Tutorials

It’s been a while since the last blog post, so this time I’m gonna make it extra special, I narrated the tutorial!

This blog post I’ll show you how the app works, which does need some explanation. I made this together with Rune de Groot, the other intern here at Gray Lake Studios. He did the most of the work, recording and editing it all, while we both wrote the script and I did the voice work.

Take a look! The videos are all pretty short. If you’re interested in the app, you can download it for iOS here and for Andriod here. If you’re not that interested, you can skip through most of it, don’t worry. I would like to tell you guys about why this app is used. The tutorials are all about how. How the buttons work, how the features work.

As I explained in “Appventures”, a pen & paper roleplaying game is played mostly with pen and paper. However, unlike the example video I showed there from the show Community, you do use a map with little figures on them. These are representations of the characters in game, and they are only used for when the players get into combat. This map or board has a grid on it, which helps players figure out how many squares they can move and how far away they want to throw a fireball.

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We lost this fight.

This photo here is of my most recent play session and the first in a few years. Here you can clearly see a map, a simple piece of graph paper with some markings that show walls and such, with little plastic figures that represent us. Now this map is drawn poorly, but this is the way the most of these games are played.

This is where ProDnD steps in. It uses some awesome generators to create such maps and makes them look pretty good. You can print them as well, because in games like these, you need it to play on.

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This is an example of a map. It’s made using the “Black Chasm” generator, developed by Rune. The idea is that this is a base or dungeon inside a cave or mountain with one huge chasm. The squares will make it easy to use and the colors gives the players something more interesting to look at.

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Also, this is how a map like that gets generated, awesome right? Sadly, this is not what I have worked on the most during my intership, but I will talk about that in the next blog post! I’ll show you all of the concept and tests in styles I made. I’m already excited to show you!

BONUS: My new D&D character!

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Appventures

I’ve been working at Gray Lake Studios for nearly two months now and I haven’t delved into what the app is all about at all. Just today, they’re gonna release another version, so I won’t go into into depth on it today. What I will talk about is what the app is made for. After all, I’ve been taught to get to know what I’m working on before I produce something.

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Remember back when you were little when you played with your friends? You played “mommy and daddy”, “doctor”, “soldiers” and whatever made up role-playing game you wanted. The sky was the limit, your imagination the only restriction. I remember how I played being Pokémon with my brother or soldier with the kids from my neighborhood.

But we grow up. Our fantastic minds grow dull for the most of us and reality takes over. Not to be pessimistic or anything, but we don’t play like we used to. Or do we? Some of us still cling to the dreams of grandeur. It usually happens to us interested in stories set in fantasy or sci-fi worlds, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars being prime examples. People who still like playing games and taking time to do sometimes find video games that suck up hours of their time. What I’m trying to say is that the Game “Dungeons & Dragons” has it all. All kinds of different dice, pages and pages of rules and a whole lot of lore.

Do not ever reference Big Bang Theory to me.

Do not ever reference Big Bang Theory to me.

So what do you do? The idea is that you create your own character alongside a few friends. You decide what race your character is, what class, what he looks like, what his or her story is. You write this all down on these character sheets. There are so many skills, statistics and feats on there that I won’t go in-depth about it. The thing is, you don’t play against eachother, you play with each other. The game is lead by the Game Master or Dungeon Master, the one who makes sure there is a mission and the rules are kept. He leads the players on a mission. Together, using some rules and some imagination, the players have fun and progress.

I’ve played a bit myself, about two years ago. I played the High Elf warrior Bouiabaillion Ynirian, or Bohb, for short, a fat, bulky elf who grew up with orcs. Playing Dungeons and Dragons is quite fun, actually. You have to roll with it and make sure you play together. It’s different than playing a cards or boardgame, since you are so free to do whatever you like. As long as you don’t ruin it for everyone else, the Dungeon Master will let you roll a die for it and see whether or not you are able to seduce a troll. It’s all in the game.

Why am I explaining Dungeons & Dragons? Because pretty soon I will explain how the app works, and to do that, you guys will need to understand what it will be used for. If you wanna learn more, watch the episode “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” from the series “Community” that I showed a clip of. Soon I’ll write more, thanks for reading!

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Sketching It Out For A Quick Game.

