Carrie Warwick Games Artist

A portfolio displaying my 2D and 3D work


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Guest Lecture – Matt Folkard

This week’s lecture was presented to us by the wonderful and quirky Matt Folkard. Rather than talk about  a specific topic such as been done by some of the other guest speakers, Matt talked about his own personal experience within the industry and the ups and downs he’d had whilst working on games, both as part of companies and going solo.

I’ll start with a little bit of background into Matt: He started with degree at Manchester and specialised in programming, although throughout his career he has dabbled in art and now creates most of the assets for his games by himself. After graduating he got his first job as a programmer in 1996, and for 7 years he worked for a variety of different companies, from mobile phone game port companies to adver-games companies. In 2003, he founded the company Plastic Martians declared himself a sole-trader. A few years down the line in 2005, the company became limited and Matt became the full time owner and director of Plastic Martians.

The unique and eye-catching home page of www.plasticmartians.co.uk

Matt specialises in casual games, and produces work both for companies as work for hire and develops his own free-to-play web based games. Some of the games created by and owned by Plastic Martians include Plastic Balls, a web only release used a portfolio piece. This game had no monetisation built-in and no analytics  so for Matt this was purely a way to learn the ins and outs of getting a game out there and also as a way to attract clients. During downtime he taught himself game physics and from that games called Plastic Christmas, and following on from that Plastic Cactus were created. Again, these were never made with the intention of being big-hits or as a means to make money, but more as a way to display skills and advertise the company. When working for hire, it’s always important to get as much quality content on your portfolio as possible. Not only does this show that you have a wide range of skills, but it shows any potential client that you are capable.

Many of Plastic Martians’ games are available to play directly on their website www.plasticmartians.co.uk, and the site itself is creatively designed which makes it memorable and engaging – both vital in helping you stand out from the crowd when looking for paid work. Their games are simple but fun (I’ve just found myself spending far too much time trying to balance a worm on a cactus in their Plakka Cakka game!) and this is an important thing to remember when displaying any kind of work on a portfolio. Keep it simple and make it easy for potential employers to see what you have to offer.

A screenshot from the game Plakka Cakka

Though Matt’s talk was not specifically related to gaining a job in the games industry, he had lots of information which was helpful and encouraging. One of the key points for me was keeping yourself motivated. The games industry can be a very unstable environment to work in, and all too often you hear of studios closing and job losses. Even as a potential artist, you may only be employed on a contract, and the possibly of being without work between contracts can be disheartening. Matt stressed that even when there are times where work is not available, you must motivate yourself. One example he gave was earlier this year when he was out of work for four months, he used the time to learn new skills and began programming for mobile games. I believe this is key to this industry. Keep on top of where the industry is moving; what new software is available, new games, new techniques. Keep up to date with the news and also keep your skills sharp.

Freelancing may not be what I’m considering at the moment, but as many larger studios close and more and more people are going back to developing small indie games, then this is definitely a potential avenue to explore. Overall I enjoyed Matt’s talk thoroughly. It was more personal than others we’ve had and it’s quite inspiring to hear about how someone has come out of university to work in the industry and eventually become the owner of their own company.


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Sunday Morning Update

Morning everyone, it’s been a busy couple of weeks as the first lot of hand-ins approach and I’m tending to find that any spare time goes into university work (as it should ^_^). This is just a quick update as to where I’m at with my projects, as the car’s come on quite a bit since my last work update and I’m now starting to progress with my dissertation project.

So the vehicle; last time I posted anything about this it was simply a concept within my imagination. Now it’s well on it’s way to being a nice little 3D model. It’s sitting at around 36,000 tris and we have a limit of 64,000. This gives me quite a bit to play around with so once the unwrap is complete I’m probably going to invest a bit of time modelling some more creative items for in the back of the car. Prepare for a barrage of WIP shots!

 

To create the car, I started by blocking out the shape against reference images that I created based upon the concept. From there I started with the wheels, used splines to create the wheel arches and bonnet, and the cabin and back box and other bits  were poly-modelled. The next step from there was removing all the unnecessary loops and fixing the topology. For the wheels and the Ford logo, I used the high-poly detail to bake these onto low-poly versions. So the low-poly version is currently where I’m up to, and I’m now about 90% of the way through the unwrap. This will hopefully be completed later on tonight, giving me all of tomorrow to fix any little blips and add extra detail before the hand-in. Texturing coming soon…

For my final environment project, I’ve done the block out and created some simple camera shots to get an idea of how the final environment will be displayed on my portfolio. From next week the asset modelling will begin so expect to see some nicer shots within the next couple of weeks as this progresses.


