Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Game Bowl 2

Thanks to the flood of comments, E-mails, and carrier pigeons, I know that you have all been waiting to hear about the outcome of the second Collins College Game Bowl. Well, I actually didn't get any such messages, but I'm sure I would have if I hadn't already called most of you to tell you about it. Nonetheless, here are all the vitamin-enriched details.

As before, the competition had three "secret ingredients" that had to be present somewhere in each game in order for the game to be eligible. This time the elements were: a 1980's boom box (you may know it as a "ghetto blaster"), rainbows, and an audio clip of the phrase "say hello to my little friend," (the clip did not necessarily have to be from Scarface, however). To my surprise, I was one of the first people drafted this time around instead of being one of the last as I was before. Like last time, however, I worked with a team that I had never met, with the exception of the instructor whom I actually have for my third class of the day. Being drafted early combined with a win from the previous Game Bowl made me feel pretty confident about the week ahead.

When we met for our pre-planning meeting after the draft, we had 8 people counting myself, but we only had about an hour to plan the entire game that we would spend the next week on. Looking back, I probably should have considered that a bad sign. We had a decently productive meeting and by the end of it I had volunteered for the Producer role, meaning that I recorded everyone's contributions and kept everyone on track. Originally I was not going to do any of the art. Keep that in mind.

One person had already quit the team by my third class the next day, but I had already planned for it so we weren't too worried. Most of the team members met on Skype that night and we had a fairly productive session, although two team members did not attend and one was two hours late. I began to worry at this point, but everyone promised to have assets turned in to me by Sunday night and so I settled for that.

By Monday morning nothing had come and I still had not heard from two of our team members; the one responsible for the bulk of our character design and the one who was solely responsible for our game's levels. At the end of the day I was legitimately stressed out; it was a very different experience from the team I had worked with before. During this time I sent out several E-mails trying to keep everyone together and explained that the majority of the assets had to be done by Wednesday so our programmer could program them into the game.

I had not heard anything by Wednesday afternoon so I panicked a bit and called Abigail to explain the situation and say that I would be staying late to do what I could while I was still at the school. I found some of the people from my team (including the main character artist) and most of them had done essentially nothing, so I persuaded a few artists from another team to come help us out. Don't frown, they were already done (at least for the moment) with the other team's work, and were a huge part in our finishing the game on time. The other important factor was the competence of our sole programmer who had essentially made the entire game using stick figures and squiggles in place of the art!

Once we had put the time into the art, I felt a lot better. I ended up doing the user interface (all of the screens and many of the icons in the game) and created the level that went into the final game. I also recorded the "say hello to my little friend" line, which we then distorted and played whenever the final boss came out. The final boss, by the way, looks like this:

I think one of my artists had a little fun with him. Incidentally, the boombox was used as a weapon by the main character, and rainbows are found in several places including "cassette tape" power-ups. Anyway, the game was due by noon on Saturday and after a long session Friday evening we finished and submitted it a full 13 hours early! Once again the scope was not nearly as much as we envisioned, but I was just happy to be able to turn something in!

A week went by, and we got to look at the other games submitted for the competition. While there were a couple that did not work or were unfinished, there were more quality games this time and I was definitely nervous about one of them. That one took home several awards, but our game, Boom Box Blast, still won the overall competition! I'm not sure if anyone has noticed yet, but I am the only student at the school to have been on the winning teams for both competitions.

Most of the students from Collins will never read this, but I do want to recognize Mike and Carl Potter, two of the artists I borrowed, for their invaluable contribution to our game's success, and a huge thanks to Josh Chilton for being an amazing, hard-working programmer. I know Carl reads this blog on occasion so I definitely wanted to put that out there. Future employers: if you read my blog, hire those guys too!

That's about it for now. We're in week 8 of 10 for the term and then I get a week off, yay!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Some Scottish guy chased me through a parking garage waving a katana, and he was saying something about the number one. He had to run away when I hid in a church. Weird...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

So far, so good

Hello Internet, how's it going?

Looks like it's time for another update. Might as well record a few things about my life before the next megaquake knocks California into the ocean and leaves us wide open for Hurricane Griff; which would be the best name ever for a hurricane (for those of us who watched Red Vs Blue).

