World War I Trench Project: Post-Mortem

General / 07 December 2018

My original draft of this Post-Mortem was a mess. I was tired, the train was loud, and I had just finished doing some tweaks for a GameTextures Gift Guide that I hope will make it out by the end of the week. Needless to say, this post-mortem was awful.

Today, as I start my new draft, I’m rested and ready to rock. I have mixed feelings about this project for sure, I feel that I didn’t completely hit the quality bar I wanted to when I set out to create my trenches, but now that I’m a bit more rested and relaxed, I can see the forest and the trees. The most important thing about this project is that I got it done and learned what I can manage on my commute.

Let’s get into it.

Project Overview: Trench Kit

This project was based on a class assignment I gave my students at Drexel University during the Spring Quarter of 2018. I wanted them to be challenged by something out of left field and I didn’t want to keep shoving variations on a still life down their throats. So, I created this assignment.

It was a huge hit

After I finished the critique and grading period, I wanted to do a version of The Trench as well. My goal was to turn this into a kit of parts that could be sold on Sketchfab. With all of the different storefronts that exist, I wanted to keep a narrow focus and selected Sketchfab to be my storefront of choice, mostly due to expected time constraints related to starting my current job. I took the blockout I did for my students, added to it, and began work on my trench kit.

By the end of the project, I had created 5 FBX ‘prefabs’ that I could ‘jam’ together in an engine. There was a lot that didn’t turn out the way I had intended, but instead of restarting the project like I would have in the past, I pushed through and finished it. This was a start to finish with no re-work project.

I’ve lightly modified my storefront plans due to how the project turned out; I’ll host my models on Artstation and SketchFab with my Substance files (SBSAR and SBS) being made available as well, but the terrain pieces will not be made available as they just don’t work as intended and realistically, wouldn’t be used in most games like this anyway..

This was also the first project I completed using my laptop on my commute. Only a handful of render stills were captured while I was home (still on the laptop). This was a great lesson in working within a limited daily time frame in a less than ideal setting.

This project wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, but it provided a lot of valuable insights into how I need to handle projects moving forward. I learned a few new things along the way too.

What Went Right

Working on my Commute

I bought my laptop specifically to use to work on my commute. The first two months or so after I started work at DreamLine, I spent my commutes trying to write on my old Galaxy Tab 3 or playing my Playstation Vita. While that was all well and good, I couldn’t find time to work on my own projects. My time constraints during the week were too great, and I am basically shut down on the weekends. My weekday starts at 4:30 AM with lifting and ends at 9:30 or 10:00 PM. This is a 16+ hour day, and between my job and my art I probably work 12-13 hours of a given day, so I need the weekends to relax. A laptop was the only way I was going to find time to work on projects during the week.

This has proven to be a huge success. There are challenges involved with trying to make art on a train, but the fact that I am able to is a huge win overall. Clawing back 2 hours a day for me to work has been invaluable to my happiness.

My Substance Workflow

They might not be perfect (ok, they aren’t), but I’m getting the hang of making complex Substances and doing fully featured integrations with Painter. I wanted to make everything myself for this project and I did, with the barbed wire and the corrugated metal being the only exceptions. Having limited time means I needed to work smart and using the Substance Workflow I did was key.

Once I made my Substances in Designer (one of the more time consuming aspects of this project), I moved them over into Substance Painter using the SBSAR format. Thanks to some of the work I have doing at DreamLine, I stated exposing parameters too (although later in the project). With a mix of exposed parameters, an easy re-import process, and a few custom masks made from exported maps, I was able to quickly and easily texture the majority of my assets. This also furthered my goals of using both programs more and has left me feeling more confident in my usage of the core Substance tool kit. I think my overall material work was a high point of this project, even if the individual materials could use improvement. Never underestimate visual consistency.

Alternatives

When I started, I initially set out to use Sketchfab as my main platform of choice for everything. I don’t often connect to the internet on my commute (I like to save cash when I can) and when I do, I don’t like to upload files. So, to check the quality and validity of my work, I would import it to Marmoset Toolbag 3.

Once I started using Toolbag, I didn’t stop. With it’s bevy of rendering features (Who DOESN’T love VXGI) and ease of use, I decided to adopt it as my primary renderer and to only upload a single, chosen trench prefab to SketchFab. I think this turned out great, as my renders from Toolbag look pretty dope all things considered. Sketchfab has some limitations that Toolbag doesn’t, and although using the full set of rendering features on my laptop killed my battery on my commutes, It was well worth it.

My other big “alternative” was my adoption of Krita. I have been a Photoshop user my entire life, but with my Laptop and goals to cut costs personally and professionally, I needed some sort of alternative. When I stopped to think about my workflow, it became pretty clear that having the full set of Photoshop bells and whistles was useless-Substance handles most of my needs there. But for image editing and some resizing, I needed SOMETHING.

Arvin Villapando, one of the early staffers of GameTextures, suggested Krita. He has a love of using early, free, or beta software and he was a big fan of Krita. I decided to use it for this project and I very much enjoyed it (and 4.1.5 has a nice face lift too). It does pretty much everything Photoshop does in regards to my type of art, just in a slightly different way (and for much less money).

What Went Wrong

Land of Terrain Confusion

Generally speaking, this wouldn’t be an issue. In Unreal, Unity, or other game engines where I would have more control over materials, I would build a material that had different blending options I could control, and blend a number of tiling textures. Even if I chose to use kit parts as they are, it would have worked fine.

As far as I know, Sketchfab would not have supported this, and Marmoset was equally limited (at least out of the box). I made the choice to uniquely unwrap my little terrain models and texture them individually in Painter. This would have made them more appealing overall because I could blend between different materials.

It worked…but…it didn’t make for a production ready asset. No one should realistically use my terrain models as is, and even less so with their 4K texture sets. Plus, the models don’t truly snap because I sculpted each terrain mesh in Zbrush. They connect OK, but the mesh separation is pretty obvious and without more blending via models or a Decal set, it just doesn’t look right.

I usually consider terrain work a strength of mine as it was modeled in the fire of hand modeling it for Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Shadow of The Colossus (though to a lesser degree). In this case, it was one of the weaker aspects of my project.

Not Keeping it Small

Compared to the other projects I’ve done, this really was pretty small. That doesn’t mean I handled it properly. Instead of keeping it to a small, single diorama piece, I expanded it to a mini environment with multiple shots. This took away from other work I could have done (more assets to really sell the trench) to make for a stronger, more focused piece. This is an inverse of the trap that many artists fall into, where you have a grand idea that is *hopefully* cut down to a manageable project. I made the opposite mistake and I believe it takes away from what I delivered.

Working on My Commute

While being able to work on my commute is great, there are many aspects of it that caused issues. There isn’t a lot to expand on here so I’m going to present it in an outline format.

  • A few times during the week I was too exhausted to work.
  • I lost two…TWO! Intous Pro Pen 2’s.
  • My tablet has an odd bluetooth issue where tracking gets poor pretty quickly only to be fixed by moving the pen away from the tablet. Apparently this is a Train Only Feature.
  • An inability to get into and maintain ‘flow’ for more than 30 minutes.
  • I’m limited to a single 1080P screen, which makes checking reference cumbersome.
  • When the train goes fast (usually in the evenings) I often have to stop until it slows due to jerkiness.
  • Zbrush performance is mixed because it won’t switch over to my Nvidia GPU.
  • I’m often a bit cramped.

