Friday, June 30, 2006

Level Design

Level Design

Have you ever bought a Television....

I have (not), but if you had you'd probably ran into trouble in finding out how to operate the darn machine ;o)

It starts with finding the Power button, after which you want to choose a channel and simple watch your favorite program. Simple so it sounds, many times you encounter hurdles on your journey.

Why am I talking about television, when in fact we are building a Game?

The answer is simple, the Game needs to explain - like a television - how to play it well. This is called: LEVEL DESIGN.

Take for example Mario:

Mario, a Game character

In a Game, you would be Mario.

Now since you have not played this game before, you need the Game to tell you what you can and cannot do. And meanwhile... it should be a FUN experience.

Let's take it one step at a time.

First, you try to hit keys on the keyboard and find that Mario can walk (back and forth). Great!!! I can walk ;o)

Next, the Game designer wants you to know that you can 'jump' too. And in order to tell you so... the Big Bad Game Designer digs a hole in the ground before your feet.

Test, there is a hole in the ground before me... what to do?

Intentionally, the Game Designer has not made the hole too deep or too wide. It is a hole, but a 'friendly' hole. You as a player feel comfortable attempting to 'jump' over it. As you jump, you've learned a trick. And not only that, the Game has become more FUN. Hooray, I can now walk AND jump!

I will give more examples later on.

For now I have to jump, as the University is closing its doors!


Back, on a Saturday afternoon.

“What we learn to do, we learn by doing”.
- Aristotle

This wise and useful statement is true when helping the Game player to work out the nuts & bolts of our Game too.

A few key words in the development of a Game are listed below:

For a game to be fun, one should be able to rely on the response of the Game (characters) when you are confronted with them. That is, Snow white should be friendly - in general - and all the witches around you should be bad and nasty. Even if one of the witches is actually a 'good' witch (perhaps it is Snow white in disguise), that should be 'shown' to the player; always and everywhere.

Snow white as a Game Character - Friendly

Witch as a Game Character - Bad & Nasty

A Nice Witch, clearly indicated by the 'hint'

In the example above the 'Good' witch is always accompanied by a white dove.

Courtesy Walt Disney

Wherever you are, however long you have been playing the game, the Game player needs at any point in time or space needs to know where (s)he is.

A few tricks that could help the player to determine this are called 'LEADS'.
Leads help to guide the player.

An example of a lead is the checkerboard in chess.

Another example is the use of pipes in the game Soda Pipes; Build pipelines to guide flows of soda. Several flows may be running at the same time and a flow may divide into sub flows, so watch out! This allows construction of fascinating twisty mazes of pipes as well as regular one-way pipelines.

Knowing that we (Western) human beings expect actions to happen on your righthand side also helps us to determine which way to go to for completion of the game.

Actions happen on our right, that is from the Player's Point-of-View.

No pain, no gain. Every individual has their own way of learning. Some people are visual learners, where a picture is worth more than a thousand words. Others are audible learners, where they learn best when spoken to. The best way to learn is through overcoming difficulties. Therefore, each 'level' in the game should add new challenges to the player.

Overcoming difficulties should be rewarded. A Game is an emotional experience.

Two curves plot this experience.

I. Difficulty Curve: the more you play, the less the increase in difficulty

II. Learning Curve: the more your practise, the easier you remember

The difference with our daily 'work' is that Games have a high Entertainment Factor.

The X-factor - only we know that we are great!

The balance between 'work' and 'fun' should at best result in bringing up the X-Factor in ourselves; the feeling that we have done a Great Job, and it was Great Fun.

We are Winners!!!

And not to forget, show when the game is finished ;o)

Game Over

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Express Yourself

Express Yourself

After last entry on this Blog, where we positioned the 7 elements that express emotion on the (human) face, this time round we dive into 'what is it that they express'.

The Model's face has slightly changed for our Game purpose, as can be seen below.

