Day 13: Crunch Time!

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

Mansion main entrance finalprofessor_throw_2Theme of the day: work, work, work!!

Visual Artists were polishing assets and finishing animations, getting ready to bring the game to life. We have some amazing elements, beautifully crafted for the various environments of the game. All of the characters have been given personality with their very own animations! Just wait ’til you see the villain battle our heroine Ieniente!

level2_textures_1Gameplay Artists were implementing some of the improvements discussed over the past few days. The boss level is being carefully shaped into a really fun and challenging part of the game. It is no longer a “rage-quit” level, but a really enjoyable orchestration of our two favourite mechanics. We can’t wait to share it with you!

Many people decided to stay late tonight, to try and get ahead for tomorrow. It really gave us a boost!

Tomorrow is the final crunch. No messing around over here–we are working hard to get this game done!


Day 9: Sprites & Production!

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

Visual Artists had their very last lesson this morning on how to turn their beautiful models into finished sprites, ready for game implementation. Gameplay Artists got a head-start into production mode, and they needed it–tomorrow is our first playtest together!

It was amazing to be here today. There’s nothing like being surrounded by creative energy–everyone has been in the zone, getting things done together. It was the kind of calm, productive atmosphere that would give anyone the creative itch. People are buzzing with anticipation for the playtest tomorrow; at the same time, they are in a peaceful state of production, happily moving forward.

The script and storyboard got a bit of TLC; we have begun coordinating the original concepts with the script writers and Construct 2 programmers. The importance of working together on this was emphasized when we discussed which assets we will need and where their roles in the game are mentioned. In the cutscenes or in-game? Many decisions to make!

3D models for the game are also coming together quickly. Check out participants Jake Lazore and Darian Jacobs’ character concepts turn into 3D characters in the images below! Wahsontiio Cross and Quintin Rice-Marquis, our other Visual Artist participants, have been making elements of the environment “from scratch”, meaning without technical drawings for reference. The evil mansion and the different types of trees are looking great! (See those in our previous blog post.)

By next week, assets will begin trickling in, dialogue will be finalised, and the game will really start coming to life. For now, we are so excited to play the first iteration of the game tomorrow morning. Stay tuned!





Day 8: Animation // Heads-Up Display

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

The end of lessons is near! Today was spent stuffing a little more information into the remaining nooks and crannies of our brains. Phew! Everyone made it through–and with flying colours, I might add.

Visual Artists  learned the 12 principles of animation today, and got to describe some exaggerated character walks they each acted out during a fun exercise with Andrew Lunga, one of our Research Assistants. They rigged and animated and were all rigged-out by the end of the day! But it was a lot of fun, and we can’t wait to see our characters come to life thanks to the skills we learned today.

Gameplay Artists put their heads together and came up with some more refined level ideas, and presented a couple to the group during our wrap-up discussion at the end of the day. Jeremy Alvarez, one of the Gameplay Artists and programming instructor, has been working hard in the evenings testing different gameplay scenarios. He and Travis Mercredi, another Gameplay Artist and sound instructor, have come up with some really fun stuff! Michael Morris had some unique ideas for the heads-up display, using a medicine wheel. It was really exciting to be able to start to envision actually playing the game!

So despite the heavy lessons and tired brains after a long day, much has been accomplished! We have our boss character modelled and ready for texturing. We have a boss level in the making, which combines two of our favourite mechanics to form the final level in the game. The other levels and characters are coming along nicely as well; the mini-games we worked on together last week are shaping into some really fun puzzles and sneaky stealth levels, and environment elements are being prepped for level beautification!

There’s only one more, lighter lesson for the Visual Artists tomorrow morning, and then it’s pure production time for all. This is going to be fun.

Check out what they’ve created so far:




Day 7: Animation // Sound Integration

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

D7_0019Today the Visual Artists team spent the morning learning the basics of animation. Throughout a lesson on the twelve-principles (which related to 2D hand-drawn characters as well as 3D), the students were introduced to the various subtleties of  movement which give originality, personality and (most importantly) LIFE to a character or even an environment (eg: swaying seaweed in an underwater setting). We analyzed some great, contemporary examples such as the horse, Maximus, in “Tangled”. Though a dialogue-less side-kick, he had definite skills, morals and intelligence all showcased through his animations alone. The dragon Toothless in “How to Train Your Dragon”, upon more closely critiquing his movements, was obviously based off of a feisty kitten.
D7_0094Onto putting said lessons into practice, Andrew opened up Blender and began to teach Skeleton tools: that is to say, building a hierarchy of bones and joints that correspond to the bending-points in a typical human body. After the Skeleton came Skinning; which is the process of assigning a joint various degrees of control over clusters of vertices on the model. Finally, as a slightly more advanced lesson, we discussed the pros and cons of using an IK (inverse kinetics) rigging system, or an FK (forward kinetics) one. Though more difficult to setup, an IK systems automatically adds constraints to a model (such as the feet staying planted to the ground and forcing the knees to bend when the character’s hips are lowered) which saves a lot of time and potential errors when creating full-movement animations such as running. It was one of the most advanced, difficult lessons yet, but the group tackled it admirably. Soon, everyone will be prepared  to rig as well as animate their nearly finished models!
After lunch, the group had a break from production to meet the indy-game developer team, KO-OP Mode. They presented to us their projects as well as some realistic warning on what can and must be sacrificed in order to do what you love within such a competitive industry.


