Diary Entry (27/2/17 – 10/3/17)

After a short break after submitting our mid term reviews, we started back at uni on Monday 27th February.

On Monday we had an Asset Production lecture about materials and textures. We learnt about the difference between realistic and hand-painted materials, texturing and preview programs and material editing.

Realistic materials are usually seen in games which have a larger memory allocation, such as console and PC games, particularly those which focus on player immersion. Materials should be physically based, with light information being stored inside the ambient occlusion map.

Hand-painted materials are usually seen in games with limited memory space, such as mobile or handheld games or those which are animation or gameplay heavy. Light information can be painted into the albedo map, being able to apply highlights on edges and shadows in crevices. This saves memory space as it negates the use for an ambient occlusion map.

Texturing programs:

  • Substance Designer – allows the user to create materials for their models; multiple variations of materials can be created with the click of a button.
  • Substance Painter – allows the user to paint materials on models; unique, custom details can be added to models to heighten realism.
  • Quixel Suite – based around Photoshop, textures created in multiple Photoshop files; broad range of materials spanning from realistic to stylised; prone to crashing (not available at NUA)

Setting up the texture document:

  • document size – all textures on models need to abide by the power of 2
  • naming conventions – document name should be relevant to the model and where it lives within the game, as descriptive as possible; each new word should begin with a capital and underscores ( _ ) should be used instead of spaces; when creating multiple variations of files, use letters instead of numbers (e.g. Wall_Damaged_A not Wall_Damaged_1) (this is due to the fact that letters will stay in alphabetical order in a file list, however numbers will only do this from 1-9); example: Category > Specifics > Abandoned_Hospital_Architecture_Wall_Damaged_A

Game engines/preview engines:

  • UE4 – game development tool used by developers; real-time game engine; “anything is possible”
  • Marmoset Toolbag 2/3 – full-featured, real-time material editor and renderer; easy scene setup; built in HDRI (High Dynamic Range Image) presets to test multiple materials under different types of lighting; good way to view 3D models

Materials in Maya:

  • Lambert – default material (avoid changing the default material as this will affect all new meshes); represents matte surfaces such as chalk, matte paint or unpolished surfaces with no specular (mirror-like) highlights
  • Blinn – effective at simulating metallic surfaces (e.g. brass, aluminium) which usually have soft specular highlights; same properties as Lambert with the addition of specular shading attributes
  • Phong – represents glossy surfaces (e.g. car mouldings, telephones, bathroom fittings) with a hard specular highlight; only minor differences from Blinn, it’s down to personal preference which you use

Materials in UE4:

The material editor in UE4 can be accessed by either navigating to the starter content folder and selecting the Material folder within that (which contains all default materials) or by creating a new folder inside the content folder, and then creating a “Materials” folder within that (remember to right-click in the empty window to the right and assign the “Material” function, which then triggers the material editor to open).

Material instancing in UE4:

Material instancing is used to change the appearance of a material without completely recompiling it. This is done by first creating a master material with a series of parameters which can be changed in the instancing process (e.g. colour, metalness, roughness). In order to distinguish the master material from the instances created from it we often refer to the master as the parent and the instances as the children. If a master/parent material of a generic metal was to be created, the instances/children could be altered and changed to represent a wide range of other metals such as copper or gold.

Physically Based Rendering (PBR) (also known as Physically Based Shading):

PBR allows us to gain a more accurate approximation of how light behaves as opposed to how we assume it will. Physically based materials work equally well in all lighting environments, in addition to the material values being less complex and less dependent on one another. These benefits are not exclusive only to photo-realistic rendering, evidenced by the use of PBR in newer Disney/Pixar films.

RGB maps:

  • Albedo maps (also commonly known as diffuse maps) are the base colour input. No directional light or shadow information is included in this texture, which should result in flat colours with variation applied to areas of wear and tear.
  • Normal maps are used to simulate surface detail which is then transferred from the high-poly mesh to the low-poly mesh via baking. A normal map utilises RGB channels of a bitmap which correspond with the three dimensional axis of the model.

