Be an Expert

Be an Expert, image
What makes an expert? Why do companies want experts? These are examples and thoughts of a 3D artist working in games.

Lately I’ve been happy to see game industry growing with the expansion of consumer base which has lead to more jobs. This very clear locally here in Finland – the games industry is blooming. There’s a Finland-special in Edge magazine 04/2013 that touches on the bloom. Another even more entertaining read, though not as recent, is this VG247 article which is available online for free: http://www.vg247.com/2012/02/03/scandimania-adventures-in-finnish-games-part-one/

There is demand for artists, programmers (especially server-specialized) and more, and one thing always looked for, and often found lacking, is expertise.

What makes an Expert?

Common definition for an expert is deep knowledge and experience of a topic. 10000 hour rule is often mentioned for mastering a subject. 25000 hour rule also comes up since these days. Have you noticed how many people ‘graduate’ as Doctors these days? Lucky for us working in games and in other creative fields the important bit is actual experience.

Experience and knowledge makes it easier to solve problems and to do it creatively, and more so it gives base for coming up with new solutions and identifying problems that others haven’t noticed or anticipated – even solving problems that have no pre-existing solutions to look up. This is why, in games industry, anything beyond a junior position requires solid working experience. Hobby projects do count – it is a matter of showing you have done the work.

Experts can also communicate. An expert understands the idea well enough to tell others about it and has some social skill to deliver it. The other skilled people, ‘backroom pros’ do still have a place in the games industry, but a social and communication skills make a difference and create leaders.

Finally and I think most importantly experts are good students before anything else. People become experts only because they study, try, work, learn and teach. And a person who is so invested in learning a subject does more than learn to do it – she finds the core information, brakes it down to base parts – gets to the system within. Knowing a thing so well helps her use it effectively and improve it.

In the end it is a matter of curiosity and love for the subject – the things that make you put in the required hours and thinking. I don’t believe in shortcuts.

What about Natural Talent?

I’m not getting into subject of talent or how it would help. Superb Radiolab does it so much better. Listen to Secrets of Success. http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2010/jul/26/secrets-of-success/

Personally I don’t think I have any particular talent for art. I just like creating things and work at learning it.

Why companies want experts?

Experts are people who know their craft exceedingly well and can work together. Working with such people is good. Sure they make mistakes but those are rarely spectacular. And because experts are such great students they can also teach, help others get there. And being students the experts also know that they can’t know everything and don’t pretend otherwise.

There you go, my take on experts. I have the pleasure of working with them ūüôā
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Artist Demoreel in Games industry

This is just me showing my recent reels and the idea behind them.

Autumn 2012 I decided to look for new job in game industry. I already had such a job, good one too, but I needed a change and a new challenge to improve. For that end I made a couple of reels.

Here’s a good collection of Demoreel Tips for a good reel: http://www.digitaltutors.com/11/demoreel.php#tipsfrompros

Gnomon Workshop’s blog also has a nice list of Demoreel Do’s and Don’ts: http://www.thegnomonworkshop.com/news/2013/03/the-dos-and-donts-of-creating-your-demo-reel

What then if you are a generalist? Tips say make focused reels, several if need be. I didn’t have the time. I was thinking I need to show how many different projects and tasks I have done and also how varied work I can do – and as briefly as possible.

Gamereel

What I did goes somewhat against the common advice: a collage-style reel simply listing the games I’ve worked on and the main areas I worked in. I’m leaning on the fact that when you’re in games industry the game credits count a lot. And the listing does help to get across the point that I can do many things. I felt that reason enough for a reel like this.

Niko Mäkelä Gamereel 2012 at Vimeo

I need to mention that in pretty much every application case the gamereel was not enough; People wanted to see examples of single tasks or assets – all very understandable and expected. Having separate reel on modeling and texturing would have been convenient.

Animation reel

I made a separate animation reel because animation has played a large role in my work in past years. This reel is more in-line with common reel-tips. I find it easier to watch.

Niko Mäkelä Animation Reel 2012 at Vimeo

Doing extra helps

It is very competitive out there. Besides reels and resume I believe that if you want a job in games you need something extra. Maybe it is that perfectly tailored-for-job-application and good references, maybe it is a hobby. I have this blog, for one. Whatever the sum of things was, I got a job I like.

Game Industry change


Game Industry changes. How, Why and What it means for game developers? Leaning on resources and personal experience I tell it how I see it. This comes from a more traditional gamer and developer who is fascinated about the change.

What has changed?

Lots of things, some main points in short:

  1. First is old news but worth repeating: Game industry moves more money than films.
  2. New and possibly now most popular game types draw from games of the past – Arcadeish casual aka quick-to-play games are doing incredibly well.
  3. Gaming is more social hobby than before with a new and growing audience.
  4. Games and game platforms are more readily available. Now everyone with a modern smart phone/pad or a cheap personal computer and internet-connection has a solid gaming platform and access to a portable game library.

