December 28, 2018

Books I read in 2018

Each year I write a list of books I read during the year. This is the 2018 list:
  1. Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869. Tells the story of how the railway between the US west- and east coast was built. 
  2. The Internet of Money. Is a transcription of talks by Andreas Antonopoulos. These talks are about Bitcoin and are also available on YouTube, so if you don't want to buy the book you can watch them for free.
  3. Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money. Is telling the history of Bitcoin from the earlier attempts to make a digital currency up to year 2014. If you feel that you missed the Bitcoin hype you should read this to catch up with what has happened.
  4. Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World. As the title says, the blockchain is the technology behind bitcoin, but the blockchain also has other applications than a currency, and this book is trying to give you a vision of a world with the blockchain.
  5. The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. Tells the story of how Disney made their first movies.
  6. Swarmwise: The tactical manual to changing the world. Is a free book which tells you how to create a distributed organization that works towards a common goal. 
  7. The Last Full Measure: A Novel of the Civil War. You can divide the US civil war into three parts, and this book is about the third part and is about what happened after the famous Gettysburg battle. 
  8. Spitfire Pilot: A Personal Account of the Battle of Britain. Is a short book consisting of notes written by a pilot who was killed so he could never write a real book. 
  9. With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain
  10. Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. Is a biography on John Carmack and John Romero, who created the popular games Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. I tend to read this book once a year. 
  11. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945
  12. Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45
  13. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. If you want to read one book this year you should read this one because it explains why you have to "waste" 30 percent of your life sleeping.
  14. Inside the Third Reich. Is written by the architect Albert Speer who at age 28 found himself responsible for redesigning Berlin and during the Second World War responsible for the industrial production. The book answers the question how Germany, despite being bombed by allied aircraft, could continue building tanks.
  15. Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II. Most books written on the Second World War ends when the war ends. But what happened after the war ended? Where did people live when everything had been bombed into pieces? 
  16. Bomber Command. Tells the story of the British bombers in Europe during the Second World War. 
  17. Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made. Each chapter is a story of how a video game was made, including those games that failed. 
  18. Fire Strike 7/9. Is written by a guy who worked as a JTAC in Afghanistan, which is the soldier who's coordinating aircraft, telling them where to drop bombs to support the troops. 
  19. Krigare (Warriors). Is a Swedish book about soldiers in Afghanistan. Is available for free here.
  20. Raid on the Sun: Inside Israel's Secret Campaign that Denied Saddam the Bomb. Tells the history of when Israel bombed a nuclear power plant in Iraq.  
  21. The Army Air Forces in World War 2. Immediately after the end of World War 2, the US Army Air Force decided to write a summary of what had happened. The result consists of seven volumes and each volume is like 800 pages and you will learn everything about how to develop new planes to logistics. I didn't read all of it, but chapters I was interested in. 
  22. Spitfire at War. Consists of several small stories about people related to the famous World War 2 plane. 
  23. Royal Air Force Logistics During the Second World War: Transformation, Sustainment and Flexibility. Is actually not a book but a 400 pages research report so it is available for free.
  24. Fighter Command 1939-45. Tells the story of the British fighters, such as the Spitfire, in Europe during the Second World War. Includes many photos from the time, so it's a fast read. 
  25. Aviation Classics: de Havilland Mosquito. Maybe not as well-known as the Spitfire, the "Mossie" was actually one of the best aircraft of World War 2 because it was made of wood and could thus fly faster than those made of metal. 
  26. The Bomber Command Handbook 1939-1945. Is similar to the book Bomber Command above, but is also describing aspects like airfield construction. 
  27. The Dam Busters. During World War 2, they came up with a new type of bomb which could destroy German dams. This new bomb also needed skilled bomber crews so they created a special unit. This book will tell you about the dam raid and what the unit was doing after the raid. 
  28. Avro Lancaster: Britain's Greatest Wartime Bomber. The Lancaster was the most successful British bomber during the Second World War. 
  29. Vertex 1-3. Vertex is a free book series where each book consists of articles written by professionals in the graphics industry. You will learn about textures, modeling, etc. 
  30. The Quake III Arena Bot. Books on AI describe many algorithms but not what actual games are using and how to combine the algorithms. This book (is actually a 100+ pages research report) does exactly that, so if you want to read about applied AI, then read this free book.
  31. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. Tells the story of John Boyd who was first a pilot and then an engineer. He was responsible for transforming the design of aircraft and how to fight a war.  
  32. Viper Pilot: A Memoir of Air Combat. One of the aircraft Boyd (the book above) helped to design was the F-16, also known as the Viper because it looks like the snake. This book is written by a pilot who flew the F-16 on both Iraq wars.  
  33. Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed. Is written by Ben Rich who worked on aircraft like the F-117 stealth attack aircraft and the U-2 spy plane. 
So, a little Bitcoin (thank god I didn't buy any bitcoins after reading the books in the beginning of the year :)), some books on AI and computer graphics, and many books on aircraft? Why? Well, you might see why next year... And don't forget to read the book about sleep because it's really good!