Customer Service Manager at your service


FLAT eyebrows
The flatter the curve of the eyebrow, the more aesthetic, quiet, and greater is the desire for harmony of the person. The person is oriented towards ideas and concepts, and responds to logic.
  • With a curved chin, he/she is attracted to ideas and abstractions, but acts by making appeals to the feelings of others.
  • With a straight chin, he/she uses concepts to complete principles.
  • With a pointed chin, he/she is concerned with ideas, but uses them to dominate.

CURVED eyebrows
The greater the arch or curvature of the eyebrow, the more dramatic, lively, and theatrical is the person. The person is oriented towards feelings, emotionally sensitive, and easily hurt in relationships. A person with curved, thin eyebrows is passionate and very concerned about interpersonal relationships.
  • With a curved chin, he/she holds the interests of others first in thinking and acting.
  • With a straight chin, he/she puts ideas and principles ahead of feelings in thinking and acting.
  • With a pointed chin, he/she observes feelings and stages events to assess the reactions of others.

ARCHED eyebrows
A person with angular eyebrows is oriented towards control, observes a conversation with detachment, and may be manipulative and coercive. Boomerang-shaped (arched) eyebrows indicate strength and resourcefulness and ability to put ideas into action; if a woman, dominance in love.
  • With a curved chin, he/she needs to fashion details into a form that is harmonious.
  • With a straight chin, he/she finds what is needed to obtain the intended result involving a concept.
  • With a pointed chin, he/she is detached from feeling and may be ruthless in pursuit of control.

EYELIDS [note: a slant is an imaginary line starting from the nose through the eye towards the ear]

SLANT UP eyelids
A person whose eyes slant up is lower in criticalness, and less able to see advantages and disadvantages of situations. A person whose eyes slant up more is more fond of and skilled at solving problems and is more sympathetic towards suffering people.

SLANT DOWN eyelids
A person whose eyes slant down (sharpshooter's eyes), is higher in criticalness, more likely to nag, and gives better advice. A person whose eyes slant down more is more optimistic and idealistic.


DOWNTURN lip corners
A person with downturned corners of the lips is more pessimistic and less pleasant as company. The more the mouth angles down, the more darkly the person interprets the comments of others with a brooding, pessimistic outlook and the more readily the person apologizes for possible insults of hasty speech.

UPTURN lip corners
A person with upturned corners of the lips is more optimistic and more pleasant as company. The more the mouth angles up, the more positively the person interprets the comments of others with optimism and humor.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006



In this third week of Dare to be Digital I will attempt to draw and then model the head of the Game character; the Customer Service Manager.

Is he going to be a smart and swift character...?

... or not so clever ;o)

The above images are from the comic album "Lucky Luke", drawn by the Belgian Maurice De BÉVÈRE (alias MORRIS) who lived from 1923-2001.

Morris & his creation Lucky Luke

The best place to start from when drawing a head is with the skull.

The division between back part [A] of the head and the facial front part [B] is 2:1

The width versus height of a head is 3.0:3.5

The division between upper head and lower head is 1:1

Let's start with two angles of the drawings I made for the Customer Service Manager. As usual with a blue pencil, which means these are still drafts and have to be agreed upon later by the team.

Customer Service Manager - front view

Customer Service Manager - side view

You migth have noticed that the guy doesn't have any eyes or mouth yet ;o)

I left them out intentionaly, since these are the parts of the face that we will animate.

For facial expressions 7 parts are of importance (read also ToonFace):
Eye brows; left and right
Eyes; left and right, lids and pupils
Mouth; middle

I have projected them on the face here.

Face with 7 essential expression elements

NOTE: The nose normally does not move noticably to express feelings or mood, therefore it is left out.

Next, we will visit each of these expression elements and see in what way the express emotion.

Starting with the eye brows, each one of them has three pivots (i.e. control points) that can be moved either upwards or downwards.

Eye brow motion, three points (left corner, middle, right corner) with vertical shifting possibilities.