On the Gameplay Artists’ side, due to technical difficulties they were not yet able to access the SFX bank to begin sound implementation, but instead improved their level maps and the game mechanics. By the end of the day, we had two mazes to explore and a rough draft of a challenging boss battle!
Things are quickly being produced on both teams, with all character models in progress as well as the 5 level map sections. In addition, the script is nearly complete so that we can start voice recording for the cutscenes soon!

We cannot wait to put everyone’s work together and see our amazing, final game.

Day 6: UV-Mapping, Texturing // Importing Sprites, Adding Behaviors

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

We arrived Monday morning refreshed and ready to dive back into our respective software! After a brief meeting to review script/story changes, we were once again divided into our teams of Gameplay and Visual Artists.

On the Visual Arts side, students were introduced to the concepts of UV-mapping and Texturing. That is to say; how to add color, materials, and features details to a finished model. The process of UV-mapping involves “un-wrapping” a 3D model so that its vertex coordinates correspond to a UV-coordinate on a flat image. R.A. Vince demonstrated this by taking a cute stuffed bear and ripping it apart (literally)! He showed that by cutting along strategically placed seams, we can turn a stuffed, rounded bear’s skin into a flat canvas that can then be easily painted on. In the case of a 3D model, once you choose the seam locations and “unwrap” it, it can then be colored in Photoshop.
d6_0039Though the original plans included heading up to the mountain to gather photos for textures and then having a picnic lunch, bad weather forced us to remain inside where we practiced how to best collect images with the intention of using them for 3D model textures. Students were taught that textures should be seamless, with even lighting and shadows as such details will be added in the engine’s lighting set up. Later on, R.A. Veniamin taught the basics of Photoshop as well as how make an image seamless so that is can become a tiled texture.

On the gameplay artists’ side, things were moving along swiftly as students began with a morning of brainstorming and work time followed by making some test maps with events, actions and behaviors. This team picked up Construct 2 quite quickly and by the end of the day, they had some demo mechanics to show to the group.

During work time, the character models progressed, we had the basic programming structure for the “put the statue in the right order” puzzle and the script was reduced for cutscenes of a more realistic length considering our time limit. All in all, a very productive day!




Day 5: Character Modelling and Level Creation

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

A few of the kinks in the game’s story were hammered out today as the group had some great discussions about gameplay, environments, and dialogue. There is still some work to be done, but we’re getting closer to having a clear picture of what exactly will be taking place as the player navigates through each level.

The group divided into its smaller teams (visual artists and gameplay artists), and began to learn some of the more technical nitty-gritty: character modelling in Blender and level creation in Construct 2.


In only two hours, the visual artists had made a basic character using the box-modelling technique. They finished the technical drawings for the main characters in the story and have even begun modelling assets for the game! It was so exciting to see concepts we discussed only a couple of days ago materialise into 3D objects and characters. We can’t wait to see them all gussied up and animated!


The gameplay artists were ahead of the game. Not only were they two lessons ahead of schedule, they each made their own mini-game! Construct 2 has proven to be a winner so far in this workshop; it was easy to put together a basic level and incredibly satisfying to be able to play it right away. One of the levels, by participant Michael Morris, was almost like a minimalist “Operation” where you had to navigate through jagged barriers without touching them. It was as entertaining and frustrating as the children’s classic, old-school board game!

By the end of the day, we all had great stories to tell each other. Everyone was showing off their work–it was truly a proud day for all. As we came together to hash out a few more details in the script, we talked through some of the holes in the story and made suggestions about how to fill them in. Skawennati proposed a couple of solutions to the group, and everyone will come back on Monday with fresh eyes and ears to make a few more decisions.

All in all, this was an amazing week. How do you top it? We have a feeling we’ll find out next week…

Day 4: Concept Art, Technical Drawing, Intro to Blender + Sound & Audacity

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

The day started off with a quick discussion about the story, which is being continually refined. As organizers, we’ve realized that in future workshops, we’ll have to build in more time for discussing the story and its transmediation (how it will be turned into a game).  Luckily, all the 4.0 participants can arrive by 9:00, so instead of starting at 9:15, we are using that nice little chunk of time to fit in these important chats.

