Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Video Editing - Past, Present, and Future

So, I thought perhaps I'd take a blog post to talk about one of my other side activities: Video Editing. Specifically, I use clips from video games and set them to music, with a few effects thrown in for flair.

This year marks my 10th anniversary as a video editor (I've been creating videos since 2003). In that time, I've made 44 videos that I consider part of my core archive - there have been a number of extra videos that never really made the cut for one reason or another. Over the years, I've also won a few awards for my work: two Best Cinematography awards, one Best Action award, and an award for Best in Show. All in all, its been a pretty fun decade.



On the flip side, I've also been experimenting with original material in the past few years. By working with Unreal, I've created trailers for some of my game concepts, including Ascendancy, The Mezeah Grounds, and The Black Duchess.


This year, things have been pretty busy, but I've tried to get some editing in where I could. In November, I created a really cool trailer for a contest held by Guild Wars 2. I've posted it below. Lets see if I can win a guitar!


So what's next? Well, I had intended to create a retrospective video this year that would touch on all my previous works. That video is still in the works, so we'll have to see if I can finish it off before the end of the year (since most of the work was done this year, it still counts!). After that though, is the elusive video #45. I've been working on a concept for this one for quite a while, but the audio never really clicked until now. I'm happy to say that the song may or may not be "Paradise (What About Us)" by Within Temptation. And the footage? Well, I've done one video using Final Fantasy XII, and I have the footage from XIII-2. With the third title in the series coming out next year, we might just need to use all three. You'll have to wait and see!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Making of the Arcana Soundtrack

And we're done! The second (and likely final) album in the Arcana set has been completed. Titled "Arcana: The Music of Oravohl" features music from the third title in the Arcana trilogy, Oracle of the Eidolon. The soundtrack features a mix of tracks, including themes for locations, combat, characters, and cinematics. You can listen to the album (and purchase it for the price of your choice) here! You can also find the first album in the set, Arcana: The Music of the Omakh here.

Promotions aside, I thought I'd use this opportunity to go into a little more detail about how I create music, and what goes into the process of getting a track ready for download. Of course, to any audiophiles reading this, I apologize in advance for utterly butchering the technicalities of everything I'm about to talk about :D

To start things off, you could probably categorize my music style as orchestral game music. It relies heavily on recurring themes, catchy rhythms, and a less than perfect instrument sound: aspects that probably resonate with a lot of gamers from the PS1, PS2, and early PS3 stages. I also tend to go pretty cinematic with my themes, sometimes imitating the style found in theatrical trailer music. Together, the two styles blend well into something that I think is pretty cool.

My primary tool for creating music is FLStudio (if you're interested, you can download a demo of the software here). This program has been incredibly useful for me ever since I started making music back in 2005/2006 (before then, I was using Finale NotePad for my musical creations - oldschool!), mostly because I've never owned a Mac, and therefore never really experienced the "major" music creation programs like Garage Band, Audacity, and Pro Tools. Obviously, things are different now - many of these programs are available on both Mac and PC - but FLStudio is what I'm more familiar with.


The program features all of the basic functionality that you'd expect (editing and adjusting audio files, importing live tracks, etc.) but what I've always loved about it is its extensive Piano Roll feature. Using this, you can essentially create any piece of music by simply clicking on the appropriate note (see the image below). For quite a while, I never had the ability to connect an external keyboard to my computer (or more importantly, a computer capable of supporting a decent live recording), so the Piano Roll was extremely helpful in bringing my music to life. The other great thing is that the Piano Roll can be used by virtually any sound or instrument within the program, so creating music or orchestral-style ensembles becomes really easy (and removes the need to transpose for different instruments).


The Piano Roll is pretty much where every track starts. Nowadays, I'm able to play something on an external keyboard and have those notes show up on the roll, giving me a place to start with my themes. Sometimes I know off the bat whether a track needs to be a character theme or a battle track, but usually I just experiment and see where a track takes me. I also almost always start with a piano - its the perfect instrument to use for getting ideas fleshed out (which is also why I feature a piano in pretty much every track I compose). From there, it's just a matter of expanding on the original themes with different instruments, and voila! a new track is born. Laying out each pattern comes next, which creates the basic structure of the track.


