Nowadays, I’m reading a tiny HarperCollins book called “Blood, Sweat, and Pixels”, written by Jason Schreier.
It is a journey through ‘development hell’ – a media industry jargon for a project that remains in development (often moving between different crews, scripts, or studios) without progressing to completion. In other words, ‘a never-ending project’.
So, if you have ever wondered what it takes to be a video game developer, don’t read this book! It must be the very last introductory document you should be referring to. – Just kidding! 😉
“If I ascend up into heaven, you are there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there.” – (Psalm 139:8)
Jason Schreier takes readers on a fascinating odyssey behind the scenes of video game development. Ultimately, a tribute to the dedicated diehards and unsung heroes who scale mountains of obstacles in their quests to create the best games imaginable.
Life is hard for video game developers. Very hard, indeed… Thanks to nice small touches and heavenly surprises, life is more bearable. This book is certainly one of them. Thank you Jason!
Back to coding… 😉
During our recent summer holiday in Paris, my beloved wife and daughter decided to take a day off and go out for shopping without me. – What a gift! I felt very privileged to have been given back the opportunity of being a ‘freeman’, despite the fact that it was only for a few hours 😉
Against ticking clock, I decided to feed the never ever growing up child within me, and dedicate the whole day to visiting all official LEGO shops in Paris. – Sounds crazy? Well, if you are a LEGO addict like me, then you know what I mean…
When I googled for LEGO shops, I’ve realized that most of the information available online is either misleading or outdated. After a couple of trial and errors, plus many hours wasted on road, I have managed to visit all 3 official LEGO stores in Paris.
The LEGO Store – Les Halles
The LEGO Store – So Ouest
The LEGO Store – Disneyland
During the metro trip back to hotel, I promised myself to write a clear blog post about all the information that I had gathered, so that it could be useful to other LEGO fans visiting Paris.
So, here we go!
The LEGO Store – Les Halles
This is a brand new 400 m² LEGO store established in April 2016. It is located at the center of Forum des Halles shopping mall.
Les Halles LEGO store has a breathtaking showcase. On the left, the store welcomes you with a huge French kitchen set built in LEGO bricks. While looking at the cook, oven, pots, colourful cupcakes, and many other well-thought-out details, it is quite easy to be bewildered while dreaming in front of the showcase. When you walk to the right hand side, you’ll notice two more mega LEGO constructions; The Notre-Dame Cathedral and The Arc de Triomphe. Though both sets demonstrate top-notch brick architecture wizardry, the cathedral construction is a truly remarkable piece of art. The amount of detail –and even humour– that goes into making this set is unreal; tiny goblins and knights walking at the roof speak for themselves 😉
When you go into the store, the first thing you’ll notice is the wall-to-wall layout of shelves. They are clearly categorized with hundreds of boxed LEGO products on them. When you are at the entrance (facing the point of sales), the Duplo products (for babies) are on the left, and the Technic series (for teenagers and adults) are on the right, which is a panoramic categorization from left to right based on age. Simple and effective.
One thing that I really loved is the location of the point of sale. An ellipse shaped desk (with many cash registers on it) is right in the middle of the store! No matter how crowded the shop is, you can always find a shortcut to reach the cashiers.
* This was a real lifesaver during my second visit to this store. I brought my wife and daughter with me on a Saturday afternoon, and the store was so crowded that we couldn’t walk without bumping each other. That day, I really appreciated the wise decision of locating the point of sales in the hotspot of the store.
Last but not least, here comes the jewel in the crown: The staff members. They are simply amazing! Unlike typical salespeople, they are 100% enthusiastic about what they are selling, and specialized in various product categories. These young ladies/gentlemen are always smiling, willing to assist, and very polite.
* And, did I mention that all the French staff members are fluent in English? – Oh, yes!