Why the change?

The following is info compressed from several sources. I will follow it with my take.

My take on the change-statistics

I don’t see any type of gaming to be more innovative than some other, nor do I see social and/or casual games replacing others. Also I don’t think rising PC will kill off any consoles. I believe the change is simply that there are lots of new gamers and new ways to play games which allows ever wider variety of games and platforms to flourish. That doesn’t mean traditional game types, platforms or players are going anywhere.

What does the industry change mean for game developers?

  • New options are available for delivery(Steam, Xbox Live, online marketplaces, Appstore…) removing or reducing the costs of getting the game out and selling it.
  • New game creation software lower the barrier of entry both in price and time invested in learning and ease developing for several platforms at once(check out Unity).
  • Older established game creation softwares also lower prices or otherwise do their best to compete with newcomers.
  • Range of topics found profitable is wider than ever.
  • Small ‘bitesize’ games are (again) a very valid recipe.
  • All of the above mean indie developers(individuals and small companies) have better changes to succeed.
  • Due to the above large companies too are creating small flexible teams and targeting new markets.

How to get a position in New game industry

Mostly requirements are the same; To get into creating games you need to be very good at what you do, to know the right people and to be persistent. Also likely you will need to work as a trainee in a game company or on indie/non-profit game releases to get experience and recognition. Other route is of course raise enough capital to start your own or shared business.

Difference is in that generalists may now have more work than narrow specialists. Specialist jobs are not going anywhere but are hard to land since only big companies can hire a specialist long-term. Smaller companies now blooming hire people that can wear many hats – for mass production of any one thing they usually outsource (just like the big firms). Also since small companies make small team productions, that is games for online/mobile, it means optimization in everything, art stylization and carefully managed resources. If you aim for this area better make sure you know what is expected, like relevant coding languages or art style.

That’s my take on the change. Agree, disagree?

Sources

I link to many articles above but refer to 2 following more than anything else. I’m also adding others that may be of interest to you.

Gunshine.net Beta release, Supercell insider and articles


Today marks the release of Gunshine.net Beta, a free browser action roleplaying game, and publishing of the company behind the game, Supercell, and investors behind it. This post tells about the above, about my involvement, and links to other articles.

Gunshine.net Beta

The game is technically special, perhaps even amongst the first in a new wave of browser gaming. Why? Scores of other current browser games(MMOs included) are static and slow-paced. Gunshine brakes the mold: It is a fast real-time strategic action with friends – that’s the special bit. Also it is all free and easy to get into and play. I know it sounds like marketing spiel but that really is an accurate description. Fans of online roleplaying games and/or fast action, or those bored with old generation of online social games, will likely enjoy it. Other developers may follow with more fast paced browser games.

Gunshine runs in browser without special things to install. Game does require Flash-plugin but then again 90%+ people who use browser have it already. Ipad and Iphone-users though are out of luck without Flash-support (for now).

Gunshine.net is still in early Beta meaning it has bugs and the content is in progress. But worry not – there is plenty to play at the present. Currently we invite Beta testers to play and give feedback so we can improve and build what we have. The game is built to grow step by step.

Supercell and my part

In short Supercell is a promising startup with strong backing and a great creative team. I can say some well known game industry veterans have seen Gunshine.net and Supercell worth investing in. Supercell-site and the articles linked below will tell you more about the company and about our backers. I’m more on solid ground writing about our creative process.

My work at Supercell is why this blog has been quiet-like since December 2010. I’m happy to be part of a team of professional game developers. We have a flexible pipeline on the art-side, each can and do juggle many tasks. However quite naturally the majority of certain type of tasks go to people who spezialise in them. I create 3D and 2D assets, weighing on the former, and lots of animations. To me it feels quite sweet a role – so far getting to model and animate many of the coolest creatures in game. Regardless mine is just a small part of the whole, the team together make it all happen.

I hope to share more inside info about our creative process later.

Articles

Here are some articles about Gunshine.net and about Supercell. I will keep adding links for a while to this list.

So, what do you think? Is Gunshine a hit or a miss? If games like Gunshine are not the future of browser gaming then what is?

Working Independently or for a Company?


This is food for thought to those comparing solo freelance freedom with employment and teamwork – perspective of a person going from one type or working to another.

My Change for one way of working to another

Since December 2nd 2010 I have been part of a new game company, Supercell, as a Game Artist. My main tasks are character animation and modeling, but since it is small company still I get to do many other things as well. It is teamwork.

Before this I’ve been a freelancer for 10 years, partly on the side of studies. I think it was 2002 when I last worked for someone else, before this. The change is reason for this article.

