AltDevConf Education – Heather Decker Davis

Original Author: Luke Dicken

Today I’m really pleased to properly introduce you to another of our speakers for the Education track of the AltDevConf: Heather Decker-Davis.

Heather is someone you might already know from coverage of the conference, as she is co-chair of the Education track alongside me. She has also recently been appointed as chair of the conference itself. Heather is a lecturer in Game Development, an MFA candidate at the Savannah College of Art and Design, a director for IGDA Chicago and is currently working behind-the-scenes on an upcoming release in the “Game Development Essentials” series of textbooks.

Heather’s session is titled “More Than Software and Theory”, and covers the kinds of activities that educators can try to get their students involved in, in order to make them truly part of the wider development community. She will talk about the values that we should be trying to impart as we bring through the next generation of game development talent. As someone currently straddling the gap between faculty and student life, and with a long track record of volunteerism across all aspects of the industry, Heather is ideally suited to discuss these issues. Here’s an excerpt in her own words of what you can expect:

Game development-specific curriculum is still relatively young, and it’s no secret that individual programs often vary wildly. Most programs cover essential software, and many  include basic fundamentals and theory, but that still leaves some critical areas unaddressed. My goal is to give educators some food for thought on additional skills and values they should actively seek to instil in their pupils.

In short, it is not enough to simply mill through a list of the top software programs, programming languages, or theories. We must prepare future developers for team-based commerical development environments by encouraging productive attitudes and practices.

Heather is just one of the great speakers we have lined up for you as part of AltDevConf. We’re now counting down the days until everything starts on February 11th. We really hope you’ll join us! http://altdevconf.com

AltDevConf Programming – Sam Martin

Original Author: Colin Barré-Brisebois

As we keep unveiling our list of featured speakers, allow me to introduce you to Sam Martin, another speaker of the Programming Track. His talk: “Real Time Area Lighting – Now and Next”.

Sam is presently Head of Technology at Geomerics where he works on Enlighten, mostly doing a mix of R&D and contemplating future developments. There he fell in love with lighting as he nurtured their real time radiosity SDK from its conception. In a previous relationship with computational geometry he developed the navigation system behind Lionhead’s Black & White 2 – a tale he may put on paper some day. There was also a fling with Lionhead’s early core tech team, and he doesn’t forget the good old times he had with Intrepid and Kuju London. His relationship with patterns and algorithms is going strong, but the temptations of drumming in samba bands and Cambridge beers have been known to lead him astray.

His talk provides a review of real time shadowing algorithms suitable for soft and area lights sources, and a practical demonstration of real time shadows from rectangular area lights using “back propagation”. The review will focus on  strengths/weaknesses of the most relevant techniques, including techniques that are on the cusp of becoming practical, and describe why several techniques should be reconsidered. To highlight this, the implementation of real time area lights using a variation of the “back propagation” technique to compute realistic soft shadowing with GPU compute will be presented. He will also show its viability through a demonstration of the technique running in a third party game engine.

Sam is just one of the speakers we’ll be introducing during the next few days leading to the conference. You can read more about the program we are putting together at AltDevConf.org and remember to clear your schedule February 11th/12th to come join us!

What Makes You “Tick” #3?

Original Author: David Czarnecki

In my previous “What Makes You ‘Tick’” posts, I’ve written about “thinking” at the keyboard and my audio OCD, but what about playing video games? Do I have any quirks when playing video games? You bet I do!

I’m just going to cut to the chase here and present my “notes” when playing BioShock. You can find the original at its Flickr photo page.

“I took meticulous (bordering on insanity) notes during BioShock. This is the final sheet and I got to the point where each save was described by a set of acronyms as to what transpired since the last save.

GMS = Got more stuff

HS = Hacked safe

DBD! = Defeated Big Daddy

HVM = Hacked vending machine

KS = Killed splicers (when I was in an area where I had killed quite a few)

GG = Gatherer’s Garden

BHVM = Before hacking vending machine (I was low on auto hack tools)

BMS = Bought more stuff

HT = Hacked turret”

There were 7 other pages (front and back) of save game notes like above. I’ll be in Gamers Anonymous meetings for awhile 😉

Do you have any quirks when playing video games? What makes YOU “tick”? You can find more hilarity over on my Twitter account, @CzarneckiD.

Usability Evaluation for Video Games (Part 3): Psychophysiological Measures

Original Author: Georgios Christou

Hello, and welcome to this third and final part of a series on Usability Evaluation for Video Games. In the first part of this series (here) I talked about the necessity to have a framework upon which to base our understanding of player actions. In the second part (here) I gave some examples and ideas on how to use different types of formal usability evaluation methods, to gauge how usable our games are. In this third part, I will talk about some more exotic methods of usability evaluation. These methods, are just now starting to become affordable by the masses, because the technology that is required to perform them used to be extremely expensive. However, as all things technology, the tools’ prices are starting to fall, with a few tools out there that are actually in the affordable range, even by hobbyists. The measures that I will present here are all grouped under the name “psychophysiological measures”.

Psychophysiological Measures

So what are these things?These measures receive input from various places of the human body. Usually, measures that fall under this category are eye-tracking, pupilometry, electroencephalography (EEG), electromyography (EKG), and galvanic skin response (GSR). To understand these, I will present each measure together with its related technology, and what that technology actually measures.

Eye Tracking

Eye Tracker

Being There?

