Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Sharpshooter in Gotham...

Taking a break from the Champions Online review, I've been busy with my 3D work and have invested time into creating busts. It's practice and its paying off, because prior to this my musculature work was terrible. I never really understood how to obtain muscle definition without it looking blobby or lumpy. After rehashing the same things over and over again, and doing some trial and error techniques I think it's safe to say that I have a grip on it and can proceed with developing it even more.

Without further adieu:


(Concept Art):


The character is property of leohorik from Deviant Art (, or better known as Compound on the DCUO Source boards. I was shooting for stylized-realism but I think I got more stylized than what I originally had in mind. Its cool though. I'm a stylized kind of guy. I observe reality 24/7. Sometimes you need to get a little whimsical for things to be interesting and appealing.

Now run tell that. ;)

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Year of Testing in Review: Part II

Part II: Champions, Where Art Thou?

Through the months of January-March, I couldn't help but to feel concerned about the state and future of the game. Alpha testing hadn't proved to me that this was the "next-gen MMO", nor did it prove or show the slightest signs of Cryptic pulling through with another hit. I personally began to think that their 'City of...' titles were a one-hit wonder, and what I was seeing through the early stages of Closed Beta wasn't at all reminiscent of what I had seen during City of Heroes Closed Beta (which were fun).

There were fundamental features and elements still out of place that should had been taken into account from the initial start of development: Instanced/Open World mission content, Champions Lore, Supergroup/Teaming systems and UI, the overall scope of UI, PvE and PvP content and balance. As I had said many times during this process, the game at that current stage felt as though the development team took all of the meeting and design notes, put them into a stack, threw them up in the air, and had a free-for-all grab, and whatever 'page' or 'pages' one of the developers got, he or she worked on. It felt as if there was no communication between the varying departments, and each department was its own entity and working on the game how they wanted to work on it.

With the limited playtesting times (Wednesdays and Fridays; 5 PM PST - 9 PM PST), it was apparent that not enough testing was occurring, because reoccurring issues failed to be proved upon or were swept under a rug because something "new" and "shiny" was released. That tactic seemed to be the Cryptic thing to do. Instead of fixing what was broken, they felt the need to "pile on the pretty" and add several more broken systems on top of the old in hopes to correct the issue. What that essentially did was create a muddy, unpleasant mess. For example: The issues with teaming. I was truly devoted to pushing the Dev team to focus on teaming/grouping and all of its issues. From what we had in Alpha and Closed Beta honestly isn't all that different from launch. I and others were consistent on the fact that teaming in Champions was an outright chore, and took extra patience to set out and lead one. The UI never lent itself to being intuitive or resourceful: it was clunky, completely shy of its intended purpose, and discouraged teaming more than encouraged it.

Even though I and several others had submitted weekly feedback and had given a plethora of suggestions and ideas, instead of taking those ideas and expanding on them, Cryptic thought it would be best to lump forced teaming into the system to "fix the problem." If I remember the 'State of the Game' message correctly, they were going to design missions that required an X amount of players to complete, and could not be done solo. This was largely rejected for a number of varying reasons: A.) The game promoted solo-able content from 1-40, B.) Forced teaming was too 'traditional' for a 'next-gen' MMO, and C.) It presented possible time sinks in level progression, especially if there was no "work around" to the missions in order to progress in the game. I am no game developer, but I just could not understand what purpose forced teaming had in the game when all that needed to be fixed was the UI and mission sharing. There had even been a special forum for supergroup leaders to give feedback on grouping, and as I recall, we all had the same perspective on it, and expressed and shared those views with the Devs on a constant basis.

Issues like these lumped with the fact that the core of the game was still broken, and the game felt as though it had no purpose or soul, and it was difficult to not become jaded and pessimistic from time to time, but I still managed to stay optimistic and not get too wordy with the Devs because I understood that the changes we wanted to see took time. The Devs weren't Supermen and Wonder Women--they were people, too, and had been putting in an insane amount of time and hard-work in the development of the game.

