Personal development as a professional

So this will be the last post I'll ever do as a university student.
It feels funny to think that 3 years have gone by so quickly and now we're all ready to start developing ourselves, not as members of an institution, but as professionals.
I luckily manage to merge my studies with my integration to the gaming industry, but that doesn't mean I'll stop there. This future journey requires a constant and non-stop work towards perfecting our own work.I'm hoping to keep trying new things and never stop learning. In the meantime, here's a summary of some of my works that I put up as a showreel/demoreel.

Thanks for reading so far.


Game Republic, GaMaYo and other social events

Thanks to a friend a met at the last year's Game Republic student showreel held at the college, I managed to get involved into numerous events. She and some of her friends put some money together and bought a year subscription to Game republic and managed to get entrance to events organised by parters such as TIGA and GaMaYo.
It was thanks to her help that I managed to get some access to the events happening locally that otherwise would have cost me quite a lot. Some reunions have been quite fun and informative, some other more social and relaxed, but so far I managed to make a physical presence with some people that represent companies such as Simon from Four Door Lemon and some other indie developers. The subscriptions has now expired, but if I stay around West Yorkshire, I'll definitely join it.

Sure at some point I'll probably start developing personal projects that I'll be able to demonstrate around. This kind of gatherings are incredibly good for getting feedback on projects you're working on. I got quite a lot of positive reviews for my Sanctuary game; I only managed to get some screen shots, yet that helped me to get some aesthetic feedback. Hopefully I'll get around to exported into an ipad/iphone and be able to show it around.

Just on the most recent GaMaYo event I went on the 24th of April at Shooters Sports Bar in Leeds there were special guests from Microsoft, Mastertronic, Unity, BBC and UKIE, not to mention a good bunch of people showing their work.

Gaming graphic evolution

Found this image set online the other day and it just brought me wonderful memories and an awful feeling of ageing. Looking at the evolutions of some of the biggest gaming franchises gives a perspective view of how much and how fast the gaming indrustry is evolving. The technical limitations are disappearing more and more and the only thing standing in the way is time and budget. Wondering how now mobile technology is overtaken by far on what used to be console gaming makes you think what will the next generation of gaming will be like. 
The scary part of this in my opinion, is maintaining up to speed with the latest technology and how to keep implementing my artwork and gaming ideas into a project that has to be a step ahead. 
This is what pushes me to eagerly attend to conferences and game shows, not to only see what's coming out soon and have a go at it, but to the more technological side of it, that could help me get a better perspective of what's coming.
Locally and relatively frequently the events like Game Republic and Gamayo bring people along from the industry that gives us a perspective of what recent developments they've done. 
In the meantime...look at all this images and get full of nostalgia... 

CV creation

I started doing my CV way before I came to the UK, while I was finding a part time job and to apply to come as an international student. Not like there's much difference to make one now other than the pressure of getting the dream job.
The difference now is the experience that I've accumulated over the past few years. 
The biggest challenge comes, along with cover letters, when I've been in the case of applying for different positions; due to my 'broad' skills I find myself often interested in different positions that require different sets of skills. 
Say I apply for a 3D modeller position, I have to modify and emphasise on softwares like Maya and Zbrush as well as mention my experience on the cover letter and portfolio work. 
In the case if 2D game artist photoshop, illustrator and drawing skills go to the front. 
It does become at some point a bit tactic, and the more you know about the company, their workflow and what they're looking for, the easier it will become applying for the position.
Something that I've notice is that timing is everything, so sometimes you just can't guess when it's the best to apply. No all companies like getting applications through agencies, not all companies want a standard CV but then again it all comes down to how 'serious' or rigid the structure of the company is. The bigger the company, the more stages or thresholds you have to pass.

This is one of my latest CVs. Not perfect, but it has been doing the job. Thinking of making a more creative version, but judging at the reactions so far, I think it's always best to focus on portfolio.