As usual, we could have talked for another hour, but soon our guest instructor, Teyowisonte Thomas Deer arrived. His presentation started with an awesome image: a kid’s drawing of the well-known Transformers character, Optimus Prime.  Of course, it was his own drawing and it represented not only his longstanding love for comics in general, and for Transformers in particular, but also his persistence in reaching his goal to become a professional comic artist.  His story was inspirational.  He also shared a little about his experience consulting for Assassin’s Creed 3, then gave us a demonstration of his character concept art, which was full of handy Photoshop tricks.  After this, the participants split into their two groups -Visual Artists and Gameplay artists. The Visual Artists showed Teyowisonte some of the character concept art they’d been working on, refining their sketches as he gave feedback.  We are getting closer to finding a name for our heroine.

The Gameplay artists learned about sound thanks to Metis participant Travis Mercredi, who came all the way from Yellowknife, NorthWest Territories.  This year, for the first time, the Skins workshop has participants who, in addition to wanting to learn game design, also have expertise in one of our key instruction areas.  (The other is Akwesasneronon Jeremy Alvarez.)  So they will both learn and teach! Travis owns his own company up north, called Outland Sound Design and has done sound design and recording on a number of projects, including the movie, The Lesser Blessed (written by former AbTeC guest, Richard Van Camp!).


Day 3: Iterative Design

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

Today we had two guests come visit in order to play, critique and recommend enhancements to our paper prototype. We re-welcomed Mohannad Al-Khatib (a veteran team member from past workshops) to give us his valuable opinions and feedback. Together, we chose to focus all efforts on a vertical slice of the expansive game  to keep goals realistic, based on what Mohannad and the team deemed to be the most exciting elements.

20130530_SKINS_0159After a lengthy discussion (and a few enthusiastic debates), the team was able to settle on a list of key mechanics, puzzle styles, settings, character descriptions and a basic, plot-point storyline. We then moved on to designing our game-plan on who would be responsible for what aspects in order make this project a completed success by the end of the three weeks. Research Assistant Nancy went over the steps of the “production pipeline”; a poster listing all the jobs and what could be done simultaneously for maximum efficiency. Based on the participants’ strengths and interests, the group was divided into “Visual Artists” who would be creating the 3D art as well as finalizing the characters and environment designs (modelling, UV-Mapping, Texturing, Rigging and Animation) and a second team of “Gameplay Artists” who would focus on sound, HUD-Design as well as all the game engine mechanics & level design maps. We also selected two eager members to be the primary scriptwriters; a task that is nearly impossible to complete with 15+ people all at once. To everyone’s luck, the group divided relatively evenly and we were able to more finely tune some previously vague decisions now that the teams were smaller.

After lunch, we all moved into the computer lab for the first time, where we tested everyone’s logins as well as learned our first and basic tool of organization: GoogleDocs. There, the team had already placed and shared two documents that will become our key to keeping the project files clean and organized: the asset list (where we list every, single item and mechanic as well as their file-names so that other team members can see who is working on what and where they can find said items. In addition to those lists, we also all worked on a game design document (or GDD) which is basically the detailed plan on paper on everything the game should be about. This includes long descriptions of the story, the characters, the maps, the exact mechanics (to the point of what controller keys are used) and anything else.

20130530_SKINS_0154Thanks to GoogleDocs multi-user interface, every team member was able to write in their ideas at the same time until we had a thick and well-rounded document for all of our reference by the end of the day.

Day 2: Design

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

In our welcome email to each participant, we asked that each prepare a story to present to the group; one which could either be original, traditional, fact or fiction. We spent the entire first half of today listening and discussing a wide array of myths, character types, games, books and science fiction theories. Some of the concepts that became popular within the group were puzzle-adventure quests, such as the classic point-and-click adventure “The Longest Journey”.  We were also drawn into a debate about the mysterious Skull and Bones secret society at Yale University, which boasts several powerful American men as members. Yet again, we couldn’t help but touch the subject of the misrepresentation of women in games, as a participant presented a summary of her favorite book, “The Two Princesses of Bamarre”, which includes a strong and multifaceted female lead.

The group got to know each other a little better through discovering each other’s tastes and preferences and together we discovered that there were several, mutual goals in mind for the game’s story concept:

1. Everyone agreed to making the main character a strong, educated and brave Mohawk woman

2. We wanted the story set in modern day (or an alternate modern day world)

3. We wanted to avoid the typical Native stereotypes showcased in most media

Some elements of certain stories were highlighted as favorites and we began the process of converting these bits of information into a flowing tale. After some more discussion over lunch, we launched into how to take these decisions and tales and translate (trans-mediate) them into a playable game format. Another debate arose as to whether we should show and/or make reference to some sacred Native objects, but it was quickly deemed not only potentially off-putting, but we wanted our story to go beyond the typical tale of the “spiritual Native” stereotype.

