May 18, 2009

Best excuse ever!


I wish there was an equivalent to Senioritis for adults because I am totally going through it right now with this blog and other things. Currently I have zero desire to write about anything because I spend all of my time working on too many projects all over the place to even know what time zone I am in anymore. All that being said, sorry to those of you that visit this thing in hopes of reading something interesting or relevant to video games.

BUT... here is what I have been up doing!

I went on my honeymoon to Grand Cayman Islands. Pretty awesome time, swam with dolphins, saw 60 year old sea turtles, went to Hell, drove on the wrong side of the road, drank lots of cherry milkshakes, nabbed some conch shells, took lots of pictures, almost ran over an iguana, snorkeled, and relaxed on the beach. All in all it was a week of bliss with the lovely wife!

Been playing a lot of games as well since I cannot sleep. Just finished the following...

- Wolverine: Props to Raven and my good friend Derek Daniels for doing justice to the character, Blob fight was AWESOME!

- Star Wars The Force Unleashed: On the final boss, doubtful to finish due to cheap nearly instant death loops, fun physics!

- Ninja Blade: Wow is all I have to say, repetitive but I finished each insane cut scene QTE with a bizarre smile on my face!

Also been playing a lot of SF4, still suck but it's fun for old times sake. If you wanna kick my ass because I know lots of people that love to beat up on game designers, feel free to email me your gamertag.

I promise to get back in the swing of things come June when Milestones are finished and travel has subsided!

Oh yeah E3 is coming up so if you are going and want to hang out or whatever drop me a line!

Finally, I leave you with this amazing clip!

March 24, 2009


Yeah, it's happening... if you wanna hang out get in touch.

I'll be wandering around Wednesday - Saturday.

March 5, 2009

The Orange Tractor

So I am a big fan of TED Talks, they are interesting, make me think about topics, and excite me about the world and its potential for good. Each time I get ready to travel to developers the iPhone gets filled up with new talks to make the time on the plane and in the hotel pass a little faster. Recently I stumbled upon this incredible new technology called Siftables, watch and be amazed!

I love the idea of these little blocks that hold endless possibilities for learning and entertainment. The first few applications with numbers and letters are really cool and I know my wife would play the word jumble game for hours but the real magic was the interactive narrative storybook. When the cat and dog were snuggling I was excited but my mind was officially blown when he made the cat fly away in the balloon.

Children's books and shows like Blue's Clues always intrigue me because the concepts are so simple yet teach children while they entertained. I think console games are getting really good at teaching but they only teach concepts important to the game, not the outside world. Now this is what they are supposed to do but perhaps all the techniques I have learned to teach people how to kill things can be better put to use one day for learning math or a language. All that being said, I am still happy making games for the "Big Kids"!

But hey, if Leap Frog is reading this, let's do lunch!

February 19, 2009

Attack Animations: Part 3

What’s more important than the attack animation, simple the reaction animation! I find that more times than not the reaction animations are the difference between a great game and a good game. I mean it’s a pretty simple concept if the attack has terrible payoff then the attack becomes less attractive but if the payoff is great then super duper attractive.

Attack animation should trigger a matching reaction or as close as possible if you have a generic sort of reaction system. This means if you have say an overhead attack, it would be nice to knock the opponent to a kneeling pose. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I do an attack that looks like it would cause one type of reaction but instead if causes something off the wall to happen just because the designer had to work in some extra functionality at the last minute. Try to plan the attack functionality of your game ahead of time so you can build a generic set of reactions to match.

When building combos try to think about how the opponent is still reacting from the previous hit to setup the hit area of the next hit. By doing this, the opponent is always in the right place when the next hit of the combo lands. A common problem with reactions is that they look repetitive so if you build the attack animations in the combo to change levels this can be avoided. This also allows the attacks to build one upon the other in terms of violence and the reactions enhance this escalation for maximum presentation.

Take this example for instance, I have a shotgun for a weapon!