Original Author: Deano

The vast majority of the games our industry make are virtual. Computer software that transports us to other worlds shown to us via a video screen and controlled via clever little gadgets. And yet we develop them and limit them with physical limitations, for most people (the 80-90% who are able bodied) this is often seen as a good thing but what about the disabled community?

I’ve been disabled for the last few decades and have done degrees, played thousands of games, got a job and worked my way up to senior positions all whilst being disabled, due to my vocation from a very young age to make video games. The only requirements I knew were being that I can operate a keyboard and mouse enough of the time to transfer the stuff in my brain into a game.

However the last few years have started to show real issues to me with our industry due to a culture that excludes many disabled people. From devices like the Kinect or Wii fitness to the promotion of the idea that people have to develop physically together, we are driving away many valuable minds that are ideally suited to making games. Whilst doing that we are also throwing away some of the 10-20% market share of people who are less able to play games requiring explicit physical features.

Whats the problem?

Whilst I doubt a post on AltDevBlogADay is going to convince Microsoft that Kinect only games are a bad idea, I hope that by exploring some of the real problems I have as a disabled game developer to this audience, they might at least make able bodied developers think.

For me personally (and I know in general for a lot of people in the disabled community), the biggest issue is the “Being there” problem, whilst we make virtual worlds and situations, we have an extreme bias as an industry towards physical proximity in the production of games. Most companies insist you work in the office, often moving desks so people who work together are close together, brain storm and important meetings are done with everybody in a room. Its a system thats been shown to work and most people don’t need to think whether its required or could be improved on, until that very proximity becomes problem which for many developer never occurs and so they think its the only option.

Being There

Within the last few years, my health has deteriorated to the point that even using mobility aids (like crutches or a wheelchair) I simply cannot get to places at specific time easily. I’m effectively housebound, as an example at the time of writing (end of January 2012) I’ve been outside my house twice this year, both times to get Dental treatment. I have to work around my health, which may mean doing work at odd hours, when the problems have dimmed enough to work at my best. However my ability to do what I love (making games) has gone up since I became house bound, as all those normal things have gone away leaving me the time to take my skills to a level I never had 5 years ago. Effectively I’m just a brain connected to the net (I’m always there even when I shut down into myself due to pain etc.), I’d like to think I have a very capable brain (hopefully proved over the titles I’ve worked on) but the ability to get the studio everyday or attend a conference is out of the question.

But hey we work in a digital always connected world, so that wouldn’t cause any problems, would it?

Well it does, and to be honest, theres great doubts in my mind if I’ll be able to work in the AAA industry any more going forward, even as my abilities and skills in making games are going up, the use of them outside my own space has become harder. Its not just a matter of things like being able to work from home (which is of course a necessary start) but the willingness of the various parts of the job to incorporate a non physical entity. When you look under the veneer of respectability and minimum required by various equality rules, you quickly see how we assume ‘normal’ physical presence.

Its Game Jam 2012 weekend, great idea with support from IGDA and big sponsors, so be an ideal fun experience for everyone who want to make a game right? Erm so whats this about site and attendance? Ah yes thats right, clearly being able to physically get particular places at certain times is a requirement for someone to make a virtual game!

Game developer conferences requires attendance and having been to one when I was a bit fitter, I can tell you it not easy even when you can walk on crutches and attend, let alone if you can’t physically attend.

Job interviews are typically in person…

In an age of HiDef video cameras, even motor controlled, when was the last brain storm meetings you attended that was truly set up for a virtual presence?

Instant Messages and video conferences means that someone not there is instantly contactable, just as easy as shouting across the office but having teams in close proximity is usually high up the production list, so much that its no uncommon for desks to be moved as projects change.

Why?

A simple answer is physical presence is easy. Most managers, producers and senior people are able bodied and can give you examples where getting everyone in a room solves a problem quickly. They can easily tell whose pulling there weight if they walk past there screen every now and again. Conferences know that can get the right atmosphere, with everyone there in person, its a known easy solution that works for most of the people who make the decisions.

Indeed only recently has technology advanced to the point that we can have virtual conferences, that we can talk (by text or voice) to someone half a world away as easily as next to us. And even now these cost money, and require a concerted effort to do. From making sure the video conferences and net connections are working well enough, to security and VPN access issues, it requires a real buy in from the top to the bottom to accept a virtual staff member as a full member of the team. The current norm, is that if there is any support for virtual presence, it will be as a second class citizen. Doing odd-jobs or restricted interaction with the proper staff members who are on-site. Usually you will be expected to be glad that your even treated as a second class citizen, because at least you’re been allowed to work from home or watch conference materials at a later date.

Its important to get this clear, we are talking about people who have equal skills to make games but are just stopped from doing that to there full ability based on things completely separate from those skills. And hopefully most people reading will understand that, that is no difference from not being promoted due to your colour or paid equally because of your sex, we need to embrace everybody who has the talent to do the job. Perhaps a good example, is that most companies and most conferences are hostile to someone like Professor Stephen Hawkings, and yet would anyone not like to have some with the quality of his mind on there team?

I don’t know how many disabled game developers there are, I’ve never seen any statistics, but I suspect its a lot lower than the 10-20% of the population who are considered disabled. As it seems unlikely that we will get anytime soon, to a point where a disabled developer who suffers from these problems gets up the the levels required to make changes, it will be upto the entire community of both able and disabled developers to make it possible to build an environment where all the skill to make games is the quality of someones mind not the quality of there health.

