Thesis: Animation

After playtesting, I decided my game needed something at the beginning to motivate people to look around. It needed something that the players’ observations could build onto.

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 12.43.43 AMI figured a good way to introduce the story might be an animated credit sequence. It was surprisingly intuitive to move from 3D animation to 2.5D animation in Blender. The process of putting together an animated sequence and figuring out how to move the camera has been challenging, but exciting.

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One of the challenges is managing a project with really small models and really large models.  I wanted the animated sequence to have a dramatic zoom-out effect, similar to one of the playable scenes in the game. Unfortunately, once models in Blender get large enough, there are navigation and clipping plane issues.

Managing a lot of parts in general is another challenge, which I have also had to deal with in Unity. If you have an animation or a game with cuts or levels, your objects are divided into more manageable chunks. (Chunks also make sense for limited processing, at least for games.) Now say you want to gradually transition between a kitchen and then a forest and then a beach. You need all of the kitchen furniture, all of the trees and all of the beach stuff in the same scene. This can get annoying.

Animation is exciting because I’m learning a set of techniques that are allowing me to express some of the imagery I’ve imagined more easily. There are fewer barriers between what I picture in my head and what I can materialize in animation, compared to what I can materialize in game form. In this way, it is more immediately gratifying. I sometimes feel like I’m translating my ideas more directly.

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Starting the game with an animated sequence feels fitting, because animated credit sequences were a significant point of inspiration for my project. I often wondered what it would be like if someone could explore a game version of these sequences.

I spend a lot of time looking at 2D art in general and wondering if it would be possible for it to exist in (simulated) 3D. There’s a book called “Dream Worlds” where animator Hans Bacher writes some interesting stuff about applying traditional art styles to computer generated animation. Describing his work on the project Fraidy Cat, he states:

“What I tried to do was a combination of 2-D and 3-D. Everything was supposed to be built 3-dimensionally, but would look flat in the end. Only a moving camera would reveal that there was an optical illusion.” (166) (see pictures)

It seems like the freedom of camera in most 3D exploratory games almost always gives away efforts to hide underlying geometric structures, the sharp edges, the planes. I do remember seeing some Tilt Brush worlds that really felt like convincing manifestations of paintings. I don’t know how feasible it would ever be for that kind of tech to be used in games, even if it is vector based.

Work Cited

Bacher, Hans P. Dream worlds: production design in animation. Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2008. Print.

Thesis: Bits and Pieces

In this post, I’ll go into more of the specifics observations and decisions in my prototype-making process.

Because the prototype was more than a couple scenes long, I was able to experiment with motifs. For example, reoccurring train visuals and sounds that support the theme of rootlessness.

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I played around with characters and different levels of visual ambiguity. I used collections of simple shapes that relied on motion to be recognized as figures. This was inspired by this page on biological motion (discovered through my Cognitive Science course).

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Ideas that seemed simple in my head were often much more complicated or time consuming to make. As you can see below, some transitions take a lot of meshes.

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I found inspiration for shifts in mis-interpreted images. Often I’ll glance at a painting and the misinterpretation of it will activate my imagination. Then I will look closely and realize that it’s actually portraying something different and less exciting. This relates to the idea of multistable perception (previously written about here).

The concept can also be used in individual scenes.  I’m not sure if intentionally creating scenes with dual meanings will be interesting or just confusing and annoying. However, it’s an important part of my research to clarify this line through testing.

Below: is that fancy wallpaper or are the walls glass?

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I implemented a transition and was unsure about it because it didn’t feel as clever (it wasn’t based on multistable perception, for example). However, it ended up being satisfying to experience. It creates a playfulness that reminded me of the spirit of animated credit sequences, though it doesn’t necessarily make the same kind of statement about perception as the other transitions.

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This prototype is making me reconsider my understanding of the relationship between surprise and enjoyment in games.

Thesis: Perception and Story

Is story important to the project?

I’d like to say yes because I think a story can guide that experience in an engaging way, and because I’m interested in weirder ways stories can be told. Adding a story would be an opportunity to explore more figurative or poetic ways of storytelling in games, which I could potentially use past my studies at OCAD. 

