Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gizmo is HUGE!


Well so much for having a small baby kitten that would be cute and sleep on my laptop. Now I've got a gigantic teenage cat that envelops my laptop and clogs up its fans.

Gizmo will be celebrating his first birthday on March 23, which in cat years means that he's officially reached adulthood. Good thing he's been neutered already, I'd hate to come home to a bunch of Gizmo's sleeping on my laptop.


Brand New Samsung Laptop!

So a lot of you probably saw my tweet a few days ago about my laptop overheating, causing me to lose lots of work each time. Frustrating to be sure.

Well long story short I've successfully sold that old clunker for a brand spankin' new Samsung laptop, featuring the new Intel I5 processor and a middle of the road graphics device (Nvidia GeForce 310m). For those that don't speak nerd that means this babies bitchin' fast.

Some other neat features of this bad boy are a Blu-Ray drive and a HDMI port for video out (read: connecting to my HDTV for visual goodness). I've already got everything up and running on this laptop so I'm set for class on Monday.

Oh and I'm actually able to work on Maya animations and advanced Photoshop/Illustrator work with this guy, thank God! I was previously stuck to the art labs at Jacksonville University beforehand.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Portal: Last Course Artwork


It's right about that time again, where I reveal the final results of one of the many projects that I'm working on during my stay at Jacksonville University.

Most people reading this post will have played through a game from Valve Software called "Portal". But for the rest of you here its a very well received puzzle game that secured universally high marks for its intriguing story, excellent puzzles, and funny dialogue. Portal won the 2007 game of the year award from a few different media outlets and is one of my personal favorites.

My task was to create a special edition boxset for Portal, and I had less than a month to do so. Not a lot of time for a lot of work.

Overview of the final product.
Click the image to view in full

The scope of the project was rather large for its time frame, luckily there were some pre-existing tools that fans had created (namely Photoshop brushes), but they were of average to poor quality overall and only proved useful in limited scenarios. In the end almost everything was recreated in Adobe Illustrator as a vector image and then colored in Photoshop. The color scheme chosen for this project was based completely off of the "companion cube", an ally in the players quest to make it to the end of the Aperture Science test chambers the puzzle take place in.

Multiple versions of the "Companion Cube" were created.
Click image to view full

Companion Cube "3D Render" version
Companion Cube "Papercraft" version
Companion Cube "Fuzzy Dice" version
Companion Cube "Fuzzy Cube" version

    ABOVE: The "sides" of the cube
Click each side to view full images

The actual physical product varies slightly from the target preview you see above, for one I don't have access to any materials besides what I can find at my local Michaels/Hobby Lobby. I did manage to grab some blurry camera shots of the physical version on my camera before turning it in.

Finalized physical product

As you can see the design varies slightly, for one the box itself is not 100% even on every side, as some concessions had to be made in order to have the lid be opened and closed. The sides of this cardboard cube were painted black in order to compensate for the small gaps created by the cardboard not being a true square. I painted the inside of the cube black and placed packing peanuts inside in order to keep everything safe. Before the project was due I was able to sneak in some extra functionality on the final physical product..

Greeting card style music chip
These can be purchased from bigdawgsgreetings.

The chip you see above is actually a small audio device that holds up to ten seconds of music/speech. I spent some time trimming Portals main radio theme (click to hear) down to the appropriate length and recorded it on this device. I then attached the audio player to the cube, so that whenever a person opens the box set that colorful chime will play.

 Physical shot of the PS3 cover and the soundtrack cover


Final version of the PS3 Case front cover
Click image to view in full

    The various versions of the PS3 Box art
Click image to view in full

PS3 Boxart "Midnight Black" version
PS3 Boxart "Fuzzy Dice Colors" version
PS3 Boxart "Fuzzy Dice Colors Alternate" version (Final)
PS3 Boxart "Tin Print" version

Moving on to the Playstation 3 box set you can see that I removed the contents from a game that I currently own in order to give this project a feeling of sincerity. The name "Portal: Last Course" is a riff on the Nvidia partnered demo of Portal Valve Software created titled "Portal: First Slice". This new name kept with the food convention for the games given subtitles while also giving potential customers of this box set a feeling that this is the ultimate version of Portal.

You might have noticed the name "Erik Wolpaw" on the front cover, he was the lead writer on Portal and is one the video game industries best writers (in my humble opinion of course). The dialogue he wrote for Portals script was the main driving force for many editors to give Portal the 2007 game of the year award. And for that I've personally awarded Erik with this small token of appreciation. The signature of course is a forgery, using simple handwritten font called "Maxine" found on Dafont.

