Tuesday, July 31, 2007

MMO Studies "RTS Module In A MMO" - Revisited

Note: This is a Method. It has been tested, but not to an advance state.

I’ve noticed over time a lot of RTS elements would be fun to implement in a MMO. Problem is it requires a lot of core programming into the MMO Engine. Although it’s attracted to more experienced developers, the independent scene doesn’t really get a look in. I’ve devised a series of Easy to follow methods to get the RTS element into the MMO.

I’ve noticed many MMO’s have a item discard system. When the item is discarded by the player it becomes a dynamic object on the ground which is displayed as its appearance when on the terrain.
For example: You have a sword, you drop the sword onto the terrain. The sword appears as the sword model on the terrain. It can be reclaimed by just clicking on it and selecting pickup.

So what’s this got to do with a RTS system?

Well a RTS is a dynamic system, buildings come and go. Units are dynamic and played as NPC’s. So the item discard system comes into play.

The Basic RTS System

Method 1
Firstly you need to create a HQ type model. Model and texture it. Then import it into game as an Item (not a static mesh).
You then need to do some item configuration. Many MMO item scripts have the option to select what model to display when equipped to player and what to display when discarded on the terrain. If your engine does not support this go to “Method 2”. We want the object to display a “Deed Model” when in inventory or equipped to player. The deed could be a simple square model sized to fit the players hand with “HQ” on it. Now we need to edit the item to display the “HQ Building” when discarded. Save this and test it out. If your test is successful, well done. That’s the basics of an RTS System.

Method 2
Firstly you need to create a HQ type model. Model and texture it. Then import it into game as an Item (not a static mesh).
I take it your MMO engine doesn’t support a two way display system for the item, what it will support though is just the Item appearance. It’s not a problem. Just create a deed icon for the item to be displayed in the inventory (Edit the option to be Player Equipable). Your player wouldn’t want to equip it as it’s a huge HQ building. Discard the item and you should be able to see the discarded item in front of you. This should be the HQ building.

Building on the Basics

Many of you know RTS games run in a order of
Must have HQ
Opens up Barracks, Farm, Tech Centre building options

Sounds like some core programming to be done here? Not really we can cheat this by using simple decision scripts and some creativity.

Best thing to do is create a Vendor. The vendor we will call “RTS Mode Vendor”. The vendor is set up to be a shop. For example here’s a dialog layout:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

I’ll go through this as it gets complex. When you buy a HQ two items are added. The HQ Building and HQ Deed. You will need to set the item HQ Building to “player can’t equip” also set the same for the HQ Deed, this will stop your player equipping a huge building on there body. You only need to discard the HQ Building item. Maybe put a description of the item for the inventory “Deploy HQ Building”. However do not discard the HQ Deed item. This will be used for advance building methods.

The portable vendor is a shortcut to a no core free programming. The portable vendor is shaped in a terminal. It’s placed the same way as a HQ building. It’s advisable to place the portable vendor in the HQ building (if it has interior) or next to it. What the portable vendor does is act exactly like a RTS vendor but you don’t have to walk to the nearest city or spot for it. Meaning you can build your base from the comfort of your base.

Now the Portable vendor unlocks different buildings to buy acting upon decisions. Below is a simple flow chart showing how it works.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

As you can see in the diagram the more you buy the more buildings you unlock. The production buildings “Vehicle factories, Aircraft Factories and Defence Outposts” will bring up another shop menu where you will be able select different vehicles and defences to buy, import to inventory and then discard onto the terrain.

You would have the barracks sell off NPC Combat Type “Infantry, Rifleman, Laser Engineer”
The NPC Units will act like a pet. You can command it to “Attack, Defend and Stand Ground”

It’s the same with all units, aircraft, vehicles and infantry. They should all be set up as Pets. Why? Because pets will follow player command plus you can equip armour and weapons to them. (More information on advance RTS below)

That’s a building on basic RTS system method.

Advance RTS system.

Firstly Advanced Infantry
Pets allow player to equip armour, clothing and weapons to them. If you have a normal infantry men and you want him to be a sniper simply implement a Weapons Chamber & Armour Chamber. In the weapons chamber you will be able to buy cheap quantities of weapons, although these weapons can only be used for NPC unit pets. Kit your guy out with a new sniper rifle and a new helmet.

