Wednesday, October 16, 2013


For the purposes of those marking my work and seeing only what I have done in university this year, click the 'University bits' label to the left.  That will give you only the posts from university.
Today marks the end of my Masters.  By the time I go to bed, I will have handed in everything that I have done over the past 13 months.  Here is a recap of the things I've been looking at and a little bit about how that's affected my work and hopefully the use of the technology in the industry.

From the start of the year to the end, here are some photos and thoughts from the project:

When we were thinking about what to look at, Josh showed me this odd idea called Augmented Reality.  I knew about it but hadn't put any thought towards looking at it in depth.  Something about it just really appealed to me while I was looking at and I started thinking straight away about how it could be used in the world of gaming - if, of course, it wasn't already.

I searched for as many examples and uses of the technology as I could and found some really incredible things.  This image above was particularly intriguing because of the amount of detail that was in the graphic.  I had seen some 2D examples and some basic 3D stuff, but this was the first thing that really popped because of the work that had very obviously gone into it.  I believe a lot of the things in this example were moving round, too.

If I was going to concisely describe my project for the year, my plumb line was to be my family.  I drew this quick page to show how the technology works and how I'm going to use it.  Top left, the tadpole image as I draw it.  Below that, a little rendition of a 3D example - I just put some lines around it to make it look nice.  Below that still, I drew out two renditions of iPads that are viewing the same cards at different angles and then portrayed that on the screens.  This was my explanation of the goal of my project and the best way I found to tell people what Augmented Reality is.

To make a better example, I drew out this graphic.  A drawn robot, put on a card and then the 3D model positioned over the top of it, as it would be seen on the phone screen.

The first model of the year - the tadpole creature from my early example drawings.

I already had an idea for a game, so I thought I'd start the design process for the game itself while at the same time still trying to get my head around the technology and the way I could use it.  So I needed a character for the game.  It's one that I had thought of quite quickly, so I got to drawing it as many times as possible to refine the idea.  Late nights in McDonald's with the wifey were absolutely fantastic at pushing this process through quickly.  This is the main character - Subject 86.  I chose the name so that people could assign their own personalities and traits to the character - I think naming him would have slowed or stifled the immersion and ability to relate to the character.  Also, if something is 86ed, it's either going bad or is faulty.  Possibly like this guy.

I wanted to make a character that would appear through the game but that wouldn't be a bad guy.  I was wanting a friendly NPC that would pop up from time to time to aid the main character - one that would be recognisable to the player.  I also wanted to design the being that Subject 86 got his arm from.  So the design of the alien here was based on the arm that I'd given the main character!

Another friendly NPC (and stroke of doodle) was the SpEngineer.  I drew this guy out as I was warming up and loved him.  I developed him to be a fairly largely encountered NPC, although as the game design progressed he took on a smaller role.  He was still amazing fun to design and redraw over and over.

I tested a small model with the idea of applying my drawing style to the model.  My drawings are working drawings - quick and messy to get the job done.  Maya models are pretty clean-cut and straight lined, which is quite the opposite.  It would make for an amusing sitcom.  I modeled a simple box and drew out a cigarette packet onto it.  I was fairly happy with the result.

There came a time to start trying to model.  I've not modeled much before, so this was a lengthy and often dry process.  This was my rendition on Subject 86.  It's also as far as I got modeling Subject 86.

Another character I tried to model was the alien.  A little better, but more of a challenge.  With the model in the later stages, I put the poly count up to a ridiculous amount and proceeded to use the poly-sculpt tool to refine the shapes.  It worked pretty well, but I was ultimately happiest with the low-poly model that I started with.

I'm better at modeling robots.  Primarily because they're mostly squares and cylinders.  One of the things I was designing was a set of robots that are found with the SpEngineers.  They were all based on using a camera to record the environments of various planets that the SpEngineers were deployed to.  This particular 'bot was the Microbot - designed to access the smaller places and habitats.  Quite simple a camera on little legs.  This was the MKII - the MKI had very small legs on the back and looked quite like a dog.  I wanted more of a spider look, so I beefed up the legs all round for the second design.

This was the MKIII - a reinforced middle section was required in order for the printed model to be strong enough to stand.  The MKIV is under way, with a bigger camera and shielded under sections.

This image - and the animation that it is from (here) made me see that it was possible to get two individual Augmented Reality characters to interact.  I was designing the game with that in mind, but up until this point, I was designing the game theoretically.  This example meant I was now designing the game feasibly!

