Month: March 2018

Jeff in Sweden – Part 2

Jeff in Sweden – Part 2

Two Weeks at DICE

Even though I worked only 3 days because of the long DICE Easter holiday I’ve done 2 weeks at DICE already. Days are passing so fast it’s crazy.

I’ve heard a few times, before leaving to Sweden, that I was going to work for the worst video game company. Like everything in the industry, the outside is pretty much always different than the inside. For now, I’m really trying to keep my feet on the ground while having part of my head in the cloud.
It’s been only two weeks but the last time I had that much joy going to work in the morning was a long time ago.
I got more support in my first 3 days than what I had in probably the last 5 years.
I already got 2 evening parties and got wasted on the 2nd.
Free breakfast on Friday morning and smoothies for map reviews on the afternoon.
Employee threatment is seriously amazing. And it took me 1 day to get used to this labyrinthic office.

There was a team meeting on Wednesday last week and I felt like I was thrown back in 2006 at Ubisoft when we were all pretty young and motivated about our work. Something that was lost through the years sadly. The meeting lasted an hour I think? Something like that and I felt the passion through people around me. It felt great to see all these managers/producers talking about the game without being really serious and making a lot of jokes about their full-of-memes presentations.

An interesting thing I’ve learn that day was something called Focus Mode. It’s some sort of crunch time without really crunching.
Obviously crunching is a big thing in the industry, sadly, we all know that. But, with some sort of studies and numbers, they discovered that working 2-3 intense weeks instead of crunching for 80 hours a week during 4 months, it was better for everyone.
It’s a pretty simple formula of, everyone start and end their day at the same time without overtime, there’s no meeting at all during those weeks except for playtests and breakfast and lunch are paid.
This sounds pretty great if you ask me.

Gamla Stan

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Gamla Stan is the Old Stockholm. Where it all started. It’s a tiny island in the middle of all this awesome archipelago. Building there are freaking old. This is also where the Royal Palace is located. I went there after my onsite interview in January with my friend Julien (Battlefield Brand Director) but it was during evening, which was pretty dark. So I decided to get back to it at sunlight during my first weekend.

Took a walk around the neighborhood and took a lot of pictures. There, I discovered a thing. On the same street at like, 100m apart from each other, there is Aifur, the awesome Viking restaurant where everything is historical, there is Handfaste, the Viking shop selling all these crazy awesome viking stuff from hunting knives to runic stones and then there’s the SF Bookstore with is a really big geek shop filled with books and boardgames and such.
I guess I’ll spend a lot of time on this specific street in the next few months.

I was seriously fun to walk around the old part of this old city. The narrow streets and the architecture makes it really special for the Quebecer in me. I felt like home in Le Petit Champlain in old Quebec.

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And I Walked More

Yeah, today I went to see the Vesamuseet, where they kept this old 1628 ship in prestine condition. It’s really one of a kind. The museum is at like 1 hour walk from my place so back & forth and the time spent in the museum was pretty much 3 hours of standing and walking. My left foot hurts a bit, sadly but it was worth it.

I really love the European plaza and especially the Swedish parks everywhere. There is so much green around it I can’t wait for the summer. It’ll be breath taking I’m sure about it.

I finished the day going to the cinema. It was pretty interesting to see that they don’t spend time translating movies. They just add subtitles. Which is pretty neat. I don’t have to search for english movies (which is sadly a challenge in Quebec City).

Good times so far!

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Jeff in Sweden – Part 1

Jeff in Sweden – Part 1
BingoLotto, Drinking Soup, First Day at DICE, Jetlag, etc

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Since they lost my suitcase (again), I went for a little walk including shopping to buy clothes on Sunday. Didn’t wanted to go to my first day of work with dirty clothes y’know.

I walked around Södermalm, the neighborhood I’m currently living in. Pretty sweet place I must say.

Residential roads are super duper quiet, I love that.
There are awesome looking restaurant all around the place. It’ll probably take me a year to go check all of them.
Also pretty interesting for me, compared to when I was living in Malmö, when I was working on The Division, there are way more slopes in Stockholm. This adds a lot of awesome view points around its countless islands.

When I came back from the sunny walk I decided to open the TV. Things I’ve probably done 5 times in my adult life.
I never watch TV.

First thing I see is a show called BingoLotto.

YO, Swedes are not messing around with Bingo! WOW.

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Super well dressed people.
A crowd in the back to see the show,
Lots of prizes (it made me think of The Price is Right),
Guest stars,
A band playing songs and ambient music for all the people there when they mark their Bingo sheets as the numbers flow using Swedes names. Bertil, Ivar, Niklas, Gustav, Olaf.

Amazing. Really. It was so relaxing I checked the whole freaking show without any shame!

Then I went to bed early.

Woke up at 230am again. Great.
Took me 4 hours to sleep again then, quickly my alarm rang. It was time for my first day at DICE.