So appearance of your sniper is looking good. How about skill, it does seem like a lot of scripting of skills needs to be done, but it will be worth it in the end. Implement a Academy. In the academy you can train your infantry units up individually. I’m not talking about grinding but just a simple tell pet to walk on training program square. Select what skill you want to “Teach” your guy. Example “Novice Marksmen Ship - $50”, this will teach your guy novice marksmen ship which for example adds +3 HP. So now when you order an attack on another player/npcs your guy you trained up will have more HP damage “+3”

So there you have it. It’s just a method. It has been tested but not to advance system.

Thanks for reading!

EA CEO Says "We're boring people to death"

Reported by the Wall Street Journal (and covered by various other sites), Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello has come to the conclusion that "we're boring people to death... For the most part, the industry has been rinse-and-repeat. There's been lots of product that looked like last year's product, that looked a lot like the year before."

Surprise...Surprise. All we see these days is the same old same. Only a select few seem to be new innovated ideas which will take design to new levels. To be honest its pretty bad to see the FPS genre re developed over and over. As well as RTS and Horror. There is much more to explore in all these genres. Even MMO's have got boring as its same old design elements and same game play. Where is the new stuff?

Nintendo Wii had PS3 & XBOX360 running for the hills. Nintendo are truly leaders in the fun design world. There games are new and exciting, plus very entertaining. So why have EA, Sony, Microsoft & SEGA stuck to the old routes.

Simple. Old routes are the safe routes. Nintendo are daring and dangerous, the rest just don’t want to jump into that fire just in case they loose money. That's all the industry is these days Money. The industry should be for development of new technology and game play. My previous article explaining how interactivity will be a big thing. It will. Players need to be involved more in the game.

I think we should take some advice off Nintendo. Keep It Fun & Original.

Racing Games Being Free of Restraints

As we look into the open future racing games are becoming more realistic by the day. Although what we are not seeing so far is the ability of freedom within this genre. Yes cars and environments are becoming more photorealistic thanks to the every growing technology but have we taken to old methods again?

Many racing games are just track locked games. The player can not exceed the track limits “Go Off Road” unless off roading is part of the track. There only a select few of racing titles which allow freedom to the player. Frankly it isn’t much freedom but its more then being locked to the track. Some titles do actually try to present the player with a “sense of freedom”. They don’t give us total freedom as there are still boundaries, but they do lure the player into thinking there are some sort of freedom elements to the game. I’m of course talking about “Motorstorm” by Evolution Studios and “Dirt” by Codemasters.

Motorstorm to be put blunt is a mad stunt style racing game which allows players to dare jumps while speeding radically fast across canyon terrain. Allowing some sort of freedom element in this title does do wonders. You can actually fall off the track edge, and Motorstorm does place you on the edge. Although there are some limits. Height limits are placed and also the courses are track directed, even if you think its off roading there is still a direct path the player must take to complete the course.

Dirt places the player in a truly remarkable rally “simulation”. Yes dirt maybe classed as a racing game but there are different types of racing game; Arcade, Traditional, Simulation. Dirt has a great element of freedom, it truly does add to the Rally experience. Players can drive their cars off the road, down cliffs and hill sides, and unless you’re a brilliant driver with the Colin McRae series you will find yourself steering off the track around bends and sometimes straights.

Hold Up. Back On Track!

So freedom is a good thing to aim for a racing game, so why hasn’t it been explored more? Simple because it has. If you allow 99.9% of freedom to the player in a racing game you wouldn’t have a racing title, you’d end up with a racing RPG. Racing games need that limit so the players can flow around the course completing laps. If the course is to “Freedom Flexible” players could cheat by taking shortcuts and just go completely off road and ruin the race. We can depend on the limits to sometimes help us get around the course easier, and sometimes having being locked to the track can be a fun experience as you can then turn the speed up on the cars. Giving you the arcade experience.

Arcade racing games always seem to be the joy of the racing genre, demeaning all laws of the real world and just keeping the fun factor real. When I worked on SEGA Rally (PC/XBOX360/PS3) I come to realize that pushing technology for freedom wasn’t really a factor it was more keeping on the arcade guidelines while boosting up the graphics.

You just contradicted your question?

