Children’s Ward- A Game for Global Game Jam 2014

The weekend of 24th January 2014 saw game developers across the world spend 48 hours making games for Global Game Jam 2014. A total of 4292 games were made in over 450 locations worldwide.

One of those games was Children’s Ward, created by myself, Manuel Freire (@mrfreire), Jon Mayoh (jonmayoh) and Drew Bertoni (@drewcif3rdrewcifer.com).

I thought it might be interesting to document our process with a dev diary. Here’s a very honest and open look at how Children’s Ward was made in under 48 hours:

 

Friday 24th January 2014

We were supposed to be jamming at SAE London but having arrived late (7pm – we were all working on the Friday) we couldn’t get in as there was no-one able to allocate security passes. Instead, we took the theme (“we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”) and went to the pub for a brainstorming session.

A few hours, some tasty burgers and beer later, we finally had our idea. We went through a few different game ideas and shelved a lot of them before we ended up with the plan for Children’s Ward.

Our idea was to have the game set in a hospital where you (the player) are being cared for by the nurses. However you don’t see things as the world really is. You instead see the world from your own nightmare perspective. The player should be able to jump between perspectives momentarily to get a brief break from the nightmare. This ability would be limited and would have to be used sparingly.

At about 9pm on the Friday, the team parted ways to get started on the game. My task was to prototype as much of the core game as possible when I got home so that when the team reassembled on Saturday morning, we’d have a good basis for the day’s work. The quick prototype would also serve as a proof of concept so we could see if the core idea was fun. The key thing for me to prove would work was the mesh/renderer swap for the assets so that we could change the look of the game without it causing collider/AI issues.

By around 2:30am, I had the core game loop working in Unity including:

  • A basic level with first person collider
  • Patrolling enemy AI (navmesh)
  • Level graphics switching on key press while maintaining colliders/structure/navmesh.
  • Initial audio implementation (changing based on nice/nightmare mode) using audio that Drew had been working on.

At this point the game looked very rough with placeholder coder-art. However enough was in place for us to know our idea would work! Here are some initial screenshots:

Childrens Ward V0 - Dark Mode

Childrens Ward V0 – Dark Mode. Enemies are simple Navmesh driven cylinders picking waypoints at random.

ChildrensWardV0-Nice

Childrens Ward V0 – Nice Mode. Structure and enemy graphics switching on key-press. Concept of Hide energy (later called “Sanity”) added.

A few hours of dev done and already exhausted after a busy week, it was time for a few hours sleep!

 

Saturday 25th January 2014

A mere 5 hours after going to sleep and I was woken by Jon who was on his way to my house. I’d slept through my alarm after working so hard the night before. Whoops!

On Saturday morning the plan was for the team to gather at my flat at ~9am to continue working on the game. Manuel and Jon came to my flat to work while Drew worked on audio from home.

Over the space of the day (9am to 9pm) we added more art, audio and gameplay:

  • Scared amount: the player would now get increasingly scared whenever they saw the evil nurses. This only happens in the dark mode. In the nice mode the player doesn’t get scared and is able to traverse the level easily. If you max out your scared amount, you lose the game.
  • Collectibles: The aim of the game is to collect the parts of your teddy. If you can piece him back together again you will be able to escape from the nightmare and go back to the nice world.
  • UI: Lots and lots of UI, such as the main menu and intro text, level transition win/lose screens, credits screens etc.
  • Integration of art assets created by Jon, including nurse models and level assets.
  • Created placeholder level structures and game flow for all six levels we wanted to make.
  • Added the image effects you can see affecting the dark mode camera.

Here are some screenshots of the game as it looked at the end of Saturday:

Main Menu

Basic/Functional menu system is in place.

Placeholder intro text

Placeholder intro text

ChildrensWard V1 - Dark Mode

Dark mode is working with image effects, nurse model and working stats. Note that the nurse is broken in this build. She just shuffles on the spot staring at the bed.

ChildrensWardV1-4-Light

Nice mode! Again, the nurse is stuck (it’s the same Navmesh agent as the dark mode). Renderers switching out at runtime to change the entire look/feel of the game.

ChildrensWardV1-5-TeddyLimb

Collectable teddy limb!

 

At about 9pm on Saturday night the team parted ways again to continue working from our respective homes. I took a break for a few hours as I was exhausted while Jon, Drew and Manuel continued to work into the early hours…

 

Sunday 26th January 2014

By Sunday morning we had the core game in place, initial models integrated and a ton of audio. Sunday was for adding more/improved assets, more audio and polishing the game flow and levels. We had to submit builds at 3pm (as far as we were aware) so everyone just worked remotely again. Version control was a life-saver for this project (as for all projects) as it enabled us to all work wherever we wanted to be.

The last few hours of Sunday were incredibly intense (for me at least). Working on a rapidly evolving game like this, with minimal sleep and tight deadlines results in a rather fragile codebase and it becomes very easy for the game to break. Right before we went to build the game for uploading we found a couple of big bugs. Between Manuel and I we managed to fix the last few showstopper bugs just in time for our build cutoff time!

At 2:30pm on Sunday, approx 43hrs after we started brainstorming in the pub, we had a fully working game!

 

The Final Build

After lots of intense coding, amazing art creation and awesomely creepy audio recording, our team had a game that not only worked, we were happy to share and talk about!

Here are screenshots of the final build:

ChildrensWardMenu

Main Menu

ChildrensWardDark

Dark Mode – Finished evil nurse asset, complete with her own creepy walk animation. Furniture in place and improved HUD.

ChildrensWardLight

Nice Mode – Different model and animation for the nurse in this mode. We turn off image effects in this mode to give it a bright happy feel compared to the gritty/grainy Dark Mode.

 

Reception

So far, we’ve had some great feedback on the game.

