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The continuing adventures of Charlie Dog and his blog...
Charlied Dog Games Title
The kids are watching a program which purports to be an account of Australia’s involvement in WW1 but in my opinion glorifies in isolated individual acts of bravery whilst ignoring the gross political and ideological idiocy which led to the war in the first place. A war which cost over 16 million lives, which solved none of the geographic, economic or political, problems of the time, and which dovetailed neatly into WW2 which cost another 80 million lives almost half of whom where civilians. But, hey, lets all remember and celebrate the bravery of the single solider who caught hand grenades and threw them back at those evil Turks.
I’m not a pacifist and I’ve nothing against remembering brave men with respect but there needs to be some context to all of this otherwise it’s just jingoistic chest thumping and I don’t think any of those men who died are treated to the respect they deserve unless we remember why they had to do what they did and who was to blame.
Pushing too hard
Oh dear, it’s been such a long time since I posted. I’ve been busy with various things, not least of which are work, my family and study commitments. I promise I will have something playable up on my site soon. Just as soon as I can find time to sort out a few more bugs. Please be patient and come back soon to play something amazing.
I did see something amusing last week though. I am taking a course at the Australian National University, as part of my Masters Of Computing: Requirements Elicitation. This course is all about finding out what customers want and then making sure that the information is used to make systems which meet users requirements. It’s an enormously important subject, it turns out that most of the software projects which fail, fail because they don’t understand what the customer wants.
The door to the computer science building, where I attend the tutorials for the course, is clearly marked with a large sign saying “PUSH” but one must pull the door to enter the building! When I asked about this I was told that nearly all of the academics enter through the other entrance so are not aware of the problem with said sign. The irony appears lost on them
I presented a paper on Extreme Learning Machines at IFEST 2014
On Saturday IFEST 2014 was held in Canberra. It was a great little event. Some great indie games where on display including this one.
I did a talk on artificial intelligence and the slides and video of my talk should be up on the site soon. It’s a subject I’ve become very interested in over the passed few years, mainly because I have been studying it at ANU.
I wrote a thesis on the subject of Extreme Learning Machines as part of my Masters on the subject. The thesis covers the basics and some new ideas I have had. I think there is scope to use these techniques in games and hopefully over the coming months will have some projects to show for the work I have put in.
The picture shows the results of training an ELM machine with 25 nodes in the hidden layer, to recognize, a double spiral data set. The diagram demonstrates how results vary dependent on what is in the hidden layer. The code is C# and so should work in Unity once I have time to set it up.
How to get the skills required to find a job in the games industry
I recently got an email from a parent asking how their son might go about entering the games industry. I often meet parents who ask me the same thing at the college and school open days I attend on behalf of the AIE and CIT. I usually give them similar advise so I thought it would be good to put it up here as well.
Now your son is twelve I suggest the AIE holiday courses. They a good start I think. When he’s a bit older 15-16, then I’d suggest he starts on the cert II or cert III courses in programming. They are sold as programming courses but the programming is not too difficult and they do quite a bit of design and making games.
Really though the best advice I can give, and this is very dull I am afraid, is for him to work hard at school to get good maths and English language skills as those are essential for programming or design, maths not quite so much in the case of design but even then there is a tendency for designers to do more and more actual implementation. Then start making games in his spare time using any of resources available online these days.
There are quite a few good introductory game maker resources online. I recommend scratch as a start:
Good game spawn point did a cool little video tute which works through the basics and I went through with Joseph who enjoyed it, he’s a bit younger though but I still think it’s good:
Microsoft have Project Spark which is really good for making games and learning design but it’s XBox or Windows 8 only. AIE provides a holiday course specifically in teaching these skills. My son recently attended one of the holiday programs and he loved it. Although I think he still prefers Mine craft and a world creation tool
Once he gets more confident then you can’t really beat Unity3D as a good all round dev tool.
Finally I will say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my career in the games industry but it is a highly competitive place for people to work. The hours are long and it is stressful but the rewards for those who are good at it are enormous. The learning curve is very steep and most of the people who start in it don’t last long but if you work hard and are dedicated it will pay off in the long run.
Finally here is a link to a video where several of us teachers at the AIE discus the course structure. I’m about 50 seconds in…
For a change of pace here is a brief review of a game. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is sold as an open world exploration game.
At it’s core it’s a rather traditional adventure game in the spirit of Myst, Riven etc but it does have some interesting new mechanics, or ways of interpreting old mechanics and they work well. I like adventure games, I’ve played quite a few in my time but I find these days that my tolerance for obscure puzzles has lessened. This game isn’t too bad in that regard but you do need to have patience and have an eye for attention to detail in places to spot the clues. Games like this rely heavily on story and this one has a good story which I found quite interesting. I want to know how it ends anyway which is more than can be said for the last Zelda game I played.
In fact it’s not as open world as claimed, in places it’s quite linear, and bumping into invisible walls sometimes feels jarring, On the other hand when it is open world I tended to find it a bit frustrating, wandering rather aimlessly looking for a clue. It is a very beautiful game though and reminds me in many ways of Alan Wake in terms of environment and style.
Apparently the devs made use of 3D scans for quite a bit of the environment and if so the tech works very well and I think will become the norm for this type of product.
On a completely arbitrary scale of one to five I award this a game four. It loses a few points for a save system which is obscure and the way game play changes arbitrarily from open world to invisible walls to restrict movement. At $20 it’s very reasonably priced and provides good entertainment for a few nights but don’t expect to be playing it for weeks.