It wasn't until Millennium City was released that the game had changed direction for me. With the constant grind of the Desert and Canada with Lemuria and Monster Island added into the mix, the game painfully felt like World of Championscraft as I had deemed it. Between fighting snow wolves, bears, sharks, and other mangled-tangled creatures, I found it really hard to believe that I was playing a superhero game. City of Heroes was brilliantly written and supported with rich, deep lore. But Champions? Not so much, and I believe that part of that was due to the environments surrounding us. It just didn't feel heroic to me. Fighting snow men and radiation-mutates in the middle of no where went against my 'superhero grain', and appeared completely far-fetched in terms of what superheroes should be doing. But all of that vanished once I finally got to Millennium City. The game made the transition from 'fail' to 'epic win' in the span of the loading time it took to get from the Desert to Millennium City.

From escorting police officers on patrols, to rounding up prison jailbreaks, to capturing West Side's 'Most Wanted', the game felt completely different post-Desert/Canada. Epic was the only word that I could describe my experience in Millennium City. It was a brilliantly designed zone with its own unique personality, villain groups, and a very good assortment of public open missions that capitalized on what it meant to be and feel heroic. Add all of this in with power customization, character customization, the action-RPG style combat, and what we were given was a pretty decent gaming experience, and I had thoroughly started to enjoy myself. I was beginning to get eager and look forward to playtests, but after awhile, something presented a problem, and I had found myself right back where I had started...

Next: Part III: This Can't Be It (A Look at the End of Closed Beta and the Beginning of Open Beta)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Champions Online: A Year in Testing Review

A Year in Testing Review

The Champions Online NDA was officially lifted as of today. I have been waiting a very long time for this opportunity, and I plan on writing about my experiences with Champions and the Dev team as thoroughly as possible. This will definitely be a switch-up from my usual animation-related blog posts, but I believe this is worth deviating from. So without further adieu, here is my review, experiences, and personal opinions of Champions Online!

Part I: The Gateways to Alpha

I never imagined getting into Champions Online as early as I did. I had just came back from class to my apartment, opened my Gmail account, and there lies an invitation to the Alpha preview. As excited as I was, that was how disappointed I became once I found out that my graphics card did not meet the minimum requirements. Because I'm impatient, I opted to order a graphics card from Newegg so that I could participate in the early stages of Champions' development. To make a long story short, a week after I received the invitation I was given access to the Alpha Preview forums in September of 2008, and was beyond thrilled to have made it in as early as I did.

With the game being in its early Alpha stages, we were only given access to the game twice a week for 2-4 hours a day. My earlier experiences with Champions involves being one of the designated Launcher/Patcher testers (alongside one of my favorite Beta testers: hyperone). There's no doubt that the earlier version of the Patcher was quite painful. I was always a build or two behind because I could never get it to update properly and always ran into patching errors and stability issues with my Internet. This never once bothered me because, A.) It was Alpha. Fragile patchers are to be expected, B.) It was giving vital feedback information to the Devs, and C.) By the time you worked out all of the bugs to get into the game the server would be 10 minutes away from shutting down. It wasn't until the 4th or 5th playtest that I was able to get into the game, and when I finally did, it pretty much had set the stage for the type of tester I was going to be for the remainder of the process.

Given my experience with Alpha builds (which is little), I didn't come in expecting a fully functioning working game with all of the nuts and bolts in place. A game's Alpha build typically boils down to the "bare bones" of the game. Features are missing, systems are incomplete, the UI is under construction, etc.; but what I did expect was for the "core" of the game to be in place. If the bare bones of any Alpha build game is working, then there is promise in the future of its development. Even with features and systems missing and/or incomplete, the game should still be fun at its bare minimum. With that being said, after my first full run I was not receiving that. Bugs aside, the game wasn't making sense, and I really couldn't figure out why, but I couldn't stay logged in for more than 15-20 minutes during a playtest simply because the game was a bore.

After a few more playtests, I and a couple of other players had come to a mutual conclusion: we didn't feel heroic. What exactly defines 'feeling heroic'? The question has generated a plethora of varying answers from testers across the board, but to me, feeling heroic means that I am needed for a greater cause. I have been called to action because normal people cannot get the situation under control, and they need someone mightier than the average human to handle the situation.

