PhD Student | Game Designer / QA

Blog

12/10/2017 Supervisor Meeting and Project Requirements

After meeting with my supervisors today (Robin Sloan and Euan Dempster) the methodology for carrying out my PhD has been altered slightly although the process will remain the same. The project will still revolve around the creation of game artefacts but the methodology shall focus on the iterative design on one or more prototypes; based on user feedback and the implementation of game design theory. This creation and evaluation of game artefacts - through post mortem - will underpin the research and literature.

Create -> Evaluate -> Reflect -> Refine

My focus for the next two weeks of work is to read, collate, find key words and code data from a mixture of books and journals to help form my literature review. Alongside these literature studies I intend to dedicate at least one day a week on improving my practical abilities in Unreal Engine 4 to assist with the creation of prototypes later in this studentship.

Another thing of note is that although there are 3 PhD studentships the collaboration may not involve working together on practical projects, but may diverge more into information and knowledge sharing. There may be some practical project collaboration later, but it appears that we will all be working on a wide range of separate prototype videogames - at least in the early stages. There is no requirement for developing one (or more) polished video games by the end of this studentship.

04/10/2017 PhD Studentship - Interactive Storytelling to Support Cancer Patients.
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We_Are_MacMillan.jpg

Today marked my first day at Abertay University as a PhD Student in Interactive Storytelling to Support Cancer Patients. I have been granted the amazing opportunity to work alongside two other talented designers - Alice Bowman and Robyn McMillan - on a collaborative interactive game with MacMillan Cancer Support to teach the public about different cancers, treatment options and side effects. Although, the details of what will be required or expected from this "Serious Game"/ series of serious games is yet to be defined. Kindly funded by Northwood Charitable Trust.

Considering this is our first week of study, the majority of work that will be undertaken will consist of compiling and analysing literature as well as gaining an understanding our core strengths and viewing portfolios of previous works. I have also opted to attend a selection of undergraduate classes as a 'refresher' course to help strengthen my practical skills in preparation for the collaborative project as well as delivering lectures when required.

I was pleased to recently discover that my supervisors during my studentship will be Robin Sloan and Euan Dempster. Robin provided supervision during my Honours year of Game Design & Production Management when developing Forget-Me-Knot and writing my dissertation. Next Wednesday (11/10/17) a meeting will be hosted with the PhD students, supervisors and sponsors to clearly define the requirements and expectations from the collaborative project(s).

I will attach a link to this blog post with the Research Proposal I submitted to gain entry to this studentship. The proposal was a rough approximation of the field of research and study that I intend to undertake but this will likely evolve as time goes on.

Research Proposal: Click Here!

20/08/15 Press & Reception

I have decided to remove the previous blog posts showing each website that has featured my honours project in favour of a condensed press post. Thanks to Chris Wilson's press release of my project there has been a large amount of interest in my work. This interest has come from people in the games industry, carers, doctors, the public etc. It has been an incredible experience responding to positive emails and receiving constructive feedback on ways to improve Forget-Me-Knot to have a greater impact.

As of today the collective total of YouTube views on my development videos has reached over 75,500! Thank you for taking interest in the Forget-Me-Knot project and more importantly, Alzheimer's disease. I hope that with further development and potentially a release at some point in the future that my goal of raising awareness and understanding of Alzheimer's disease will reach an even larger audience.

Recently I took the Forget-Me-Knot prototype to London for the Creative Skillset Showcase where both students and industry professionals showed positive interest in the project and its message. Forget-Me-Knot has also been entered into the Clio Art Awards: Games: Student Audio/Visual category and nominated for an award at the University of Stirling International Dementia Awards 2015 in the Dementia & the Arts category.

Photo of Abertay at the Creative Skillset Showcase (Thanks to @JessHider)

Photo of Abertay at the Creative Skillset Showcase (Thanks to @JessHider)

Press Articles: (To open a news article please click the title)

Note: This is a condensed list of media coverage on the project.

10/05/15 Radio: Wave 102 & BBC News "Good Morning Scotland"

Wave 102

I was asked to do a phone interview for Wave 102. Unfortunately I did not manage to get a recording of the interview and Wave 102 do not have a catch-up service. My interview was played hourly on their news bulletin.

BBC News "Good Morning Scotland"

The "Good Morning Scotland" interview has a segment on my project. This can be found through the link below at 02:52:28.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05sy663#auto

12/04/15 Abertay Graduate Showcase Material

For the Abertay Graduate showcase we are required to have both a poster and business cards. It's been a while since I've done any 2D art, so when I attempted to create a painterly-style poster the outcome was obviously terrible. Instead, I opted for a minimalist poster design that used a restricted colour pallete. I am relatively pleased with the results but I wish I had more time to polish these promotional materials. The graded coursework is currently my first priority, so these quickly done designs shall have to do.

