Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Introductions Are In Order

Looks like I finally decided on a place to hold and show my game design work. A little bit of backstory on me is in order. I've just graduated from Full Sail University with my Bachelors of Science in Game Design. Over the course of the last three years I've developed game concepts, written some world creation stories, created game levels, and a few full blown games.

Let's start this out with a video of my final project for school, this was a project that myself and two others worked on for the last three months of school, the project went through several different iterations and several different play styles before being completed. When we first started the project it we had in mind a Contra style side-scroller with some more vertical elements to it. We wanted to include mechanics like a grappling hook for players to use to traverse the environments however as the project progress we decided to change direction with it and create something more similar to Jetpack Joyride where the player would need to be contiguously on the move and speed would be increased as they progressed.

Due to the nature of the game changing there were weapons and ideas that hit the cutting room floor so the beginning of the video shows some tools and weapons that were not included in the final version of our game and the video is shot with "God Mode" on to show off some of the level design of the game. Later on I'll up load a play through and download link for you to experience the game first hand for yourself. Until then enjoy!

I should take a moment to note here that the commentary during the video was aimed at students coming into their final project so they would know what to expect and what to focus on before their final three months.

CobaltDesigns FinalPresentation from Jason Rowell on Vimeo.
A link to the full game can be found Here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It’s been a long time, or “Finally, an update!”

Sorry for the radio silence over the past few months, been working on some exciting things that are almost ready to be shown off. Look for a big update on a new project in the next few weeks, that being said I want to take the time to talk about a game that I was really excited about and enjoyed at first until the flaws started to surface and come through the cracks and well at this point I won’t even touch SimCity even when I have the urge to.

There is a lot about the 2013 release of SimCity that is fun and engaging, the street level view allowing you to zoom in and follow individual sims is fantastic. Using multiple cities in a region to work on a collective project adds a sense of purpose to the play, and being able to manage resources, utilities, and services across the region adds a deeper layer of play to the game.

That being said the game is utterly and completely broken. Traffic will only take the shortest route to and from a point no matter what sort of side-streets are offered, multiple emergency vehicles will travel to one spot and leave the rest of the city to burn to ashes. The city’s population numbers show an inflated amount on the games UI causing players to make more jobs than people in the town and it has come out recently that the always on server connection that was needed to perform the game’s calculations is a complete boldfaced lie. The only reason that SimCity needs to be always on is to feed the archaic DRM.

Which brings us to what a complete and utter cluster-fuck the launch was, without enough servers available people were unable to connect and even play a single-player game. The “Cloud saves” are a complete misnomer, the only thing that happens to your save files, if they actually get saved and not eaten by the server, is they are saved on one particular EA server, should you chose to change servers then you have to start all over, from scratch, so much so that you have to play through the tutorial again. This also means that one of the most enjoyable SimCity past time of building a city, saving it on your local harddrive, unleashing all kinds of destruction and doom on it, and then reloading up to do it again or just make more progress on your city is now a thing of the past.

Honestly the biggest slap in the face from EA through this whole ordeal has been the boldfaced lies they’ve spewed every time they have opened their mouth.  Oh, and the “apology games” that EA has offered for their server debacle are games that have been out for YEARS. These are not new games, these aren’t even recent games these are games that people at this point have consciously not purchased because they didn’t want them.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mandatory ESRB or How to kill Indie Games

H. R. 287

The video game industry years ago in response to violent video game claims founded the ESRB itself to regulate itself and has done a damned good job of it. While not mandatory any AAA title will have an ESRB rating on it. However this law being passed would require EVERY game to have a rating. This means if I make a game in my spare time and decide to sell it, this game now has to have an ESRB rating which I have to pay for before I can sell my game. The only thing this law would accomplish would be to kill the indie game market, that's it.

Everything else in this bill is already being done, it is already illegal for stores to sell M rated titles to minors, there are already fines in place for those that do. Retailers are already required to display the ratings of games, which is why that nice little ESRB sticker is there. This bill would make it impossible for indie developers to sell their game.

Loved "Minecraft", "Super Meat Boy", "FTL", "Binding of Issac"? Yup all of those would have been affected by this bill and possibly would have never seen the light of day. Have a game that you backed on kickstarter that isn't a AAA title, well that kickstarter would have to include the cost of an ESRB rating now and because of that may not make its goal.

This bill would have a terrible impact on the gaming industry and those struggling to both get in and those trying to make a living by making games.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What's All This Then? An Update!