1. Gut Buster
• Attack = Smash the opponent in the stomach with the stock
• Reaction = Doubles over holding stomach while vomiting

2. Tooth Fairy
• Attack = Uppercut the opponent in the face with the stock
• Reaction = Stumbles backward teeth flying from mouth

3. Head Trauma
• Attack = Crack the opponent over the head with the stock
• Reaction = Drops to a kneeling position spitting up blood

4. Death Sentence
• Attack = Pump then aim downward now fire the shotgun point blank
• Reaction = Flies backward slamming into the ground lots of gore

As you can see the attacks change levels, which cause the reactions to dramatically change levels. Also you will notice that the player’s weapon position is always right in line with the head of the opponent so the next attack can strike easily strike the focal point. The overhead reaction is the best part since the opponent is completely immobilized and spitting up blood thus begging to be finished. Here comes the stylish pump to point blank fire, all execution style to finish the job (for better or worse, violence sells so know how to do it right).

Attack animations translate and by default so do the reaction animations. I hope you are already seeing the problem; it is easy to make the next move in the combo not translate far enough to hit. Lots of games fail to do this and you miss combos for no reason other than they did not think about it until it was too late. At the same time be sure to displace the opponent far enough that the next attack does not collide early and rub on the opponent until the hit collision becomes active.

On a similar note, the time between attack animations is important because if it is longer than the time of the previous reaction the opponent will recover and ruin your combo. In a single player action game all you need to calculate is the time between each hit in a combo and make sure that the reaction animation is greater than that time, problem solved. Please do this because I have played a lot of games recently that do not do this and it frustrating to get screwed out of combos. More importantly if you do it for the player then you will obviously make the leap that you should do it for the enemies against the player to avoid infinite lock down loops which are even more frustrating… Conan final boss black tar minions = GUILTY!!!

Finally when you animate reaction animations I feel it is important to start the animation in the pain pose, not the idle pose. By doing this, the first frame you see of the hit is powerful thus feels good. Also do not use any blend or tween on reaction animations because it will make them feel soft and sluggish instead of hard and crisp.

I am going to close this topic with something I firmly believe in…

Animators have three jobs:

1. Animate
2. Export
3. Meetings

If an animator is implementing moves, writing mel scripts, making effects, or anything else then they are not creating assets which designers need to build the game. Worst those distractions are causing the assets they are creating to be lesser quality. For some that may be too harsh but animators tend to agree rather quickly to the surprise of the production staff.

Well hope this was helpful?!? New topic early next week!

February 13, 2009

Street Fighter 4 Launch Party!

Tonight was the big night that was 20 years in the making, the rebirth of a legend STREET FIGHTER!!! The event was amazingly put together and the MOCA was the perfect location for a game that has spawned so much memorable art. They even had cabinets made into pieces of art, one machine was literally an Akuma (Gouki) with beads and smoke or you might think the machine just got raging demon'ed, it's art and thus up for interpretation right?!?

I played a bunch of the new characters that were not available in the earlier versions I played at GDC last year and the fight club night earlier this year. Rose was fun but a felt a little odd, I was hoping she would have her friends super but no such luck. Cammy has a lot of crazy motion going on in her animation and her attacks seemed crisp. I got a nice win streak with Zangief, loving the range on the SPD and his focus attack is the perfect new setup. Overall I want this to be the next big thing and it might just be that but there is something odd about it that I cannot put my finger on yet, hopefully that will go away the more time I spend with it. Oh yeah, lots of game developers were there along with some lower level celebrities if you care about that stuff, like Bai Ling mashing her little heart out and doing it with a smile.
A few stray copies of the game were thrown into a crowd which then caused an avalanche of humans to smother poor by standers that did not understand what getting a copy now meant to some people. Those lucky enough to score a copy will surely not be sleeping tonight for sure!

All in all the night was pretty amazing even though it was a pain to get everyone inside, I mean the fire marshal showed up at one point. The people love this franchise and showed up, let's hope they show up to buy it so it won't fade away again.

Can't wait to learn this game all over again next week! The challenge mode is going to U N B E L I E V A B L E!

Finally big thanks go out to Seth Killian for getting me on the VIP list to avoid that awful line.

