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Creating Games with Unity and MayaHow to Develop Fun and Marketable 3D Games
By Adam Watkins
Focal PressCopyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGame Production Process
Describing the game production process is actually a bit tricky, partly because it is different for every team and different for every budget. But also, the reality is that a team might be, well, you. Indeed, sometimes games are produced by very small groups of people, and occasionally by a team of one.
However, whether you are a team of fifty working on the next AAA blockbuster or a team of one creating a student project that you hope will get you on that team of fifty, there are some specific steps that need to happen to create a playable game. How successful you or your team are at these steps, and completing the steps in a timely manner, will play a big role in how efficiently the project comes together and how successful the game ultimately appears and plays.
The specifics of team management and money management and even time management are really out of the scope of this book (along with marketing your game and getting funding). However, understanding what needs to happen in what order will help you as you assemble your team or build your project.
"The Team" refers to the Design and Production Team—the group of people that actually make the game. This doesn't include the important roles of publishers, financial teams, marketing teams, or even quality assurance teams. Although all of these are important for a profitable game, the focus of this book is learning the technology, so the production of the game will be the focus.
Generally most game production teams (or development teams) contain people in the following roles:
Designer: The Game Designer is the head of the creative vision. He or she must be artistically able and technically proficient. He is able to straddle the aesthetic and programming ends of the spectrum. More importantly, he understands and often has authored the goals of the game, the genre of the game, the game play, the rules and structure of the game, and any other game mechanics. The game designer typically communicates these goals through a document called a Game Design Document. The Game Design Document is often predicated by a Game Proposal Document before it can be created. Usually, a game designer has substantial writing skills to be able to communicate the vision of a game. This Game Design Document becomes the bible upon which the other designers reference as the game production goes on. The structure of this document is out of the scope of what we are covering here, but there are multiple references and examples online of such documents. Further, Game Design Documents should be specific to an organization, financial structure, and even work culture. However, although we might not cover the details of what this document is, what it does is relevant. Now a Game Design Document is rarely set in stone. The scope of a game and the features of a game often have to be adjusted due to time, talent, or budget reasons. However, as the production cycle grinds on, effective management and distribution of this document becomes important to keeping the team on task. I have personally witnessed many times where days and even weeks of labor were wasted because team members failed to reference—and managers failed to confirm—that they were referencing a Game Design Document. Even if you are working as an expansive team of one, developing an internal Game Design Document (even if it is a bulleted list, or a flowchart sketch on your whiteboard, or a list on the back of a napkin) can help you keep an eye on the prize and avoid pitfalls like feature creep, where new options forever find their way into a game and keeps it from ever being released. Mechanics Engineer: Games have mechanics. Mechanics are the rules by which the game functions, including things like balance in power, physics illustrations, interaction between player and game, and interplayer interactions. Game mechanics are part of every game from checkers to the most sophisticated of PC first-person shooters to training modules for nuclear inspectors. The mechanics engineer (or Game Mechanics Designer as he or she is sometimes called), works through the details of how the vision outlined by the lead Game Designer can be implemented best. Often this team member comes from a programming or scripting background.