Moving forward with the lessons learned

With the project complete, although not quite as I imagined it, I’m left with many lessons to take into my projects in 2019, which will be a pretty big year in terms of changes to my core software choices. But I’ll leave that for my 2018 wrap up.

I need to work on significantly smaller art projects moving forward. While my laptop has proven invaluable to getting work done on the train, the limited time frame and my long days in conjunction with being on a train means that I am prone to burnout, exhaustion, and frustration. Projects with long time horizons, foreseen or not, do not work in that setting.   

As long as this commute is the norm, I would expect to see me output more singular props or Substance Material Spheres than fully featured environments or even dioramas. Fully featured asset packs are likely out too, as the time required to properly set them up and make them live on stores is more time I don’t have. I still have to do that for this project but I am burnt toast with a lot more on my plate still.

I need to make SBSAR’s the cornerstone of my workflow. I didn’t properly get into SBSAR’s until towards the end of this project. They will save me a boat load of time AND be infinitely re-usable as I build a personal library of materials. I know that using GameTextures or Substance Share can properly help me make assets faster, but I love building out materials in Designer and having a solid understanding of the tool will make me significantly more employable in the future.

Marmoset 3.05 is here to stay. I love Unreal, but I’ll be using it for other experiments right now since I use it at work. Marmoset does exactly what I need to display my work in a timely manner. I know it’s capable of more than I used it for this time around too and I can’t wait to dig into it a bit more.

Pushing this project through was the right choice. Sometimes game developers push a game out before it’s done. Schedules, time, and money can get in the way of taking that extra time to polish up a project and make it truly perfect. It’s up to the developers to figure out what the best course of action is in those situations. Do you delay and eat the cost at the expense of team morale and potential payments? Do you ship, hoping to update the project enough that it’ll be respectable quickly? Do you say “here it is, we’re done” and move on to something new and better?

I made a bad call with how the terrain was handled, but for once in my personal 3D Artist life I pushed through and just banged the work out. It’s flawed but it severed a bigger purpose to me. It proved that working on the train CAN WORK and I can continue to push my skills to their limits.

-Dan

Giving Thanks and a little Reflection: Thanksgiving 2018

General / 23 November 2018

I love Thanksgiving as a holiday. I kind of prefer to to Christmas. As a kid, my Christmases always seemed to be hit or miss. One year we’d have decent gifts or go to South Carolina to celebrate with my grandparents. The next, we’d have really crappy gifts because my parents had to save for things that were more important, or just didn’t have the cash. But Thanksgiving? Food was always there. Family (and occasionally friends) were always around. It was the one holiday I was always happy to come home from Purdue for.

As an adult, I haven’t spent as much time with my family for Thanksgiving as I’d like. Mostly due to geography and the cost of traversing it, I find other ways to enjoy the holiday. Once I started dating Kelsey, I spent most Thanksgivings with her family. Before that, I would spend it with friends (and occasionally at the closest IHOP). Last year, I got the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with my immediate family, my Uncle Carlo and aunt Linda, Kelsey, and my future brother in law at a large lakeside house in South Carolina thanks to AirBnB and the remnants of my grandfathers estate. My grandfather, Charles, passed away early last year and this was to be something of a ‘goodbye’…we used the last of his estate money (he died with a large number of debts so most of the cash went to that) to fund a fun time for the family-something he would have been all about. It was amazing, much like most of my 2017 (Bluepoint was awesome, I saw Metallica in a huge Stadium in Philly, I made a lot of money, etc).

2018 has been a year of give and take, and Thanksgiving is no exception. I have not had a bad year by any means, but it hasn’t been ideal. That is a bit how this Thanksgiving feels to me. It is absolutely not bad! But it’s not what I consider my ideal holiday and it correlates a bit with how 2018 hasn’t been an ideal year.

  • I got engaged to Kelsey, and we’re getting married next year. I am very excited!
  • I think I fully came into my own as a professor.
  • My freelance work was slow most of 2018 until I found a Chinese VR client.
  • Unfortunately that VR client and I had…issues (sorry can’t really recount all of that here). I got what I was owed in the end, but it took A LOT of work and some unintended reactions.
  • The stress and pain of that situation, in addition to the prospect of taking too much at Drexel pushed me to find full time work.
  • Which I DID! I’m an employee now!
  • But that job requires a 90 minute commute one way via public transit, and isn’t in my ideal industry.
  • But I did find time to do art on the commute on my Laptop!
  • Which did cost me another $1200 bucks. Definitely worth it though.
  • Kelsey and I got a puppy! Summer is the best.
  • But she requires a lot of work since she is smart and high energy. This is both good and bad depending on how tired I am.

2018 is a year of give and take and take and give. Everything good is balanced by something that isn’t ideal. Which brings me Thanksgiving 2018.

I am having it here in Philly by myself, with Summer. This is directly due to needing to save up vacation days to use on my upcoming honeymoon because Dreamline, where I work, isn’t terribly forward thinking with how they deal with vacation. If this wasn’t the case, I’d be in Allentown with Kelsey’s family right now more than likely, or with my dad in Indiana as my mom is working this Thanksgiving. See, more give and take no matter what. Welcome to 2018.

While it might sound like I’m bitching, I’m really not. The way this year and this holiday has worked out is just another step in building character and becoming a better, stronger, version of myself. I have a lot to be thankful for and even more things to be thankful for in the future. Today will be relaxing, filled with food (I wanted to cook today), and a good day of some light self reflection. It’s a bit difficult to reflect like that when you’re surrounded with loved ones.

What I am thankful for t’day.

  • Kelsey. She has enriched my life in many ways, and in many ways I never imagined. I never thought the life I have now and the life I have to look forward to would be reality. This isn’t what I saw for myself at 24…but 24 year old Dan didn’t know what he’d be missing out on. Love you babe.
  • The Creative Team at Dreamline. I’m not close with a lot of them, but they are entertaining as hell. Add to that my boss (he’s chill most of the time) and they help make what would be a little bit of a more plain job have some character.
  • Kelsey again for backing me up on purchasing my laptop. It’s made my commute and thus my life 10x better. I now spend 2(ish) hours a day during the week doing 3D on the train. It’s been one of the best purchases I’ve made.
  • The Gametextures team. I’m glad I know y’all.
  • All of my game industry buddies. I’ll be back in form or another…
  • My co-best men, Tom Sandquist and my brother Andrew. Two sides of similar coins (Tom knows life and responsibility while my brother is a headstrong artist like I once was and still am in some respects), I am more and more glad daily that I picked the two of them to be my best men.
  • Honorable, fun mentions: DBZ Abridged, Madden 2017, the amazing games that came out this year I managed to play (Spider-Man and God of War), Rocket League (but also NOT), Sony for making the PSVita all those years ago, anyone who funds indie devs (you may hear from me in the future), Eli Manning, Epic Games (except for that whole Paragon closing thing), and Deschutes Brewery for more or less sponsoring my Thanksgiving Meal by having your beer (mostly) easy to find in Philly.

Sometimes at 4AM, I am frustrated by life. But I have a lot to be thankful for when it’s not 4AM.

Happy Thanksgiving no matter where you are.

Daniel Rose.