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Morning routine then a sweet 8 minutes walks to the office under a cold sunny/windy day. Thanks to the Nordic Relocation Group, my appartment is super close to work.

Got a tour of the office from my line manager (the office is a real labyrinth), got the access keycard and got information about this awesome next Battlefield game.

When for lunch with my leads.
As an entré I got a soup with no spoon. Then, seeing the guys with me I remembered that Swedes drink their soup. I forgot about that. It’s a small detail yes, but hey, it’s unusual for me ok!

Read a lot of documentation about Level Design philosophie at DICE, and even touched Frostbite a bite before leaving because I would have fell asleep on my desk, thanks to my awesome jetlag.
From now on, I’ll never be able to work without 3 screens. Dawn you DICE and your awesome desks. Standup desks by the way.

On, and they have a few trophies at the reception. Not bad at all.

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I’m still not getting over the fact that I’m living in Sweden.

First day DONE.
GG


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Jeff in Sweden – Part 0

Jeff in Sweden – Part 0

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So I moved to Sweden.

Pretty crazy isn’t it?

Spent 32 years of my like living in cold Quebec then I decided to move to cold Sweden. Even though it’s not really cold here. At least not in Stockholm.

I worked at Massive, in Malmö 5 years ago and since I came back, there’s a part of me that always wanted to go back to Sweden. I fell in love with the country. I didn’t knew when or how I would be back but I knew I would, at some point, go back.

I was not really thinking about working there though. But here I am. Moved to Sweden and starting to work for EA DICE tomorrow.

But this is PART 0 of I don’t know many parts. I’ll write about this crazy adventure as I see fit.
Before moving, I had to say farewell to a lot of people and good bye to close ones.

So I threw a party. One hell of an evening at my favorite medieval restaurant in Quebec, La Chope Gobeline. Lots of people came. People always told me that others like me. But you never know. I threw a party without really knowing who would come. I even invited some people I haven’t seen for years.
The vast majority of them came.

People I love.

Here you can see a part of the people who came.
Long time friends, coworker and ex-coworker from the video game industry.

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It was really awesome to be surrounded by so many people I care about and care about me.

Lots of emotion, amplified by booze, was in the air. Saying farewell to so many people was not easy.

Then, a few days later I got my visa so everything was set.

I was in this process since October.
Phone interviews.
On site interviews.
Dozens and dozens of emails.

It took five months of intense stress for me to get here in Sweden but thanks to EA DICE. Many people helped me.
When you think about it, it costs thousands and thousands of dollars for a company to bring someone over.

They paid for my visa.
They paid for my on site interview.
They paid for my move.
They are paying for my 2 months temporary gorgeous appartment.
They are paying people to help me with every details.

Adding to that is the crazy good conditions DICE is giving me as an employee too!

So here I am, in the beautiful capital of Sweden surrounded by this old and new Swedish architecture and dozens of islands covered in a bit of snow as I write this.

What’s next?
My first day at DICE.
I’m looking forward to this.

After that, we’ll see!


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Flow

Flow

waterflow

– Premise –

Once again, every time I write a new blog it feels like there’s 3 life time that has past since the last one. I guess that you have to be in the mood to do that.

Anyway,

Look at the image above. Isn’t it great? Perfectly looping gif of a river flowing. Would be even better with sound. Right? So relaxing.

For some times now I wanted to write about something that is really important to me, probably the 2nd most important thing when I design stuff. The first one being consistency in video games. I’ll probably write about it at some point. Maybe.

You probably have guessed it with the title, I wanted to write about Flow.

Flow is SO important in video games and in life in general. We all have our moments when we are in the flow. You know, when time flies so fast because you’re having fun or when a day at work feels like it lasted 30 minutes. We all know what it is and damn it’s great.

It’s the same thing in video games.

So, let’s talk about it.

– Flow in Games-

– Guitar Hero –

guitarflow

I will assume that, we ALL have played guitar hero when it was like THE thing to do in every party. I wanted to kick that blog with this game because being in the flow in that game was so good and rewarding. When you were doing that expert white notes solo during Freebird looking at the notes combo going up, tilting that guitar to activate the star power and still going up and up.

You were in the flow.

Games can be created in order to help keeping the flow, and even more, rewarding players when they keep it. That’s how pretty much everything was designed in Guitar Hero.

– Mario Bros –

marioflow

Mario games in general are pretty good for this. I will boldly say that ­~99% of the time you can start a level running and if your timing in good enough you’ll be able to get to the end without stopping even once. The exception being auto-scrolling levels and such.

Sometimes (often) even, they place goombas, koopas and other enemies in such a way that you can jump on all of them in consequences to gain a 1up.

Rewarding the player when they are in the flow.

– Rayman Legends –

rayman

The new Rayman games are pretty good for that. The way they place the enemies and the collectibles. It’s a really well done Level Design job for that. I’ll write about Level Design and flow in a few minutes. Platformers in general are really good for flow.