Well yes and no. The whole part of writing this is to show there isn’t any real answer it’s really according to what racing game its set to. I’m sure we will see titles like Motorstorm in the future, and there will also be other games like SEGA Rally in the future, but what can we expect in new game play terms. Yes we do need to explore the future in freedom, but also we need to keep those racing limits. I’ve tried to work closely with the two. It’s a hard balance between freedom for the racing genre. So many questions;

How much freedom is in the game?
How much balance of freedom is their within the game?
Depicting freedom and Gameplay, where’s the fun element on the freedom aspect?

My formula for balance of freedom and locked track:

(1) Track X has X Mount Shortcuts Shortcuts=off-road off-road has limits

This is just a concept. It’s being put into testing.

(2) Track X(Level Size a ÷ Shortcuts b) ÷ 100 x Shortcuts b = Y Freedom

(1) Here’s how it’s set out. Track X has X amounts of shortcuts. Shortcuts are counted as off-road (freedom) but off-road needs some limit (locked track) otherwise the player could stray away from the track completely.
(2) Level size divided by the amount of shortcuts on the track equals the amount of freedom to allow within the track. Example:
Track Canyon(3400x3400 ÷ 6 Shortcuts) ÷ 100 x 6 = 34% Freedom

This is assuming your track environment is square it wont work otherwise.

In conclusion there are elements to look into the racing genre, but still need to keep to the old guidelines and keep the element of fun in the game. Arcade is still a key element to be had in any racing title, but as well as exploring the element of freedom and allowing new game play. With the test formula it’s easy to figure out how much freedom needs to be allowed in that level. There are sure to be many changes in the genre for the next generation, but what elements it will keep going is to be waited for.

Bit of Scripting

Just touching up on my scripting. This is RC script. The Script is A MMO based Special NPC who adds a special quest to the player if player accepts. If not the script terminates.

Function Main()
//Sets NPC's Name
SetName(Actor(), "Old Wise Man")
//Sets NPC's clothes
SetActorClothes(Actor(), 529)
//Sets NPC's face
SetActorFace(Actor(), 42)
//Animate NPC
AnimateActor(Actor(), "Idle", 0.7)

Player = Actor()
X = OpenDialog(Player, ContextActor(), "Old Wise Man")
DialogOutput(Player, D, "Greetings Youngling, Many moons have spoken of someone with such guidence
as yourself to enlighten your path and fullfil your destiny as a Templar.", 255, 255, 255)

Result = DialogInput(Player, X, "About The Templar", "Im Interested", "No Thanks")
If (Result == 1)
DialogOutput(Player, X, "The Templar Knights were formed on a planet called earth during the medieval ages during the blessing and worship of Christ. Sworn to protect the holy powers the templar’s now roam the universe alliance with the Coalition of the Suns the Templar Knights are to help prevent war between the Coalition of the Suns and The Empriea Imperium Alliance. As well as the Exmpirian forces Templars are also hunted by bounty hunters for federation traders to sell off there Ancient Weapons the “CyroSword, GrailBow (Holocras Arrows)”
Everyone has the right to become a templar but only the true followers of god can embark on the galactic crusade. A templar knight must first journey to earth and find the resting place of the Holy Grail, once there they must then pass three tests, once they have passed the three tests. After completion of the three ancient tests they will then be presented in front of the patent of god there they will receive there blessing and will be able to enter the Templar Knights quarters located on Cordia. There they will be able to learn the teachings of the good book and learn the ways of a knight of god. After there training they are given the holy weapons by the leader.

To present rank and order in the universe the templar knights are ran by the higher orders there are twelve higher order which sit around the round table of king Arthur “The Knights of the Round Table”
", 255, 255, 255)
If (Result == 2)
DialogOutput(Player, X, "I am pleased you have chosen wiseley. Goto the ruins of Corcai. There you will seek the Order”
", 255, 255, 255)
// Add a quest to the player's log
NewQuest(Actor(), "Seeking The Order", "Goto the Corcai Ruins and Seek the Templar Order", 255, 255, 255)

If (Result == 3)
DialogOutput(Player, X, "As you wish. Do come see me if you change your mind”
", 255, 255, 255)
End Function

Monday, July 30, 2007

New Concept Art-Work

Had abit of fun for a few hours creating this concept print. Just thought i would post it up here to show you all.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Level Design 101 – Part 1

During my days in the industry and working with people on the outside there has always been the direction on level design. How do we define a level?

