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The iPad Polygon Diet

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In the transition from PC game to iOS, Creavures went though a number of significant changes to meet the hardware requirements of our chosen mobile platform.  Programmers and artists alike tackled the difficult task of slimming down our already modest graphics budget to encourage the game to run smoothly on an iPhone.  Shaders were modified, UI completely revamped, and hands were rung over the number of “Skinned Meshes” on screen at a time. (Skinned Meshes are polygonal objects animated by joint chains.)  The largest of these meshes, both in terms of joints and in terms of mesh density, were the main Creavures themselves.  As one of games most appealing elements is the quirky and detailed animated interaction between the little animals of the title, scrapping joints from these fairly heavy characters was a virtual impossibility. There were, however, a few steps that could be taken to mitigate the strain they imposed on the iPad’s processing power, namely cutting down the number of vertices in the animated mesh.
Take a look at Bitey here.  He was originally about 4.5K, a mid-range amount for a realtime character.

Bitey Before and After

I was given a budget of 3K.  As long as the character still animated smoothly and the silhouette stayed mostly the same, I could cut whatever I wanted to bring the poly count below that number.
The first thing to do, when evaluating the mesh, was to determine areas that were complex for no reason, polys we weren’t using in the existing animations.  Originally, Bitey was planned to have a lot more expression within his eye area, and thus had a full eyeball with pupil and many edge loops around the eye socket.  This was easy to get rid of.  A couple of loops allowing him to blink was all that was needed, and his eyeball, since the eyes are glowing and blank, was reduced to get rid of the complexity that allowed it to rotate.  Another thing is the loops around the nostrils, the sharp edges put in place to control the normals.  Getting rid of these freed up space, and all we lost was a little definition around the nose and mouth, slight gray shadows caused by the softened normals. Loops in the tummy were merged together, and the knees and elbows were simplified.

So we did this to most things in the game, bound mesh or not, and it seemed to make a big difference! Here’s a plant that I did the same thing to!
ThornBush Before and After

Here are three tips when reducing a poly mesh for game performance
1. Keep the silhouette consistant – This is one of the things that make the character recognizable.  The outline should stay mostly the same when you cut out polygons.
2. Look at where your character moves the most – Where does your character bend? What part gets animated a lot? Bitey’s tail we left alone because moved so much during the course of gameplay.
3. Don’t rely on automatic Poly Reduce tools – It’s fast to click a button in Maya and have your mesh density drop by 50%, but you need to be in control of what stays in and what gets cut.  Often, Poly Reduce gives somewhat iffy results and screws up your edge loops!

That’s all!

Nepotism – The Way to Build a Team?

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In recent conversations with indie dev friends, a lot revolves around team building – finding the right partners to collaborate. Building a team seems to be a big reason, if not the biggest reason, for failed projects. Building a team for a startup is unlike what happens in a bigger company. Having worked at both sides of the divide, I think that is safe for me to say. In a small team, every addition or mistake in the team make up can kill the team and thereby the project. Every person on the team is critical. On an indie dev team, no clock punchers, empty talkers can be allowed. There shouldn’t be any free pass above grunt work. Since we at Muse went through a lot of ups and downs over a few years and a few released projects now, I feel like we are now in the position to to offer something useful to the issue of team building.

In Nepotism We Trust

If we take the typical definition of Nepotism, then it’s about bringing in friends and family without merit. But more loosely, nepotism is about hiring friends and family. It’s about using relationship to get in the door. If we use this looser way of characterizing nepotism, then we love that at Muse. We bring on friends almost exclusively. Or, we bring on someone to intern with us, for an extended period of time. Then, we bring the person on if we need to and have the means.

I can’t say what other teams do, or if there is a golden formula somewhere that some MBA is touting. In the context of indie development, which is basically a start up experience for every project, I bet there is none. No rules, no formulas. So I can only speak to what works for us.

Why doesn’t the normal process of recruitment work for us? Speaking on behalf of the rest of the team, I think it is all about trust. Every team, even if it’s just one person, has a personality, a set of corks, a workflow built on just being together over time. The beauty of a small team is that people can just scoot over a few inches and chat and make decisions on the fly. For something as big as a new concept for a game, it can be as simple and unscientific as, that sounds awesome, let’s fucking do this. A small team has the privilege of not letting the creative process get to, let’s run some numbers to see how much money we can make exactly. A group of people committed to making an indie game or do a startup because they would rather do this than anything else.

But one key ingredient makes everything tick, and that is trust. Without it, a small team doesn’t even have the chance to devolve into politics. It probably just die. So in order not to die, we have to trust. And with trust comes with the belief that everyone is critical. But to trust someone through a largely impersonal recruiting process, no matter over how many interviews, is difficult. Because it’s simply hard to gauge how someone responds under fire and in the moments of need. Sometimes, it’s not even about toughing it out. It is simply hard to incorporate someone into an existing workflow if that person is entrenched in something else. In a typical corporate recruitment process, there is just no way to know.

