Thursday, 29 April 2010

Train2Game Update

So, as posted previously I have enrolled with to study for a diploma in game design.

I initially wanted an art based course as thats my passion and my living so extending on that would be beneficial short term and long term.

But when the consultant interviewed me I some-how ended up on a Game Design course which basically means coming up with the story line, the type of game engine and describing to the dev team how you envision the environment, characters and discuss the game play techniques.

The course work came and I started it as I was away on my holiday. It was a lot harder than I had thought, not impossible but it made me have to think about things I had had no reason to consider before.

I was asked to describe a 2D game I would like to develop in 2 paragraphs as well as an Arcade game. It went into game genres and the history of games and game engines. It was interesting but it didn't excite me.

I am not a "game player" in the true hard core sense of the word. I had to research who made various games and what game engine was used and why.

Anyway, I decide this course wasn't rocking my world and anyway as a game designer I did wonder whether work would be harder to find. Essentially, you have to pitch your game concept to developers along with art concepts and they may or may not hire you or invite you to be part of their team.

There are literally thousands of indie developer teams all working in small groups creating games for mobile phones, consoles, PCs and social network websites and all hoping that their game will result in profit. Quite often, they release free games because the popularity of their game is a good thing to have on your portfolio for future games you hope will be funded and released for profit by established game companies.

Even I have had 3 offers from indie developer groups looking for a texture artist to work on a project for free in the hope that it will bring in a profit. But it's always a big "if"

It appears a game designer needs to be creative but more in line with story telling and many successful game designers were at one time writers in one field or another and that's not me at all.

I have always been someone who can replicate an idea or a concept if given reference. In other words I can create art if I have something that inspires me. I have never been someone that can just imagine up art. The above texture was inspired by the movie The Skeleton Key and whilst it's nothing like the interior of the house in that movie it's what inspired me and what helped me to produce the texture sets the texture belongs to.

So, I rang them and explained that I had hoped to be trained more in game art than game design and the chap on the phone said he didn't understand why I wasn't put on the Game Art and Animation course to begin with but that swapping me over wasn't a problem.

He went on to say that the art course comes with a copy of Photoshop CS4 extended ( so I have one for sale if anyone wants to buy! I only upgraded mine 7 months ago to CS4 ) as well as a copy of 3DStudio Max.

I have looked at the course outline and some areas I will probably know a lot about especially were Photoshop layers and techniques are concerned. That said, PS is so big there is always something you can learn from it.
What I am really interested in is learning 3D Max. I have wanted to get into 3D art for a long time but lacked the program and the patience.

I now I feel at last on the correct path and feel once I am qualified in Game Art finding work would be much easier. I would rather be hired by an existing game developer for an existing  game concept and asked to create models and textures of a certain theme than be the one who has to not only come up with that concept but then try to pitch it to a developer in hopes that it will be taken on and produce profit.

Plus, art is what I love. It's not a job to me, it's a hobby and passion and I feel very lucky indeed to be paid for something I truly love.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Holiday From Hell

I have just returned from a two week holiday with my partner.

Holidaying in the British Isles is not cheap and never has been compared to other European destinations such as Greece or Turkey.

To give you some point of reference, It costs us over £2000 just for the accommodation alone. We could of bought a 2 week half board 5 star hotel holiday in Greece for less than that!
And trust me, Greece is far more interesting and beautiful than where we stayed for the first week.

We initially booked 2 weeks staying in a cottage in the Lake District in Cumbria. The website pictures of the place looked fine, all mod cons such as Sky TV in all rooms and even a computer with high speed WIFI access. (yea I know, I'm a tech head.. your meant to avoid PCs and not care about TVs on holiday but I like a "home away from home" holiday)

The owner kind of made a passing comment that he actually lived in this cottage which was one of 3 on a working farm. But I assumed considering his prices, the place would be clean and new.
I assumed wrong.
When we arrived, we found a bedroom with the bedding left unmade but stripped revealing sweat stained pillows.
The lounge area was thick with dust and thats not an exaggeration.

The kitchen had someones washing in the old rusty washing machine and half eaten food in the fridge. Additionally the cooking utensils and equipment and even the light switches had months or years worth of food and grease left from sticky fingers. The kitchen on the whole was filthy and the equipment rusty and old.

The final straw was he bathroom.

On the whole it was like the rest of the house, dirty and lived in (recently) but in the corners of the bathroom floor were thousands of public hairs.