Alright, I’m back to show you some stuff I’ve been working on so far! For now, I’m gonna let you in on how I started working.

Since I am an intern, I started my internship a bit unsure of what I was getting in to. Drawing tile textures is something that most game artist dislike, but I don’t share that opinion. As a game artist, it is important that you are flexible and skilled in many ways. However, I had to know what they wanted first. Since the finished project will feature multiple different tile sets the user can choose to draw their map, we talked about styles. One style would be perfect to start off with: hand-drawn. Since Dungeons and Dragons is a “pen & paper” game, I did research on the styles that were used already, and I found a lot of interesting stuff. I was also advised to look at the tiling used in the “Berserk” manga, as some manga’s specialize in black and white, fast and effective drawings.

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Then, to actually hand-draw tiles is quite hard, so I simply started off making little drawings of dungeons.

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This is actually a “finished” sketch of a dungeon that I made after quite a bit of research!

This cross-etched style isn’t new, I didn’t invent it, but how it looked like was quite interesting.

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It was actually a bit too busy to look at! I learned a lot about how tiles look when they are all placed next to each other. When you draw each tile separately, you don’t get an idea of how they will look together, so I had to use a different piece of software called Tiled. Tiled allowed me to upload a whole bunch of tiles and give them all characteristics. This way, I could actually paint with the tiles I made to get an idea of how things would turn out. I found that many tiles were way too detailed. Clarity and effectiveness of the design of the tiles was very important, so I had to re-do my tiles. And again. And again. I learned a lot from the feedback I received. Most of the time, this feedback came down to having too much detail. It is something many artists can struggle with. Detail is fun to draw and sometimes even interesting to look at, but most of the time it’s not needed. Even though the tiles are not implemented yet, I’m quite proud of what I made so far.

Final version for now. I also have a lot of bushes and trees, but since I place them differently and it takes effort, I didn't put them in.

Final version for now. I also have a lot of bushes and trees, but since I place them differently and it takes effort, I didn’t put them in.

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Dive Into A Gray Lake

Hi all, it’s been another week for my internship, and this time I’d like to talk about how we work over here. It’s different and similar to all the projects I’ve worked on with classmates.

I am used to being divided up into groups, most of the time randomized from the different courses of Game Design & Development and Game Art. Every time the team had to get to know each other, learn each other’s talents and combine them to create something good. We had classes and meetings and we tried to work together in many different ways. It was hard because we were always busy with other things during the project as well.

Here at Gray Lake Studios, we start off every day with a scrum. We talk about what we did the day before and what we will do that day. It’s quite interesting to do this every day since we get a better idea of what everyone is up to. We can keep track of what’s developing and we’re able to help each other out since we know what we’re all working on. We make plans about the day and make sure we talk about the talks we’ll have about important decisions and such. I’m really one of the guys here, as my input is appreciated and used.

Smart Business Park, the lower one on the left is where the office is!

Smart Business Park, the lower one on the left is where the office is!

Once it’s lunch time we go next door and the food is amazing. So far we’ve had quite some luck with the weather, enjoying our lunch outside while discussing games, politics and other nerdy things.

Lalotta!

Lalotta!

After that we usually work through the rest of the day, crunching numbers, crafting styles and designing the important stuff. Most of the time I’m left alone to work on my tiles, but every once in a while Tunc helps me out with some advice and direction. I already made a lot of progress with this pen & paper style I’ve been working on. I’ll probably write some more about that next time. Thanks for reading folks!

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Intership Shminternship

It’s been a while, but I’ve finally found something good to write about again. Today I wanna talk about my internship at Gray Lake Studios. It’s a small company located in Utrecht, which is very good for me, since I live close by. It’s about 20 minutes to walk there and located at Kanaalweg 17A. The location is interesting because there are a lot of buildings where companies of all sizes, mostly small, can rent some space. Among them is Gray Lake Studios, where I am right now.

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Gray Lake Studios is working on an app called ProDnD.  This is a map generator for pen and paper roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons. For those not familiar with the concept, it’s like playing with swords, chess and monopoly adopted a child and did everything to raise him less shallow then they are. For games like this, there is a Dungeon Master, the person who plays against the players. He sets up a story, uses the rule books and makes sure the game is fun. The players use pages full of information about their made up character. Their characteristics, their inventory and their skills. Games like these usually take more than just one sitting, as there is a whole story and world the players could explore together. The maps are of villages, fields and dungeons. They have grids so that players can put tokens for where their character is on the board. They have certain amount of units they can move and terrain they can walk on.

