The first game I ever worked on was a game for the Gameboy Advance called Scurge: Hive. It was both a blessing and a curse. Scurge was pretty much exactly the type of game I had always dreamed of working on. I was the target audience.
I look back on the days that I was working on Scurge very fondly. I remember working almost around the clock with my mentor the great Mr. Graham Scott. Now that I’m a little older and a little wiser, it astounds me that Scurge ever saw the lite of day. The team was too small. The scope was too big and we were all under experienced. The only thing that got the game done was our passion.
Soon after Scurge wrapped up, things went haywire and long story short, the team was shattered. So here I was, having just worked on a dream project only to have the notion of doing it all again ripped right out of my hands.
For the next few years, I found myself making “Casual Games”. It turns out, I was quite good at it. One might even say I found my calling. That said, I was not the target market and having had that early taste with Scurge, I know there’s something really special about building something for yourself.
Now I’m about two or three weeks away from completing my next game and it represents a very important and perhaps pivotal moment in my career. For the first time in many, many years, I truly am the target market again.
We’ve worked very hard to make this game special and I can’t wait to share it with you.
Daniel Kratt, Senior Designer
Eric Ries has a great post about the 4 myths of Lean Startup methodology. I’d like to add a fifth one
Myth 1: Lean means cheap. Lean startups try to spend as little money as possible.
Myth 2: The Lean Startup methodology is only for Web 2.0/internet/consumer software companies.
Myth 3: Lean Startups are small bootstrapped startups.
Myth 4: Lean Startups replace vision with data or customer feedback.
Definitely go read the post. As usual, Eric does a fantastic job of explaining the Lean movement. I’d like to elaborate on that fourth myth, though. As a games company, we often find ourselves at the intersection between art and technology. The problem with that (and with may hit driven industries), is that many decisions are based on subjective opinion. Unfortunately, subjective opinions are usually riddled with several biases:
1) Overconfidence: This is our mis-perception of our ability to make estimates. Many, many examples, but the classic is that 84% of college students consider themselves to be above average drivers. Obviously statistically impossible, but it doesn’t stop people from thinking it!
From the CFA program: This is tied to a Bias in Forecasting called “the illusion of knowledge”.
“The additional knowledge experts hold often leads to higher levels of overconfidence. This occurs because of the illusion of knowledge, the belief by a person that he or she knows more than others. The illusion of knowledge is more prevalent in fields where immediate feedback is not always available. In fact, those experts who are most confident in their conclusions are most likely to be dead wrong.”
2) Self-attribution: Basically, when things are good, you take credit for them. But when things go bad, it’s someone else’s fault. Tied to this, are ego defense mechanisms. These are basically excuses for incorrect forecasts, or ways to maintain confidence while defending an error in judgment.
- “if only” defense – the game performance would have been good “if only” their advice or strategy had been followed
- “Ceteris Paribus” defense – latin for “everything else being equal”. Basically blaming other factors (market shifts or changes, audience growing up, competition etc) for poor performance
- “I was almost right” defense – When a predicted outcome does not happen, the predictor avows that it almost did.
For me, the most important aspect of Lean Startup is empirically validating all those subjective assumptions, and providing as much immediate feedback as possible. This helps to reduce the illusion of knowledge and attribution biases, and makes us all better decision makers.
I have been asked to make a Graphical User Interfaces (GUI’s), buildings, landscape, characters, buttons, machines, and so this has made me a generalist in a lot of fields that many people have become experts in. Truthfully in a perfect video game making world this stuff would be handled by architects, fashion designers, industrial designers and graphic designers who are the real students of their trade. Maybe that will be done in the future but for now it’s up to young artist’s to bring their own, and perhaps naive aesthetics to each game.
Thinking about the vastness and nuance of these fields is a little scary when you have to do a whole game by yourself. But I have an old truism that helps me get started on my designs.
FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION.
Now don’t get me wrong… I’m not trying to raise Video Game art out of it’s traditional Low Brow Role, but in my little company we have to make decisions very very fast. So I like philosophies that help to drive correct decisions.
People often tell me that my job is subjective because it’s based on what I like. I have to explain to them that this is simply not true. I am a problem solver. I attempt solve a myriad of Video game art problems. I also have a team who works with me who will question my ideas and conclusions hopefully tightening up any loose ends that I may have missed.
When they critique my work, and I theirs, I like to steer the conversation in along the following path.
1) Does the art function?
2) Does the way it look enhance the function?
3) Is it beautiful?
I was looking around for blog posts on this subject, specifically as it relates to video games. I found an interesting article from the New York Times for anybody who might want to continue to question these ideas.
Joking aside, the dislocation of form and function has set a new challenge for designers: how to help us to operate ever more complex digital products. In ye olden days when form did follow function, you could guess roughly how to use an object from its appearance. But our ability to work out how to download and play music on a Shuffle is largely determined by the design quality of the software that operates it — the “user interface” in geek-speak, or “U.I.” If the “U.I.” is well designed, you should be able to use the device so intuitively that you will not have to think about it. But if it is badly designed, the process will seem so confusing that you will probably blame yourself for doing something wrong.