Now, I admit I am a bit of a neat freak but when my partner says:
"OMG I can't stay here!", you know its bad.

I say that because to most men dirt and dust is something they tend not to notice were as to a woman its almost florescent!

Additionally there were plug sockets over loaded with plugs and exposed wiring in ceiling lights.

So, we were stood in this cottage/converted barn having spent £900 for the 2 weeks and as you can imagine, I was stressed.

We toyed with the idea of cleaning it up but seriously it would take weeks to bring that house to a clean and acceptable level and it's one thing cleaning your own dirt and quite another cleaning someone else's.

So we decided to drive home and try find somewhere else for us to stay starting the following day knowing we may loose the £900 we had already spent to stay here.

I spent most of that night sat at the PC emailing cottage owners and holiday companies which were all closed on a Saturday night and went to bed on edge still not knowing if we would get anywhere.

Staying at home wasnt an option, we were having a new bathroom put in and tiled which was going to take around 2 weeks to complete and would be noisy and dirty and my partner had booked 2 weeks off work.

Long story short, I found us another barn conversion in Newquay, South West Wales. (thats where the "Lazy Daze" photograph was taken, in a little cafe called Friends)

The barn conversion was better but by no means luxury.
The place was damp and cold after a long and empty winter. The bedding was damp, the cobwebs were everywhere and it took 4 days to heat the place up and loose the smell of damp, not to mention the black mould behind furniture.

We were stuck in the middle of no where too. After 7 days, I had had enough and once again tried to find us a nicer place for the last week.

We landed a beautiful jacobean farmhouse  cottage back in the Lake District not a mile away from the first place we had booked.

Bridge End Cottage

This cost us £600 for the week (and that was half price!) But it was a 4 bedroom house, designed for 8 people and it "was" beautiful with original old wood flooring and panelled walls.

But even that week was tainted with stress. We had my parents stay for one night on a last minute "off the cuff" decision.

The following day the caretaker Bob approached my parents just as we were leaving the property for a day out.

I approached him and asked "Are you Bob?" He immediately turned to me and gave me a talking down to literally telling me off for inviting two more guests without informing him adding:

 "I am only a phone call away, you could of telephoned me!! "

He continued to bark at me as my parents stood there looking and feeling uncomfortable.
He then went on to chastise me about fire hazards and how he would need to get 2 cleaners in now instead of one because 2 more people had stayed for ONE night.

 I asked him if he needed more money and he kept on saying how it wasn't his decision but that of the owner who he would be informing.
For someone who didn't own the property and had no say in decisions which needed to be made, Bob sure had a lot to say about the whole affair.

I told him to "tell his boss" and we would take it up with him directly.

It wasn't the complaint so much as the manner in which it was delivered. I got the impression he thought we had sneaked my parents in on purpose and were trying to take advantage.

We have stayed in several holiday cottages recently and are fairly familiar with the rules and regulations and generally, if you rent a house you're renting the "house" not a limited number of rooms within  that house as would be the case with a hotel for example.

The whole incident cast a shadow on the rest of the day for us and then I got the email from Greg the owner who is a very nice man who handled the issue with tact and diplomacy. He was under the impression we had 4 people staying in the cottage for the whole week.

Despite correcting him and assuring him we had every intention of informing Bob about the unexpected overnight stay of my parents and adding that Bob had not given us chance to do that as he lunged straight into the lecture when we left the house, Greg apparently felt we owed him more money but was "kind enough" to allow me to decide how much that amount should be.

I offered a further £50 and he took it.

I could of gone on about the hard mattresses and less than squeaky clean kitchen not to mention the fact the extractor hud fell off as I opened it, but it would of only been seen as some kind of defence tactic and with the stress of the previous two property issues, I just wanted to pay up and put it behind us.

Bridge End Cottage is indeed quaint but in my opinion over priced at £1200 a week and the tiny village of Boot where the cottage is located seemed to have that typical "small village snooping" vibe were everyone knows what everyone else is doing.

When your away, you want to feel at ease and the whole affair with Bob the caretaker left us feeling like we couldn't fart without him reporting back to head quarters.

We won't be booking there again!

That aside, for me personally, I only really started to relax in the later part of the second week of our two week holiday and I did enjoy the meals in the local pub in Boot as well as the walks close by.

