here. I have a lot more news that I want to share, but I'll save it for next time. I hope everyone enjoys the holidays. You can expect my next post some time in the next few weeks. Until then... Adios!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lost in Lie Station [New 2Dish Adventure Game]

As I mentioned briefly in the last post, I've recently started up development on a 2Dish adventure game. I created a devlog over at TIGsource and plan to update that quite frequently. I should have a decent number of blog posts about this project in the near future, so I'm creating a separate section about it on the blog. I'll be posting major development updates about it right here, but if you want to see all of the shorter mini-updates as well, check out the TIGSource Devlog. Here's an overview of my introduction post:

Lost in Lie Station

Lost in Lie Station is a topdown adventure game set in a creepy old subway station. You play as Jackie, a mischievous jackalope who gets off at the wrong stop on the subway line. He adventures through various environments and collects boat parts to escape this abandoned station and get back on his journey.

Jackie is a luchador jackalope. He is a mischievous little guy who likes to play pranks on people. He comes from a village of equally devious creatures who dub themselves The Liars. When the authorities learn of their troublesome ways, they destroy their home and attempt to throw them in jail. However, The Liars manage to escape and set off on a journey to find The Land of the Liars, a legendary place where the inhabitants can cause as much trouble as they want without fear of repercussions.

(I know... it's a bit of an involved backstory for such a simple game! This is actually based on a story my sister and I created a long time ago. Lost in Lie Station is intended to be a glimpse into the larger story, with only a few of the major characters present. No knowledge of the lengthy backstory will really be necessary to enjoy the game.)

On his way to find The Land of the Liars, Jackie gets on a subway. Unfortunately for him, he misses his stop and ends up at the end of the line... Lie Station. Stranded at this creepy station, he has to explore his surroundings to find a way to get back on track.

The game plays like a top down Link to the Past-esque game. While there is some 'combat' involved, the game is more focused on exploration and puzzle solving. Not to spoil anything, but early in the game Jackie meets a friend who is working to build a boat on the nearby lake. The goal of the game is for Jackie to collect all of the boat parts so that they can use the vehicle to escape the abandoned station and get back to their journey. These boat parts are scattered throughout the environment, and each will require a certain task to be completed before obtaining it.

I am creating the art for this game in a somewhat unique style. I wanted this game to look and feel like a 2D game, however (as I learned from my last solo project) creating all of the necessary sprite animations by hand is extraordinarily time consuming. Instead, I've decided to create a good deal of the assets in 3D. By rendering the characters and environments with the proper shaders, I'm trying to achieve a look that emulates 2D. I'm also pulling a Donkey Kong Country with this game and actually rendering out individual frames as sprites instead of directly importing any 3D models. With today's technology, it's probably a pretty backwards approach, but I've always wanted to do a project that way so I'm giving it a try!

Lost in Lie Station is being developed in Unity 5. With the great new 2D options, it was a pretty natural choice. I've learned a lot from the multiple games I've developed in Unity, so this time around I shouldn't run into as many technical issues. I've also purposely chosen to make a game that doesn't rely too heavily around action or physics so that it won't be as difficult for a non-coder like me to program.

I'm intending for this to be a pretty short development cycle (that's what they all say!). I know a lot more about what I'm doing this time around, so I should be able to keep the scope under control. The entire map is already laid out, and there are only 5 boat parts to collect, so I think I can stick to my goals. If all goes well and I have enough time to focus on this, I should probably have things wrapped up early next year. My current goal is to get at least one item off my asset/animation checklist each day. Seeing as it will be such a short game, I don't know that this is necessarily a game that I would charge people money for. My ultimate goal here is to create a fun, finished project that people can enjoy, so we'll see where it goes.

Major milestones thus far
08/25/2015   Started the project
08/27/2015   Finished modeling/rigging Jackie
08/28/2015   Programmed character movement
08/30/2015   Finished essential animations (Idle, Walk, Run)
09/09/2015   Finished environment design layouts
09/21/2015   Finished Lake area assets (grass, sand, trees, water, dock)
09/22/2015   Started this DevLog

I got things moving really quickly right from the start. I managed to get the character fully modeled, rigged, animated, and rendered all in just a few days. I also have all of the map designs done at this point, so I'm pretty happy with how things are moving along. My time since finishing these essential pieces has mostly been filled with creating individual environment assets and adding them to the layout. I'm not working on a strict grid, so lining them up can be a bit of a chore.

Once I get a few more of the essential background pieces finished, I will likely begin work on the game's second major character, Monster of the Lake.