We had a brilliant Let’s Play by ThingsWePlay on YouTube. I recommend checking it out as the commentary is really funny:

Children’s Ward (Global Game Jam 2014) – Things We Play LET’S LOOK!

We also got a mention on Edge Online’s writeup of Global Game Jam:

“at London’s SAE institute, Children’s Ward took this year’s theme and turned it into a game about switching between real and imagined worlds.”

http://www.edge-online.com/news/global-game-jam-2014-a-game-development-saga/

 

Thank You To My Team

This has by far been my most successful game jam and that is 100% down to the incredible team I worked with. Manuel, Jon and Drew: you guys are amazing and I hope I get to do more game jams with you. :)

 

Links

Without further ado, here are the links to play the game:

PC: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1181377/GGJ14/ChildrensWardWindows.zip

Mac: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1181377/GGJ14/ChildrensWardMac.zip

Web: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1181377/GGJ14/ChildrensWard.html

Linux: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1181377/GGJ14/ChildrensWardLinux.zip

 

Drew has uploaded his fantastic soundtrack to Soundcloud. Do go have a listen and grab a copy:

https://soundcloud.com/drewciferaudiodesign/sets/ggj-2014-entry-childrens-ward

 

And Finally…

I’ve mentioned version control a few times in this dev diary. For the sake of complete openness of our dev cycle, mistakes, stresses and all, here is our svn log for the weekend. Nothing changed, nothing removed. Sorry for the swearing… ;)

 

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r4 | cat | 2014-01-25 00:58:10 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

First commit! Basic code setup and a demo level. VERY basic implementation of transitioning from hidden/unhidden state (press h). First person controller done.
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r5 | cat | 2014-01-25 01:00:39 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Image effects. Because EVERYONE needs image effects.
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r6 | cat | 2014-01-25 01:36:36 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Basic AI. Renderers for enemies switch with the level structures when you hide.
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r7 | cat | 2014-01-25 01:49:50 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Removed colliders from AI to stop you bouncing up over their heads! Also updated build settings to prevent default fullscreen until we actually have a way to exit the game!
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r8 | cat | 2014-01-25 02:27:13 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Very basic implementation of ambient audio. Changes based on the player’s remaining “hide energy”. Has two of Drew’s audio clips.
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r9 | cat | 2014-01-25 12:22:19 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Player now has a concept of “scared amount”. This amount increases whenever an enemy is in view. BOOYA!
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r10 | cat | 2014-01-25 12:38:45 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Code cleanup
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r11 | manuel | 2014-01-25 12:46:25 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Collectables added. Just put instances of the Collectable prefab in the level
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r12 | manuel | 2014-01-25 12:50:54 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Missing metafiles (sorry)
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r13 | cat | 2014-01-25 12:56:35 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Bootstrap integration and some new audio.
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r14 | cat | 2014-01-25 13:00:04 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Basic hospital audio logic done but needs the hooks for when you hide/unhide. :)
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r15 | cat | 2014-01-25 13:16:38 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Adding initial gui.
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r16 | manuel | 2014-01-25 13:43:17 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Audio switching between nice and dark
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r17 | cat | 2014-01-25 13:55:01 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Main Menu.
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r18 | cat | 2014-01-25 14:11:28 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Basic MainMenu/Credits/Play loop. Also hooked up Quit button.
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r19 | cat | 2014-01-25 14:17:36 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

More audio! And other things I can’t remember.
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r20 | cat | 2014-01-25 14:29:48 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Basic HUD.
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r21 | cat | 2014-01-25 14:40:58 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Fixed detection of nurses so you only lose life if you’re in dark mode.
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r22 | cat | 2014-01-25 15:16:28 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Integration of basic Nurse model (good and evil).
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r23 | cat | 2014-01-25 15:17:24 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

put light back in level.
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r24 | manuel | 2014-01-25 15:17:49 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Credits draft
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r25 | cat | 2014-01-25 15:38:14 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Nurse face!
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r26 | manuel | 2014-01-25 15:50:39 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Menu improvements: added game intro, game over has now a retry button
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r27 | cat | 2014-01-25 16:31:31 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

more audio and evil nurse face.
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r28 | manuel | 2014-01-25 16:52:06 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

New font and font prefabs
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r29 | manuel | 2014-01-25 17:06:00 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Font tweaks
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r30 | manuel | 2014-01-25 17:07:22 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Enemy not levitating anymore
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r31 | cat | 2014-01-25 17:14:58 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Nurse audio and placeholder level textures. Also added ceiling.
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r32 | cat | 2014-01-25 17:27:45 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

more audio!
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r33 | cat | 2014-01-25 18:27:20 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

New level structure, bed assets, improved shaders on items etc.
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r34 | manuel | 2014-01-25 18:36:37 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Enemy audio (footsteps and voices)
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r35 | cat | 2014-01-25 18:44:21 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Updated wall asset.
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r36 | cat | 2014-01-25 18:51:17 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

more item integration.
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r37 | cat | 2014-01-25 18:53:55 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Added dark/light version of the beds.
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r38 | manuel | 2014-01-25 18:54:41 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Refactored audio and new creepy sounds
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r39 | cat | 2014-01-25 19:11:23 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Fuck yeah, image effects!
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r40 | manuel | 2014-01-25 19:22:58 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Music levels now depend on scariness
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r41 | cat | 2014-01-25 19:23:21 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Added doors!
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r42 | cat | 2014-01-25 20:57:58 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Entire game flow is now in (all six levels), with collectible teddy parts and transition screens in-between levels.
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r43 | cat | 2014-01-25 21:11:23 +0000 (Sat, 25 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Game win audio integrated.
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r44 | manuel | 2014-01-26 00:37:12 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

New audio features and content
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r45 | manuel | 2014-01-26 00:40:40 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Music is changed when game over
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r46 | manuel | 2014-01-26 10:51:23 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Audio background tracks 1 and 2 are now WAVs
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r47 | manuel | 2014-01-26 12:07:55 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

