August 7, 2018

Stylized graphics - lessons learned from Sea of Thieves and Fortnite

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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.


Fortnite
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

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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.  

June 10, 2018

Game development articles roundup

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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

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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:

S01E01
  • 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. 
S01E02
  • 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?
S01E03
  • 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!
S01E04
  • 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. 
S01E05
  • 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 café. 
  • 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.
S01E06
  • 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. 
S02E01
  • 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. 
S02E02
  • 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.
S02E03
  • 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. 
S02E04
  • 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. 
S02E05
  • 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.  
S02E06
  • 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.   
S02E07
  • 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. 
S02E08
  • 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. 
This article will be updated as they release new episodes!

May 20, 2018

How to make stylized "The Witness" trees in Blender

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I've spent some time studying how to make trees for games. Trees are important because they often take up a large part of the screen so you need to be friends with them. As usual there are many different art styles you can chose from, but the trees I wanted to make were the trees from the game The Witness. They look like this:


Their trees have an art style called stylized, so they are obviously not 100 percent realistic looking. While The Witness developers have written three blog posts about the trees in their game, none of them described how the trees were made, so I had to guess. One article I found on how to make similar-looking trees is this one: Airborn - Trees. It argues stylized trees can be created by using a blob with a tree shape and then add random quads with a leaf texture to the surface of the blob:


This was the first tree I made in Blender: The mighty elm tree:


First I added an "Ico Sphere" blob and then I added a "Plane" which I unwrapped. To add the leaves I added a particle system to the blob. If you don't know how to randomly spread out a mesh on another mesh with a particle system, you can look at this tutorial: Blender Beginner Tutorial - Part 7: Particles.

But you can't currently export the leaves to a game engine like Unity because they are not their own object. To make them their own object, you can follow this process:
  1. Select the blob and press Shift + Ctrl + A. The leaves are now their own objects
  2. But the leaves still share the original mesh, so it may be difficult to combine them into one object. To solve this problem you select all leaves and press U and select "Object & Data & Material + Tex"
  3. To join them into one mesh you just select one leaf and then the other leaves and press Ctrl + J

To make it all more tree like you need to modify the normals to make them more spherical. This will make the leaves face outwards and upwards from the center of the tree - to emulate the effect that light has on the growth of the tree. You do this by enabling "auto smooth" in the tab next to "modifiers." And then in the "modifiers" tab you add a modifier to the leaves called "Normal Edit" and select the blob as "Target object used to affect normals." The leaves with the blob should now look like this:


And if you export it all to Unity, the result will look like this:


The leaf texture is just random leaves painted with a transparent background:


You can see that the elm is kinda round. To get a less round tree shape you can instead of adding random leaf-planes to the faces of the blob (a setting in the particle system), you can add them to the volume of the blob and then not display the blob at all in the game. You can also add more blobs to get other tree shapes, but the process for each individual blob is still the same.

The process to make the spruce tree is similar. The difference is that you add the branches (which is now a mesh and not just a plane) not to a blob, but to the to the spruce trunk with a particle system. To make the shape more spruce like, you need to use the "Vertex Groups" settings in the particle system by changing the density (no branches at the bottom) and the length (shorter branches on the top). The vertex weight is a value between 0 and 1 and 1 means the longest branch.


You might argue this method of making trees is inefficient. How long will it take to make an entire forest of trees? The answer comes from the game Firewatch. They said in a GDC talk that they only used 14 tree models to build a forest with 4600 trees.



April 24, 2018

The plein air challenge - or how to not make a game in 48 hours

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Ludum Dare, which is a competition where you make a game in 48 hours, was on this weekend. I'm usually participating in this competition but this time I couldn't find a good idea. Instead I decided to do the plein air challenge where you do a landscape painting. But I'm not really into physical painting so luckily there's a digital version of the challenge where you find a landscape by using MapCrunch and make a digital painting of the landscape. After looking at a few photos I found this photo:


These fishes are very colorful so I thought it was good practice to learn a technique called texture painting. The idea behind this technique is to simplify the texture and not try to make it as realistic as possible. A game that's using texture painting 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: they simplified and this can best be explained by showing one of the slides from the talk:


I also watched a GDC talk by a developer from the game The Witness, which has a similar style. So I made the models in Blender and then I used Blender's built-in paint tool to paint the fish textures. The first fish I made was the Yellowtail Surgeonfish, and it ended up like this:


The other fish in the reference photo is called King Angelfish, and it ended up like this:


But the reference photo also include some reef rocks, which I thought would take a lot of time to make. But then I recalled a GDC talk by one of the developers of the game Firewatch, which is by the way also using painted textures. She said that you can make a few assets, like a few rocks, and then you can use them several times in the same scene. If you place them differently no-one will notice that they are the same rocks. So I decided to make one rock and then use only that rock. It ended up like this:


To make the texture for the rock I decided to test a technique called gradient mapping. It's easy to get a black-and-white image by baking the ambient occlusion to the rock texture. To color it you can use a gradient with the color range you want the rock to have, and you will automatically get a basic colored rock by using gradient mapping. Then you can paint the details you want the rock to have.

With two fishes and a rock, I put the scene together in Unity, and the final scene ended up like this:



February 17, 2018

How to create your own billion dollar cryptocurrency

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Everyone can create their own cryptocurrency - but not everyone can create their own cryptocurrency that's also worth billions of dollars, like bitcoin, which has a market value of USD 180 billion. A cryptocurrency closely related to bitcoin is bitcoin cash with a market value of USD 25 billion.

While researching the difference between bitcoin and bitcoin cash I discovered that one of the guys behind bitcoin cash is Rick Falkvinge. I'm Swedish, so I recognized him because a few years ago he created a political party called Piratpartiet (The Pirate Party), which used to be a big part of the Swedish political scene but has since then disappeared. What has he been doing since then?

It turned out that Rick Falkvinge has been buying bitcoin and then he created bitcoin cash because he disagreed with the developers of bitcoin. The main difference between his views and the views of bitcoin is that a cryptocurrency should be more decentralized. If you research bitcoin and bitcoin cash you realize that there's a small war going on between the believers in each cryptocurrency, so I'm not going to argue which one is the best because only time can answer that question.

If you research bitcoin cash, you will find a text written by Rick Falkvinge called Official Statement from the CEO of Bitcoin Cash. In it, he tells why a cryptocurrency should be developed like a swarm. A swarm? What is he talking about? Luckily, Rick Falkvinge has written a free book on the subject called Swarmwise: The tactical manual to changing the world. In it he tells the story of how he created Piratpartiet and why the political party disappeared and how you can create you own decentralized organization. These are the key concepts from the book:
  1. You need an idea that you know can work from a theoretically point-of-view. Be provocative. If you are not making somebody angry, you're probably not doing anything useful. 
  2. The idea has to generate enthusiasm on its own - no advertising campaign is needed. It should be enough to mention it to someone, but it needs to have a realistic, understandable goal that energize people to change the world for the better. It also need subgoals and you need to be able to measure the progress towards the goal and the subgoals.   
  3. People have short attention span, so you need to keep them interested by having a signup page or a forum where people can collaborate. This will make a structure so people can self-organize by doing tasks without first asking for permission, which is good because you can't control all parts of the swarm on your own. 
  4. As the swarm is organizing itself into different groups, you notice that each group gets a leader. Make sure to form a relationship with each leader. But remember that this leader is not a boss and can't thus give orders. What they should do is to communicate what should happen and start doing it and the people interested will follow automatically. If someone sees something they don't like, they should contribute with something they like, and not complain about what they don't like. You should celebrate if someone takes a risk but failed, and not criticize, because it will prevent people from trying new things.   
  5. To kickoff the swarm, all members should do some task, such as collecting signatures. This task has to be realistic and has to be a step closer to the goal. It will also get people to know each other. 
  6. The swarm will copy the behaviors of the leader, and yes the swarm needs a leader to inspire each other to greatness. The only way to have the swarm behave well is to behave well yourself by leading by example. To be able to lead by example you need to take care of yourself by sleeping and exercising. You also need to be honest, if the swarm is encountering trouble, be honest about it and suggest a solution to the problem.   
  7. As the swarm grows, you have to make sure that no self-organized group gets more than 150 people. If so, you need to create subgroups. The core group should consist of no-more than seven people, which is the optimal group size or the group will become too inefficient.
  8. Members of the swarm will translate your goal to their own goal. For example, the idea behind bitcoin is to create a decentralized currency, but some believe in bitcoin because they don't trust banks and others believe in bitcoin because a bitcoin transaction is less easier to track than a regular currency. This will make it easier to market the goal because the friends of the members of the swarm will listen more to their own friends than to you and your personal goal. 
  9. You need to make sure that the swarm is visible in the real world and not just online. For example, when you walk around you see shops that have put up stickers that they accept bitcoin. 
  10. Conflicts within the swarm will happen as the swarm develops. But you need to be aware that a small amount of conflict is a step of progress and it's a phase all groups have to go through before they become efficient. Also mistakes will happen, but even big companies make mistakes, and mistakes should be expected because you need these crazy ideas that often end up as mistakes as long as you learn from them. You should reward good behavior, such as initiatives or helping others, with attention and ignore bad behavior.  Also remember to have fun because people enjoy having fun and will join your swarm to have more fun.
  11. You need help of your swarm to recruit new people to the swarm. Members of the swarm have to talk with people they know. To make it easier you need a weekly newsletter to let people know what's going on. Make sure it's written so someone who's new to the swarm understand everything in it. When measuring new people you should not measure Twitter follower or Facebook likes, but people themselves. Many people on Twitter are not really interested in you, but in promoting themselves by following you.  
  12. You need to be able to activate the swarm when needed. The addition of 25 people from your swarm to a discussion on the Internet will convince someone who's just reading the discussion that your swarm's goal is something to follow. If you control the perception of who's the winning team, you become the winning team. It's important to note that the swarm should discuss the goal and not promote it - people don't need to see more ads. Neither should you forget the long-tail: even the smallest blogger is important and reward all people for their interest in your swarm and answer all comments, even if the comment is rude you need to be nice and polite.  
  13. Use old media like newspapers to your advantage. Make it as easy as possible for journalists to write articles by providing detailed press releases and photos. The long-term goal is that when journalists are writing an article about your goal, then they should write an article about you and not someone else. If the media starts to ridicule you then it's a good sign and a step forward from not being mentioned at all.
  14. Never take success for granted. When the swarm is successful, don't forget that success doesn't last. Just because you are popular today doesn't mean you have to be popular tomorrow. 