Company or independent?

I’m biased – I fell in love with teamwork early on at multimedia project on first year at university or more likely before that playing basketball and rinkball with friends. Regardless of this in working life I’ve found myself working far more by myself, for clients, rather than in someones employ. I’ve done everything myself from web pages to 3D-animation and to accounting for quite some time. And even thought some projects I am/have been in are teamwork, like U6 Project in Team Archon, those team are either spread far apart like Archon or work in otherwise scattered manner . It is not the same as in a small team driven game company.

This article really comes down to what feels good – working alone or in a team. That’s the change I feel most meaningful.

Here is a little comparison-table – quite obvious stuff.
[styled_table width=”600px”]

Freelancing Company job
You decide how you work for your client, and when. You’re the creator. Team together or team lead works out the how and when. Team has better changes to come up with more creative solutions.
You handle everything in the project – the tasks you like and the ones you don’t. People specialize – if you are best at something you get to do a lot of that.
The scope of yur project is limited by resources and your skills meaning smaller projects or painfully long production times for big projects. A good team can create pretty much anything and fast – a bad team can spend endless hours and get nothing decent done.
You need to be a generalist – good at many things. Everybody in the team needs to excel at something.
You need to get along with your clients and yourself. All in team need to work well together.
Feedback and rewards are external. Feedback and rewards come from inside and out.
You learn by doing and from following others (i.e. online). You learn from and teach your teammates.
[/styled_table]

The thing about team is that working together on a common goal gives it more importance and momentum, keeps ideas flying and everybody gets feedback for their work. If things work right, there is a sense of We and Us, together. Capacity to do teamwork really is one reason humans survive and thrive, so it comes no suprise working in a good team also feels rewarding. On the other hand one wrong piece in a team can break the whole machine.

Your choice depends on what you like and what you are like, of course. Not everyone works best with others and not everyone can make it by themselves (nevermind the steady paycheck employment brings). Any good or bad experiences? Would you rather go solo or work with others?

Ultima 6 Project review

Ultima 6 Project was released in July 2010.¬† Now I’d like to tell you how it has been received. This is not about blog topics but a personal thing – but important enough as such that I want to share.

What is U6P?

Ultima 6 Project is a massive free role-playing game for PC and Mac.¬† It is an old game classic Ultima VI re-made and improved – our version of it.¬† Us here is we, the Team Archon.¬† You can see my part of the project¬† here, and read my take on the benefits of project like this.¬† I’m attaching some images from the game(click to view in full).

Ultima 6 Project screenshotUltima 6 Project screenshotUltima 6 Project screenshotUltima 6 Project

After the summer release U6P has been reviewed in a number of places and with quite positive results, too.¬† I’m linking to the official online reviews below (those that I know of).

Ultima 6 Project Reviews online

Ultima 6 Project Magazine reviews

Pelit-magazine(Finnish) gave U6P score of 90/100.¬† I’m translating some of the final bullet-points from the review for you, below.¬† I won’t show any scans from the magazine as that is usually frowned upon.¬† If you know Finnish, get the mag and check out the full one-spread review. And if you know some other magazine that has reviewed U6P, please write below – let me know.

  • Feels like a real Ultima.
  • Plot takes hold and takes you away.
  • Lots to do.
  • Realtime combat is tricky.
  • Camera plays tricks on you.

Pelit-magazine final words are:¬† “Ambitious fan-project is a mind-opening experience”.¬† They also gave the game Pelit Magazine Recommends-stamp of approval.

[box type=”note” size=”large”] If you know of any more U6P reviews, please let me know and I will add them to the list.¬† Comments are also welcome.[/box]

Hobby Project Benefits

Oftentimes people have hobbies that either offer a fun challenge they can’t get at work or help them learn new things. Some take on hobbies to learn and to grow resume – to find a work in the field of their hobby. In my article Stay motivated one thing I suggested taking on a project together with others.¬† It is what I did, and now I wish to tell you how it was for me – the benefits and the costs.

I joided Ultima 6 Project in December 2005. I’ve written more about the project and what I did here. The game was released in July 2010, after 9-10 years of production.
My motivation to join was to learn more about game production and low-poly work and because I like old Ultima games.  And I did indeed learn by doing Рwithin year or two it became easy, like a fun part-time job.  Being in production meant working with others, meeting common goals, having deadlines and management reminding of things to be done Рyou know, all the stuff that makes team projects addictive, rewarding and at times stressful.

Now before going to the cons and pros, please note U6P is unique and a seriously long venture, way beyond anything sensible. So the ups and downs of more reasonable project are probably different.