December 27, 2018

Lessons learned from the Paradox podcast - Season 3

Paradox Interactive is a company that's both making and publishing games. In their podcast they talk about the business of video games, and if you want to listen to it on your own, you should search for The Paradox Podcast on iTunes or wherever you can find popular podcasts. I've earlier summarized season 1 and season 2, and this is season 3:

  • Strategy/simulation/management games are not that common on consoles like Playstation. But Paradox has released their city-builder Cities: Skylines on the Xbox and now they release the Stellaris game. But you will most likely have to redesign the game's UI. 
  • Paradox is working with an external developer to transform the game from PC to console. This is also what they did with Cities: Skylines. 
  • Paradox believes in function over form, meaning that the backend is more important than the frontend. Some developers spend too much time developing cool graphics but their games are boring. Paradox argues that a fun game is more playable than a game with better graphics. 
  • Going to an event like E3 or Gamescom has some value even though it's difficult to quantify this value. How many people will buy the game because you showed it at E3? It's impossible to tell! Reaching out to potential customers at these events takes time and money (400,000 people visit Gamescom over 4 days), so if you are small you should work with someone who has resources, like Paradox has. 
  • People have different motivations why they want to play a game. Some want to explore the world and others want to have a realistic experience, etc. You should focus on why a player wants to play your game, which needs does the player have? This is more important than making a game for a certain age group or a certain group with a specific education. Someone who is 16 and someone else who is 64 may have the same reason why they want to play your game. But when you start marketing the game you might focus on a specific age group - younger people tend to watch YouTube and older people tend to watch television.  
  • All games released by Paradox has a product team. Each team has a product manager who can best be described as the CEO of the product and takes care of the overall direction of the product. The game is NOT the product, but is included in the product together with how the game is sold, the price of the game, etc. In the product team, you can also find a producer, who makes sure the game is released on time and within budget, and a product marketing manager, who takes care of the selling and marketing of the game. 
  • As a product marketing manager, you will study who's writing about the game, is what they are writing positive, and have they understood the message from the marketing manager? For example, have they understood that Paradox is bringing strategy games to console? 
  • It's more difficult to market a game for console than for PC. In the console case, you have to do in-store advertising, such as in the PlayStation store. 
  • Cities: Skylines is out on Nintendo Switch! What Paradox didn't do was that they didn't announce they would release the game on the Switch until the day it was released. The reason was that CS is a well-known game and if they had announced it before it was released they wouldn't have had anything to talk about when it was released. 
  • What is the job of a product manager? As said in the last episode, the product manager is the CEO of the product so the CEO of the company can focus on the overall direction of the company and not micromanage the products. The product manager is responsible for the financial results, budget control, and the product team to make sure everyone has the same vision, ideas, and goals. 
  • A product manager at Paradox can also be responsible for a segment. Segments at Paradox are strategy, management, and rpg, and each segment includes one or more games. 
  • It often happens that Paradox is cancelling a game they have been working on - they are killing 50 percent of the games before they are announced. The main reason is that the vision of the game is no longer shared by everyone and the game doesn't have any meaningful choices. Even though you have experienced game developers it's still impossible to know if the game idea is going to work before you have a playable version of the game. And if it doesn't work it is important to kill it as soon as possible because it will be more difficult the longer you work on the game.   
  • The game development process at Paradox can be divided into the following steps: signing, proof-of-concept (this is where most games a cancelled), alpha, launch. 
  • What's the job of a community manager? The basic idea is that the community manager should represent the company among the players and represent the players within the company. 10 percent of the job is social media, they come up with strategies for creating communities, how to make the game appealing for people who have never heard of it before, and how to bring the community back into the game to make the game better. 
  • Players love to talk about games on social media. But should you listen to them or should you listen to the people who are not talking about the game because the spend all time playing it? You should listen to everyone but you should also try to find trends among the feedback you are given. If you can't solve the problem (maybe it's not technically possible) then you should tell them why and they will most likely accept the answer and be happy. 
  • You can measure how good a community manager is by looking at the engagement rate: how many people interact with the content, how big are the discussions on services like Reddit. An engaged community will buy mores stuff. 
  • When you have a big company you need an Event Manager who is responsible for organizing events such as PDXCON. 
  • Paradox is preferring to organize their own events instead of attending major events, such as E3, even though they are doing that as well. The reason is that they have realized it's easier to reach out to the media when organizing their own events because your own news tends to get lost among the noise at major events. 
  • There's a saying that it's a waste of time (if you are a small developer) to attend major events because it will not help you to sell more games. A better way is to instead of spending money on aircraft tickets, invest the money in your game. But what events can do is to create a long-term relationship with your players because they will like you more when you meet them face-to-face. But then you need a finished game so you should attend these events when the game is released. One of the first Minecraft events was when Notch met some players in a park, so it doesn't have to be expensive. 
  • One new type of event is role-playing where people are pretending they are in your game. 
  • Some time ago when Paradox was less successful, Paradox pretended they were in Los Angeles for E3 by changing the name on the press releases from Stockholm to Los Angeles. This got them coverage on news sites who were doing roundups about what was going on at E3. If someone wanted to meet them in Los Angeles, they pretended their schedule was full. 
  • Paradox has a Twitch channel and their employees are streaming their games for 20 hours each week. They are also streaming other stuff such as when the company is releasing a new quarterly report. But they say it's difficult to measure if people who watch the stream is buying the game they stream. Most people tend to open a new tab and google the game and this is impossible to measure. 
  • People have stopped trusting game trailers because they know a trailer is picking only the best parts of a game - so they want to see actual gameplay so they watch someone streaming the game. 
  • The problem with streaming is that you have to be entertaining all the time while you are streaming. When you make a YouTube video you can edit the bad parts - but streaming is live. 
  • What is a producer? A producer is keeping track of the game. Paradox is in Sweden and some of their games is being developed in other countries, so a producer can be said to be the main point of contact between Paradox and the studio developing the game. 
  • Paradox argues that metacritic and user scores by themselves don't have a correlation with how profitable a game is. Not everyone is reviewing the game and some groups may hate a game because it includes something they don't like and give a bad review. But they also say that it's easier to get new users for a game if the reviews are good, but users who already play Paradox games don't care about reviews if they buy a similar game from Paradox. 
  • A successful producer is also a producer who's identifying if the game being developed is not going to be a good game. Cancelling a bad game is sometimes the best alternative because then you have time to work on a good game. 
  • To make a successful game you need an experienced studio with the right attitude and relationship with Paradox, and you also need enough time to develop the game.
...and that's the end of season 3!

