Oulu Game Lab Week 4

So it is time once more to give my weekly update of my experience here at Oulu Game Lab!

This weeks post shall be… Different. Full of spelling and punctuation errors and also short, due to my lack of a laptop, more on that later.

On the whole this week has been dedicated to preparation for our Gate 2 presentation next wednesday where we will be explaining our game concept to a number of game industry experts attending Game Spring Oulu.

The week has been plagued by rarely having a full team in to work on our project. Our programmer has been ill all week, our lead game designer was recovering from illness and our artist had a few days at an art workshop, so at times it has just been me and one other in on the project.

Despite this we have made decent progress on our concept, which culminated in a meeting with Global Lab Sendai. This meeting went well despite some delays in the PC version of the tehnology we need, and they seemed impressed with our concept which filled us with confidence. We also got to see the technology in action which has given us a better idea of how to implement it.

We had a few lectures during the week mostly regarding gate 2 and what we needed to know in preperation for it. We have one of the biggest projects so we ultimately have the most still to do, and to add to the turmoil of the week I am now unable to develop my side of the work further until monday as my laptop has broken.

I also discussed the possibility on continuing to aid the projects at Oulu Game Lab from the UK when I return there, and it sounds like that will be possible which will be Awesome!

So as you can imagine, your laptop dying in a foreign country 5 days before an important presentation is pretty much a nightmare scenario. I have ordered a new laptop online so that I could get it in english, but that will not be here for 3 weeks which sucks. So there is a good chance my updating of my blog will slow down for a few weeks.

Hopefully our elemental emotions game concept can make it through gate 2, which given all the trouble we have had over the last week and a half, and given the strength and depth of some of the other projects is looking like a increasingly difficult task. Either way, whether we get through or not, I have learnt a lot and it will give me more tools to utilise in the demo phase of Oulu Game Lab.

I have also decided, once my laptop arrives to start work on my own game concept on the side which is exciting for me.

Oulu Game Lab Week 3

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The third week of OGL Spring 2014 started off with us having  an exercise around teamwork and leadership. It was fascinating to take and introspective look at how we react to certain scenarios with in a team and also how to work with certain types of people. Ultimately it was an important thing for me to look at some of my strengths and weaknesses, and I am sure given my position my team in OGL.

Which brings me onto the second part of Monday, finding out who would be joining our team to work on our game concept. We had
Jukka Haltsonen who has an awesome beard and more years experience gaming then years I’ve been alive so he is a welcome addition to our team. He is trained as a programmer but really wanted to work on the game design so he will be the lead game designer for our game. The second person to join our team was Jenna Manninen who is mainly an artist and script writer for the game, she is also a fan of Dragon Age, which is awesome. After we had established our team roles, Jenna taking the lead artist and writer roles, Jukka taking the lead game designer role, Tuomas taking the role of lead programmer and myself being the producer for the team.

Tuesday we had a lecture about roles in game development which was useful and confirmed that it was a good decision to focus on that as early as we could. After that we decided to focus on establishing a clear team vision for the project in preparation for an interview with one of our tutors KP. The goal for the interview was to have the new members of the team explain to KP the idea of the game. I was really impressed with how much Jukka and Jenna had picked up already and they did a really good job of explaining the game to KP.

We spent Wednesday working on various aspects of our project, and discussing certain issues regarding the game and what direction to take. I’ve been helping out on the art and narrative side with Jenna a fair bit, whilst Jukka and Tuomas have been focussing on the game design and programming area. The end of the week was less productive given illness in the team and other school commitments for people on the team, however I am confident that we can put together a really good project to present April 2nd.

As producer I had a fascinating lecture on business models in the gaming industry, which was changed last minute to be in England given I cannot yet speak a word of Finnish. The lecture was given by a former Coventry University student which was awesome for me, and the lecture was just brilliant, I learned a lot of things and it taught me more about the nuances of working with a publisher and other business models. That afternoon we had another lecture on business models for the whole of OGL which presented a number of interesting things to consider, it was great to get involved in the lecture and discuss things with about the industry. I find it incredibly on a personal level that spending 24/7 focussed on the gaming industry for the last 3 weeks and I still have the burning desire to learn as much as possible about the industry is a positive sign for me.