Completion Checklist (Bound to grow as the project progresses, but here's the current status): [Updated 9/30/2015]
Environment Assets: 14 / 37                 
Character Models: 1 / 5 [+2 stretch goal]
Player Animations: 3 / 11 [+1 stretch goal]
Game Mechanics: 3 / 18

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates. Until next time... Adios!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Adventures in Seattle

Hey guys, been a while! Since my last post, I've had myself quite an interesting summer. Back in June, I moved out to Seattle for my second season with iD Tech Camp. I spent 9 weeks working at the University of Washington camp as the Tech Coordinator. It was a lot of fun introducing so many young faces to the world of game development. As I expected, the demanding schedule didn't leave a lot of time for much development of my own, but it was a great experience and I'd certainly consider doing it again next year.

While I was in Seattle, I also got to see a ton of really cool stuff. I went to a Mariners game, visited a museum that had sci-fi and fantasy movie props, rode a boat to an island, shopped at Pike's Place, explored Gasworks Park, took a lot of buses around downtown, and drank way too much bubble tea. Best of all though, I went to a bunch of game developer meetups. Seattle is crawling with game devs, and I made my way to gatherings of at least 4 completely different associations. Got to see a ton of indie projects and also hear a lot of VR talk straight from the mouths of developers working on both Valve's HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.

Also while I was away, a project that I'm involved with launched a Kickstarter campaign. The game is called Order of the Ancients, and it's being developed by Inkhorn Games, a game company right here in the Cleveland Ohio area. I can't say too much about it because of NDAs and all that, but I've been doing the character modeling and rigging. While we ultimately pulled the plug on the Kickstarter early, the game will definitely be back in the near future looking bigger and better. I'm really excited about it!

Now that all of my summer news is out of the way, I can talk about what I've been working on since I got back from Seattle! As a way to get back in the groove of daily gamedev, I started working on a small adventure/RPG in Unity 5. The game is called Lost in Lie Station, and it's about a luchador jackalope named Jackie that gets stranded in a subway station on his way to the Land of the Liars. ...I know... sounds weird, right? It's part of a larger story that I've been developing for years, so I'll give a more detailed rundown of it in the future. The basic gist of the game is that Jackie is scouring the station for boat parts so that his friend can build them a vehicle to get back on their adventure.

I'm taking an interesting approach with this game. I really enjoy Unity's 2D functionality, but pixel art takes me a long time and I'm more adept at 3D modeling. So I'm employing a hybrid of both! I modeled and rigged the character in Maya, but for each animation I'm actually rendering out a bunch of images and combining them into a spritesheet. Going old-school Donkey Kong Country style!

It should be a fun project, and unlike my last solo Unity endeavor (Quest for Funk), I think it's a lot more manageable. Since it's more about exploration than action, I don't have to worry about any platforming physics, and the art will move along a lot quicker with this particular process. The fact that I managed to get a fully rigged character in-engine with 8-directional walk, run, and idle cycles in just a few days gives me hope! With any luck, I'll have a lot more to share about this game in the next post. So until next time... adios!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

GDC 2015 Takeaways: So Much VR!

Well the whirlwind of excitement from GDC has come to an end and I've finally had the chance to sit down and write about my experiences. There weren't as many bizarre adventures this time around, but I met a lot of interesting people and got to see tons of cool new things. As the title of this post mentions, the VR presence on the show floor this year was almost overwhelming.

From full body motion suits to omni directional treadmills, more than ever there seems to be a heavy focus of getting the player "inside the game." Whether we're entering the future we always dreamed of or whether it will just turn out to be another Wiimote wagglefest is yet to be determined. But this revolution is coming whether we like it or not. Personally I haven't been sold on it completely yet, but I did experience some really cool demos.

My favorite wasn't necessarily even gaming related, but it opened up the door to some really cool ideas. At Virt's VR Mixer, I tried out something called JauntVR. It uses a 360 degree camera to record live-action footage that is later viewed with a headset. The demo I tried put me on the stage of a George Harrison concert and allowed me to turn my head in any direction as if I were actually there. With the crowd cheering, the pyrotechnics going off in front of me, and surround sound blasting in my ears, it was a pretty incredible experience. There is still a bit of a disconnect when you view CG that close to your face, but with live action I think there is a bit more immediate potential. Can you imagine attending live concerts, sporting events or even conferences with this kind of technology? It sounds pretty amazing to me!

I also attended an art portfolio session with a handful of art directors including Shawn Robertson (of Irrational) and Wyeth Johnson (of Epic). They provided a ton of amazing advice that will definitely help to improve my web portfolio. The biggest surprise was that most art directors don't like when modelers have demo reels. The main reason for this is that they can't view individual models on their own time and are instead stuck viewing what you think is important. It forces them to rewind and skip around to take another look at a particular model. I know a lot of amazing artists who include turntables and such in their portfolios, so this was quite a shock to hear from the pros.