Posters:

Business Cards:

06/04/15 Abertay Graduate Showreel Video

Below is the 30 second video teaser for Forget-Me-Knot that I submitted for the Abertay Graduate Showcase Showreel 2015. The video is set to 1280x720 at 25fps in .mov format. I found it really difficult to display functionality, atmosphere and the game environment in a 30 second video clip so decided to create a trailer-eqsue video inspired by Gone Home's trailer.

19/03/15 Project Update

Quite a large update for this week seeing as we have a demo-day this Friday; some new features and some bug fixes. This week I had finally gotten round to modelling the new couch and chair and implemented a new 'Object Inspection' mechanic for key objects in the game.

Models:

  • Clock (Hands set to "One Past Midnight"- Reference to Andrew Lindsay's Project)
  • Lighthouse Ornament (Last Solus - Reference to Jamie King's Project)
  • High-Backed Chair
  • Couch
  • Side-Table
  • Cushion
  • Medicine Container + Tablet
  • Pill Organiser 
  • Radio
  • Cup
  • Plate/Saucer
  • Log
  • Ash
  • Firepit thing
  • Card x2
  • Picture Frame (Free-Standing) - Visual Update

Textures & Materials:

  • Clock (Face, Body, Glass, Door)
  • Lighthouse Ornament
  • High-Backed Chair & Couch (Sharing the same material for the time being - Placeholder)
  • Side-Table
  • Cushion (Placeholder)
  • Medicine Container
  • Pill Organiser
  • Radio
  • Cup
  • Plate/Saucer
  • Log
  • Ash
  • Firepit thing
  • Card x2
  • Video Tape Box x2
  • Picture Frame Texture (Small) x12
  • Large Picture x1

Lighting:

  • I have removed the ambient point lights that illuminate the room when the main lights are off. They have now been replaced with a togglable sky light to make the lighting model less 'patchy'.

Interaction:

  • This week I made good progress on the new mechanic where the player can "inspect" key objects in the scene (Started last week). There was little/no documentation on how to achieve this mechanic online through kismet so I spent most of this week and last trying to get this to work. When the player presses "E" on a key object they be able to view the model in a full 360*. The player controls the object using the arrow keys and leaves the viewer by pressing the "Enter" key.
  • Pressing the "H" key displays a hint to the player showing which key objects they can inspect. This hint mechanic is implemented by having a secondary model (slightly larger) that is toggled on when the "H" key is pressed: This model has a scrolling white emissive material that should make the interact-able object temporarily more visible.

SFX:

  • Clock Tick
  • Clock Chime
  • Light Switch (On + Off)

Animation:

  • Initial "Waking Up" cut-scene has been updated.
  • Clock Pendulum (Attempted to Sync with Clock Tick Audio, still not 100% synced)
  • Fade transition between main scene and object inspection scene.

Fixes:

  • Fixed some unintentional hard edges, overlapping UV's and lightmaps.

GALLERY OF UPDATES:

OBJECT INSPECTION:

HINT MECHANIC:


SUMMARY:

This week's work has been some of the most rewarding so far. Managing to get my object inspection kismet sequence working was difficult (and its still got bugs!) but having that extra mechanic in there gives my honours project another layer of depth and interaction. The animated clock pendulum and sound of the clock ticking make the room feel more "alive" which is a nice touch in my opinion. I'm pleased with how it's going so far and hope that my project goes down well during the demo-day. Over the next week work on the honours project shall start to slow down drastically due to shifting focus to other course work. I feel that the honours project in its current state is "Submit-able" whereas the rest of my coursework is not. I would like to add more notes, some audio narrative and extra environmental objects at a later date.


NEXT STEPS:

Models:

  • Dog Bed
  • Dog Toys
  • Plates
  • Cups
  • Folded Linen
  • Notes
  • Pocket Watch
  • Key
  • Phone Plug (Currently just plugged into power)

Textures:

  • Dog Bed
  • Dog Toys
  • Plates
  • Cups
  • Folded Linen
  • Notes
  • Pocket Watch
  • Key
  • Phone Plug

Interaction:

  • Fix bug with Object Inspection mechanic.
12/03/15 Project Update

A much smaller blog post this week. I have been trying to implement a new game mechanic, but so far to no avail. I hope to be able to have it working - or a variation of the intended mechanic - for next week. This week's update list is a lot smaller, but a crucial mechanic has been implemented and works!