A quick note on this: The academic community has been studying the issue of game play and game mechanics fairly rigorously in recent years. It is still a developing field of study, and is a bit of a moving target as the rules of engagement with your game continue to change. However, if you want to get serious about understanding what makes games fun and how game mechanics can help this, there is an ever-increasing library of research that explores this. In the long run, researching this literature will be worth your while if you want to be a successful game designer or mechanics engineer. Level Designer: Justifiably, this position has become more and more prominent in the game production process. This designer creates the environment in which the gameplay takes place. He works carefully with the Game Designer and Mechanics Engineer to ensure that the space he is designing both remains true to the vision of the designer and allows the space for effective game mechanics. These designs are carefully considered and designed and almost always begin with conceptual sketches or paintings and detailed floor plans that lay out where puzzles, challenges, pitfalls, and enemies appear or are interacted with. Character Designer: This is often one of the sexiest roles because this person designs the characters. These characters are based upon the goals defined in the Game Design Document, and almost always start on paper with drawings. Conceptual sketches provide quick communication devices before the considerable modeling time is undertaken. These sketches also can provide a visceral response to a concept that often a T-pose-modeled character lacks. Animator or Motion Designer: Animation is incredibly important in games since it seems to be the thing that draws our attention. Ironically, even complex games have a fairly limited collection of animations that are cycled as the game is played. Some characters have as many as 100 different moves, but most have much, much less. The animator will create in-game animations that are cycled, but will also often be responsible for cut scenes and more "meaty" assignments where traditional noncycled animation is used. Very large studios often will have separate cinematic (cut scenes and intro animations) departments that are creating higher-rez, prerendered animations. Writer: Due to strikes in recent years, there has been a migration (at least temporarily) of film and television writers to the game industry. Writing for games is certainly different than any other medium, and too often people who have no business writing for games do so—and the results are usually cliché at best or downright corny at worst. However, a good writer can certainly assist in making a game experience more immersive with believable and engaging dialog, narrative, on-screen elements (think character correspondence or journals), and even in-game verbiage that lets the player know what to do. Often the writer is used for only part of the process since there is usually insufficient work to keep one occupied through the entire production cycle. Sound Designer: Playing a game with the sound off has its charms, but anyone who has played a game on a big screen TV, with the lights off, and the sound pumped way up (or on headphones) knows how an effective sound design creates perhaps more ambiance than any visual elements of a game. Too often in all aspects of 3D animation, students or beginners treat sound and music as an afterthought, but it never is in big-budget games. Sometimes for students there are budget restrictions that prevent custom soundtracks from being used. However, thinking early of sound effects and music will allow for proper timing and can even influence visual choices.
The Tools and Unity
Now that we have generally looked at who is on a team, it is important to talk through what the tools of that team are, and specifically how Unity fits within that tool box.
Unity is classed as a game engine. What this means is that it is the technology that drives a game. The way to think about it in production terms though is as an "assembler." Unity itself is generally not used to create assets (although there are some things like particles that are created within Unity itself). Almost all the art assets are created outside of Unity itself—the 3D models are created in a 3D application (Maya, Cinema4D, Blender, modo, 3DS Max, Lightwave, etc.), the texture assets are made in Photoshop or BodyPaint, and even the scripts are actually written in some other application (UniSCTE on a PC, Unitron on the Mac, or some other scripting tool all together). All these assets are imported in Unity through a quite painless process where you are then able to combine these assets to create the game.
So, you assemble games in Unity, but most games—and all games with any level of visual complexity—make heavy use of lots of other applications in the process. Just as there are lots of different ways to create 3D assets (some will choose Maya, others 3DS Max, for instance), there are multiple game engines as well. Unity is particularly flexible and accessible; that is why it is the tool of choice in this book. But be aware that there are lots of other methods of creating games (Unreal Engine, CryEngine, Source, etc.).
Teams of Teams and Pipelines
Often, a production team will be broken into two teams, an art team (sometimes called "Creative") and a technology team. The work of both is critical for a successful game, and communication between the two teams better ensures a smooth process.
One of the benefits of working as part of a team—or a team of teams—is that assets need not be created sequentially. The technology team doesn't need to wait for creative to finish up their work before starting on scripts.
Often, technology is being developed and has been developed when the creative team delivers certain assets that are then plugged directly into the game.
However, if you are working alone (and the assumption is that most readers of this book are doing just that) creation of assets in an appropriate order will make the development process much more efficient. So to begin, let's look at the assets needed for the game produced in this book.
Once the Game Design Document is completed, the lead designer will need to start working out what assets need to be created and when they need to be done. Assets can be a lot of things: 2D elements like GUI and interface designs, texture files, 3D models, sound files, animation clips, as well as things like scripts and other mechanisms that drive the game. For this book, we will focus on two categories of assets: art assets and scripting assets.
For the tutorials covered in this game we will need three art-based assets: models, textures, and animations. The models and animations will be created in Maya while the textures will be created in Photoshop, but linked to the models within Maya. Other visual elements like lighting will take place in both Maya and Unity (depending on which version of Unity you are using).
Technology Assets (Scripts)
Excerpted from Creating Games with Unity and Maya by Adam Watkins Copyright © 2011 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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