Tuesday, 11 October 2016

And that's a wrap...

As of now I've officially submitted my work and finished my MA degree. Now just comes the setting up of our degree show, which is going quite well thankfully. :)

I ended up publishing two videos to Youtube - one showing my full forest, and another focusing soleley on the particle effects. Here they are if you would like to take a look:

I feel as though I should feel a sense of relief and freedom, but in all honesty I just feel quite sad to see this chapter come to an end.

I'm extremely proud of the work that I've done and submitted, and this whole MA experience has been an absolute pleasure. The UCLan Games Course feels like more of a family than just a university course, and it's an honour to have been able to be a part of it for so long. It's rare to find a place with so much creativity, passion but also with the amount of care people have for one another. It's a truly special place, and if you ever get the chance to study there I'd say do it in a heart beat.

I feel that I've grown as an artist and as a person, I've learned so many techniques which I can now take forward with me and use in future. I also now feel that I can actually open UE4 without panicking, so that's a good sign at least. ;)

It feels like the right time to leave this blog be now - I want to be able to come back to it and reflect on my journey. Sure, my journey will continue, but I feel as though this chapter should be left as is.

Thank you so much for sticking with me throughout my MA, I've had a wonderful time and I hope that you have enjoyed reading along with me. <3

Monday, 3 October 2016

Adding Life to the Forest...

I've now gotten to the stage with my forest where its foundations are done, and it's now time to add the finishing details. 

At the moment, said details are more characters! These are the things I'm most excited to add, as I put a lot of heart and love into their designs. Here are some of their 'hiding' places within the forest so far:

I've added some more characters than those pictured (some of which I've already lost... I guess that's a good sign?), but I do still have a fair few left to add!

There's also a giant tree stump in the middle of one of the paths (as suggested by Elliott - thanks buddy!) for the player to walk under. There are some fireflies hanging out in it, too, so if by any chance you manage to miss their magical lair, you at least get a taster of them here. :)

These are just a static image, however there is some animation in there! The fireflies in the top left image float around (as shown in my previous blog post), and the slug & snail bounce up and down on top of the log as though to greet you joyfully. 

I still need to add my dancing weed friends, and I'm hoping to get Berryl doing a little bob also. Not too much to do, but enough to add some more character to the forest at least! 

Friday, 30 September 2016

Sweet Beautiful Particles

Second chunky blog post in one day - must be making progress! ;)

This next part of my project made me squeal in joy and smile uncontrollably, so I hope it'll do the same for you. :)

The forest now has these little lovelies!

They're hidden in a secret area though, so you'll just have to listen carefully to find them...

I haven't set up a proper particle effect before, and for this one I took UE4's existing dust particle and altered it. Also a huge thank you to my friend Anthony for helping me get my head around it - I couldn't have done it without you!

Although I used an existing particle as a base, it still took some time getting the effect just right. I started off by making my own texture to use as a material for the particles:

It's worth noting that originally the particle had one huge face in the centre, though it was split into 4 different particle slots so only showed a portion of it! With a face in each corner the issue was solved and so the faces ended up being displayed properly. :) 

After the texture was happy, it was then time to add an emissive to it so that the faces glow. Here's what the material set up looks like:

Then came the task of testing strengths of both the brightness and the amount of particles that appear on screen at once. Here are a few screenshots of different intensities:

The first test was a bit too small. There were enough particles, but for the most part you couldn't see their faces. With that in mind, the sizing of the particles was changed...

Oh my.

Now this is visibly better for their faces, but now we have too many of them. Hmm...

There we go! :D Much better.

They tie in with the music that Daniel made for me. There's a magical sounding track that I want to use to lead players to a specific part of the forest - it's here that they'll find these little ones. It's not a huge thing but hopefully it will create a few smiles. :)

Then just to finish up on, here are a few more screenshots:

Last Minute Audio!

I have to give a huge thank you to Daniel Ben Jones for this opportunity, as up until yesterday I was preparing to put stock audio into my scene rather than audio that had been made specifically for it. Needless to say, specially made audio is 1000x better, so thank you, Daniel! :D 

I met Daniel through the Games Development society that I ran alongside my MA, and we had talked about collaborating but hadn't really seemed to find the right opportunity. Then Daniel asked me if I'd like audio for my forest, and here we are! 

Daniel made me 3 sets of audio - a 7 minute audio recording of a forest, some magical music to go with it, and 7 unique footsteps. <3

So now let's go through the process of actually adding the audio...