Textures & Materials:

  • Typewriter Paper Texture (Note)

SFX:

  • Note Pickup/Replace

Interaction:

  • Now when the player interacts (Presses "E") on the typewriter a GFX movie opens displaying the note in full screen for the player to read. The note can be closed by pressing "E" again. This mechanic can be duplicated for more notes or "readable" objects added to the scene at a later date.

Animation:

  • A basic cut-scene camera has been implemented (A feature that had been removed post pre-production submission). The animation path and animation shall most likely be changed again at a later date.

GALLERY OF UPDATES:


SUMMARY:

This week has been focusing on implementing more interaction in the environment. I hope for next week to have the new mechanic implemented, but it may take some iteration and bug-fixing to get it working as intended. Getting the note-reading functionality into the game should hopefully allow for an injection of written narrative into the scene.


NEXT STEPS:

Models:

  • Armchair
  • Sofa

Textures:

  • Armchair
  • Sofa

Animation:

  • Finish the introduction cut-scene.

Interaction:

  • Finish the "Inspect Object" mechanic.
05/03/15 Project Update

This week's work was focused towards the engine side of the project. There were a few issues regarding lighting that I wanted to fix, alongside implementing a new feature. The new additions and edits are listed below:

Models:

  • Glasses
  • Video Box
  • Video Cardboard Sleeve
  • Plastic Wrap for Coffee Table

Textures & Materials:

  • Glasses
  • TV - Stronger Specular Map on Screen & Body
  • Roof - Removed Normal Map
  • Material Instances added to emissive textures for objects related to lighting

Lighting:

  • Brighter lighting when lights are 'on'.
  • More ambient lighting when lights are 'off'.
  • Warmer and more vibrant fireplace light.

Interaction:

  • Added a new mechanic where the character is short-sighted. This means the player has the ability to locate the glasses in the room to clear up their vision. I felt this touch adds an extra layer of depth to the character and setting. The mechanic is completely optional as the player is not forced to locate the glasses.

GALLERY OF UPDATES:

MATERIAL INSTANCING:

In the prior lighting system the player could turn off the lights, but the bulbs and glass remained illuminated (as this was done through the material properties). To sort this issue I researched material instancing which allowed me to alter the emissive properties of the materials during play through kismet. These changes mean that the emissive channel of my materials can be toggled on or off through a matinee sequence similar to the lights (Toggle between a value of 0 and 1).


SUMMARY:

Although not as productive a week for modelling as any prior weeks, I've decided to start implementing more mechanics to support atmosphere and narrative. The room is more natural now with the only major items that are required in the room now being the final Armchair and Sofa models. I wish to start adding in more environmental narrative in the coming weeks.


NEXT STEPS:

Models:

  • Armchair
  • Sofa
  • Magazines/Newspaper
  • Magazine Rack
  • TV Remotes

Textures:

  • Magazines/Newspaper (A few variations hopefully)
  • Magazine Rack
  • TV Remotes

Interaction:

  • GFX Movies for showing written text and investigating objects.
26/02/15 Project Update

To make up for the slow progress in the last few weeks I increased asset production. Some of the assets - such as the typewriter - will need partially remodelled/retextured, but I am pleased with the progress that I had made. I also had an unfortunate accident while moving items between packages: UDK crashed and corrupted half of my package, thus I had to spend a day rebuilding the materials and re-importing the static meshes. (I forgot to back up... for about a week or two... rookie error!)

Models:

  • New Roof Model
  • Ceiling Light + Light bulbs
  • Doily's (Rectangular & Round)
  • Plastic Wrap for Small Table
  • Coasters & Coaster Holder
  • Mail (Letters)
  • A4 Paper (Clean & Typed)
  • Typewriter
  • Bin
  • Placeholder Couch & Chair (Testing Space)

Textures:

  • Artex Texture + Normal Map
  • Ceiling Light Texture (Emissive)
  • Light bulb (Emissive)
  • Doily         x2
  • Coaster    x2
  • Letter        x1
  • A4 Paper x2
  • Typewriter
  • Bin (Transparent)

GALLERY OF UPDATES:


SUMMARY:

The scene is beginning to feel more natural and inhabited with the recent inclusions. Even with the placeholder couch and chair, there is still good space for the player to maneuver and explore the environment. I seem to never do what I've written in my asset list below, but I really just use it as a reminder for objects I can include. (I tend to model whatever comes into my head first)


NEXT STEPS:

Models:

  • Remodel part of the Typewriter (FIX)
  • Plastic Wrap for Coffee Table
  • Armchair
  • Magazines/Newspaper
  • Magazine Rack
  • TV Remotes

Textures:

  • Typewriter (FIX)
  • Magazines/Newspaper (A few variations hopefully)
  • Magazine Rack
  • TV Remotes
19/02/15 Project Update

As stated in the previous blog entry, i'm starting to shift my focus a bit from my honours project to my dissertation. This week's work consisted of 2 larger models and 2 smaller prop models. Alongside modelling I also attempted to migrate my project to Unreal Engine 4, sadly to no avail. 

