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NitehawkFury Blog

Smiling

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Not really sure how many people actually read this thing, but considering the VAST number of posts that I seem to write, I kind of consider this to just be my own little portion of the Internet.

Today, I was assigned as project lead on one of our program's three Thesis games. That's actually pretty awesome. At the time, I really didn't think a lot of it, especially considering I've been a a lead in all but title for three prototypes so far, as well as the lead designer on a game for the Utah Natural History Museum. (If you haven't seen it, I would highly recommend checking it out. We've been told it's the most popular part of that exhibit.)

In any case, I was speaking with a colleague of mine who happened to see me in a behind the scenes shot of Unicorn City, which is an independent gaming film that's soon to be coming to theaters. (Hilarious stuff, by the way.) He asked me what I had done on the film, and I explained my previous work as a grip and electrician, which he thought was so interesting considering where I'm headed now.

But as a friend of Bryan Lefler, (one of the producers), my colleague asked him about my work. He mentioned who I was and that I was in the program, and the related response was so interesting:

"Oh, you know that guy?"

"Yeah, he's the EAE program."

"Have you ever seen him smile?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Well, he was a super hard worker, but I don't think I ever saw that guy crack a grin."

"Really? I don't think I've ever seen him notsmiling, actually."

When my friend relayed that to me, I laughed, but the comment kind of stuck. Considering that I was filming that movie a year and a half ago, I guess I didn't take into account the way that I was being perceived.

When I talk to my friends now, especially those who've only really known me since I started the program, most of them seem to see me as a generally positive guy who's rather easy-going. I don't like to think that I've really changed all that much over the course of just a year, but could it be that my personality was so dark?

I keep coming back to it, trying to figure out what it was. Was I just annoyed with the heat? Was I annoyed with the work? Was it the wage? Or was it something else? I just can't really put my finger on it.

Perhaps I just wasn't going in the direction that I should have been. Maybe I needed a change, and my face recognized it before I did. I don't know.

In either case, that was then, and this is now. Time to move forward, and keep that smile on my face. Try to avoid the apparent scowl that was a permanent fixture in 2010.

New project, new responsibilities, and hopefully some awesome results down the road.

Here we go.

- K

Choice and Singularity

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[There are spoilers involved in this article, so if you haven't yet played Raven Software's Singularity,you might not want to read on. Or maybe you do. Your call. I'm just saying that I gave you the chance already, so if you complain about it in the comments, it's all your fault.]

As soon as you, as Nate Renko stepped onto the island of Koturga-12, things started going crazy for you. Your helicopter went down, your entire team is killed, and you inadvertently altered the entire space-time continuum while just trying to be a good Samaritan. So, hoping to get things back in order, you go through a convoluted trip through time to try and fix what you screwed up in the first place, dealing with a murderous dictator, Nikolai Demichev, an innocent scientist with ulterior motives, Viktor Barisov, and hordes of soldiers and creatures all warped crazy by the mystical E99.

But you're a trooper. Amidst the lies and misdirection, you barrel through your enemies behind the barrels of your weapons, and finally come to the very end of it all, face to face with Demichev, as you promptly shoot him.

But then Barisov enters. The two plead their cases to you, Barisov asking you to kill Demichev and then yourself to correct the flow of time, and Demichev asking you to kill Barisov and rule as the leader of his armies as you both conquer the world with your newfound abilities.

At this point, as I looked at both options, neither seemed very appealing. I didn't want to go the "bad" route and simply be a lackey for the rest of my life. At the same time, I didn't want to go the "good" path if it meant that I was going to have to kill myself.

But, being trained by years of "moral choices" presented in the same pattern throughout numerous games, I thought those were my options. Half-heartedly, knowing that it would have no real effect, I made my choice.

I shot them both.

Imagine my surprise when that actually worked, and that was a legitimate decision that the game allowed. The two unappealing choices lay dead at my feet, and the story continued as I walked off into history.

I had to sit there for a moment to understand what had just happened. While I'd dealt with ambiguous situations before, never had I been able to simply make the third option of "screw both of you, I'm doing this my own way." But this kind of instant decision-making created an interesting and profound situation for me.

Now, of course, there are definitely other great games that have these kinds of choices. Fallout: New Vegas offered a large number of ambiguous and unclear choices, allowing your choices and relationships to have interesting consequences down the road, which often made you think about what you were doing and to who.

But in a straight-up shooter like Singularity, I really wasn't expecting that kind of unique choice.

Compare that kind of choice to the "profound" level from Modern Warfare 2, "No Russian." That level was much about the shock level, offering you a chance to kill the civilians in order to keep your cover with this group of people.

My first run through it, I didn't kill a single civilian, excepting the security guards who were actively shooting at me. Instead, I turned and fired on my "teammates." Of course, the AI is scripted to have them shout "traitor!" and immediately mow me down.

So, I was instead forced to watch as these terrorists killed hundreds of people, when the actual power to stop it was in my hands in the guise of an MG4. Even with their body armor, I could have torn them to shreds from behind with a careful headshot strafe. But instead, I couldn't.