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Guest Lecture – Beverley Bright

Good afternoon all. This morning’s guest lecture was given to us by Beverley Bright, a freelance art consultant who has a wide experience of the games industry. Beverley herself has worked on numerous published titles, and has worked on many platforms, starting way back on the PS One. The main topic of this week’s talk was about how outsourcing is used within the games industry and the pros and cons of using this within a production pipeline.

Firstly, a little about how outsourcing came to be commonplace within the industry. Back in the 80’s when creating video games was started to be explored, the people working on these would typically work on their own in their bedrooms and create the entirity of a game by themselves. This included the programming, any assets and all elements of design. In the early 90’s when the Playstation One was released, small studios began to develop titles and they had teams of around ten employees. The majority of work was still done within the company as the number of people who had skills in this area were very scarce. There was also a quick turnaround and low production costs. Fast forward to today where we find huge studios of up to two hundred employees working on a single title. These have very high production costs and companies need to sell at least 4-10 million copies of a game to recouperate those costs and make a profit.

During the lifecycle of a game, the amount of people required to create it can vary at any one time. During pre-production as little as five people are needed to develop concepts and design a game. Once this is signed off, then production begins and the number of staff is ramped up to close to one hundred people. Towards the end of the game when the beta is released, only around twenty people such as programmers are needed to help fix bugs.

Considering the production cost of a studio of around one hundred staff costs approximately £30,000 per month, it makes sense for companies to outsource work duing the production of the game to reduce their headcount and therefore cost.

So what would a company typically outsource? Any tasks that are complicated, difficult to brief correctly and require a lot of quality assurance are likely to be kept in-house. However, small, self-contained assets such as characters, vehicles and street furniture are often outsourced; especially in games with complex and highly populated environments such as Assassin’s Creed. When outsourcing, there are usually two main ways to go about doing this. Studios can work with individuals, and send out small chunks of work to be completed. The benefit to the studio is that they do not need to provide any equipment as it is expected that the outsourcer is responsible for equipment and licenses. However if a studio outsources to a number of individuals, this can be costly and time consuming as each person needs to be briefed individually.

A second way to outsource is to work with an outsource company, more commonly referred to as a vendor. Vendors act as the middle man and provide a main contact point for a studio. The studio passes on briefing documents and provides a representative test sample of the work they want completed, and the vendor then passes the work out to either their employees or sub-contractors.

A few downsides to this can be that there are communication issues as the studio does not deal directly with the people who are creating their assets, and also there is no guarantee that the vendor will have staff available when required.

Regardless of which method a studio chooses, it is vital to include outsource work within the initial project planning. Knowing what will be outsourced and how long it will take is also important. Time should be allocated for quality assurance and dependencies need to be considered. The cost to the studio also needs to be carefully studied, as it is not as simple as calculating a daily rate. Outsource staff may or may not have worked for a development company before, and therefore may not be aware of pipelines and techniques. Therefore it is important to allow for contingency due to training and the time required for the in-house staff to touch up any outsourced assets. It is estimated that for 100 days of in-house work, there would be 130 days for outsourced work.

Beverley’s talk was incredibly insightful and though this is not an area of games I had considered, I understand the potential career opportunities with regards to working within a studio managing outsourced work. Beverley herself has worked for large studios, and she had advice with regards to getting a foot in the door. You need to have a set idea in your mind what you want to work on, and ensure that your portfolio demonstrates this. For me, I have aspirations to become an environment artist working for a large studio and though it’s a little disheartening to hear that the majority of small assets get outsourced, this has not dampened my dream. This also opens up the possibility of looking into a freelance career modelling environment assets, which may be an avenue I look further into.


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Guest Lecture – Nick Davies of Lucid Games

Today’s Friday morning guest lecture was given to us by Nick Davies, who is one of the founders of Lucid Games and currently working as a producer on their upcoming games. Nick was a joy to listen to, and I enjoyed the content of this talk thoroughly. Nick himself began work in the games industry around 10 years ago, before which he worked as a civil servant and in HSBC banking. He started off at Bizarre Creations as an associate producer, before moving up to design manager and then producer for such games as James Bond 007: Bloodstone. When Activision closed the doors on Bizarre Creations, Nick and seven other ex-employees came together to form Lucid Games, where they initially worked together in a borrowed office and with a single copy of Photoshop to share between them. Two years down the line and the company has grown to over twenty employees and they are now based in a permanent office in Liverpool.