Once all of the patterns are set in place, then it's time to give the track a once-over for volume. Usually this is something that I'll start right from the beginning just to make sure a track doesn't get too out of control. When working with volume, it's always a good idea to try and give the track enough room to breath (meaning, the overall volume of the track should hover somewhere between -6 and 0 db). This handy mixer is what I use to keep everything in line.


At this point, the track is almost done. If everything sounds good, and the volumes aren't wacky, it comes time to start the export. As with most creation software, exporting always takes an appropriate amount of time compared to the quality. For example, I can export a new track at a pretty basic quality in less than 5 minutes. But when it comes time to export the final version of a track at a lossless quality, this time frame can quickly escalate (for example, Harbingers of Cavadon, my most complex track to date, had an average export time of about 7 hours).

Once I have an exported WAV file, it's time for a few final touchups. Onto a different program! For this, I use Adobe Soundbooth, although technically all of this functionality is supported by FLStudio. I also tend to use the program rather sparingly - Soundbooth is great at what it does, and can accomplish some pretty complex things, but for where I'm at with audio creation, I only need a few tools from the box.

In this case, I trim the end of the track and add a fade out, just to give it a nice ending. Then, I "normalize" the track, which adjusts the waveform to account for the largest and smallest frequencies - or in simple terms, takes all of these spiky bits and gets rid of the empty space on the bottom and the top. When normalizing a track, you definitely want to limit the amount of clipping that might occur - areas where the waveform has hit its limit and is actually chopping off some of the frequencies. Luckily, most of my tracks suffer only mildly from this - something that I'm getting better at with every track I make.


After all this is done, there's one more save/export, and presto! The track is complete and ready for listening.

And that's the quick and dirty of how I create a track. Over the next few months, you can look for more music related posts as I begin my newest project, currently titled "The Lattice."

Friday, October 25, 2013

GSI Simulation Part 2.5 - More Blocking

Short update this week! The last batch of images showed how the blocking of the GSI had started to take shape. Over the past week or so, I've been expanding on the original design for each of the rooms, and have added in some extra hallways and explore points (because otherwise it's basically one long hallway from start to finish). By adding these hallways, it also gives me options for expanding each of the main areas later on to flesh them out (such as adding a surgical bay or patient rooms to the medical bay).

Here's a quick screenshot of how everything looks now (wireframe, top view). Eventually, once these levels are streaming properly, they'll all be placed on top of one another with the elevators working as loading zones.


In addition to working on the brush work, the past few weeks have also been filled with the first steps towards getting the code to play nice. The GSI Simulation will involve both Kismeet and custom code, and getting the two to work together has been a challenge (for someone who hasn't touched unreal code in 5 years!). But so far, everything is working as planned. Still a long way to go, but it's a start.

So what's next? Well, you're probably asking yourself "where's the gameplay in all of this?" Because even though the focus of the project is a layout piece, I still want to give you something to DO. I don't want to give away all the fun stuff, but I'll give you some hints about what's to come. What you see in the image above is only HALF of the brush work that will be in the final version. That second half is next up on the docket.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

GSI Simulation: Part 2 - Blocking

Well, here we are about a week later, and progress is coming along. Thought I'd post up some images to show you how my previous 2D maps are progressing in 3D space.

For right now, I'm focusing on gray-blocking the main locations of the GSI, which includes the Great Hall, the HQ, the Medical Bay, the Research Lab, and the Security HUB. Eventually, I'll add in a lot of extra hallways and elevators to connect all these areas together, but for now, the rooms themselves will work. I've kept the construction as simple as possible, blocking out all the main architectural elements of each room.

First up is the Great Hall. This is the elaborate entry way to the GSI, and is the first thing that visitors see. A big feature of this room is it's curved walls and sloped ceiling. Right now I've kept it cylindrical, but eventually this room will stretch out lengthwise for a more gradual curve.