 

 

 

Resistance: Burning Skies

General / 05 November 2018

Bad Game, Good Teacher

All images captured from my Pixel on a train or at my desk as Burning Skies does not allow for screenshots. 

Prior to purchasing my laptop, I would play about an hour or two of my Vita a day on my commute. It’s a great little machine and it’s one of my distractions during long travel times. I vary games based on my mood. Recently, I had been in the mood to shoot monsters in the face. I picked up a used copy of Resistance: Burning Skies on a whim in Austin, TX last year and had it sitting on my shelf. I was aware of its reputation when I started playing and was prepared for the worst.

Let’s get this straight before I dive into the meat of the blog; while I had mostly a good time playing the game, Resistance: Burning Skies is not a good game. It has a few redeeming qualities, including fun core mechanics, but the overall package is almost (but not quite) as bad as advertised. Having said that, Burning Skies is also an incredible teaching tool that deserves attention.

Let’s set the stage for Resistance: Burning Skies.

PART I: BUSINESS AND DEVELOPMENT

A brief overview of developing on unreleased evolving platforms

In 2010, I got my first job at Sony Bend. I was the last contact artist hired on to work on Uncharted: Golden Abyss. I have many fond memories of working on the game and I’ll probably always have rose colored glasses when it comes to that studio.

Golden Abyss was a launch title for the Vita. When I started, only a few of the team members had dev kits. Sony was in the process of finalizing the hardware and form factor of the Vita and didn’t have enough dev kits to hand to everyone. In fact, the first dev kit the studio had was nothing more than a motherboard like PCB in a clear glass or plastic case. Most of the team was actually using PS3 dev kits and estimates of what the Vita was capable of during the early months of development.

We were pretty close on those estimates actually.

This was likely the case at many studios working on Vita games at the time. Bend was working on the flagship title and likely got hardware early, but even about 8 months out from the Japanese release, most of us still had dev kits that weren’t final. Often, we’d need Frank or Chris to verify everything looked correct color wise. This was because most dev kits were using cheap TFT or LCD panels until closer to the final Vita release. There are shots out there of Vita Dev kits that look like the PSP Go. During the time when Sony was working on the form factor, this was being considered and was why we had them. These kids came with cheap screens. However, Frank, the acting Art Director, and Chris Reese, one of the studio owners and a lead engineer, had close to final hardware with the final screen technology; the glorious AMOLED screen that the Vita would be known for. Colors often looked different on their hardware so we needed to check with them often.

This was just one of the issues that came up working on our launch title, and we were Sony first party. Nihilistic, the developer behind Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Black Ops DeClassified was a hired gun with (likely) a smaller budget. I would wager that any issues we had, they had worse.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss came out to mostly positive reviews and is still one of the best looking games on the platform. Resistance: Burning Skies came out to mixed to poor reviews and looks like a PSP game at points. Why the disparity in quality?

Time and Money: Nihilistic Software pulls double duty

While not released at the same time, both of Nihilistic’s Vita games (Resistance and Call of Duty) came out pretty close to one another (5/29/2012 and 11/13/2012). It’s pretty clear that both games were being developed at the same time. Games take a long time to make, AAA titles even more so. Even the big studios that handle multiple projects at once need more time than 6 months to release entire games. Portable games usually require a bit less development time, but but the schedule Nihilistic had to have been on while making both titles would have made it nearly impossible for them to succeed with both.

In a sense, they didn’t. Resistance has the core of a good game in it and a Metacritic of 60. Call of Duty had a score of 33 and by most accounts is horrid.

I haven’t played Call of Duty Vita yet.

Why would a studio try to take on so much work? Money. How do I know? I’ve done it myself through a practice I like to call “Stacking Clients”

Stacking Clients is the practice of taking on two or more client projects at the same time. This is a common practice for freelancers, contractors, and work for hire studios. You stack clients for a variety of reasons. Some clients can only offer a fixed amount of work a week, and if you have enough additional time, you can add another client. Other times, client schedules create a gap where you can add additional clients and work around the gaps. Money is also a motivating factor. If your income is falling short of what you expected for a given period of time (or you’re poor and grasping for any work), you’ll attempt to stack clients in order to maximize your cash flow.

Stacking Clients can be very effective, but you must be careful as it can also lead to failure and burned bridges.

I have always had some sort of client stacking as a freelancer. But in mid to late 2014 I took it overboard by trying to work with 4 clients at once. It did not go as well as I would have liked. I was working for 4 clients simultaneously: Iron Belly, Motion Logic, Hangman Digital, and Polydigital SE. In addition, I was working on an art test for Boss Key Productions. This led to a number of issues:

  • My work with IronBelly suffered the most. There were more issues than just the client stacking, but I wasn’t able to sufficiently devote my time to really matching the vision that the art leads on the project I was working on were looking for. It became an issue and my relationship with Iron Belly suffered. While we didn’t end on bad terms, I only occasionally worked with them again.
  • My Boss Key art test was rushed and not great. I learned a lot while doing it, but it wasn’t something I was able to do properly with that client load.
    • Even so, I’m not sure I would have been able to pass the test anyway.
  • I was burnt out with Hangman Digital and tired of being paid slowly by them. Luckily this was my last month of work for them.
  • My work for Motion Logic wasn’t the best I had done for them but it got the job done.

When stacking clients like that, it’s often best to sub-contract. Unfortunately for me at the time, I needed all of that cash for myself. It’s a bit trickier to subcontract as a sole proprietor, and having to separate myself from 30% of my income or more at that time was not an option.

Warning: Pure Conjecture Ahead

Everything I’m about to say in this section is 100% guess work. I did not ask anyone who formerly worked at Nihilistic about what happened during the development of their Vita games. I am not a journalist. This is my hypothesis based on my personal experience as both a developer on a AAA Vita game as well as a Freelancer who took contracts to pay the bills.

*Clears Throat*

It is my personal belief that Nihilistic and Sony agreed on a set budget to develop Resistance: Burning Skies before they ever agreed to work on Call of Duty. As development wore on, Nihilistic probably underbid the actual cost of the game to win the contract and needed more money. After the impressive NGP demo in early 2011, Activision was probably looking for takers on a Call of Duty port. Nihilistic, needing a cash infusion and likely not having any luck re-negotiating with Sony (remember, at this time the global economy was poor and Sony was hurting pretty bad) stepped in and bid for Call of Duty and got their cash infusion.

Unfortunately, this means they had two games to deliver in a very tight time frame: Early Summer 2012 and Fall 2012.

This probably led to resources for both games being constantly shifted. Resistance likely remained the main focus while a smaller team split off and took the engine used for Resistance and re-worked it for Call of Duty. As work on Resistance wrapped up, the team shifted over to Call of Duty. Resistance probably got rushed so that Call of Duty could be worked on, which got rushed so it could hit it’s release date.

These rushed games were then put out. Sony didn’t want to spend more to polish Resistance, and Activision likely didn’t care. They figured anything with Call of Duty on it would sell (they were right).

Unfortunately for Nihilistic and the team, these two games were brutal enough that they would eventually re-brand and close up shop. It’s sad too, as Resistance had enough good qualities in it that I found the game to still be fun enough to finish.