As many of you know levels are the core if the level isn’t interesting then the player stops. It’s simple. Many artists over rush levels, bugs like texture stretching and just careless polygons left. This may seem great when you’re ahead of schedule but what it comes down to is what players will get. Texture stretching doesn’t look very professional at all.

Motor storm seems graphically brilliant when speeding around those canyon tracks. Have you actually stopped to see how it’s all done? I found some textures stretched on rocks and cliff sides. Although sometimes this can help. When driving at speeds getting a blur effect is hard so sometimes textures are stretched for the advantage.

So what’s the process of level design?
Obviously any of you out there have done a few scribbles laying out a level. As you may of guessed levels start as a scribble on a piece of scrap paper. It’s true ask many environment/level artists they will tell you first thing is “scribbles”, because this is your creative mind at work. You draw quickly to get it all down but come to a conclusion with a small vision of what you want your level to look like. So you’ve just gone from Mind to Paper. You wouldn’t need to worry about quality this is just a “quick get your ideas down phase”. Below is an example of this Mind to Paper action.

Quick scribble of a Toywarz Level

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

So you have your scribbles now what?
Well many people go straight to the level package (Editors/Packages) and begin on the level. This is just because you want to see your level in front of your eyes, but hold you’re horses. Before you even think of going to the editors or packages get a clean layout of your level done. Use a 2d package such as Photoshop, Paint shop or even Flash to get a clean good layout of your level. Below is an example of a clean layout.

Below is a Canyon Track Layout

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Ok great. We have a level laid out. Now a lot and I mean a lot of artists/designers don’t use this technique but I do believe it is great to really get a sense of theme and depth to your level plus it helps the artists see what they need to achieve. Style sheets are a great way to get the levels atmosphere and style to the artist by just using a simple technique of grabbing pictures of the internet and pasting them on an A3 sheet. Below is an example I did for a canyon level.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

To be continued…

Friday, July 27, 2007

Define Game-Play Presentation

During my days at Girzzly Entertainment I've redirected the team and the gameplay within Warscathed. By doing countless meetings and alot of discussion i've researched design techniques and the basics of FPS game play. I've come accross a presentation which I would like to give public to help designers everywere understand FPS games shouldnt be a Shoot Kill Mission sort of game. They should be more indepth and allow the player more time to explore and imerge themselfs into the world of the game.


The Link:

Game Mechanics Developing Over The Next Few Years

Below is an article I have written on my views of how the industry and game mechanics of today are progressing into the future and what the future will present for us as developers and gamers.

Looking at the present design in the games industry I can see already there are some technological achievements already shown in some current games which we will hopefully begin to see advance in the future. For example freedom within games will become a big thing. Online games seem to scratch the surface but many fail. Many designers look at pushing technology to its limits, space within levels are maxed. Dark & Light (MMORPG) was classed as the worlds biggest MMORPG, but had its disadvantages on how to fill all that space. Already MMO’s are using computer generated Locations, Quests and NPCs as it would take the artist/designer more time to hand create/place objects, quests etc. More or less new design ideas such as different ways of interacting with the game interface will start to play a big part in the next generation. Touch and speech will play a big part in players interacting with the game. There’s already a prototype by Meta Mersion where the player actions appear on the screen. These include; Crouching, Ducking, Leaning, 360 viewing movement, crawling and standing up). These are demonstrated using Valves prodigy Half Life.

Technology we can relate to which will play a big part in the future of game mechanics would be Sony’s successful eye toy. The player can use their actions to interact with the mini games presented on the eye toy. Players can wash windows and even do karate in real life which is then processed on screen to the game through the eye toy. Another big player which is the Nintendo Wii has already started to journey into interactive game play. Design aspects of motion sensors put into the controller allowing actions such as Swings, Slashes and even punches. Increasing interactivity is already number one on the list for the future of game mechanics. Players find it more enjoyable to interact with the game full on, instead of through buttons/keys. It won’t be long until we see MMO’s adventuring into the interactive side of game play. Soon we will be able to play World of War craft virtually using headsets which set the player into the world of Azeroth, interacting with players by reaching out and virtually tapping them. Communicating via microphones and battling them from sensors placed in the player’s gloves.