Models:

  • Book Shelf
  • Side Table
  • Telephone
  • Record Sleeve

Textures:

  • Book Shelf
  • Side Table
  • Record Sleeve

Engine:

  • I attempted to use Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) once more as I had sorted an old lighting issue with walls. Unfortunately this was another failed attempt as for some reason a much less populated scene in UE4 was far more processor intensive than my fuller UDK scene.  I am once more abandoning UE4 in favour of UDK. This is my last attempt at using UE4 for Forget-Me-Knot. 

Gallery of Updates:


Another attempt at using Unreal Engine 4


Summary:

At my supervisor meeting we discussed plans for my honours project and what to focus on. Myself along with my peer (who is in the same allocated meeting slot) were told that our focus should be on 'selling' our projects for their art value. If this is the case for the honours submission and showcase, I will have to cut down the scope of the project and limit it to one room setting. This will strip most of the narrative progression and a lot of the intentions out of my honours project, but I can see why he has suggested to focus on making a more visually striking piece. I still intend to complete the project with a full narrative and progression at some point, but with 6 weeks until the deadline the focus will be more on creating a room with strong environmental storytelling aspects to it. By narrowing the scope further, I will try to concentrate on creating better textures with more "depth" to them so that the wear and tear on certain objects will hopefully spark thought in the player.

In terms of the dissertation i'm nearly at a stage where I can start properly writing my case studies. These will make up a large sum of the dissertation so this will be my primary focus for the time being in terms of the dissertation.


Next Steps:

Models:

  • Typewriter
  • Magazines/Newspaper
  • Magazine Rack
  • TV Remotes

Textures:

  • Typewriter
  • Magazines/Newspaper (A few variations hopefully)
  • Magazine Rack
  • TV Remotes
12/02/15 Project Update

This week was less productive than I had intended it to be in terms of the honours project due to illness. I didn't feel up to creating some of the bigger assets so instead produced some smaller ones to make the scene appear more busy/lived in. A list of what changes I have made to my honours project are listed below:

Models:

  • TV
  • Desk Lamp
  • Plugs & Cables
  • Cardboard Boxes
  • Video Tapes

Textures:

  • Paintings + Photographs
    • These new textures are paintings/photographs/tapestry at my grandparents house. The paintings are done by my grandfather.
  • TV Box + Screens (Off and On)
  • Desk Lamp

Interaction:

  • TV can be turned on and off using the "interact" button

Lighting:

  • I have animated the lights in the fireplace to emulate the flickering of the flames. I am still not too happy with how it was animated, but I now know the process and can alter it at a later date.

Gallery of Updates:

Video of TV:


Script:

I have started working on a script for Forget-Me-Knot. I am still trying to decide the manner in which the key story beats will be conveyed, either narrated as a story or as the current thoughts of the character. Once I am happy with the script I will post it on my blog. Currently I feel it requires more work before I will upload it.


Summary:

As previously mentioned, I felt that this week's productivity was heavily hampered by being ill. I hope that for this coming week I will be able to complete this list of models as I feel that these items will make the scene look considerably fuller. I intend to work more on my dissertation (gathering data and making a concrete framework) in the next coming weeks, so progress with the honours project will slow down.


NEXT STEPS:

A lot of the assets on the list from the previous week have returned to be on this week's list. 

Models:

  • Telephone
  • Sideboard
  • Typewriter
  • Book Case
  • Record Sleeves

Textures:

  • Update record player texture
  • Create textures for above assets
05/02/15 Project Update

Starting this week I have decided that I will now be using a weekly blog format posting every Thursday. This new format will allow me to better formulate my blog posts as they were previously sporadic and of a lower quality than I was hoping to publish. Now that most of my process in terms of asset creation has been explained I will be condensing the content in these posts.