PART II: The kernel of a good game

The kernel

Resistance: Burning Skies has the soul of a good game in it. If you look past it’s laundry list of flaws, you can see something that just needed more time in the oven. At its core, there is enough mechanical proficiency and generally acceptable story telling that it’s not a chore to play though the game.

  • Shooting is very enjoyable throughout the majority of the game. It plays very much like it’s big brothers on PS3. Shooting feels accurate and punchy. You can’t play fast like in an older shooter due to control issues and movement speed but it plays pretty closely to Resistance 1 and 2. This is a good thing.
  • While nothing in this game looks spectacular, there are some points in the game where the visuals are relatively ok. Some locations and enemies really mix the mechanical and organic blending that the Chimera showcase.
  • The story in Resistance is pretty generic. It plays and feels like a B movie through and through. There is just enough in the story to keep the player motivated to play through the game and see how it all ends, while understanding that it’s not going to have any real twists and turns to it at all.
  • The Resistance franchise is known for it’s diverse and unique weaponry and that does not change here. In fact, it’s part of what makes the combat relatively enjoyable. This also leads to my final point:
  • Most Vita games did not have good use of the Touch Screen at all. I happen to think that Burning Skies has an appropriate use of the Touch Screen and it absolutely aided combat in many ways.

The Burning Sky

Despite the things this game does adequately, in the end this game still showcases why it earned its reputation. The core of the game was not able to make up for the diversity and severity of its flaws. Just about everything that goes wrong with a rushed game went wrong here, as well as a few problems that I’ve just not seen before.

  • While there are a few solid looking areas to the game, on the whole the game looks like a muddy mess. The further in the game you play, the less diverse the levels become and the muddier and older they look. One of the last levels looks as if it could have been ripped straight from the PSP game Resistance: Retribution, including mesh splits along UV’s that you would notice in PSP games specifically. Outside of a few OK areas, this game is visually ugly.
    • I also found some odd environment art choices too, as if someone didn’t remember to add proper blockers or to split their UV’s in a way that made sense.
  • The sound design for this game is horrible. Music either cuts in or out at the wrong times and it never sticks around long enough for you to feel as if you are in an epic fight. There is a chance that this was done to keep the feel of the first Resistance game, but it doesn’t work. What shocked me the most was the sound of the guns. For a series that’s known for its innovative weaponry, they sound like tin can versions of their PS3 brethren here. Much of the game’s audio sounds like a tin can, with only some dialogue lines managing to sound acceptable.
  • Level design is an art form in and of itself. I am not much more than a junior junior designer, but I have enough experience making games and playing shooters to know what doesn’t work. Resistance is filled with a number of level design sins that, again, creep up more and more the further into the game you play.
    • The early levels are generally dense and varied when it comes to level design. There are a few issues, usually revolving around over long tutorial sections and corridors, but it doesn’t feel like the game is failing.
    • At about the mid way point, levels start to resemble the hallway->arena->hallway->arena formula. This can work if your arena is large or gives you multiple options for combat. Unfortunately, arenas in Burning Skies are small and have only one way out. This reduced the possible gameplay to “find cover and survive”. This is a common problem in mobile shooters because of the limited control options-stop and pop gameplay is ideal. On Vita, it’s less needed thanks to the dual analog sticks. Additionally, it’s a very old design philosophy. 
    • Towards the end, arenas stopped being fairly interesting and became literal ovals or squares with a few floors for enemies to snipe you from. This led to not creative solutions other than “memorize the order in which the enemy spawns”. This was BRUTAL and I hated it a ton. Memorization once in a while is fine-even for combat areas. This was the entire premise of the last few levels.  
  • A very big problem with this game is its lack of enemy diversity. It’s hard to keep the player engaged when you have 4 or 5 core enemies and 1, single, boss. That’s right. You fight a few bosses throughout the game but, with one exception, they are all the same boss with a giant gun on his left arm. This boss is basically Barrett from Final Fantasy VII. There is no trick to his versions either. You swap to the Bullseye, tap on his gun arm, and fire at will. Easy. When you’re lacking in enemies to this extent and don’t have design to free the player up to make combat interesting, you snowball your problems.
  • The lack of enemy diversity and poor arena design come together to form a perfect example of the problems the end of this game has: The Final Boss. The final boss in Burning Skies is a hulking behemoth of a Chimera, which is fine. He has particular weak points you need to hit in order to take him down, and that is fine too-quite old school actually. What I didn’t find endearing was how quickly he takes down your health, how simplistic his patterns are, and how poorly designed the final arena is. It is, more or less, two rectangles. The main challenge with dealing with this boss is the combination of his weak spot locations (fair), the significant damage he causes (borderline fair), and the design of the level (bad) not letting you have a fighting chance. Running from side to side in a game with a painfully slow running speed does not really make for a fun experience.
  • The last, and possibly created problem when combined with the generally poor arena design, is the AI. These are some of the dumbest, least interesting enemies I’ve fought in a shooter in the last few years.

Lessons to Learn

I think the biggest takeaway from my overall analysis revolves around the business side of handling multiple projects. By all accounts, Resistance is far and away a better game than Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. Weather that’s because it had a bit more time in the oven we can only guess. Either way, this is what usually happens when one juggles multiple projects. This has been the story of my freelance career the majority of the time. When I juggled two clients, Gametextures articles, and teaching a full course load, usually something had to give.

That’s not to say ‘don’t do it’, but definitely plan better when you need to Stack Clients.

My next big lesson was how much I noticed the poor, repetitive level design the further in the game I played. Don’t scope down your final levels. While no level in Burning Skies is large, early levels felt interesting and organic enough that the size wasn’t an issue. Instead of building these concepts out later in the game to allow for more player freedom to attack combat, the team crunched it down. The player was funneled between monster closets via simplistic tunnels that pretty clearly repeated over and over. The final boss level, which generally should be a big showcase and spectacle for the game, was a platform with cylinders. It’s as if it never made it past the block-out stage.

Cut the bad levels and shrink the game if it’ll help the game feel non repetitive and finished. I was surprised by how much I noticed these design issues and how much they bothered me as I played.

Oh and please do a better job of hiding event triggers (be they volumes or other things).  You literally know exactly when the monster closet starts when you walk through the door. You could however stand here indefinitely and nothing would ever spawn (see below).

The AI was the other big sticking point for me in the game. It’s hard for me to take any real lessons away from this (I’m betting AI is super hard because I’m an artist…) but when the AI is as bad as it is here (and is made up for by insane health amounts and magic trick shots) it makes a game feel like a cheap time waster more than a real experience.

Closing: Play Bad Games

In the end, while Burning Skies is not a good game, I learned a lot from playing it. I even had fun (until the last 3rd of the game). I felt the same about 007: Bloodstone a few years ago. I think it is a benefit for everyone to play as many game types as they can both good and bad. There are systems at work in Madden that work well in RPG games, and storytelling in Half Life still stands the test of time. Killzone Shadow Fall didn’t do it for me but MAN did it set a high bar for visual fidelity and technology when it was released. Gurellia’s white papers, which they made public early, got the industry familiar with PBR workflows earlier than a lot of us would have been otherwise.

All games of all kinds have a lesson to be learned-both good and bad. It’s something I forgot for a while, but playing Resistance: Burning Skies reminded me that all games have merit. Go pick up a bad game today.