On our way home we found this very nice cafe/bistro called Chesters By The River

I LOVED this place. The food was to die for, the service like no other and the location was beautiful. The little arty shop there was pricey but the products were clearly bespoke.
I bought a silver chain with two heart shape pendants, one made of rock from the local area.

It's a shame we only found it on our last day but I'm glad we stumbled upon it and think the next time we go away I will look for accommodation in the same area that this place was locate, Langdale Valley.

As we drove through the little villages dotted on the road leading to Chesters, you couldn't help but notice there was a "middle class" vibe about the location.
The views were stunning and the hotels clearly catered to those whole could afford a little luxury.

The irony is, the £2000 we spent on the 3 holiday properties in our two week break could of easily afforded us to stay in a hotel in Langdale Valley.

We are waiting a full refund from the owner of the first property after several emails and threats to publish the 40 photographs I took of the cottage.

Part of our refund requires me not to mention the cottage name or make official complaints or public reviews. Hence I am unable to name the cottage in this or indeed any online website or blog.

On a plus, I did manage to take 200 photos for my texture stock website,

Friday, 9 April 2010

Train2Game - Game Designer/developer

I have just enrolled with to achieve a TIGA Diploma in Game Art and Animation.
Train2Game Website

I knew about this company 2 years ago when they first set up and was a little dubious about them.
You see so many adverts for Driving Instructor courses I just thought "nah" but this afternoon one of their consultants visited me and I am very very impressed not just with the level of professionalism presented but the educational bodies and banks that are supporting them by offering student funding grants.

Apparently, most game companies in the UK outsource their work projects to people in other countries as in the UK there are no real education programs in universities aimed specifically at the game industry.

There are a hand full of "Game Arts" courses dotted around the UK but they cost 20K, take 6 years and by the time you reach the end of your 6 years training the I.T industry has moved on that fast that anything you did learn is no longer relevant.

Plus the courses skirt around areas and whilst you come out with an understanding you have no "hands on" experience.

Train2Game courses were designed by the industry for the industry ensuring students learn by techniques such as reverse engineering a game and then redesigning it, creating your own game, looking into target markets, game play desirability and of course working with applicable software.

They also help you find a job when you qualify.

TIGA is the game industries official accreditation in the UK. Thats the only downside, TIGA would not be recognised by any other country but the portfolio you develop as you'r training, would.

They are quite picky too, they are not the type of company that just takes anyone on such as under 25 yr old males who spend their lives playing games and think that counts as "experience"

In the conversation, I was informed the game industry need more women employees as game companies have realised they have been missing out on 50% of their target market, women.

With the release and success of games like The Sims and Wii Fit they now are leaning towards development of games aimed specifically at women and of course by default it helps to have women working within the development of future games designed for the female population.

Whilst I earn my living from making and selling seamless 2D textures I have no official qualification and my portfolio is too restrictive to be considered by game companies. That said, I have ran my own business for 5 years and prior to that have 10 years of sales and marketing experience which can also be applied to many areas within the game industry.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Playing on my new iMac PC

Just playing with iMovie on my new iMac Quad core 27" monitor LOL
You can drool here
I know it's a bit lame but it's my first attempt so go easy on me :)

Friday, 2 April 2010

Pros and Cons of Virtual Reality Part One

Part One of this post is to give a little background into virtual reality and Second Life. In part two I will dig a little deeper.

That's me above. Well, the virtual representation of me or better known as my "avatar" named LillyBeth Filth.

Strange name? 
Well, I thought it was funny at the time.
LillyBeth was derived from my real first name Elizabeth and what my Mum used to call me as a child.
Filth on the other hand was one of the default names from the drop down menu at the time of registering my new account, I was amused to see it there as an option and as I had no intention of actually staying in SL around that time, I didn't take my name seriously at all.

I am a member of Second Life and have been since 2004.

Second Life or SL as its better known with its members is a virtual world created in 2003 by Linden Labs. 

SL will probably go down in history as one of the first attempts of creating virtual reality. 

Having watched a movie called Surrogates recently I couldn't help but notice how the films characters look and behave like avatars in SL, and not in a good way either.

In SL you can be anything you want to be from an 8 foot busty blonde to a baby in a pram or even a dog. 

There are cultures and sub cultures created within SL which range from Gor (fantasy based masters and slaves with a sexual theme) to furies (animal avatars which again has a strong sexual theme) 
Of course, hard core members of these cultures may be offended by my simplistic description so I apologise in advance if I have not given credit to the more in depth social dynamics of such cultures.