Lessons learned from the Paradox podcast - Season 2

Paradox Interactive is a company that's both making and publishing games. In their podcast they talk about the business of video games, and if you want to listen to it on your own, you should search for The Paradox Podcast on iTunes or wherever you can find popular podcasts. I've earlier summarized season 1 and this is season 2:

  • What many people forget is that game companies want everyone to be happy because then people will buy their game. 
  • As said before, Paradox is trying to find a balance between free updates and dlc you have to pay for. Free updates includes stuff like tech-systems, improved AI, and new UI that makes it easier to play. Paradox actually made some research to discover what people wanted to pay for: new UI features, things that gives you more power to control things, and "flavor" that makes something unique so you can go to another area in the game you haven't been able to see before. 
  • You can't look 12 years into the future when trying to predict where the game industry will be. 
  • Limited time and money is actually good when making games because it forces you to actually release a game. More time and money will not necessarily make a better game. 
  • Paradox has failed making games. For example, when they realized that the game Runemaster wasn't fun, they stopped developing it. 
  • Paradox is trying to release a Linux version of their games. The Linux version is not making money because it costs money to also support Linux and not that many Linux users are buying the game. But they argue it's good to always have your "doors open." By saying that I think they mean that if Linux becomes a big gaming platform in the future, the know how to make games for Linux.  
  • The CEO of Paradox argued that one of the reasons Paradox is successful is because of their relationship with the players. 
  • Paradox will soon get a new CEO who has experience from the gambling industry, but no experience from the game industry. The current CEO argues that Paradox will still make the same games but they will try to reorganize the company to make it more efficient to develop those games.   
  • Don't interfere with people in creative industries. When Paradox is buying a game company, they stay away from those companies and let them do their special thing. 
  • Don't forget that you also need to sell your game to someone. Everyone in the organization should understand where the money should come from to be able to make better decisions.
    • GDC is more about the meetings and less about the talks. 
    • It's easier to sell a game based on a known intellectual property, like Star Wars, than to invent a new IP. Included in IP are also brands, themes, and code like the Unity game engine. Example of a theme is World War 2, which is not a protected IP so Paradox can use it to help people understand what to expect from a game. It's common in the game industry to license an IP, like using Unreal game engine when making the game or making a game based on the Mad Max movies.
    • It's a challenge to create your own IP. Cities: Skylines is a successful game where you build your own city. But what defines CS? You can argue that the blue bird telling people what's going on in the game is an IP. One test you can use to see if you have an IP is to ask yourself: Can I cosplay my game? You can cosplay as the bird, but you can't really cosplay as a building or a road. 
    • Paradox is generally not licensing IPs because they want to focus on the long-term, and using someones IP is short-term because the other guy might stop you from using the IP. But they published Battletech which is a licensed game based on the MechWarrior universe. 
    • When you have an IP it's important to manage the IP to not destroy it. Each time a bad Star Wars movie is released, the value of the IP is diluted. If you release different games based on an IP where each game is doing its own interpretation of what the IP is, the IP is also diluted. This is also why free fan-games are generally not allowed. The value of the IP might be diluted if you make a Star Wars game even though no money is involved. 
    • Even though Paradox has made many games they haven't really figured out how to teach the players how to play the games. For example, the older generation who has played SimCity will think it's easy to play Cities:Skylines, but the younger generation will find it harder because CS doesn't have a real tutorial - only small boxes with text appearing above the buttons you should press when you have just started the game. Also the new game Surviving Mars got criticism for being too hard to learn. 
    • To make sure the game is easy to play you can release it as an "early access" at a lower price so people can buy it and give you feedback before the final release. But Paradox is instead releasing their games with a full price and then give you free updates based on the feedback, which is similar to "early access" because no-one knows what "early access" actually is. 
    • Users who review your game are sometimes doing it for political reasons. So a game can sell well even though it has a low score. 
    • Paradox has its own convention called Pdxcon. The con is nearly profitable because you have to pay a ticket to be able to attend, but Paradox has seen that they get a boost to the announcements they are making at the con compared to if they had had the show at E3 where many other games are announced and what you announce is lost in the noise. 
    • Because many games are updated over time, it becomes harder and harder to judge them by looking at reviews. 
    • Good reviews generate more sales if the game is new, but good reviews don't matter if the game is a part of an established series of games. 
    • Newly released games should get a score above 80 to sell well. 
    • Some are giving reviews for political reasons and some are giving "odd" reviews. For example, I read a review where someone gave Pubg a bad review despite having played it for hundreds of hours. If you've played something for hundreds of hours and just paid $30 for it, was that game really bad? Paradox argues that a good idea is to give trusted members a larger part of the final review score. This is not a new idea because many people have earlier trusted larger magazines, but now these magazines have been replaced by individuals like you and me.  
      • As said before, intellectual properties are important, and now Paradox has decided to make more money by licensing their ips to physical board game publishers. According to their research, they realized that their fans wanted to give them more money and you can only add so and so much to a computer game, so they needed to come up with something else.  
      • Let your players create the game they want because they will do it for free and you can spend your time doing something else. You accomplish this by giving them the ability to mod the game. Out of the top 5 games on steam, 4 started out as mods. Counter-strike is one of them! 
      • Paradox doesn't encourage people to pirate their games, but they will not chase them. They argue that if people play their games, it will strengthen the eco-system around their games so more people might in the end buy their games.
      • Other medias Paradox might be interested in are movies and television series. But their previous idea to extend their games into books failed.   
      • Paradox is not only developing games, they are also publishing games. One of the games they published is BattleTech, and now Paradox has decided to acquire the studio behind the game: Harebrained Schemes. 
      • This was not the first game company Paradox bought. Other recent acquisitions/investments include White Wolf, Triumph Studios, and Hardsuit Labs.
      • Today you not only need to be able to make a game, you also need to be able to market the game because so many games are released each day. Yes, most games are not worth playing but it's still difficult to show the players that your game is worth playing. This is why Harebrained Schemes decided to sell the company so they can focus on making games and Paradox can focus on marketing their games. 
      • Acquisitions in the game industry have a bad reputation. One of my favorite games was Command & Conquer developed by Westwood Studios. When Electronic Arts acquired Westwood Studios the game series went downhill and now Westwood Studios doesn't exist anymore. 
      • Paradox is acquiring companies to grow and they want to grow by adding more IPs, which has been discussed before. Since it's difficult to come up with your own IP, it's easier to acquire someone else's IP. Harebrained Schemes's IPs are the BattleTech universe and Shadowrun. 
      • The focus of E3 is mainly on AAA games, so if you are making a smaller game it will fall between the cracks. But E3 gives you a good chance to meet other people, and you don't have to meet them at the main event - you can meet them at the hotel.
      • When you announce a new game it's also important to tell people what they can expect from the game. This is why game companies show gameplay and not a movie when they announce a new game because it's easier to show what people can expect from a game by showing gameplay. But there are exceptions to this rule, such as Cyberpunk 2077, which doesn't show any gameplay. 
      • Even though prices are discounted when the Steam summer and Christmas sales are happening, game companies make a lot of money from the sales. But Paradox also has other sales during the year, such as when their convention is happening and when they release a new expansion pack for an existing game. 
      • Yes, profit per sold game during a discount will be lower but more people will play their games and Paradox will thus get more long-term customers. These customers will buy new games from them at full price and new expansion packs for the game they bought at discount. So you have to think long-term and not focus on a single game.  
      • Some argue that discounts are a bad idea because people will see the product as something bad because it's always so cheap to buy it. 
      • If your game is selling, then why should you lower the price of the game? For example, the game Pubg ignored the Steam summer sale the first year because it was the top-selling game on Steam, so why should they lower the price? The next year, Pubg participated in the summer sale because it was no-longer a top-selling game. 
      • When Paradox during a weekend decided to give away a six year old game for free, it ended up on the top-ten list on Steam. What they could see was that more people also bought the expansion packs for the game they got for free. 