-Dan

Work on The Train

General / 16 October 2018

Backstory

As I wrote previously, I have had a bit of a struggle with commuting to and from Warminster. My total commute time is around 4 hours a day, usually a little less, but still a sizable chunk of time. While I enjoy playing games and quite like my PSVita, I need to work on my own side projects to maintain a degree of artistic freedom, updated skillsets, and to set myself up for future success. I have not been able to do nearly as much of that as I would have liked these past few months.

My solution was to look into getting a laptop. The commuter rail affords me somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour each way for a total of 2 hours a day of personal work that I can do. The train is generally peaceful and not so crowded that I need to find interesting ways to share seats. I figured a laptop, specifically a thinner 2 in 1 (laptop doubles as a tablet/drawing surface) would be a great way to work and remain compact.

I’m now a month in to my rides with the Acer Predator Helios 300 (overlong name for sure) and I can honestly say that I get to look forward to my train rides. I’m up and running in a matter of moments, and I have almost the entire ride to create materials, model, sculpt, and write.

If you google this laptop, you’ll see it’s definitely not a thin and light convertible. I called an audible on this purchase: I opted for a full on gaming laptop instead of a more “productivity” focus 2 in 1.

Circus of Value

I am a very value minded consumer and as such, I try to find the best bang for the buck when it comes to my purchases. My PC components are no different, I look for the best performer I can afford at that time for what I’m doing. With this Laptop purchase, I looked at it at first in as a companion device-my PC at home would do the heavy lifting while my 2 in 1 would handle whatever it could on the go. The more I thought about it and the more I looked at the specifications of the different machines, the value I was getting for my money wasn’t there. A lot of this comes down to what my requirements were:

  • On the go, a Core i7 is a must
  • While most people can make do with 8GB of Ram, I needed 12GB at minimum and 16GB preferably.
  • I work in real time applications, so I need a GPU that can handle some potentially heavy workloads.
  • Battery Life is always nice, but if I’m only working 2 hours a day it’s not going to kill me if I only get 2.5hrs on the train.
  • Functionality over design

When I looked at the cost and specs of the 2 in 1 laptop solutions, I would have to pay $1600 or more for a system that, in all likelihood, had a number of compromises in it. I wanted to stick as close to $1000 as possible and the 2 in 1’s that I was looking at all lacked in a number of ways at that price.

  • Ram was often 8GB
  • Most GPU options were Intel Integrated or older Nvidia MX chips.
  • Core i7’s were out of the picture most of the time

I started looking into gaming laptops thanks to Lenovo. I was heavily considering their Yoga 730 2 in 1 when I found their Legion series. I started looking over what I could get for $1000 bucks and it was a definite step up from their Yoga line. From there, the wheels started churning and I did the math: “If I use my tablet on the train and get a gaming laptop, it’ll last me longer and I’ll be using tools I already have.” Using the tablet easily saved me $80-100$ bucks on the pen alone (until I lost it) and that money I decided to use to buy a beefier machine.

Over Labor Day weekend, I looked at a few different Laptops: HP Omen 15, Lenovo Legion Y530, Acer Predator Helios 300, and a few more expensive MSI, RAZER and Dell laptops. It came down to the previous 3 machines after I looked at what money could buy. In the end, I chose the Helios 300 and I’m incredibly pleased with my choice.

  • The Acer has a full fledged GTX 1060 while the best GPU I could get in the Y530 was a 1050Ti. I could get a GTX 1060 in the Omen, but the price became too much.
  • Having an SSD instead of a mechanical Hard Drive is a big bonus. 256 GB isn’t a ton, but I can upgrade when I’m ready.
    • My Desktop will still house my projects overall so with smart management, I should be fine for a while.
  • 16GB of RAM was also a huge selling point. I could get 16GB in both the Omen and the Y530, but price went up too.
  • I could get the Predator right away and with no sales tax by shipping to Kelsey’s workplace.

As you can see, most of my choice came down to the cost. I got much more of the PC that I needed with the Helios 300 than I could at the same price point with the other machines. I have, what is more or less, a version of my desktop on the go with less storage and RAM but with a beefier CPU and more cores. I can’t complain at all.

How is it going?

The Helios 300 is doing very well thus far. On the train (where most of my work occurs) I’ve been getting about 2.5 hours of battery when doing Substance Designer and close to 4 hours (according to Windows) when writing. Designer uses the GTX 1060, but I’ve tuned the system to prioritize battery life quite a bit while off the cord (GPU is on Optimize Power, CPU is set to not exceed 75% clock speed). This means I do have a bit of a stutter or pause when I’m adding new nodes and the node graph is a touch slow, but it’s pretty smooth overall. I’ve only dabbled with the other programs thus far (just where I am in my projects) but it handled them all just fine.

A collection of assets for my small trench kit. I had nothing done before I bought my laptop. Now I’ve made progress. It’s a bit slow, but it’s far better than nothing.

Except Zbrush.

Nvidia laptop GPU’s have a system they called Optimus. The integrated graphics chip that comes with most CPU’s today handles most tasks. The dedicated graphics card only turns on when it’s needed, like if you were playing Fortnite or using 3DSMax. This is a pretty cool system and it definitely helps with battery life, but it’s not perfect. Zbrush does NOT switch over to the GTX 1060 on my laptop, even when I manually tell it to. I’m not sure what is up, but it continues to use the Intel integrated. Zbrush is an odd duck in a lot of ways and I’m hoping that I can find a fix. Alternatively, I can disable Optimus at a driver or bios level before I start Zbrush. That should do the trick, although I expect my batter life will take a bit of a hit.

I’m 99% sure this is a Zbrush/Nvidia issue and not an issue with my specific laptop. This thing switches properly otherwise.

Working with my Intous Pro on the Train has gone quite well. It’s very wrist friendly and controls great on the Laptop screen. I’m very glad that I got that tablet instead of the other options I was looking at last year. Modeling with it will be a learning exercise though. I’m going to be switching to Blender from Maya LT (going to save that cash) in December so I’ll be learning two things at once!

If only I…*sigh*…didn’t lose the pen. $80 down the drain.

Now I can work from anywhere

With my new Laptop, I can truly work from anywhere. Am I going to New Jersey for Christmas? I can bring the laptop along and model. Will I be in Indiana for Thanksgiving? You better believe this is coming with so I can sculpt. What about a business trip or an extended contract? No need to drag the desktop with me now, I have this beast of a machine. I can even work at a coffee shop in Philly if I chose, creating art while sipping on a cup of joe.

This machine has also done something for me as well, outside of being a great tool that augments what I can work on and when I can work. It has gotten rid of any excuse to not create, be it a texture set, 3D model, or words to ‘paper’. I have the power in my backpack to do everything I did from home on the go. If I choose to ignore it, it’s on me.

I have no plans to let these hours go to waste anymore. Oh yea, it’s pretty solid at gaming on the go too.

My Freelance Horror Story: Redacted?

General / 21 September 2018

About two weeks ago, I published a story here about my experience working on a particular game with a specific client of mine. If you were one of the people who got to read my original post before I pulled it down last week, congratulations.

If you did not I’m sorry you missed out.

Originally, this post detailed how the aforementioned game project went horribly wrong. While I placed a lot of the blame on the project leader, I took took a share of the blame too. I mismanaged my business and didn’t pay attention to my gut, and I faced the consequences. In the end, this experienced pushed me to leave freelancing behind (for now at least) and to apply and eventually start working at DreamLine full-time.