So it has been a bit since my last update... Work on Miskatonic has been put on hold at the moment and while I still love the project and the idea of it two things are hindering my work on it. A) Full time employment, and while I love working to pay bills and such I'd rather be working on Miskatonic but I would rather eat more B) I've started work on a project with a few guys that I went to school with tentatively being called Project Whitehat. With some influences from William Gibson and Frozen Synapse it is a top down shooter based in what I feel represents Gibson's cyberspace. We'll see how things pan out and I'll post some pics a bit later on.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Assets III: Organics

Organic shapes have never been something of a strong suit for me so today I decided to step out of my comfort and model some tentacles, after all who can have anything based on the Cthulhu mythos and not include some form of slimy creepy tentacles? While I'm not at all impressed with the texture I did or the model as a whole, the concept and the idea are taking shape and I've learned a bit more in 3DS Max doing it so I'm sure this is something that is going to be revisited again and dome more and more, but for now here are some shots of the tentacle and trap door I did this morning.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Assets, Mk II.

I've spent the week working on some more assets for Miskatonic and am getting more and more the hang of 3DS Max. Still not doing anything overly complicated with it and still aren't completely happy with everything that I'm producing but it is starting to get there and I am becoming a bit more comfortable with it and with how to texture the models after putting them into UDK. I've been using a program/plugin for Photoshop called xNormal which so far has done amazing work with every texture I've thrown at it to create a normal map for. Some of the following shots I'm really happy with, the books and the Lament Configuration, others not so much, the trophy and lockers for example. I believe they will be getting revisited later on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I'm going to preface this post with A 3D modeler I am not, there not that that is out of the way, I've been working on some assets for Miskatonic University because open empty halls and rooms are well, boring. I've starting to grasp 3D Studio Max a bit more confidently than I had in the past but I'm still working with very basic primitive shapes and minor modifications to them. Textures in 3DSM are starting to come along but I still run into issues with UDK not wanting to import them correctly, I think I've finally figured a way around it which has worked once, I've had other methods work once for me and never again in the past however so it still remains to be seen how well this method holds up. Below are some of the few things that I've modeled so far.

A nice dark imposing desk

Curious about what's behind the door?

Trying to keep a 1920s feel to all of the assets, found a few locker types this one seemed the most flexible.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Miskatonic University Update 2

So it has been a little over two weeks since my last update, got to start keeping this thing updated a bit more, which may have become a bit easier now. On the one side of things loosing a job is never easy on anyone, but it gives me time to work on my portfolio and money isn't terrible at the moment. So I've been busy working on Miskatonic and running around some other back burner ideas in my head. I think I've finally gotten the normal map issue with the textures sorted out. I started using a program called Normalx (Thanks for pointing me in this direction Jeremiah) and it seems not only to do a much better job than the nvidia plugin I was using but it is a lot more straight forward as well.

So without further ado some updated Miskatonic University shots.
Front entrance, not completely happy with that concrete texture.
I think I need something lighter here
Looking in the front door.
A look down the first floor corridor.
Second floor, just some work lights in place.
A look down into the library from the third floor balcony.

Over view shot. Still missing some floors and the clocktower.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Small Update, Large Rant

So a quick update on the Miskatonic University project, I ran into a bit of a wall in designing the second floor of the University. I knew that I wanted to add a library and some science labs but trying to figure out how to lay it out and how the layout would affect the third story's floor plan was giving me some issues. So taking a suggestion from my girlfriend I created a mock up of the University in, of all places, The Sims 3 and was able to work quickly and try a few different floor plans out until I found one I liked. While this probably wasn't the approach that is the most typical in a situation like this it did allow me to design quickly and see results of ideas rapidly it seemed to work well. So hopefully I'll have more of the University laid out tonight with some more screen shots as things start to fall into place.

If you're just here for design insights, now is probably a good place to stop reading. While the following will be regarding the gaming industry and gaming culture it does not pertain to design.

Look, I know you're safe and secure behind your screen and your anonymity and that's fine, that's one of the wonders of the internet, it gives everyone a voice. But too many male gamers and males in general use their anonymity for saying disgusting things towards women that they either may know or just pick at random because they can. When did having a screen and the internet between you and the person that you're talking to on the other end of it give you an excuse to act like a misogynistic asshat? I'd say you're a grown man and that you should know better but clearly by your actions you're not and you don't. So let me spell this out for you, treat people like they’re person and not a piece of meat. Just because you have the security blanket of the internet around you doesn't give you a reason or excuse to act like some frat house drunk jackass. My parent taught me to respect human beings as human beings no matter their race, gender, sexual preference or what breakfast cereal they eat in the mornings.