Games which relate to Gears of war in the same layout and game play will become more life like in the next few years. Cry tech’s Crysis is already producing photorealistic screenshots and showing off the huge environment technology they have developed into the game. It won’t be long until game graphics become life like as well as key fundamentals in game design. Imagine Sims in a few years. Will players be able to design there home they live in real life and then walk around it in virtual space?

At the moment there is a MMO that has drawn in many players and business people to the virtual frenzy. Second Life offers virtual reality where players can create a world from scratch using the building tools integrated into the games engine. Many businesses hold meetings on this virtual space and even create virtual offices. Some universities in America are currently holding lectures for students who can’t attend lectures in real life. Is this an advantage? Could the future of our life style (Education, Work and even politics) be played out in a virtual space such as second life?

Games will get better in graphical terms but it isn’t always about the graphics, game play is the key in any game. The future withholds many wonderful things for the games industry. Designers now should start thinking of the future game play; instead of recreating the same idea over and over for games, which are around 10-20 hours fun then the player gets bored. Designers need to get the next generation of games in the pipeline, instead of relying on old ways to get them through. New ways need to be created in order to expand into the future.

New Work - END

I decided two weeks back to join Faramix, who are developing a game called END. As it's abit different from what i'm used to on developing racing games and MMO's. I'm sure it will be a good asset to my knowledge and help me develop and prosper as a designer.

Position: Designer

Sculpting MMO Landscapes

Techniques of Sculpting MMO Landscapes

Firstly let’s start off with looking at how MMO landscapes are presented within the world of massive multiplayer online games.

Many developers when creating a zone/persistent based MMO use a variety of tools. Using the zoning based method can save a lot of loading time and allow the developer to pack a bit more detail on the poly count rather then on a persistent terrain were a lot needs to be carefully done to prevent lag. Although using persistent based method can give the player sense of depth and freedom with the MMO.

The actual terrain with any MMO game is usually made within a modelling package such as Maya, 3ds max or Z-brush. However some developers prefer to use there own In-house world editors which can be an advantage and disadvantage.

Using a modelling package can give its advantages and disadvantages, advantages are you have complete control on how the terrain is shaped, the detail of the terrain and easy modification to the terrain. As well as being able to cut holes in the terrain to allow caves and tunnels to be placed. However disadvantages of this are using a modelling package can sometimes give you a very high poly mesh. Advantages of using a world editor is that the mesh presented for the terrain is ready for in game use. All you have to do is add some elevation to the mesh and hit build. Disadvantages are that the editor’s mesh is limited on the amount of polygons, so you couldn’t add extra detail on cliff sides or huge crevices in the ground. However there’s a way around both methods. Combine them.

Combining both methods seems to give of a greater benefit for the developer and can produce excellent in-game results. The technique myself uses a-lot, is to create your terrain in your preferred package, I use Z-Brush 3. Then export the terrain to World Machine, World machine is a complex world generator which can produce highly detailed height maps which is perfect for MMO landscapes. Once world machine has done its work and the height map is produced, you can then use the in-house world editor to create the detailed terrain by using the editor’s in-game ready mesh. Some editors even allow the developer to create bigger meshes to add more polygons for this technique.

Once you’re happy with the mesh poly-count, apply the height map that is generated from world machine to the mesh in the editor. With luck you should see a highly detailed landscape but with a low poly count.

Just a little note, world machine was just an example program I use. There are others out there. Terragen, Geoscape and L3DT are all excellent programs which can produce some excellent height maps for your landscapes.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Keeping My Brain In Gear

To freshen my mind with ideas and to keep it in shape, i've devised a challenge last week. To come up with 30 game ideas which would be commercial quality based. Strong rich storylines and new authentic ideas.

The Game Ideas Challenge

Its comming shortly!

SEGA - After 6 Months

After six months with SEGA. The Game SEGA Rally is comming to an end and everyone is starting to move on. My contract has ran out so now im looking onto the brighter horizions with other game companies.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Finished With SEGA

After 6 months i've come to the end of my SEGA job. Employed as a environment artist and then worked on front-end work.

I worked on the Canyon 2 Level with a senior artist. Then put onto take screens of the game to send off to the press. Then helped work on the front-end for the car selection screens.

Below are screens of the AAA title - SEGA Rally. These have been released to the press.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us