New audio tracks for menu, win and lose
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r48 | cat | 2014-01-26 12:08:22 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

New nurse models and animations.
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r49 | cat | 2014-01-26 12:08:44 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Updated HUD to say “Fear”
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r50 | manuel | 2014-01-26 12:29:36 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Story text in
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r51 | cat | 2014-01-26 12:30:02 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Added all decor items.
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r52 | manuel | 2014-01-26 12:42:30 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Fixed level complete scenes
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r53 | cat | 2014-01-26 12:43:16 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

More art: Wall and floor textures.
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r54 | manuel | 2014-01-26 12:45:56 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

New title screen music
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r55 | manuel | 2014-01-26 12:47:13 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

New sound effects
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r56 | cat | 2014-01-26 12:53:09 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Shader tweaks.
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r57 | cat | 2014-01-26 13:00:36 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

MOAR Shader tweaks.
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r58 | cat | 2014-01-26 13:15:34 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Initial level tweaks to get them all the same, ready for repositioning and moving stuff.
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r59 | cat | 2014-01-26 13:21:29 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

HUD text updated with outline and is now blue so it stands out.
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r60 | manuel | 2014-01-26 13:40:22 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Added HUD help to hide/unhide
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r61 | manuel | 2014-01-26 13:40:57 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Noises emitter timing tweaked
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r62 | cat | 2014-01-26 13:48:38 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Basic map layouts.
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r63 | manuel | 2014-01-26 14:06:35 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Bug fix when ending level hidden
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r64 | cat | 2014-01-26 14:10:39 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Fixed issue with nurse detection.
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r65 | manuel | 2014-01-26 14:18:53 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

New title screen
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r66 | manuel | 2014-01-26 14:26:23 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

New colours
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r67 | cat | 2014-01-26 14:33:45 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

levels with furniture in.
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r68 | cat | 2014-01-26 14:37:01 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

levels with furniture in.
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r69 | cat | 2014-01-26 14:37:40 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

levels with furniture in.
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r70 | manuel | 2014-01-26 14:37:43 +0000 (Sun, 26 Jan 2014) | 1 line

Fixed level complete screens
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Unit Testing in Unity

[Update: The project is now available on Github. Feel free to contribute! :) ]

For a while now, I’ve had this project sitting in an unfinished state and figured it was time I gave it a tidy up and made it available for people to use.

A quick disclaimer before I go into the details: I started the project with the hopes of putting this as a package on the Unity Asset Store. However with a lot of other projects and responsibilities, I don’t have the time to dedicate to the project to make it as good as it could be and support it after release. As such, I’m making it available here for free in a working but basic state which can be used in your projects freely. I’ve given the code a quick clean-up so it should hopefully be easy for people to work with. It’s far from finished/perfect but I’ve tested this in Unity 4.2 Pro on a Mac and it seems to work fine. While I don’t have time to actively support this project at present, if anyone does spot any major issues or adds improvements, I would love to hear about them!

Here’s what the tool currently looks like in Unity 4.2 Pro:

UnityUnitTesting-Window

So, on with the details…

 

A Bit of Background (why I made it)

As a developer, I feel much more secure when using test driven development. Having tests which automatically run and alert you to any issues as you expand/refactor your codebase is incredibly valuable and implementing them saves a lot of time in the long run. Unfortunately, for Unity projects there hasn’t been much in the way of utils/libraries which support unit testing. There are a number of unit testing frameworks available to use, but they require manual setup and provide no Unity-specific utilities to make them simple to use.

This is what my UnityUnitTesting package was intended to solve. I have taken NUnit Lite, added some simple wrapper scripts and implemented a UI to enable you to run and visualise your unit test results from within the Unity editor. The library has the ability to watch your code for changes and automatically run your unit tests whenever your scripts are recompiled (after you see the spinner in the bottom-right of the unity window). This removes the manual step and prevents you forgetting to run them. If you don’t want the editor window visible all the time, the system still logs an error or warning for any broken/ignored/skipped tests it finds.

I’ve tried with this system to have it auto-detect your tests so you shouldn’t have to do any set up. Just add the package to your project, write your tests and have them run. Again on the disclaimer front – I’ve only done limited testing of this, but the code is simple enough that you should be able to easily customise/patch it for your specific requirements. It currently works by browsing the two assemblies you’re likely to be working with (“Assembly-CSharp”, “Assembly-CSharp-Editor”) for any available test fixtures. It then runs all your tests on a per-assembly basis. If you wish to add/remove an assembly, you can do so by adding it to the _assemblyNamesToTest HashSet at the top of the UnityUnitTester class. For most of you though, you hopefully shouldn’t have to change anything.

 

Setup

You can download the package from this link.

Once you’ve added the package to your project (Assets -> Import Package -> Custom Package…), you should see the following folder/files added to your project:

UnityUnitTesting-Project

As you’ll see from the screenshot, I’ve added four TestFixture classes as examples. Here you’ll find a lot of example unit tests making use of various options in the NUnitLite API. It’s worth keeping these files initially so you can ensure the system works and can even use them as a template for your own tests. Once you’re happy with the setup, feel free to delete all of the example tests.

To view the editor window and test results display, go to Window -> UnitTesting -> ShowWindow:

UnityUnitTesting-Menu

This will display the unit testing results window which has options to manually run the tests or disable the auto-running of them. Below is what you should see if you’ve kept the example test fixtures. I’ve expanded the results in the screenshot to show the details:

UnityUnitTesting-Window

From this screenshot, you can see that any failed tests or errors are shown in red. Anything which was skipped or ignored is shown in yellow. I have removed highlighting of passed results (they used to be green) to help these other tests stand out, however that would be easy for you to re-implement should you wish to have that feature back. With the highlighting set up this way, you can quickly browse the collapsed list of fixtures and easily spot any red lines to help you quickly identify failing tests.