The gaming community is especially bad about this, along with treating women terribly; the bigoted speech that comes through on games is insane. There's a reason I don't play a lot of FPS's online and when I do I have the voice chat muted or when I play an MMO I create custom chat channels that usually avoid the public channels. It’s because not only do I not want to hear the torrent of hate speech that comes out of most of the chat but it’s also because it makes me uncomfortable. I don't fall into any of the categories that should be offended by this speech, I'm a straight white male, but the fact that the words that I would never in my life even think to say are thrown around so easily and freely makes me no longer want to associate myself with a game where that kind of speech is rampant.

I'm not here to point fingers at a cause of this, it could be societal, it could be bad parenting, it could be just a screwed up individual, but the fact remains that nowhere is it acceptable. The gaming industry in the past has, and in some cases still does, employ "booth babes" women who have no problem with guys drooling over them. But as we move away from the idea that games are for children and towards being a multi-billion dollar industry that wants to take itself as seriously as the film industry, it is time to move away from childish things. It is time to let your game sell itself and not need some skimpily clad woman to stand by your game to get attention for what you've been doing. If you need that sort of marketing it seems to me that maybe it’s time to go back and rework your game until it can sell itself.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bioshock Review or We all make choices in life...

Underneath the amazing atmosphere, beautifully detailed graphics, immersive sounds and enveloping storyline,BioShock is a game about choices: the choices made by the characters in the creation and downfall of Rapture; the choices presented to the player that pull at your heartstrings and moral compass; and the choices of weapons and plasmids. How each of these choices affects the player and the world around him is one of BioShock’s greatest assets. BioShock starts with Andrew Ryan, the creator of Rapture, which is a city located at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, away from the oppression of governments and religion. Built to be a Randian utopia, Ryan recruited the greatest artists and scientists to reside in Rapture. Unrestrained by the censors and ethics that would have faced these minds on the surface, Ryan encouraged them to create and discover. From these creations and discoveries, two things were found that would lead to Rapture’s eventual downfall: Adam and Plasmids.1190610346-25819 Adam is a mutagen harvested from a previously unknown species of sea slug, which has the ability to regenerate damaged tissue as well as rewrite the human genome. However, it was discovered that Adam could be produced en masse by implanting the slugs in the stomachs of young girls, who become critical in BioShock. As the game unfolds, the player finds himself presented with the choice to harvest and kill the young girls, known as Little Sisters, to receive a large sum of Adam, or save the young girls, by using a plasmid to displace the sea slugs, resulting in a reduced amount of Adam. This is the critical choice with which the player is presented throughout BioShock. Along with Adam, the other discovery in Rapture was plasmids. Plasmids are the way the player is able to rewrite the character’s genetic code and have abilities, such as telekinesis, pyrokinesis and the ability to freeze enemies. While these plasmids and abilities do add to the choices given to the player during their time in Rapture, I found that most of them became unnecessary, and I found myself using the same plasmids over and over, only really using three of the five slots I was given.1190610346-25813 All but a handful of the remaining inhabitants of Rapture fall under the category of “splicers,” people who, due to withdraw from Adam, have become mentally unstable and violent. These are the main enemies that the player faces through the journey in Rapture; however, I cannot help but feel that splicers were added to BioShock as an afterthought. There are only five different variations of splicers within Rapture, each of which can be beaten with what essentially is the same strategy. The challenge against the splicers at first is enough to keep the gameplay and fights challenging, but after several of the higher plasmids are obtained, I found the fights to be little more than general annoyances between pieces of the entangled storyline BioShock’s story is one that has spanned many generations and has plot twists that are usually reserved for major summer blockbusters. Not all is well in Andrew Ryan’s utopia at the bottom of the sea. As the thinkers and artists recruited to live in Rapture enjoyed the spoils of their discoveries and creations, there were those among them who had to keep Rapture running through the day-to-day activities and were not happy watching the elites enjoy the finer things in life, while they lived in the lower, leaking levels of the city. Among the lower class rose one who would lead them against Andrew Ryan and his elitist followers.1190610346-25818 Frank Fontaine, a businessman and mobster, led a revolt against Ryan. However, Fontaine’s motivations were anything but pure, as he sought to control and manipulate the lower class, as well as run a smuggling ring that brought in forbidden items, such as religious material. As Fontaine began to gather support, it was reported throughout Rapture that he was killed, and Ryan took over all of Fontaine’s assets, including the plasmid industry. After several months, a new leader of the lower class rose against Ryan — Atlas. Crowned as the new leader of the lower class, Atlas led a revolt against Ryan on New Year’s Eve 1959, with Adam-infused followers. As Ryan began to fight back against Atlas, he began to employ splicers of his own, and as we enter Rapture, the city is still in shambles from the ensuing fights. There is one other main character in BioShock that is a key player in the game that I found to be one of the most compelling and convincing. That character is Rapture, the city itself. BioShock could take place anywhere really, but it is clear with every detail of the city — from the way the water flows in and around it, to the contemporarily accurate ads displayed throughout the city — That Rapture creaks and breathes with life and almost a mind of its own. There are times playing BioShock that, because of the sites and sounds of Rapture and the amazing detail in which it’s presented, I found myself with chills. All in all, everything about BioShock, from the story to the lovingly crafted city, creates an amazing environment and atmosphere of a dream gone terribly wrong. The combat at times leaves a bit to be desired, but it is well worth drudging through the uninspired combat just to have the twists and turns of Rapture unfold before you.

