martes, 16 de julio de 2013

Gamepolis: Saturday

Hi all!

Let's continue with the next day in Gamepolis. If you missed the earlier post about my Friday in this event, look it here

The day started as usual: lining up to participate in the XBox 360 raffle (in the last post I'll tell you whether I won anything). And then, I went into the first conference, which consisted of the presentation of a game: Decadence, by Revolution System Games. The speakers, part of the development team, showed some images and videos, and explained that their main goal was to mix up several genres such as survival horror and RPG. This way we find quite dark, suffocating scenarios full with enemies and where characters can evolve. At the graphics level, the truth is that the result is pretty awesome if we consider that they developed the engine from scratch. Their main motivation for this is that they don't want to depend on external companies and want to decide on which platform to launch their games. 

Figure 1 and 2.- The guys from RSG showing videos of their game Decadence.

Next talk was named 'Evolution of graphics in videogames', by Miguel Ángel Carrillo. At this point, the conference hall was completely full. I guess there was a high expectation for this talk, and I think that in general it didn't let the audience down. Beginning with Pong, and finishing with some of the most impressive last AAA's games, the speaker reviewed the most important milestones in graphics for videogames. Curiously, as the talk was coming to an end with the last games, I had an increasing feeling of seeing the same game once and once again, namely Call of Duty, BattleField or Medal of Honor. This is something that I had already reflected previously and was the motivation to ask the speaker during the minutes devoted to questions. My question was whether he had the same impression as me that, as the graphics improve, the gameplay usually gets worst. As I see it, the big firms in the industry are usually so competitive in the graphics corner that they forget putting the effort where this effort should actually be made: in the game experience, in the mechanics and the interaction with the player. I have the feeling that AAA's companies don't worry any more about creating original titles and gameplays, but they simply want to realistically reproduce how a building collapse in the middle of a battle. The speaker, in the end, admitted that this is true and that we must seek new ways of engaging the player. Fortunately, this is where indie developers have their piece of the cake.  

Figure 3.- Graphics basically started with Pong. 
I still remember how fun it was in spite of its simple mechanics!

Figure 4.- Mario's born in Donkey Kong. For those of you who don't know, this game was supposed to be based on Popeye's the Sailor, but they didn't get the license in the end and had to make up these characters. Thanks God they didn't get that license!!

Figure 5.- The audience burst into applauses when Doom arrived.
 A great milestone in game graphics, no doubt!

Figure 6.- What can we say about Monkey Island? The speaker joked about how the movie 
'Pirates of the Caribbean' should have been called...

Figure 7.- Very nice artistic work with Spanish stamp: Commandos 2, a tactical game that every person  in love with strategy and tactics should try once in their life. 

Figure 8.- Last games were in the direction of Call of Duty or this amazing Crysis: 
graphics raised to their maximum power.

The next talk was 'Videogames graphics: art and profession' by Guillermo Tostón from U-Tad. I really liked this talk because the speaker gave the main idea that being an artist for a game only requires eagerness, motivation and, above all, getting down to work! 

As the speaker said, you can decide whether you want to be part of this creation process or not, whether you prefer to stay in your place sleeping or going to a bar with your friends. Both are very valid options (and necessary from time to time). But in the end, you have to understand that becoming an artist for a videogame (or a programmer) requires making efforts and above all, enjoying the process rather than the result. This is a very important lesson: don't hope to enjoy the goal, but enjoy the path towards this goal. If you don't enjoy the path, if it only brings you suffering, then it's likely that you shouldn't be doing this. The speaker also made clear, in a funny tone, three things that every artist should include in his portfolio: a Dinosaur, an Audi and a terraced house. So you know... start  by watching Jurassic Park again.

Figure 9.- 'A computer and a brush are the same thing'. The picture shows a beautiful analogy between a scene in the game Bioshock and the Sistine Chapel.

After this talk, I decided to walk around the place and visit some of the stands and shops that had been set up, where you could find some very nice and geeky table games, accessories, T-shirts, etc. The stands offered the possibility of playtesting some of the games presented during the event, such as Decadence

The environment that you could breath was pretty interesting for any videogame lover: people gathering around players who participated in tournaments and enjoying the retro area. Regarding the tournaments, there were for different games: FIFA, NBA2K, League of Legends (LoL) or Call of Duty (CoD), to name just a few. As for the retro area, it was one of the most interesting area of the event, as you could play any of the old-time consoles, such as MSX, Amstrad, Amiga, etc. 