If you wish to disable the automatic running of tests, you simply need to check the checkbox. This setting should be saved in your preferences automatically (again, disclaimer, I’ve only given that a very quick test).

The window will no doubt get rather large as you add more tests. In case you’d rather not see it all the time, I’ve set the system to debug log a summary of the test results. The way I tend to work is to have the window hidden and only show it if I spot an error/warning in my console:

UnityUnitTesting-Console

And that’s it! I hope someone finds this project useful! :)

 

Useful References / Links

 

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Tips for Avoiding RSI

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been getting painful aches in my right wrist and forearm. It started with a mild tingling ache at the back of my hand and has since progressed to a full painful ache of the entire forearm.

Being a developer, the last thing I need is RSI. I make my living as a freelance developer and am currently working really hard on mine and Mark’s indie game.

This morning I asked on Twitter if anyone has suggestions for how to avoid RSI. Here’s a summary of the feedback:

  • Use a wrist rest/support when using a keyboard/mouse. I already own a pair of Wrist Donuts which are comfortable and seem to help a little.
  • Check your posture regularly. RSI can apparently be caused by bad posture so make sure you sit up straight and have your monitor/chair/desk at the correct height. More details on the correct desk setup can be seen on the Wikipedia RSI page.
  • Keyboards: Use an ergonomic keyboard if possible. Your forearms and wrists should be perpendicular to your body but some keyboards and laptops result in your arching your hands upwards.
  • Mice: Using an ergonomic mouse, track ball or vertical mouse may help. Again, make sure your arms/wrists are horizontal. Also try using your mouse with the other hand for a while if you notice your RSI flaring up. I’ve just tried using my mouse left-handed for the first time and while it felt awkward at first, I’ve got used to it surprisingly quickly.
  • Use a Wacom or other tablet instead of a mouse. This has been recommended by numerous people and I’ll definitely be trying this. I’m left-handed, so this will give my painful right arm a good break.
  • Exercise your hands/wrists when you’re thinking or taking a break. Suggestions have included Powerball and Theraputty.
  • Massage your arms/wrists thoroughly after a shower/bath to help relax the muscles. Once you’ve massaged them, stretch.

I’m going to give a lot of this advice a try over the next few days and will report on what works for me.

If you have any other tips, please do get in touch!

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Standing Up For The Guys

Rather than subtly working around the subject of this blog post, I’m going to get right to the point. I’m getting increasingly frustrated at the generalisation that guys who play games or work in the games industry are sexist pigs who all discriminate against women. Recently this seems to be being shouted from the rooftops by vocal people who do not represent the opinions of me nor any of the women I know.

Before going any further, I want to acknowledge that there may well be some people who have discriminated against women because of their gender. If that’s the case, I’m all for those women raising visibility of their own personal experiences and I really hope they are able to resolve the problems they’ve been encountering.

What I am against, however, is a vocal minority jumping on a bandwagon and making blanket accusations that all men in the games industry (or who play games) are sexist and treat women unfairly. This is not at all how the games industry is from my perspective.

 

My Perspective

I’ve been working in the games industry for almost 5 years and have been a gamer all my life. I’ve worked with hundreds of men and played many, many hours of games. Never have I had someone discriminate against me because of my gender.

Over my five years in the games industry, I’ve worked at a few large companies and have consulted at numerous studios around the world. I’ve attended and spoken at conferences, hosted developer meetups and been to plenty of gaming and dev socials. Nobody has treated me differently at these events because of my gender. Likewise, none of my female friends (that I know of) have been treated differently because of their gender.

From my point of view, the games industry is an incredibly open-minded and inclusive community. I have a lot of male friends in this industry who are all lovely. It frustrates me to see a vocal minority deeming all men in the industry to be these sexist pigs who belittle women. The many men I have worked with and played videogames with are not like that at all and I would very much like these sweeping statement accusations to stop.

 

Vocal Minorities

There will always be a vocal minority who badly represent their gender/age/race etc in any group of people. This may be guys who treat women unfairly, or someone who treats a person badly because of their religion. Unfortunately, this problem is not helped by the anonymity of the internet, where people can be more rude or vocal than they would normally be. There will always be someone who says something controversial or wrong and shouts about it. We must remember though, that for every one vocal asshole who makes a sexist comment, there will be thousands of non-vocal people who completely disagree with them and are not assholes.

From my point of view, this vocal minority now also applies to the people who are currently giving male gamers and the men in the games industry a bad name from the perspective of women. I do not want these people to speak for me. They do not represent my experiences at all.

It’s bad when a vocal minority discriminates against women because of their gender. But please, take a step back and look at your own argument: by claiming that women as a whole are treated unfairly by men in the games industry and gaming communities, you’re calling the entire male population sexist. Speaking of men in this way is sexist in itself and is entirely hypocritical.

 

Stereotypes and discrimination

Some women complain about being stereotyped as being bad gamers or about not being welcome in the tech industry. I would very much like to see the end of this “woe is me, I’m a poor downtrodden woman who can’t get a job or play games” non-argument. If you’re good at your job, or good at playing games, people will want you in their company/team/clan/guild/whatever. If you’re bad, you won’t get the job. And rightly so. I would hate to see people given jobs or special treatment just because they’re female. Positive discrimination is just as bad as negative discrimination.

It seems these days we’re too scared to say if a woman might be bad at playing games, or bad at her job. This is dangerous. The last thing we need as an industry is to hire bad people because of their gender/race/age etc just to meet some arbitrary target number. If a woman is the best candidate, hire her. If she is not and a guy is better, hire the guy!

 

What are you trying to achieve?

I’d like to ask the people making these sweeping statements about how women are (supposedly) treated in games and the industry what they are trying to achieve.