      November 19, 2018

      Tesla Motors Simulator - 2018 update

      I've spent some time updating a Tesla Motors Simulator I originally made to learn Unity. It's free so I will not make money from it - but people are playing it so I will learn a lot about what can go wrong when releasing a game. For example, after uploading the latest update some Mac and Linux users reported that the game was pink so I had to come up with a fix for that which was disabling fancy post-processing-effects and change from Linear to Gamma color space. If they had bought the game, they would have demanded a refund and given me a bad review. Anyway, this is the difference between the old and new versions - and a comparison with the real thing:

      Update 1. New Supercharger model. The reason the cable in the old version looks strange was because you could move the cable and attach it to a car and animating cables are kinda tricky, but I disabled that in the new version.

      Update 2. New Factory model. If you wonder how I made the trees and bushes, I've written an article about it here: How to make stylized "The Witness" trees in Blender.

      Update 3. New Test-track model. Behind the factory, Tesla has a small test-track where they test new cars and let customers test their cars, which you can see on YouTube. When creating the first version I used Google maps as a reference, and when texturing it I used two large textures which is a really bad idea to texture terrain because the result is blurry. To improve the textures I used a method called Tri-Planar Texture Mapping

      Update 4. New Model S model. When making a car in 3d you need blueprints to make it easier to get the correct shape. What I learned now is that blueprints are not always accurate. I've always thought there was something strange with the old Model S model even though it matched the blueprint. Then I realized that the blueprint was of an old prototype Model S so when I added new blueprints the shape was different, so I had to remake it for this update.

      Update 5. New Model 3 model.

      Update 6. New Semi model. About one year ago, Tesla revealed that they were making a truck, so I had to add it to the 2018 update. It's not 100 percent complete, it's missing some details in the back, but the overall shape is correct.

      Update 7. New Roadster 2020 model. At the same time as when Tesla revealed the semi, they also revealed a new Roadster. The old Roadster was in the game and I've decided to retire it because maintaining five models is more work than enough. But I've added the new model - and YES! it can do 0-100 km/h in 2 seconds.

      And if you want to play it, you can download it here: Tesla Motors Simulator.

      October 31, 2018

      Adventures making doors in Blender

      I've spent some time improving a Tesla Simulator I originally made to learn Unity. I've always thought the old models, which were made in Blender, were lacking something - and that something was gaps between the doors (and various other gaps you can find on a car).

      The problem with these gaps is that when you add them you have increased the complexity of the model because the number of vertices has increased. When you model something you want to use as few vertices as possible. The reason is that if you realize that the model is incorrect, then for each vertex it takes some time to move it to the correct new position while making sure the triangles have the correct angle.

      But what if there's a better way? A better way is to use modifiers, as explained in this YouTube video:

      The basic idea is that where you want a gap, you mark the edge as sharp and add the edge's vertices to a vertex group. Then you add three modifiers: edge split, solidify, and bevel (make sure the bevel is using the vertex group you made), and you will see that you can make door gaps without adding new vertices. Well, your model will consist of more vertices but you don't need to move all these vertices when changing something.

      But a problem not covered in the YouTube video is that when your model needs edges that are not gaps but they are sharp so you should mark them as sharp in Blender. For example, the car's rear spoiler has these edges. What you will now discover is that some new edges will appear and they will go though your model's nice triangles.