February 10, 2009

One of my Dream Games

Best book ever for a kid and still a lot of fun as a grown up. When I travel I make it a point to search out a book store and buy a copy in the native language. So far I have the standard english version, italian, spanish, and japanese. I was bummed when it was not available when I was in Korea :(

I love this book, moreover I love what it does... it takes a simple thing such as being a brat about not eating dinner and turns it into an adventure in a magical place with crazy monsters. One of my favorite things in entertainment is the ability to create another world that is full of wonder. Pixar has a knack for being able to create these worlds and Monsters Inc. is my favorite film because of the world they created. The doors, the scream as power supply, the monsters, everything about it feels real, perhaps mundane yet fantastical at the same time. Oddly enough this whole other world creation thing is what I love about games and probably the number one reason I love making them so much!

Anyhow, if anyone knows anything about this being in development as a game or if a developer reads this and wants to make this into a game, PLEASE CONTACT ME!!!

The movie has been caught in limbo for what seems like an eternity but there is hope it will come out this year, Spike Jonze do me proud sir... Oh wait now they might reshoot the entire movie. Bummer, this image will have to do for now.

February 1, 2009

Attack Animations: Part 2

Have you ever heard the phrase "Sculpting Time"? Well Cory Barlog uttered that gem during an interview while he was still an animator, we all gave him shit about this quote because it sounds so ridiculously high brow. The truth is animators are doing exactly that, sculpting a chunk of time into an amazing animation based on some design. Design has to think of time as a material such as marble or stone because if the artist has too much material to begin with the sculpture may be too big and take far longer to complete than originally anticipated. Herein lies my first piece of advice, ALWAYS give the animators a frame range.

Frame range can be as general as the total amount of frames or can be as detailed as to break the animation up into four pieces; the anticipation, connection, follow through, and recovery. Design should have a good idea of what frame ranges will work best but if there is any doubt do some testing. Generally three test animations (fast, medium, slow) can determine the speed that seems acceptable for the character. The attack hitting is really important because more than anything else it will determine how fast the game plays, so spend a lot of time testing all sorts of hit ranges. Typically in 3D fighting games the jab hits around 8-10 and if I remember correctly the first strike of Kratos's Square combo hits around frame 12.

If you have no idea what sort of frame ranges may work best for the game you are working on then I suggest buying some of the top notch fighting games and doing some research. Find some moves in the game you like then seek out the frame data to remove a lot of the guess work from the process. If no frame data is available you can always video capture the move and dissect it frame by frame. Heck you can even go old school Jordan Mechner! A few frame data links below...

Street Fighter:

Tekken Tag
Tekken 4
Tekken 5

Once we have the frame ranges down its time to move onto the translation of our attack animations. The translation of an attack animation serves two purposes: 1.) It makes the player feel like they are mobile and 2.) it closes ground on the enemy to increase the chance of a successful hit. Many games completely fail when it comes to creating good translation for attacks, hell some games have none at all... these games tend to score very poorly on the Metacritic so get down with the translation!

So how do we create good translation, well it comes down to the acceleration and deceleration curves. If the curve is too smooth if feels boring, if it has too harsh of a fall off it feels stilted so again we need to test a lot of motion to determine what kind of curves will work best for the game. Another question is should we translate pre-hit, on hit, or post-hit??? Again this is different for all kinds of attacks, but asking the question ahead of time means you are considering it instead of guessing in the dark. Below are a few types of translations commonly used for attack animations...

Plant - a simple foot planting walk from one attack to another, usually covers short distances and is considered high in fidelity but unresponsive and bland in terms of player feeling.

Slide - hit a pose and slide forward propelled by some amazing force, usually covers long distances and feels really good if the accel/decel curves are on the money.

Shuffle - sort of an split between slide and walk, move the feet but slide along, usually covers medium distances and halts upon connection pose transferring all the translation into the hit.

Other notable variations: Hop, Leap, Dash, Sprint, etc...

The translation of an attack animation is very important because not only does it serve to make the player feel mobile when attacking but it also plays a huge role in determining the size of the combat spaces. Honestly a lot of testing and metric work will be required to figure out what sizes work best with the attack translations. I tend to start with a small space being half the distance of the combo length and the large space being four times the combo length... just get with the level designer and TEST!

Well now we have an animation in the ballpark for timing and translation, check back soon for Part 3!