Since my last post I have completed a term of school and finished week 1 of the term I'm in now. Everything went very well and I managed A's in all of my classes, so that's not too bad. This term I have Drawing 2 (my last drawing class), Digital Imaging (I think it will be 10 weeks of Photoshop training), and Game Theory & Mechanics, where I will learn about creating a game's rules, mechanics, and other attributes and why some choices are more interesting than others. The third class actually belongs in Term 4 or 5, but I have holes in my schedule so I am taking some classes early that do not require prerequisites. If it gets me my degree (and a job) a few months early I'm sure no one will complain!

Much more interesting to me, however, was my participation in the first ever Collins College Game Bowl around week 3-4 of the previous term. During this department-wide competition all students who participated were "drafted" to instructor-led teams and we had 1 week to submit a complete, playable game. Over the next week (it ended up being nearly 2 due to delays), the student body (all departments) had the opportunity to log into our school extranet and play all of the teams' games, then vote for the one they liked best. The teams were also judged by our department head, Joe Ybarra, who awarded additional prizes such as Best Production Value. If that name means nothing to you, go ahead and Google "Joe Ybarra, Madden football." I'll wait.

(doo doo doo...waiting...)

That's right: one of the 2 guys who started Electronic Arts (a gigantic game company) and particularly the Madden football franchise, as well as numerous other accomplishments, was judging my first project. Try to think of someone high up in your company or chosen field who has been highly successful. Now imagine if they were the one conducting your next review at work. It was kind of like that. To be fair, however, Mr. Ybarra is actually very approachable and a pretty nice guy, but the man created arguably the most successful video game franchise of all time. It gave me pause.

The experience of the Game Bowl started off a little bittersweet for me. When we signed up for the competition I listed my skills as "Producer" and "Content," which essentially means I know how to lead/manage a team and I know how to write well. There were many options out there such as 3D art and Programming, but I did not feel skilled enough to apply for anything else. So when I showed up for the draft, I was not surprised that I was one of only 3 people who were only beginning their program, whereas most of the students there were at least halfway through and had some experience. Furthermore, the other 2 beginner students are amazing artists, and as such were drafted in the first round. I was drafted in the very last round and was only picked ahead of 2 people, which was less than fun

After the draft, we were informed of the three rules of the competition: 1) We could not actively sabotage any of the other teams, 2) We had to complete the game and turn it in within 7 days, and 3) We had to include three "mystery ingredients" in every game; although the method used was at our discretion. The mystery ingredients (as chosen by Joe Ybarra) were: a hummingbird, hexagons, and a six-sided die. With the rules explained, we were released to get to work.

The instructor who drafted me (Dave Bell) was excited about the competition because that term would be his last at Collins. Everyone on the team with the exception of myself was someone with whom Dave had already worked or at least had had in his class. We decided to do a side-scrolling shooter where the player controlled the hummingbird and fought bees, wasps, and a hawk. The hexagons were used as power-ups as well as in the user interface, and the dice were used as health power-ups. My role in the project was to type up all of the game literature and to design all of the menu screens (title, credits, options, and instructions) for someone else to put into Photoshop and into the game. It really doesn't sound like much (and it probably wasn't), but it got my name in the credits. Due to time constraints we had to cut our idea from 3+ levels to only one, but the finished product looked and worked very well. After about a week and a half, we finally had an awards ceremony. For most of the people in attendance I'm sure that the highlight was the free ice cream sundaes, but it was memorable for me because not only did my team win the Best Production Value award (the game looked and played the best), but we also won the student vote and thus the overall competition! Our awards were stickers and a badge, but I think the most important takeaway is being able to put it on my resume and in my portfolio.

I definitely learned a lot from my classes and wound up enjoying Environmental Science much more than I thought I would, but being part of a competition and then actually being on the winning team was pretty sweet. That being said, the next Game Bowl starts next week, and I will post the results just as soon as I can!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

They're Back!

My long-time followers are aware of something I worked on during high school and somewhat afterwards; a series called "Evil Dude Penguins." I would write it, then stop for like a year, then revise it, and at one point I even bound it and distributed it as Christmas gifts! Every time someone suggested that I publish it, I would tell them "Not yet, it's not ready." For those of you getting excited, wait a second: it's not being published and I'm not even close to ready.

The good news, however, is that thanks to insomnia I have spent the last hour or so working on something new that I just had to share with you all. Take a look!

These are based on real-life images (a very helpful tip I picked up at school) that you could easily find on Bing image search if you're curious. For those of you who are now recoiling in horror, don't worry: I'm not making any changes to the existing stories and I absolutely do intend to publish them some day; it's just the format I will use that is as yet undetermined. In the meantime, please enjoy these sketches. I am going to sleep now. 