      The problem is that when an edge is marked as sharp, Blender's solidify modifier is ignoring surrounding edges. To solve this problem you need another vertex group (or maybe the same vertex group you already have depending on the model) which you add to the solidify modifier, so the solidify modifier is not "solidifying" all edges, but just the edges that should be gaps. And the result is:

      October 3, 2018

      How you can bake textures faster in Blender's Cycles render

      I needed to make a realistic tree log texture in Blender and found this tutorial: Blender Tutorial: Photorealistic Material. It turned out I needed to use Blender's Cycles render for the first time in my life. This render is node based and it makes it more complicated to export the material to a game engine like Unity. To export the material, you have to bake the diffuse texture, which is easily done if you follow for example this tutorial: How to make a bake texture in cycles. The result is this:

      The problem was that baking the texture was really slow. When I googled the problem, most answers suggested that to make it faster you should make the texture you want to bake to smaller, such as 512 and not the 2048 which is what I wanted. But the one with the answer was no-one else than our dear friend Blender Guru and his video: 18 Ways to Speed Up Blender Cycles Rendering. The one "way" that improved baking was "#3 Use GPU." Apparently, most likely because not everyone has a GPU compatible with Blender, Blender is not using the GPU by default when generating images but the CPU which is slower. To tell Blender to use the GPU, you click File → User Preferences → System. And then at bottom left, you should select CUDA:

      But that's not it! You also have to set the render to GPU Compute (CPU is default) in the panel to the right:

      The results:
      • GPU: 2 minutes 33 seconds
      • CPU: 9 minutes 42 seconds

      August 7, 2018

      Stylized graphics - lessons learned from Sea of Thieves and Fortnite

      Sea of Thieves
      Stylized graphics can best be described as an art style which is between realistic- and cartoonish graphics. A game that's using stylized graphics is the newly released Sea of Thieves. One of the developers of the game gave a GDC talk where he explained how they did it: Visual Adventures on Sea of Thieves.

      Simplify structures. The graphics should not be realistic, so you have to simplify everything. But you can still achieve a complex scene if you combine several simple objects.

      Paint the textures. You can't use photos as textures, so you have to try to simplify the photo reference by hand.

      Notice that the textures above were not used in the game because the final textures were actually more detailed: the palm leaves for example look more like real leaves but are still simplified.

      Use the light source to change the mode. An often forgotten parameter you can change is the light source in the scene.

      The stuff you add should look like it has been used. Almost no products in real life comes shining straight from the factory. You have to add wear and tear: someone has hit rock with that shovel below. You also have to add patches and repair: someone has repaired that gun below with a leather strap.

      To achieve this look you have to learn the word "wonky."

      But you still have to make sure the products are realistically wonky.

      Another game which has stylized graphics is Fortnite, and they have also been to GDC. Their talk is called Developing the Art of Fortnite.

      Simplify the textures. Fortnite tried to use the original realistic textures and simplify them in Photoshop to achieve the style they wanted.

      But they realized it was better to hand-paint the textures to give them more character because simplifying a realistic texture by using Photoshop tools made the texture too noisy.

      The stuff you add should be deformed. While Sea of Thieves argued that their models should be realistically deformed, Fortnite prefers another style which is more cartoonish.

      To achieve this look you just have to remove all parallel lines from a real-world object. This means you can also use photo references instead of drawing concept art.

      Even though the graphics is simplified, you can still use normal- and specular maps.

      The stuff you add should look like it has been used. As in Sea of Thieves, Fortnite thought it was important to add wear and tear, dust, and leaky bolts, that gives the assets a character.

      Don't add anything smaller than a mailbox. Smaller objects will just slow down the player and disrupt the flow. But you can add grass which the player can't collide with and just move through the grass as if it was hollow.

      July 5, 2018

      Lessons learned from the AIAS Game Maker's Notebook

      Listening to Paradox's own podcast was a really good way to learn about the game industry. Now I found another podcast by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (AIAS). It consists of interviews with personalities in the game industry, including the creator of the hugely successful game PlayerUnknown's Battleground (Pubg). The interviewer is Ted Price who's the CEO of Insomniac Game (creators of the new Spider-man game), so he knows what he's talking about. As with the Paradox article, this article will be updated when new episodes are released!