I think the ideas from the book are interesting and they are at least a starting point if you have your own currently worthless cryptocurrency. The ideas behind cryptocurrencies and decentralized organizations are new, so I guess we will see many more ideas on how to best grow such organizations.

February 12, 2018

Everyone wants to crash a Tesla

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This is just in! A big youtuber with 173 thousand subscribers has found my Tesla Simulator I made to learn Unity. The video has 55000 views and thousands of likes. He didn't call it a game - more of an experience which was funny, and he named it Tesla crashing simulator, which is what people seem to like about the game: destroy Teslas. But the Teslas in the game are indestructible so they will never stop. Anyway, check out the video and prepare to laugh.

February 11, 2018

The illusion of life - or why you should animate flour sacks

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The book The Illusion of Life tells the story of the beginnings of Disney Studios and the development of their animation process. What exactly made Disney's style unique? It is one of the books you have to read if you are interested in animation - not just animated drawings, but also if you are into 3d game animations. Here are some key points from the book:
  • Animation is not just timing, or just a well-drawn character, it is the sum of all factors named. What you as an animator are interested in is conveying a certain feeling you happen to have at that particular time. The response of the viewer is an emotional one, because art speaks to the heart. Our tools of communication are the symbols that everyone understands because they go back before mankind began talking. 
  • The animator is the actor in animated films. But animation is harder than acting. In animation we start with a blank piece of paper. Out of nowhere we have to come up with characters that are real, that live, that interrelate. We have to work up the chemistry between them, find ways to create the counterpart of charisma, have the characters move in a believable manner, and do it all with mere pencil drawings. 
  • Start the film with something the audience know and like. This can either be an idea of a character, as long as it is familiar and appealing. It can be a situation everyone has experienced, an emotionally reaction universally shared. But there must be something that is known and understood if the film is to achieve audience involvement. The mystery radio programs are good at this, using voices and sound effects that reach out to you. The broadcasts are projected through symbols into your imagination, and you make the situation real. It is not just what you hear, it is what the sounds make you believe and feel. It's not the actor's emotions you are sensing anymore - they are your emotions.  
  • For a character to be real, it must have a personality, and, preferably, and interesting one. The audience should identify with the story situation, and the best way is through a character who is like someone they have known. There should also be a change in the initial action that will enable the animator to show more than one side of this personality, like from concentration to rage.
  • Key animation principles:
    • Don't confuse them. Keep it simple.
    • Too much action spoils the acting.
    • Mushy action makes a mushy statement.
    • Say something. Be brave.
    • Why would anyone want to look at that?
  • Walt Disney himself was actually not a good animator. Animation was developed far more by the animators themselves than by Walt. But this advancement would never have occurred without Walt. Without Walt's drive, it is doubtful that any of the animators would have tried so hard or learned what to do.  
  • The best way to know if your animation is good is to test it on a real audience. 
  • Attitude can be achieved with the simplest of shapes. A flour sack is often used to illustrate this (the shape will change but the volume will always be the same). This idea is used by animators today as well as you can see if you click on this link:

  • The fundamental principles of animation are:
    • Squash and stretch. What you are animating should change shape, as in the flour bag example.
    • Anticipation. Before what you are animating is doing something, it should be shown what you are animating is about to do.
    • Staging. The audience should clearly see what you are animating.
    • Straight ahead action or pose to pose. This is about how you plan the animation. In the first case you make it up as you go, and in the second case you first create key poses and then fill in the animation between the poses. 
    • Follow through and overlapping action. This is about the end of the animation. The idea here is that things after a movement don't come to a stop all at once, some parts of the character may stop later. And you also have to make sure it merges with the next animation. 
    • Slow in and slow out. The focus should be on the key parts of the animation, so a character should move slowly into the key position, and then move slowly away from the key position, and then fast between the key positions. Too much of this will produce a mechanical feeling, so you have to analyze the actions more carefully if that happens.  
    • Arcs. The movement of living creatures will follow arcs and not straight lines.  
    • Secondary action. The main idea of the animation can be amplified by adding a second animation, such as wiping away a tear. 
    • Timing. Each inbetween frame between the same extreme key frames gives a new meaning to the action. No frames inbetween can mean that the character has been hit by a large force, while more frames can mean the character is sneaking. 
    • Exaggeration. Realism is not the goal because it's sometimes difficult to understand if a character that is "realistically" sad is sad. But if you exaggerate and make a sad character sadder, the audience will easier understand that the character is sad. One animator at Disney made an animation so exaggerated that he thought he would get fire, but Walt loved it. 
    • Solid drawing. You should learn to draw as well as possible before starting to animate. The better you can draw, the easier it is to animate. 
    • Appeal. The audience should obviously enjoy what you are animating. 
  • Norm Ferguson, one of the animators and who gave Pluto his character, had no formal art training, which was good because he was not following anatomy and drawing rules. One of the other animators said "He doesn't know that you can't raise the eyebrows above the head circle, so he goes ahead and does it and it gives a great effect."
  • Always analyze and observe. One of the animators could simply not stop observing how the real world worked. This is one of the reasons Leonardo da Vinci became a good painter - he always brought a notebook with him and he could even invite people to his house to easier observe them. 
  • As said before, realism is not the goal. Great fiction is art and invention, not duplicated reality: 
    • Things should happen faster than in real life.
    • You want to make things more interesting and more unusual. 
    • The actors should be more rehearsed than everyday people, opening a door should be as simple as possible.
    • The actors thought process should be quicker and their uninteresting progression from one situation to another must be skipped. 
  • Every animator has ups and down. To find inspiration again you can look at magazines and at drawings by animators whose techniques is different from yours. Every animator is also making mistakes. "Everybody knows that! I shouldn't make a mistake like that. It's just because you always forget something! I ought make a sign and stick it up in front of me on the desk so I never make that mistake again."
  • People love to see thinking characters. You should do this by changing the expression of the character.  
  • If you want to make great animations you should observe and study and make your characters different and unique - instead of cloning a similar character over and over again. No two scenes should ever be alike and no two characters should ever do something the same way. Frequently, some animator will animate not something he has observed, but something he has memorized that some other animator has done. 
  • When animating you should avoid writing what you will animate, you should draw what you will animate by making a storyboard. 
  • Extreme action is best illustrated by minimizing background elements, and other things that would draw attention away from the action. 
  • One quick look is all the audience gets - keep it simple, direct, like a poster; it must sell an idea.
  • If you are stuck, you can act out the seen yourself or have someone do it for you. Disney animators had assistants who acted out scenes, so they could see how the scene looked and determine the best angle for drawing it.
  • It takes 1.5 years to learn the basic fundamentals of animation and another 5 to 6 years to be at all skillful. 
  • Every animation is a new animation. Someone outside the studio once stated that it was easy for Disney to make a film now that they had done so many. Their reply was: "On every picture, you're in a learning process. It's not so much an application of professional knowledge as constantly learning. It is always new, or it had better be. On each film, you start from scratch, make the mistakes, pick yourself up time and time again, yet never give up. You must keep your belief in the picture and your faith in yourself. For a picture to end up good, it must be treated like it was the very first one you ever made."
  • It's important that the background is the background. There should be nothing behind the animated figures that distracts in any way. Too much detail, busy shapes, eye-catching forms are all confusing; too much color, too much dark and light pattern, colors that conflict with the figures are all disturbing. 
  • At the end of a cartoon movie, it's common to see how the camera zooms out and pulls up, showing more and more of the sky. The reason the camera is pulling up is because it was difficult to animate how the character became smaller and smaller, so they had to remove the character and instead show the sky.
  • To make you animation feel alive you have to add sound. Sometimes you have to add sound to something that doesn't make a sound. Disney had to test several alternatives before they found the sound of a spider web shimmering with dew and the sound of a magnet. 
  • When using photos and video as reference, you can't always copy what you see. A work of art is never a copy. For it to have meaning to people of many generations and cultures, it must have the personal statement of an artist. Michelangelo's famous statue of David would be a strange looking character if you met him walking down the street. According to this source, David's:
    • Upper-body and head are bigger on purpose, to account from viewing his statue from afar and from below.
    • Right hand is bigger than the left, probably to draw attention to the stone as a symbol of his courage and physical power.
    • Eyes are not looking in the same direction.
  • When learning to draw anything, it's important that the artist go to the source. If Disney artists were going to animate a fox, they would try to get a real fox to study - photographs and videos are not enough. They could even use animals that had been found dead, although not all were interested in study the animal after a few days as the body had started to decompose. Nothing matches the learning that comes from feeling an animal's bones and muscles and joints, to discover how they are put together and how far they can move in any direction. You also have to study what attitudes and actions are unique to the fox. What makes this animal a fox?
  • Some animations are difficult to draw, such as the antlers belonging to a deer. What the animators at Disney did was to either film it and then trace it on the paper, or build an antler model, and trace it by having the antlers behind a piece of glass.
  • Avoid dialogue. Instead you should use an expression, action, sound effect, or music. The audience wants to see what is going to happen and the dialogue should only fortify and sharpen the story and personalities. It is not enough if the character is saying it's angry - you also have to show it so the audience if also feeling that the character is angry.  