The cover itself is based off of's essence collection, which aims to simplify the box art used in games in hopes of creating professional looking pieces that help the viewer understand the importance of the product to its medium. In Portal's case its importance lies within its writing, short length, and small price tag.


What you see above is the insert card (where the instruction manual goes) and the back of the PS3 box art (what you see when you open the case through the plastic casing). Lastly we've got the art for the Blu-Ray disc, big thanks to the video game box art community for the various company logos and for the Playstation 3 Blu-Ray disc template.

Final images for jewel case vary slightly, but this (older) preview is pretty close
Click image to view in full

Jewel Case Front
Jewel Case Inside
Jewel Case Back & Sides
Audio CD Art

Now what you see above is the art for Portal's music CD jewel case and its corresponding art for the CD itself. The idea of the companion cube with a set of Sony headphones is something I've wanted to try for a long time. I originally tried that same concept on my first variation of Tri-Something, a spritecomic site I used to work on before I even knew what Photoshop was, those were the days! Back when recolored Megaman sprites were all you needed to start a spritecomic website...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Android SDK install = the DaVinci Fail

As developers we've all heard about how open source product design is superior to the closed development model (a.k.a. Google versus Microsoft). Personally I lean much farther on this debate towards the closed source model; I find the benefits of having the support and QA tested products that the closed source model provides outweigh the cons.

Well anyways I've been working on installing the necessary files to start programming on my handy-dandy Android Phone for the last couple of weeks. And to put it lightly it hasn't been the peachy keen experience that you'd imagine.

Actually its been a horrible soul sucking experience that has almost, almost, turned me off completely from the idea of programming on the Android platform. What in the heck could go so impossibly wrong with something that should be so simple? Well let’s take a look at the steps needed to begin programming on the Android OS...

1) Install Java

2) Install a supported programming environment

3) Install Android SDK

That doesn't seem too hard; well at least not till you give it a shot, here’s what it actually took...


1) Install Java

First installation task, first draconian fail. I wen't to the Java download page via the power of Google and tried installing, aaaannndd my computer crashed.

Weird that shouldn't happen...

So a couple of minutes later and I'm back in Windows explorer, I click install aaannndd then CRASH.

Now my blood pressure is starting to boil a little, I by no means have a slow computer but it still takes a few minutes to be restarted so this is quite annoying. This time I gave it another try (I'm a glutton for punishment I know), I click install aaaaannnndd it works!

At this point I'm a bit befuddled, so I go to the Java page to check if it has indeed been installed properly and I'm kindly imformed by their website that it hasn't. At this point I'm starting to get pissed so I hurry over to my Google search bar and furiously look through the web until I found a message board poster having the same problem.

The solution? Install Windows 7 or downgrade to XP.

Well it just so happened that I had recieved Windows 7 from Jacksonville University as part of their Academic Alliance with Microsoft. Highly convenient but this situation is still irksome. So I backup my work and install the latest and greatest, now Java installs without a hitch.


 2) Restart Your Computer



3) Install a supported programming environment

Turns out you can't simply use Microsoft Visual Studio to work on Android, that would be too easy, instead the Android FAQ's lists a few different open source development environments for you to Google and download.

Out of the few that are listed there is only one "right" answer. How would you find this out? If you guessed "Google which ones are still supported or in use" then your correct! And luckily this leaves only the Eclipse IDE as the only sound choice. Amazing work Google, why not just let everyone know off the bat that they should download Eclipse?

Well after you've figured out which IDE you need its time to go hunting for the respective download page and take a gander. Lo’ and behold you’ve got a plethora of options for Eclipse. What’s going on here? Which version of Eclipse needs to be installed? Common sense dictates to download Eclipse for Java since I just installed the Java environment in the previous step. But there is Eclipse EE for Java Developers and Eclipse for Java Developers.


 Well after some more research I found that if you want to program on the Android platform you'll need Eclipse for Java Developers. How would anyone figure this out the first time? Through trial and error? Thanks Google that’s just swell.

By the way the Eclipse folder that you download from their site has to be placed (by you) on your C drive. Unconventional much? Why not just make a Install package that the end user downloads that takes care of this? Come on seriously?


4) Restart Your Computer

  Again? Well okay...


5) Install Android SDK

 Okay after that frustration all we have to do is install the Android SDK on top of Eclipse, so we Google “Android SDK” and get to the download page and grab the corresponding version (Windows 32bit). I then noticed that there is one more step awaiting me below the download link. So in reality this is a four step solution to programming on Android.

But before we get the aformentioned next step I had to install the SDK that I just downloaded, this was actually a painless process, huzzah!