The latest update to Forget-Me-Knot was rather large due to the lack of recent blog posts. I will quickly list the assets and changes made to the game in its current state:

Models:

  • Door (Handle, Glass, Body)
  • Door Frame
  • Skirting Board & Roof Trim
  • Record Player

Textures:

  • Normal Map for Walls
  • Normal Map for Carpet
  • Emissive Maps for Window Glass
  • Emissive & Normal Map for Door Glass

Interaction:

  • Door Handle Animation
  • Animations can now be reversed (closing) by reactivating the trigger (No longer requires a seperate closing volume
  • Drawer SFX added
  • Cupboard Door SFX added
  • Record Player Animation(s) & SFX

Lighting:

  • The previous lighting model has been redone. Lighting now looks more natural with the additions of a new spotlight that is activated when the room lights are turned off. This spotlight replicates the natural light coming in from the window.

Video of Updates:


Record Player:

The current textures for the record player and speakers are not final as I was more concerned about the animation and interactivity aspect. The player can toggle the record player on which plays 2 animation sequences (The first moves the Pickup Arm over the record and moves it down to make contact with the spinning record disk. The second animation is a subtle looping 'bobbing' animation for the Pickup Arm.)  The player can activate the record player by pressing the interact button, and deactivate it whenever they please.


Global Game Jam - Narrative Progression

During the Global Game Jam 2015 at Abertay I created a prototype game called "Respire" with a team of 4 of my peers. My task on the project was to work in the engine to build the environment and add interaction. I worked on creating a sequencer in Kismet that would allow the player to progress to different "Story Beats" once the previous one has been completed. The original Kismet for this was created within 24 hours so it was messy and badly optimised. The day after the game jam, I worked on refining the Kismet Sequencer so that It both ran better and was easier to understand. I think will adopt a similar system in Forget-Me-Knot to handle narrative progression.

Old Sequencer:

New Sequencer:


Summary:

I feel that I am making good progress towards my 'end goal' for the honours project. The main concern with Forget-Me-Knot is that I am essentially creating a "whole package" of audio, visuals, gameplay and narrative. Although it is a lot of work, I shall try not to let it overwhelm me. I am finding that these blog updates are a great way for me to gauge both my progress on this project, but also my progress as a game designer/creator.


Next Steps:

Models:

  • Television
  • Telephone
  • Record Sleeves
  • Sideboard
  • Typewriter

Textures:

  • Update record player texture
  • Create textures for above assets

Audio:

  • Start scripting narrative and implement the narrative sequencer.

Lighting:

  • Make the lights in the fireplace flicker.
A New Desk

The desk has received a visual update! Seeing as the desk will play a relatively big part in the game, it was only fitting for it to look the part. I wont describe the process as I normally do, as it is nearly the exact same as with previous models. Overall i'm happy with the new model as it is a large improvement on the previous desk.

Custom Collision Meshes

Because of the new way that the walls have been created, custom collision boxes must be used to ensure the player cannot escape the game environment. These collision boxes follow the contours of the room and should stop items or the player clipping through the static meshes. Due to the shape of the room autoconvex collision wouldn't wrap around the mesh properly, this would stop the player from being able to access areas that I wish for them to explore.

Small Texture Update

I have decided to give the textures on some of the older assets a temporary make over. The new textures will hopefully improve the look of the game until I have the time to re-model the actual assets. 

Old:

New:

Old:

New:

Old:

New: (Still not too happy with this one yet, so will revisit it again later)

I added a few more book textures to the shelf, each book will have its own texture by the completed project. I would have re-textured the book shelf, but have decided it is one of the next assets requiring re-modeling.

Installing Walls & Windows (8.1)

After reworking the shape of the room from the previous prototype, I decided it was about time to add some windows for a more 'natural' and less 'jail cell' look. To begin, I cut a large hole in the wall, then built a placeholder mantel and frame to gauge how the final window might look.

Once the placeholders are created, I rebuild each piece in greater detail. Once all of the pieces are reworked, I will UV all of the pieces, then create all of the textures. In the case of the windowsill to keep consistency in textures I prefer to batch texture as it keeps the techniques I use fresh in my mind.  I decided that the next stage in modelling my window would be to create the curtains. The curtains were built from a poly-plane which I positioned to create rough material folds then extruded the plane back to give the curtain some depth.

To shape the curtain in a more natural position I used the Lattice Deformer tool to retain the previous fold detail whilst also giving it the appearance of being drawn back.

The plastic frame for the window glass was a relatively low poly model. I found that the level of detail of the placeholder model was sufficiently realistic thus didn't require editing further. To create the net-curtain I used a basic plane, created similar folds to the original curtain and applied a semi-opaque texture to it.

Below is the final image taken from the UDK engine.