The Author is questioning the new forms in things like the cell phone and computers in general and how they have yet to enhance their functionality. It has been left to us… The artist’s working on the (applications) games to enhance the functionality. Sounds like an interesting area of study to me.
The next phase of U.I. design will take this further. John Maeda, the software designer and president of the Rhode Island School of Design, believes that our current “awkward mechanical dance” with computers will be replaced by an intuitive approach. “It will need to be more improvisational,” he said. “There will be a need for more subtlety and grayness.
So the future of our work is going to get even more crazy as we attempt to make our games even easier to play. As the keyboard is not longer the first choice for interacting with our devices. Like the Wii. It’s more fun because of the way we interact with it.
I also like this take on it from Graphic-Design.com
That’s right it’s just like you trying to ditch your little brother at the mall there is no escape — “Form Follows Function”. This simple phrase carries nearly as much weight in graphic design as in architecture and in industrial design (and video games) – added by me. It has been the mantra of many of the greatest designers of the 20th century. Several years ago it was given a new twist by John Bielenberg who wrote “Deform Follows Disfunction” (no “dis” is not a type-o). Bielenberg’s post-modern twist seems more applicable then the original in today’s world where even the top design schools are advising their students that “form follows passion” and rather than asking yourself what is good design ask yourself “do I like it”. I think do I like it still applies, but only after you follow the first tenant.
“The function is largely the challenge of a project. Addressing the function is what makes design good or bad. If you remove the function, you remove the foundation and in all likelihood you’ll end up with a really crappy building (interface or game). Even in fine art a piece will inevitably have it’s roots in reason. Many of the great artists of our day and of days long past have spent a large portion of their careers writing and lecturing on what these reasons are. Having a reason of some kind whether psychological, mathematical or what-ever, is largely what makes art legitimate. “I like it” would make for a pretty short or shallow career for even the most technically proficient of artists.”
That’s a great summary. I’ll just apply it to my next GUI or Character.
I find that if I try to study the tenants of those who came before us then I can come to a solution must faster and I can stand by my convictions. Also when the CEO or the programmer start to argue based on preference rather than whether it’s the best solution, I can just tell them, “form follows function, but yes I will change that button again.”
Apple stock surged yesterday about $14, or close to 6%. Per Marketwatch, this may be a (late?) reaction to the earnings report earlier in the week, where they handily beat analyst estimates.The highlights, from Seeking Alpha:
- Gross margins of 41.7%
- 5.3 Billion in revenue from the iPhone segment
- 8.75 million iPhones shipped this quarter, a growth rate of 141%
I just got asked to make a 2D platform game level. There are six different bad guys. There is a main character who can jump, run, slide, bounce on a bad guy’s head, climb stairs, and dodge bullets. The level is in a multi-screen world with the ultimate objective of trying to save a princess who is trapped in a castle.
They want clouds in the background and bushes on the ground. Sometimes the player can travel through pipes and sometimes the floor is replaced by lava. You’re only allowed to use 2 MB of texture memory for this whole level. There needs to be a GUI where the player will be able to see how many lives they have left, as well as a timer. We need this in a couple of weeks. Oh and it’s got to be beautiful.
Now when you see this list, there are two reactions from artists that I commonly see:
- No problem – They read the description and imagine a picture that they might draw and think, “Oh there is nothing to that.” They are forgetting that everything on the screen moves independently of each other and requires interaction with the environment.
- Holy Shit – They see all the requirements and immediately get overwhelmed by all the details and start to imagine a perfect world where everything fits just like in real life.
To me both these reactions are extreme and fail to consider “What is a video game”. For me as an artist, a video game is not the complete reconstruction of the real world. Nor is it completely abstract. Instead, it is a collection of symbols required to convey a message to the player that enhances his or her experience.
Remember, game-play is more important than art. If you understand this you will be free to breakdown the requirements into a practical solution.
The description I made at the beginning of the article is something that could have been used for Mario. Mario is a brilliant example of moving symbols that enhance game-play. He is made up of only three colors. Mario’s animation, while beautifully rendered, is very simple. The enemies are even simpler with often only their legs moving. Doors are pipes allow the artist to only use a squat animation instead of a fully framed opening a door sequence.
Now all of these art solutions were done based on the limitations of the system at the time. What is interesting is the iPhone and Flash platforms have similar limitations.
As an artist the question you need to ask is:
What is the easiest but most effective solution that will enhance the game-play for the player? You need to solve the game designer’s problem by being a visual designer.
Is it important for a game to look good? Absolutely! But you need to solve the visual game-play problem first. If the player is confused by what he or she sees then the game is failing.
So when asked to make a complicated game screen the first question I ask myself is “What is the symbolism of this game?”. Board games are great example of the successful use of symbols.
I’m going to assume most people are familiar with Monopoly. Green Houses and Red Hotels. They instantly tell all the players who land on that space what they can expect to pay the land owner. It’s an elegant solution.