However, story may detract or distract from the rest of the project project, as the player may be overly focused on interpreting what is happening in the context of the story. Challenges or goals could also detract from the experience in the same way. I often find myself ignoring all irrelevant (albeit beautiful) aspects of games in order to figure out their system to try to win as quickly as possible. 

I still think there’s something compelling about how a story may or may not fit into this project. I was excited by what could be implied by minimal information in those credit sequences. There’s something about a shape used to communicate two drastically different ideas that triggers my imagination; for a second you’re believing something impossible. 

Themes

I’m also finding a lot of possibilities for storytelling in my research. Olly Moss’s movie posters show how visual similes can convey a key concept from a story. Visual similes create visual metaphor and can communicate a relationship between two ideas, though you could say that about film cuts too, and they don’t usually require a clever transition (see writing on montage), just the juxtaposition of two ideas. I also still think there is something interesting about using a shift between different viewpoints to communicate themes of isolation, distance, or disorientation. 

Disorienting tricks bring to mind ideas of:

  • Waking dreams
  • Otherworldliness
  • Magic
  • Involuntary memory
  • Visual triggers to imagination

Inception and Paprika touch on the dream thing, using perceptual tricks to portray the plasticity of dream reality. The lack of clear consequence and the  deceptiveness of a world you’re unsure is a dream or reality can be really frustrating. This brings up the ideas of trust and suspension of disbelief, as mentioned in the previous post. 

Additionally, I mentioned in my literature review that Pabst’s Die Dreigroschenoper uses disorientation to show characters’ delusion and create an awareness of spectatorship, as

“the film demonstratively and self-reflexively draws the spectator’s attention to framed reflections and mediated images that disrupt the spectatorial experience in explicit terms by forcing the spectator to become conscious of his or her act of watching. “(Heidt)

Visual Misinterpretation and Misinterpretation as a Theme

In addition to potential story themes, my research has reminded me of the process of reading stories, (and of interpreting information in general). More specifically, of how misinterpretation of phrases can trigger one’s imagination and create interesting understandings of texts that rely on one’s own experiences.

One of my super-old thesis ideas was to make a game environment that reflected a child’s misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the world. One could walk into a room as the child, knowing it’s a room the child could never have entered in real life, and see what they imagine is inside. The world would be distorted/shaped by their interpretation, and one might see how our understanding of the world is shaped by how we need it to be seen.

The idea of misinterpretation or alternate interpretation ties into illusion, and ambiguity and a lot of other things I’ve been looking at. It also relates to the topic of perceptual biases, which I’m learning about in that cognitive science class.

Work Cited

Heidt, Todd. “Double Take: Béla Balázs and the Visual Disorientation of G. W. Pabst’s Dreigroschenoper.” Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, vol. 50 no. 2, 2014, pp. 178-196. Project MUSE. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.

Thesis: Shrinking

(Updated to include videos)

In the prototype for the Dec. 1st critique, I tested two different kinds of transitions where:

  • It seems as though you are changing (in this case, shrinking) relative to a space
  • It seems as though the environment is changing (in this case, growing).

From here, I can observe how peoples reactions may differ. I’m especially interested in their:

  • Sense of control
  • Orientation/disorientation
  • Spatial understanding/confusion

 

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The first transition was technical improvement on the lake shift. It took a frustratinghallstoryboard.png amount of time (and lessons from friends) to figure out the Unity side of this. The transition still isn’t completely smooth. For example, sometimes you will see the edge of a platform appear beneath you. However, I now have a better understanding of how to affect the camera script, which has unlocked possibilities for other approaches to scene changes.

I also added a script making the hall and sky change colour as the player walks forward, essentially giving them control over the time of day. The next step to strengthening the shift between the school and the mystery book world is sound and shadows.

 

 

hexroomstoryboard
The white sections are invisible meshes Unity uses to know where the player isn’t looking. (Something tricky will always happen behind them)

Creating the second scene also required learning a new tool. Instead of using triggers to see where the player is looking and standing, I’m using meshes to see if the player is not looking at a spot (a spot where something needs to happen). This method is more straightforward and does not rely on a specific screen size. In this scene, the space changes shape and grows larger as the player walks and looks around inside. It uses 7 different room models, positioned in the same spot.