Are you trying to achieve fairness in games and the games industry for women? For most of us, that fairness already exists. If you have unfortunately experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, do something positive about it; speak to an adviser or get a lawyer. Try to prove the discriminatory person wrong by doing an awesome job. Likewise, if you’re in an online game and someone is claiming you’re rubbish, well, first check whether you actually are rubbish. If not, the best thing you can do is rise above it and play a really good game to prove them wrong.

Are you trying to make the industry a better place for women and encourage more women to join the games industry? If so, then I personally think your current argument is likely to do more harm than good. By shouting from the rooftops that gaming and the games industry are sexist communities where women aren’t currently welcome, you are not helping the current gender divide. How on earth do you expect to encourage more young women and girls to take up gaming or choose to work in the industry when you claim it’s full of sexist men who won’t take them seriously?

 

Positive role models

If we want more women to play games and pursue careers in the games industry, we need to stop this vocal minority misrepresenting the rest of us. We need positive female role models of successful women in gaming to inspire the next generation of young girls. The reason there are fewer women than men in the industry isn’t because men treat women unfairly. It’s mostly down to social issues and gender stereotypes inflicted on people from the second they are born. If we want more girls to get into games, we need women to inspire them and let them know how rewarding, awesome and creative a career in the games industry can be. Let them know that they don’t have to follow society’s bizarre gender stereotypes.

To all young women and girls out there, I want to let you know that the games industry is a fantastic place to work. If you’re an artist, designer, musician, coder or have other talents which are vital to this industry, please ignore the people claiming it’s a horrid sexist industry where you’ll be downtrodden and bullied. Sure, this may unfortunately happen to some people, but for most of us it is not the case and the men we work with are fantastic.

Whatever your gender/race/religion/sexuality etc, please ignore the vocal minorities. They do not speak for the majority and we’d love to welcome you into this wonderful, inclusive industry.

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Staying Sane While Being Indie

On Saturday, I attended the fantastic Gamecamp unconference at the London South Bank University. The annual event encourages attendees to add their talks to the schedule on the day. As a result, there is a fantastic variety in the topics and sessions.

One of my favourite sessions from this year was a roundtable discussion about how to stay sane while being indie. This session was an informal discussion with about 20 of us in the room. There were some fantastic points raised from many people who have tried the indie life and struggled with it.

A lot of the points raised really hit home for me. I plan to take on board a lot of the advice while working on my indie projects and I hope this summary will help others too.

 

Here are the main areas we discussed:

  • Exercise. An obvious one but one that is incredibly easy to ignore or forget about. For a lot indies like me who work at home, their routine is to wake up, walk to another room, and sit there all day working hard on their project. Exercising is often forgotten about (or, lets face it, not entirely enjoyable), but it is vital to keep yourself fit and healthy. The healthier/fitter you are, the better you will work. This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to go to the gym every day. If you’re like me and dislike the gym environment, there are plenty of alternatives: take a dance class, go for a run (free!), or even simply go for a walk. Even a small amount of exercise per day will work wonders.

  • Eat healthily. This is closely related to the previous point. If you eat healthier, you will feel better in yourself and be more productive.

  • Get out and see people. Whether it’s a quick walk round your neighbourhood, a wander round the shops, or a nice stroll through the park, getting out of the house and seeing people will help you keep a grip on reality and will help stop that cabin fever feeling. It often helps to have other people around you to motivate you, so rather than working alone, try finding a group of likeminded people to co-work with or meet for coffee.

  • Schedules and breaks. Just because you’re indie does not mean you can/must/should work ridiculous hours on your project. It’s fantastic if you’re motivated and want to work hard but if you put in too many hours at once you will eventually burn out. Instead, pace yourself and work at a sensible rate. Try to set yourself a clock-off time as if you have a day job so that you can spend some time relaxing and get a break from the project. It is also very important to take regular breaks during the day, especially when staring at a screen all day. Try to break your work into small manageable chunks so that you can naturally take a 5/10 min break after each task without getting too distracted or having to stop mid-task. Taking a short break or an evening off from your work will give you chance to reflect on your project. So many of us have been stuck on a feature only to get a good night’s sleep and wake up with the answer. Allow yourself a break from time to time – it will help. One solution for helping us to take breaks which was mentioned in the session is an app called Workrave. This app will regularly prompt you to let you know you need to take a break.

  • Keep a TODO list. On my projects, I always have a TODO list. I’ve tried many options from a scrum board of post-it notes on my wall, to simple google docs, to now using Trello. There are many advantages to having a well structured TODO list:

    • They provide you with a clear list of what needs to be done. This will help you to prioritise and work out how best to tackle the job. It also means you can unload all those tasks from your mind and concentrate on the single task at hand without constantly worrying about forgetting to do something.

    • Tasks should ideally be broken down into small manageable chunks. If you have one large task which will take a day or more, break it down into a checklist of smaller sub tasks. By having a solid list of tasks (broken into smaller sub-tasks) you will naturally fall into a pattern of having short breaks at the end of each sub task.

    • A great benefit of TODO lists is the action of marking a task as done. Whether this is dragging a task in Trello to the “done” column, checking off a sub-task checkbox, or taking a post-it note off your wall and placing it in a done pile, it is all positive reinforcement that you are making progress and doing well. Try to keep all of your completed tasks so that you have an ever-growing pile of completed tasks. See, you really have been working hard!

  • Guilt. It is vitally important to keep a your work/life balance when working on your own projects, even though it can sometimes be hard to switch off from your work. Many people in the group mentioned they feel incredibly guilty if they’re not working on their project, even if they are doing something they enjoy or need to do. There is no reason for you to feel guilty. Taking a break, as mentioned earlier will really help you to re-focus on your project and also stay happier. Try to make your breaks something that is done away from your work environment. Make a cup of tea, play with Lego, go out with friends, visit a museum, take up knitting. Whatever it is, find a hobby or social activity away from the computer screen that you can do to relax for a while. And whatever you do, don’t feel guilty about taking a break – you’ve earned it!