January 25, 2018

A comparison between Bitcoin crashes

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Update! Because of the popularity and to make it easier to add updates, I've moved the charts (and added new ones) to here: Bitcoin price charts

If you study the history of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin you realize that Bitcoin has been a really rough ride since it was launched around 2009. If you haven't studied the history of Bitcoin you should read the book Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper which covers events up to 2014, so you have to google the rest. If you google you will see that Bitcoin reached a price of around $20000 in December and has been falling since. You keep seeing comments that Bitcoin is a bubble and this is a crash.

But listening to comments by random people on the Internet is not always a good idea. A better idea is to use data and study what has happened before. The data I found is from Coindesk and ranges from 2010 up to today. It consists of one price during the day and not necessarily the highest or lowest price during the day, but that's not a big deal if you look at the price in a wider perspective. If you look at all the data you can clearly see that it looks like the classic bubble chart.


But if you study the history of Bitcoin you learn that bubbles have happened before, so I thought it could be interesting to compare this crash with old crashes. How bad can it get? During this period I identified three major crashes, the longest lasted more than 400 days. There are also several smaller crashes where the price fell like 40 percent but the chart will become too messy if I include all ups and down.


If you study historical crashes you see that the "crash" beginning in December 2017 is dwarfed by the major historical crashes. So from a historical point of view, the price could fall with more than 90 percent and still recover. Will it? No-one knows!