Helping with Your Game Dev Homework

Hi Blog!

Recently, a student (I’ll leave out details) emailed me these questions about the process of game development and how to get started. I haven’t posted since MAGfest, so I decided to answer them here too. That way anyone who is interested in answers to some basic questions can see them. I think beginners to game dev make a few assumptions that there are hard and fast answers when there often are not, especially since there are so many routes to game development. Everyone is going to give you slightly different advice, so here is mine.

I was asked:

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Thank you MAGFest!

I just returned from MAGFest in Maryland and I have had a terrific time. I am so proud to be part of the MAGES group at MAGFest and enjoy giving panels to talk about my experiences as a gamer and game creator. Plus, the music rocks!

I have a full writeup now up at Tap-Repeatedly.com, but I want to just shoot this quick entry here for anyone who found my blog via meeting me at the festival.

I have done a big update today to my Upcoming Events Calendar, so if you missed me at MAGFest or if you want to see me again somewhere else, check there to see where I’ll be next! This list isn’t final, so I may add a few more things, particularly in April as Philly Tech Week gets more planned out.

You may notice there’s a bit of a gap in March. Sadly, I will not be attending GDC this year. I’m taking the month for some needed vacation, to visit family, and to work on some other professional projects. You’ll see more video blogs from me on Channel 9 really soon! If you haven’t yet, please check out my latest on the Game Dev Show: “What Does a Universal Application Platform Mean for Game Devs?”

Raw Tech on Channel 9

Since this summer, Microsoft Evangelists have been working hard to put more content on Channel 9, Microsoft’s home for tutorial and video blogs.

Today, I uploaded a short video, a ten-minute summary of the hour-long talk I gave at CodeMash about mobile game design! I hit the highlights and go over some tips about mobile design I’ve learned from years of observation. Check it out here:

Channel 9: Design Tips for Mobile Games

The Raw Tech blog series is a series uploaded by Evangelists like myself. There’s been so many new videos uploaded it would take days to watch them all now, but some stuff that might be of particular interest to people who read my blog:

Dave Voyles talking about making a digital games portfolio

Sarah Sexton discussing Unity and Visual Studio

Stacey Mulcahy on using a Breadboard (important stuff for beginning Makers!)

There’s also some great podcasts for your listening pleasure like Tobiah’s Be Indie Now and Dave’s Indie Dev Podcast. I like podcasts when I’m cranking on work on the second screen.

This year, I’m going to help contribute to more game content on Channel 9, and Livi Erickson’s awesome AR/VR show!

 

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Affordances in High Fidelity Environments or Why I Liked Tomb Raider Better Than Uncharted

I wrote a review of Rise of the Tomb Raider for Tap-Repeatedly.com.

In the process, I went back and read my Uncharted review. I played Uncharted really late, and I actually didn’t much like the first Uncharted when I played it. On the other hand, I liked the Tomb Raider reboot and its sequel quite a bit. This is despite the fact that, as I mention in my review, they use more or less the same game format as the first Uncharted. So what’s different? I spend a quick paragraph on it in the review but I want to examine in a more rambling fashion this idea of environmental affordance. I think it’s an important component of modern game environment design.

I’m one of the rare gamers that has written some stuff critical of Final Fantasy VII. Just this week I read this article about the remake trailers, written by Brendan Keogh . I think it’s interesting that he talks about how FFVII “leans into its technical limitations” because I’ve always found the art direction in FFVII uneven for this very reason. Sometimes the environments were so high fidelity in dungeons compared to my weird little block character that it wasn’t even clear where I was able to walk. Fortunately, the designers of the game knew this, and allowed an optional waypoint graphic to appear when needed. This was a trend-setter for many years to come.

In the modern days, we have “Detective Mode.” This is most famous from the Rocksteady Batman games, and in the first game, Arkham Asylum, it’s so useful that it’s basically pointless to even turn it off. Tomb Raider has a similar vision mode called Survival Instincts. It’s balanced by the fact that the player can’t leave it on while in motion and it only flickers up for a brief time. That is, unless you disagree that it is balanced at all. I’ve seen some people such as Andrew Reiner here write that the mode makes the game a bit too easy.

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Tomb Raider/Rise of the Tomb Raider do another thing that’s good, though, and make objects in the environment that  can be interacted with very similar in appearance. Any tree in Rise of the Tomb Raider that I can climb looks like every other climbable tree, with a flat bit of exposed wood under the bark and some obviously stripped branches. Rock walls suitable for using the climbing axe all have the same pocky-looking bump map. And most ledges Lara can hang from have a slight white highlight on the top edge, usually a streak of paint, though sometimes it’s just a patch of snow or a trick of the light. This may not be realistic, but I don’t care. It’s a price I’m willing to pay for it being really obvious what I can and can’t interact with in the environment. This part of the game’s texturing is consistent enough that I rarely needed the Survival Instincts to figure out a traversal path, though it was useful occasionally, especially if the way forward wasn’t immediately clear.