Later, I may add in a small time delay to ensure a gradual transition that prevents changes from happening all at once. Delineating the walls is another issue. I used a light for this demo, which does not achieve the flat shaded look in the other scenes.With the shape of these 7 rooms, it is impossible to follow a dark-light-dark-light pattern of “artificially” lighting the walls. A solution may be to add features such as windows or decorations to each wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thesis: Making Spaces

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Here is some furniture I created for the inside of the cracker/raft house. The objects are less informed by research and more informed by playing around and seeing what looks good. Sometimes weird proportions can make the item seem oddly cute and handmade to suit the needs of the person that uses it. I’m finding it really enjoyable to try to make objects that bring up questions and generate story.

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It’s easy to get attached to certain pieces that don’t fit in with the other objects. I was conflicted between some more traditional looking pieces and some more modern ones.

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I did a lot of research on specific historical interior design styles. Using this research, I’ve been modeling and getting feedback from others to try to create settings that evoke the feeling of being in a distinct era. It’s harder to find references for, say, Europe in the 20s, that show the homes of the less wealthy, but the OCAD library is a good resource for books that at least write about the home-lives of general populations.

Thesis: Related Games

 

This post is formatted somewhat like an annotated bibliography, listing games that relate to relevant concepts such as:

  • the impossible object
  • paradox
  • four dimensional space
  • optical illusion
  • forced-perspective
  • and non-euclidean geometry.

Antichamber

Antichamber (Demruth, 2013) is puzzle based and plays with non-euclidean spaces (space is not mapped flatly but can connect to itself in weird ways, making things like portals possible). Spaces change behind the player when they go around a corner. It is hard to watch play throughs without getting motion sickness. This is likely because the game is about looking around, and someone else is moving the camera to try to make us understand the puzzles.

The game has a minimal shading style, the ambiguity of which relates to multistable perception, which is what happens when “a single physical stimulus produces alternations between different subjective percepts. Multistability was first described for vision, where it occurs, for example, when different stimuli are presented to the two eyes or for certain ambiguous figures.” (Schwartz, 1). An example of multistability is Rubin’s face/vase image (where the multiple interpretations consist of a picture of  either two faces or of one vase).


Antichamber. [Alexander Bruce]. Demruth. January 31, 2013. Video Game.

Website

Schwartz, J.-L., N. Grimault, J.-M. Hupe, B. C. J. Moore, and D. Pressnitzer. “Multistability in Perception: Binding Sensory Modalities, an Overview.”Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 367.1591 (2012): 896-905. Web.  http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/367/1591/896

Perspective

There is literally a game called Perspective that makes use of (and constantly communicates) the fact that 3D games are 3D digital spaces mapped to 2D for screens. Perspective (DigiPen) is a platform jumping puzzle game where you can do things that are 3-dimensionally impossible, but that make sense if you make your eyes go blurry and try not to see depth. (The website has a helpful video).


Perspective. [Jason Meisel, etal] DigiPen Institute of Technology. Video Game.

Monument Valley

Similarly, Monument Valley (Ustwo, 2014), makes use of the fact that it is 2.5D (fixed isometric views) to show impossibilities (such as the Penrose triangle) that are usually part of the challenge of the game. Monument valley is similar to M.C. Escher’s implying 3D paradoxes by mapping them in 2D, and is aesthetically similar.

Escher Waterfall.jpg


Escher, M.C. Waterfall. 1961. Lithograph. N.p.

Monument Valley. Ustwo. April 3 2014. Video Game.

Website

Museum of Simulation Technology

A few years back, I saw a demo for a game in development that is now called Museum of Simulation Technology (Pillow Castle). It is a game where you walk through a series of rooms solving puzzles that are often based around forced perspective. You might pick up a tower that is large that is  far away, and in your hand, have it be as small as it looked in the distance; a souvenir of a  tower. Pillow Castle has an updated demo you can watch to better understand this concept.


Museum of Simulation Technology. Pillow Castle Games. Under development. Video Game.

Website

Fez

I bought Fez a few years ago and was really inspired by it. My favourite part was exploring the little town at the beginning (I preferred this to doing the actual puzzles, which probably says something about my relationship with games). Fez is another example of that 3D to 2D mapping trick that games have used. It’s also a good source for my research because it’s fully developed, and you can see how the essential logical/illogical aspect of the game has been tied into the aesthetics and the story.