      Brendan Green (Pubg)
      • He started out as a photographer, DJ, and graphic designer, so he wasn't in the game industry for most of his life. 
      • Games like Pubg are popular because there are no rules except the rules you can find in the real world, like gravity. You can do whatever you want to do. There are simplifications, such as swimming with ammunition and weapons, but those simplifications are needed to make the game fun to play.
      • People like playing survival games because it's inherent in the human nature. How many times have you watched survival television shows and asked yourself: How difficult could it be?
      • In a game like Pubg you create stories on your own. People show on YouTube how they managed to kill the last person by jumping with a motorbike. 
      • Pubg wasn't the first survival game, and he had before Pubg about four years of experimenting with similar games like DayZ. 
      • If it's not broke - don't fix it. He didn't add stuff to the game just because he could, but because it wasn't needed. 
      • When talking about realism, are you talking about the realism you see in movies or actual realism in the real world? Most people don't know how it is to be killed by a real shotgun, but they have seen it in the movies and sometimes they are confusing movies with real life. What they think is real isn't necessarily real. 
      • The downtime in Battle Royale games are important because some people don't want constant action. But if you want constant action you have the option to get some by dropping at a popular place where like-minded people are dropping. 
      • Another simplification they made was the cars, so the cars could be more realistic but it would be less fun.
      • If you don't know where to start - start with making a mod to an existing game. DayZ is a mod to the game Arma. 
      Robin Hunicke (Journey)
      • Her background is computer science, but also art, which is useful when trying to come up with a new idea and you can paint the idea. 
      • Your mom should understand the game idea. To be sure it's a good idea you need the people who has never seen it before test the game. 
      • Just because something, like a puzzle, fits in another game doesn't mean it will fit in your game. 
      • They rebuilt the Journey game three times. 
      • The more times you play your game, the more stuff you wan't to fix. But in the end you have to ship the game and most people will not notice what you didn't have time to fix. 
      • Most game developers are awkward on the stage so don't be worried if you are it as well.
      Hermen Hulst (Guerrilla Games - Horizon: Zero Dawn)
      • Attention to detail is important. To make something as detailed as possible, the concept art is important, which should be as detailed as possible to make it easier for the people who make the actual 3d models. This will be more expensive but generate a better result. 
      • Don't be afraid to share your knowledge because it will benefit the industry as a whole. 
      • Each project is different so it's difficult to come up with the best practices to make a game. 
      • It's difficult to know if the game is a good game before the game is finished but you can use your experience to make a judgment if the game is good before the game is finished.
      • Most people are in the game industry because it's a fast growing, evolving industry. Many people are competitive and want to be the best at what they are doing. 
      Neil Druckmann (Naughty Dog - The Last of Us)
      • The World Without Us is a good book to read if you want to build a post-apocalyptic game. It explains what would happen to the natural and built environment if humans suddenly disappeared. Another good book to read is The Last Town on Earth which is about the 1918 flu epidemic. So even if you are making a game about made-up events, there are books you can read to make a more realistic game. Other good sources of inspiration are movies and museums.
      • If you realize that after making 50 percent of the game, you have to change a major part of the game, then don't worry because that has happened to many successful games, including Firewatch and Uncharted 4.
      • It's important to listen to people saying what you don't want to hear. If you are disagreeing it's still important to listen because there is some truth in what they are saying. But the problem they see might not be the real problem, and their solution might not be the real solution. 
      • "x is dead!" (where x is single-player, console, PC, etc). This is not necessarily the truth because the game industry is constantly evolving. Just because AAA companies are not making money from single-player games today, they might do it tomorrow when they come up with an idea no-one thought about before. 
      Christina Norman (Riot Games - League of Legends)
      • Most developers use their experience when making games, and that experience is often based on where they live. So if you live in Europe you make a game towards the European audience and forget what someone in Asia will say when they play the game. The gameplay itself should be the same (at least if you have a multiplayer game), but feedback may be different depending on where the player is living, and people in different regions will buy different skins. But people know where the game was made so if they buy a game made in Europe they expect to play a game with European values, so there's a balancing act. 
      • 10 hours a week is enough if you want to test-play other games. 
      • Instead of complaining that people spend time and money playing "silly" games like Candycrush and Farmville, you should study why people play these games and you will realize that you can learn something. 
      • When play-testing other games, the important lesson you learn might be "what not to add to your game."
      • Be careful with statistically changes. If you use data and realize that a character is too powerful, it's not necessarily the character who's too powerful, but an item the character is often using. 
      • Don't prioritize money before the player.
      Nathan Vella (Capy Games)
      • Internal- and external game jams as well as dedicating Fridays to finding new ideas is a great way to find new ideas. 
      • The games get 10 times better if you delegate responsibility and don't micromanage. But you also need to discuss with the people you delegated work to if it becomes too crazy. 
      • Many games are released each week, to show your game to the world you need to analyze what other successful games (within your genre) did, and you need to show an understandable version of your game in a trailer or gif on social media. 
      • It doesn't matter anymore if you have a website because people will go directly to Steam or YouTube to find information about the game. When was the last time you visited a game's website?
      Todd Howard (Bethesda Game Studios - Fallout)
      • Step 1 when making a game is to find the "tone" of the game.  
      • Too many games are shipped with features that work, but just because it works it doesn't mean it's good. The building system in your game may work but it might not be the best building system. 
      • Game developers tend to focus on the wrong things, like foot sliding and bouncing rocks, that players don't care about. The player care more about the save game system. What you should do is to write a list with what the player cares about and another list with what you care about. You will see that these lists are completely different.  
      • If you pick a game and then hire the people who made that game (with the same tools and budget) and tell them to make the same game, you will end up with a completely new game. 
      Sean Vanaman (Firewatch) & Amir Rao (Bastion)
      • Making a video game is like being a member of a band. Each member has its own instrument (programmer, artist, sound designer), you release albums (games), and you have an audience (players who play the game). That's why it's a good idea to be a small game development team: You can't make music with hundreds of band members. The music will also become worse if you start switching band members every 6 months. 
      • Firewatch took about 24 months to develop. But if they for some reason lost the game and had to make it again (and if 90 percent of the models are finished), an exact same version of Firewatch could be made in 4 months.
      Ian Dallas (Giant Sparrow - The Unfinished Swan)