Oddly enough, I guess I found out that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

This blog was never meant to be used in any sort of way to try and reclaim the remaining balance owed by this client. It was me, sharing my experience, which is what I do. That’s what this blog is. I was contacted about two weeks after original post by the client who asked I take it down and, in exchange, offered to pay the remaining balance owed to me for the work I had done on the client’s project. This time I took the path of least resistance. I took the post down as soon as money changed hands. I’m now paid up for this project, for the most part.

I do think that one day, I will re-release the blog AS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN (I name names and go into details, and rip on PayPal) in an appropriate amount of time. It’s a story that I want to tell so others can learn from my mistakes and be prepared for some of the roughest aspects of freelancing. But, as the game is live and actively in development, I will abide by their wishes and keep my experience off of the internet for a while. The fairness and ethics of my choice can be debated but I made a choice that was better for my finances this time around. I haven’t always done that and I took advantage of the opportunity to do so.

I don’t want to leave any reader without some sort of lessons from my experience with this client, so allow me to paraphrase a few of them.

  • Always trust your gut. If something looks bad, it is likely bad.
  • Don’t abandon your business principles for a pay day.
  • Sometimes you need to cut your losses early and walk away.
  • Always look in the mirror and think about what YOU could have done better.
  • Speaking out can be scary, but sometimes it works (This one was new!)

Dan

Commuting

General / 30 August 2018

I hate commuting.  I think my disdain for it was initially implanted in my brain when I was younger and reinforced while in college. Much of my feelings on commuting trace back to my father. He drove about two hours to work one way for a little over 12 years. He would wake up at little before 2 AM and leave by an exact time in the morning, I want to say it was 2:12 or something like that. He would arrive at 4 and sleep in his car until 6:30 or 7AM when he would go in to the plant, have some breakfast, and start the day. He would leave around 4 PM and get home at 6PM most days. He chose to to do this exact version of his commute so he could drive slow and avoid cars on the road. He is a strange person as he clearly valued car longevity over his personal time.

I did this commute for a summer when I was in college. I worked a summer job at his plant and rode up with him most of the time to save money. On the rare occasions I drove up (usually if I overslept) I would do that drive in no longer than an hour and ten minutes during peak traffic. While his version of that drive was insane, an hour and ten minutes was a long time to lose. I decided I was never going to do that again.

Until I did.

Prior to Dreamline, my worst commute as a post college adult was from Providence to Boston. I lived with my buddy Vic for a few months in 2012 and drove up to Boston for work. On a good day, I got up there in 45 minutes, which wasn’t bad. On a bad day, it took 2 hours. It sucked, and not just because of the time sink. Having only lived in small to medium sized towns where everyone is nice and traffic was minimal, driving in New England was a huge shift that took some time to get used to. Until I was acclimated to it, driving on 95 with a bunch of angry New England natives was quite stressful.

I eventually settled in Natick, where my commute was a much nicer 20 minutes most days.

What I am doing now is a mix of old and new. I don’t have a car, so I am reliant on SEPTA (South Eastern Pennsylvania Transit Association, the Public Transit for Philly and parts of the surrounding suburbs) to get me to work. I have a regional rail train I need to catch at 8:10, so I often rush through my mornings. Much like my father, my commute is about 2 hours long one way. This significantly cuts into my daily life and trying to squeeze everything I want to accomplish in is an exercise in time management extremes.

  • I wake up at 4:25 to let out the puppy an hydrate with water and coffee. Summer is a true puppy so sometimes she’s difficult.
  • I leave for the gym at 4:50 or so.
  • I wrap up my workout by 6. This is a bigger sacrifice than you may think. I am known for long, exhausting gym sessions.
  • I walk the dog from 6:10-6:30 although Summer, our dog, often makes it take longer.
  • From 6:45(ish)-7:30 I squeeze in feeding the dog, making and eating breakfast, shit or shave, shower, getting dressed and making lunch if I didn’t prep for the week.
    • Usually something is sacrificed in the morning. Today it was lunch and shaving.
  • If I’m out the door at 7:30 I am usually OK for the 7:34 bus, although some days I am finding I need a backup plan. So far, they involve sprints to other buses.

My return ride is simpler, but I am often exhausted (I’ve been up for 13.5 hours by this point) and just want to be home.

  • Leave work at 6.
  • Train leaves at 6:26
  • Catch the 7:21 if I’m lucky or the 7:35 most likely.
  • Walk the last 10 minutes and I’m home at 8.
  • In bed by 9:30 (unfortunately it’s often past 10) for hopefully 7 hours of sleep.
    • I sometimes have trouble sleeping during the week so it’s more like 5-6 hours most days.

There are a few pros to using SEPTA. Once I’m where I need to be, I can relax. The train ride is long and smooth, so I can write (where do you think I’m doing this post), draw, game on my Vita, or sleep.

I’ve slept too much on the train lately, which is feeding into my discontent with the commute. Summer is exhausting. She was on my last nerve today and caused me to be just late enough to miss my bus. My in the moment back up plan was to catch the 33 to 7th street and… sprint a block to catch up to a different 47 bus. I made the train at least.

I’m quite frustrated with my commute as a whole. I truly miss the time I now no longer have. This manifests itself most in my personal projects. I am very behind schedule with my asset kits. I don’t have the required hardware to work on it during my commute and I am either burnt out or tied up with personal priorities during the weekend. Not being able to work in that way is feeding into my displeasure and negative thoughts during the week.

However, it’s not like me to resign myself to fate and I’m going to make this commute work FOR ME damnit.

Finding a way to turn my commute into productive time is a top priority. I can reclaim over 20 hours a week on my commuter rail rides alone, and if there are delays or other issues, that’s more time for me to work and less lost time to games or zoning out. In order to be set up for the next few years, groundwork needs to be laid ASAP. This means I need to get back on track with portfolio work, asset kits, and writing on proper tools. I like my Android tablet, but it’s from 2013 and incapable of running design software. I’m amazed it still works frankly.

Enter the 2 in 1 Notebook.

I’m waiting for my W-2 employment to be confirmed (I should be converted from hourly contract to salaried employee shortly), and once it is, I will be purchasing a fairly powerful 2 in 1 Notebook that has support for the Wacom Bamboo Ink platform. This will allow me to work on the train in all manner of programs: Maya, Zbrush, Substance, and more. I can spend my commute working on my assets and portfolio. Additionally, I’ll be able to work on my blog in a more productive way. I envision this device being a powerful supplement to my desktop and a business investment allowing me to work from coffee shops and other locations in the future. I want to get back into the education space in a small way (bet it a class at Drexel or teaching a small group of students every month or two) and being able to meet in person at a coffee shop and still work will help greatly. I want to get back into education in some small way and being able to meet students and work with them out in the world is a big bonus for them.

Or a bar, I don’t think I would cater specifically to under 21 year olds.

An added bonus: If I take a contract for a fixed duration in the future (similar to my work with Bluepoint in 2017), I won’t have to lug my desktop with me.

There are many different ways this piece of equipment will enable me to claw back some of my time spent commuting. If I can get those 20 hours of work time back a week, I think I’ll feel even better about where I am and where I plan to be.