Example of a map used for Dungeons and Dragons.

Example of a map used for Dungeons and Dragons.

Using ready-made maps and scenario’s is not uncommon, but since this game involves a lot of creativity, people like to make their own story and use their own rules. To help them with that, ProDnD was created. It already has a lot of random map generators that allow you to create your own map at the click of a button. There are a lot more features in there, and even more are being worked on right now, but I won’t be talking about that much more.

What do I do then? Right now these maps have simple squares. light tiles for floors, darker for walls, and even darker for abyss or impassable terrain. Me, as an artist, will create tile sets to give these maps more flavor. I will have to design them in a way that allows them to be randomized and used in many ways. Which is quite a challenge for now. I have to think about the big picture. How do the tiles look on their own? How do they look next to each other? What do they look like from further away? I’ve found some answers, but I still have a lot more to learn.

As for now, I am working on a pen and paper style tile set. This means that I was inspired by those who drew their maps on graph paper while being bored during math lessons. It allows me to use a very stylized visualization of all features you would expect on a map, but also done in a way that it looks like it could have been drawn by hand. This is really hard, because the tiles will actually be used my an automatic mapping generator!

I used the program tiled to view my work quickly for myself, no good way to incorporate them into the app yet!

I used the program tiled to view my work quickly for myself, no good way to incorporate them into the app yet!

That’s all I wanted to say for now. Soon I will write about what Dungeons and Dragons is, about the people of Gray Lake Studios, how I work and more!

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Let’s Go For A Ride!

Hi there, dear reader! Welcome to my blog once again. This week I’ve been on a school trip to Paris!

For our new school project we are tasked to make a ride-like experience in eight weeks. This time we are allowed a lot of freedom in how we work this out, digital or physical, in any way, shape or form. The important thing was that there would be some kind of interaction. With this freedom and rule we were taken to Paris, city of love!

Halle Saint Pierre

We arrived at Halle Saint Pierre where they had an exhibition featuring a lot of underground art. I some beautiful pieces, but many of them were simply awful. Many were crude and vulgar, featuring people drawn in the most surreal ways. They weren’t crafted with skill, but with an idea. Sometimes I had a hard time appreciating the pieces because I was annoyed by the poor craftsmanship. I believe it is not new that modern art features a lot of artists that work from an inspiration, instead of from skill. 
To an artist like me, it feels like you’re being cheated. Yes, learn all of your skills. Yes, study and practice. In the end, you better be a drug addict with sociopathic tendencies, otherwise you won’t be featured in an art gallery. It is true that those people have visions. They look with eyes that see different things. You might say that that is what makes the artist. Some work with little skill, but incredible creativity and yet others with incredible skill and little creativity. I believe the true artist lies somewhere in between. However, it doesn’t work that way in art. People have made pieces that were indiscernable to photo’s. There are works out there that have taken entire lifetimes to perfect. People have seen these works, they know them. Realistic works indescernable with photo’s aren’t that special to look at, but the story behind it is interesting. People like stories more. Stories of pain and suffering, of victory and defeat. But just a painting of something that doesn’t look remotely human? Not that interesting.

I was really inspired by many macabre works of art in the Halle Saint Pierre. Some pieces gave me the idea that the artist had drawn what he dreamt or what made him wake up, bathing in cold sweat. My and my team will probably make a scary game for this project and we certainly found ideas. Later on I tried to capture some of the strange styles that I had seen, but it was really hard. Here two pages from my dummy.