More on surrealism

Because I’m struggling with how overtly surreal I want the transitions in my game to be, and how much I should address the impossibility of what is being portrayed, I’ve been noticing These ideas have been appearing in my research:

  • Diegetic vs non-diegetic sound
  • Breaking the 4th wall
  • Meta-textual references

Emma Westecott, who is acting as a thesis instructor this semester, noted that text is a sort of a layer between the player and the game world. How many non-diegetic or surreal things do I want in my game?

Wes Anderson’s scenes are often theatre-like and break the forth wall. Similarly, the  prolog of Dogville (2003) is highly stylized, but the scenes still feel rich and interesting. Part way through the introductory part of the game, Fez re-shows the Polytron start-up logo sequence, as if the main character’s discovery of a new dimension is so universe shifting that it affects the running of the actual game. These things bring attention to the medium and to the un-realness of what is being portrayed. Surprisingly, they don’t necessarily keep the viewer/player from feeling like they’re exploring a rich, lived-in world.


Dogville. Dir. Lars Von Trier. Lions Gate Entertainment, 2003. Film Clip. Dogville Prolog. Youtube, 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Fez. [Phil Fish, Renaurd Bédard]. Polytron Corporation. April 13, 2012. Video Game.

Website

Week 10: Prototype

For week 10, I prototyped different perspective shifting techniques and tested a few small technical and aesthetic things.

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I played with a new type of transition that captures and records the positional relationship between the player’s camera and the object at which they are looking. It then cuts to a different scene, positions the camera in a different direction (this is the perspective shift) and positions the object using that same relationship. What happens is, the player has the same view the whole time, from the first scene to the next. The object can then be locked to the environment, and the camera control can be returned to the player, so that they realize they are not looking in one direction anymore, but another. The technical problem with this is gaining enough control over the camera with a pre-made Unity fps controller. I have achieved this effect only for the second before something in the pre-written code automatically snaps the camera somewhere else.

This effect can be used for any perspective shift based on direction, but is best for up to down or down to up shifts because of its reliance on views that don’t have anything in them (eg.: of a flat sky) or of two views that look the same (eg.: a reflection of the sky and the sky)

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Another thing I prototyped was a space that grew as you turned and walked around inside it. I thought it would be as simple as making a lot of location and view triggers, but I didn’t realize that these triggers would intersect with each other and need to be very carefully positioned. It does give a cool effect of be in a confined space and then suddenly be in an open space. If I were to make this prototype again, I would use triggers not to see where you were looking but where you weren’t looking.

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I also tried moving the player through code toward a building to achieve a “far to close” perspective shift, but the effect wasn’t that interesting, and the sudden lack of control over movement would probably be annoying to the player.

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I added on to my last prototype (the one I made with the classroom and hallway). Now, as the player enters their room, they will have the opportunity to pour some soup from a flask and make some tea. The food will calm them enough to be distracted by their imagination and their book again.

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If the player puts their curser over the kettle, its material switches to a shader with an outline and some text will pop-up, asking the player to engage with it. If they press a key, the text will change. I put a view trigger over the soup and a location trigger in front of it. If both of these triggers are triggered, the player camera’s depth of field will decrease until they have a zoomed-in view of the bowl. The scene will then change to one where the player is now very small, looking out a blimp floating above a round lake with a raft in it. They can walk around the blimp and look out the windows to see the rest of the lake. They can also jump out and see a house take form on the raft as it is viewed from the side rather than the top (where it blends into the raft, looking like a cracker).

This sequence is a perspective shift that goes from close to far and from being big to small.

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Finally, I played with limited colour palettes and gradients to try to make beautiful, visually interesting environments. For this purple mountain environment, I added the gradient with texture mapping in Blender. It fades to dark purple that matches the purple of the ground plane that the mountain plane grows out of. That dark purple is also the sky colour I set in Unity, so the environment seems to move out infinitely. I wanted to create the effect of feeling isolated. The main effect I got out of it was motion sickness, because of how slowly it felt to climb the mountains (because their texture changes so gradually, it doesn’t feel like you’re going anywhere).

The mountains look better from far away. I may address this motion sickness issue by making the mountains a non-explorable aspect of the environment (e.g. a view from a tower).