 

What happened to innovative games?

Original Author: Tyler York

 

NimbleBit feels that Zynga shamelessly ripped them off with their new Dream Heights game

Indie developer Nimblebit gamers on Reddit criticizing the company.

However, just after the new year, Atari ordered the removal of Black Powder Media’s a game strongly inspired by Atari’s Battlezone. This galvanized the community in a similar way, except this time, gamers were furious that Atari shut down an indie game company that made an extremely similar game.

Unfortunately, the line between inspiration and copying is incredibly blurry at best. The one thing that’s certain is that copying is here to stay. Copying has been present in some form since the dawn of capitalism (if you need proof, just go to the toothpaste isle of your local supermarket). The game industry is no stranger to this trend: game companies have been copying each other for years. Given it’s repeated success, there’s little reason to think that this practice will stop. Indie flash game studio XGEN Studios posted a response to Nimblebit, showing that their hit games were also copied:

Some would even argue that the incredibly successful iOS game borrow many of their game mechanics from slot machines to increase retention. So what is copying, or more importantly, which parts of it are moral and immoral? Everyone seems to have a different answer, but it’s safe to say that people always copy the most successful ideas. The one thing that those in the Zynga-Nimblebit conversation seems to have overlooked is that everyone copies others in some way.

Imitation is not necessarily a bad thing as long as you make the idea your own

 

Of course, while “watch, then replicate” model shows that marketing, analytics, and operations can improve on an existing game concept. Or just give them the firepower to beat out the original game, depending on how you look at it.

I want to hear your thoughts: Should game companies be encouraged or punished for taking the best ideas from other games? Where do you draw the line between inspiration and duplication? Sound off in the comments.

Team Audio: Emotion Designers

Original Author: Ariel Gross

I think our current titles might be throwing people off. Sound designer, audio designer, audio artist… they just don’t convey the underlying purpose of what we do, which is make people feel something. People want to feel something, and Team Audio is gonna give it to them. We’re gonna hit ‘em with the nostalgic song, the sounds of laughter and people in love, and then we’re going to drop an explosion, then horrified screams, then coughing and weeping and debris and confusion. It’s what we do. If you have an awesome Team Audio at your side, then your games will make people laugh harder than they can remember, or make them feel like they’ve just injected hot adrenaline into the pits of their stomachs, and maybe, just maybe, you can wrench a tear from their eyes.

I’m not saying we’re the only ones, by the way. I can feel something by looking at a painting. I saw a painting by Delecroix once that chilled me to the bone. And a majestic sunset doesn’t need sounds to make me feel something, but I will say that adding a soft “I love you” in my ear to that sunset will turn my legs into cooked spaghetti. I also don’t need the sound on to feel the exhilaration of speeding down an alley in a muscle car, but when I hear the engine tearing the air around me to shreds, I’m probably gonna crap my pants. Emotionally, that is. An emotional pant-crapping.

Anyway, I fully acknowledge that when we work together across all disciplines, that’s when the magic happens.

Team Audios out there, we are emotion designers, and we can sing this glorious news to everyone. Fortunately, a lot of our colleagues recognize this already and want to exploit it, which takes some of the work off our own shoulders. These are the people that involve us early to talk to us about pacing and tone and emotion. They want to hear what we’re working on, and they provide feedback about how the sounds and music make them feel.

And then there are the ones that haven’t put their finger on it, or they might be completely oblivious to the idea. They’re not bad people, though. Just like people who don’t listen to music a lot aren’t bad people. They’re not! Most of the time these people just need to hear it said plainly, “we’re emotion designers,” and then they have a catharsis, and you have to hold them for hours and hours while they blabber through their tears and snot.

I’m sure there are also those crusty audio vets out there, the ones that have allowed the relentless onslaught of late timing changes and object impacts and mouth noises harden their hearts, and when they read this their smirks become just a little more permanent, and I’m at peace with that. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind, or to be so far from creative sound design on a daily basis that it’s painful. I know what that feels like, and some people let it get the best of them, but I’m trying to stay soft and to remind myself why I care about sound and why I’ve devoted so much of my life towards this line of work. It’s because I like to feel things when playing games, and I like to make other people feel things when they’re playing.

So, I’m just going to keep reminding people that Team Audio is here to make the player feel something, and that we’re good at it, and that we want to talk about it. I’m going to say it to everyone, even strangers walking down the street. I’m going to grab them by their lapels and get two inches from their faces and mutter under my breath, “we are emotion designers.” Because even though we have tons of assets to churn through and meetings to attend and e-mails to read and bugs to fix, I think we should strive to keep our heads above the muck and remember that we have the opportunity to give someone a feeling that can stick with them after they’ve turned off the game. And that’s amazing.


A functional definition of Beauty

Original Author: Julien Delavennat

[Edit: check the comments]

I’ve been holding off posting for about two months because I either didn’t have time to post, or I didn’t feel my posts were solid enough.

Now that both those problems have been fixed, here’s my new post about beauty.

In my last post about open-mindedness I hinted at the importance of the comfort zone, and I’m going to talk about it in this post, amongst other things.

I’ve also promised a post on education, and a post on game design. Both are coming, and will be pretty nice as far as I know, but they’ll come later.

So, a functional definition of beauty, and how it relates to the audience’s comfort zone.