Artist review - Nicholas Kole

This man with a the funny moustache is Nicholas Kole. For quite a while I've been following his work on tumblr, read his blog and stalked him on twitter (we even played words... I won!).
The artist american artist has always influenced me in the freedom and fluidity that is iconic to his style. Recently he did the illustration book for the film Maleficent for Disney, but his work goes way beyond that.

He's very versatile in themes that he chooses for his work and no matter what kind of commision he does, he pulls something elegant and full of vibrant colours. He has shown before his workflow and basically all he does is sketch, shade with one tone of water colour and retouch colours digitally. Obviously this is not the only way he works, but certainly he seems to have a quick way of working that brings loads of ideas, specially when it comes to character creation

It's hard for me to say 'I want to be like him' when he's only a year older than me (got a lot to catch up to). 
He also has a working comic called Dawngate Chronicles  which looks absolutely fantastic! (with full colour pages...). Do follow him on his tumblr  and blog, you wont regret it. 

Different artistic approaches

The idea of having a unique style is something that every artist wants to achieve at some point; something that is easy, comfortable and furfilling.
Something that happens a lot in artistic communities online is the cross style challenges. 
There are two general approaches that I've come across in places like tumblr: 
One where one artist draws an iconic piece of his/hers (sometimes they draw themselves) into different others artistic styles. The other one is the opposite, which is taking some one else's design or concept and reducing it with your own style. 
Both approaches are usually used with a practice approach, helping the artist get out of an artistic block, source of quick inspiration, get people out of their comfort zones or just pure practice. 
The first case is something that I've briefly tried myself. In a way of admiration to the originality of the artist who's style I was trying to imitate I got myself to do some practice and tried quick drawings but paying attention to the details that make the style so unique. This exceesise was fun and certainly very useful to practice my observation skills. 

The other option, where you take something existing and transformed it into your own style, is something I've seen a lot in competitions and tributes. My favourite one is, again part of tumblr, where people try as a challenge to complete their own version of the pokemon 'Pokedex'. The variety of styles that you get to see around is absolutely incredible. Having the challenge to 'redesign' at least 151 characters and keep them under a similar style certainly must be hardwork. 
Just like this challenges, there are other ones going in tumblr, and the artistic community there certainly like to keep each other challenging and busy.

Making of 'Disney Vacation Club' game

I must admit that gaming wise, I haven't had many good 'experiences' with Disney games lately... maybe it's because I'm too old. Other than my childhood memories of The lion king and Aladdin for SNES (and recently Kingdom Hearts) I've been very unaware of any developments for any Disney games.
I love the look of dioramas, specially if they are in 3D. Isometric views and board games have a certain charisma that I can't help to be attracted to.

In this case, I found a video of 'The making of Disney Vacation Club board game" that shows the work of the lead 3D artist Piotr Kolus and his work with VRay. More than a process on it, he show's what he's done and how he works towards getting such detail views.
The video is quite long and slightly hard to understand sometimes, but certainly very interesting and quite inspiring. Now I want to go to Disney land...


Witchmarsh by Inglenook

Witchmarsh is an action RPG set in 1920s Massachusetts. The idea of this game is to create and mangage eating  a team of investigators in a story driven supernatural mystery.
This is a mix of modern and classic RPGs, with branching dialogue and responsive, tactical combat that can be played single or 2-4 players.
One of the main features of the game is that it features a massive character creation sandbox with over 50 unlockable abilities ready to mix and match attributes, perks, items and weapons in order to create a unique team.

This beautiful pixel art world started it's kickstarter campaign a few day ago by Luciano Sgarbi based in Leeds. All I can say is: back this up! It's so beautiful!!!!!  (and visit the tumblr for the game)

Remaking games

Game remaking, HD versions and re launching on newer platforms is something I've been hearing quite a lot these days. It's not surprise as there are a huge number of incredibly good games that would have been even better if they had better graphics.
I can personally thinks of many Gameboy titles that I would love to play again such as Advance wars or Final Fantasy Advance tactics. 
In some cases like the recent release of the HD version of Final Fantasy X and X-2, had some improvements including model and textures re touching, better lightning, higher definition on pre rendered scenes, better camera angles, and now it plays on a 16:9 widescreen.