I have to mention one staff member in particular; Mademoiselle Samantha. For almost half an hour, she patiently answered all my technical questions, visited the storage room (behind the store) a few times, checked the availability of hard-to-find items on my shopping list, made a phone call to one of the other official LEGO stores (So Ouest), reserved the missing items for me, and finally wrote down the directions to make sure that I’ll find my way to that shop safe and secure… Thank you very much, indeed!
The LEGO Store – So Ouest
This is a 300 m² LEGO store established in October 2012. It is located at So Ouest shopping mall in Levallois-Perret, a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris. Unlike the previous LEGO store, this one is not at the center of Paris. However, if you follow my directions below, it will take approximately half an hour to get there. It’s not really far away…
So, is this store really worth visiting? Absolutely! This is a fantastic LEGO store in every way. Make sure that it is on your list.
Compared to previous one, So Ouest LEGO store has a less-than-moderate showcase. No mega constructions to speak of, actually. However, the warm demonstration of recently introduced LEGO sets at the showcase instantly grabs your attention, and humbly welcomes you inside… A classy way of making you feel “Let’s see what they have here!” 😉
Contrary to the humble first impression of the store, the product range is simply premium. Don’t let the size and modest atmosphere of the shop fool you; they have everything here for you. All products are sorted by themes. Even on your first visit to this store, it is very easy to find what you are looking for. Everything is self-explanatory.
The staff members are superb! They are very polite, always ready to assist you, and willing to speak about the products that you are interested in. Somehow, you feel that you are being taken care of, and it makes you feel comfortable. From a customer point of view, this is something truly beyond the dated customer relationship lessons taught in business schools. It’s really nice to know that someone is keeping an eye on you.
Speaking of the staff members, please allow me to share my amazing experience with you… As I was gazing at the recently released Porsche 911 GT3 RS Technic set, I humbly came closer to one of the staff members, picked up a list from my pocket, and asked him if any of the hard-to-find items on my list was available, by any chance. The gentleman cheerfully looked at me, and said: “Oh, you must be the guy from Turkey! We were expecting you… Mademoiselle Samantha (from Les Halles store) phoned an hour ago, and told me about the items you are looking for. Your orders are ready, Sir!”
After the initial shock, I stuttered: “Well… Thank you!”
Thanks to Monsieur Damien, every item on my list was already collected from the inventory room, and packed. Besides being a very professional staff member, he was also a nice gentleman to talk with. His English was better than mine. For almost half an hour, we geeked out over the discontinued products, second hand LEGO market in France, and latest additions to my daughter’s LEGO train set collection. – A truly exceptional experience. Merci!
The LEGO Store – Disneyland
This is a huge LEGO store established in 2014. The name speaks for itself, the store is in the heart of Disneyland, Paris. Believe it or not, this is the most crowded LEGO shop I’ve ever visited in my life. Thanks to Disneyland’s reputation, this must be one of the most popular LEGO shops in Europe.
When you look from the outside, this store looks like an ordinary LEGO shop. The showcase is quite good, with a huge LEGO logo and a few 2.5D canvas paintings built in bricks. At first sight, it looks like there is nothing special in here…
However, when go in there, you realize how big the store is and immediately forget about the lacking showcase. The mega LEGO structures simply knock your socks off. They are everywhere! Pete’s Dragon hanging from the ceiling, an authentic life-size reproduction of R2-D2, a magnificent The Sorcerer’s Apprentice visual composition from “Fantasia” with Mickey wearing the blue wizard hat… These are spectacular items. Frankly, even better than the ones at ‘Les Halles’ store!
The product range is superb, just like the other stores I have mentioned. However, stock availability is a serious problem here. I was unable to find quite a number of products which were available in the other LEGO stores, such as pencil box, eraser, pen set, a bunch of recently released Technic sets, and almost all Power Functions products! When I asked the reason for missing items, staff members complained about ‘customer circulation vs lack of space’. I am not quite sure if this is an acceptable excuse.