As the graphics requirements continue to grow in games and the art gets more complicated, try to remember that your job is to create a visually stunning symbolic system of references. The question of how real it looks is secondary to how well it communicates.
Mike Grills, Director of Operations
Calgary, Alberta Canada. Estimated population: 1,230,248.
Number of game development companies: 2-3 (depending upon how you define “game”).
With a world renowned computer science department at the UofC as well as the Alberta College of Art and Design, how is this possible? It’s a question I struggle with every single day of my life. With a myriad of companies in Vancouver and Montreal, Bioware up in Edmonton and a spattering of devs across Ontario and even a few notable companies in the Maritimes, how is it possible that one of Canada’s larges cities is almost completely void of game developers?
There have been a few over the years that I’m aware of. I was even an employee at one of them. The problem is they always bite off more than they can chew, and when the going gets tough, good people move on. Some of us however don’t want to move on. Some of us have decided to root ourselves and our families here in Calgary and we’re not going anywhere.
After a couple years at Orbital Media followed by close to five years at GamesCafe, I now find myself at BigStack Studios. We’re making iPhone / iPod Touch games. The internal development side of BigStack is currently very, very small and is made up completely of people who are rooted in Calgary.
I feel an incredible amount of pressure to make BigStack a place that is associated with Calgary. I also feel like it’s certainly in part up to me to make BigStack a fantastic place at which talented people want to work at.
Are there any other people out there living and working in Little Big Cities? I’d love to hear from you.
Are there any other rooted Calgarians out there that want to or are struggling to make games? I’d love to hear from you as well.
Daniel Kratt, Senior Designer
I think that we can all agree that artists all tend to work a little differently from each other. Some sketch on a paper, some start painting right away. Some skip paper and go digitally as soon as possible. Tools are one thing… but what about how they think?
I became interested in trying to understand the differences in artist’s approach when I was noticing the sketchbooks of my colleagues. What I am talking about here is not style. While technique and approach often dictate style my real interest was how they quickly expressed a simple idea. I call these lines.
Let me introduce you to Mark Taro Holmes. My first Art Director back at Bioware. Check out his sketches. All lines. His initial reaction to a visual problem is to figure out where the lines go. He does it really really well.
Some people had really focused line work. Their first attempt at any problem was to try to place all the strokes and understand which ones were most relevant to the picture. Others had big bold shapes. Logical in their placement but the details were discovered instead of planned. I call these Blobs.
Another Colleague and Mentor Mike Sass uses the blob technique. This is a simple as it gets but man look how much info in a simple shape. Exciting stuff.
It took years but I finally realized that I work best using Blobs. In fact when I tried to use line as the opener to any art project I got very frustrated with the result and would give up very early in the project.
Once I recognized that I used shapes as signifier to express my ideas I was better prepared to make more comprehensive drawings for both my colleagues and my clients. This is because was no longer worried about bad line work I was instead thinking about best solutions.
I was speeding up, solving problems better and enjoying myself much more. I understood that the best method for showing my colleagues my intentions was based on shape and structure and I was able to take the concept to them, explain the idea as light and shape and not as lines. It also has allowed me to step back when my method of Concept development may not fit the project. This has happened a PNM a few times and I love the results of my line working friends.
Myron my animator was able to draw out the entire look of the TRZZ crib screen in a way that would have taken myself days. But when it came to coloring them and understanding the value system he had to hand it over to Luis who loves to solve that problem.
Luis never sketches a perfect line. Its a mess that creates a silhouette for him to analyse the details and lighting etc.
Knowing my initial approach has also saved me from the major pitfall where people would fall in love with a line drawing where the lines work was weak, the posing rushed, and composition almost unbearable. What I intended as a quick sketch to show intention quickly became the final solution. Arguments ensued. Or worse my colleagues get nervous about what I’m about to create because all they see is those out of wack lines.
Walk around your studio or in your sketch groups look at the various ways people sketch. Do they use blobs or lines? I think that if you understand that people solve problems differently you will be more open to learning how work out the lines or blobs in your own work. The great thing about this type of teamwork is that people learn off of each other and realize that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Which version are you? How do you see? How do the others in the studio sketch? Once you know you can empathize and give a better critique of their work base on their thinking process instead of yours.
This is a zany game that combines elements of time management and castle defense strategies in a way that is refreshingly unique.
Online market researcher Crowd Science did a survey that shows 39% of Blackberry users wanting an iPhone as their next smartphone purchase.
Conversely, 92% of iPhone users would stay loyal to the iPhone, and 87% of Android users would stick with Android. One of the biggest reasons cited is simply the fun factor of both the iPhone and Droid phones.
The party has just begun. As we’ve said before: This isn’t an OS war. Nobody cares what OS their phone runs on. (Well, maybe Android people do ). As a developer, I DO care that I don’t have to support and QA a myriad of hardware combinations with different control schemes, screen sizes, etc.
I ALSO care that I have payroll to make, and I need to be in a market that actually makes money.
Jon Lam, CEO
Poker Genius is one of the most addicting games we have in the lineup! Here’s the splash screen.