This review first appeared on on March 1st 2010 as a review I wrote for a school project.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Miskatonic University Update 1

I've done a bit of work on Miskatonic University recently and figured I was far enough along to show a few in progress images. It isn't anything major yet but the first floor is laid out and I've begun experimenting with some over all textures, I'm happy with the floor texture the red brick texture needs some work, the normal mapping is giving me some strange black outlines. Anyhow on to the images!

Shot from inside looking down the main hall.

Shot from outside looking up the front steps

Overall aerial shot

First floor layout

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Diablo 3 & Game Motivation

With the release of Diablo 3 earlier this year Blizzard/Activision answered the dreams of gamers for the past 12 years. Unfortunately it seems that dream is slowly spiraling down into a nightmare. When Diablo 3 was released gamers surged through the content at a pace that was at best unexpected. Through the increasing difficulties and gear drops the world first Inferno mode Diablo kill came just over a month after the game's release, despite complaints among players about hitting a wall and having to farm for hours to find gear needed to progress.

While recently there have been patches and additions to the game there has been a lot of public backlash against Blizzard with the way that not only the game has been handled but from public statements made by some of Blizzard's employees and a mess with overzealous forum suspensions. While these things don't directly affect game play they reflect badly upon the way that Blizzard has handled the fallout of poor game motivations and bad game balance.

When designing a game there are specific motivators that keep gamers playing. Content, challenge, rewards and story, each of these come together to create and experience for players that should be engaging and rewarding, Diablo 3 is an example of how when one or any of these aspects is missing the game feels incomplete or at best broken.

Let's start by taking a look at how Diablo 3 addressed content within the game. I played through Diablo 3 on the beginning normal mode, through all four acts and finished it at sometime under 19 hours. Including the time it took to farm the items needed to unlock the hidden area "Whimsyshire", and I thoroughly enjoyed the time it took me to run through the game the first time through. However Diablo 3 is setup so that once the game has been completed on normal mode the next tier difficulty unlocks and the player is asked to play the game again, their only rewards for doing so being better gear and harder creatures to fight. This harder tier adds absolutely no new content for the player to experience and for those people, like myself, who play games to see the content that was created have no motivation to continue playing.

Diablo 3's challenge aspect is something that worked early on in the game, normal and nightmare modes were fair, the challenge ramp up through the acts felt even and smooth and there were times that when I died it felt frustrating at points but never did it feel like it was an unfair death. I always felt that if I approached a situation or particular fight differently that I was able to overcome it and move on and 90% of the time that was absolutely correct. Never was there a point where I felt like I had hit a brick wall and could not progress. As the later difficulty ranks of Diablo 3 were unlocked, hell and inferno, that no longer became the case. Players now need to spend hours and hours collecting drops in hopes that something that would increase their stats enough for them to move forward would drop so that they could progress.

Loot drops have become the reason to continue playing Diablo 3 for many gamers. The reward of finally being able to move to act two or three of Inferno mode so that they can continue to grind for different items and collect new rewards is the biggest motivator of continued play from people that I know still playing the game. While there are several reward systems in Diablo 3 including gear, gold, and with the addition of the Real Money Auction House, income it seems that this was the focus of the development team over many of the other aspects of the game. The primary and main motivator of Diablo 3 has become the reward system which when looking for that "perfect" item in and of itself is a poor motivator. The chances of a item dropping that has perfect stats for a player is an abysmal 0.0000343%, and while there are hundreds if not thousands of pieces of gear that drop through a play through of all four acts you still end up with an extremely low probability that the piece the player is looking for will drop. I'm certain that this is an intentional move on Blizzard's to push players to spend money at the Real Auction House, which Blizzard takes a cut of.