People in SL can also get married, buy a home and even have babies which I won't get into at all !

SL's uniqueness is the fact it has its own economy meaning members can buy and sell the SL currency the "Linden Dollar" for real money on the Linden Currency Exchange

People make Linden Dollars in all kinds of ways but mainly by creating and selling content. 
Content in SL is the virtual version of almost everything you can buy in your real life but for a lot less.
Cars, houses, clothes, underwear, pets to name a hand full. 
But additionally you can buy animations, so if you wanted to dance like a disco diva in one of SLs many clubs you would need to buy the animation to do so.
Want to scuba dive under the ocean? You need to buy the correct animation and indeed the correct equipment to do so.
It's not that you would drown under the virtual ocean of SL (of course) but to "feel" the experience you need to look the part.

Even walking, running and flying can differ depending on which animation you buy and from whom. 

Want a new hair style? Buy one.
Want some new Ugg boots? Buy some. 
Want a realistic looking body complete with photo realistic sexual organs? Yep, you guessed it.. Buy one!

Oh, and going back to animations, you can also have sex in SL by buying very detailed and realistic animations from fellow members. 
Animations are made in programs like Poser but there are also SL based programs that allow you to create gestures and animations for your avatar too,  which of course you can then sell to others.

Clothing is created in programs like Photoshop and 3D applications like Poser or Daz and seriously, the list is endless as to what people make and others buy in SL and as you can see, if you have the time and skill to develop such content you have the potential to make real money from it.

I do not use SL for social reasons, I don't "play" SL. My role within SL is business. 

I own a texture store which was established in 2004 shortly after SL came out of beta.

SL often gets bad press with people saying its members are losers and basement dwellers and I guess thats true for many,  but it's no different from those people who spend their days playing any online game such as WOW or Eve Online or even console games like The Sims , etc. Moderation is key. 

And to defend SL, it's really NOT a game. There are no points, no winners, no losers... Ok maybe a few losers ... lol.. But it's really important to separate SL from online "games" 

Running a business in SL requires the same tools you would need to set up an e-commerce website on the internet.
Skill in creation whether that is learning to build in SL, learning the script (code) for SL or  learning a software program such as Blender, Photoshop, gimp , etc.

Commitment, self motivation, patience, marketing, customer care, and the willingness to work long hours, much longer than your standard 9 - 5 job for sure.

Be prepared to work 60+ hours a week, which I sometimes do and only 10% of my working time is spent actually logged into SL.

SL for some is a 3D social platform and for others a place to be creative and for a small minority a place to turn your creative skills into a real income. 

When SL opened it was no more than terrain, no houses, very simple basic avatars, no nice clothing or hair and we all walked around like ducks due to the lack of good animations. 

The SL you see today is down to all of its members creating everything you see around you. 
The scripting/code to make a car drive or a vending machine take and refund money and deliver products to the customer.
The clothing avatars wear, the houses they buy and spend time in, the textures that bring a building to life, animals, trees, plants, boats, cars, planes and even solar systems were all created by SL users and NOT by the creators of, Linden Labs. In order to truly appreciate that reality you need to see it and experience it.

And for those that mock users and say "get a real life!" I ask you this:
How many hours a week do you spend socialising in Facebook or Myspace?
How many hours have you lost playing games on Facebook? 
Even crappy text based games like Mafia Wars?
How many of you have "Cartooned" your profile pictures to create your own Facebook avatars or paid a dollar for some 2D picture of a Birthday cake to send your friend on their birthday?

Facebook is by all intents and purposes a very primitive version of Second Life. 

You just haven't caught up with us yet! 

But it's coming.

Linden Labs are already making plans to launch SL on Facebook as an "add on"
So you can still chat and play games with your long distance friends.
Only imagine doing so a 3D environment were you can create realistic avatar, chat in your own house,  play your music into that same house and invite your friends off Facebook over.
Go shopping for virtual clothes, buy a dog, walk it, go sky diving, play bingo, or golf.

If it all sounds a "bit much" now, I can assure you in 5 to 10 years people who do NOT use virtual reality in some form or another will be in the minority.

Here are some screen shots from Second Life to give you an idea of the potential and creativeness of its users.

Just remember everything you see in these pictures from the avatars to buildings, vehicles and landscapes were all made by us losers and basement dwellers.

The Look Of Virtual Reality