What project as a hobby cost me

  • Oodles of free time – poof, gone. I don’t care to think what else fun or useful I could have done with that time. Especially after noticing I was no longer learning, just working, I couldn’t help but wonder what other game project would give me a tougher challenge and more current generation work samples or even, you know, pay.¬† I did consider several times if continueing was sensible.
  • Some dark brown hair – gone grey. ¬† A serious hobby is at times tough like any job.
  • Some paid work. Sometimes it has been so intense, I have let freelance opportunity(nothing big) slide past to meet project goals first.

Having said the above costs, dealing with them or not was completely up to me.

What I gained

  • I soon learned what I had wanted to learn.
  • Motivating and encouraging enviroment and a fun part-time job, though no pay.
  • Friends.¬† Project drew together some great people.
  • Credit of being an important part of a game project like no other(very large in scope and in work years) – probably certifies all main team members as insane.
  • An Intel-interview about my work.
  • Loads of work samples from the field of low-poly 3D.¬† And I am happy to say that despite my initial worries about the usefulness of such skills, they are very good to know and low-poly 3D is anything but dead as a field of work.
  • Tutorials. Made a few to assist our team members and, later, for anyone interested. assist new folks wanting to join our project.¬† Sort of got me started with the whole learning blog thing.
  • [highlight type=”light”]6 months after this article:[/highlight] A job in game industry. Having released a big well rated game was a very important factor in landing a job.

So yes it was worth it.  Especially now that the game is out the good things come rolling in.  It is possible some other project might have given more and in less time, but that is not a way to think about these things. If a person is always looking for something better and moving on, they may not finish anything. Committing is important.

Will I join another freeware project?¬† No, I will no longer work without payment. Don’t have the time.

What about you – have you considered taking on a hobby project or have you already done something like that – and how did it go?

Interview for Intel

I was interviewed on INTEL’s ISNTV Digital Arts-show. (voice only for my part)

2013 UPDATE: Intel’s Digital Arts Show-pages have been closed for a good time now and this page had broken links, until now. I found the video interviews elsewhere on Intel’s site so the links should work, for now.

Digital Arts does many things, including interviews of people in the field of Arts.¬† One good example is musician Justin Lassen’s interview (from Intel booth at GDC).¬† Justin is an exceptional artist and a does well before the camera, too.
Reason why I got on Intel’s radar was winning their Digital Art Tutorial Challenge a few times in a row.¬† Other than that I’m guessing my blog and big projects raised a few eyebrows.

See the interview at ISNTV Digital Arts show.  Host of the show is man of many titles, including Intel Artist and Animator Community Manager, Steve Pitzel Рa terrific guy.  We had a good chat, both on record and off.  I manage to sound reasonably sane most of the time, so I call it a success.

Go see and listen and leave some feedback below, if you like.

Ultima 6 Project Released

I’m happy to announce that our massive freeware role-playing game for PC and Mac is now released!
Go explore the huge living world, meet curious individuals, go on grand adventures, sail the seas, delve into massive caves and forest and try to make it out alive.  And if you happen to remember the main quest, try to help Britannia deal with the mysterious gargoyle race and the war.  For more info and the download go to http://www.u6project.com

U6P has been my part-time job for well over 4 years and many on our team have worked on it harder and longer than I have.¬† You can read about my part here.¬† I’m very happy for the release, positively glowing, and hope old Ultima fans enjoy our take on the classic and that the game captures new fans as well.¬† Go take a look!

Got a comment on our game or on freeware game projects in general? Feel free to write.

Low-poly 3D for Ultima 6 Project

I’ve finally compiled a video about my low-poly 3D work for Ultima 6 Project.¬† You can watch it below or in HD at Vimeo.¬† All shown in the video is low-poly to fit the game engine limitations and overall design.¬† These days low-polygon 3D, the likes of what I’ve made for U6P, is used more on mobiles and portable gaming decives than on PC.¬† Funny how fast things change.

Ultima 6 Project is¬† a soon to be published freeware role-playing game for PC(works on Mac, too, with some tricks.)¬† For me the project was first like a training ground for low-poly 3D game assets, though without a teacher, and later became a job just like any other.¬† I’ve been working on U6P part-time, on and off, since early 2006.

My contributions are items, creatures, characters and structures – most notable being the gargoyle race.¬† I’ve also done one cinematic and some 2D-stuff like the ingame-journal graphics(actual content, incl.images, is by our great team).

Ultima 6 Project is a remake of an old classic game, Ultima VI(by Origin).  Like U5 Lazarus, a remake of Ultima V, we bring a classic to modern computers Рwith a lot more than just visual improvements.  1.0 release is coming.  U6P is free to play, but you do need the game Dungeon Siege(1) to run it.  DS is an old game and should be available at a very affordable price.

Any comments or questions regarding low-poly 3D or Ultima 6 Project are welcome.