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Disneyland Paris

The second day we went to Disneyland in Paris. We had beautiful weather and I had a great time with my classmates. The first thing that I noticed was the scale. Disneyland Paris is huge. It is like trying to fathom the universe. There were roads and shops and little houses and gardens and everything, everything was designed for the visitors. Every nook and cranny was made to give you the real Disney feeling. 
Even waiting in lines before every ride was designed to prepare you while waiting, to get you immersed in the setting of the ride. I went to Space Mountain where I had to walk about a kilometer through the dark before I got out into the open again where I got on the rollercoaster. 
It was very interesting to see how the rides were built. There was a lot to see that had no influence or meaning to the ride itself, but it added to the experience. The amusement park was perfected to give people the sense that they were someplace else, that they were somewhere where magic is real.
Personally, I didn’t like it that much. I know people have fond memories of watching the amazing animated movies and that people love going on a cool ride in the park, but it didn’t feel it. Everything was very expensive, which is to be expected, but shops were everywhere and filled with low-quality souvenirs and dolls. Every item was a set of a whole, so that it could be collected when people came back for more. This all gave me a bitter taste in my mouth. Nothing felt personal. Everything felt mass produced and sold in batches, like we weren’t in France or even in a magical place, but in an American mall. The Dutch park “De Efteling” does this better, in my opinion. All in all, a great day with my classmates anyway.

ImageI was a little ill at ease at “It’s A Small World After All”…

Cite des Sciences et de l’Industrie (link)

The third and final day we went to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, which is the biggest science museum in Europe. Just like Disneyland, the sheer scope amazed me. I went to the Planetarium exposition first, where I loved to see beautiful paintings and pictures of the galaxy. There were a lot of things about geology and the origin of the universe. I actually learned why scientists believe the universe is expanding by an interactive piece of media. When I learn something, I love it, so the Planetarium was something I really liked.
Other parts were about genetics and optical illusions, both very interesting, but all information on the signs was in French, so I was left with guesses about the facts of most things. Some pieces were interactive and a lot of fun. It was a shame that there was no real route through the assets. We were left to wander around, and because it was so large, I got lost easily.
Some expositions were extra. We had to pay extra to get into these. It felt a lot like DLC for a museum. These were the most interesting. Luckily, I didn’t have to pay an extra dime because of some special circumstances, one time an employee took pity with us and let us into a submarine. The submarine was very interesting to explore, as it was incredibly narrow and filled with all kinds of gears and levers. There also was a piece on games. It was meant for the people who knew little about games, not for a bunch of Game Design students who know most games and pieces there by heart. It was a beautiful building with too many interesting expositions to see! We had about 5 hours there and I felt like I had too few eyes. I love science and I love learning new things, so I had a great time at  the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie.

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After The Ride

After a midweek of art, design and science I was incredibly exhausted and inspired. I rallied my little team the day after to start off early. We will probably make a scary game, which suits a ride pretty well. My whole team has great, interesting ideas and is motivated to get to work on it all. I can’t wait! I will keep the blog updated regularly, maybe not about the project every time. I might get another Fantastic Fictional up, who knows.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed or got interested reading my post. I am still trying to find a good way to present my thoughts and work on a professional level, so any tips are welcome. If you have other questions or if you would like to get into contact with me, you can mail me at b.bakker92@gmail.com

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Teamwork

Thank you once again for visiting my blog! It’s a little sparsely updated, but I hope to change that in the near future. Soon I will post weekly with well-written pieces. Now, without further ado, the subject for this post: teamwork.

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The Set-Up

Over the past eight weeks the HKU had given me and my classmates a very interesting project. It was called “Van Ventster Naar Poort”, which means “From Window To Gate”. The idea was that we worked in team to create a prototype for an interactive experience for the Openluchtmuseum in Arhem, The Netherlands. The Openluchtmuseum (outdoorsmuseum) is more of a historic park where people can see the history of The Netherlands. There are little houses from certain time periods, and during the better seasons, the whole park is alive with historical reenactors who tell the visitors about the time they live in. We were asked to create something that fit in with their style and to make something that was historically correct.

Our school, the HKU at Hilversum taught us about working in teams and getting organized. I’m a Game Art student, but this isn’t the first college education I enrolled in. I’ve done a year of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Twente. It was a very different type of school, way harder. I enrolled there because I had always been good at math, physics, biology and chemistry, but I hadn’t thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I quit the course after a year, after I passed way too few grades. Even though it seems like a sad thing to happen, I don’t think I ever could’ve gotten a better wake up call. I did learn there. I learnt how to work with a team. Having meetings with the group, planning the project, leading a project, discussing about decisions and working on assigned tasks. I took the motivation I didn’t have working on BME to my new school.

