Project GOA – Part 2: My Background

Well, a few more weeks have passed, WAYYY too many since I’ve done a Slenderman page (hooking up my cintiq after I post this). Since my last post I snagged a digital art internship, so that’s been taking up my time. So, no update to the game this week, I’ve mostly been working on higher-level design to rough out some of the “optimal” (if I had a programmer helping me) features. Expect an Art Overhaul in the next update, as well as a bunch of new objects/items to play around with. Today I’m going to elaborate a little more why I’m doing…ANYTHING.

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MY BACKGROUND ON GAMES

Can you find all the "puzzles"?

Everyone who has ever drawn something because they liked designing things has designed their future home. This is one of the best versions of my many houses I could find.

So I’ve always been fascinated by games, even before I knew what they were. I realized while I was working on my Thesis at Maine College of Art that my life has always been fraught with creative frustration; especially in my childhood. I wanted to make amazing dynamic things, things with randomness and that had the ability to change themselves. The problem was, I had no way of creating these things, and I hadn’t discovered computers yet, nor had they the power to do what I wanted (they still don’t, but I’m waiting…). The worst part, though, was that I had no idea WHAT I was having problems with. So I just started to draw things. People thought that I was interested in art because I was always drawing strange things. Well this isn’t entirely true, I only really liked making art because it was the closest thing I could come to to building worlds from rules that were not based on the laws of this universe.

Some of these were helped by some friends of mine

These two were probably done during middle-school. Notice how the Lasers always perfectly counter the Bullets…

The biggest breakthrough of my childhood was People In Caves. EVERYONE has done something like this. People In Caves has a series of hundreds and hundreds of drawn “snapshots” of random underground battles. I had a basic set of rules to work from: Good Guys had Lasers, Bad Guys had Machine-Guns, and they were in Caves. No one ever got hurt, but the Good Guys were always on the brink of turning the tide of a given battle by shooting out the terrain around the Bad Guys – who were too numb to have any kind of strategy that didn’t rely on brute-force. I basically spent a lot of time playing out every conceivable scenario the rules could hold, eventually adding more elements like lava, exploding crystals, placeable turrets, portals, even vehicles. This wasn’t merely an art project, but the whole practice of drawing these was an actual game.

It wasn’t until around sixth grade that I watched a friend play MDK. The moment this happened I began designing new levels and objects myself. Later on this practice of dream-modding would expand to include ancient favorites like C&C: Red AlertC&C RenegadeStar Trek Armada, Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force, and Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II.  I never played games myself, I much preferred to watch other people play them because then I could look at the structure of the levels, observe how things were put together (once again I didn’t know I was doing this, I just…was). It wasn’t until around high school that I saved up my babysitting money to buy a computer and play these games myself. Even then, I was terrible at these games. I was far too interested in stopping, mid-firefight, to look down at a can on the ground…for whatever reason. Something about games began to scratch that creative itch I always had, even though I never really knew what it was or why.

(This was actually made in Cinema 4D, but I can't say that too loudly)

This was the pinnacle of my High School 3D modeling and animation abilities. We had a whole fight scene in the sky, missiles and explosions…

It was around this time that my friend Sean Edwards got me a copy of the Maya 3D Personal Learning Edition. And another friend got an Intel Play digital camera (now known as a “Digital Blue“?) which I just HAD to have as well (purchase, I mean, I didn’t steal theirs). Finding Nemo was the final straw, and watching that dvd three times in a row (all in the same day) inspired me to aim my life in the direction of becoming an Animator at Pixar. Suddenly all my school projects were short films with at least one computer generated scene of a tank blowing up a hillside, or a claymation animation of an interview with an Anthrax cell. But this still wasn’t good enough, and Sean and I began learning how to use DarkBasic to enter one of their competitions to win an Alienware computer – this was our first major project: Invasion 2142.

This didn’t go anywhere, at least, as far as the competition was concerned, but it got us started in a direction that would carry us for years. Soon we met Alex Karantza, who was brain full of MATH, and with his help we began working on various videogame projects until graduation – all of which were too large and complex to complete. We designed about thirty interrelated projects both in and outside of school that I still keep hidden away in a folder somewhere. I keep them mostly in the slight chance one of them might have good material for something else someday – but also if we want to have a slightly self-conscious laugh sometime.