Monday, June 13, 2011

School is Kool

I'm sitting at the computer with Blogger still open, so I might as well just do this already. Okay, here we go: two posts in one day will put me at, like, 200% of my average daily output. I may have to lie down...

My earliest memories are of learning things. I remember my sister reading a book to me in my dad's enormous recliner and having me read back to her (apparently you do not need to sound out question marks even if they sort of look like the number 2), and I remember memorizing the oath my brother Phil took when he joined the Navy even before he did! I remember a few weeks of kindergarten, although I only vaguely remember being kicked out. I have gone to many schools since then, and while the social aspect has not always been fun, I consistently enjoyed learning, and always wanted more; a trend that continues to this very day.

I never had any doubts that I would finish college, and while I haven't done it yet I still have no doubt about it. My problem in the past few years has been filtering through all of the many super cool things there are out there to learn and do, and figuring out what kind of degree would actually be a logical choice for a husband (and now father) in his mid-20's who wants to have a career. This made choosing a school, let alone a major, extremely intimidating, and cost me at least $50 in ASU applications fees (putting aside the time I put into walking around the campus). When my daughter was born, however, I sat in the hospital room convicted that I had to make changes in my life that would take me somewhere, to a job I would be proud of.

I had looked at schools besides ASU before, but had dismissed most of them (especially the tech schools) as not being "prestigious" enough when compared to the degrees many of my peers (such as Andrew) have. Around February, I came to the following realization: a person who goes to college straight out of high school usually does so because it is expected of them and may actually change their life goal multiple times during their time there (I saw statistics on this, but you can look them up yourself). A person like me who goes later in life goes for one of two reasons: 1) Self-validation (or for kicks, perhaps) or 2) To find a better career. I am most definitely fall into the latter category, and decided to go after something I have loved to do since I was about 5 years old: video games.

Collins College-the school I decided on- has a great program that not only teaches the science of game design (yes, there is science behind it, and it's very tricky), but also teaches the business aspect with the intent of getting the student a job hopefully before they even graduate! They actually expect me to have built a working game before I'm done there, and I am at once intimidated and endlessly excited. While there have been a few hiccups in the plan since I registered (see previous post), all of my online classes went well, and I am now into week 2 of my first 10 week term on campus. I am in my element, even if most of the students are younger (with much, much more hair).

The first three classes I took online were: Cultural Diversity (yuck!), History of Art I (mostly yay!), and Physical Anthropology (sort of yay!). Those went very well, and helped get me back into a school-oriented mindset. Toward the end, I even did some of my homework before the night it was due; a feat I didn't even accomplish through all of high school! This semester I have History of the Gaming Industry (epic), Drawing I (awesome), and Environmental Science (meh). Unfortunately I will have a few more "gen ed" classes like that, but my transfer credits and online classes have wiped most of them out already.

In summary, I get to get up early (which isn't as bad as I thought), drive to school in Phoenix (just as bad as I thought), and talk about video games pretty much for 2-3 hours plus another hour for science, then back to school to play with my kid. There's some other stuff in there too, but so far I think this decision is a win. Thanks again to my wife for supporting me in this! Some day when I'm a rich and wildly successful game designer, I'm pretty sure I can buy you an ice cream cone after we pay off the student loans, so look forward to that.


Greetings from 2011!

Hello faithful readers,

I would go through the whole song-and-dance explaining why it's been so long since I last wrote and would follow that up with a pledge to regularly update, but let's be honest: the people who read this know me and understand what I've been up to the last 9 months. Here's a hint:
Abigail has done a pretty fair job updating you on Aveline from her blog, so you can read that if you're not up to date. I will say that Aveline is much more trouble now that she's crawling and grabbing and (very occasionally) standing up, but also much more fun. I do miss when she would lie down next to me while the video games were on, however.
At this point, I've almost taught her everything she needs to know, but now she needs to learn to use the controller, not eat it! Just kidding grandparents...she won't play those for a few years yet.

So aside from our little monkey, what's happened in the past nine months? For the first few months we settled into our new routine with her, and by the time Abigail went back to work I was totally an expert at being a dad. I'm kidding, but it really did surprised me how easy it is. People tell us that we are lucky to have such an "easy" baby, and that may be true, but I have noticed that babies can smell fear, just like werewolves. As long as Aveline knows that we're in control and that she's safe, she's generally pretty happy and calm. Exceptions include teething, the time I let her fall off  she totally jumped off the couch like a ninja, and a recent fever bug thingy, but in a general sense she is super happy, and so are we.