      • There are many books on how to write for movies and television - but not a single one about how to write for games. 
      • While developing a game, and if you share the development process with your players, people will build up an mental image of what the game is which is not necessarily the same as what the game really is. 
      • It's difficult to balance a game so both the players who are skilled players and those who just want a relaxing experience will enjoy it. 
      • If you think you are the perfect play-tester then you are wrong. Do you have children? If not, then you may experience the game differently. 
      • You may have a great idea, but when you hire people to help you make the game, you will feel responsible for those people and thus make a game similar to all other games because you will think the probability to succeed is higher if you do so. So you have to ask yourself: Do I really need a team or do I want to make a game no-one has made before?
      • Not only will people play your game, they will also watch people playing your game on services like YouTube and Twitch. 
      Ed Boon (NetherRealm Studios - Mortal Kombat)
      • As with many other games, Mortal Kombat took inspiration from the movies industry. Why didn't you make a battle royale game after watching the movie Battle Royale in 2000?
      • Listen to the "maniacs" which are the players who are your biggest fans AND your biggest critics. They will play the game more than you can. 
      Jeff Kaplan (Blizzard Entertainment - Overwatch)
      • Guidelines are better than rules because creative people want to break rules. 
      • GTA 5 is an example of a game with a great story telling. 
      • Even though the teams that makes the Blizzard games work within the same company, each team has its individual culture. For example, the team who's developing Hearthstone is starting their day earlier than the other teams. 
      • Players are not good at expressing themselves when giving feedback. They say something is "sh*t" and then it's up to you to determine why they say so. 
      • You can make a post about something you plan to add to the game on a forum and then you will get reactions from your fans. The first reply (the gut reaction) is also useful because it will tell you what your fans think about it when they first heard it. 
      • Making a game is not stressful because it's just a game and not the cure for cancer, but game developers tend to become stressed because they care about the game and love what they do. 
      Cory Barlog (SIE Santa Monica Studio - God of War)
      • Failure will teach you to love feedback from your customers because failing is not a good feeling.
      • There are no magic tricks - the secret to making a good game is hard manual work. The camera in God of War was positioned manually - they didn't have a fancy camera algorithm. 
      • The first version of the game should be chaotic because it means you are experimenting and trying new crazy ideas. Mistakes made in the first version of God of War actually turned out to be something they could add to the final version of the game.  
      • Don't be afraid of sharing your knowledge within the industry. Most big studios are willing to sharing their knowledge and the games industry will benefit from it as a whole, including you. Competitors in the game industry are not really competing because there's not one winner - players will buy different games and they will buy more than one game.
      Ru Weerasuriya (Ready at Dawn Studios - Lone Echo)
      • As a game developer you want to be the best and you want to add the best features to a game - but that's not necessarily what the game needs to make it fun to play.
      • If you have experience from traditional games like PC, you will not be able to develop a VR game because those platforms are completely different.  
      Siobhan Reddy (Media Molecule - Little Big Planet)
      • Take home the game you are developing and play it while relaxing and you will find things you wouldn't have found if you only played it at work. 
      • Some people tend to not talk about problems they see when developing a game because they are scared that the problems can't be solved. 
      Romain Jouandeau (Sucker Punch Productions - Ghost of Tsushima)
      • He can spend a day looking for photo references before he starts creating the concept art itself. This is also the easiest way to start painting because if you just stare at the empty canvas it can be difficult to get started. 
      • One way to create a concept art is to start with a simple image made in some 3d software and then paint all the details on the top of that image. 
      • Don't forget to go out an observer the real world because drawing all day is not always good. 
      • Even professional artists struggle: If you don't struggle you are doing it wrong. 
      • You can find many good tutorials for free on YouTube so everyone doesn't have to go to a fancy, expensive school, and most recruiters look at the artwork and not which school you went to. But school can be good for networking purposes. 
      Tim Schafer (Double Fine Productions - Grim Fandango)
      • When making a game it's important to transform yourself into different roles. First you need to be an explorer who's just coming up with crazy ideas, then you become an artist who implements the ideas, then you become the judge to determine if the product is really good, and finally you become the warrior who's finishing the game. It might sound silly, but it actually works. 
      • If you worry about something that hasn't anything to do with the game, such as which desk your office should have, then hire someone who knows which desk is the best so you can focus on the game. 
      • There are many games published each day, to stand out from the crowd you can ask a publisher to publish your game, such as Double Fine Productions (they call it presents). You can also use crowdfunding and social media to market your game. 
      • Today it's difficult to sell many copies of your game when you release it - you have to think long-term. Sometimes you read articles about game developers saying their game failed written just a week after lunch, but you can't tell if a game is successful after just a week. Many games make the most money on the first Steam-sale.  
      Ashraf Ismail (Assassin's Creed)
      • The game designer is the gatekeeper of the production documents, which explains to the team how this part of the game is supposed to work, which assets and features are needed, and UI. To be able to make the production documents you may need to build a prototype and pitch the idea to the people above you and the people who have to build it. The game designer is not responsible for finishing the part of the game because that's up to the project manager. 
      • You can track how your players are playing the game and generate "heat-maps" showing where most players die. You can also track which animations are being played and in the Assassin's Creed case they realized they could remove some animations because they were never used. 
      • The "Rule of Three" says that before you challenge a player with a new feature, you have to introduce the player to that feature in three steps. But this might also be a problem because it sometimes becomes obvious to the player that something will happen if you are introducing something in three steps. (This wasn't exactly clear in the podcast but I think that's what he meant).
      • Assassin's Creed have rules telling how far you have to go to complete a quest. If you are on a main quest, you can travel far, but a smaller quest should take place in the nearby area.
      • The Assassin's Creed developer is using historians because they are making games based in history. They actually have a 30-seconds-rule saying that if someone can google what you see in the game to see if it really is historically correct, then it should be in the game. Otherwise, the can change history by using a little bit of creative freedom. When making the game based in Egypt, they had an historian who had to validate every piece of hieroglyph. Because they did so much research they could release a special version of the game where you could travel around and learn history instead of killing everyone. 
      • They were using the Unity game engine to prototype features before adding the features to their own game engine called Anvil