James Bond 007: Bloodstone – Bizarre Creation’s final published title in 2010

As part of the talk, Nick quickly went over some of the day to day tasks that are required by a producer, but did note that depending on the studio, these can vary massively. The tasks included team management, scheduling, hiring, publisher relations and external relations such as dealing with the licensing, marketing teams and external contractors. For larger companies, a producer (or any role for that matter) tends to have a more focused job role, and will be given control over a particular section of a game. This allows a person to become very specialised in their particular area, but this can be limiting. For a smaller company, an employee may be required to have a much broader skill set but will be able to see the bigger picture much more easily.

 Nick’s talk focused quite heavily on the business side of developing games, and he began at the early stages – getting a game signed. There are two main ways to get a game signed by a publisher and to receive funding. The first is the most common and this is to pitch to a publisher. There are four main pitching methods, each of which have different costs to the developer and different risks to the publisher. However, no matter which one you opt for, visuals are key for any type of pitch as these are what sells the idea and helps to convince a publisher that the idea is worth investing in. A less common way to receive investment is to be approached by the publisher themselves in order to create a specific genre of game or to help reboot an old franchise, however this usually requires past experience in the field and previous critical success.

A table showing the four main pitching methods and the cost and risk to the developer and publisher 

Once a publisher has decided to back your game, the next step is to sign a contract. This is a lengthy procedure and often involves the contract being passed back and forth between the two parties until everyone is happy with the conditions. The most important things to watch out for when signing a development contract are:

Royalties – how much you receive per copy sold. This is usually quite low to being with as the publishers want to recuperate their investment quickly, but once the game begins to make a profit then royalties can increase.
Termination clauses – the right for the publisher to end the contract. If this is due to no fault of the developers, then often the developers can agree to a set number of months worth of compensation in order to bridge the gap between ending and starting a new project.
Ancillaries – the percentage the developer receives for any merchandise that is sold based around the game.
Non-compete clauses – this prevents the developer from creating two games for two different publishers that are of a similar genre. In order to get around this, a studio should try to negotiate this to be as vague as possible. For example, you may agree not to work on any city-based racing games, but this would leave you free to work on a space-based racing game.
IP retention – currently a hot topic within the games industry, many feel that the developers should be able to keep all rights to their own game, but this is often not the case. However as Nick mentioned, it’s important to remember that even if you have a fantastic idea, if you have no money to make that idea, then you will probably have to consider loosing the IP in order to gain funding. Owning 100% of nothing is nothing.

Nearing the end of the presentation, Nick discussed some of the pros and cons of working in large studios versus small studios. For me personally, this is not yet something I’ve completely decided on. In my past jobs I’ve worked in small, close knit teams, so I’m wanting to try working as part of a much larger group. When Nick himself was asked if the future of Lucid Games would see it grow to the size of Bizarre Creations, he answered that both have their challenges but working as a producer for eight years in a large studio involves a lot of work with balancing personalities and managing task assigning, and his personal preference is to work in a smaller, more manageable sized studio.

A table showing the pros and cons of working in a large games studio versus a small games studio

All in all I really enjoyed this guest lecture. The subject was really engaging for me as working in a console development studio is where I hope my career will lead to. As to where I’d like to end up – that I’ve not considered. I’ve got plenty of time to get a taste for the ways things work within a games studio and I hope it’ll all become clear from there.


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Guest Lecture – Mark Craig of Lucid Games

It’s the end of our fourth week back at university and today included another industry speaker; this time we had the wonderful Mark Craig from Lucid Games. First, a little bit of history of the company as some people may not be aware of them. Back in 2010 Activision made the decision to close Bizarre Studios over in Liverpool, who were the studio behind some of the more well-known racing games such as Blur and PGR. A large number of the team from Bizarre decided to go forward and create their own studio – and so Lucid Games was formed in early 2011, still based in Liverpool (and residing in a rather swanky converted mill I must say). Mark’s role within the team is as the programming director, and the company now mainly focus on games for IOS and Android. Mark himself has previously developed for the mobile gaming market, with the release of Fur Fighters in June 2012 for IOS.