One of the unique things about Augmented Reality is the fact that the user can see an object on their screen from any angle they want.  They don't have to be stuck in the same position for the technology to work properly.  What's more amazing is that two people can look at the same thing from angles separate from one another.  One could really like the top-down view of an object, the other might like an angle from the side.  The beauty of this technology is that they can both do that at the same time.

So my thoughts turned to the use of one source of data being used by two or more people in different ways.  If people can use the same basic image(s) for the base of their unique Augmented Reality experience, it makes sense that they can interact with the Augmented Reality characters in different ways, too.  Now I didn't want the players to use the same character and control it separately, but I wanted to include this idea of using the same base for different means in some way.  This led to the ideas of using the same space and cards as each other but seeing different levels.  While cards are laid out on the table, the players see the limits of their level.  With the addition of seed cards - cards that hold the key to showing the content of a level - the players can each use a different seed card to show them content unique to them.

What's more, while two or more seed cards are in play, every player has the opportunity to access the contents provided by the seed cards.  This will be in the form of manholes and lifts to get from one content to another or in the form of sinkholes and fissures to send everyone falling to the content 'below'.

I wanted the main content of the levels to be fairly basic, with small interaction by the players having a little effect on such things as buildings, hills, etc.  To make the game more exciting and to make the game more customisable, I thought of using extra cards to add a little flair to the level content.  Some of these would only be seen by the player who places them on the table, others would be seen by everyone involved in the game at the time.  Some would serve to be markers to a particular target, others would serve to be the way in which players access the other contents in their game.

This one is the former; a marker card that all players can see, regardless of the content of the level they are currently playing on.  They can serve as distress flares if another player is needing help in their content; they could serve as markers to a secret entrance of some sort.  It's up to the players to decide how to use them.

This is from a card that serves the purpose of enabling a player to get from one level content to another.  This one in particular is a lift - there are also things like ladders, wells, stairs, etc.  All players can see these and use them to access different level contents.

So I had a basic idea of how the players could go through the game and I had the knowledge that interaction between two or more characters is possible.

I wanted a game that incorporated some of the most appealing aspects of games that I have looked at in the past.

I wanted:
The RPG aspect - building up the levels and statistics of a single character that the player takes control of.  Gaining experience through fighting enemies and finding items.

The collect and craft aspect - finding items and collecting resources from various places in order to combine them and use them effectively.

The multiplayer aspect - I wanted a game that actively encourages people to experience it together and engage a common foe.

The card game aspect - having all the characters, items, scenarios and environments on physical cards in the players' hands that they can hold, trade and collect.

So I had the gameplay idea and I had an idea of what I wanted the player to face.  Now I just had to design it.

The main focus of the game is fighting animals and collecting resources from their bodies.  Be it hide, bone, meat, etc; the player collects what they need from the animal and crafts items from their spoils - clothes, armour, weapons, etc.  Above here are a few examples of the animals I drew out for the game with two models that a good friend modeled for me.

The bigger enemies of the game are similar to Subject 86.  Known more commonly as Subjects 87+, they are hybrid/mutated/experiments of people who are out to get Subject 86 for whatever reason the player wants to assume.  (There is a story running through the game, but it wouldn't hurt to leave it a while until the players are shown what that story is).  Spoils, drops and pick ups are better when these guys are defeated, with rarer items being dropped as the enemies get bigger, more aggressive and more intelligent.  Players may work together to defeat these Subjects, but they will have to split the drops once the enemy is killed.

Another element of the game that I wanted to include was the finding of elemental artifacts.  This was initially to add a little spice to the game but became a way of increasing stats and making combat more engaging.

I had my game designed and I had ideas about the gameplay.  What I needed now was an example of the technology in action.  Using the image here, I had a good friend model the SpEngineer character.

Here is the finished SpEngineer!  Complete with a lovely cross-hatching filter that emulates my drawing style a little.  The 3D model and the 2D image are ready to be put together so that when viewed through an Augmented Reality app; the device interprets the 2D image as a base for the 3D model to appear and stand on.

And so rounds up the year.  I believe I have designed a unique game that not only uses Augmented Reality technology but will push it further in its application.  There is not a game out there that uses the technology in this way nor one that merges the use of cards and digital play in a way that makes the cards vital to the digital gameplay but that also enables people who maybe can't afford devices that support Augmented Reality to play the game just with the cards.

I am excited to see where this design will go and I'm looking forward to developing it more.  The possibilities of a game like this are yet to be realised and I can't wait to see what will come of this.


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