Speaking of the staff members at LEGO Disneyland store, I have to say that they are simply the weakest link here. They are not smiling, not enjoying what they do, and keep themselves away from the customers. Somehow, they chat with each other by the exit. Nobody cares about you. Yep, I know that it is very difficult to manage such a huge store with such a large number of customers in it, but what I’m complaining about is more than that. When you ask a few questions, all you get is nothing more than “Yes”, “No”, or “I don’t know”. Being aware of the fact that Disneyland is a place most people visit once (and never come back again at least for a few years), I don’t think that you are welcomed as ‘loyal customers’ here. If these staff members think that people come and go, and more will come tomorrow no matter how they treat customers, I’m afraid that is a serious threat to LEGO’s reputation. As a lifetime loyal LEGO fan, I’m truly disappointed.
I love Paris! This was my second visit to the romantic city, and I’m planning to do it again and again, more frequently. For my next visit, I have 2 official LEGO stores on my list that I would love to revisit; ‘Les Halles’ and ‘So Ouest’. Great shopping experience in both cases. Strongly recommended.
force LEGO bricks be with you! 😉
December 1, 2013 marks the beginning of my new video game project. The math is simple; I have been working on it for 2 years, precisely. Designing, developing and co-producing… A lot of work has been done, and many more still in progress. All tough tasks. Mostly game design related, such as 3-bit node graph architecture. Plus, a lot of coding…
It has been a busy year, indeed. – So, what’s new?
The most distinguishing element of this project –optimized game development workflow– has been upgraded to version 3. This is something that I’m really proud of. Simply because, it is;
more cost- and time-efficient,
more artwork/cinematography oriented,
100% compatible with both old & next-gen workflows.
This year, I mostly concentrated on the last item. As we all know, global video game industry is having a hard time trying to make a quantum leap to next-gen video games, as well as keeping the cash flow pumping. Let’s face it, upgrading a business model while doing business is risky! You need to educate developers, reorganize teamwork and improve asset management, while keeping an eye on the ongoing projects and meeting the deadlines. A kind of “make something new, and keep the business running old-fashioned way” situation.
“…using both current and upcoming tools/assets.”
This is exactly where my upgraded workflow comes handy. In simple terms, it is a next-gen game development workflow offering an optimized way of making games for less money/time, using both current and upcoming tools/assets. Because it is backwards compatible, a veteran game development team/company can still use their old-fashioned workflow and make a smooth transition to next-gen video game development process using this workflow.
So far so good, but…
Why on earth is that backward compatibility thing so important? Simply because, when we say “workflow assets”, we are actually speaking about human beings! People with families, children, and responsibilities.
During the last 30 years, I have witnessed the highs and lows of the game development industry. It has always been very harsh on developers on critical occasions. When a “next-big thing” is in, managers start headhunting for next-gen guys. Current developers instantly turn into “old-fashioned guys”, and most of the time get fired. The turnover is so high that most experienced video game developers hate working inhouse for AAA companies. Instead, they prefer freelance business, just like me.
Frankly speaking, I upgraded my workflow to version 3 for a better human resource management. The first 2 versions favoured the management and income aspects of business. Now, the final version concentrates on developers. – Yep, something for my teammates!
We don’t work in a vacuum
Our environment feeds into the work we produce, particularly when that work is creative. Every piece of “thing” in our working environment affects us. What we see, listen, touch, and even smell, stimulates our creativity and in a way gets injected to our piece of work.
So, I made a radical decision. In order to increase my productivity, I decided to split my home office activities into two. Thanks to a painstaking and backaching performance, I moved all my coding/artwork related books, tools and computers from my mom’s house to home. Using some modular equipment from Ikea, I built a custom table wide enough for my desktop monitor and Wacom tablet, and spent a lot of time for cabling and ergonomics. Keeping things tidy, certainly served well. As I promised my beloved wife that I will use less than 2 m² of our living room, I have finally managed to create a wide open space using only 1.98 m². – Oh, that is optimization 😉
Within just a few days, I have realized a positive impact in my productivity. Now, my process is crystal clear. I do all my coding/artwork at home, and music related stuff in mom’s house. And the bonus is, I spend less time in traffic and more with my family.