But let’s start with ugliness. Ugliness is a subjective characteristic attributed to some things by an observer, based on whether these things match or don’t match certain criteria: a thing is judged ugly by a certain standard or set of standards. What the criteria are isn’t important since they can change over time. What’s important is that we judge things by association. The fundamental idea of ugliness vs beauty exists for a reason, i.e. it is a heuristic used to assess whether something is good for us or not, based on what we already know. The things that look like good stuff we already know probably are things that are good for us. The same goes for ugliness: what looks like bothersome stuff probably is bothersome stuff. We treat ugliness like a problem that needs to be solved. A few solutions include keeping away from ugliness, keeping ugliness away, destroying ugliness or changing it into something else.

Now what about beauty. I think beauty can be achieved through three axes: clarity, positive evocation, and familiarity. Which all revolve around the same thing, i.e. the comfort zone. We accept beautiful things into our comfort zone, or more probably, we consider the things in our comfort zone to be beautiful. What isn’t in our comfort zone but looks like things in our comfort zone will be accepted in it more easily, and will therefore also be considered beautiful. Put more simply, “good for us”<=>”beautiful” and “unknown”<=>”cannot be accepted into the comfort zone” (One does not simply walk into the comfort zone).

Clarity or simplicity is an important aspect of beauty: if something isn’t familiar to us, but is a good thing and needs to be seen as such, the faster the people realize that thing is good for them, the smaller the chance they will run away from it. If something is excessively complicated and obscure, it will take longer to see beauty through all the irrelevant stuff. If something can be instantly recognized as good for us, we won’t run away. If it takes too long to identify something as “good”, the greater the chance of us mistaking it for either something “bad” or “background noise”. Basically, Clarity is the speed at which we can familiarize ourselves with something.

Positive Evocation is basically how things that aren’t in our comfort zone get accepted inside it by looking like stuff that is already in it. If a new thing reminds us of something good we already know, we’ll associate this new thing with the one we already know and accept it in our comfort zone. Basically, remind people of things they like (positive evocation) in a non-ambiguous way, and people will love what you do (note: I said we should do that. I didn’t say that there isn’t anything else to do. Because there is).

We learn how to appreciate things iteratively. We like A. We don’t know B but it looks like A. So we’ll accept B. Then there’s C, which looks like B. Since we have accepted B, we’ll also accept C. Do notice that we wouldn’t have accepted C if we had come across it without having come across B previously.

Example: why do heavily-stereotyped movies sell more than intricate works of art ? Well, because people are simple-minded (I said simple-minded, not stupid: kids are simple-minded, and whoever doesn’t get educated, stays a kid), and prefer watching things they already know they will like after watching the trailer. Note: There’s something else going on here, I’ll talk about rationalization and why critics find badly stereotyped things terrible in a later post.

Still: we gravitate towards beauty. We also gravitate towards familiar things. Well, because they are both the same for us: we can only like things that match our criteria of what beauty consists of. Except, we could ask ourselves, can “Beauty” change our current standards, maybe in a “love at first sight” way ? I wouldn’t say “change” as much as “rearranging our existing criteria regarding one another”. For example, we might not have considered combining trait A and trait B, but the result is really nice.

Example: why we should introduce art to people progressively. People have to be able to relate to the artworks. They have to understand what is beautiful about the artworks. If your audience isn’t used to certain things, they won’t be able to accept them as easily. The thing here is, there isn’t really a clear difference between “familiar” and “unfamiliar”. Everything is more or less familiar, has different traits, some of which resemble things we know, while others are new to us. Take music genres for example. Most people have at least listened to Rock at least a few times, and probably like it. Well, Metal is somewhat related to Rock, since the same instruments are used. But someone who listens to Rock doesn’t necessarily listen to or even like Metal, because, well, obviously it isn’t Rock. But if you listen to Punk Rock or Melodic Metalcore, you might have a hard time differentiating them in certain cases. That’s because they have common traits. As far as I know, to appreciate something new, you just need to see it as a further variation of something you already know and understand.

Example: why are people xenophobic ? Because we do not know what foreigners might do differently from us. “Foreign people -> maybe there are some unknown differences -> we can’t accept them for sure -> we need to keep away from them”. That’s the xenophobic line of thinking at least. The problem here is unfamiliarity and suspicion: we don’t want to take risks. We need to study the risks from far away (but not too far, we need to still be able to observe what they do). Keeping away but keeping an eye on something is called familiarization. Even in the first second of coming across something familiar but unexpected, our brain will freeze during the time it is analyzing this thing, before finally determining there’s nothing to worry about. We just want to keep away from ugliness :].

To conclude: Beauty is subjective, and people need keys to unlock the beauty in things they’re not familiar with yet. You could say that the comfort zone is like a key holder. And the different keys on it are the criteria from the standards used by people to assess the beauty of things.

The ability to look for beauty in everything is called open-mindedness. I’ve talked about that last time.

The speed at which the beauty of something can be unlocked is called clarity and simplicity. We find beauty faster in things that evoke things we already like.

So take away these three axes – Beauty is:

-Clarity

-Positive Evocation

-Familiarity

Well, everything went better than expected n___n

I wasn’t certain to manage to write this post without sounding too pedantic or vague.

Anyway, thanks for reading, have a nice day/evening :D.