Fur Fighters was released for both IPhone and IPad in June 2012

As well as being the programming director at Lucid Games, Mark also plays a major role in the recruitment of new staff. He went into great detail in discussing ways in which to focus your portfolio and to make it the most appealing for potential employers. Though a lot of this information was aimed at people looking to snatch up jobs as junior programmers, his tips and tricks were transferable across all the disciplines and so I gained quite a bit of useful insight. He also cleared up some of the steps of the interview process, and offered advice on how to present yourself and the sort of questions you can be prepared to be asked, and to ask yourself. Mark also gave us some great ideas on how NOT to turn up to an interview, such as with your wife/mother or stoned. I will make a note of this.

One of the areas that Mark most discussed was the making of games for the mobile market. In my university studies I have briefly touched upon creating art assets for the iPhone in the form of a Go Fish game for a first year assignment, but we didn’t learn in detail the processes required to take that game to a finished, published product. We looked at the pros and cons of developing for the two main systems; IOS and Android, and also the lesser thought of Blackberry.

IOS

+ The IPad 2 is the most powerful of all the tablets currently available on the market, meaning that it is able to run more complex games than other competitors
+ The user interface on IOS is very well designed and user friendly
+ IOS’s programming language, objective C, is much easier though less well known than C++, and the two can be combined together to make intuitive and engaging
+ IOS has a good development environment, and can be simulated for free on a Mac, or for a small developers fee for on the devices themselves

Android

+ Android has the largest user base, running on the vast majority of phone brands such as Sony, HTC and Samsung, and this is growing with the release of a number of Android-based tablets
– Android development is geared towards smaller Java-based apps, so creating games is a little bit more complicated
– Fragmentation is a big issue due to the massive variety in devices from screen size to processing power, so this needs to be taken into consideration when developing for this market
– Android owners take a long time to upgrade their software. The majority of owners are still using Android 2.3. (myself included!) although the current firmware is up to 4.1. This is less to do with Google and all to do with the speed the manufacturers decide to release the update for their phones
– Android users are less likely to spend money (again I can vouch for this!), so most games released for Android are free to play with in-app purchases or ad supported

Blackberry

– Very small user base compared to other platforms
+ Very straight forward to develop for, and Blackberry are eager to fund companies willing to develop for their devices
+ A small number of apps means less competition and a greater chance of success

Admittedly looking over that list IOS seems to have a lot going for it and Android very little, so it appears that for someone starting out and trying to break into the mobile gaming scene, IOS is a great place to begin. With a team of 1-5 people with a range of skills in programming and art it can be relatively cheap to pull together a game and get it out there.

Shot of the user interface for my Go Fish IPhone game from the 1st year

Mark also touched upon the four main types of payment models involved when creating mobile games. Unlike console games where the traditional payment model is to create a game and then retail it at around £40 per copy, the mobile market offers a more varied choice of strategies: a paid app; a paid app with in-game purchases; a free app with in-game purchases and ad-supported games. All are potential ways to earn a revenue from your game, although the most sensible model you opt for can be dependent on both the platform and the genre of the game. Most apps on IOS tend to be paid apps, whereas on Android, most are free with either in-game purchases or cluttered with ads. There is a debate on whether developers who specifically make games to be free with in-game purchases are simply trying to take advantage of the less-wilful of us, but as Mark so rightly commented, if you enjoy a game, then you may pay to play more of it. There’s nothing worse than spending £40 on a title you only place once, and I would much rather pay £2.99 to unlock some more levels on a game that I found enjoyable and fulfilling.

The Settlers Online is my current free game of choice (though I’ve not yet forked out any money for extra diamonds)

Overall the talk was very informative, and Mark offered a unique and honest insight into the ups and downs of developing for the mobile market as opposed to console games. Personally, developing mobile games is not something I’ve looked massively into as I have my heart set on working on the next epic masterpiece, but with plenty of programs readily available making it easier to create games solo such as Flash and GameSalad, this might be something that I lend a hand to in the future.


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Tessellation Fun Times and Evolution Studios Talk

Three weeks into the final year and I can tell it’s going to be a fun one! One of our tasks is to make our portfolio more professional and presentable, so I’ve spent a bit of time making it more user-friendly and making it quicker to see the good stuff. In terms of the assignments, I’ve done a bit more concept work for my vehicle, and the new images are on the vehicle modelling page which can be found here. I’ve made a start to the high poly model, and hope to have something substantial to post within the next two weeks.