Dan

Road Sketches 01

General / 14 August 2018

Part of my ideal vision for this blog is to post artwork as well. That’s not just going to be art of show in my portfolio. Yesterday wasn’t an easy day and I decided to sketch on the train, and again while waiting on Vray. Enjoy.

Journey of A Games Artist “re-brand”: A Journal from The Road

General / 31 July 2018

I started blogging with Journey of A Games Artist in 2010 as a way to document my process, share my frustrating job search, and chronicle my thoughts on the games industry and life. It was truly a journey of an artist who was focused on working in games. I was also 23 going on 18 in a lot of ways. Since I started blogging, my writing has evolved and this blog has had minor revisions, but it has remained remarkably the same for nearly a decade. I have not.

As you may know if you read my work at all, I started working at DreamLine as an artist this past June. I’m no longer making game specific art. In reality, I’ve been making all kinds of art since 2013. When I started freelancing, a lot of my work was from non game clients. My bills were often paid by architecture firms, media companies, and teaching from 2013-2017. Sure I worked on games still, but it was a much smaller part of my business than I realized (with a few exceptions). Now, at least for the time being, I’m doing something new. This new chapter has me producing 

As of today, Journey of A Games Artist is changing to better align with the Daniel Rose of today. I’m an artist, a writer, a former and future educator (hint hint nudge nudge), fitness lover, game enthusiast, economics fan, and an explorer of the self (something that is easy to ignore in this media saturated society). My vision for this re-brand is to incorporate all of me into my writing, not just the game art stuff. It’s about me and what I think or create while I’m on the road of life. 

I am an infinitely deeper human being than I was at 23. I was basically a teenager back then.

Today, Journey of a Games Artist has become A Journal from The Road. When I have art to show or write about, those posts will continue to follow the format you are use to. I think it works quite well for my own improvement and for any readers who wish to see my process. However, you will see a bit more content and definitely more varied content here than before, including posts like:

  • Breakdowns of games
  • Short stories or viniettes
  • Elements of my personal self discovery
  • Fitness posts
  • More articles about media I am a fan of
  • Random thoughts
  • And more!

My commute is long and I don’t have a laptop, so I have to find new ways to create. I’ve found the mornings to be a good time to write. My brain is usually in high gear, I’m full of ideas, and I am scratching some of the itch that I have to create my own art. These days, writing (and soon sketching) is the easiest way to express myself. Writing on the train works well, but I do find that I prefer to edit works on a PC still. Because of this, I’m going to try to have new posts every two weeks.

I’m going to close with a thought on one of Kanye West’s more famous quotes; “I am a God”. On the surface, this quote is considered asanine and egotistical and I have absolutely jumped on that bandwagon. What if it wasn’t meant to be though? Kanye is an artist like myself. So is God (or the gods, your pick). God creates life, and that life is the art of God. If God must create, then it could follow that the artist who feels they must create, least they die, is also a god. Therefore, Kanye is a god because he must create. If we follow the same logic, then all artists of all kinds are god’s in their own right.

I hope you enjoy the changing blog as much as I plan to.

Dan

The Park Bench Diorama: Postmortem

General / 04 July 2018

Before I get to the meat of this blog, I need to cover two quick things. First, I typed my draft on the train to the new job at DreamLine. This is my first attempt at typing drafts while commuting instead of playing my Vita (which is definitely getting a workout). Second, I never commented on Nintendo’s E3 showing: Smash Bros. looks cool, and that robot game might be fun. But is it enough to make me buy a Switch…(not quite yet)

Park Bench: Postmortem

Its rare that a project comes together so quickly for me. Generally, I end up taking a while to rework assets and re-do layouts to try and really perfect my work. With The Park Bench, it was very much a sprint to the end. Its an end I am incredibly proud of even as the scope of the project changed significantly as I worked. The story of this project mirrors my last year and a half, so I think its important to share the timeline of the project before I get into the details.

The Park Bench was always intended to be a diorama. I was in Texas when I started the project and had some bigger plans for the full scene, but those larger plans still involved a smaller scene. The project lapsed when work on Shadow of The Colossus got intense, so I shelved it. I didn’t pick it back up until I started teaching at Drexel in the fall of 2017. The scope expanded as a result. This was an unfortunate side effect of using it as a demo scene for a class that focused on building environments for games. I lost the small feel and narrow focus and started making a small level (this further illustrates that one should always outline a project). Once class wrapped up and the holidays started, I let the project sit again. To be frank, this project probably would not be complete if not for two…catalytic events: GT 3.0 and DERP.

GT 3.0 is what Gametextures is calling their site improvement project. Early in the year, Tanner (the owner) and I had some varying discussions about expanding what I do for the site. It didn’t go anywhere at the time, Tanner and I both had to shift focus to other projects, but it did give me the idea to use Gametextures for the majority of my source materials. In the modern AAA game environment, artists are more and more specialized. This means that, realistically, I wouldn’t be making my own textures very often. Using Gametextures sped up my workflow immensely and let me focus on world building, modeling, and Unreal Engine technical work. GT also made it easy to maintain my lightly stylized look that the majority of my portfolio has. Without GT, its safe to say The Park Bench wouldn’t be done right now.

The other catalyst is DERP. DERP is the code name for the project that pushed me to leave freelancing, and is a story I will share in the future. As it relates to The Park Bench, DERP gave me various points in the last few months where I was not working due to missed payments or other issues. During these times, and definitely after I left the project, I focused all of my energies into The Park Bench. If DERP wasn’t such a shitty situation, TPB would not have been completed as quickly.

The Park Bench:Goals

Something is out of the ordinary as it relates to this project. I apparently didn’t write my usual Tech Document for it. Tech Documents are outlines I write for personal projects so I can keep track of the work I intend to do. While I was in Texas I was a little less organized than usual, and The Park Bench was meant to be a smaller, faster project. 

So much for that.

When I picked the project back up towards the end of 2017, I mentioned in my WIP blog that I wanted to put this into VR. Since I scoped the project down to a diorama, I didn’t think VR would have been a wise choice for this particular project.

Since I didn’t have many defined goals, let’s move on to what worked well and what didn’t.

The Park Bench: Successes

  • The Diorama layout in general was a success. I had enough space for some very cool close up and player sized shots, as well as a fly through video I was able to shoot. My layout was larger than most dioramas I’ve seen but it worked well for the final version.
  • My usage of Gametextures was a huge factor in making this project work. I did two different workflows; one was to use their Substances in Painter as base materials for my assets, and the other was to manually rip parts of the textures and remix them in Photoshop so I could use less individual textures and materials as needed (there was a bit of straight up tiling bitmaps used for the terrain). This workflow was mostly used on foliage to great effect.
  • My continued attempts to hand model trees have improved my skills in this area. It’s still hard, and with Speedtree it’s mostly unnecessary, but I like to think it’s a good thing to have in my back pocket.
  • Certain parts of my scene are full of hidden meanings and fun little messages. The paper, my choice of Metallica tape, and carvings on the bench all mean a little something.

The Park Bench: Failures

  • My actual bench didn’t quite turn out the way I hopped. It’s fine…I think my biggest issue is that my UV layout was not ideal. The UV pack is fine but I could have stacked even more and mirrored some shells too.
  • My rocks are still on the blobby side. I have a tendency to not sculpt very sharp rocks, and for a mellow scene like this it was ok, but I really need to focus on creating really detailed, sharper rock formations in the future.
  • Stationary lighting proved to be a bit of a difficult issue in my videos and in one or two shots. Possibly due to post process settings, the two of stationary lights I used to highlight my bench would show up as very bright bulbs in a few very specific camera angles. I never figured out what was happening, and I ended up hiding them in those instances.