They also even make the music flow to your play. Which is also a nice reward for players.

– Flow (the game) –

Flow_logo

Last example is Flow. I had to write about the game with the same name right? I could have also wrote about Flowers and other great “experiences” games like that but that’s not the goal of this blog post. I want to get to Level Design at some point.

In flow, you started as a small entity, eating smaller entities to get bigger to eat bigger entities and so on. It was the perfect example of flow because you had your reward straight in your face, getting bigger and bigger.

So I guess you get the point now. I’ll write about a few of my own experience with Flow in Level Design and how I was (we were) handling it.

– Flow in Level Design –

– Assassin’s Creed Navigation –

I’ll start with that, since, well, I worked on 6 or 7 of them, I don’t remember. Navigation in Assassin’s Creed is all about flow.

That’s a 1 button press game. Navigation in AC is not about challenging the player, it’s about letting the player go for A to B easily and to let him be in short burst of flow during that. Enjoying the smoothness of it.

There are a ton (and when I say a ton it’s a ton) of different metrics in AC games. Obviously, when you press the right trigger to run and the character starts running and jumping on pole and flags by itself, yes, the animations and all is handled by the engine, but each ingredients had to be placed by hand by a Level Designer (almost) to ensure a smooth navigation from A to B.

At least, for navigation, metrics and rules were pretty straight forward.
Every navigation sequences in AC begin with, what we called, a starter. Then after that, if we wanted to keep the flow it was a simple set of metrics.
To keep the character on his feet and running we could either put the next ingredient 5 meters ahead at the same height (5-0), 4 meters ahead and 1 meter higher (4-1) or 3 meters ahead and 2 meters higher (3-2). Nothing less, nothing more.
Like this:

ACnav.png

Ingredients could be whatever from a pole, to a tree branch to an awning and such. The only important thing was to place ingredients at the write spot.
We could also had an ingredient at (if I recall correctly) 4 meters higher and 3-4 meters farther to make the character grab the ingredient and keep going. It was good to change the pace. Instead of having a jump, jump, jump, jump sequence we could had jump, grad, jump grab, and so on.
Nobody likes seeing the same thing over and over.

The important thing was (and I talked about it at the beginning) to be consistent. It helps keep the flow on something like navigation in AC. Always respect your metrics.

– Divinity: Original Sin –

Divinity: Original Sin (or DoS), in a top down isometric CRPG.
It’s really slow paced.
There was still a strong importance of Flow in Level Design even in that game and what I’m about to write can be applied to every single Level Design.

Rule #1: We hate dead ends*.
Rule #2: We hate corridors.

Yeah, that’s it.
Seriously.

In DoS, you walk a lot, you can fast travel from location to location but most of the time you walk/run. How annoying is it in a game when you get at the end of a freaking long dead end and the only thing you can do is walk back?
That’s annoying, damn that’s annoying.

*(Small dead ends leading to collectibles/reward/secret is strongly suggested though)

DoS navigation was all about loops.
Bellow is the map of the first act (may contain spoilers and whatnot). You can easily see the loops there.

(There are few dead ends, long ones, I know. I hate them, you can’t oversee everything. At least they lead to combat zones and big rewards. You have to ship a game at some point right?)

FortJoyMap

Having loops helped for two things:
The flow,
The sense of open exploration.

Obviously, in a open map like this, you’ll have to get back at some point but with loops, it happened a lot that people where going one way and coming back by another so even though they were backtracking, they were still, in their mind, moving forward because it was still unexplored area.
Then, when the loops lead to some sort of dead ends, well, that’s where you put a fast travel ingredient/location to go back quickly. MAGIC!

So the important thing here is to always keep the player engaged. When there is always something new, it keeps him in the flow of exploration. They are both (flow/exploration) linked with each other.

– Ending Notes –

Flow is a really important thing, as said above. We all love that.

Can we keep the player in the flow 100% of the time? No.
They will either get stuck in a challenge, die, or anything like that.

Everything is good with moderation.

Remember that Prince of Persia made in 2008? The cell shading one? You were not able to die in this game. Elika (I think that was her name) was always getting you out of trouble. You know, it was really good for the flow. You were always engaged. It was also super exhausting and even boring to some extend.

BUT,

Players should never get stuck exploring/navigating. If a player is stuck, it’s out fault, seriously. And if they get stuck, it breaks the flow hard but not for the good reason.

Keep your players engaged during exploration in your levels.
Create as few dead ends as possible and if you do, make them small and put rewards. It’ll keep the player engaged during exploration (see above, heh).
If you have metrics for your game, respect them, always. Creating false calls for your players will create frustration and break the flow.

Alright, that’s enough text. I think I’ll talk about Shapes next.
EDIT: I could have wrote a whole book about this. Live everything in fact but the goal was to how a thing or two about Flow. Not to write a thesis or anything.


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