Greyscale maps:

  • Metallic maps control how “metal-like” the surface is. Materials like plastic, rock and raw metals should be set to a value of either 0 or 1, not anything in between! Hybrid textures that translate between different material types (e.g. raw metals to rust) will have a fall off between 0 and 1.
  • Roughness maps control how rough the material is on a scale of 0 (smooth, mirror-like) to 1 (rough, matte).
  • Emissive maps control which part of the material will glow. White values allow maximum light whilst black values will allow no light. You can also choose an emissive colour to control what colour the glow will be.
  • Ambient occlusion maps are used to perform a rendering trick which samples a hemisphere around each point on the face, works out what proportion is occluded by other geometry and applies shading accordingly. Like real life surfaces that are closer together (e.g. small cracks) will be darker than surfaces that don’t have anything in front of them. There is no such thing as ambient occlusion in real life.

On the next Monday we were shown a demonstration of UE4 and given some tips:

  • logging into your Epic Games account is not necessary to use UE4, working offline saves time
  • NUA will be locked to v4.15.0
  • WASD navigation like most FPS games
  • spacebar toggles between move/scale/etc
  • be mindful of file structure and naming conventions
  • folders: meshes, textures, materials (put meshes into mesh folder, textures into texture folder, etc)
  • in FBX import options untick “import materials” and “import textures”
  • RGB = RMA
  • compression = masks (no RGB)
  • we won’t be learning about light maps in BA1b
  • packing textures is very important

In the workshop on Wednesday we got to use UE4 ourselves, importing our own models into the default scene and adjusting the physics to see how they react to being shot. We also learnt how to correctly import and set up meshes, textures and materials.

 

Key resources:

YouTube – UE4 Material Instancing

Epic Games – Instanced Materials

YouTube – Materials in Maya

YouTube – Introduction to Materials in UE4

Epic Games – Physically Based Materials

Sébastien Lagarde – PBR chart for UE4

Vimeo – Unfolding in Maya

 

On Tuesday 28th February we had our introduction to our next module – Game Studies. Described as a “contested, interdisciplinary field”, we learnt about three different approaches to studying games:

  • Humanities approach – what meanings do games create? what are their affordances? aesthetic qualities?
  • Social scientific approach – how are people affected by games? how do people create and navigate games?
  • Industry and engineering approach – how can we create “better” games? in what ways do games relate to technological innovation, networking, etc?

We discussed how academic studies and games themselves actually have a lot of elements in common:

  • rules
  • collaboration
  • competition
  • speculation, critical thinking, debate
  • exploring ideas and pathways in a “safe environment”

Steven B. Johnson talks about the history of play in his 2016 book “Wonderland: How Play Made The Modern World”.

Looking at games from an academic perspective helps build one’s expertise and understanding of games and even improves one’s game-making knowledge.

We found out about our two main tasks for this module – a collaborative wiki of games from four different eras (pre-digital, arcade, console, contemporary) and a 2000 word analytical essay.

“Computer Game Studies, Year One” by Espen Aarseth is the first entry in in the academic journal Game Studies, essentially as a manifesto for how he feels game studies should be done. I wrote a summary of his main points here.

Some key resources for game studies:

We also looked into The Futurists, an early 20th century social and artistic movement originating in Italy which focused on technology and dynamism. Futurism went on to influence Dada, which then went on to influence Surrealism.

Dada was another early 20th century art movement, conceived as a response to the first World War and used abstract, nonsensical art to express disapproval of violence, nationalism and the bourgeois (a notable example being Hugo Ball’s 1916 poem Karawane which consisted entirely of made-up words). Conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp produced a lot of work associated with Dada, however was not directly associated with any Dada groups and was careful about using the term itself. Duchamp’s art was intended to stimulate the mind as opposed to the eye, distancing itself from traditional ideas of beauty. In 1917 Duchamp produced an artwork entitled Fountain, which was a porcelain urinal. Fountain was submitted to be displayed at Grand Central Palace in New York City, but was rejected by the Society of Independent Artists as they believed it not to be art, which caused uproar amongst Dada groups.