“Creativity is a gift. It doesn’t come through if the air is cluttered.” – (John Lennon)
Actually, I have so many things to tell you. I really would like to tell more and give you under the hood –technical- details of my upcoming project… I am afraid, I can’t. Until the official announcement, there are things not meant to be known or seen by public. Well, you know, this is how video game business works!
So, I’ll keep you posted whenever I can…
Regarding the latest annual update and current status of my new video game project, I’m planning to open a bottle of wine and enjoy rest of the evening with my family. I think I deserved it.
See you next year!
Speaking of my latest video game development project, yet an another milestone achieved. – Quite a tough one, indeed!
But first, please allow me to focus on some of the very basic mathematical logic definitions heavily used in software engineering, so that we can clearly understand what’s going on under the hood of a decent game development process.
Don’t worry, it’s not rocket science 😉
All video games have gameplay mechanics based on logic. A game is “a set of story driven goals to achieve” from a programmer’s perspective.
When you open a chest, solve a puzzle or kill an enemy, you are actually triggering a logic unit that is predefined within the game code. Depending on game’s technical requirements and gameplay complexity, there can be thousands of these units forming a web of logic units.
Game programmers tend to use graph theory for defining and coding logic units. Each unit is symbolized with a simple geometric shape. A box, a circle, anything… And these units are connected to each other with links.
“Logic units” (nodes) represent tasks that the player will perform.
“Links” (lines) represent the relationship between the logic units.
A node graph architecture is almost identical to an electronic circuit. When you start executing a node graph code, you are actually branching from one component (node, in our case) to an another by the rules you’ve set for the logic units, just like electric current flowing from a resistor to a capacitor. And, as you can guess, this type of signal flow is 100% linear.
When the player accomplishes a task, the node related to that event will be “expired”. In other words, it will be dead. Expired nodes cannot be resurrected. Once they’re done, they will be ignored (skipped) during code execution, forever. – Which is unlikely in electronics! An electronic component, such as a resistor, a diode, etc. cannot be conditionally turned on/off.
Back to 2002 for a “classic” implementation: Flagger
During the “Culpa Innata” development sessions, we precisely knew that we needed a node graph architecture for handling game’s complex execution flow. Many discussions were held on the method of implementation. All members of the core management & development team were expert electric/electronics engineers with no experience in video game production [Reference], but me! As a video game programmer, my perspective towards node graph theory was naturally very different, contrary to their classical approaches. I wasn’t thinking in terms of voltage, current, etc., but focused on just one thing: optimized code execution.
Thanks to my Zilog Z80 and Motorola 68000 assembly language programming background, I offered the term “Flag” for the base logic unit (node), and teamed up with Mr. Mete Balcı for 3 weeks. In December 2002, we developed a tool called “Flagger”.
Pros and Cons
Flagger was a C++ code generator with a very handy visual interface similar to UE4’s current Blueprint approach. Using Flagger, we were able to add nodes, connect them to each other, program the logic behind the nodes/links, and even take printout of the whole node graph scenario. When the visual logic design process was over, it was just a matter of selecting “Generate C++ code” from the menu, and source code was generated within minutes.
Over the following years, Flagger evolved into a more sophisticated development tool capable of handling various scenarios. Although it was a very handy tool and saved many hours during “Culpa Innata” sessions, there were a few problems with the classical node graph theory that the implementation was based on;
Flags were single threaded. Only one node was allowed to execute at a time. No multi-threading.
Flags were expirable. When a task was done, related flag (node) was marked as “expired”, not deleted for the sake of logic integrity.
Flags were not reusable. Once they were expired, there was no way of resurrecting them. – Inefficient memory usage, thanks to hundreds of expired nodes.
Flags were heavily loaded with variables. Too many dialogue related “customized” variables were defined for special cases (exceptions). – Inefficient memory usage, once again.