In summary I am enjoying this game. It’s about the right length of play for me and I’m pleased that I played it.
This morning it was warm enough for Victoria and I to eat Breakfast on the patio, the first time since the cold weather set in four months ago, and we commented that it will hopefully become our normal breakfasting location over the coming months. We had jackets on but by lunch time it was warm enough for shorts and a vest. We cleared all the old rubbish out of the garage and took a load to the local tip. In the back of the garage we found a rather expensive painting we bought in Perth. I hated it as soon as a I saw it on the wall in our old house and I couldn’t stand to have it on the wall here, partly because it’s not my taste but also because it brings back painful memories of the short time we spent over west.
Anyway the picture had been kept in the garage, still wrapped carefully for transit but rats had got into the packaging and started to destroy it. Burning was a reasonable thing to do I thought. It only took one match to get it going but as i watched it burn I became concerned that the wooden structure of the frame might not completely turn to ash and I spent a while poking around in the fire until the structure was completely unrecognizable. The corners concerned me most of all, the hard angles and reinforcing gussets of the frame seemed the most symbolic in some way. It’s all gone now, just a pile of ash. I probably sound a bit crazy but I feel better about it.
I have continued experimenting with the random cave generation system. After I’ve generated the basic cave layout I randomize the cave mesh to make it more realistic. Previously I used a combination of trig functions to move verts about based on their x,y,z. This worked but gave results which had a rather geometric property to them. It looks quite nice in places but I wanted something more organic. For sometime I’ve been meaning to experiment with Perlin Noise and a couple of days ago finally got around to adding a function and switching the caves over to use it when generating the meshes. The results are really encouraging and I think I will be using Perlin Noise a lot more in future.
Perlin noise is a rather computationally heavy algorithm though so I might try switching to Simplex Noise later. But performance isn’t too much of an issue at the moment and I could try a computate shader , which Unity now provides an API for if I need a big speedup. Alternatively I could put my heavy maths code into a C++ DLL if I really need to up the speed. Enclosed screen shots show what a difference it made compared to the earlier builds.
Also my friend Seb provided me with some nice rock models which I added in. They are randomly seeded into the level and orientated randomly. I’ve enabled SSAO in the build, which looks quite nice so I think I’ll keep it.
There are some really annoying bugs in the geometry builder though so I need to fix those before too much longer. But I’m now starting to think more about AI and path finding. More on that later…
The Cave Game
I’ve been working on a system to procedurally make an adventure game set in a cave system. Something like Spelunky but 3D. I’ve recently come back to it after a fairly long hiatus. Main thing I’ve done is tidy up the code which creates the layout and switch from using Strumpy to Shader Forge for the shader creation program. I use something called a triplanar shader with additional blend functions to texture the cave walls and intend to do a tutorial about it later. If you are going to try adding custom shaders to your Unity project then I recommend using Shader Forge, it’s pretty good IMO.
Here are some screen shots of what I am working on at the moment:
The HUD and weapons are completely place holder. The cave mesh and textures look reasonable now I think and the algorithm makes interesting levels. I’m going to spend some time adding more enemies to the game and try and get some game play in place. I’ll add a few movies over the coming months and then hopefully a playable web version before Christmas. It will be interesting to find out if there is any interest in the project.
Unreal Engine 4 – fail
I recently decided to give Unreal Engine 4 a go. I was interested to see if I could make a game using it. I was attracted by the very reasonable price, quality of games I’ve seen made with it and the claims that Epic make. I rapidly discovered that it’s not quite as good as I had been led to believe. There shouldn’t really be a surprise there. People rarely describe their products accurately these days in my experience.
There are some good things about this engine. If you are an artist or a designer who wants to make something playable without having to write any code then blueprint makes this possible. There material editor is excellent also.
Unfortunately if you are a proficient coder then blueprint is an ugly and clumsy interface to use. Worse is the fact that Epic have made blueprint all but impossible to avoid. So the programmer is faced with having to use ugly work arounds to avoid blueprint or having to try and use it. It’s not all bad but it’s not great either. Probably the deal breaker for me though is that when developing new bits of code the workflow is hideously broken. The editor needs to be stopped and restarted every time a class is changed. That’s incredibly poor compared to Unity. I can’t believe they still expect people to work this way, but that’s Epic for you.
It’s funny because it’s true
I read Penny Arcade fairly religiously and although they sometimes miss the mark there is usually more than enough gamey related goodness to keep me coming back.
Mondays comic was particularly good and I enclose a copy of it here to save you having to follow the link…
I have mixed feelings about my kids playing a lot of games. Part of me worries that it is so all consuming for them but I don’t see any evidence that they are suffering either mentally or physically. They are both getting really good grades at school (as in top of their class) they are reading books well above the level I was reading when I was their age, their maths skills are at least as good as mine were at the same age and they don’t have weight or health problems. In fact they have both decided they want swimming lessons again and are starting to get pretty serious about tennis. I think kids just need a bit of careful wrangling to get them into the right places, then they do the rest.
My son Joseph, who is nine, recently relayed this little gem to his mum. “Mum, at the sleep over Sam (name changed to protect his identity) said that he is really looking forward to his first wet dream, and I said I was really looking forward to getting nine million dollars from making my first computer game.” I couldn’t be more proud!