The term “Surrealism” was coined by writer and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire in 1917, with the first Surrealist manifesto being published by writer André Breton in 1924. The aim of Surrealism was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality”, creating artworks which displayed juxtaposing and/or illogical scenarios as a way to express the unconscious mind, often using collages. The second manifesto, published in 1929 also by Breton proposed moving away from automatism and focusing more on creating political visualisations of the unconscious. Like Dada, Surrealism was anti-fascist, collaborational and progressive.

Next week, on Tuesday 7th March we looked at participatory culture and transmedia storytelling.

Participatory culture is where everyone is able to contribute and share their work, making it possible for everyone to work together, collaboratively. This is different from cultures where the vast majority of people are simply consumers of media, as opposed to being able to produce and share their own creations. This has become particularly apparent with semi-recent advancements in technology and the introduction of the world wide web, meaning everyone (particularly younger people) is able to easily access, create and share media and educate themselves on political and social issues.

A major figure in the field of researching participatory culture is scholar Henry Jenkins. The main concepts which Jenkins talks about are:

  • “Drillability”
  • Continuity vs multiplicity
  • Immersion vs extractability
  • World building
  • Seriality
  • Subjectivity
  • Performance

Jenkins states that young people’s interests should be taken seriously, as younger and older people working together as equals is what leads to success. With participatory culture, it is particularly important that everyone listens to each other and takes a mutual interest in each others’ contributions. As mentioned above, Jenkins talks about how important the introduction of the world wide web and in particular social media has made participatory culture accessible to the general public. The world wide web has made it possible for people to express their views on political and social issues where it may not be safe for them to do so in real life, a notable example being how players in online multiplayer games often hold in-game protests over real life issues. He mentions some types of alternative communication as almost being an older form of social media (e.g. underground press, small radio stations). More examples of participatory culture include cosplay, free software and user-generated content for games.

Transmedia storytelling is where a story is told over multiple different forms of media, a notable example being The Wizard of Oz, which was originally a novel but has since been adapted into stage plays and films. Advancements in technology make it possible to tell stories in new ways, such as video games allowing the player to interact with the story themselves, or children’s toys/figures letting them control the story. This is what Jenkins refers to as extractability, an important element of transmedia storytelling.

A franchise which is participatory and transmedia is more likely to stand the test of time than those which are not. A notable example of this is superhero comics. Superheroes generally have rich backstories, work in an open environment and have long-term open-ended missions to eradicate evil as opposed to smaller, closed quests. Superheroes often possess qualities which many people strive to have themselves, meaning they may want to take on the role of the superhero themselves.

 

On Friday 10th March we had a seminar. These are the notes which I took down:

  • Futurists had a positive outlook on the future, felt no need to hold respect for the past. The time we live in now is post-future.
  • Consider an interdisciplinary approach to the study of media – overlaps between different media types.
  • Some games have a dissonances between the story and mechanics (e.g. BioShock – critical of capitalism however gameplay revolves around personal gain)
  • A lot of academics in the field of game studies have moved on to different fields and have little to nothing to do with games any more.
  • Archiving media is very important otherwise it gets lost – make backups!
  • Even though games have existed for decades, we have only just started archiving them.
  • Cards have a lot in common with digital.
  • Some games (mostly board games like Mouse Trap or Monopoly) switch rulesets partway through (going from competitive to co-operative or vice-versa)
  • Solitary games are often based on chance.
  • Visit the Video Game History Foundation for more information on the preservation of games.

 

Overall these past couple of weeks have been very informative. I enjoyed getting to use UE4 and I’m looking forward to using it more in the future. I’m also finding our Game Studies unit very interesting so far, and am looking forward to learning more!

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