See you next time n____n

Growing Game Animation – State Changes and Pathing

Original Author: Mike Jungbluth

Character animation in games can not rely solely on the methods used in film. Creating emotionally engaging and empathetic characters in a video game doesn’t stop when you finalize the animation. If you want to fully apply the 12 principles of animation into your game, you need to be aware of how and when your animations are being used by both the game and the player. State changes and pathing are two important in-game applications of animation that have the power to either strengthen or destroy the personality, intent and objectives of a character.

State Changes

A state change is when a character changes from one set of animations to another by some sort of trigger. These are most often used in combat to change from the standing idle and suite of animations to the combat idle and the attack suite of animations. In this case, the trigger is either a button press by the player or some form of combat engagement of the NPC. This then plays a transitional animation of the character drawing their weapon or putting up their dukes. Pretty standard fare that is built out of necessity and function more so than personality.  Certainly the personality of a character can be reflected in their combat state (proud, aggressive, timid, etc) but it is when state changes are applied to other triggers that a real life and awareness can be breathed into a character. State changes give characters a purpose and outline a goal or objective they intend to overcome and that is what drives the entirety of life.

With state changes, characters take on the appearance of having senses. Which explains why sound and vision are two of the most common triggers outside of combat. Sound triggers are activated when the player makes a certain amount of noise within a certain distance from an NPC. Vision triggers most often happen as  a cone of sight in front of an NPC. If you wanted, a smell trigger could function in the same way as either or a combination of both if you want REAL odor physics. Obviously touch and taste are much closer to combat, needing a prompted, physical trigger.

Sound is certainly a staple trigger in stealth games. Nothing makes a cat and mouse game come alive more so then when an NPC reacts to a sound and enters an alerted state. Sight of course follows the same function, be it moving through the vision cone of an enemy as you slide between cover or leaving an unconscious enemy out in the open to be found. I can’t think of any stealth games that use smell and odor, though the amount of trash bins, barrels and sewers the player hides in, one would think the stench could be a factor. As silly as that sounds, hunters use all manners of scent blockers and odorless soaps to camouflage themselves, so it could certainly be added and tracked. In a stealth game that is all about the player using all their senses to hunt their enemies, giving some of those senses to those being hunted is a powerful piece of player/game connectivity.

Giving a character a sort of sixth sense would be done by proximity triggers. This is when the player enters into the personal radius of an NPC. It could be the same as their sound radius, but instead of noise triggering the state change, just crossing into the volume would trigger it. When you encounter a Big Daddy in Bioshock, dutifully following a Little Sister, the moment you step within a certain proximity of them, the Daddy has a state change. He stops and menacingly turns towards you, like a mother bear, letting you know if you get any closer there will be repercussions. Such a small, simple moment, but incredibly powerful. The trigger matches the personality and purpose of the character. The goal of the Big Daddy takes on a specific objective with this state change, from just generally protecting their Little Sister, to now protecting them from you.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword uses a proximity trigger in a wonderful way as well. There is a marketplace vendor in the Skyloft Bazaar that excitedly jumps up and down as you approach his stand. Seeing him get so excited at the prospect of you buying his goods adds a sense of life anyone with retail experience can relate to. But the added spice was when you walk away, and he instantly deflates and turns his back as he walks away utterly destroyed that you didn’t buy anything. With only a couple of animations and a proximity/visual trigger, that NPC became more empathetic than a lot of main characters. While the animations are fun, it is the trigger and state change that makes him come alive by allowing him to wear his heart on his sleeve.

Obviously transitional animations play a big part in these state changes, as those are the moments that the NPC is having the actual change of emotion or thought process, but if those transitional animations aren’t set to an appropriate state change, the illusion of life can break down quickly.

Pathing

You can create the most amazing walk or run cycle, full of personality and weight, but if the character walks in an entirely linear and uninteresting path, it will all have been for not. Pathing is something most animators never pay much attention to, as its implementation happens by any number of designers or programmers throughout various levels and can change at the drop of a hat. In fact, focusing on specific pathing of a character in every instance would be an incredibly large undertaking. But something far more manageable is thinking about HOW a character will path when you deliver the suite of animations. How a successful General of an army walks from place to place is going to be different from the drafted recruit freshly thrust into a war. The General may very well walk from destination to destination without stopping. But a new recruit will very often stop to look around or slow down/speed up depending on what is around.

Pathing is also a great way to add some awareness and appropriate traits to animals and creatures. Watch how a spider walks. Not just the cycle of their legs, but how they path. They will walk for a bit, then stop. Often for a significant amount of time. Then they will just take off in another direction. Stop for a brief moment, then continue on. This staccato movement is as significant towards creating a fully realized spider as how the animation looks. A complex animation matrix of turns, stops and starts aren’t even necessary. All you would need is to inform the designer that places the pathing throughout the level that long, linear paths is out of character.

What if we add state changes into the pathing? Adding in points of interest or interactables certainly add work to the plate of everyone involved, but they are also powerful additions towards creating interesting and appropriate pathing options. If throughout a level each AI has one or two objects that can grab their interest, you can use those as triggers for a state change when placed throughout the AI’s path. This gives the character a little bit of business in the world, making them feel like they are there for more then just the player’s use.