Following are the eye lids, shaped like diamonds (on their side) with four corners each of which only the middle ones move, vertically.

Eye lid motion, four points (left corner, middle top, middle bottom, right corner) with vertical shifting possibilities for the middles.

In addition, the eye pupils can move freely from top to bottom, from left to right, within the eyelids. The control point here is the pupil itself.

Eye pupils have only one control point, the pupil itself. It can move in every direction.

Finally, the mouth. A diamond on its side, just like the eyelids, but with only three control points that can be moved (left corner, middle bottom, right corner). The middle top does NOT move, as it is fixated to the bone just below the nose.

The mouth with three control points. The left and right corners are free to move in any direction. The middle bottom is able to move vertically only, whereas the middle top stays fixed.

Next blog entry will dive into the different emotional expressions we are now able to show.


An excellent example of animating a 3D face in your web browser can be found at Professor Ken Perlin's homepage at the New York University (see Face Demo).

Another useful resource is Paul Ekman's website dedicated to the Human Face including his Facial Action Coding System (FACS).

Friday, June 23, 2006

Screw Me

Screw Me

Besides working on the characters in our game SPACEPORT, I modeled a tool for the Engineer on board this space station; a screwdriver.

This I learned from BaRToNiX (see

One shape makes up the initial handle

Eight shapes around the handle are used to sink into the handle

The difference (boolean) between the two previous pictures make the screwdriver's handle.

I make use of the 'difference' between two shape also to mold the end of the screwdriver as shown below:

Added a shaft (highlighted in blue) to the handle.

Sinking a cube into top of the edge....

...nicely shapes the difference off the edge.

Again for the bottom of the edge

Bottom part done!

This is the result!


Next Monday I will give it some color ... and screws ;o)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

No Panic

No Panic

Did anyone of you watch the nerve-wrecking movie 'The Panic Room', with Jodie Foster and her daughter hiding in a special room against burglars?

A Panic/Safe Room

If you have you will remember that at some parts of the movie the camera was able to see straight through the walls of the building. How did they do that, I wondered?

Panic Room, the movie

The answer is straight forward, with Computer Animation.

As I am now modeling in the 3D environment I stumbled across this film feature that I might make use of in the Film course when back in Edinburgh's Art College.

The explanation following is found in an article called "An Adventure in Photogrammetry" written by Lucas Young (see

Photogrammetry is the process of measuring and extracting data from photos, but in the film and video world there is a more exciting twist to the idea when used to create or replace real-world objects with CGI models.

In the case of Panic Room, the camera was able to swoop through banister railings and through the handle of a coffeepot because these objects were created digitally.

Lucas shows us an example he made where his kitchen door is made in a 3D modeling environment.

Kitchen door made in the computer

Next he used the camera of the 3D modeling package to 'fly' up to the keyhole of the fake kitchen door. A still image of the outside garden is placed behind the keyhole, matching the image of the real garden.

Keyhole, still 3D

As soon as the camera comes through to the edge of the key hole, the next film clips are recorded in the real garden... this in all gives the feeling of 'flying through a key hole'

Watch the fly-through on your Apple (Quicktime) or Windows (Media Player) computer.

A simple way without having to spend three months in the gym to slim down on size ;o)

That would have made me panic!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Molding Models

Molding Models

Let's make a mesh today!

Start with one of the Game Characters, the Customer Service Agent.

Customer Service Agent designed by Jason

Blue pen drawing of the same Character

In the computer this person at first is just a cylinder, as shown here.

Digital clay for Character modeling

Next stages let you view the progression of my modeling excercise.

Keeping the number of polygones low is key to high performance in Games

After this I have made a comparison to the body, arm and leg part for the 'nude' model comprised of the clothes. In this case a long jacket, shoes, and gloves.

Clothes to fit the model.

Then we imported a skeleton to go into the 3D clay ;o)

3D Pinokkio

Next to come is the head.... !