Friday, March 30, 2018

GDC 2018: How To Light A Level, slides and transcript

This post is aimed at beginner / intermediate designers. It's a summary of the talk I gave at the GDC 2018 Level Design Workshop with David Shaver (Naughty Dog) for the "Invisible Intuition" double-feature session.

David's slides on blockmesh / layout are here (PDF) with case studies from The Last of Us / Uncharted. You can also get my full slide deck PDF here, and my speaker notes PDF here... but I don't know when GDC will upload the talk to YouTube, sorry.

A very brief and simple history of light starts with the sun. Then let's not forget about fire, controlled burning in gas lamps, incandescent light bulbs with a filament... and these days, there’s a stronger focus on more energy-efficient fluorescent lights, and LED lighting is also becoming more common.

It’s tempting to think of this as a story about technology and progress and older light sources becoming obsolete... but the light bulb did not make the sun obsolete, and the LED does not make fire obsolete! We still use fire as a light source all the time -- in our birthday candles, in our campfires, in our romantic candle-lit dinners -- in fact, I hate those little fake flickering LED candles, because a real flame has a unique quality to it, you know?

Fire hasn’t disappeared from the world, but rather our culture around fire has changed. That is, fire used to be a common and practical tasklight in Shakespeare's time, but now it feels more like special decoration for a special occasion. As a designer, you need to sensitize yourself to how light feels and conveys these ideas, because this is how you communicate those moods to the player.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Interview with merritt k for MEL Magazine

merritt k kindly interviewed me for MEL Magazine, a publication which covers culture "from a male point of view" but also seems to employ a fair amount of not-men? Anyway, the discussion mostly focused on video game culture and masculinity. I argue that video game masculinity missed a few developmental steps, and I'm dutifully trying to plug that hole with my work. Here's an excerpt of my tirade:
[...] I bring it up because I think the game industry’s anti-sex stance means we never figured out the equivalent of teenage sex comedy games — so game masculinity jumped from a love of cruel mindless violence to a stilted masculinity about being a Cool Dad who raises their daughter to be a Cool Girl, which is totally unearned, right? Video games cannot continue to repress this whole “sexual anxiety” part of masculinity and growing up. Fuck that shit! You don’t get to reconcile with feminism until you actually put the work in.
Feel free to read the rest of the interview, I'm told I say some good words in it. Thanks to merritt for the thoughtful questioning.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dispatches from GDC 2018

In keeping with a tradition I've done for GDC 2012 and GDC 2015, I like to try to condense general moods and topics at GDC. What happened there?...

Post-indiepocalyptic. In past years, I've remarked on the tension between AAA developers vs commercial indie devs vs non-commercial "artists" -- that tension isn't gone, but it's certainly not as big of an issue anymore. Everything everywhere is kind of terrible for everyone. So many people are making so little money that it's hard to distinguish their precarity from another precarity. Besides, a massive political shift is now underway in the form of...

Unionization. I was one of maybe 150 people who attended the unionization roundtable session. My live tweet thread is here if you want my version of what happened. Throughout GDC I heard so many stories that made me realize working conditions are worse than I imagined, and there's a shocking sense of resignation when I spoke to one AAA dev who predicted they were going to burnout with their next 100 hour workweek / 6 month crunch, like it was just this inevitable natural disaster that was definitely going to happen... As someone who trains students in game development, I guess I'm extremely concerned about throwing my students into this giant machine that will mercilessly devour them! (For what it's worth, the IGDA moderator Jen MacLean seems to have walked-back some of her anti-worker positions as a result of the roundtable.)

Generations. I don't know how a lot of other "established" indies feel, but this year when I went to a party or looked out into a crowd, I didn't recognize as many faces as I thought I would. Maybe this is just what happens in every industry, as more people burnout or find something better or in some cases even die. I spent a good amount of my GDC trying to meet new people, and that was utterly exhausting, but I'm still glad I made the effort, because this year felt...

Gayer? I met so many queer and trans people at GDC this year. And one night when I asked someone whether they were going to "the gay party", they asked me to clarify my question: "which gay party?" (!)... As always, I'm reluctant to praise diversity efforts because that implies diversity has been achieved and no more work is needed, but I did feel like there were generally more LGBTQ people everywhere at GDC, or at least more than before, and it was kind of nice.