Let’s use a rabid canine walking across a wasteland as a test case for all of these pathing options. Or a hoped up rabbit that loves the smell of poppies in the spring if you want something a little more light-hearted. In both cases, their movement is certainly going to be erratic, so pathing that uses sudden directional changes would be best. Now let’s say there are random animal carcasses littered across the landscape or poppy patches in the case of the rabbit. Whenever one of these objects is inside of the path of our furry friend, the object triggers a state change that has the elated mammal jump into the middle of it all, rolling around like a pig in filth. With this, a myriad of player possibilities take place. The player could run or engage while it is distracted. When being chased, the player could lure the creature away by putting one of these objects between them. As a designer, you could even tag these objects with a buff that emboldens the creature after it has satiated its desire.

Layering animations is also a powerful tool when it comes to pathing. In life, a person doesn’t just go from one action to another, completely finishing one before moving onto the next. Imagine you are walking towards a door that is slightly ajar. You wouldn’t walk up to it, stop, push it open and then walk through. You would do that all as one continuous motion. Giving moments like that to a character is what makes them seem aware. Layers are a way to achieve this. Adding in a look at control to those objects of interest helps to show a character is interested in something without breaking their flow. Uncharted 3 uses layers to have Drake’s hand reach out and touch a wall as he passes by, helping to cement him in the world. It also fits his personality that as someone who is always tripping and falling down that he would want to continually balance himself against a solid object. This also requires IK on the arms, so it is most likely too tech expensive to be used on NPC’s, but it is something to think about it.

As you can see, the added benefit of thinking about pathing as it relates to characters is that it varies the gameplay as well. And if that pathing truly matches the intent and personality of the character, it shouldn’t be dissonant with their design. In a stealth game, those varied paths make each class of character a unique experience from one another. In a game where you try to control the amount of enemies you take on at one time, this variable keeps you on your toes as to when and where to engage in a play space. Pathing, and the elements and obstacles you place within that path, are what define a character’s place in the world and how the player perceives it.

Animation Doesn’t Stop At Export 

Just like film animators follow their shots throughout the pipeline, making sure everything matches the performance laid out, we need to follow our animations throughout the game. If you apply all the thought and energy you instilled into the character into their implementation, you will find game animation can create as memorable characters as any film.

A Candid Chat

Original Author: Andrew Meade

I present to you four different people in the game industry that intend to represent LGBT issues in this piece. From indie devs, to AAA studios, to mobile software, these guys and gals have decided to open up to us, and share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Our panel of developers:

Kate Craig is an environmental artist in Mobile Game Development.

Alex Benevento has studied games and interactivity at University, and is currently a Mobile Software Developer.

Dakko Dakko Ltd. He has also worked at Lionhead Studios (Fable), Q-Games (StarFox Command, PixelJunk Series), and many others. 

Robert Yang is an MFA student at Parsons the New School for Design, where he studies game design and makes indie games.

 

Andrew: Are you “out” to your co-workers, or is it more “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”?

Kate: My coworkers know, and didn’t so much as bat an eyelash when they met my girlfriend. So far, Vancouver has been really lovely in that capacity.

Alex: Completely open. There wasn’t a time where I hid it from my employer or coworkers.  My partner is openly invited to all company get-togethers.  It’s a non-issue here.

Rhodri: It’s completely open, although it rarely comes up.

 

Andrew: Have you ever felt persecuted or treated differently by your peers (Industry, LGBT, Friends, Etc)?

Kate: Never persecuted, but there was a time a dev told me that since we’d met, I’d changed the way he viewed the gay community in a positive way. I think I was a little caught off guard at the time. It’s an intimidating prospect to think you may accidentally be representing an entire group of people in some situations.

Alex: Not really, no. I can’t remember anyone taking issue with me. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Perhaps the reason is that my lifestyle isn’t like any LGBT stereotypes portrayed by media. I like some sports; I’m a developer, so I’m a bit geeky, I like going out occasionally and having a drink or two – just normal, boring stuff. My lifestyle isn’t connected to my sexuality, if that makes sense. The fact that I’m partnered to a man has no bearing on how I conduct myself.

Rhodri: Thankfully, no. I can honestly and happily say that wherever I have worked, I have never received anything but respect or indifference towards my gayness, both of which are fine by me!

Robert: If by peers, you mean fellow LGBTQ people – not me, personally, but many LGBTQ people discriminate against each other all the time. Bisexual people are told they need to “pick a team”, trans people get ignored or mocked, and a large segment of gay men actively discriminate against more feminine, flamboyant gay men.

Jim Sterling’s response to your original article is a symptom of that last problem – the idea that the best gay character would be someone who isn’t gay.

LGBTQ people might call this an act of “erasure” – in this case it’s an attempt to devalue a type of person by insisting they’re a stereotype and not “real”, but the muscle queen dancing in a sparking Speedo dancing on top of a pink convertible is just as authentic and real of a person as the gay lumberjack with a gun collection. Nathan Drake wouldn’t be the “best gay game character ever”, he would just be one more of several gay characters, and to value an ordinary “performance of gayness” over another is a weird form of discrimination that’s sadly perpetuated by a lot of gay people too. Gay is gay.

 

Andrew: From where I’m standing, it doesn’t seem like there are many LGBT developers. Is that just my perspective, or is there a truth to that?

Kate: I’m honestly not sure. I’ve met and played with a number of gamers that identify as gay, but when it comes to game developers, I run into far fewer that I’m aware of.