This wasn't happening at all. Originally, the game was suppose to launch with the Desert and Canada being the starting zones. This was one of the main issues in Alpha. We were thrown into this perpetual abyss of an open world not knowing or understanding why we were there. To the best of our knowledge, we were there because the Devs wanted us to be there. There was no lore or story supporting the reasons for it. To make matters even worse, the missions that were in these two zones made you feel even less heroic and more-so like a government errand boy for both Project Greenskin and Force Station, Steelhead. One of the earlier missions in Canada had you attacking a fallen tree so the emergency rescue crew could pass through the open road. It wasn't exactly a horrible mission, but that's more of a job for another type of crew. I'm here to stop snow beasts and spiritual entities, not break trees apart. It didn't make sense to be beating up on ice wolves and trees in the middle of a snowstorm, but it was still Alpha, and we still had a very strong voice as an Alpha community to speak up against what was in place and push for the core of the game to support the 'feeling heroic' sentiment that was being tossed around x1000 every 30 minutes.

Being as responsive and attentive as they were, Cryptic immediately rushed into to figure out what the issues and concerns were. Jack (who goes by Jackalope on the forums), asked what kind of missions we wanted to see in Champions that would help push it to become more heroic, and had also asked us what would fix immersion issues. We managed to chalk up several pages of feedback to these questions, and even though the game was painfully unplayable (disregarding bugs; I'm referring to the bare bones of it), we continued to press on and submit as much feedback and bugs as possible.

We were so adamant about Champions being a success, that a lot of our efforts made it into the game during Alpha. The lack of a tutorial zone bothered many of us because there was little to no documentation on how things worked. It took a few playtests to figure out how powers worked, how to purchase powers, how to slot advantage, how to block, learning the UI, etc. Throwing new players into the Desert and Canada without any "practice" was ridiculous, and that is how the idea of a tutorial zone came about. The Devs agreed with the community, and had started working on it immediately to deliver it for Closed Beta.

Another Alpha victory (if you want to call it that), was the idea of Emanation Points. The only original features planned for Power Customization was the freedom to cherry-pick powers and Hue Shifting. Emanation Points were not considered until another tester brought the question, "Is this it?" to life. It was either Antiproton, Solion, or Arkayne who had then asked in return, "What more do you guys want to see?" Out of all of the suggestions, Emanation Points were the most feasible at the time, and was slated to arrive sometime during the Closed Beta phase along with the Tutorial.

So it was very early on that we discovered that Cryptic listened to their Alpha/Beta testing community, and if something was drawing up major conflict with the community, it could be heard and possibly addressed to fix the issue.

Even though issues were being worked on, and as Alpha came to an end, I still couldn't help but feel as though the game had no meat and bones to it. Running around, shooting critters, and musing at pretty FX and animations doesn't classify as "high octane excitement" or "next-gen MMO," and I personally wasn't trying to listen to the usual, "Its just Alpha," rebuttals to my suggestions and complaints. Yes. It was still Alpha, and I was well aware of this, but I was also aware of the fact that the game could still be FUN in Alpha, and I was not the only one to draw this conclusion. Even so, with the game not being fun, I could still see the potential which led me to believe that Closed Beta would really turn the game around as more features were put into place and systems would be worked on for completion.

Alpha testing ended with a 9 hour playtest going into the New Year, and out of those 9 hours, I believe I had spent less than 2 over the span of the entire test. Never before have I had to force myself into playing something and "find" fun in it. Everything from chatting to teaming felt like a chore, and it was impossible (for I), to sit down and force myself into testing the game. I had figured that given a few more months, a lot of these issues would be cleared up, and hopefully we'd start seeing the core of the game finally come to life and reshape itself into something that was more than confusion and complexity thrown into a pot...

...stay tuned for Part 2: Closed Beta: Where Art Thou Champions?...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New Projects...

Ya'll smell that? That's the smell of fresh baked polygons in the morning. Ha!

But seriously, I've got some pretty interesting modeling projects coming up for this summer. Intensive work, might I add. First, I'm looking to finish the Justice League Project. I started this back in November '08, and I'm still working on it. I'm doing the original 7 founding members from the almighty Bruce Timm directed "Justice League" that aired on Cartoon Network for several years and was cancelled for absolutely no reason. I've modeled, remodeled, remodeled, and now I'm working on the final revamp of the models. It's been a pain and a struggle to find the mojo to complete it, but I'm sure it'll get finished. It has to. It's demo reel quality.

Second project: 100 Head Busts. The human head is one of the hardest objects to model. Why? Well when modelers "model" an object, what you're essentially aiming to do is to simulate reality. You're taking an object from the real world and rebuilding it into a 3D application. Keeping this in mind, the human face is made up of various muscle groups that give it structure and form when we make expressions. Because these muscles are an integral part of that, it is the exact same situation in CG modeling. You have to duplicate those same muscle groups in 3D space so that when you go to animate/deform the geometry those same expressions can be fully realized and not limit the animator.