Friday morning was spent learning more details about gate 2 and what would be expected of us and what we should prepare. Honestly I think that and the lecture in the afternoon were important as a producer to take a look at our project and recognise we need to cut back and focus on certain areas. Particularly seen as a few days before a game was released on steam which focussed around a similar RPG concept to our game, which has confirmed to us that there is a market for our game but forced us to reconsider certain decisions due to our lack of experience and resources.

This week I have also been trying to learn more of the basics about using Unity and some other resources that could be useful for the project. I have also been gaining incredibly respect for programmers now I am seeing their work in action, I would definitely struggle to do what they do and it makes me thankful to have 2 of them on our team.

So that’s all I can think of to write this week regarding OGL! It’s been another awesome week despite lots of people being off sick and all the snow, but I am really happy with my team and I get on really well with all of them. I hope we get through as it will suck not being in the same team as these guys. Once again thanks to everyone at OGL for their hard work, my room mate Dom for putting up with me, my team for being awesome and friendly people.

Thanks for reading and look out for my Week 4 update next Sunday!

Oulu Game Lab Week 2 – We Got Through!

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I shall keep this update short for both of us! (Mainly me given how exhausted I feel!)

Week 2 at OGL has been hectic to say the least as Tuomas and I pushed ourselves to have the best possible game proposal we could for the first gate where seven concepts would be cut. Needless to say we were desperate to not be one of those seven, and whilst we spent a lot of the second week going in circles regarding issues, such as what perspective did we want the game to be, I feel we both now have a better idea of what the game will be.

On Monday we had a lecture on pitching and presentations to help us prepare for our game concept proposal on Friday. I found this interested as I am someone who very much enjoys presenting ideas, and it helped me understand and become aware of some of the things I do wrong and where I can improve. It was also another great way to feel more comfortable with everyone as we were given a number of pitching exercises to try in groups.

During the week we also had a fascinating lecture on game tutorials which not only gave me a number of ideas for our concept but also helped me understand better a number of games and why I can become so quickly immersed in some games but not in others. We discussed how the first minutes in a game are essential in how to hook players especially for F2P games as they need to player to be in game to be making money.

Speaking of free to play, we had a really facilitating talk on the free to play model and what information and statistic could tell you about how a game is doing and what statistics to aim for. Afterwards I got to speak to the lecturer and ask him about getting into the industry. The one thing that continues to amaze me every time is how friendly people are here, there is no barrier between student and lecturer and as someone who has always preferred working away from the office/classroom I find myself genuinely happy to go into OGL every day.

Back to the week’s events. Friday arrived way quicker than I would have liked however I felt Tuomas and I had a good concept and stood a decent chance of getting through despite the lack of visuals to present. We were up fifth and I feel we did really well to get across our vision for the game. The feedback was mainly that we needed to get across a better idea of what the game play would entail, I feel this would have been clearer with more visuals but despite this we managed to squeeze into the top ten and find ourselves through to the next phase with 13 members of our class voting to be a part of our project, which was quite honestly humbling. Tomorrow we find out who will be on our project and I cannot wait to meet them and get their thoughts on the concept so far and get working right away to push the idea forward as far as possible and be the first game on the list to be through to the demo phase.

I cannot recall being more content or happy in my work then I am right now. I go home every evening wishing I had more hours in the day to work and long may that continue. I know where I want to be, and I am learning more every day about how to get there. In four months time it is all about making it happen; and I will.

So as this week closes I again want to thank my team mate Tuomas for being one of the coolest guys ever, Jussi Autio and everyone at OGL for being so friendly and teaching me new things about games every single day, and, totally not because he whined about not being mentioned last week, my room mate Dom Perry for putting up with my constant mood swings and only snoring when I did not want to sleep anyway.

Until next week guys!

Oulu Game Lab: The First Week + You Guys are Awesome!