  • Depression/Stress/Sleep problems. A few of the people in the Gamecamp session mentioned that they have suffered with depression, stress or had trouble sleeping. This is something that can easily affect everyone but is unfortunately sometimes difficult to talk about. If at any point you start to feel overworked, stressed or depressed, take a break and try to speak to your doctor about it. There are people there who can help you so don’t suffer alone. The sooner you find someone to help, the sooner you’ll get better and can finish that project you’ve been working so hard on.


If anyone else has any other great advice for staying sane while being indie, I’d love to hear them! Please feel free to comment or email me and I shall add them to the list.

 

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LUUG 19

A couple of months ago I took over the responsibility of organising the London Unity User Group (#LUUG). Organising my first full LUUG was quite hard work, but it was definitely worth the effort!

After the last LUUG people seemed to really like the open mic sessions, so we decided to dedicate more time to them this month. This seemed to work well and we had a fantastic selection of presentations during the evening.

Here’s a quick round up of the talks…

 

1) Tomas Rawlings – @TomasRawlings

Tomas talked about the Royal Society game jam that’s happening next month. Here’s a summary of the event:

Get £2K+ to Game Jam Cutting Edge Science into Fun: Deadline 1st May

The Royal Society is looking for experienced games development studios to take part in a new initiative that will turn some of the research on show at its annual Summer Science Exhibition into video games. The Royal Society will host a 12 hour game jam on 24th May that will see developers work with the scientists behind exhibits to produce five exciting new games. Five development teams of up to 4 developers will be partnered with the selected exhibitors for an all-day game jam from 10am – 10pm. Each development team will receive £2,000 to further develop their games after the game jam so that they are ready to be played at the Summer Science Exhibition which runs from 1st – 7th July. The games will be available free online and at the exhibition itself so that the public can cast votes for their favourite game. The team that receives most votes will receive an additional £2,000 to further develop their game once the Exhibition closes.  This is a great opportunity to get your name known, make some amazing games and get paid too!  Reasonable travel costs, food and refreshments will also be provided. Interested developers can find out more about the competition and how to apply from the Royal Society’s website at http://bit.ly/RSgamejam

The hashtag for the game jam is #RSgamejam

 

2) Russ Morris – @TheRussMorris

Russ showed us RescueNauts, the game he’s been working on with Iain Gillespie. You can play RescueNauts here: http://gamejolt.com/games/arcade/rescuenauts/14019/

 

3) Nate Gallardo – @poxican

Nate showed us his university project, icefishing v. Icefishing v is an interactive sound-art album, inspired by noise, glitch and ambient music. You can check it out at: http://v.icefishingmusic.com/

 

4) Danny Goodayle and Roberta Saliani – @DGoodayle, @robertasaliani

Danny and Roberta told us about the London Game Jam which will take place on June 1st at Modern Jago. Tickets for the event are available now via http://thelondongamejam.eventbrite.co.uk/. For more info on the game jam, see http://thelondongamejam.com/.

 

5) Mark Baker

Mark showed us a sneak preview of a previously unseen Moshi Monsters game for iOS. I have no links for this game, but it looked really nice.

 

6) Tom Szirtes

Tom is from Lantern Interactive (http://lanterninteractive.com/). He showed the beautiful trailer for their game The Realm (@TheRealmGame, www.therealmgame.com). The game looks stunning! They have a kickstarter for the project which is definitely worth taking a look at and backing: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/995134339/the-realm-game.

 

7) Rui Antunes

Rui is the tutor of a short introductory course on Unity3D (20 hours, 2 hours each Wednesday evening) at City University. If you’d like more information on the course, check out the City University page: http://www.city.ac.uk/courses/short-courses/game-development-using-unity-3d.

 

8) Vegard Myklebust – @usefulslug

Vegard showed us the latest update to his fun Will Smith inspired dance game for iOS called Super Dance XPerienz 92. If you want to check out the game, there’s a build on Vegard’s website: http://www.usefulslug.com/dance/.

 

9) Richard Hawkins

Richard showed us a game he’s currently working on called Wilson’s Adventure. The game will be available on iOS, Android and OUYA:

“Join Wilson on his adventure as his plane crashes on a strange island. Help him Find Jane, the love of his life and save her from the cluches of evil.”

 

10) Andy Touch – @andytouch

Andy showed us his painting game, Go Paint, in which you can place paint in a 3D environment and even build with it. You can play the game and view the gallery here: http://www.paintpaintpaint.co.uk/. He also showed us a finger painting app he’s been working on where you can paint a cube using Leap Motion.

 

11) Jon Weinbren

Jon presented a 3 minute showreel of the current projects being worked on for the NFTS games course. The full showreel can be viewed on the NFTS site at http://screeningroom.nfts.co.uk/video/nfts-games-work-in-progress-showreel. If you would like more information about the course itself, check out http://nfts.co.uk/our-courses/masters/games-design-development.

 

12) Rob Saxton

Rob showed us his latest game GnarBike Trials 2. This game is the sequel to GnarBike Trials (Androidhttp://bit.ly/ZzFYOK, iOS http://bit.ly/11pPq44) with a big focus on user creativity. The in-game level builder will be packed full of features, so you can create and share amazing custom levels with ease!

 

There were also a couple of announcements and follow-ups people have asked me to mention to the group:

Firstly, Ben from Mousebreaker has mentioned that they’re looking for Unity developers. He said: “I’m looking to commision games for our games portal www.mousebreaker.com. If you are a Unity developer please drop me a mail to see if we can work together. We are based in London, but you can work from remotely. Previous experience is a must.”. If interested, you can contact Ben via email: ben@mousebreaker.com.