Next we have the HQ. This is arguably the most important room in the GSI, and it's the one I'm most looking forward to working on as this project moves forward. Originally this room was only one floor with a very high ceiling, but the space required to create this made the room feel way too big. Shrinking the room and adding the second floor helped tremendously.

As the main command post, there are many important elements to this room that I wanted to show in the blocking. On the lower level, four entrances are connected via sloped ramps to the center of the room, where a large holographic table is located. I've thrown in some static characters to show some height for that table. Three ramps lead up to a second floor, which is supported with large columns as well as metal beams on the ceiling. On the fourth wall is the GSI's main computer screen.


The Medical Bay is a unique room in that it features a sealed quarantine area. To help show off the effect, I've created beveled windows and changed the texture to be able to see the whole room at a glance, similar to how it will look when all the art is in. Besides the quarantine, the room also has a section blocked off for an office space, as well as a medical fridge. The remainder of the space has been left open.


The Research Lab features another quarantine space near the entrance, but the rest of the room is rather simple. Three offices line one wall, while a larger walk-in laboratory finishes off the space. Of all the GSI rooms, the Research Lab is one of the smallest.


Finally we have the Security HUB. This room was originally designed to be a large open space with several computer terminals, the star of which is the large central pillar with a rotating chair. Since this is more of an art piece, I've simplified this by using a cylinder for now. Another piece of this room is the cell block (not pictured), which is a series of rooms down an adjacent hallway.


And that's where we are so far! For the next update, I'll probably do a video walkthrough to show off more of each of these areas. Alas, I don't have a mic, so you won't have to listen to me drone on and on, but look for some text with the video to help explain things.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

GSI Simulation: Part 1 - The Concept

So, looks like a brand new level design project is up on the docket. For now, I'm calling this the "GSI Simulation," so you can track this project using that title.

For a number of years, I've been involved in playing and teaching a table-top RPG called Shadowrun. This involved creating campaigns for my players to make their way through. One of the central concepts that I developed was the GSI - a fictional agency in the Shadowrun universe that works to protect the world from dangerous "hidden" threats. During the third campaign, the GSI came into the spotlight as a key location visited by the players. One of the missions even centered itself around moving through the various spaces of the building.

Of course, during a table-top game, it's all about describing locations and their features to the players, but for a while now, I've wanted to take this to the next step. Since I've already developed most of the layout of the building (and drawn maps to go along with it), translating this to a full 3D world "should" be a fairly painless task. But, for those who know me, there's no way I'm going to be leaving it there.

This new version of the GSI is going to be developed like a simulation for a new recruit in that players will be given a VR (virtual reality) guided tour through the facility. Along the way, various things could happen - maybe some bad code has gotten into the simulation and corrupted it, maybe it's being re-written while the player is inside, who knows - something to make the level into more of a "game" rather than just a 3D google map.

The first stage of the project is to get all the plans down on paper. I know that I'm going to be using UDK for the project, but this is also going to be a learning experience for me with 3DS Max - I want to make sure that the visuals come out the way they look in my head, and the best way to do that is to do it myself (instead of using pre-existing static mesh and textures). For the most part, this will be a challenge - it's been a long time since I've worked in actual UDK as opposed to custom editors, but once I get going I expect things will come back pretty easily.

Once the paper plans are done, the next step is to block out the level. Look for another post in the future when that starts up!

Link: Learn more about Shadowrun

Link: Learn about my course at VFS

Link: Browse the GSI database (User Name: Guest, Password: GSI)

Introductions

Hello and welcome!

I appear to have journeyed into the realm of a blogger. I have no idea whether anyone will read this, but in case you are, feel free to look around, leave comments, and come along for the ride.

I have a lot of projects on the go in my spare time, and people I know are sometimes asking how I do what I do. I thought I would use this space to take you through some of those projects, and give some insight into my processes. You can look forward to reading about how I design quests and levels, how I make music, and what goes into my writing - hopefully in an entertaining and fun manner!

Also, since this blog is somewhat new, look for a facelift in the future - I don't know about you, but this black isn't cutting it.