For my final portfolio/dissertation project I’m going to be creating an environment based upon a beautiful and inspiring town in China called Fenghuang, or also known as Phoenix town. It’s a lovely place which I would one day like to visit, but for now I’ll have to make do with dreaming and creating a 3D version! I’ve made a start blocking out a simple level in UDK and am currently creating some of the tile-able textures for the floors and walls ect. I’m creating these from scratch using Maya and then baking the normals and AO and compiling a hand painted texture in Photoshop.

One of the textures I’ve nearly finished is one for the walls (either in the streets or next to the river side I’ve not quite decided). The following breakdown shows the hand painted diffuse, the normal and the displacement map. I still have to tweak the colours slightly as I’m thinking the cream is a bit overpowering, and I need to create a specular map.


Diffuse, normal and displacement maps for my brick wall material. 

Whilst working on these textures I’ve also been looking into a technique called tessellation. This is a fantastic way to create more depth within your environment to a much greater level than a simple bump map, although it’s quite resource heavy so needs to be using sparingly within a scene. It’s very simple to set up, and only requires a displacement map (shown above) which in my brick wall I baked from Maya and then blurred to remove sharp edges.

The shader in UDK to create my brick wall. 

The section highlighted displacement height uses the texture sample (my displacement map) along with two scalar parameters to control the height of both the black and white parts of the map combined with a LERP node in order to create the depth. The displacement LOD section allows the tessellation to decrease the further the player moves from the wall, and then this is plugged into a multiply node along with a world normal node. Finally this is plugged into the WorldDisplacement slot to create the effect.

Showing the brick wall material with and without the tessellation effect.

This morning as part of our Business for Games module, we were treated to a visit from David Bramhall and Will Maiden from Sony’s Evolution Studios, which was incredibly interesting and insightful. I’ve played all of the Motorstorm games including the newest Motorstorm RC for the PSN and Playstation Vita, and was really looking forward to hearing from some of the creative minds behind what I would consider to be innovative and engaging racing games. I have a massive love in particular for the RC game, as it reminds me of a game from my childhood called Super Skidmarks. I played this back on the Amiga CD32 and found racing cows and caravans around a track very enjoyable.

If you look particularly closely at the credits for Motorstorm RC, you’ll find my name in the special thanks section :). Earlier this year I was privileged enough to be able to spend an evening at Evolution Studios beta testing the game and thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you haven’t already played the game, I’d definitely recommend picking up a copy and blowing a good number of hours trying to beat your time by a few milliseconds.

Both David and Will were very inspiring to listen to, both having graduated from the University of Bolton themselves. They both started as QA testers at Evolution and slowly made their way up the ranks to reach level designer and producer roles. Some useful information I discovered were the variety of roles available in both art and design. They also provided a good overview of the creative process behind producing a game from start to finish and the various stages a game goes through from a high level concept where a small team presents the idea to the investors, all the way through to production, alpha and beta testing to the shelf.

Overall it was a very valuable experience, and I’ve learnt quite a few neat tips and tricks to getting started in the games industry.

Nothing beats racing multi-coloured cows around in the snow.


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The Final Year

Well, I’ve been back to uni for one week now, and it’s apparent that this final year is going to be fairly intense! One week in and I’ve already received four assignments, three of which are related to my dissertation, plus the threat of an exam looming on the horizon. On the whole though I’m really looking forward to it and am excited to produce some quality pieces in my final year.

Summer itself was rather unexciting. As many students do, I got myself a part time job to pass the time and earn a bit of extra money, whilst practising some 3D work on the side. My tree skills have progressed, mainly thanks to a fantastic tutorial by Damian Lazarski available on 3D Motive. If you’re not aware of the site, I highly recommend it as they offer a range of excellent tutorials for a variety of programs and skill levels. Here is one of the models I produced using the techniques learnt:

Other bits of messing around included some 2D artwork and a bit more modelling of random assets.

 

For university work, my main effort so far has been towards a vehicle modelling assignment. For more information, this page is now on my portfolio here which will contain all the work for this module. At the moment I’m just working on putting a concept together and hope to start modelling next week. 

Alongside this assignment and my dissertation, I also have a module called Business for Games. This involves a collection of guest speakers from the industry coming along and speaking to our year about how to get into the games industry, the ins and outs and what it’s really all about. I’m really looking forward to this and it should be incredibly insightful. Our first talk is in two weeks and we’re lucky to have Ben Curtis and Dave Bramhall from Sony to talk to us about quality assurance.