So for us, we consider 2 groups. One: friends. Because we know that whenever someone recommends a friend, that friend is talented, capable, and has worked with the person on the team before. Two: Interns that have worked with us for at least a few months.

A team has to start somewhere, and it won’t always be the case to have the opportunity to join up with a friend to start. Brian and I met through a Craig’s List posting after all. But I think there is a feel, or a vibe, call it an intuition if you will, that takes place. In a conversation, beyond the resume, beyond the portfolio, beyond the demo reel, is there a connection, is there a common passion, belief, vision, or dream. Is there conviction, or a sense that, no matter what happens, no matter how much salary we are not getting, this is something worth pursuing. If the answer is yes, then the success of building this team just increased a bit.

Alex doing a talk at NYU’s Game Innovation Lab

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Here’s a sneak peak!

Time & Date: Wednesday October 19th, 2011 at 3pm

Topic: Customizing Unity’s Lighting for Guns of Icarus Online

Abstract:

Guns of Icarus Online utilizes a highly customized lighting and
shading model developed to create a visually striking and
stylistically unified game experience. This talk will describe both
the technical details of creating your own lighting model, and the
artistic reasons for doing so. Come learn why your graphics
programmers and artists should always work side by side and to a
shared vision.

Thanks very much Katherine for inviting us. This talk should be really entertaining and useful. Come join us!

Muse Games Process Patent

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We’re been hearing a lot about software engineering patents in the news. Google, Motorola, Apple, RIM – all the big tech guys have been patenting all sorts of innovation and process patents, and we got to talking – and decided we should patent the Muse Games method of innovation and GTD. Below are the core tenants:

All meetings must take place on exercise balls.
Additionally, work may or may not be conducted on exercise balls as well, but interdepartmental conflict MUST be resolved through direct combat on exercise balls
Beer acquisition responsibilities are determined by iterative repetition of a skill based system, “Hold’em”
Weekly asset import duties are assigned via Rock Band vocal scores.
The mini-fridge is reserved exclusively for beer, milk, and hummus.
Sessions of Team Fortress 2 should be concluded with Hightower. At least one member of the [Muse] clan must represent the Pyro.
The toaster oven (hereto referred as the “Fire Box”) must only be used on Alex’s desk or a small cart directly adjacent to Alex’s desk.
All dealings with Water Delivery must be handled by our UI Design Expert (hereto referred to as the “George”)
We must waste 3 hours on Friday talking about bullshit
Classes, Namespaces, and Properties may only be named by our Chief Nomenclator.
Whomever renames the role of Chief Nomenclator becomes the Chief Nomenclator

Unity Meetup – August 27th, 2011

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Unity Meetup Taipei


由 Musegames 主辦的第一次 Unity 與遊戲開發交流會,8/27 在蛙咖啡舉辦。感謝大家的熱烈參與,人數比我們預期的還要多很多!我們除了跟大家分享了一些獨立製作遊戲,以及利用 Unity 引擎開發的基礎概念外,透過與大家的交流,我們也得到了很多寶貴的經驗!

下面是這次的簡報檔,我們預計在年底前還會再舉辦下一場。各位如果有感興趣的話題,或是想要交流的意見、任何建議,也歡迎跟我們反應!

Check out Caro’s new game Legend of Fae! It’s featured on Steam!

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Caro's Game!


Carolina, our awesome master artist just released her game on Steam. It’s awesome and incredibly beautiful. It is currently being featured on Steam, and here’s the link to the game.

The story and concept of the game:

Sea Cross Island was a quiet haven just off the mainland, but recently strange things have been happening! Mysterious creatures known as Fae have started appearing and are wreaking havoc. A young girl named Claudia, is thrust into adventure as she searches for her missing uncle amongst the chaos. It’s a dangerous journey but she’s not without friends. Four elementals are drawn to her aid as Claudia finds out that she’s actually a sorceress! Embark on a journey to discover the secret behind the mysterious Faery Gates.

Please go out and buy this game! Caro poured her love and passion into this game, and it really shows.

Conrad and Howard Go to Brighton!

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We have arrived at Brighton! It’s about 3:00am local time. To commemorate our arrival, let’s recount how we got here. Our departure from JFK, NYC was smooth enough, minus that one hour delay, but which American airline, especially the one called American Airline, doesn’t suffer from some occasional, check that, chronic delay. Conrad checked in slightly before me, and I checked in again for the both of us, so he ended up holding 2 boarding passes… Another minor security glitch, but no harm done. Conrad probably won’t be mistaken as a terrorist anytime soon. We got the seating situation worked out at the gate, and I got us a nice window, aisle couples pairing of seats. Sorry, no, Conrad did not lean on my shoulders.

When we landed, we actually got through immigration, bags, and customs in a flash, with a smile. Welcome to London! That was nice. Ok, now the fun started. We bought tickets at a train ticket machine. Since we carried nothing in the appropriate currency, we used our credit cards of course. The credit card thing loved to be massaged, and I feel dirty for saying this, but anymore massaging of that damn credit card machine Conrad and I would change careers. Finally, we got our credit cards to read, and on the screen it displayed 18 British pounds. No big deal. Wait a minute, 18 pounds!? Holy crap. We later learned that we could have taken the Tube (the London subway), probably for a few pounds or dollars cheaper.