And finally, Will has asked me to mention Unite Nordic. I briefly spoke about this on the night but figured more information would be helpful! Unite Nordic takes place in Malmo, Sweden, on 21-22 May. The lineup for this event looks great, with talks from Mojang, Rovio, the Unity team and more. The event is then followed by the Nordic Game Conference (22-24 May). For more info, check out the following links:

Unite Nordic: http://unity3d.com/unite/nordic/

Full schedule: http://unity3d.com/unite/nordic/schedule

Tickets: http://nordicgame.com/register

 

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A New Game Dev Adventure

As a big fan of Unity, it may be surprising to hear that I have decided to leave my role there. Today was officially my last day. I’ve enjoyed my time there greatly – the team is incredibly talented and the product is fantastic. I’ve made a lot of great friends during my time at Unity and I’ll miss the team a great deal.

However, after helping a lot of game developers and studios all over the world with their Unity games, I have realised just how much I miss game development. I really do love making games.

And so, as of today, I am taking a massive leap of faith. I’m leaving the land of employment and venturing into the unknown world of indie game dev with Mark. I will now be working full-time on our own game projects. Naturally, we shall be using Unity to make them!

We’ve got plenty of ideas and a lot of game dev/design experience between us, so we’re planning to develop many games together. We’re very excited! We’re also realistic about how difficult this process will be. I’m expecting the upcoming months to be very hard work, very challenging and probably rather stressful. At the same time though, it will be really fun and a great learning experience.

For the next few months, I’ll be developing our projects full-time, but may occasionally take on paid work from early next year. If anyone needs a freelance game dev or consultancy help with Unity projects in 2013, please do get in touch!

If you’d like to keep up to date on what we’re working on, keep an eye on our twitter feeds (@catburton, @markbackler) for updates! I’ll also be blogging regularly as we make our games.

I’m now ready for the next chapter in my game dev adventure! Bring it on!

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Goo Goo Geiger! A Game for Molyjam 2012

This weekend was the first Molyjam, based on the ideas of Peter Molydeux. The jam took place over 48 hours with hundreds of games made globally. Lots of sites have detailed the jam already, so I’ll cut to the chase and talk about mine and Mark’s game…

We decided to make a game based on the following tweet:

 

“Imagine carrying a radioactive baby in a pitch black environment, your baby would act as a torch. Rocking the baby intensifies the glow etc”

 

 
The details of the game can be found on www.whatwouldmolydeux.com, and it can be played at http://www.catburton.co.uk/molyjam2012/.

 

Enjoy! :)

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Testing Unity’s Flash Export on a Large Project – Part 1

Over the last weekend, I’ve been hard at work trying to get an unannounced Mind Candy project (made in Unity) to export to Flash.  I thought it would be useful to share some details from the experience since most of the issues I’ve encountered would probably be avoidable if your project is architected in a way that lends itself to Flash export.

During the Christmas holidays, I made a game for Unity’s Flash in a Flash contest. It wasn’t the most exciting game, but it worked. The core mechanic of that game (including new 3.5 features such as nav mesh) exported to Flash well. The reason this game worked is because I had been paying close attention to the Flash export and knew what features wouldn’t work at that time. I avoided anything overly complicated and developed the game with the limitations in mind. Fundamentally, I decided to make a new, simple game rather than trying to port an existing one.

Now, I’m doing the opposite. I’m trying to get an existing game to publish to Flash. This project is a relatively large one. The game has been in development for quite a long time. It contains a lot of complex C# code and most importantly: a lot of features that don’t yet work in the Flash export. Trying to get this game to export to Flash is no easy task. I’ve spent numerous weekends on this since the 3.5 beta was made available and I still haven’t got it to work.

Despite the export (currently) not working for our project, there are a lot of lessons to be learned. Hopefully these will be of use to other people attempting the same task, and will be a good reference point for myself when I inevitably try to export the game again at a later date.

 

Currently Unsupported Features

Unity have already listed some of the unsupported features in the Flash export as part of the 3.5 preview faq. Some of these features (and the ones that have proved most problematic for me) are:

  • LINQ
  • Terrains
  • Asset Bundles
  • WWW
  • Raknet networking

If you’re using these features, then you’ll encounter a lot of errors as soon as you try to get Unity to build to Flash. Some example errors I’ve seen are:

 

Networking

  • error CS0246: The type or namespace name `ConnectionTesterStatus’ could not be found. Are you missing a using directive or an assembly reference?
  • error CS0246: The type or namespace name `NetworkView’ could not be found. Are you missing a using directive or an assembly reference?
  • error CS0246: The type or namespace name `BitStream’ could not be found. Are you missing a using directive or an assembly reference?
  • error CS0246: The type or namespace name `WWW’ could not be found. Are you missing a using directive or an assembly reference?

 

MovieTextures

  • error CS0246: The type or namespace name `MovieTexture’ could not be found. Are you missing a using directive or an assembly reference?

These errors are effectively a checklist of all the classes you’re using that aren’t yet supported and there’s only one thing you can do: remove them from your build. There are numerous ways to do this (depending on what you’re trying to achieve), from brute force deletion to telling Unity to skip these sections in a Flash build. You can do the latter by using platform dependant compilation.

All you need to do is wrap your Flash specific code in a platform check such as:

#if UNITY_FLASH
Debug.Log(“Flash build”);
#endif

In my case, the first thing I had to do was to try and remove these unsupported features. MovieTextures were easy to take out, as they’re not vital to our game. Networking, however was more problematic. And this is my first (and most important) lesson…

 

Lesson 1 – Separation of Networking Code

Our game currently uses the inbuilt RakNet networking solution. These networking elements are fundamental to our game, and as such, the networking code exists in many different areas of our codebase. When publishing to the web player or a standalone app/exe build this is fine. For Flash export, this suddenly creates a big problem when the networking solution isn’t yet supported.