      June 10, 2018

      Game development articles roundup

      This is a collection of all game development articles I've written on this blog. I believe some of them are hidden behind all new content so it's difficult to find them.

      General game development:

      Specific game development:

      June 6, 2018

      Lessons learned from the Paradox podcast - Season 1

      I've found a podcast made by Paradox Interactive, which is a company that's both making and publishing games. They talk about the business of video games, and if you want to listen to it on your own, you should search for The Paradox Podcast on iTunes or wherever you can find popular podcasts. Their games may not be my favorite type of games, even though I've played some Cities: Skylines which was published by Paradox. But the games are so successful that if they release a new game it often ends up as one of the top selling games on Steam, so it can be a good idea to listen to what they have to say:

      • As said, Paradox is also publishing games, but they say no to 99 percent of the games pitched to them (they get about 1000 pitches per year). But this is a small amount since a publisher like EA gets 1000 pitches per month. Paradox is also only interested in games that fits their portfolio of games, which is mostly management/strategy/rpg games. So they don't want to publish action games. 
      • Two popular games are Prison Architect and RimWorld, and in the podcast they mentioned the clever idea that some people want to pay a little extra to have their content in the game. In the RimWorld case you can pay $15 to buy a DLC that "gives you the right to enter a name into the game so it shows up in all players' games. Players will recruit, command, and fight you for all time!"
      • It's important to be able to explain your game idea in a simple way. For example, Cities: Skylines said their game is "A modern take on the classic city builder." 
      • Paradox is interested in publishing game that are infinite replayable, hard-core (which I think means you have to use your brain), allows you to create something, and easy to get into. Examples of these games are Kerbal Space Program and Dont Starve, which Paradox wanted to publish but were denied to. 
      • Paradox actually declined to publish World of Tanks, Rocket League, and Psychonauts 2, so if your game is rejected by them, don't feel bad. 
      • Ign (a company writing game reviews) bought Humble Bundle (a company selling games). In this podcast they argued that it might be problematic because when Ign write reviews of games they are also selling the games they are reviewing. How can the public reading the review think the review is honest when Ign will make more money by writing good reviews of the games they are selling?
      • Worldwide, steam is just 12-17 percent of the total PC market, even tough this percentage is higher if you look at Europe and America. So if you are an indie developer, it makes sense to focus on the PC market on Steam because you have limited resources, but if you are more popular you should also focus on other publishing platforms and consoles. Paradox has their own publishing platform called Paradox Plaza. 
      • When working with games, it's important to think long-term. For example, when Steam added the refund policy saying that users can get their money back if they played the game for less than 2 hours, the return rates increased. But Paradox were lucky because their games lasts more than 2 hours. So you need to ask yourself, what happens if Steam is changing a policy? Will it kill my game?
      • Single-player is dead! No it's not, but it becomes more and more difficult for big game companies to make money from single-player games.
      • To decrease the risk of making a single-player game that's not popular, big game companies have begun to follow the movie industry and produce games similar to the games that have been released before. So not much innovation is happening. 
      • The best game experience is when you have an emergent game experience where anything can happen and the game reacts to you in unexpected ways. Cities: Skylines is included here because you can create you own story. This is also why multiplayer games are popular because if you play against a real human it's impossible to know what will happen. This is also cheaper because the player is creating the content for you. 
      • The PC market is declining slowly. 
      • Paradox has always been trying to go in the opposite direction of the market: they stayed away from consoles, massive multiplayer games like WoW, free-to-play, mobile, and VR. Or as they said in the podcast "We look at what everyone else is doing and then don't do anything."
      • When pitching games to publishers, don't forget to first figure out what will happen after you've launched the game. A game is a marathon and doesn't always end when you have launched the game!
      • Loot boxes is a sensitive topic and Paradox has developers saying that they would quit if Paradox forced them to implement loot boxes in their games. 
      • Loot boxes is all about implementation and there is a right way and there's a wrong way to implement them. So the discussion should be how to best implement loot boxes. In one way, a game itself is a loot box because you spend money on it but you don't know if the game will be fun, so it's a gamble. 
      • The problem is that companies have realized that they are making money from micro-transactions (where loot boxes are included) so it's an unstoppable trend because a company needs to make money to satisfy the shareholders and be able to keep making games because the cost of making games has increased.  
      • The majority of growth in the game industry comes from Asia and free-2-play models with micro-transactions. 
      • Most "older" gamers are used to buy a game and get 100 percent of the content which is how the game industry was working. This is why they get upset when new games expects them to buy a game and then spend more money to get the full game. 
      • The easiest way to argue with a game company is to not buy the game. 
      • Paradox's solution to micro-transactions is to release a full game that is fully playable and is priced as a full game ($30-50). But then they also release several dlc updates to the game that people have to pay for (and some free updates). They also say it's important to not experiment too much with your core fans by implementing micro-transactions in different ways. It is after all more difficult to get a new customer than to keep an existing customer. 
      • How much does it cost to make a game? It's true that the software used when making games is not expensive. An indie developer doesn't have to spend a single dollar on the software needed to make a game because Unity, Visual Studio, Blender, and Krita are free to use (Unity will cost money if you have a profitable game but it's not expensive). It's also not expensive to publish a game. Several years ago you had to manufacture cds in boxes to be able to sell the game, but today you can just sell it over the Internet. An indie developer can also work from home or from a public space like a cafĂ©. 
      • But big companies need to make their own game engine so they can customize the engine to better fit their game, so they have to invest in research. Because of the research, big companies need to sell more games than the indie developer so they have to invest in marketing the games. Big companies also need big expensive offices. 
      • A Paradox game costs between 2-15 million Euro (both development and marketing costs are included). And it takes 2-3 years to make their games.
      • A Paradox game is not announced until it has reached an "approved alpha." This means that all the features and content is in the game, but the game still has bugs. You should be able to play the game from start to finish.  
      • You could argue that all of the expenses these big companies have are a waste of money. How could Minecraft become one of the best selling games if Minecraft didn't invest millions in research and marketing? The answer according to Paradox is that Minecraft's success wasn't sustainable and if you are a big company that wants to release several successful games you need a bigger budget.
      • As said before, Paradox's model is to release a playable game for a full price and then release free updates and dlcs. But it's difficult to achieve this balance between free updates and dlcs because if too much is free people will not buy the dlc, and if too much is dlc people will be upset because they bought the original game. 
      • Paradox employees are allowed to speak (on like Twitter) about their work, as long as they are not "di*ks." This makes it clear that all employees are actually humans and it makes everyone responsible for their work. It's common that gamers argue that game developers are only doing it for the money, but by communicating with individuals in the company, the games become more transparent. 
      • Paradox have actually explored a city-builder (like Cities: Skylines) but in 3d and in space. So while the roads are usually in 2d-space even though tunnels are possible, the "roads" in this game would be in 3d, so you can build these vertical roads. But they couldn't implement it because it became confusing for the player because you have to go into the model and see where you are. Another game they dreamed about was logistics on a larger scale. 
      • Paradox argues it's important to own the intellectual property belonging to your game.