The Grind

So during the past 8 weeks I was the project leader. It is way harder than I thought. As a project leader you keep track of what everybody is working on, you plan the meetings and lead the discussion. The biggest task is the responsibility. I was responsible for the communication, for making sure people had their tasks finished. Early on, when the project began, I immediately took charge and started assigning tasks to people and asking questions to get an idea of my team’s skills. I really felt in control and I liked that. I got my team focused on the task at hand. I used everything I had to make clear what our goal was and what we had to do to achieve this goal. The other roles assigned in our group were artist, game designer and developer. I made sure everyone knew what was expected of them by asking. Just asking the rest of the group what they expected from me gave me insight on what I had to do, but also what my team was like. We did this for every role so we understood what our responsibilities were. I think it’s important to know what is expected of you, even when you have a defined role. People have expectations that they don’t always express, which could end with trouble.

Keeping track of decisions and what work is done was also important. I made sure I updated our planning regularly and that I made clear what was supposed to be done every time. We used Facebook to upload documents and to make the planning. I’m not sure if it’s the most optimal way to go, but as my classmates visit Facebook daily anyway, I thought it would be an easy decision. I also tried to make sure that every meeting we had some points on our agenda that were made public a day before the meeting itself. That way people could prepare and not try to force a subject during a meeting when it’s later on the list.

Too bad things didn’t really work out. It seems that against all good intentions not everything was clear enough to my team and there were mistakes being made. After I didn’t push through a week, the whole progress seemed to come to a halt. I’m not really sure how this happened, but it made me realize that as the project leader, you should always make sure people are busy doing work. I really dropped the ball on this leadership thing, but I did learn a valuable lesson.

From Bad To Worse

In the end, things got worse. One teammate was unable to deliver his work on time and kept coming in late. This was very frustrating to deal with especially when we tried to work hard enough to get the project finished in time. The other two teammates did their work on time, even though one of them wasn’t able to achieve the level of professionalism in her work that we expected. The other teammate was a joy to work with. Very motivated, independent and able to do her tasks well. We did everything we could to get the project nice and done before the deadline where we would present our work, and we barely managed. I was late at the day of presentations, but luckily the real event would start an hour or more after I arrived. The teammate who was late the whole time, was late again. Our product was examined twice, by teams of teachers and people of the Openluchtmuseum before he arrived. I was very disappointed in him.

The worst part was the grading. We were the only team that didn’t pass the presentation. A really hard blow on all of us and I blame myself for not understanding what we did wrong earlier. Our concept was too vague and we weren’t able to show the idea in full. Also, we made some presumptions about the Openluchtmuseum that backfired hard. They did not like how we made a physical installation that had a real cannon-like contraption. They thought it was dangerous. We also wanted to add someone who handled the interactive installation for the visitors, which they did not like at all.

Not all is lost, though. If our mentor for the project, a teacher at the HKU, will grade us on our overall process, as well as grade us for the documentation we made of the whole project. If we get grades high enough for these two, then we might pass the project after all, but I’m not sure how things will turn out. If we fail, we will have to do retake the whole project, and I fear this result. I do not want to do the whole project again, especially not with a teammate who I can cooperate with.

Lessons

First of all, I hope I can choose my teammates for any project from now on. The next project will give us this opportunity and I have already been busy getting two people who I know can work hard on my team. It’s a lot of trial and error and I guess that’s why it’s education. Building a team adds another dimension to working on a project, but I believe I know what to look for in people. People who are motivated and capable of doing well on their own or with little help.
Secondly, there is a lot of work to do on my end. I need to communicate more and actually try to keep people to their word, while staying true to my word as well. I delivered work late sometimes, but no-one said anything about it. There were no repercussions for it. This gave me too much room to slack off and because of this, I didn’t tell the others they should have delivered their work on time.  I think I could solve this by stating deadlines and the repercussions of not making them clearly up front. I should also point out to my team that I might not be the best at delivering work on time either, and urging them to keep my word when I make promises.
Lastly, I should never stop guiding my team when there is work to do. I should talk to them more often about what they are doing for the project and how it’s working out for them. This might help remind them what to do and how to do it, as there always seemed to be some misunderstandings when the work was delivered.
To condense this all to a few words would be: motivation, clarity, honesty and perseverance. If I take those points into my next project, I’m sure I’ll be able to get a grade that isn’t just enough, but a grade that is satisfying for the work we put into it.