As an example, if your game uses RPCs across clients to update core data in your game, then you’re going to have problems. I’m sure that there are other solutions which are better suited to Flash export, but this doesn’t fix my immediate problem: we have a game, where our chosen networking solution won’t publish to Flash. Unity suggest that you can use Flash networking instead of RakNet, but since I’m doing this export with tight time constraints (self imposed, by the mere fact it’s a weekend), that solution is not feasible for this test.

This has left me with one option in my mission to get our game working: rip out RakNet. This is not ideal, but luckily, our game copes with it ok.

This raises an interesting point in that the networking code should be as decoupled from the core mechanic of your game as possible. In some cases this can’t be done, but if you can find a way to make your networking layer easily removed/changed, then you’ll be in a much better place than I was regarding Flash export. It will also help you if you ever decide to switch to a different networking solution.

At this point, I’m going to gloss over about 10 other failed builds. It takes a few attempts at building to clear up this first wave of errors. Once you’ve cleared that first wave, you can breathe a sigh of relief and ready yourself for wave two: Attempting an actual build…

 

Attempting a Build

Once you’ve fixed/removed/hacked-out all the unsupported features, you’ll get to a point where the build process will now try to publish your game to Flash. The type of errors you get now will be more complex than those in wave one. Below is a screenshot of one of my build attempts at this stage:

 

You’ll note that these errors are more complicated than the “you can’t use ClassX because it’s unsupported” ones. In the case of these errors, it’s up to you to go into each of these classes and try to simplify your code as much as possible.

Some areas where our build failed were where we’d used generics. For example, we had fairly complex code to randomise the order of elements in an array. It wasn’t vital, so it went in the bin. This seems to be a common trend in trying to get this project to build to Flash. I’m slowly, over time, discarding features to the point where it’s a very stripped-down version of the game.

There are a couple of errors regarding our audio library in the above screenshot. This library wouldn’t convert at all (I got multiple waves of errors). My only solution at present has been to remove it.

The last item in that list is log4net. This caused a lot of issues. Rather than spending ages resolving them for this test, I decided it should also be removed. Since we used the logging in a lot of our code, I’ve ended up writing my own logging classes based on the log4net interfaces. This meant that I only had to fix up the imports in the class and our existing logging would still work using Unity’s own Debug.Log etc.

A few more iterations and build attempts occurred before wave 2 was complete. All in all, the first two waves have taken out large chunks of our features, and as a result the game feels somewhat unstable.

Akin to a game of [insert zombie survival FPS game of your choice here], we’ve just about survived the first few waves. We’re battererd, we’re bruised, but most importantly, we’re not defeated! We’re now ready for the next wave. Bring on the boss; the tank; the last major hurdle in the flash export – the conversion of your code to ActionScript.

 

Converting your code to ActionScript

At this stage, when you try to build, Unity will attempt to convert your source to ActionScript. Having previously spent years as a Flash developer, I find this part of the build rather exciting. The guys at Unity have done a fantastic job of getting this process to the stage it’s at.

That said, this is probably the toughest part of the process. Ripping out features and (to some extent) fixing the errors in the previous stage is easy. Trying to work out why the generated ActionScript doesn’t work is much more difficult. Luckily, when a build fails, you can find all the AS classes in a temp folder in your project (/Temp/StagingArea/Data/ConvertedDotNetCode/global/). This will enable you to look at them (if you wish) and try to understand where it might be going wrong, such that you can adjust your C# or js accordingly.

In my first attempt at this stage, I was left with 87 errors. The following are a small selection of these to give you an idea of the kind of problems I’ve seen:

 

Conversion Error 1

  • Error: Access of possibly undefined property $Type through a reference with static type Class.

This error seems to be very common and occurs when reflection is used (and probably in other situations). Unfortunately, a lot of our core libraries use reflection, and as such, this is a large problem to try and fix.

 

Conversion Error 2

  • Error: Call to a possibly undefined method IComparable$1_CompareTo_T through a reference with static type Number.

This has occurred because we’re trying to compare two values whose classes implement IComparable. In our case, this could be worked around relatively easily.

 

Conversion Error 3

  • Error: Type was not found or was not a compile-time constant: ReadOnlyCollection$1

In some of our classes we’re providing access to ReadOnlyCollections. It seems that we can’t use these at present and we could work round this by simply returning a standard Collection.

 

Conversion Error 4

  • Error: Call to a possibly undefined method String_Constructor_Char_Int32 through a reference with static type String.

A common style of conversion error that’s quite tricky to work out. I saw a lot of errors similar to this one.

 

These are just 4 of the 87 errors which need fixing. I expect that if/when all 87 are resolved, I’d have another wave or two to get through before the game would actually build. For now though, it’s Sunday night and I’ve run out of time to work on this test.

 

Next Steps…

My next challenge in this Flash export test is to go through the aforementioned 87 conversion errors and try to resolve them. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get the game to build after another solid few days working on the export.

If that task proves too difficult then I will try a different approach of starting from a clean project and adding features one by one. In theory, that should be easier to get working, although that’s not how we’d want to export to Flash in the long run.

If I do get the export to work, I shall write a follow-up post with a walkthrough of some conversion errors.  For these, I’ll include (where possible) the raw C#, the converted AS, and examples of how the errors can be avoided/solved.

For now though, I’m going to give up and play some well-earned Killing Floor! :D

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Learning Blender – Some Useful Links

I’ve been trying to learn the basics of Blender in the last few weeks and have struggled to find a good list of learning resources. Rather than keeping my own list of useful tutorials/links, I thought I’d create a list here. I’ll continue to add to this as/when I find resources:

 

 

Only a short list for now, but those are a good starting place. If you know of any other good resources that I’ve missed, please let me know, and I’ll add them!

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