Figure 10.- Gollum didn't want to miss the event in one of the shops.

Figure 11.- People could play some of the games presented during the event, 
and talk to the developers while playing.

Figure 12 and 13.- The tournaments drew lots of attention from the audience. 
Specially those of CoD (in the bottom picture) and LoL.

Figure 14, 15 and 16.- The retro area was amazing, with many old platforms that you could play with. 

Precisely, the title of the next talk was: 'Daddy, why are we part of MSX?', a homage to this 8-bit system in its 30th anniversary. The speaker, Gaby López, talked about the history of this platform and conveyed a big passion in each of his words. 

Next talk was a workshop on 'PixelArt', where the speakers, Toni Gálvez and Marco Antonio del Campo, explained what this technique was about and explained some software that was used in Spectrum times in order to design graphics. Pixel art is a technique to draw images in a pixel-by-pixel basis. Even when it's a very old technique, it's used nowadays by games to show a retro look, with some fantastic results as in the case of the highly acclaimed Fez. The end of the talk consisted of creating a floppy disk using the software Pro Motion, which also allows some basic animations. 

Figure 17.- A floppy disk with Pixel Art.

Next talk was 'Artificial Intelligence Programming for Videogames', by Diego Garcés from Crocodile Entertainment. First part of the talk was devoted to explain how a game studio is organized and the different departments that exist in it: design, art, production, quality assurance, programming, etc. After that, the speaker explained that the role of the AI programmer is to create the behaviour of the Non-Playable Characters, and elaborated on how he must interact with other departments to achieve this goal: physics department for retrieving collision information, animation department to retrieve the characters animation, etc. 

There are some important considerations to achieve a good AI: first, the player must always be able to win; second, the AI should be a fair challenge to the player, that is, the AI should never cheat (or at least, it should give that impression). As for the future, the speaker stated that something interesting would be to build player models in order to automatically test the game with different players profiles. 

Among the techniques presented, we could briefly see that there were decision trees, A* for pathfinding or finite state machines. I will elaborate on some of these techniques in future posts, as I'll have to use them for the game I'm making. 

After his talk, I made a question (yes, I made lots of questions during the event...). My question was about his opinion on the application of more academic AI research, such as Machine Learning or evolution algorithms, to the world of games. I also referred in this question to this earlier post on this blog, where I explained that the game Colin McRae Rally 2.0 used Neural Networks to train the enemies. His answer was that whereas they are interesting approaches, they're also dangerous because enemies can learn both good and bad things in terms of gameplay. However, he thinks we'll see more of these techniques in future games. As a curiosity, the speaker mentioned that the game Black and White used evolution algorithms. 

The last talk of the day was given by Moritz Wundke, from Tragnarion Studios, and it was about 'Game analytics'. I really enjoyed this talk because I barely knew anything about this. The idea is that we can collect real-time information while the players are playing in order to improve the gameplay, correct design flaws and bugs or implement more precise matchmaking algorithms.

Figure 18.- The architecture of a Game Analytics system.

Technically, we basically introduce some instructions at some points in the game code in order to send certain data to a server. It's important this data to be raw, without any prior processing. The server will then process this data to extract some behaviour patterns of the players or for other purposes. Example of data are: number of items collected, number of deaths, the paths that players usually take in a particular scenario for producing heat maps, or whatever you want. 

The speaker explained a particular case where thanks to these techniques a level design flaw was discovered. In the game Assassin's Creed, the player was supposed to follow a 2 hours path to climb up a tower and to use a zip-line before reaching the end of the level. However, analysing heatmaps of many testers, developers discovered that it was possible for one of them to use a shortcut and reach the end of the level in 5 minutes. This was due to a collision detection error in one of the walls. 

The algorithms executed in the server side to classify and to make data significant are a bit more complex and they involve covariance matrices to detect correlations, Principal Component Analysis to reduce dimensionality and other maths mechanisms.  

The talk finished by explaining how you could set up a free game analytics system by using open source software, such as Openshift to host servers in the Cloud and MongoDB as flexible database system, among others.

That's all for now. I want to finish with the following video where you'll be able to take a look at what I mentioned in this post.

I'll try to write the Sunday summary by this evening or by tomorrow. Hope you've enjoyed this long post and see you soon!

Edit: you can take a look at the Sunday summary here

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