Flag execution flow wasn’t well optimized because of node-tree search algorithm. The more nodes we had, the longer it took to accomplish the search.
Flag execution was linear. When a node was expired, the graph code was first searching for related nodes and then retriggering the whole diagram from the beginning, like an electronic circuit simulator. – Well, that was ideal for modeling a circuit, not for developing a video game!
A Modern Approach: 3-bit Worker!
13 years later, I have once again found an opportunity to dive into node graph theory, and just completed implementing a new architecture for my latest video game development project. Unlike Flagger, it is something extraordinary! It is very… atypical, unconventional, unorthodox… Well, whatever… You got it 😉
First of all, it has nothing to do with classical electric/electronic circuit theory. This time, I’m on my own, and approaching the problem as a software engineer. Everything I designed/coded is based on game requirement specifications. In other words, it is implemented with “practical usage” in mind.
I have defined the basic logic unit (node), as a “worker”. – (Due to functional similarities, I simply borrowed this term from Web Workers.)
A worker is a background task with adjustable priority settings. It performs/responds like a hardware interrupt.
Each worker is multi-threaded.
Depending on conditional requirements, a worker can expire and/or live forever. If expired, it can be resurrected and/or reinitialized, while preserving its previous state. So, a worker is a 100% reusable node.
Each worker uses only 3-bits! No additional variables, no references, nothing else. – (If necessary, a worker offers flexible architecture for additional variables. However, I find it totally unnecessary. 3-bits are more than enough!)
Inherited workers don’t need additional logic variables. All child workers share the same 3-bit information that they inherited from their parents!
Each worker has a time dependent linear workflow. Just like a reel-to-reel tape recorder, it can be played, paused, slowed down, accelerated, fast forwarded, rewinded, and stopped.
Workers can be non-linearly linked to other Workers! Which means, node-tree search algorithms are no more necessary. There is no “main loop” for executing nodes! Code execution is pre-cached for optimum performance.
Workers are optimized for event driven methodology. No matter how many concurrent active workers (threads) you have in the scene, there is practically no CPU overhead. Ideal for mobile scenarios.
Workers are managed by “Managers”. A Manager is inherited from base Worker node. So, any worker can be assigned as a Manager.
Workers can communicate with each other and access shared variables via Managers.
Whole architecture is 100% platform independent. For a showcase, I’ve implemented it for Unreal Engine 4 using C++ and Blueprints. It can easily be ported to other game engines; such as Unity, CryEngine, etc.
And, most important of all, everything is meticulously tested. – It’s working as of today 🙂
Sure… Due to complexity of comprehending “a set of non-linearly linked time dependent linear nodes”, debugging can be a nightmare. As always, designing simplified and organized logic sets reduces potential problems. – I keep my logic sets neat and tidy 😉
So, what’s next?
Well, to be honest, since all theoretical stuff is done, I’ll switch to game content development. I am quite sure that I’ll keep on adding/removing things to my 3-bit node graph architecture. I will keep on improving it while preserving its simplicity, for sure.
“It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.” – (William of Ockham)
The new video game project that I started working on a year ago, precisely, is going great! With respect to maintaining confidentiality, I still can’t share specific details with you, but I am more than happy to say that everything is going on “as planned”. – Something quite contrary to the nature of game development in general 😉
One for all, all for one
As the co-producer of the project, I have many responsibilities in addition to the usual things that I have to do. Game design, story development, programming, conceptual artwork design, 3d modeling, texturing, music production, etc. Although sounds like a one-man-army project, actually it is not.
“Only one artist takes all the responsibility…”
In order to preserve game’s artistic style, it is quite normal that only one artist takes all the responsibility of designing & planning everything, and making sure that things will be kept/done in that way. And, this is exactly what I am doing nowadays. – (At one point, we will have developers and artists contributing to the project, naturally. Until that moment, everything must be “well-defined”.)
Instead of creating detailed game design documents, some game development projects begin with “conceptual coding”. Same goes for this project. Contrary to traditional game development workflow that begins with documenting the game design, I decided to start with implementing a proof of concept.