January 13, 2009

Attack Animations: Part 1

I know I'm late but the topic of attack animations was much more difficult to put into words than I had initially expected. Generally I speak about these kinds of topics using a white board and scribble notes so actually writing it all down is a bit foreign and so because of that I am going to tackle this topic in a couple posts. Stay tuned!

Attack animations begin with ideas that should take the "character" into account first and foremost, in other words "Form" before "Function". By doing this we should not have Yoda doing drops kicks, which would be totally out of "character" thus making the player scratch their head instead of enjoying attacking with Yoda. Once enough "Form" ideas have been generated its time to bring "Function" to the table. "Function" dictates when the hit frame is, the total length of the animation, how far the move travels, etc... Now that all the brain dump has taken place its time to combine all the elements of "Form" and "Function" and paper design an actual attack. Ok have fun and brainstorm the crap out of attacks before settling on one for creation!

Time to explain your creation to the animator. Do you know how to speak their language, I hope so or this is all going to end badly :(

The first rule in expressing an idea to an animator is to start with anything NON-TECHNICAL… they are artists after all. Walk them through the idea in words to begin with, hopefully you've already created an animation list with a small written description is available for them to read. Best case scenario is they get what you want because you are an amazing speaker whom can articulate complex ideas through words, ok I am lying this never happens. So here are my Top 3 techniques of getting them to understand the idea.

• Get out of your seat and act out what in the hell it is you want! This technique not only gives them a visual study of motion but it shows the designer is committed to the idea enough to get up and make a fool out of themselves. The acting also allows the animator to point out issues with motion, footwork, etc… thus creating a healthy creative dialogue!

• Ok this one is really just another form of acting but it uses puppets instead of people. Get some toys, stuffed animals, or whatever floats your boat and have some fun with motion and posing to get your idea across to the animator.

Capture Reference
• Video capture reference from other media sources such as sports, movies and other games is a quick and easy way to express complex ideas. The ability to find just about anything on YouTube these days has become a vital tool in my game design bag of tricks! The other nice thing about this is the animator can keep the reference to look at time and time again during the creation of the animation asset.

NOTE: Video taping either the acting or puppets greatly increases their effectiveness by turing them into video reference.

Now that we know how to express our ideas, what ideas should we be expressing for attack animations? Well, for me there are only three things to worry about when creating that great attack animation: Anticipation, Connection, and Follow Through!

• The Anticipation of an attack animation is the calm before the storm; there is something about it that sticks in your brain giving you a sense of destruction before it even happens. Seeing this destruction well beforehand focuses the eye so that the Connection is always seen in the best possible way. The Anticipation pose needs to be achieved quickly and then held for a bit so it reads well on screen, remember that motion is not needed once the pose has been reached. The Anticipation pose should also be very over the top and feel like the weight of the world is about to strike behind it to sell the attack.

• The Connection of an attack animation is usually a single pose that shows the very best pose of the animation to ensure excellent presentation. If the Connection pose is ever confused as something other than the Connection then it is wrong and should be fixed immediately. Imagine this pose being a freeze frame where all the blood, impact, and sounds are sold to their maximum potential, think of a K.O. blow in a boxing match. The face of the attacker should read power, strength, and dominance where the face of the enemy should read pain, Pain, and PAIN!

Follow Through
• The Follow Through of an attack animation can make or break the attack because it conveys the power after it happens. The Follow Through should have one key pose that is held before the animation begins to recover back to the base pose. Think of a baseball player after he hits a homerun, one could look at that pose in a picture and know what happened. The best way to achieve this is to use strong over the top poses and spend more frames savoring them and less frames returning to the base pose.

This concludes Attack Animations: Part 1, hope to see you back for the next part very soon.

January 8, 2009

EGM, a goodbye...


I was so sad to hear EGM was put down, not to mention 1Up being placed in limbo during a buyout :( Man look at that photo above it's glorious! It happens to be the very first issue of EGM I bought from Walden's Books at the Canton Center Mall which was the place were I learned to play Street Fighter... oh the memories! The issue was amazing with pictures for all of Ken's moves. So crazy to think that it was February 1992 and below is the final issue that will never happen for February 2009. Talk about full circle, with the world warriors on the cover.