I took a ton of notes during the session but some of the other highlights were:
  • Render in-engine (preferably what the studio you're applying at uses)
  • Each piece should have sketches, individual prop renders, UV layout
  • Never be afraid to re-apply at a studio again down the road, but never apply using the same portfolio content.
  • You will be judged by the worst piece in your portfolio, so everything you include should be able to completely represent you as an artist (which means I'm going to be trimming some fat from my portfolio very soon!)
  • Most studios don't care what tools you know - they care more about your skills:
    "We can teach you any tool in 2 months"

Hopefully some of that advice is helpful to you. I know it was to me. In addition to sessions, I also got to play some really fun new games on the show floor. Amplitude and Gang Beasts were two of my favorites. I really wanted to try Bloodborne as well, but the line for that seemed to get even longer every time I passed by! But overall the conference was a great success, and I am already excited for next year.

Lastly, I wanted to show a bit more of the Soup Can Alley project that I put together before GDC. I was still piecing it together just hours before my flight left, so I didn't get the chance to post about it last week.

There's still a bit of work I'd like to do to it, but the video above is the general idea. I would definitely love some feedback if you have any thoughts on it. Eventually I plan to add a title screen to the beginning. These are a couple of the different concepts for that:

While I feel that this one looks interesting, this would require animating that 2D smoke and I'm not sure it's something I want to pursue. Instead I am a bit more interested in showing slow moving 3D art with text overlayed atop it. This is the kind of title screen you see in games like MGS4, Persona 4, Wolf Among Us, and Heavy Rain.

The idea here is that everything in the title sequence would be in classic black & white. It would show the outside window with rain pouring down, a close up of the cigarette in the ash tray, and a shot of the detective deep in thought like the mockup above.

I learned a lot about Unreal 4 through this project, especially particle effects. Through the electricity, cigarette smoke, rain, and purple fog monster, this was probably the most heavily I've jumped into VFX for a single project. I also spent a lot of time in Matinee, using a lot of different camera tracks. It was definitely a good learning experience.

Without a doubt though, the most time consuming aspect of this project was the main character. There are a lot of little pieces that come together to make him work, and I'm proud of how far he has come since beginning life as a school project years ago. 

I love comparison shots, so I'll end by contrasting this with my old work. It has definitely come a long way. Anyways, apologies for the lengthy blog post, but I had a lot to say this time. I will probably post one more update on The Case of Soup Can Alley soon, but as usual, my head is already overflowing with ideas for my next project. I won't say too much about it just yet, but it is going to have a more stylized, cartoony feel to it. Thanks for reading. Until next time... adios!

(By the way, my website if officially live now so you can actually view this blog directly on as well!)

Friday, February 20, 2015

GDC 2015 is Quickly Approaching!

Hey guys. As you can probably infer from my previous posts, I had a great time at GDC last year so I'm planning to attend again this year. It's only a little over a week away, and I still have a lot to do to prepare, but I thought I'd update on some of my recent progress. I'm going in with a bit of a different mindset this year. Last year I attended as "an indie developer." I brought a working copy of Quest For Funk and some promotional materials for the game. My goal was to show off the game and get as much feedback on it as possible. It was a good experience, but I have a different goal in mind this time around.

(Side note: I haven't completely abandoned the project, I swear! I just renewed for another year, I do still plan for a public release eventually. It's just on the back burner at the moment)

This year, I intend to go to GDC as a "freelance artist." Working on my own games is fun, but I have far more value as an artist than as a programmer. I have been taking on more freelance work as of late, and I want to continue collaborating with other talented people. So in that regard, I'm hoping to use GDC as an opportunity to find more chances for collaboration. And so my major goal for the past few months has been to beef up my portfolio. 

First off, a new avatar. I've been told that I looked too grumpy in my old one, so I decided to draw myself flashing my pearly whites! I used this avatar on my new business cards, which will hopefully arrive in time for the convention (let's hope the recent snowstorms don't delay shipment too much).

I've also been hard at work redesigning my website. My current site is based on a free template that I modified a bit. It looks nice, but I've noticed lately that it seems rather slow. Not a good first impression to someone viewing my site if they have to wait 20 seconds for it to load. And since it was built using a template, I have little control over fixing those issues.

So instead I decided to build a new one from the ground up. I learned a lot about CSS in the process, and I'm pretty happy with the results. I think it fits my personal style a lot better, and it's also uses space a lot more efficiently. Instead of using lightbox like most websites, I have a little port window that displays images right in the interface. I also tried to avoid Javascript wherever possible. This heavily cuts down on a loading time.