Similar to LEGO building bricks, I have been coding fundamental elements of “gameplay”. As a result of these coding sessions, I have clearly envisioned a number of next-gen features that can possibly enrich our game.
We are currently evaluating the options. When the gameplay implementation is over, I’ll go back to game design document for sure. – (Yes, I know that it sounds a bit unorthodox, but I have my reasons. Sometimes it’s good to break old habits for the sake of creativity. In this game, I will let “gameplay” define and drive the game design!)
Spinners and Probability
Coding is all about making decisions. Getting your hands dirty in Mathematics has always been rewarding. Going back and forth between Calculus and Geometry is more than a stellar experience. Not because it makes you a better programmer, but simply because it turns you into a “wise decision maker”.
In terms of design and implementation, this game development project is full of complex decisions. Thankfully, “coding” is the glue between questions and answers. When used wisely, coding offers new ways of dealing with decisions that you derive from Mathematics, and this is exactly what I’m trying to achieve throughout this project.
Content is King!
I spent a lot of time creating a narrative hook, which I believe is the most underestimated element in today’s game design trends! With references from 16-bit retro gaming era, I am quite sure that a well-defined hook creates a huge impact on gameplay.
“Admittedly, I had to make 7 revisions for a ‘great’ hook…”
It was a tough job. In order to fine-tune the hook, I had to rewrite it again and again for many times. After each rewrite, I left it on my bookshelf at least for a few weeks, so that I can completely concentrate on other things as well. When I picked it up weeks later, I was objective enough to assess the tension and come up with fresh ideas. Each iteration added more flavour to the previous version. Admittedly, I had to make 7 revisions for a great hook, which later turned out to be “Level One”. – Worth every minute spent!
Hidden Treasure: “Workflow 2.0”
The most distinguishing element of this project is the optimized workflow that I have been working on as a side project for many years. Thanks to this workflow, our project will have the luxury of really dramatic cost savings, a more “talent oriented” development process, and the competence of keeping game design/style integrity throughout the development process.
So far, so good…
Still thousands of things to do, so I’m going back to work now.
I’ll keep you posted.
Since the day I noticed his Star Wars, Alien and Predator sketches, I have always admired Tuncay Talayman’s artwork.
It has been a privilege –and a lot of fun– working with him during Culpa Innata development sessions (2001-2003). Even after all those years, his continuous passion for improving his techniques and seeking new ways of artistic expressions, still surprises me. The portrait below is one of them 😉
What a lovely surprise… Thank you very much Tuncay!
Commenting on the groundbreaking event, Kitaro noted “I am extremely grateful that my dream of performing in Istanbul finally came true. It was a once in a lifetime experience and in addition to my many experiences; I met a host of great people from Istanbul and the neighboring countries. As a remembrance of my amazing music caravan and as a tribute to those I encountered along the way, I recorded this musical experience and performance as a CD. It is my gift to everyone, in Istanbul and around the world, to experience and enjoy.”
Thanks to once-in-a-lifetime concert experience we had in Istanbul, Börü family is more than happy to pre-order the album 🙂
[ Börü family at Kitaro’s “Live in Istanbul” concert ]
This album includes Kitaro’s Golden Globe award-winning theme from the Oliver Stone film “Heaven & Earth”, music from his critically acclaimed Kojiki album and “Silk Road” soundtrack as well as two compositions from his Grammy award-winning album “Thinking Of You”. New material includes a previously unreleased composition; “Kokoro – (Part II)”.
Looking forward to seeing Kitaro in Istanbul, again…
In the late 80s and early 90s, I was more than obsessed with fractals! Since the day I saw beautiful landscape pictures rendered with Vista on my humble Amiga 500, I was addicted to writing simple mathematical routines producing complex images. The philosophy behind fractal math was based on “harmony of contradiction”. You may think of it as a mathematical case where “simplicity defines complexity”.