I understand that there are limitations in games, and that often, you're playing the story that the developers have crafted for you to play. You're not the author, you're simply a character in the tale that's being told.

I also understand that it's a bit of an unfair comparison, because there was obvious a specific reasoning and a specific storytelling purpose behind each situation, but I found the comparison interesting, despite the "unfairness" of it.

But even so, that choice in Singularity makes me think that there are definitely more interesting possibilities to be found outside of just a little bit of shock. Shooters could do with more than just "wow, nice headshot."

And perhaps the player might even find that the choice that he makes sticks with him longer than just a single, skippable level.

The Two-Inch Wall

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The FPS genre, despite whether you may think of it as the bane or the boon of modern gaming, isn't going anywhere for quite some time. It's an interesting and well-implemented system that truly puts the player right into the action. The potential is deep enough that you can truly develop an intimidating skill with time and practice, yet it remains simple enough that even the most gaming-illiterate can pick up a controller (or mouse and keyboard) and start blasting away.

There are, however, minor weaknesses in the first-person viewpoint that can cause frustration, especially in the intense, clutch-moments when you find yourself outnumbered and struggling to survive in a risky situation.

Today, I want to talk about the two-inch wall.

FPS maps, and really, just about all visual aspects of gaming in general, have to do with geometry. Game environments are built out of rendered geometric shapes that are then textured, shaded and skinned with better-looking graphics, but at their heart, they are mostly just shapes. These shapes are placed together in different and interesting ways to create maps that have multiple paths and killzones, which make fighting on each map a unique experience that requires a different approach.

However, no matter how well a map is designed, there are always things that are going to remain just-out-of-view when you're looking through the first-person perspective. Because FPS remains a genre without a peripheral view, on-screen we only see a fraction of what we would normally see through our own eyes.

As you're reading this, you're not only aware of the words on the screen. At the edge of your vision, you can also see your knees and lap (if you're sitting down), possibly the wall or person sitting next to you, or you might even see the person standing just at your shoulder. This peripheral vision allows you to "see" so much more than what your eyes are looking at, which, in turn, allows you to react to small changes in your environment, such as the small rock that's sitting in a path.

When a map designer misses pieces of geometry, there are left small bits laying about on the ground, like tin cans or bricks littered about. In reality, we would have the intelligence to step over such a thing, or if we stumbled on it, we would correct ourselves. But because FPS games are not designed with those instances in mind, there is no stumble. Instead, the avatar is stopped in the path, yet there is no indication other than the lack of forward momentum.

Have you ever found yourself at a dead sprint, when suddenly you're running in place with no indication of why? This is what I call "The Two-Inch wall." It's an immovable obstacle that is outside of the view of the player's perspective that hinders movement in an unbelievably inconvenient manner. Often, such obstacles appear at the worst possible moment to stop you as you're strafing back and forth to avoid enemy fire, stopping you in your tracks and leaving you vulnerable to an easy kill.

Such have definitely been the source of many frustrating moments in my multiplayer gaming experience.

The 3PS, or Third-Person Shooter, does not have such problems, or at least to such a degree. The benefit of being able to emulate peripheral vision in a shooter has the benefit of being able to completely see the avatar's feet, so you can always see where you're headed, and what obstacles might be in the way.

But I'm not going to advocate a wide shift over to 3PS-Only shooters. That's just plain ridiculous.

My thoughts are that such instances could be easily addressed with a little creative application of the tools that are already available to the developer.

Here are just a couple of ideas:

- The implementation of "tripping." If, instead of the avatar simply "stopping," he instead would "trip" or stumble over geometry, that might offer an interesting dynamic to a fight. I'm picturing an instance where two enemies might be strafing, one trips and rolls, and the opponent has to compensate for that sudden movement.

This could also be the source of a rather hilarious instance where a sprinting avatar running at full-bore faceplants into the ground in the middle of a killzone. (I'd laugh.)

- The use of controller vibration as an "obstruction indicator." I know of a number of players that prefer to turn off controller vibration chiefly because the constant jostling becomes annoying, and even contributes to hand fatigue. (For me, the feature also lost its novelty when the Rumble Pack appeared for the N64.)

If, however, the vibration had a purpose, such as letting you know when you were pressing up against a wall or obstacle, that would make it no longer a novelty, but offer a potential tool. You would be able to know when your avatar's legs hit something, because of a tactile response to your actions, instead of just as evidence of an explosion or bullet wound.

- An on-screen indicator. In Call of Duty, the indicator for [PRONE BLOCKED] is extremely helpful. Because you don't have the tactile feel of the wall against your legs, it lets you know that you can't turn yourself that way anymore. Why not implement a similar standard for when you can't see an obstacle?

When you're running, and you hit something and keep running in place, a small indicator should come up that says [MOVEMENT BLOCKED] or something similar. Not that complicated, and it would probably utilize the exact same mechanics as the prone detection.