Audio imports to UE4 just like meshes, textures etc. Just select 'import', select the file(s) you want to add, and they show up in the bottom like so:

The reason these are on their own and not with other assets/audio/textures is because they're in a folder - keeps things organised. ;)

The difference between audio and a mesh, however, is that you can't just drag it into your scene and have it work. First you need to make a Sound Cue for it. 

To do this, you select the pieces that you want to put into the sound cue. In this case I have 7 individual footsteps, so with all 7 selected you then right click > select 'create cue' from the drop down menu. 

This will then create the cue for you, and you'll have a little window that looks a bit like this:

It'll look different if you only select one sound to play, as you won't need to randomise it. So rather than all the different nodes connected to 'Random', it'll just go straight from the audio box to the Output. :)

In this case I need the footsteps to randomise as the player walks, so the 'Random' box is necessary. With everything connected like the image above, you can then test whether or not the sound cue is working properly:

If you select 'Play Cue' from the top left side of the menu, it'll then play a random sound connected to the Output. Pressing this several times should randomise the selection, and if all of them play then you're good to go! 

After you've saved your sound cue, you're then ready to add it to your scene. For general audio/soundtrack music you can just drag it into the scene, select the radius of it in the settings, and you're good to go! 

For footsteps you have to attach it to your player, so now you need to find your 'FirstPersonCharacter' (or the equivalent if your game is in 3rd person) and double click it to open the Blueprint. 

With the Blueprint on screen, you need to add your Footsteps to the character so that they play randomly while your character works. Create an 'Audio Component' and select your Footsteps sound cue to work with it. Then connect it to Play/Stop as it is above. :)

With all of this done, you should now have both in-game sound, as well as a randomised selection of footsteps which play whenever you walk! Amazing! 

I'm so thankful to have been able to learn this (and to actually have the audio to do so!), so a huge thank you again to Daniel and to my lovely friend Elliott for all of the guidance. I feel like I learned something super important and valuable, so I'm very thankful for the opportunity. :)

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

... And Grows...

Onto stage 2 of my forest's development now! I have my landscape set out and all trees are planted, so now I've been able to move onto adding more props. Here are some screenshots:

Alongside making the individual strands of grass stand out more I've also been adding various plants and mushrooms. While I've only really just begun the process of adding them (and have been taking my time as I need to get it right!), I feel that they have already added much more life to the forest.

Finding the correct amounts to add of each has been an interesting process with a lot of trial and error. As mentioned in a previous blog post I did test various densities of foliage before I rebuilt my environment, but I feel that it is much better represented when among trees and other props. The individual pieces of grass work as intended and I am happy with those, though higher concentrated areas of flowers have had a hit and miss effect. Here are some examples:

These flowers work well when spread out, though can also have a few in the same general area. They're fairly large so take up a lot of space individually, which works well with how minuscule their population is. 

When you have a lot of them grouped together, however...

Not such a good effect. :( 

When close together the flowers begin to fight for space and overlap - it doesn't look great! So for this particular plant it's best to have few of them placed over areas in which they have enough space to breathe. I need to test this with the other flowers also, though they are a lot less demanding with space and so far have reacted better to being placed closer together.

Then finally to finish off on, here's a screenshot I took of two little buddies having a peep at what's going on! I wonder what they're thinking about?

Monday, 26 September 2016

A-OK Day

I was recently given the wonderful opportunity to design a logo for UCLan's upcoming event, A-OK Day - an event designed to help spread kindness and good vibes across campus.

Over the last few days I've noticed that the logo has begun to appear across campus - how exciting! So I also took this as a sign that it's now okay to make a post about. :)

Here is a banner with the logo:

There is also another lighter variation of the logo but I'm yet to see that on anything other than a passing screen so far so unfortunately I don't have a HQ version to post yet! 

For anyone attending UCLan who would like to take part in the event, you can get your FREE tickets via the EventBrite page here. :)

I'd like to give a huge thank you to UCLan for the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful event, and if any of you reading can attend then I would highly recommend doing so! You may even be able to get some free swag with a particular person's logo printed onto it... ;) 

Friday, 23 September 2016

Sketchbook Progress

Alongside the digital art I've been posting, I have also been drawing away in a little sketchbook. Be it on journeys to town, while sitting in the garden or just because I didn't feel like staring at a screen, I've been sure to keep working as often as I can.