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So has ended my first week at Oulu Game Lab in Finland, I would first of all like to thank everyone involved in OGL for making the the first week as smooth and comfortable a transition as possible. It is fair to say that living in a new country where you do not speak the language is not the easiest task, but it would have been considerably more difficult if not for the efforts of Jussi Autio the OGL director and everyone involved. I think also special thanks are in order for Tuomas Keranen who is my team mate for the first two weeks, he has been nothing short of awesome, and I could not have asked for a better partner for our project.

The first day was a introduction to what OGL would involve and getting to know everybody who would be participating. It was a fantastic way to let loose and put aside any nerves we may have had. We learnt how OGL would work with 3 gates to pass. We would be put into twos and threes to work on a game idea we were given and tasked to turn it into a concept which we would present. Half of the concepts would be cut and the teams would double in size. Gate two would be the same a month down the line where we would present our work and half of the projects would be cut and the teams would double in size once more. This would take us to gate three, however for myself this is where my OGL experience shall end due to needing to be back in the United Kingdom to finish my Product Design degree. The day finished in a game designed to get to know each other, it’s fair to say it was a lot of fun and we were all the better around each other for it.

The second day is where it really started. We first were put into our teams and given our projects. I won’t go into too much detail on our project online, but suffice to say it is a fantasy RPG which as anybody who knows me will tell you, is right up my street. I also was lucky enough be paired with Tuomas who is really awesome, and I’m certain we shall remain friends even after my departure from OGL. We also had lectures on ‘Creative Industries’ and ‘Concept Development’ both of which I feel I have learnt a lot from and have helped form our project.

The third day we had two more lectures focussed around game design, I was glad of the fact that I not only managed to keep up but also contribute. As I am relatively new to hardcore gaming I was very concerned I would struggle to keep up, it is easy to be a gaming expert amongst product designers but not so amongst lots of gamers so I am happy that I seem to get it just as much as other gamers here.

Thursday was a really important day for me, it answered a lot of questions I did not even know I had. We looked at roles in the games industry, now I had always seen myself as a game designer or artist and I feel both are still true, but the opportunity at being a game producer had never crossed my mind and I feel that is where I want to focus in more closely during my stay here. We also looked at game narrative, which is something I am very passionate about in games and is a reason that I am such a BioWare fan, but it still taught me stuff that I had previously assumed I was an expert on. That is the reason I am here though, and I would rather learn stuff and be put in my place then learn nothing at all.

The final day of the week we had another lecture about why to develop concepts that open up quickly, again this lecture gave me lots to think about and I can not remember feeling as much like I get what is being said before in lectures which for me is proving that this is the direction my career needs to head in.

So that was my first week at Oulu Game Lab, and I would say it has been nothing short of awesome, and has filled me with optimism not just for the next four months here but for my professional future also.

Finally a big thank you to all the staff and students at OGL, my family and friends with putting up with me lately. You guys are awesome!

The Problems with a Paragon/Renegade System, and What BioWare Should Use Instead

Let me begin by first stating, as anyone who knows me can attest to, I am a huge fan of the Mass Effect series and BioWare in general. But as a real fan I also believe I, and other fans, have a responsibility to give constructive feedback to help improve the series. The problem for lots of game developers is that they’re so close to the game that often they lose sight on the value or lack there of regarding certain mechanics; and today the mechanic I wish to bring up is the Paragon/Renegade system used in the Mass Effect series and why I feel the team at BioWare should adopt the similar but so much more effective friend/rivalry meter used in the Dragon Age series.

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The core issue with using the Paragon/Renegade system as it is in the Mass Effect games is that it channels the player down a path, and takes away the pure freedom the player has to make choices. To complete the game you either need to be a paragon or renegade, if you want to access certain content or scenarios you have to be fully renegade or fully paragon so that is what people do because there is no reward to choosing what you think. Think back have you ever wanted to make a dialogue choice in Mass Effect but gone back on it because you needed the extra paragon renegade points? Well I for one have, nearly every play through.

Now this is not to say the system is totally broken, it could be fixed in a number of ways, for one by getting rid of the meter itself so the player does not feel the pressure/influence of it affecting their game play. They get total freedom and they still will face consequences because of it if it becomes a background mechanic.