There have been other titles that have got a complete make over, like the case of Kingdom Hearts Chains of Memories, that was originally made for the GBA and was entirely in 2d pixel form. On the release of Kingdom Hearts Final mix it featured as a fully 3D remake along side with the HD version of the first entry and other bonuses.

This entire process for all cases, whether is remake or just enhancing, must be quite a laborious process to keep the fans satisfy. I'm pretty certain that as technology advances, we'll be seeing this scenario more and more often, specially with big franchises.


Working for the game industry

I haven't been working for the industry for long (about 6 months now) yet I feel that I'm getting a good idea what it's like for small companies to function. 
A small business usually work based on commissions or contracts; a client in this case comes to is with a specific task and budget and once it's agreed we proceed to work on it. The general idea it's fine, the actual process is a nightmare. In my experience, the client didn't have a solid idea of what he wanted and they kept changing their mind half way or near the end expecting to have the changes done within the original time frame. This obviously bring pressure not only to the manager of the project, but to the entire team as technically the client is demanding you to work twice as much of what you're getting payed for. Things within reason can be done, but dramatic changes or adds on the work had to be discussed and re timed/budgeted. 
I problem I came across often is when you or the manager time things wrong; thinking that it can be done quickly when in reality is more time consuming than expected. This doesn't sound much different from what people who through at Uni, yet in this case any failure significantly affects the finance and reputation of the entire team. 

Certainly is been hard to keep quiet and do as your told, specially when you know things could look better. Not that my opinion wasn't valid, but it was because the client had a vague vision, yet not an specific idea. (I don't want to say an specific example to avoid troubles).
There are a lot of times when I just wanted to flip the desk, when I thought I wasn't cut for this, or when I thought I was working too hard for a project I'm not even keen on, but I've managed to see the bright side of it. 

Something I leaned at Uni and that I'll start applying into practice is to learn to time; think of how long it'll take me to do something, add a bit of extra time if there is something I've never done before and double that time. Not that I want to take it slow and get paid for doing nothing, but in reality it'll probably be a more realistic time scale and the client will be happy. Also there's a chance to finish earlier if things go right and get some extra time to polish things up.
The other bright side about working in undesired projects is the expansion of skills; unless you have a very very narrow audience and workflow target getting out of your comfort zone is something every artist should try every now and then. I feel like doing cartoon/stylised is the most fun for me, yet trying odin's something realistic, backgrounds, animals or something you're not used to will certainly improve your artistic skills and maybe learn a few techniques in the process.
It has certainly been difficult to juggle work and university studies during my entire degree, but now that I'm at the end of the tunnel I don't feel like I regret it. If anything, I'm looking forward to try numerous projects and look up for that ideal job, and in the mean time enjoy the process. 

Black Desert

I came across a few images from this game on tumblr. At first I thought about Final Fantasy XIV or Elder Scrolls (haven't played any of them, but I've seen a lot of them). Then I saw a customisation video for when you're making the character and WOW!
I must admit, the graphics are just incredibly beautiful! probably beyond that. I was amazed by the level of customisation that can be added to the character, then the gorgeously designed environments, then the fast speed game play, then ridding horses and building houses! This just seemed to me like an idea MMORPG.

Unfortunately it turns out it's only out in Korea... no plans of localization yet...but I have my hopes up as it's only on a beta phase at the moment.

The video below is a bird perspective of all the different environments of the game. This fantasy world was noticeable well design in every aspect, and so far the game play looks good enough.It's interesting to see how graphics are being handled, with some obvious draw-distance popping of more detailed items as the camera flies by.

Organisation and naming conventions

This post is part a rant and part an 'I told you so...' feeling from all those years at uni.
Since we work mainly on digital files in the industry something to be expected is to create a high number of files, groups and folders and sometimes more than one project at the time.
Collaboration between peers is common practice and for as much as you like or dislike a project you're working on, it's never right to receive a file where you have to spend twice the amount of time trying to figure it out or fixing someone else's laziness.