I finally got around to scanning the pieces I've made in my sketchbook, so here are some of them:

The images themselves are quite big, so you can click on them to get a closer look if you'd like to do so. :)

A lot of these were quick brainstorming of ideas that I would suddenly get and need to write down, and it's been great in helping me get used to carrying a sketchbook around with me more often. ;D 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Forest Grows...

Summer has officially come to an end and I am back in jolly Preston ready for the final sprint of my MA. 

This is terrifying so we'll just skip over that part for now and focus on something a bit more positive... ;)

Being back in Preston means that I've regained my access to UE4 - hooray! While my Surface Pro is lovely at running Skyrim (because that's just what we all need, obviously), it's unfortunately not as confident with UE4, so I've had to lay off it (for the most) part during summer. Though I am back now (and writing this blog post as I wait for a build to finish, actually), and it feels good to see some actual progress finally being made on my forest.

Here's a look at how the process has gone so far:

Building Terrain

For my original forest felt incredibly off - there was something just not sitting right with it at all and I had great difficulty actually figuring out what that thing was. 

And then it hit me.

Forests need depth. They're not all one flat surface like my previous forest, but instead molded around the nature within it - and none of that nature is equally flat or aligned. Forests need high and low ground, broad and narrow paths, barren and cluttered areas. 

With this new breakthrough I decided it was best to scrap my original 'plan' for the forest and resculpt it. Here's a comparison:

The top image is my original 'plan' for the forest, while the second image is the revamped design. As you can see there's a pretty significant difference between the two. The first plan only had proper dips around the planned lake - other than that it was all fairly even and not very interesting.

With the new design, however, I decided to get rid of the lake and instead make paths going all the way around for players to explore. This will lead them to different clutters of characters, fairy circles, and some dark and mysterious areas. Even before adding foliage and characters, I already felt more confident about this revamp.

Adding Trees

With the terrain more or less agreed on, I then got to adding trees and some individual grass strands. While the forest will have a variety of different elements to it, the trees are by far the most prominant element of them all. It's important that by adding the trees I can make the forest feel warm and intimate - if there are too many empty, open spaces then it won't have that cosy effect that I need to create. 

As you can see in the bottom image - not all of the trees took too kindly to the terrain and looked as though they were falling. :'D So I then took the mesh into Maya and made some alterations:

Now the scene uses two tree meshes - the original, which is simply straight up, and an altered version for on slopes. Trees always grow towards the sun, so it didn't make sense to have so many of them on an angle. Sorted!

From here I'm going to continue to gradually add the rest of my meshes, as well as some sounds to go with and that kind of thing. I'll post updates as I go along, so you'll get to see the whole process. :)

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

2016 Women in Games Conference

This past Wednesday I had the incredible opportunity of attending the 2016 Women in Games Conference at the University of Greenwich. 

Before I begin, I need to give a HUGE thank you to Marie-Claire Isaaman and David Smith for selecting me as a student competition winner - this meant that my ticket, travel & accomodation were all paid for and because of this I was able to attend an event that I will hold close to me for a long, long time. So thank you so much once again. <3 

Throughout the day I attended various inspiring talks ranging from how to expand the number of women within the games industry, to talks on animation and how to kickstart your career in games, alongside various other inspiring keynotes. There was mention of the event being recorded via Twitch, so hopefully videos will be appearing soon that I can provide links to! 

Between talks we had small coffee breaks (one in particular was accompanied by cookies and to say I was happy is an understatement ;) ), where we were able to mingle with fellow guests and talk to others within the industry.

I think a noteable part of the day for me was during lunch time while we were queueing for food - I turned around and right behind me was Jessica Curry (of Dear Esther & Everybody's Gone to the Rapture fame). I was starstruck! But the amazing thing about this industry is that she was so kind and welcoming - so much so that even after I had babbled on to her about how I saw her on TV and how she's an inspiration etc etc, we were then laughing and joking about things and having a regular, natural conversation. It didn't feel like I was intruding, if anything she made me feel warm and very welcome. 

And this was an experience I felt with every single person I spoke to both during the event and at the pub afterwards. Nobody made me feel small or like I was 'just a student'. Every conversation was greeted with visible enthusiasm about what I am doing in my studies, about what it is I'd like to do once I'm finished. Everybody was so kind and welcoming and for someone who is not too great at initiating conversation with strangers, I must thank you all so much for that. <3 

And finally, I want to give a shout out to an amazing group of girls that I had the pleasure of staying with during the event. There were 6 competition winners in total, and every single one of the other girls are insanely talented, passionate and wonderful. I'm going to link to their websites below and would highly recommend that you take a look. :) 

Here are some photos from the event to finish up with, just to add some colour to this long, wordy blog post! I would have cut it down shorter but I feel that something that meant so much deserves the long wall of text. ;)

More images from the conference can be found here!