I'm still filling in content and optimizing the website for multiple resolutions, but you can view the work in progress right now if you're interested.

Additionally, I've been hard at work on a new animation / game project to serve as an updated demo reel. It's a classic detective scene constructed in Unreal 4. I'm building this project as a showcase of all of my different talents. Prop modeling, character design, rigging, animation, Unreal pipeline, level design, VFX, and user interfaces will all be demonstrated in this scene, so it's been in the works for quite some time.

I have tons of images I could post from this, so I'll probably go into more detail next week. The character creation and rig setup was the biggest hurdle, but I finally got that completely straightened out last week. The majority of work I have left is hammering out more animations and setting up the cameras. Expect a lengthy post about my process a few days from now.

Last order of business, I recently wrote an in-depth blog post over at the NotRobot website. It's an article about my experiences creating the UI for Wave Crash, and some of the lessons I've learned in the process. I'm certainly no expert, but hopefully my advice proves useful to someone. So give it a read if you're interested in UI design.

And with that, it's time to wrap this thing up. You'll definitely be hearing from me again very soon. Until then, adios!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Whoa, It's 2015 Already? Global Game Jam Writeup and This Year's Plans

So as you may have noticed, this blog has been pretty barren for the past 6 months. I've been keeping busy with a number of freelance jobs, so I haven't really had the time to post. But there's a whole bunch of new artwork which I haven't shared yet, so I plan to roll all of that out soon. I know we're already about a month into 2015, but my resolution for this year is to make at least one blog post every month! It's not overly ambitious and (as long as this goes live in the next 24 hours), I think it's completely attainable.

First things first, this is an illustration that I've been working on for fun. It was intended to be my "first drawing of the New Year," but I've kind of been dragging my feet on finishing it.
The shading and background still need some work, but I've been experimenting with some new brushes that I think give the coloring a nice feel.

This one was a spur of the moment drawing I created the other night in about an hour or so. I can't really explain it, it just sort of "felt right." It's inspired by the kind of art you'd see in indie games like Hyper Light Drifter or Superbrothers.

I've got a lot more random pieces like that, but what I'd really like to focus on in this post is the Global Game Jam. I wasn't able to attend the on-site location this year, but I did manage to put together a small game in the free time that I had. This year's theme was "What do we do now?" which I interpreted as some sort of disaster scenario.

And so I came up with an odd little puzzle game called All Aboard the Soul Express. In the limited time frame, I didn't get to jump into the story as much as I wanted to, but the concept is that you are a ghost riding on a train full of other ghosts. It travels between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead. On today's trip however, the train gets hijacked by an evil spirit and the conductor is thrown overboard. All of the passengers are in a panic, and they look to you (the eldest ghost) to lead them to safety.

I created the game in Unreal 4, using Blueprint for functionality. I've been using the engine since last summer, but this is the first real "functioning game" that I've created in it, so it was definitely a learning experience. Jumping from Kismet to Blueprint wasn't quite as easy as I imagined, but the amount of freedom you have now is incredible.

The game has a traditional 3rd person camera, and you navigate your character through mazes as you attempt to get to the front of the train. A key element of the gameplay is having the other passengers follow you, since certain doors can only be opened if the correct NPC is placed on the corresponding switch. From my experience, programming AI is not fun, so I thought for sure this would be my biggest technical hurdle. But to my surprise, getting other characters to follow me in Blueprint was relatively easy! My game required a fairly intimidating graph network, but considering I didn't have to write a single line of code, I'd say the engine is super artist-friendly.

Overall, I'm really happy with how this game turned out. I only spent about 16 hours on it in total. In that short amount of time I was able to: come up with the concept, draw out some maps, whitebox the first 2 levels, model, rig, animate, and texture a full character (with about 6 skin variations), model a few pieces of the environment, and set up all of the follower / door opening mechanics. That's a lot to get done in such a short time, so I'd say it was a success. I'm pretty proud of how fast I've gotten while under a deadline.

I'd still like to polish this up for a full release in the near future. Replace all of the stock materials, pretty up the environment, add 2 more mazes, and improve the presentation of the story. But that's a story for another day. In the meantime, if you'd like to play the version I submitted to the Jam, head on over to the official page. I've got 2 versions on there, so it should work regardless of whether you have the engine installed or not.

And thus ends my first blog post of 2015. I apologize for neglecting you for so long, and I appreciate that you're taking the time to read all of my ramblings. I've got big plans for revamping my website and demo reel, and considering February starts next week already, I should have another substantial post very soon. Until next time... Adios!