Creating a terrain (the ground of your game) can be a very complex problem. How do you create a hill that looks natural? Tree and shrub growth that mimic real life? These are problems that Environment Artists in game development have to face and they tend to accomplish this extremely well. But how do you create a terrain for your game that’s infinitely expanding? Games such as No Man’s Sky has you flying around quite literally the infinite expanse of space, generating entire planets for you to be the first to discover.

Let’s start off with a game more familiar that has accomplished a similar feat. Minecraft, at its core is a game that generates entirely unique worlds every time you start a new game. There is a method Minecraft uses to generate a near infinite number of worlds and terrain. This means that they don’t have a person design each one specifically. This method is what’s called “Procedural Generation”. Not only does this method generate a unique world from nothing, but as the player continues to explore the world the computer can take the now existing terrain and build upon it the further the player explores. 

(pictures showing how random a terrain Minecraft can generate)

However, there are a number of limitations to this method. The first is that since it’s entirely random, the terrain could very easily look unnatural or block key paths in our game. This is where game designers have to again control how much randomness a game can use. The second limitation is processing power. Depending on the level of detail in your game, the computer has to calculate and generate entirely unique structures - that can put a strain on your computer and sometimes slow the game down.

There are solutions to these limitations that many have tested and perfected over the years that game development has existed. To generate terrains from nothing, programmers tend to control the amount of randomness. They use randomness in conjunction with algorithms to construct semi-lifelike terrains for their games. One of these methods is the “diamond square” method that begins constructing the terrain by its corners and slowly working its way into the centre. Another method is to take an image of “noise” (a black and white, static like image) and create a terrain from this; darker parts of the image generate the low ground, where the lighter parts of the image generate high ground. If there are any sharp bumps in the terrain, simply blend them together to make it more natural.

There are also solutions when it comes to the processing power required to generate these terrains. A common method that Minecraft uses is to break the world up into “chunks”. These chunks are sections of terrain that get generated piece by piece. This allows the computer to only worry about the immediate surroundings of the player - saving on processing power. If the player decides to explore in a direction, simply generate more chunks in that direction that attach to the already existing terrain.

(.gif showing Minecraft loading chunks of a terrain)

Randomness is an exceptional tool that allows us to create entirely unique worlds. However, as its name suggests, randomness can create both exceptional worlds and worlds that aren't fun to play. This is where a strong understanding as a game designer is needed to control just how random you want your world to be.

When you become an animator, you also become a film director – especially when you are animating your own personal creations. You get to decide which camera angles and shots you want and how to show a story with your animation. There are ways of doing camera work that can enhance or detract from what you are trying to demonstrate. As a film director, your job is to show a story through your digital creation – animation in this case.

Just as animations have different styles, there are also different methods of camera work to emphasise or create a particular look and feel. As an example, you have the “cinematic version” where the camera is shot like a Hollywood movie scene, meaning that the camera doesn't move around too much and is usually in one position. Another example is the “Japanese anime version”, where the camera perspective is zipping around and jumping all over the place, a filming method which is almost impossible to duplicate in real life.

While there are different methods of shooting your animations, there are still a few cinematography "rules" that you should follow to help your story flow nicely. If a character is focusing on an object, the camera should also focus on that object. Similarly, if a character is looking to the left, have the camera pan or move to the left as well rather than focusing in the opposite direction; otherwise, you will confuse the audience. However, this doesn't always apply to every animation or live-action movie scenes. Some film directors like to step away from the norm, sometimes giving you a unique experience, for example, in the Transformers movies, directed by Michael Bay, he often puts in camera shots in an intriguing way. There are scenes where you have two giant alien robots fighting each other, and the camera shots are slightly off the frame, sometimes the audience doesn’t see the entire action scene. You might have character #1 tackle character #2, but you only see half of character #2’s body, it looks wrong because the norm is for the camera showing both of their bodies, entirely, but Michael’s style makes it look more confusing. A reason this style is implemented might be that Michael wants to highlight the scale of giant alien robots compared to human beings, by making his shots feel limited to the ground level. Realistically, a human being won’t be able to see all actions between giant alien robots fighting each other.

Filming a high-intensity action scene is generally going to be very different from filming an emotional love story scene. For example, a film director needs to be mindful in not confusing to the audience by keeping shot compositions precise and evenly paced in action sequences where usually it’s hard to keep up, and able to “follow the thread” of what’s going on. While an action scene is often just characters going at each other for the audience to feel excited and pumped up, you can still tell a story during the action scene itself. Imagine two characters using a hand to hand combat choreography, where character #1 is kicking character #2, in this scene, our camera would generally focus on the legs, not the arms, nor anywhere else. Sometimes you can even have the camera back away from the action but it’s showing that something will happen soon, such as having the camera focusing on a chair that is later to be lifted and thrown by one of the characters. Using methods like these help viewers engage with the storyline, keeping the audience guessing on what might be going to happen next.

Whereas in emotional love story scenes, you usually want to focus on the character facial expressions, because that’s how the audience can tell and relate to, for the most part, it shows how a character is feeling. However, if the facial expression is covered up relating to a specific scene, then the message can still be passed on to the audience through the character’s body language, such as characters hugging each other expressing the element of love. Keep your eyes open for the way different camera perspectives are used in shows you watch on TV, how they demonstrate different actions or emotions. Practice bringing these techniques into animations that you want to bring to life.

#camera #animation #tellastory

New Zealand business and education leaders are aware of the current growth and future potential of the globally expanding Virtual Reality (VR) industry. Recognising the industry growth opportunities and forecast for future earnings potential for New Zealand based businesses and those individuals who develop the skills and experience to be innovators within VR and the overall interactive media sector.

The New Zealand Game Developers Association released the Interactive Aotearoa Report in August last year, which identified that New Zealand’s interactive media sector grew by around 40% in the last financial year to more than $200 million in 2019… and is on track to become a billion-dollar industry in 2025. More than 90% of the revenues generated are export earnings so the opportunity for growth of New Zealand based businesses is massive. “Whether it’s through game development, digital story-telling, augmented reality, education technology or health applications, interactive media has so many social, wellbeing and cultural benefits to offer New Zealanders and people around the world.” Phil Twyford (Minister of Economic Development).

Our industry is also called out as part of the New Zealand Digital Technology curriculum requirements that are now emphasised in all school learning paths in 2020. "In today’s fast-evolving digital world our young people need to have the knowledge and skills to design and develop new digital technologies to achieve specific tasks or solve problems… We want to move students from beyond being simply users and consumers of digital technologies to building their skills and capabilities to be technology creators and design thinkers." Ellen MacGregor-Reid (Ministry of Education).

Aligning with this emphasis and potential, VR Voom offers a unique online learning (and school holiday programme) experience for kids aged 11+ interested in areas associated with VR gaming and content creation. We provide opportunities for young learners to hone their skills and have their efforts recognised by producing work which can help them to achieve recognition at school.

Our courses enable students to discover what’s possible in the world with VR, we teach coding and programming fundamentals and ways to use software tools to design 3D modelling and create VR content. Students learn how to apply ways of thinking and design to solve a problem or realise a concept and develop an innovative approach to working within the rapidly changing technology landscape we see reflected in the world today!

Plus – it’s a lot of fun too!

NZGDA Article: 7 February 2020 Statement from Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford on Industry Growth

Scoop Article: 23 January 2020 Implementing digital technologies curriculum content

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