I think I started to talk about non-baby things, but that's sort of difficult. When I got married, I was annoyed the first few months when I would walk into a room and invariably hear one or more of the following: "Where's Abigail?", "How's married life?", and something to the effect of "Are you guys thinking about kids yet?". This was pretty annoying for a while but I got over it, and that's probably best since it prepared me for: "Where's the baby?", "Getting any sleep?", "When's the next one coming along?". I'm not kidding; that's really how it is, and because of it I haven't been too upset about missing social events (i.e. church). I'm never too upset about sleeping in on Sundays, but that's a whole other blog post.

So anyway, after the New Year, we were somewhat adjusted to parenthood and Abigail was back to work. Around February, I began to look into going back to school once again, and we did the budget to see if it would work. Without too much detail, we decided that I could work part time and go to school full time without any real hardship other than giving up my morning $4 coffee ritual. Bearing that in mind, I squared everything with the boss and registered for the Game Production program at Collins College, with the intent of starting full time in early March. Then I went back to the hospital.

Some time in March (I think the 8th, but it's fuzzy for obvious reasons), I was lying in bed with Abigail and Aveline not wanting to go to work. I guess God saw some humor in that because the next thing I remember was waking up in the ER of the hospital where Abigail works. I am told that I had 4 concurrent seizures and the doctor described the damage to my back (which was quite severe) as "sort of like getting in 4 car wrecks in a row." So instead of going to school, I stayed home for a couple of weeks. I started 2 online classes for the 10 week term instead, but my recovery time was cut a bit short when my boss resigned from his position. I learned about this on a Friday and due to a freakish sense of responsibility (thank you so much, parents!) I went back to work for a few hours a day in order to keep the new guy from drowning. I started physical therapy at about the same time.

A couple weeks later, Abigail and I decided I could quit work altogether and we would still be okay going to school, so I put in something like an 8-week notice and worked 3-4 days a week while going to physical therapy 3 times a week. My last day at the Marriott was May 25, although technically I am still on call should they need help. If you have a picture in your head right now of me growing a beard and playing games all day, go ahead and erase it. Abigail made me shave the beard after a week and a half and since school started I haven't had much time for gaming. I will do another blog post (possibly tonight) about school, but let me just say now that it's AWESOME!

This has run rather long, but I would be very thoughtless if I did not take the time to acknowledge the people that have been so supportive the past few months when I have really needed them. I do not have many friends for a reason: I prefer quality over quantity. My friends really stepped up to the plate, and Angela (my friend Matt's wife, and a friend in her own right) was there to drive me to work when I wasn't able to do it on my own. There were some days when I knew her schedule was tight and it was an inconvenience, but she did it gracefully and wouldn't even let me chip in for gas (she did let me buy her coffee on occasion). It was pretty depressing being stuck at the house, barely mobile, and Travis, Matt, and Andrew often visited or checked up on me when I needed it. Andrew even shared his DBacks fortune to take me to a few games, and managed not to injure me too severely during the 7th inning stretch!

My mother deserves a special mention for essentially living with us for about a month and a half. I think it's fair to say that the situation wasn't ideal for anyone, but she not only helped me move about when I needed it and took care of Aveline, she got up with her during the night and put her own plans on hold when ours changed. Abigail's parents were also there for us in different ways; they also watched her when needed and Al actually took care of the weeds in our yard when I wasn't able to (as did my brother Tim on multiple occasions!). I'm very thankful that Aveline has grandparents and other family that she can depend on when her daddy is being high maintenance!

Most importantly, however, I am so thankful for Abigail's constant support. She has supported my decision to go back to school from the beginning and has worked hard with me (I live here too so I get 1% credit) to redo our budget in order to make it possible. When I was hurt and unable to do much, she was very good with the situation and took great care of me, but did not let me fall back on my physical therapy and made sure I continued to move around and take care of things. It has not been an easy 3 months, but she has been invaluable. I think I'll keep her.

Okay, well I think that pretty much brings you to speed. I'll try to post at least one or two more topics in detail, but if not...see you in 9 months or so (no that is not a hint)!

Stay frosty,


Monday, September 13, 2010

xkcd Rules!

I have wanted to update this for a while, but to be honest, I've either been too busy (often) or too lazy (almost as often). That being said, here are a couple of xkcd comics that will more or less take care of this post.

                                                                                       (this panel especially)