Lastly people play games for the story; this is something unfortunately where I believe Blizzard has failed completely at. The story behind Diablo 3 is, to use and overused phrase, cookie-cutter at best. The location types used in Diablo 3 are almost exactly the same location types used in Diablo 2 in almost exactly the same order. The characters are flat; lacking any real traits they are almost impossible for the player to be empathetic to. Even the big "twist" towards the end of the game seemed predictable and the final confrontation feels anti-climatic.

Personally I think that Diablo 3 had the capability of being an excellent game if it had taken a more traditional approach to content progression by making the player grind throughout the game content for gear that they needed and an overall progression of difficulty through the story instead of asking the player to run through the same content four times with increased difficulty while playing through the same content.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Scope & Lovecraft

Today would have been H.P. Lovecraft's birthday and it seems a fitting time to mention my current design project. There are several things that have called to me from game design that I absolutely love, world building and story telling. Creating a world and story go hand-in-hand to me, you're creating the overall experience for the player something that they can get lost in and immerse themselves in for hours and hours at a time. Lovecraft's prose is an example of something that pulls together both storytelling and creating a world unlike any other beautifully.

With that in mind my current project is setting up my rendition of Miskatonic University. I've been pulling from some pictures found around online to get a good sense of building designs from the 1920s and 1930s for my floor plan and layout of the university. At the moment it is texture-less and just some basics in place, the walls for the classrooms/offices, some windows and doors and the stairs. I figured I should get the basics blocked out before working on all of the frills and details.

I know I want to put a clock tower on the roof, not sure if that's because of the time period of the building or because there just seems to be something ominous about this giant clock watching over a campus, deep loud bells tolling away every hour. There are some more unconventional rooms I want to add to the structure as well, a hidden chained door in a supply closet, a trapdoor leading to an occult archive below the school, as for now just the basics though.

The thought for this is to keep it something within my one man scope but to still make it impressive. I have this tendency to dream and think well beyond my doable scope, in fact scope was one of the huge things that we ran into during Final Project for my last three months of school. Need to realize what is doable in a reasonable time frame. I don't mind spending hours and hours on something that is going to turn out well, in fact I love it, but I need to be able to produce a result as well.

Just some things to keep in mind, I'll update later with some images I'm using as inspiration.

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Extra Life

I'll be taking part in this year's "Extra Life" fundraising campaign, the money raised will be going to Doernbecher Children's Hospital here in Portland. Some of you may not be aware that Liam (my son) has had to have some physical therapy appointments in the past and this is a chance for me to give back to the hospital groups that have helped him out! If you've got an extra few bucks that you can spare for it I know I would really appreciate the support!

My Extra Life Page

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cyberpunk - Editorial

The video game industry has had a love affair with cyberpunk cultures even as far back as the 1988 release of the Neuromancer video game that was loosely based on William Gibson's book by the same name. While the cyberpunk genre is one of my absolute favorite genres for media, to me there seems to be something missing from the video game incarnations of the genre.

The latest cyberpunk blockbuster to come out, Deus Ex, was a great game and I loved every moment I spent in it. The game's aesthetics and the augmentations that translated into game mechanics worked beautifully. However, like most other cyberpunk games, one issue prevented me from feeling immersed in the environment; everything was just too neat and tidy.

One of the most important aspects of the cyberpunk genre and even subculture is taking risks and making things messy. In Deus Ex you were surrounded by these beautiful gleaming cities, and there was a bit of political unrest in the story, but you never saw the uglier, dirtier, or grittier side of the city first hand. Even the back alleys and sewers were open and tidy. Cyberpunk touches not only on the beauty of what humans can become when given the ability to be anything but also what reaches man would go to to unlock that freedom, the failed experiments, the drug use and the wires running to a hacked together prosthetic.

So many "heroes" in cyberpunk fiction are really anti-heroes, they're terrible role models. They smoke and drink and use narcotics but we embrace them because they are flawed, and the same goes for the settings. Chiba City from Gibson's Neuromancer wasn't a clean and glimmering tower of progress; it was a drenched and rainy slum where those who'd lost everything tried to scrape something back together.

I feel that if we as an industry are going to embrace this genre, we need to realize all of the facets of it and not just put a glossy paint on a modern setting. There are some fantastic stories to be told in a world where almost anything is possible and screw-ups can affect humanity as a whole. The shine and sparkle have their place, but so do the grit and the moral gray areas. The self-serving protagonist may be a hard pill to swallow at first, but the story of his/her change makes them more human, and we are able to better connect with them as they develop over the course of their tale.