I hope this was an interesting read to you about my last project and how it turned out. I am still trying to find a good way to present my thoughts and work on a professional level, so any tips are welcome. If you have other questions or if you would like to get into contact with me, you can mail me at b.bakker92@gmail.com

EDIT:
I have been informed by one of my teammates (the one who I found hard to work with) that I have not given all the information, which is correct. He told me that this was an unfair assesment of what work he had put in the project, which is true. The truth is that he was someone who was very motivated and creative during the whole project, and he was able to do large amounts of work in little time. The problem is that he was chaotic by nature, something that I am not at all. This caused confusion and misunderstandings. As I was the project leader, I felt like I wasn’t being listened to because of this. I was of the opinion that working as a team is more important than getting a product done in a day.
I did not write all of this because I was afraid the post would become too long and that I would talk too much about my teammates, and too little about the course of the project. I hope I did his request justice and that I am done with this situation.

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Frictional Design

Hi there guys, this week I’ll be writing about a video game company that holds a special place in my heart: Frictional Games.

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http://www.frictionalgames.com/site/
Frictional Games is a Swedish independant video game company that specializes in the survival horror genre. They are known for their most succesful game “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” where you play a man named Daniel who explores a dark foreboding castle, while avoiding monsters and other obstructions as well as solving puzzles. The game was critically well received, earning two awards from the Independent Games Festival and numerous positive reviews.
They started off with the Penumbra series and are now working on SOMA, another survival horror, with more of a focus on interactive storytelling.

Why is Frictional Games so important to me?
Back when Amnesia: The Dark Descent was just released I watched Let’s Plays on Youtube of a player actually being scared. This was, I believe, Toby Turner, a succesful Youtuber. Not only was he scared at the parts that were made to give him a jump-scare, he was also terrified of the overall gameplay. It unsettled him and made him dread to carry on. This was wat peaked my interest. The setting was designed so terrifying that it made people hate the game for scaring them so much. I played it myself and I was terrified throughout the whole game. I loved it.

Even though there were a lot of design decisions that could be improved, I was interested enough to look for more information on Frictional Games on the web. I found the blog of Thomas Grip, the Lead Designer at Frictional Games. Here he went in on all the design choices they made and were making on their newest game. Every post is incredibly interesting and thought-provoking for those interested in getting games to tell stories better.

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http://www.frictionalgames.blogspot.nl/2014/03/gdc-14-lecture-resources.html

The post in the link above is a bit of a collection of his atricles. I would like to encourage anyone who is interested in game design to give his pieces a read. Most of those posts delve deeper into what makes games immersive and what doesn’t. How puzzles can ruin a game and how storytelling is tricky in a true interactive game.

Thomas Grip is a bit of a visionary to me. He isn’t scared to experiment and research, to make statements and back them up with his theories. He inspired me to become a game designer. To step into this world of experiences that we have only just discovered. The more technology develops, the more we will be able to create. I want to be part of this discovery, of this journey to other worlds. I want to create the journey, I want to create these worlds. People are craving for new experiences, new ways to explore the world, or other worlds, and I hope I will learn the skills and find the place to do it. I wonder what other great game developers use to create this immersion.

Untill next time,

Bram Bakker

My fanart for Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

My fanart for Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

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Games [4Diversity] Jam

Last weekend I went to a Game Jam in Amsterdam. It was a lot of fun and as a total amateur at making games it was quite the challenge. The theme was diversity, about gender issues in gaming and a lot more, you can read more here: http://www.gamesjam.nl/about/about-games-4diversity-jam-14-europe/

Starting Off
We worked on the game for two days, from 9 AM to 8 PM and it was a lot of fun. Even though me and my team worked in a suboptimal way, we learned a lot from our mistakes. The most interesting was being in a room with 50 people who wanted to make games about diversity. That creates a really interesting mood.
We started the day off by being one of the first groups to get there at the Amnesty International building in Amsterdam. They allowed our little geeky event to be held in one of their halls. I think it was quite an honor to have AI back us up for our cause. It was a great space to work in. A lot of windows, a beautiful garden to relax in after the code starts dancing in front of your eyes and good ventilation. I know nerd-gatherings, things can get uncomfortable.