Alex: I’m not sure if that’s quite accurate. I’d say there wouldn’t be too many LGBT devs who are out. I imagine a substantial number of them work for larger companies, and a harsh reality is that, depending on location and despite antidiscrimination laws, devs in the closet remain so in fear of losing opportunities at work or being singled out.

Rhodri: In my experience, LGBT game developers are quite common. I think the appeal of gaming is fairly universal, so the games industry (in the UK and Japan at least) attracts gay developers fairly in proportion with the gay population.

Robert: I’ve been told that there is actually a fair amount, but how can you ever really know? People aren’t out at work for a variety of reasons – maybe they prefer to keep their personal life personal, maybe they see nothing to gain, maybe they’re out to close co-workers but not to HR/other departments, maybe they’re still sorting their identity out – there are a lot of maybes. In that way, no matter which industry or studio you are with, the reluctance to come out is always justified.

 

Andrew: I guess a better way to ask that question would be to ask if the game industry was welcoming and tolerant.

Kate: In some ways I feel like the industry has something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation going on with regards to tolerance.

During work, conventions, and industry events, everyone I’ve met has been nothing but supportive and open. When the topic is brought up in online articles or on forums, however, it can take an ugly turn, even when the subject is being discussed by those in the industry. Comment sections on sites like Gamasutra (and games journalism sites that aren’t strictly developer resources) are sometimes difficult to read, and the same arguments tend to show up again and again.

When it’s good, it’s amazing. When it’s bad, it can be pretty upsetting.

Alex: The people I studied alongside at University were one of the most varied groups possible. One trait that ran among them was tolerance and acceptance: no one ever really passed judgment on anyone else for any reason. There was a real sense of camaraderie.  As for those currently working at games studios, the people I’ve met have exhibited similar traits, though I haven’t had the opportunity to work with them.

Rhodri: I have always found it to be so. In my first job (testing at EA Bullfrog), when I was just out of University, I was a little concerned about the reaction I would get from the other testers. However, contrary to my expectations, everyone was thoroughly supportive and welcoming – I didn’t get any trouble for it at all. Since that first job, I’ve been “out” wherever I’ve worked. I’ve had many gay co-workers throughout the years, most of them as open about it as I have been.

Robert: I can’t speak for the core of the industry, other than passing on some informed hearsay, but I’d say that the machine that surrounds and supports the game industry (academics, mobile games, social games, serious games, indies, marketing) are all pretty welcoming. If the game industry isn’t tolerant, then it’s probably going to get suffocated by all the LGBT people working around it anyway.

 

Andrew: Well let’s get to the meat of why we’re here. The jury has been out when it comes to responsibility. Do you feel like the industry has a social responsibility to make LGBT friendly characters and games more common?

Kate: Responsibility may imply a sense of obligation, and if these scenarios show up more in games, I’d like it to be because devs and players are genuinely interested in exploring them. More interpersonal stories in general is something I’d love to see, and if LGBT relationships are among them, then that’s all the better.

Alex: Yes, in a sense. Anyone who plays games, reads books, or watches films, want to feel represented in some way. They want to relate to the media they’re experiencing.  While I don’t remember ever questioning why there weren’t any LGBT characters or themes in the games I played growing up, I have no doubt I got the feeling that something was missing across all the media I consumed. Books, films, TV, and games: whenever romance was involved, it was boy-meets-girl, etc. The closest I got was having my male Sims marry.

Now, that said, it does no good shoehorning LGBT characters into games just to be politically correct, and the same goes for LGBT scenarios and themes. As with any part of the game’s narrative, everything should have its place. I remember some controversy over Resident Evil 5 being set in Africa; with protagonist Chris Redfield gunning down crowds of infected natives. It was deemed racist to have a white man killing infected black people, but wouldn’t it have been worse if they’d made everyone white to match Chris? Imagine releasing a game set in Africa, where everyone you meet is white: it doesn’t make sense, and does more harm than good. Similarly, contriving LGBT scenarios as a means to make people feel included is going about it the wrong way.

Rhodri: I feel the industry has a responsibility not to reinforce potentially negative stereotypes, certainly. It’s important not to isolate gay kids who might be struggling with self-image. During development of Fable there was a debate about the inclusion of same-sex relationships, as it was technically easy enough to include. I was perhaps the only voice to speak out against including the same-sex relationships, because I felt they would be tacky and (in the end I feel quite correctly) embarrassingly stereotyped. The audio recorded for the “wedding night” was so awkward I recall feeling like I should have fought harder to have the feature turned off.

Aside from the potential negative effects of dated stereotyping, I haven’t ever really considered it as particularly relevant to games. Of course as some branches of the games industry become more involved with storytelling, then there is a place for gay characters just as in any media, but I would focus our responsibility more on not misrepresenting, than actively representing “for the sake of it”.

Robert: In general, yes, though I think the industry has a larger ethical obligation as a powerful broadcast medium/Hollywood-like culture factory, to try to do good and avoid exploiting players. However, I object to the way that the television industry has turned gayness into a mediocre brand strategy. I wouldn’t want something terrible like a game industry equivalent of GLAAD, counting occurrences of LGBT characters to assign grades to TV networks – it privileges quantity over quality. If a game sucks, a gay character isn’t going to salvage it! I just want a good game with a well-written character, which is hard to do, so I appreciate studios like BioWare investing so much into such characters.

 

Andrew: As an LGBT dev, do you feel like you have the power to initiate change? Furthermore, if you could, would you want to?