The EGM/1Up staff have always been warm and welcoming and even invited us over during industry events in SF so it will be sad to know that will never happen again at that office. I can only hope they will regroup to start something even better with a new place to hang out in the not so distant future.

Best of luck to all of you and EGM will always be REMEMBERED!!!

January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all those who read this thing from time to time and I hope you had an enjoyable holiday season with family and friends!!!

Well, I figured what time is better than now to update the blog. Sorry for leaving this thing vacant for such a long time but I was giving "life" a bit more of my time over the last few months. I had the best year ever, I got married, I got to work on a lot of different games (contract designer), read more than any year ever (shameful but true), traveled a lot, and ran two marathons. Getting married was a whirlwind adventure, 6 days in Italy for the ceremony and first reception, then we had 3 receptions on three consecutive weekends starting in Portland for my wife's family, then to Ohio for my family and finally in LA for friends. Tons of smiles and memories with everyone important our lives, this alone made it the best year so far and probably ever!

Recently have I started to play games again, catching up on everything I missed this year. I manned up and actually played a bunch of shooters of late which is hard for me because I get motion sick from FPS so I have play in small doses. BioShock was really amazing, CoD4 was cool but I suck so multiplayer was just a bunch of dying and being sad. Plowing through The Orange Box right now, done with Half Life 2 which I liked a lot, especially the dune buggy sections, I love road movies and want to make a road game one day. Portal was tough with the motion sickness but I made it through and loved the atmosphere and mood. The humor was endearing and the voice was perfect. Playing all the demos on PSN Store, most are awful and kill any interest in buying the game, word to the do not throw together a demo, instead "kill it" or don't do one at all! Oh yeah I am finally getting an Xbox 360, so late to the party on that one but better late than never. Tons to catch up on that system, but its not like I am missing too much since most of the big games are shooters which are not my #1 genre as I am sure you gathered from the above. The DS was a life saver on the road this year, between the Castlevania series and Soul Bubbles it made a lot of boring hotel stays pretty fun. I love games but there is not enough time in the day like there was when I was a kid so shorter games with tighter story and lots of variety are the key to the future of games, in my opinion... old man gamer in effect!

I played a lot of Street Fighter this year, its my roots in gaming even though I am not very good so it was good to get back to basics. Derek is always the king of knowing when some little get together is happen, I get calls like James Chen's tonight or let's go to Sunland to play on Vic's super gun setup... god bless Derek for being so connected to the community.

I was fortunate to get a lot of matches in with the team members at the studios I have been working with this year. Why do they all love Third Strike thought (never played it until this year), it baffles me but I am old school and love my ST too much I suppose... shrug. Oh yeah Short Short Super is growing quite nicely and that is crazy because I thought it would fail, goes to show what I know. So thank you to all the studios willing to risk time and money on me. Breaking out the Street Fighter for a little after hours cool down or lunch time battles was the icing on the cake for most of the design sessions!

Also I have gotten a few emails and saw a comment asking me about God of War 3. I am no longer with the team which I thought was known and clear from a previous post. Certain members still keep in touch and they say it is going well and will carry on the tradition. I look forward to playing it just like everyone else!

Lately I have been trying to figure out how to post about game design because seem to want that but its hard to write without getting all dry and boring. Most of the stuff on Gamasutra bores me and I do not want to write like that, I wish the lunch conversations and IM Chats I have with industry people could be translated into the blog. I suppose podcast would work but I am too lazy to do that, sorry :( Also I struggle with this weird thing called internet famous, its not my style but no knock to those who are or search it out. Then again I want talented devs to get the respect they deserve and media attention of any kind may be the best avenue to get that respect... but heck I would not even appear on the GoW making of videos (media shy). When I think about writing something this little internal conversation occurs in my brain that goes like this "who are you to write about this" but when someone asks me to write about a topic that does not happen, don't ask me why because I have not put any metal effort into figuring out the difference. I guess that is why I have such an issue with the blog it sort of goes against me wanting to hide in the shadows, oh well it will sort itself out in time like all things.

Well that's it, I updated and said nothing but let's hope this will get me posting more this year. If not yell at me, I respond to pressure!!!