So I'm doing 100. 50 male, 50 female: 5 realistic (child, teen, young, middle-age, old), 5 stylized (child, teen, young, middle-age, old), 5 creature, 5 animal, 5 celebrities, 10 additional stylized of choosing, 10 additional realistic of choosing, 1 self portrait, and 4 miscellaneous.

Ambitious project, but the thing that I love about 3D is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel all the time. What I've done this month is create a "Universal Head Mesh" that has a very clean underlying face topology to it. When you have good topology, then all you need is a Sculpting application (ZBrush, Mudbox) to throw down and pile on the computer-generated clay.

Also demo reel quality (if I do it right!)

...and last but not least....4. This is another small (but big) project that I'm conceptualizing and throwing down designs and ideas for. I have this unusual obsession with the elements (Fire, Water, Earth, Air). There's just so much you can do with the four of them it's endless. Haven't fully developed a story to it, but basically it's 4 kids who are born from the four main elements...

...and that's about all I got for that one. Just imagine Teen Titans with a lot more grit... those are my major projects for the summer. I'm not piling on anymore than that. Alongside all of this I'm re-studying anatomy. So anything I do in 2D these days are just anatomical throw-downs and nailing major muscle groups. 2D and 3D go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly.

I'll be sure to throw updates up when I get'em. They should be comin!

Mr. Incredible Told Me No... seriously. He did. A couple weeks ago I sent off a package to apply for Pixar's TD Residential Internship position. I've wanted to work with these guys since I was 13. It's the reason why I'm doing what I'm doing today. Well, a couple hours ago I got an email...a generic one....that told me thanks, but no thanks.

Screw you, Woody. Nah! I kid! I was a little taken for about a minute, patted myself on the back, and told myself, "At least you tried. That's the important part." Had I not tried I wouldn't have known if I could do it or not. After talking to my parents on the phone and tellin' my 3 BFFs, I felt better. I didn't count it as a loss or failure, but a sign that I need to work five times harder than I am now...

...and I have a very strong faith. I really believe God is testing my faith here. He knows this has been a dream of mine since 13. He makes no mistakes, so all I can do is smile, suck it up, and keep it movin'. When one door closes, another will open, and that's about all that can be said.

So thanks Pixar for the boost! Even though I didn't make the cut, I'm still encouraged and inspired to push for success. I'm headed in your direction, so look out for me! I was REALLY hoping to get to work on Toy Story 3, but I suppose being part of the Incredibles 2 ain't half bad. ;)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rigging: Some People Are Geniuses


I hear that and want to kill myself. Rigging is a process in CG animation in which you take a model and make it move to put it in simple terms. You set up bones, Weight Maps, IK/FK (Inverse/Foreward Kinematics), Endomorphs, etc. What nuclear physics/rocket science is to Science is what Rigging is to animation. It is a very technical process, and some people specialize in that particular field in the industry (and make the most money because no one wants to rig. It's a headache.

But I figure I'd feature something I found pretty pimp while browsing forums. Mattias Jervill ( created a pretty awesome rig for a Transformer character. You can view it here, or visit his site for a higher-res version:

Like I said, that's pimp!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Late Night Animatin'.... it's like, what, 1 A.M.? I've been doin' this stuff all day since 2 in the afternoon. It's about -89 degrees outside, and I think it's still snowing because that's Edinboro, but I'm about to embark that journey over to the studio to put in a couple more hours...

...I wonder if it's like this in the industry, ya know? Of course they don't have other classes to worry about, but they do have families and what not so I suppose it evens out. But this is intense. Senior year is definitely no joke. Oh, and can I just mention how much I hate traditional? Give me CG any day. I'm not the best of the best when it comes to animating, but I can still do it. Give me something to model any day compared to this 480 something frame Voice Sync test I have to have completed by Tuesday and I've been started that jawn since the middle of last week.

It's like I try to keep ahead of the game but somehow get stuck like the rest of my colleagues. Puttin' in these outrageous hours like we're gettin' paid. But aite! I'ma go cause I'll sit here and ramble until at least 3 and then not get nothin' done. Peace...