Glowy stuff!

This is an early development screenshot of an Alien walking on the surface of a GOA-like planetoid. Yes, with proper radial gravity.

All of the art for these was my contribution, Sean and Alex were more into the programming tech than I could ever be, so I was left to figure out how to…project design. Throughout college we all decided we had failed enough and learned enough to tackle making an all-encompassing engine called the Invasion Engine. All you need to know is that it was basically a college-level attempt to compete with the Unity Engine (which at the time wasn’t as impressive as it is now) and the NeoAxis Game Engine. My job was to design the game itself; to act as a client that Sean and Alex would build the needed features for. For this “example”, we settled on remaking the old Invasion 2142 game, and named the engine after it. My goal was to design it in such a way as to reflect all the features of the first iteration of the Engine. That game was entirely my baby.

To cut a long story short, we stopped working on the engine for some reason, but not so much that I couldn’t work with Alex to prototype out the beginnings of another game. [REN] was my senior New Media capstone project at the University of Maine in Orono. This was designed to be a lot larger than it turned out to be by the time school ended, but it still turned a lot of heads. Which was nice. After I completed my New Media Degree, I realized I wasn’t done with school just yet. In order to take a few art classes during my stay I was also double-degree-ing (not double-majoring, there’s a difference…apparently) in Studio Art. So I decided to stick it out for a few more years.

Yes, we had smooth voxels, blended textures, normalmapping AND physics.

Yes, we had smooth voxels, blended textures, normalmapping AND physics.

I ran out of drawing classes pretty much immediately, and was really not interested in sculpture or printmaking. Around this time my game-making friends got into Minecraft, and got really pissed off at its success. We had many grievances about the “gameplay” and aesthetics, but it was mostly the tech that annoyed my friends. So we joined the hordes of other aspiring game developers kids in making our own, “Better Than Minecraft” voxel engine and accompanying game. Once again, I was in charge of art, but for once I took a break from design. They wanted to try out their own things, and I felt this was too new a territory for me to jump into immediately. I needed some time to research.

After one year in Studio Art, I got bored, graduated and transferred to MECA into the Illustration department. Amazing things happened there for me and my art (you can probably see the progression in Slenderman) and it really fulfilled my art side. I went through a few phases, thinking I was more into comics than games, thinking about Illustration as a career, etc. But these, as it turns out, were minor distractions. It was when I started taking a few New Media classes for fun that I realized where my passions truly lay.

This past May I graduated from MECA with a BFA in Illustration. I wrote my Thesis about concept art and how it’s not my “true” art, but instead it’s merely a stepping stone to get to the art I truly wanted to make. I’ve always made art with games in mind, whether or not I was aware of it. Games allow me the unique opportunity to create or be anything I want to be – without all the decision making done by someone else. I could jump on a soap-box right now and go on about things we’ve already heard before about games, but instead I’m just gonna assume you’ve already got an opinion and leave it at that.

Low-Poly "Treasure Chest" model for a Game Art, class at MECA.

Low-Poly “Treasure Chest” model for a Game Art, class at MECA.

Actually I’ll just say one thing: I believe games are a fantastic medium equal to that of film, book, comic, paint, sculpture or anything I haven’t listed. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything remotely artful come from games. This doesn’t mean games don’t have merit, or aren’t anything more than “toys”, BUT I don’t believe we should be trying to “make art games” either (I try to stay away from ranting, but whooey I have a LOT to say as far as Art in general is concerned, might warrant a future post about it). I think games give us an awesome way to explore fantastical, nonlinear, non-scripted, dynamic worlds and narratives. I’m skeptical/fearful that the human race will ever leave the solarsystem at the current rate we’re going, so we might as well create our own worlds that the participant can explore on their own terms, instead of reading about someone else doing it.

So here I am now, with two “useless” degrees and a portfolio in bad need of cleansing/updating. This is where Project: GOA comes in.

Stay tuned!

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