Consistent assets help out with affordances as well. There are a few traversal methods later in the game that require objects. If there’s a place I can axe-grapple and swing, the hook that I need to hang from always looks very distinct. The weights and cranks used for puzzle solving are always similar-looking assets as well. This is probably convenient for the developers in that they can re-use the same environment assets from time to time, but it’s also incredibly useful for gamers in that an axe crank always looks like an axe crank. This way I can get to figuring out how to solve the puzzle, instead of just milling around trying to figure out which part of the puzzle is the interactive part.

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These two factors combined make me wonder how the game would play without the Survival Instinct vision. But overall I found the vision mode just too useful to live without, especially when finding collectables or enemies in the environment. I think overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider would be a terrific game to study for a basic primer in how to make environments read clearly even when they’re dense with information. This kind of stuff means the difference between a game I enjoy, versus a game that makes me want to tear my hair out in frustration.

Quick Events Update

Just a reminder that I am heading to Grace Hopper Women in Computing starting tomorrow! On Wednesday, I have a panel with three other amazing women! Here’s details: http://schedule.gracehopper.org/session/design-and-development-considerations-in-serious-games/

Hope to meet lots of great new people! I intend to post some video content about this trip too, schedule permitting.

For more information about my other travels, please view my Events calendar, which is updated with all my upcoming plans! I’m looking especially forward to our HoloLens event in Atlanta (which may be sold out already) and upcoming Windows 10 events! And next year… I’ll be back at MAGFest (and I may plan to cosplay).

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Cooking with Dungeons & Dragons (2)

Following up on my previous adventures, I’m cooking recipes from Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home when my D&D group comes over to play.

This month I just cooked one recipe – the first one in the recipe book – Gully Dwarf Stew!

Gully Dwarf Stew calls for a lizard, because Gully Dwarves, but adds that you can substitute beef. I did, and a lot of it, because I had a whole party of adventurers to feed! The recipe itself is really simple… just toss a lot of stuff in a pot and cook it. The instructions are written in a kind of cutesy way though (again, because Gully Dwarves). As you can see from the header image, before cooking, it looks really lovely and colorful!

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After cooking, it breaks down a lot. It was a very delicious stew and the group responded really well to it!

I made two changes to the recipe as written – I used a carton of beef stock instead of water + bullion, since that’s how I roll. I also dropped one potato, because the stew seemed really full with just two in there. They do disintegrate a lot, though, so adding three as instructed might not really be a terrible idea.

Yum! We have no D&D game in October, so I’ll post more later. We’re also planning a nerdy Thanksgiving feast this year (to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day, naturally). Looks like it’s time to add a food category to my blog…

New video at Channel 9

I posted up a new video blog showing how I set up my Particle IoT device. Check it out on the Raw Tech channel this time:

https://channel9.msdn.com/Blogs/raw-tech/Setting-up-a-Particle-Photon

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How to Make your First Windows 10 App

Because Windows has been slowly transitioning from one app model to another, I found it tricky at first to find Windows 10 specific resources. I started playing around with the Windows 10 specific universal app creation tools recently. Now I’m creating this quick guide to help you make your very first simple Hello World app targeting Windows 10. Hopefully you’ll find this quickstart useful, and then you can move on to using some more complex samples to create more complex apps.

1. Open up Visual Studio 2015. (Community 2015 here is free.)

2. In the file menu, choose New Project – > BlankApp Universal Windows.

3. Name the new project HelloWin10. At least, that’s what I did. What you name things initially in XAML is important because references use exact names and if you can’t keep track of names things will be broken. So be sure that whatever you call it you’re comfortable with still using it throughout the project. If you choose to call it something else, make sure that you replace any references to HelloWin10 in the code below.

4. In your MainPage.xaml.cs have this code:

using Windows.UI.Xaml;
using Windows.UI.Xaml.Controls;
using Windows.UI.Xaml.Navigation;


namespace HelloWin10
{
public sealed partial class MainPage : Page
{
public MainPage()
{
InitializeComponent();
}


private void HelloButton_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
{
DisplayText.Text = "Hello, world";
}
}
}

5. In your MainPage.xaml have this code:

<Page x:Class=”HelloWin10.MainPage”
xmlns=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation”
xmlns:x=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml”
xmlns:local=”using:HelloWin10″
xmlns:d=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/expression/blend/2008″
xmlns:mc=”http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/markup-compatibility/2006″
mc:Ignorable=”d”>

<Grid Background=”{StaticResource ApplicationPageBackgroundThemeBrush}”>

<StackPanel>

<Button Content=”Click Me” Click=”HelloButton_Click” />

<TextBlock x:Name=”DisplayText” FontSize=”48″ />

</StackPanel>

</Grid>

</Page>

6. Test your app by clicking the green arrow or going to Debug. An app screen should appear (if you are on Windows 10). Here the Click Me button calls HelloButton_Click so it displays the text Hello World.