This is one of the first files I ever got when I started working... Call it OCD, but this dove me up the wall. It made the project instantly look more complicated and time consuming than it actually was. Point taken, some project require quick modelling and texturing like this case, therefore is understanding not having the time to clean it up entirely, but grouping and naming some of those groups can make a huge difference.

I must admit that I never used to be organised, and it was only after I started working on groups and after bad headaches that I realised the importance of it. I might not be an expert on it, yet there are loads of tips online that will make everyone's life easier:

Use self-descriptive names
The rule of thumb  is that you can identify what's inside the file. 'File1' or even 'bigboss' doesn't give much away while putting something like 'final_boss_lvl_01' can be more helpful. This is is a good practice not only for the file names, but for the PSD layers, groups of objects in Maya, etc.

Enforce the rules
If you know that the naming is important and you know what things have to/want to be named as, tell the others. It's not good to assume that they will know what you think/want without telling them so. This helps a lot in the general communication as when corrections or feedback comes in place everyone can name things the same way and immediately spot problem.

Archive for the future
Sometimes there's the need to come back to old files and rework something. If everything is named properly this task will be a lot easier. Once things are ready to move on, make sure to put files organised in date order, and in the case of several versions of the same file, always make sure to state which one is the official/final one.

At the end of the day, it becomes a good habit in no time, it saves you time overall and makes communication easier.


Finding a job in the game industry

Something that has been quite a hassle while trying to find a job in the game industry while still finishing my studies.
The ideal for any student about to finish uni is to make a smooth transition from being a student to integrating to the industry as soon as possible to start generating income and experience.
I currently have a job, yet I'm wishing to move to a studio or a bigger team where I can improve my skills and have a creative working environment.
This process has been (for personal reasons) even more difficult, but I have tried.
There are countless ways to find out about positions available; websites, agencies, social media, individual companies' websites and events.
The one that's becomes the easiest are websites dedicated to posting countless jobs, usually these are controlled by agencies, therefore there's rarely occasions where you contact the company directly. After going to individual websites of some companies, 80% of them state that they don't want applicants from agencies, which then becomes a bit of a contradiction and the resources become even fewer. Twitter is a very good way to stay in touch with companies and they usually post opportunities there, but then again you have to be alert to whenever they post anything.

Some good websites that I use frequently are:

GamesDevMap (this is good to track individual companies)

I narrowed down a good list of 45 companies I was interested and had vacancies to which I could fill the roll; 30 where in the UK, 10 in other parts of Europe and 5 between America and Canada. Being a foraigner, i have the pressure of having to prove myself to the company that I'm better than any other candidate. This is the hardest part; is not that I don't believe in my skills, but I know that there are a lot of people who can do similar work or way better. I am certainly not the most appealing candidate, that's for sure.
Despite all this, I ended up applying for all of them. It was an extensive process as most of them require a slight modification or adjustment of my CV and all of them a different Cover letter. Juggling between this, final deadlines and work has definately not been an easy task, and despite the multiple rejections and non-responsive reaction, I managed to get at least a couple of companies that came back to me with positive reaction about my work, therefore at least I know I'm on the right track.


Child of Light - fairy tale masterpiece

I bought this game on the day it came out. When I saw the trailer I just knew I had to have it.
Made by Ubisoft Montreal for the PS3/4 and Xbox one using the UbiArt Framework, Child of Light is a short fairytale digital game with a mix of 3D and 2D. It's a playable poem in which you will embody Aurora in her Quest to save the world of Lemuria of the evil Dark Queen and recover the Sun, the Moon and the starts. The story is complemented by a crafted in verse and rhyme, the entire world if absolutely breathtaking full of detail in every corner of the scenery.

The whole game is using plain images moving around from pivots (similar to what Unity does for 2D games) and uses different planes and parallax to give the effect of depth. The main character at least, is in full 3D with gorgeous textures and incredible dynamics for the hair. The animation it features is pretty neat and the whole feeling of the game is just unbelievable. 