Arrived at London Paddington Station woohoo! Train to Brighton? No luck. As we tried to buy tickets through the machines, Brighton was nowhere to be found in the destination list. So we poked around the station, and found the lone ticket counter open with a middle gentleman that uttered 2 words, “Victoria Station.” Great. We had hopes of making an 11:30pm train to Brighton, and that hope is now completely dashed.

To get to the Victoria Station, we had to take the Tube, and that of course meant giving the ticket vending machines more massages with our credit cards. We of course had no idea what the heck we were doing. It wasn’t entirely our fault. Who knew the red colored train was a green line, and another red colored train was the yellow line? Luckily, a nice lady on the train told us to get off and change trains right a few seconds before we went the opposite direction.

While waiting for the yellow line to Victoria, the names of places on the subway and bus maps leapt off the page – Westminster, Trafalgar, British Museum, Wimbledon… We will see none of those places on this trip. That familiar feeling of dangling a big fat chocolate cake right in front of me, and I won’t get the chance to taste any of it. At Victoria, we dragged our bags up and down the stairs to the National Rail ticket counter and got tickets to Brighton. 22 pounds each way. And we couldn’t get the round trip for only 7 pounds extra. Why? Because we had to take the return train before 9am, which was when the price discount kicks in. Crap. So our transportation cost per person was: 18+4+22 pounds. I forgot what the currency conversion rate was, and it was probably a good thing.

We were starving at the train station, so between Burger King, McDonalds, and a sandwich shop, we went Burger King. I voted down McDonalds, as the recent memory from my McDonalds food poisoning was still raw. Credit card swiped. Receipt came. 11 pounds, making officially the most expensive fast food meal either of us had ever eaten by far.

Ok, we got on the 12:05am train to Brighton. Finally. We are on our way! Wait, we heard a message over the PA system that the train will divide? Wait, what? The announcement said that trains 1-4 will go to some place. 5-8 will go somewhere else. Brighton? No news. And what about where we are sitting, in car 11? No idea. Uh… Better ask somebody. The two kids behind us were equally confused. But another person just came on board told us to go to the front, to cars 1-4. Great… All the way at the other end. That wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, except we were carrying that big ass monitor that we are supposed to bring. Look on the bright side, we could use a little bit of a work out.

We did make it to car 4, and that was as far as we were willing to go. No farther. And we did make it to Brighton. Conrad vowed that no matter where we were in Brighton, we were walking.

And so we did. The interesting thing is that, I had only a general and liberal sense of where our hotel was. But whatever, it was interesting just to walk around. Aside from the drunken people on the streets, there were a few places with pretty amazing architecture.

When we finally reached our hotel, we paused at the door for a bit. Can’t be right? This is the hotel from the pictures online? Uh… Whoever put up those photos online did an excellent job photoshopping the crap out of the place the same way wrinkles are airbrushed out of middle-aged actresses. When we checked in, there was a snafu with our Expedia booking. We were charged for two rooms, and we were supposed to share one. We gotta sort this out tomorrow. In the meantime, they gave us an upgrade supposedly. Conrad got to his room no problem. I got to my room, heard the TV on. Odd. I unlocked the door, about to turn on the light, a man jumped up, and there appeared to be a woman as well. “What’s going on, who’s there!?,” the man yelled. Uh, I thought this was my room? I went downstairs, the person at the front desk gave me another room. Let me say this, I was extra careful opening the door this time around.

This hotel, called Umi, claims to bridge the gap between 3 star pricing and 5 star service. I put the question to Conrad, and the answer made a lot of sense. 5 stars, minus 3 stars, equals 2. Perfect. Well, time to sign off for the night.

More exciting news to come out of Brighton tomorrow!

Guns of Icarus became the first 3D, Unity game on Mochi Games

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Guns of Icarus just went live on Mochi Games, becoming the first 3D, Unity game to launch on the site and platform, which is one of the coolest and best casual, Flash portal in the industry.

We are really excited by the opportunity to integrate Guns of Icarus with Mochi’s awesome game service. While Mochi will still be Flash, this could be the beginning of something really exciting, as Mochi’s always been known for quality games. Thanks to Justin and Jamison for the adventurous spirit! And the stickers too :) The stickers are awesome.

Creavures at Develop conference’s Indie Showcase!

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The Develop Conference in Brighton, UK, picked Creavures as a finalist in the Indie Showcase!
If you want to find out what awesome company of games Creavures is in, check it out on DIYGamer.

We are really excited to be a part of the showcase. Conrad and I bummed enough airline miles from family to make the trip, so we’ll be there from the 19th on. If you happen to be at the conference, come by our booth and talk to us! We’ll love to hear what you have to say and to chat about anything game related.

Muse at Connecticon!

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Emily, Alex, and Mike will be at Connecticon this weekend. If you are there, be sure to look them up! You can get the latest on Muse, Guns of Icarus Online, and Creavures from them. Or just to say hi!