The first thing I noticed was that quite some people didn’t speak Dutch at all. Some of them asked to join my little group, but we declined. Not because we didn’t want them to join us, but because we already chose how we wanted to work and what kind of game we wanted to make. In hindsight this was not the best plan, but still with a good intention. Co-operating with different people would have given us a chance to incorperate more experienced developers into our team, which would have helped out immensely. There were only three of us and only one knew how to code. We used Game Maker to save us some time, but me and the other artist weren’t used to working with the software.

The Idea
Our game would be a simple RPG where a male hero would use his sword to slay enemies and kill them dead to progress. However, the [q] key would turn the player character into a woman. Why? Because we wanted to make a game about being transgender and about how women are portrayed in the game industry. The main thing we would use would be to have the controls feel slightly different between the male and the female. The male would be stronger and more tough than the female. The female form would be faster, and more important, more precise with her movement. We made the male controls more clunky on purpose (at least, that is what we tried) so that the player would feel less at ease with playing the male character. If we could give the player the feeling that being the woman was easier in the game, they might get the hint that that is the way it should be played.

Me pitching our concept!

Me pitching our concept!

Our story idea was even more meta. The game itself would explain to the player how to play. Via tutorials and a guide-like character. This character would be symbolic for the game industry, forcing the player to play the game like we are used to, like they want us to. In the tutorial, for instance, this guide would tell the player “not to press [Q]”. This would turn them into a woman. The game mechanics would enforce the idea that the game could be played both as the male or a the woman. However, at a certain point the player would be confronted with the guide again. He would tell the player not to mess with how the game was meant to be played. He would tell the player to continue onward and not change anymore. The player could do this, and pressing the [Q] key wouldn’t change him anymore. The game would progress become slightly harder with more of the same mechanics and enemies, and at the end the player would kill some kind of boss to win and receive a trophy of sorts. An idea we had was to then lock the player into the last room, to remind the player that he has locked himself into this playstyle, this acceptance of the way things are.
However, next to the guide would also be a path that led up a mountain. A mountain where the Spirit of the Game, the King, the Manifestation of Social Pressure would sit. The player would be locked into the female form, and the gameplay would alter radically. The game itself would try to stop the player from reaching the top by breaking down game elements. I’m not sure how we would do this, but we had purposefully added glitches and bugs in mind. A cool concept, but we never got anywhere with it.
If you reached the top you would find this King-like character, who would berate you for ignoring the game’s advice, to blame you for paying a suboptimal experience. “Why would you want to ruin your own game? Why did you do this? This is not the game is meant to be played. Did you not understand we had this whole other part made for you? We know what you like!”, and other things the King would tell the character to make her feel guilty. Then we would like the King to accept the player as she is in a non-violent manner. We never really worked this out, but I was firmly of the opinion that if we got the player to beat the shit out of this character that simply didn’t understand the player character, then we would fail with our message. What our message was exactly I’m not sure anymore.


Here is the trailer of our game. I did the quick voicework.

Feedback
After pitching our idea Zuraida Buter, the Executive Director of the Global Game Jam, came up to us. I did the little pitch, and wasn’t able to say everything in 30 seconds. She wanted to remind us that the whole transgender issue isn’t black-and-white and that a simple button that changed you might give the wrong message. We assured her that that was not the idea, but it did remind me how little I actually know about the most issues that we attempted to make a game of. Next time I try to tackle such interesting concepts I should do research first.

A while later I talked with Meggy Pepelanova, a researcher of board games and digital media who also participated in the Game Jam. She was wondering what made me join this Game Jam and how the subject spoke to me. I had to confess. The college I’m attending gives us ECT for participating in a game, so I’m being rewarded for it, even if I don’t make anything good. That doesn’t mean I don’t take the issues seriously or that they don’t mean anything to me. I am really interested in the depiction of minorities and sexual preferences in games. Sady, being a straight male offers me little perspective in most of these cases. I should talk about this with people, I’m really interested in what others think. She was understanding about it all and I have her card, so I think I’ll e-mail her sometime soon.
There was also quite some interest from the press. As in: any. I had never experienced being interviewed about anything, so it was really interesting. There has been a piece in the Volkskrant, but I’ve been unable to get it.

