Creating new worlds: a journey through video game design | Peter Burroughs | TEDxMSU


Translator: Viviane P.
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven How are games made? I work in the Games for Entertainment
and Learning Lab here at Michigan State, and when I asked
my coworkers this question, they came up with a pretty good list. They said, “Games are made with stories. Games are made with passion. Games are made with overflowing buckets
of blood, sweat, and tears.” And they’re not wrong, but what goes on
behind all the smoke and mirrors? This is the question
I’ll be answering today, this process of game development. So, games – I didn’t always want to go
into game development. It’s one of those industries that makes parents worried
for their childrens’ futures, and it took me a while
to convince my parents that it was a legitimate way
of putting food on the table. So, on that note, how are games made? How are these three things connected?
Let’s play a game here. Women, adults over the age of 35, and America. Got it? These are all reasons why
we should take games seriously. So, just last year, the ESA,
Entertainment Software Association, found that 155 million Americans
play video games. That’s close to half
of the people in this country. Also, this whole idea that games
are only a pastime for boys is changing, as we’re seeing that 44%
of the people who play games are women and 74% of the people who play games
are over the age of 18. So there’s a lot more people playing
these things than there used to be. Also, we’re noting that games are raking in hundreds
of millions of dollars a year, and on the global scale,
it’s in the billions of dollars, so this is a legitimate industry, and to dispel any misconceptions
about who’s making these things, it’s not just scruffy dudes hanging out
in their parents’ basements anymore. Take Blizzard Entertainment, for example. You might have heard of them – they made that little game
World of Warcraft? So, in 1991, they had three employees. That was it. And then, as soon as 2012,
now they have 4700 employees in areas from programming
to marketing to sound design. So hopefully that tells you this is
an industry that we should take seriously. But those are all statistics, so let me dive into my favorite part: making games. When we talk about game design
here at Michigan State University, we usually talk about three disciplines: we have art, programming, and design. A sort of game design
trifecta, if you will. And these are all so important
that without them, few games would be complete. So, let’s dive into art first. Art is everything that you see on screen. It’s my personal favorite
because I myself am an artist. So, that can be the character designs, the environments, 3D models,
animations, menus, etc. So, when you’re making
a 3D game, that’ll include – well, first you’ll start with concept art
in traditional or digital mediums, and then you’ll take that
into a 3D modeling software. So, say for example that we wanted
to make a baby dragon. We would start with
a concept sketch like this, and I don’t happen to have a baby dragon
running around with me here on stage, so I’m going to be looking
at various other animals, in this case, a pug, and then we’ll bring that
into Autodesk Maya – that’s my favorite 3D modeling software – and start with something simple. A cube only has six sides,
so we can think about that pretty easily, and then when we subdivide that,
it’ll now have 28 faces, and we’re starting to elongate
the tail and the head, just to give a good
approximation for the body. And those are some
of the basic operations. So, since you’re all professionals now,
we make the rest of the baby dragon. (Laughter) But it’s still missing something: It can’t move,
so we need to give it bones. A series of spheres and rods
will do the trick for that, and by binding the bones to the skin,
now we can animate it. And finally we slap a texture on it
and make it look beautiful, so now our baby dragon’s
ready to fly into action. This was all actually made for a student
project last semester, Ember, made with four other game design
students from the program. So, art is very important because
it’s everything that we see on screen, so without the artists, there wouldn’t even be
anything to look at. Moving on to programming … This is code. (Laughter) It’s not my favorite, but I will say that these brave men
and women come in and make our game actually work. So, that could be something as simple as making the forward key
move the player forward, or it could be simulating
the effects of physics on an arrow, which is what this script does. They use a variety
of scripting languages in order to communicate to the computer
exactly what they want it to do, and it looks complicated,
it sounds complicated, but this is what it’ll look like in-game,
which is actually pretty cool. So, those arrows sticking out
of that mushroom there are only sticking out of that mushroom
because of the code. Also, they’ll lose velocity
based on the equations in that script. So without programming,
nothing would actually work, and the characters,
no matter how beautiful, would just sort of stand there. And finally, we have design. Designers are like the glue of the team. They bring together the artists
and the programmers, and without them, the game might not even make sense – nothing would fit together. And they’ll be working on
the direction of the game; they’re in charge of story, level design,
and game balance, for example. So, this project was a success because everyone was able to work together
on the same art style and complete one final product, so art, programming,
and design was needed for that. Given art, programming, and design, I’d like to share an example of that
with you in action. So, this past summer
I went on a study abroad to Japan, and I was truly inspired by
the traditional architecture that I saw, but I also noticed this theme, this juxtaposition between
the desire to preserve nature and the desire to further infrastructure. So I took that idea back
to my game design team at Michigan State, and we turned it into a game, Yozakura. In Yozakura, you play as the ninja protagonist,
protector of nature, as you try and defeat
the evil samurai robots who are trying to destroy
the sacred cherry blossom. So, the mechanic was diving
forwards and backwards in space instead of just walking
side-by-side, left to right. That was really difficult
even for us to wrap our heads around, so a lot of design and initial planning,
as you can see, was key. And we only had five weeks to do it –
that’s the other catch. So we know we needed a simple,
low-poly art style to make it happen, and to give you an idea
of what all that looks like, I’ll show you a level
at different stages of development. So first, programming. Not much to look at, but it’s beautiful,
I promise; everything’s working. And then we add in the designs. The designers will place
blocks and rectangles to show the artists
where everything needs to go, and then the art, once it’s implemented, looks like this, and now we’re starting to see some of that
traditional Japanese architecture, the bamboo trees,
the mountains coming through, but something’s still missing,
and it’s the lighting. So when we add the lighting –
looks a lot better, if I do say so myself. So, art, programming, design –
all key parts of this process. Games are a reflection of life. Life inspires games, which inspires life. So, if that’s confusing,
let me give you an example there. Games were the first ones to put this idea
in my head that martial arts are awesome, which they are, so in my freshman year of college,
I joined MSU Karate Club, but in joining karate
and practicing karate, I actually ended up improving
my animations and games because I had this better understanding
of how the human body works, and the games that I make now may someday
inspire some other little Asian kid, who might in turn practice karate. So everything is connected. (Laughter) And if this were a role-playing game,
if life were an RPG, each of you would be heroes
of your own epic story, your own epic journey, and I would just be an NPC,
a non-player character, who’s up here spewing wisdom
and giving you guys quests. So – I recognize that most of you
won’t be game developers in the future, hopefully a few of you after this talk, but maybe not most, so I would like to make this
relevant to your own quests. So we’ll take a step back to art. Art at its core is about perception. See the world in a different light,
have diverse life experiences, because the ideas you’ll learn will inform
and enhance other parts of your life. So, most people talk about
traveling the world or studying abroad, and if you have
the opportunity to do that, I highly encourage it – it’s great. But since most of you might not
be waving around a plane ticket, look around you. Try something new close by, whether it’s joining ballroom dancing or reading an autobiography or trying Indian food for the first time, because that plate of chicken curry
will help you one of these days, you just don’t know it yet. (Laughter) Programming at its core
is about iteration. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t
have to get things right the first time. You’re allowed to make
mistakes; that’s okay. As Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply
the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” And design – design at its core
is about connections. Take in the world with a critical mind. Whether it’s going to class
or reading an article, listen to what’s being said,
understand it, and then challenge it. Find out what your end goals are,
because if you can find out that, then you can orient yourself
and orient the way you look at the world in relation to that goal. So, we have art, programming, and design, and we have our answer. Games are made by creating harmony and making connections
between seemingly unrelated things. So, let’s play a game. How are you connected? Thank you. (Applause)

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