Kate: Small change, absolutely. I’d like to be able to initiate change on a grander scale eventually, but for now I’m just approaching things one at a time.

Alex: This is tricky. Game developers and designers possess the awesome power of storytelling. Converting someone’s ignorance into understanding could be just one well-written story delivered in the right way. Games are unique among storytelling media because of the interactivity they offer. Players are often able to connect with the characters on a much deeper level because they’re interacting with them directly, not just watching a story unfold in a film. If you connect with a character, you are much more likely to care about them: their problems become more real, and solving those problems can involve a player overcoming their own prejudices and obstacles. More importantly, the player wants to solve these problems. This is where the real power is.

Given that power, I would definitely have a stab at initiating change. As I said, storytelling is a great power, and game designers and developers have the skills and the technology at their disposal to get their message across. While that sort of power bears considerable responsibility, it’s worth it to get your message across to even a handful of players.

Rhodri: I only have experience of the UK and Japanese games industry, but in both cases it has been unnecessary for me to consider the need to initiate any changes regarding my sexuality. The only time I ever really got into a work-life related campaign for change was to adjust the work hours at one studio, so that the straight staff could go home to see their newborn kids more often.

Robert: As a satellite orbiting the actual industry, I get to speak from a privileged position that involves games, but without any of the nightmare crunches or NDAs or bans on personal blogs and interviews. I get to be a “public face” of games, even if that face is pretty small and limited as an indie academic. But for the younger gay people who can’t identify with the gay culture perpetuated by Glee or Project Runway (not that there’s anything wrong with those!), I feel that I have to try to be “visible,” to let them know that gay people can love annihilating hordes of zombies too. I think the most powerful way for me to achieve that is to simply exist, be present, and make and discuss games.

 

Andrew: What do you feel needs to happen for LGBT rights to be promoted through games?

Kate: The best possible promotion I can think of would be a great game in and of itself. Unfortunately, it’s almost something of a catch-22; a thoughtful, character driven game that touches on some of the dynamics or conflicts unique to an LGBT narrative might be persuasive in terms of opening the door for future games, but that game has to be made in the first place.

Similarly, a tactfully handled protagonist could go a long way. Just as Jade from Beyond Good and Evil or Elena from the Uncharted series are often mentioned as well written female characters; a gay character with depth that isn’t based on stereotypes would be a strong (and very welcome) start.

Alex: I don’t feel that LGBT rights need to be promoted as such. Just as it’s annoying to be hounded in the streets by people trying to force pamphlets into your hand and an agenda down your throat, I don’t think parading LGBT themes and rights in games is the right way to go.

Here’s the biggest problem: in promoting LGBT rights, the intended message is: “We’re the same as everyone else, and we need you to respect that”, but the act of promoting it says, “We’re different enough to point it out, and we need you to respect that.”

Media and content producers need to realize that not all LGBT characters are identical.  Gay men fight for their country, so why not include some gay soldiers in war games? I read a comment on an article somewhere suggesting that, instead of explicitly pointing out “this man is gay” by employing the use of stereotypes (fashion, mannerisms, speech; you know what I’m talking about), a more appropriate and respectful way to include a gay character could be a soldier who is seen looking wistfully at a photo of the man he left behind. It’s not in your face, racy or explicit, nor does it go out of its way to push an agenda: it’s just a regular guy in a terrible situation, experiencing the same thing as every other guy around him. And that’s the message that needs to get through.

The approach needs to be realizing that being LGBT doesn’t mean having an LGBT personality or lifestyle.  LGBT people have the same varied personalities, problems and lifestyles as other people. Sexual orientation and gender identity don’t define these things, and games, as well as other media, should learn to respect this.

Rhodri: I believe if people have the confidence and courage to speak up for themselves, their colleagues will respect them. I feel I should have spoken up more loudly about the issue with Fable’s overly “fey” characterization of homosexuality, but on the other hand I should be open to the possibility that I was over-reacting and many people enjoyed and felt included by that feature.

Robert: If by games, you mean commercial video games made for console and PC, then I think the hardcore audience needs to expand to include players who will demand and pay for such content. Right now, we’re a minority. But the only way to expand the player base is to make daring games to attract more people. So, in short, LGBTQ-inclusive games need to get made, in order for more LGBTQ games to get made.

 

Andrew: Finally, what do you have to say, as words of inspiration, for the budding young LGBT game devs of the world? 

Kate: As I’ve only been a part of the industry for a short while, I don’t feel like I’m in a position where I can offer much in the way of inspiration just yet. In some ways, I actually feel like I am that young dev, so by all means, if anyone has any words of inspiration I’m totally down.

Alex: You are not your sexuality, nor does your sexuality define or dictate your success. The games industry is already tough enough to work in, so concentrate on being the best damn game dev you can.

Rhodri: I hope that this interview has shown that in my experience it is already a welcoming industry. Gaming and computing both attract all sorts, and most of the studios I know have a great mix of people from a huge variety of backgrounds, all pulling together due to their passion for gaming. Go, develop, and meet lovely new people along the way.

Robert: If you’re afraid, don’t be. You’re not alone and you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. That said, don’t let video games convince you that locked doors are invincible; they’re not, and they’re really fun to kick down. In the meantime, make lots of games and collaborate.

Note: This interview was formed from email correspondence between the devs and myself. Replies have been edited for grammar, spelling, and clarity.