GDC 2011 - Tuesday
The tech artist all-day session today was amazing. I've got my head all full of ideas I want to try and things I want to learn. This is what I love about GDC - it's a major recharge for my creative batteries.
Keith Self-Ballard from Volition started off the day with a talk about why the industry needs tech artists. This was great information to hear - especially since Keith is an art director, not a tech artist himself. Next, Scott Goffman from Blizzard spoke about what tech artists should do to make sure that the tools that we write get used by the artists. He talked about getting the word out that there is a new tool, simplifying the UI so it doesn't look too intimidating, providing documentation, deploying the tool in stages so you can make sure that it's working as intended before expanding the functionality, creating the tool with a clearly defined goal in mind, and knowing and understanding the needs and aptitudes for the tool's target audience.
At that point, I took a detour from tech art and headed over to the mobile games summit to listen to my friend, Donald Mustard, talk about his work on the iPhone game - Infinity Blade. Donald does a great job of presenting his topic and he was really fun to listen to. The guidelines that he created when making the game were - 1. You have to be able to play the whole game with just one finger. 2. It has to be designed for super short play sessions but still feel fun and meaningful. 3. Have an original and unique device-specific design. 4. Be easy to learn but hard to master - truly skill based.
After lunch I was back with the tech artists. Seth Gibson gave his talk on personality profiles. He had the audience take a short profile test and then talked to us about the strengths and weaknesses of each personality - what type of work they might enjoy, and what may feel like drudgery to them. This was a pretty insightful topic and got me thinking about the kinds of work I enjoy and what makes me feel successful at work.
Next, Steve Theodore gave his talk about what happens when tools fail. He talked about designing tools compartmentally so that things are broken into small, manageable functions instead of long, mega-scripts. He stressed the importance of documenting your code, and went over various methods for debugging problems.
Adam Pletcher gave a talk about using databases to store and retrieve information. He showed some sample python scripts for writing some information to a database, and gave some examples of uses for the stored information - such as graphing how long it takes to open 3ds Max for the artists over several weeks and months, and keeping track of which artists are using what tools, and which artists are having the most problems with tools.
Bryan Moss talked about using video footage as a texture map. For his motorcycle game, he set up a high resolution cloth simulation inside Max, and then used that to render out a series of normal maps. Then he used After Effects to combine these normal maps into a video and apply some post-process touch-ups. Then he applied this "animated normal map" to his character models in the game to make them look like their clothing was getting blown by the wind. This is a really clever technique that could be used for all sorts of things.
Finally, Bronwen Grimes gave her talk on a couple of techniques that she developed for Portal 2 at Valve. First, she talked about how they used Houdini to create flow direction maps that defined the direction that the water would flow in each map. These directional map are pretty much impossible to create by hand, but Houdini seems to have made it pretty easy. I'd really like to learn how to use this software. It seems like it could open up a whole new world of possibilities for me. Then Bronwen talked about the shader that she wrote that defines the appearance of the gel material that the player can paint on the levels. She came up with a clever method of making the material appear to have bubbles suspended in it - so it looks like real gel with volume and thickness - even though it's really just flat. Brilliant.
I ended the day at the technical artist get-together. It was great to get a chance to talk to several tech artist friends and catch up on what people are working on.