6) Restart Your Computer

  Derrick Barra is getting tired of this...


7) Install the Android ADT Plug-in for Eclipse

The instructions for this are simple, you copy down a URL linked to on the Android installation guide and paste it on a menu option inside of Eclipse. Oh, too bad Google doesn't tell you to remove the "S" from the HTTP in the given URL since Eclipse goes bananas when you plug-in a address with a security protocol attached to it (HTTPS has security and HTTP is the standard URL transfer protocol we use every day). It took a good few minutes of Googl'ing this issue to find out what was going on. Bad Google Bad!


8) Restart Your Computer

 Are we there yet?


9) Start Programming

Assuming your Java and XML is pretty good programming in Eclipse isn't that unusual, its interface is a labyrinthy mess of options and windows that makes me long for Unity or Visual Studio, but it’s at least functional.


Come on now, were all those headaches necessary? Every other IDE that I've used has been a pleasure with a simple one click install, this is the first time that I've actually wanted to punch a Koala in the gut for something so elementary, and to think this was just the install process...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fall 2009 Artwork Showcase

Two more to go! I've been hard at work completing my final projects for Jacksonville University and I've decided to share with you guys my favorite pieces of art that I made this semester.

3D Modeling

He's Zero from the Game Boy Advance series Megaman Zero. Probably the hardest GBA games in existence, it is also one of my favorites from that generation.

Zero is the cream of the crop, the hardest most frustrating character I created this semester; and as you would expect he was also the most rewarding to finish. His entire body took roughly two weeks, while it took another two just for his head!

For you modelers out there, he's created with polygons (I used cylinders), and he's completely UV mapped (not texture mapped however, I used a combination of Lamberts and other stock Maya materials to give him the glow effects of his hair and the illusion of the head crystal being see-through.

Now I haven't gotten the opportunity to weight-paint or rig this character yet. If the opportunity arrises I'll complete those two tasks during the winter break.

For reference on this character I used the official Megaman Zero modeling sheet that I found while scurrying around on the internet...

I had to edit this sheet before using it as my reference, but here's the original.

The rest of my 3D modeling work is available on youtube, click here to view a playlist containing the models from this semester.

2D Typographical Art

Illustrator crashed roughly four times while making this image.

This semester I took a course in typographical art, meaning art that is creating solely with letterforms. This piece above is created solely with the letters "V" and "Y", its a fully tileable image that could be used in a wallpaper or as a Christmastime wrapping paper.

While fun, creating this piece was an excercise in fighting against the computers inherent need to crash whenever something CPU intensive was happening. This snowflake tile took roughly 300 objects to make, something that the iMacs that we use in the art labs at Jacksonville University were quick to remind me of.

Still this is my favorite piece of 2D art that I made in that class, As usual I've uploaded the rest of my artwork from that class onto Flickr. Click here to take a quick look.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Game Design For The Mentally Handicapped

Over the last few weeks I've been scouring the web looking for video games design theory based around the concept of designing for the mentally handicapped. Unfortunately my search has turned up empty, it would seem that the mentally handicapped are too small a demographic for any conventional companies to take notice, or that the restrictions on design would be too tough for a team to put the effort. It’s probably a mixture of both.

So why the sudden interest in a subject that seems largely unexplored with a high risk of failure? Turns out one of my computer science classes (project management [CS 365]) is looking for a project to work on for the Spring semester; originally we thought about making an Xbox Live Indie game (Our classroom computers are outfitted with XNA, which makes Indie game development streamlined), but that type of self-indulgent program wouldn't land us any community service credit hours, which are necessary for each student to achieve before graduation.

Now my professor has brought this new concept to the table; design a game for a group of mentally handicapped individuals with various IQ and physical disparities that range from kindergarten levels of intelligence to blindness and autism. Although we would be developing under the aforementioned restrictions we would have full control over everything else in the game design process (although obviously the team would have that anyway when designing an Indie game).

Personally I'm stoked to be working in any development environment, no matter what potential pitfalls there are, simply to practice my development skills. I am worried about the rest of my teammates however; according to my professor they have shown signs of disinterest in this project, and possibly even disdain. Now as any good producer knows running a ship filled with a crew that would rather stay onshore is a suicide mission. Which is why the development team and will be meeting in class tomorrow to discuss our individual feelings on the project and what course of action we should take.

I'll be playing the role of devil’s advocate in tomorrow’s proceedings, trying to open up the teams minds up to the possibilities available to us no matter what way they decide to push forward. Hopefully the team will come to an understanding regardless of our final decision.