The other teams made quite interesting games. One was of a flock of birds that got stronger by adding more different birds, really enforcing the whole “diversity” ideology. Another game was more focussed on how people judge you by appearance by making you dress for a specific type of party. All of it was really cool and inspiring. Most of all, almost everything was playable.
The game that won the Game Jam was called Queer, where you are a person who gets chewed out by your boss on superficial things and you are supposed to keep your job and your dignity. I REALLY dislike that they called it Queer. The game was really great, don’t understand me wrong. Their graphics were cool, their music was great and the dialogue was amazing. I don’t like a game that turns into a “GAY MAN SIMULATOR”, it just doesn’t feel right to me. I want to deal with the issues in a less forced way, where the game’s message isn’t clear within 5 seconds. The truth is, we all had limited time and resources to make our games, so to have anything finished is a victory of itself. I don’t feel like I should judge them harshly based on just their title, I just feel that a pokemon-like approach to these issues is wrong.

Me trying another team's prototype.

Me trying another team’s prototype.

Looking Back
Our game ended up hardly working and far from finished, but we learnt a lot along the way. For one, starting off with a more realistic end-goal would have been a good idea. Other than that, I could really work of mastering more efficient and better software so that I can be more productive. It would also help out if I would join up with other people to work with more universal software like Unity and Maya.

All in all, a wonderful experience where I met great people, worked hard and learnt valuable lessons! I would recommend it to anyone who has any game developing qualities and the motivation to spend a weekend working really hard.
I would like to thank my teammates Dinah Siebers, for finding and organising our trip to the Game Jam, and Ernst de Bruijn, who worked so hard on the development that I almost literally broke down at the end of the second day. They were the best!
Also, big thanks to Menno Deen and all the people involved with the organisation, the weekend was a blast!

My and my little team! Ernst de Bruijn on the left of me, Dinah Siebers on the right. We named ourselves N00bz0n3 for the rime being.

My and my little team! Ernst de Bruijn on the left of me, Dinah Siebers on the right. We named ourselves N00bz0n3 for the rime being.

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Fantastic Fictional #2: Welcome To Night Vale

“Got a home improvement project?
Need help? Incomplete? Having feelings? Strange feelings? Feelings you’ve never felt? Incomplete? 
Is your body filled with hot blood, waving curves of sinew and skin? Can you feel all that blood? Is it even your blood? How can you be sure? Incomplete? Are you dizzy from it all? All of this? What are your hands doing? Incomplete?
Where are your hands now? Where have they been? Where are they going? Where are you going? Have you ever broken the surface of something with a hammer? Ever channeled sublime thought into sandpaper? Ever wanted to touch something because you feel things? Because touch is the only sense you trust? Incomplete?
What is trust? Is making a things proof that you exist? Is fixing a thing truth that you have ascended mortality? History? Incomplete?
Feel things? Feel things?
You can do it. We can help.
The Home Depot.”

Welcome to Night Vale: Episode 19A – The Sandstorm

A couple of months ago I found something really cool on the internet, the podcast named “Welcome To Night Vale.” In case you don’t know, a podcast is much like a radio show that you can download via iTunes. Think “The War of the Worlds” only to listen to on you iPod or pc. 
“Welcome to Night Vale” is presented as a radioshow for the fictional town Night Vale. Twice a month an episode goes up about the daily news in the town of Night Vale. Now that might seem a little boring, if only Night Vale was a normal town. Every night differently colored helicopters fly across the void-like sky, the bowling alley is the portal to an underworld civilization, librarians are better to be avoided and the dogpark is forbidden to talk about. It is forbidden to think about the dog park. What dog park? What were we talking about?

Created by JJoseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and is voiced by Cecil Baldwin, the show sets up this town where even the supernatural is normal and the normal is odd. A message from a sponsor comes out as vague life-advice about dark rituals and traffic discribes the wandering of lost souls, while the weather report is presented as a piece of music, every time by a different independently-published artist.

The setting and style of the show is really well done. I love how I am often creeped out by simple discriptions of the daily live in Night Vale, even though most of the time the show gets so rediculous that I have to laugh. The radio host remarks one time that there is a floating cat in the men’s bathroom at the radio station. They can’t move it, and they keep it there. Every few episodes the host tells us how the cat is doing, while also reporting that a five-headed dragon is running for mayor of the town.

 http://podbay.fm/show/536258179/e/1339761600?autostart=1

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