Yeah, so it’s not much of an app, but you gotta start somewhere. In the future I’ll make some more robust apps using data from the web and from Azure and show you those processes too. I’m working out of these files on GitHub and I’ll create a few branches. If you see that the code on GitHub has a little more in it than just Hello World, that’s because I’ve also integrated Template 10 by Jerry Nixon which has a few additional features. It’s not necessary to get started, though!

For learning more about C#/XAML, check out Virtual Academy.

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Cooking with Dungeons & Dragons

We’ve started a new D&D campaign at home. I’m not the GM this time, which frees me up to do lots of other projects and just play along.

Last week I looked on my bookshelf and realized I still had a nicely worn copy of Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home, a this-and-that miscellaneous guide to the D&D world of Dragonlance. The book contains music, short stories, poetry, and — critically — recipes, in a chapter called “Tika’s Cookbook.” I recall that when I was younger, all but the simplest recipes were dismissed as too tricky for a preteen to cook. There were a lot in there that I hadn’t tried. Now that I’m fully grown, have my own kitchen, and I’m having people over once a month for D&D… why not give this stuff a shot?

Hence, my new miniature project: cooking my way slowly through the recipes from The Last Home. (And the other books like it, if I can find them.) So here is a journey through “wow, is this book really more than 20 years old?”

This week for the D&D group I cooked:

Fizban’s Fireball Chili

If you think about it at all, Fizban is the worst sort of D&D character. He’s “the GM’s NPC,” a character who is both simultaneously all-powerful and can do anything, but also hilariously bumbling, so he gets himself into scrapes just so the PCs have to do something about it, but it’s actually clear he could have handled it himself all along if he’d felt like it because he’s basically god. Sorry, spoilers.

The chili named after him is supposed to taste like a fireball.

The dish actually isn’t complex; it merely takes time. Get a bunch of stew meat, dump a list of spicy ingredients on the meat, and marinade for about two days. Then stew. It kind of looks like a big red pot of Hell at first.

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I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, because it calls for an entire jar of Tabasco for every pound of meat. I was tripling the recipe, and only scared up two jars of Tabasco. I substituted the rest with Frank’s Red Hot and also added about a tablespoon of chili powder instead of just paprika. Later, I realized I also had some fresh jalapeño and half a yellow onion sitting around. The original recipe had no vegetables in it, but onions and peppers are great in chili so in they went.

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After marinating it looked appetizing. After stewing it basically disintegrated, so it didn’t look as attractive, but it was very good. It was, however, a bit too hot for some guests (hubby and I thought it was just right, but we’re used to Indian food). The suggested serving is to put it on flatbread with a bit of sour cream and this turned out quite well.

Still, since I made some changes, I didn’t quite exactly make Fizban’s Fireball Chili. Oh well, I made a tasty thing. Fizban is a dumb character anyway.

I also made

(Kender) Kiffles

This is a type of fruit-filled cookie that is actually more like a miniature hand-pie. I’m not reproducing any recipes for copyright reasons, but, if you can get your hands on the book these are a high recommend. The basic step is to make a pie dough, then fill it with fruit jelly. I chose apricot and blackberry and both were terrific. I think the recipe would even work with other pie fillings like lemon curd or chocolate pudding.

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A couple warnings about the recipe – it says to refrigerate the dough “2 hours or overnight.” I went with overnight and found it really hard to work the next day. I understand the point of chilling a butter-based dough, but maybe the two hours is just fine. Or leave it out on the counter for an hour or so before trying to work it. It’s super stiff and hard to roll out when very cold.

The recipe says it makes five dozen cookies, but either that’s a typo, or the original authors rolled these out much thinner than I did. I was lucky to get about two and a half dozen. Fortunately, this was enough for my group.  I did make mine slightly larger than recommended (I have a 3.5 inch rather than 3 inch round cookie cutter) but it still seemed like a big discrepancy.

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Thanks for joining me on this small interlude about some of my other hobbies. Gaming and Cooking for the win!

If you got this far, don’t forget to check my Events calendar for updates today. Tomorrow I’m speaking at Philly Game Works! I’ll also be at PennApps again this year!

I Started a Video Blog!

I started a new video blog on Channel 9 at MSDN. I’m going to try to post at least every other week with a video about gaming, IoT, or just some technology I’m working with. Hopefully it will give some people more ideas for fun projects.

Check it out here with my first entry, which is a very basic 100-level demystification of Kinect. I link to more advanced Kinect content too.

Please check it out! I’m gonna work a bit on the logo and branding but I wanted to get started with videos.

Amanda Lange’s Video Blog

Also, in the video, I mention you can get a Kinect adapter to hook up your Xbox One Kinect to a PC. That’s this cable here: http://www.amazon.com/Kinect-Adapter-Windows-xbox-one/dp/B00NMSHT7E

Here is the link for Kinect 2.0 SDK: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=44561

Happy developing!

Amanda Lange's Blog