Overall. Everyone was tired, but there was a sense that maybe it was worth staying.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tips for talking to Robert Yang at GDC

Everyone's doing a bunch of GDC advice for first-time GDC attendees on Twitter, so I thought I'd chime in with a few tips of my own. Here's a helpful tutorial for how to have a successful social interaction with me, assuming you'd ever want to:
  1. Do you see me? I look like this. Or try to sneak a peek at the name on the badge. It should say "Robert Yang" on it.
  2. Are you sure that person isn't Brendon Chung? Brendon looks more like this; we're about the same height, but he's a bit more handsome and has a deep voice, and I have larger lips and generally sound louder and shriller.
  3. If we met at some past event or party one time, and I don't regularly interact with you in-person or on Twitter, then there's a good chance I won't remember you or your name. (I'm sorry in advance.) If you want to remind me that I should've remembered your name, you can briefly mention something like "we met at GDC last year" -- but don't mention a specific number of months, days, or hours, because then it'll seem like you've been pedantically tracking our non-relationship.
  4. (For advanced users only:) I don't respond well to praise or compliments, unless you deliver the compliment in a tone that borders on sarcastic / flippant while still remaining essentially earnest. Your goal is to perform a chipper yet world-weary knowingness.
  5. If we're talking but you don't want to talk to me anymore, then just say something like "well it was nice talking to you" and walk away. If we're in a group or cluster of people, then just let the conversation naturally die down, and then turn to someone else and subtly emote that you're not paying attention to me anymore.
  6. Whatever you do, don't tell me that you read this guide.
If you're looking for a more genuinely useful primer for going to GDC, see "GDC Advice for young first-time attendees, 2017 edition"

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Apply to NYU Game Center 2018 Summer Incubator

Applications for the 2018 NYU Game Center summer incubator are now open! If you have a solid game prototype or a half-finished game, but you don't know how to finish it or how to do all that "indie biz" stuff, then this incubator might be a good fit to help you move toward release and financial sustainability.

The incubator is a 3 month period in the summer that also pays you a living stipend to come live / work in New York City, where you get mentored by faculty (such as the notorious Bennett Foddy???) as well as other local devs. In 2017, there was also a comprehensive series of workshops on how to negotiate, how to do market research, how to register as a business, and the devs even visited Kickstarter and other local partners around NYC for advice and feedback. You also get to meet a bunch of other indie devs, co-work in a friendly environment, and make new friends. (For more details, see "Incubator Curriculum")

The catch is that if you make more than $10,000 in a year from the game, then you pay 10% of the rest of your revenue back into the incubator to fund future projects. If you don't end up making money, then you don't pay anything. You still maintain ownership of your game and IP, and you can also negotiate these terms if you want -- but compared to a lot of funding deals, this is already pretty generous.

Here's some more info and rough math to help you decide whether it's a good fit for you:

Monday, March 5, 2018

Level With Me, BioShock 1 (2007) complete

Last week I finished playing through all of BioShock 1 for my weekly level design let's play series Level With Me. My playthrough wasn't without its problems -- I was playing lazily and haphazardly, which means I relied on the same combat tactics all the time, and I also actively avoided exploring audio diaries / optional areas / player upgrade systems for the sake of brevity. Playing on easy mode also meant the boss encounters lost their pacing, and side areas remained unexplored instead of desperately scavenged for supplies.

Most people fondly remember BioShock for its narrative and setting, but I was consistently surprised with how much ol' fashioned game design went into it. Lots of classic hub-and-spoke level design, and several chains of fetch quests about looking for parts and materials -- remnants of an abandoned inventory / crafting system according to former BioShock dev JP LeBreton, who occasionally graced the broadcast with his presence and offered interesting trivia or context. I also played through the famous Fort Frolic chapter by BioShock 2 lead Jordan Thomas and felt strangely disappointed -- its scripted sequences and theatrical flourishes were interesting, and it made novel use of BioShock's "camera" mechanic, but the critical path overall felt a bit weightless. Again, I couldn't really play leisurely and explore the other 50% of Fort Frolic that was purely optional, so maybe also take my reactions with a grain of salt.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Radiator University, Summer 2018 course catalog

Hello prospective student. We here at Radiator University would like to apologize for the hiatus -- due to circumstances Beyond Our Control, all our course catalogs (printed materials, digital copies, and all backups) for Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 semesters were dumped off the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. We were puzzled as to why absolutely zero students enrolled in any classes throughout the whole academic year, but please rest assured that we have switched to a different vendor for all our printed materials in the future, and This Will Never Happen Again.

On behalf of RU, I'd like to invite all new and returning students to quadruple-enroll in various summer courses to make-up for the lost time. Here is a sample of our Summer 2018 course offerings:

Modern assault weapons are not just controversial, but also extremely ugly. In this class, we will conduct an art history analysis of firearms as aesthetic objects to understand how it all went wrong -- and link the decline of gun aesthetics with the decline of American moral authority since World War II, or maybe even before? Students will be expected to travel every weekend to apprentice under artistanal heritage gun smiths, and as a final project, design and manufacture a new type of firearm that reimagines the gun's relationship to nationalism -- the only constraint is that this new "speculative gun" cannot fire bullets or shells. What else can a gun do or be?

Offered only at West Virginia campus. Lab fee of US$11920.87, including accidental firearm discharge insurance, will be assessed by the university bursar. Prerequisites: at least 1 semester of both METL 200: INTRO TO METALURGY as well as HIST 92B: WESTERN THEORIES OF JUST WAR.