AbTeC R.A. Alicia Fortier then made a more detailed presentation on the MDA concepts touched upon by guest Stephanie Bouchard the previous day. We learned more about Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics as well as watched some game play examples that could work with our engine with a isometric perspective, such at “Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light” as well as “The Cave”.

More decisions were settled upon as we plowed through. Such as our character having the ability to access another, perhaps spiritual plane/dimension where she can see things not present in the normal world and retrieve hints. We also fully settled on the idea of this being a puzzle game with potential stealth elements. Our character’s goal would be to retrieve (perhaps to re-appropriate) an article stolen by some old and evil secret society (a reference to the Skull & Bones) and she uses modernized versions of traditional skills in order to discover secret hatches, get past security, open locks, get through mazes, etc..

With those vague decisions/preferences settled, it was time to paper prototype. The purpose of paper prototyping is to make a quick sketch of your game concept that others (even non-gamers) can play with and therefore give feedback without having to spend much on resources should the idea fall-apart OR, worse, be deemed “not fun”. Because we decided on multiple challenges, the large group broke up into sections so that the specifics could be more finely tuned.  Afterwards, we came together to make our puzzle ideas corporeal onto a map and rearrange them into a more pleasing order for story flow.

By the end of the day, we had a semi-functional map laid out which included mazes, forest, excavation site, secret hatches and moving guards. Hopefully our play-tester guests tomorrow will not only be able to navigate the world, but have fun in doing so!

Day 1: Introduction

Posted by & filed under Reading Room.

We hit the ground running today, the very first day of the Skins video game workshop! After a brief, introductory session, we watched a short video compiled by Beth Aileen Dillon entitled “Native Representations in Video Games“, which (as the title implies) showcases and critiques how Native characters have been portrayed in the last thirty-odd years of video game history. The following discussion revolved around other characters the group has personally encountered in gaming and whether we felt they were stereotypical and/or well-rounded at least.

Good examples were mentioned from recent, well-researched endeavors such as “Red Dead Redemption” and “Assassin’s Creed III” (of which the creators worked closely with Native consultants from our very own Kahnawake!). However, despite those single, two good examples, there existed countless other bad ones, most of which portrayed ruthless natives as enemies against shoot-em-up cowboys. If they were not playing the role of the bad guys, they often were portrayed as sensual “damsels in distress”, given away as prizes for a massacre well done. There are other, Native, female characters, specifically in fighting games, who are depicted wearing little more than feathers and body paint…but the portrayal of WOMEN in videos games is a whole other subject.

Moving on to explore alternate, non-blockbuster games with positive representations of Native people, our Junior Mentor Tehoniehtathe Delisle (a participant from SKINS 1.0 whose been with us ever since) presented the most recent, completed game from last summer’s Skins 3.0 workshop, which included assets made from both the previous renditions (download here). Though we will not be using the Unity 3D engine this time around, the students were given a taste of the 3D software we will use and the type of traditional story that can be told through this new medium.

Our first industry guest, Stephanie Bouchard, soon arrived from Ubisoft were she works as a game designer. She presented to the students her definition of “What is a Game?” and the various elements that must be considered and emphasized when starting such a project. She taught us several theories as well as critical dissections of game design such as the Bartle Player theory, motivational mapping as well as the importance of MDA (mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics). After her very informative presentation, she joined us for lunch where both participants were able to ask more specific, in-depth questions regarding her work.

Sadly one of our mentors, Joseph Tekaroniake Lazare, was unable to make it. However, we were thrilled to welcome back our veteran mentor: Owisokon Lahache. She shared with us stories of her work both in the art world as well as at Kahnawake Survival School; where she encourages her students to embrace new technologies to express themselves. The Skins workshops would not have been given the initial push it needed without her support and we are looking forward to hearing her ideas and having her guidance for this new cycle of game makers.

Skawennati then took the podium to share her thoughts on how to transmediate stories. In simpler terms: how to translate tales from an oral tradition (listening) to medium as complex as a video gaming (seeing + hearing + listening + interacting). This section of the curriculum helped draw the link between what most consider completely separate entertainment experiences.

The day was concluded with another industry presentation by Ruben Farrus from Minority game studio; creators of the celebrated game “Papo & Yo”. Though his primary purpose was to educate the group of the game development process, the story of Minority studio employees working hard at several large game companies and building a reputation strong enough so to receive funding from Sony to create their own, indigenous-themed game projects, was an inspiration to all. We also got a sample of their new game, Silent Enemy.

Tomorrow, each participant will be sharing their own stories and we will then mold one (or all of them) to design something original of our own. We cannot wait.