The main character, Aurora, grows as the story goes by, giving it a great sense of time lapse for the story. 
Because of the narration and the dialogue is done in rime, the fairy tail immersion is just incredible. 
They certainly dedicated themselves to work on as much detail for the world, and the characters are well planned and beautiful in their own way. 
The gameplay itself it's a turn base similar to RPGs, yet it has a time base action line that give a unique twist to the whole experience. 
At this point I havent finished it (stupid deadlines) but apparently it's meant to be a short game. Because it can only be found as a digital copy, it's quite cheap, therefore I highly recommend for people to play it if they get a chance. Again, is a game so iconic and there aren't many games like this with such a unique style. The closest game I can think that resembles in grandness is Journey for PS3 (different style and story, but similar user impact). 

Game jams - 24 hours of fun/stress

I must have talked before about the Game Hack in London organised by TIGA.
Before I joined the course I was informed about what happened in the gaming world, yet not so much into the game-making industry. I was quite surprise that part of a common practice was to participate in these game jam that can go from 24 hours to a week. Either online or going to specific locations, the idea is to make a game in as little time as possible, this helps the process of decision making incredibly short, the potential for innovative ideas to pop out and from quick and effective problem solving. My main surprise about this common practice is mainly because I had something similar back when I was studying architecture and I always found it a bit strange the way they tested the practical and creative side of it; one Saturday every two months we go early in the morning, get briefed there (you have no idea what kind of project they'll ask for) and then you have 12 hours to develop plans, elevations and scale models of your proposal.

Global game jam is one of the most famous ones, as the name says, it can host anyone from anywhere in the world. Apart from this one there's almost always something going on and CompoHub is a website that tracks all the game jams happening and about to happen .

The idea of going there was terrifying at first, I imagine it being all professional and hardcore game making. Luckily it turned out to be a quite fun experience; I was lucky to have a team but for people who when on their own they where separated according to their skills and put into groups. This way is a fantastic way to meet other people and engage with the community. It's was so much fun to talk to other groups, see what people do. Some team where really serious some others just went for the fun of it. A wide range of people and talents merged into one roof. Not sure if all the game jams are similar, but certainly TIGA's gamehack was absolutely fantastic and well organised. If anything it shows you to an extent what people are capable of doing and putting together in a short amount of time. Might not be industry standards for AAA games, yet when put into perspective, you can get to get an idea of what it would be like and where you are with your work.

Meet Envy - Nellyvision

When I went down to TIGA's Game Hack in London I teamed up with Nellyvision, a small company based in Brighton, to make a 24 hour game. Some one in the team had the idea of making a game that could help foreigners to learn some basic Chinese, as he was about to get married to his Chinese girlfriend and they were planning to visit. 
There was not much time to develop ideas as the coding and graphics had to be done as quick as possible. 
I ended up being in charge of character design, animation and props. 
The idea of the game called 'Envy' was about this little english girl that gets lost in a Chinese city. With her imagination, she starts creating and transforming her surrounding into an adventure, where by writing come chinese characters she unlocks areas of the city, defeats monsters and solves puzzles.  
I developed some moodboard that later on where compared to the ones Steve made (there was two of us doing the graphics). I thought about making a populated city, with loads of interaction with the objects, maybe with a grey scale of colours and enhance the ones that will help you out with colour. Character wise, I liked the idea of line-less characters, rich in colour, and enhancing the idea of her being a foreigner with loads of contrast in her eyes and hair. 

The development of the character when from stylised/cartoon-ish to a more japanese/manga style (which suits my style easier) and started being a boy to the final concept of a girl (gender wasn't that important I suppose). 

The animation wasn't good if I'm honest. I think it was the pressure of making a decent animation for a walking cycle in pretty much a couple of hours that put me off. Also it needed a jumping animation and a burning one, because she was to fight some dragons along the way. 
It was quite fun in some respects as I've never been to one of these events before, yet i would have love more time to work on it.