The other option could be to spread the current system to the companions and move it off of the protagonist, much like we have in Dragon Age. The Dragon Age system  has a personal friendship/rivalry meters for each companion is a far better system and makes each play through and character feel more unique to you. It also means your choices feel like they have real effects on the people in your party, rather than a hypothetical reputation meter that leads to a few major choices, the Dragon Age system makes every dialogue option feel significant.

What do you think about Mass Effect’s Paragon/Renegade system? How do you think it can be improved?

Also any feedback on my writing would be appreciated 🙂

The Games That Made Me Love ‘Gaming’

Every gamer has a certain few stand out games that will stay with them forever, the games that they hope every new game they buy will be as much of an impact on them. Here is my list of the video games that made me love to game.

Might and Magic VI: Mandate of Heaven

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Might and Magic VI is the first game I can clearly remember playing, and despite owning and regularly playing it for well over a decade, I have never completed it. This for me just shows how enjoyable the exploration and party creation is in the game. I was so disappointed when 3DO went out of business and the series was sold to Ubisoft (who haven’t treated it with respect in my opinion) I often try to think of what the gaming world would be like if the series had continued in it’s familiar format, whilst Might and Magic X is okay I still feel it doesn’t do the series the level of justice I feel it deserves.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

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The first time I played Oblivion, I was blown away by the beauty of the world, it felt like a modern, console, single character version of the Might and Magic series I adored so much. I have to this date poured thousands of hours into this game and none of them have been wasted. It is also the game that convinced me to buy a PlayStation 3 which inspired my explosion of interest in the gaming industry over the last few years. The Shivering Isles expansion is better than most full games and to me that goes to show what a superb game TES IV: Oblivion was and still is.

Dragon Age: Origins

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Dragon Age: Origins was the game that really got me thinking more about how games were made, the different approaches and philosophies there were in the creation of a game. The BioWare philosophy became one that I have grown to agree with to a great extent, DA:O was my first interaction with a BioWare product, and I was very impressed. It showed my how slightly more linear games weren’t necessarily a bad thing and with a competent developer allowed for some amazing RPG experiences when the illusion of choice was crafted so well. I love the writing and the freedom for my character to have an impact based on choices I made.

Assassin’s Creed 2

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I had played the first Assassin’s Creed and whilst I did not hate it, I also found it tedious at times, and found myself rushing to just get through the main story. Assassin’s Creed 2 however felt like such a well rounded game that it lead to my first 100%/Platinuming a game that I can remember. I loved the gamepay which felt fun enough to not be boring but also restrictive enough to make me try to be stealthy. I must have played this game atleast a dozen times and it never gets old. The renaissance setting was something I knew nothing about prior to this game, but because of the game I now wish I could go back and explore it myself.

For me this was the most definitive Assassin’s Creed game even if it’s not the best ‘game’ in the series (that goes to AC4).

Mass Effect 2

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Mass Effect 2 (if you don’t know  me in person) is probably my favourite ever video game. The game was a combination of everything I wanted in a video game and I could play it all day, every day quite happily. It is for me the best balanced of the trilogy with combat feeling smooth but not easy, conversations feeling important but not over used.

It’s a shame the game barely runs on my laptop, so it is impossible for me to play this for another 4 months, but I would recommend this game to anybody, it solidified my passion for BioWare games.

The Last of Us

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Naughty Dogs’ The Last of Us was a very special game for a number of reasons. The most obvious being that it successfully crafted and balanced everything video games were trying to be over the last generation. A dark, mature, cinematic, emotionally impact filled experience, and it did so without sacrificing game play; which has been the trap many games have fallen into over the last 8 years.

The Last of Us was as ‘perfect’ a game as I have ever played (if there is such a thing) and is a game that everybody should experience. The heart wrenching moments held together with an undercurrent of hope stemming from the growing father/daughter relationship that is forming between Ellie and Joel and the feeling that both are starting to heal from the traumatic experiences in there past; only for… you’ll have to play the game for more, I don’t want to spoil it 😉

So what about you? what games made you love being a gamer?