Just because something has always been done one way, and we've learned to live with it, doesn't mean that it cannot be improved. Since FPS is here to stay, then it would only make sense to take some time and thought to improve it.

It's Good To Have Some Elbow Room

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One of the most difficult things to deal with when trying to get into any field, it seems, is people trying to get you to specialize. I'm not sure why, but most people expect you to be able to describe yourself with a single title. "I'm a doctor," or "I'm a police officer," or maybe "I'm a writer."

But the thing of it is, most of us just aren't that way, especially in arts and entertainment. Throughout my schooling and career, I was always asked what I wanted to be, or what I was going to school for. Most often, I would have to resort to describing my major, "Digital Media," or maybe whatever happened to be the focus of my studies that semester, like "Film."

This can be especially problematic when you start looking for jobs, and people are surprised that you've worked a wide swath of jobs. For me, I've worked as a film grip, a key grip, and an electritian. I've worked as a producer, a production assistant, and an art director. I've been a writer, a UPM, a graphic producer, and a retail salesman. I've worked in landscaping, food service, and as a roadie. All of these things apply to who I am and what I know how to do, and how I can approach a situation or problem, and it does me a serious discredit for someone to ask me "what I do," and expect a simple, no-frills answer.

Over the past year, however, I've come to better understand what I want to do in my life. Gaming, to me, has always been a great passion of mine. I've sunk more time into video games than I have into anything except perhaps my writing, and that drive to experiences these interactive stories and situations finally just clicked for me. Getting accepted to Grad School to start my gaming career finally just solidified my course for me. I knew what I wanted to do.

What's been more freeing for me, however, is that I finally am able to portray myself the way that I want to. When you're working in film, people tend to want a certain kind of person for a certain kind of work. They want you to be focused on the job at hand, and your experiences outside of the scope of that job seem to be mostly disregarded, because you're expected to be compartmentalized.

But now, my hobby and my career are starting to blend. I can be a gamer, and that's finally a good thing. I can start to portray myself as having this passion, and it's not only understood, it's encouraged. Of course, there's a healthy dose of work to go along with it all, but it's just good to have a little elbow room. It's nice to not be stuck in a compartment that wasn't exactly of my own choosing.

And when people ask me what I want to be, then I can explain that I want to be a producer. But when I go to explain myself, I'm not above telling people that I'm a Gamer, Producer, Writer, Artist, and a Jack-of-All-Trades. I'm finally starting to realize that it's not a bad thing to just be who I am, and let the chips fall where they may. No need to worry anymore what "the masses" think, because I'm going to find a group that wants me for who I am.

I'm ready to rebrand myself so my brand is more true to me, and I'm ready to show what I can be. Here's hoping that the hard work is going to pay off.

Seeing the Puppet's Strings

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When I think back to my childhood, I'm always amazed at how full of wonder I was. So many things just seemed so magical, so unexplained, and so impossible. While my life, itself, was comparatively simple, looking back, it was still just such an interesting lens to view the world from. The stars just seemed to shine brighter, and the explanations just weren't as readily available, so I guess I wasn't as jaded as I am now. That extends even into the realm of games. While there's no real comparisons to the graphics of then and now, I realize how very unimportant something like that can be. In our minds, that little, blocky, jumble of pixels on the NES was really a spaceship, and we were the captain, setting out to right the wrongs and save the galaxy from destruction by the forces of evil. Video games became something that inspired my imagination, visualizing new worlds and adventures in a way that let me truly become a central part of it all. As I've grown up, and the games have become more complicated, I've really started to lose that sense of wonder. Mysticism has been supplanted with understanding, reason replacing speculation. It's a little sad to think about, sometimes, but for the most part, I realize the advantage that I've gained in looking back. It allows me that perspective when things start getting a little too "real" here in the present. Currently, I'm getting everything set up for a Master's degree in Game Production, which is something that I honestly hadn't considered, especially considering my educational background. But honestly, I couldn't be more excited. That doesn't, of course, make me any kind of expert in anything, as far as I'm concerned, but it at least gives me quite a bit to think about. As I study my favorite hobby now, examining these games to discover how they work and how to improve upon them, I can't help but wonder if I'm going to ruin some of that illusion of wonder that is still inside of me. Sure, maybe it'll still be there on the subconscious level, but on the surface, I've got to dig deeper into the system than simply whether the game looks pretty. Just like when the puppet's magic is broken when you realize that there is a person pulling the strings, so do I worry that upon analyzing and deconstructing these pieces of entertainment, I might inadvertently "ruin" them in some way, at least for myself. It already happened for me with much of film, so it stands to reason that games might be next. Oh well, I guess there's no real use in worrying about it, yet. I'll just have to keep both eyes open, and do my best to learn it all. And then, when I get the chance to bring my own ideas and projects to the table, I'll have to keep in mind that the strings need to be hidden, and the magic must be maintained. Don't know if everyone followed that, but that's alright. It's good enough for me.