As promised above, here are links to the websites of the other competition winners (in order of the picture above):

Sarah Wright
Amy Parish
Robyn Wilkinson
Liz Mercuri
Hannah Aicken

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Double Sided Materials

Since I last tried to create a double sided texture in Maya, I thought about whether or not there was an easier and more accessable solution. UE4 is great for many things, so why not double sided textures? Turns out my buddy UE4 had my back and has that as an option afterall, so let's go through it. :D 

UE4 has Blueprinting which is similar to the Hypershade in Maya, just it's directly in engine so I don't need to figure out a way to export or add it in or anything like that. As long as it's in the blueprinting it'll be in-game!

I tried a couple of ways - one which worked slightly but not quite (though it did give an interesting effect), and one which worked perfectly. Here's the first one that didn't quite work, along with what it created:

The second 'Lerp' is for the material's Alpha so that it has transparency, so that part isn't necessary - just the top one. Now as you can see it sooorta worked, but it isn't quite doing what I wanted. It'd be interesting to test this effect on other meshes though, as I like the alien-esque effect it gave to my mesh. 

Now this is the blueprint that worked correctly:

 (You can click the images to see them on a larger scale!)

This blueprint is a little fiddlier but not by too much, and it gets the intended effect. As you can see the mesh now has two separate textures for each side, which is perfect! 

The individual textures aren't visible in the screenshot so let me explain - to do it you need to make sure you have the front and back textures imported, and then place them both into the Blueprint as a 'TextureSample'. Then you can just go from there with the rest of the blueprint. :D

I also made a little gif showing what the mesh looks like with the Sine&Panner combo added, so here's that to end this post with:

Foliage Testing

With my props made and things starting to take shape, I've began to head over to UE4 and start prepping to put my final forest scene together. 

Part of this process is figuring out where and how to place my flower props. 

Lucky for me, I was given some extra inspiration recently from No Man's Sky, a game that there's a good chance you're already aware of! Just in case you aren't, here are some screenshots of what it is:

No Man's Sky is made up of billions of unique planets - each with their own eco system and various plant combinations. 

I find huge inspiration in how vast these plants are - you can walk around within them across a whole planet, and the way in which they are implemented makes it a joy rather than a bother. 

The main issue I had with my previous version of the forest was how bare it felt. Sure, it had trees and some plants, but I really felt as though it was missing something - it really needed more life.

With the added inspiration from No Man's Sky I feel that I'll be able to populate the forest in a much more effective way, and so will need to create various types of grass to go with the plants I have created. It's a little extra work, but it'll be worthwhile!

Now back onto the tests that I mentioned earlier. Here are some images of the foliage tests I have conducted so far:

As you can see from the top image, it was originally waaaay too populated. It's great to have plants everywhere to create a denser forest, but you don't want a player to feel as though they're drowning in them.

The second image shows a much less dense population of plants. There are still a lot of them, but it feels a little more realistic and (in my opinion) allows you to breathe a little more.

I have to consider that trees and bushes will be added in alongside these, plus various creatures and other grass foliage, so it's important to not get too carried away and allow it to get too crowded. Once I have created the extra grass assets my next step will be to add the remainder of my props to the scene, and it's then that I'll be able to (hopefully!) figure out the correct balance. :)

What was that song about mushrooms?

And badgers, or something. Maybe I just made it up...

I've been having a short break from work to have some holiday time, but I've also got some new things to share - how exciting! I'll stack them over a few blogs to make it a bit easier on your lovely eyes, and I'm going to be starting with some mushrooms that I made. :)

Now most of these I haven't had the chance to texture just yet, but they're all modelled and ready to go in-game. Here are some images of them:

I've made a few different shaped ground mushrooms for some variety, and then I have also created a couple of tree mushrooms as you can see above. I felt that the trees are a bit bare and needed a little something more, so the mushrooms will hopefully help out with that quite a lot!

I also made a turntable of the textured mushroom above, so here's that to give you a better look at it from all sides:

The next step is to continue painting these props and get them ready for the final scene. They're already imported and ready to go, just gotta make them look a bit more presentable. ;)