The Park Bench and The Shadow of The Colossus Effect

Without realizing it, my work a Bluepoint had a huge effect on how I approached portions of The Park Bench. On Shadow, there were 3 main environment techniques we used to get a large amount of variation AND consistency out of a relatively small amount of assets.

  1. World Space Texture Mapping
    1. This is a technique where a texture is projected in world space, as opposed to being based on a UV map. This is useful for non animating asses, as a swimming effect can occur when used on a moving asset. In Shadow, as well as The Park Bench, a world space color map was used to help blend many of the rock and stone assets together. Because the texture is projected in the world, color is shared across an entire area making assets appear more unified.
  2. Decal Blending
    1. If you’ve played a game and noticed harsh edges where cliff faces, boulders, or other areas intersect the terrain, you’re not alone. In Shadow of The Colossus, we addressed this issue by using a certain set of decal projectors to blend between the terrain and our stones. These decals varied in material, but the idea was to use them to hide those seams. I chose to do the exact same thing in The Park Bench. It worked to great effect. I added an additional twist as well. Thanks to the R&D at Gametextures, I made use of a Parallax based decal that gave some decals a more believable 3 dimensional look and feel.
  3. General Decal Variations
    1. Most of our rocks in Shadow were textured using a fairly neutral base diffuse map, and our various world space albedo maps helped fill in the color details. However  there were many, many instances where unique details were impossible. Storing variations of textures that had water runoff, sun bleaching, and other special details would have crushed our memory budgets and taken hours to make. Using decals, we were again able to add these unique details while saving on memory and time. In The Park Bench, I used them to add the same types of details to the scene, as well as to unify the different rocks even more. Additionally, the Parallax decal came in handy, allowing me to add even more blends to my ground once I hit my 16 texture sampler limit in my shader.

This shot is a great example of all three techniques I discussed above.

Its interesting what you can take away from different experiences. In my project after Golden Abyss, I tiled everything and forced Unreal 3 to render lights in real time. After WB, I focused more on my Zbrush abilities. Finally, after Bluepoint, I tied it all together with a mix of quality models, self created and sourced textures, and a greater understanding of the freedom modern technologies give artists.

Conclusion: The most 2018 Portfolio Piece 

I think The Park Bench is the best work I have done and it closely mirrors the type of work many environment artists will be doing in the games industry today. I didn’t make every aspect of every asset, but I am proud of what I did make and what textures I chose to source. In a lot of ways, this project is the most 2018 of anything in my portfolio. It uses a lot of original work as well as work done from other content providers and remixes it all into something new.

View all of my The Park Bench: A Diorama work here, and take a look here for my Shadow of The Colossus work.

-Dan

Final Quarterly Report: Q2 2018 (April-June)

General / 02 July 2018

In a number of ways, it’s fitting that I wrote my first draft of this blog on the train. I wrapped up the second week of my new job and I’m pretty pleased with it so far. DreamLine is a bit more corporate than most other places I’ve worked at with a somewhat more conservative dress code and specific clock in/clock out instructions, but then again I’ve always worked at game or entertainment companies in a contracting role. Soon I expect to be full-time so some additional corporate goodness, like agreeing to their new rule book, is expected.

Actually, Turbine (a Warner Brothers studio) was super corporate. So… I take that back.

Q2 Sucked

There is literally no way to explain around this. Q2 was terrible. I was paid late by clients, had money pratically stolen from me, found out PayPal is a terrible company for freelancers, and was knocked around so badly that I chose to get out of the freelance game. I felt like a fighter who had suffered a string of defeats, all by knockout.

Thanks to some adjustments I made to budgeting and savings, I was able to float on my lower than expected Drexel income. In fact, I only had to dip into savings this week (and it will be repaid next week and then some). While it does not feel good to do that, I should be a little happy that I managed my cash flow decently.

I do plan to write about DERP and the specifics of what happened this quarter in the future. I’m hoping he does right and pays me for the work I’ve done and that he is using, but I personally expect to not be compensated. This means I’ll have to try to settle my debt with PayPal. I will not pay them the full amount. They don’t deserve it until they update their policies and consider all the evidence for others in my situation, as it is not unique.

My commute might suck sometimes but I should refer to this post and my most recent blogs as a note to myself that the commute is indeed worth it.

Final Breakdowns

Task Tracking

  • Hours worked: 347+-12
  • Billable Hours: 293+-8
  • Average Efficiency: 83%

There are a few notes with my time efficency breakdowns I need to mention. First, the end of May and June were not tracked as closely as normal. Between interviews at DreamLine, meetings with a few potential clients, and burnout and frustration dealing with DERP, I had multiple days, and even weeks, where I was just not working. Mixed in would be time I spent grading or working on Drexel projects. I didn’t track them very closely in June, hence the +- signs in my hours worked and billable hours. Likely, the time not tracked wouldn’t affect my efficiency, but its hard to tell.

This wasn’t a good quarter for proper tracking much like everything else.

Income

If the first quarter turned out well enough, the second quarter was a snowball of awful. In April I had negative income. Due to the PayPal dispute, I had all of the payments from DERP removed from my account, leaving me with a negative PayPal balance. I invoiced GameTextures for a decent amount and was paid by Drexel, but it wasn’t enough to balance out that loss. May and June I was only paid by Drexel and since I was teaching two classes, I was losing money every month.

%difference in income vs. historical averages: -71%

That’s right, this past quarter wasn’t a decrease of 5% or 10%. That’s understandable almost expected when freelancing. -71% is a number that highlights a structural flaw and bad approach to business. Yes, I got screwed over, but I had a role in that as well, and I was responsible for NOT having alternative options available. A lot of the failure of this quarter was out of my hands, but I had enough control that I should have been able to recover better.

Onward and Upward

Well, my freelance days are over for the time being. DreamLine has started and while the commute can be brutal in the evenings (as mentioned before), it’s well worth the extra security. As a nice benefit, I’m using tools that I love to use while at work and the people I work with are pretty cool. I’m looking forward to finding better ways to get home a bit earlier and optimize my life so I maximize the time I do have.

While I’m doing that, I am continuing to work on my personal art in the form of sell-able asset packs. A small amount of pocket change every month or two is always appreciated. And you never know, perhaps I can lay a small ground work for a re-focused freelance business (or some other type of business) in the future.

Along those same lines, I’ve been noticing a trend of quality AAA artists to offer ‘mentor-ships’ for a month. They usually run a few hundred dollars and are aimed at already employed artists looking to boost their skills. I’m considering opening myself up to that, but with a slightly different focus. I would probably charge a little less but look to mentor artists who are at the beginning of their careers. I’d be looking for students who are about to enter college, feel their college course work doesn’t address their career goals, or have just graduated. Additionally, I think I could offer these services locally as well as in a remote position. I’m going to wait until I settle in at DreamLine before I decide on this. I liked teaching at Drexel and want to continue to share my knowledge but it does need to be done in a way that fits with my current schedule.

Onward and upward as they say.

-Dan