I’ve been doing this wrong. I set up this blog to post quick updates as I learn game development, but my posts to date have been more like attempts at semi-polished articles. That takes time. The result? No posts, no signs of progress, nagging feelings of negligence and guilt.
Moving on. Here’s what I’ve been up to…
Playing With the Oculus Rift
I bought the Oculus Rift dev kit 2 because… well, “because VR”. It’s something I’ve been interested in for many years, and now it’s readily accessible. As I learn game development, I’m going to simultaneously apply what I learn to VR.
That might sound like too much to bite off all at once. Maybe it is, I don’t know, but I’m going to try until I have a good, concrete reason to focus my efforts more. So far I’ve seen no reason for concern. Not only is the Oculus Rift an impressive piece of technology in its own right, it’s very accessible from a development point of view. The out-of-the-box tools in the Unreal Engine dev environment are a big help, too.
Finally, having used it for only a short time, I can already imagine ways VR is going to influence game design. Before using the Oculus, it was easy for me to think of VR just as a “better” game experience. In some ways that can be true, but it’s more than that. VR changes interactivity in some subtle yet profound ways, and there are tradeoffs to be made. Design for a balanced, device-neutral experience and you’ll likely lose some of the best aspects of both platforms (i.e., VR vs. PC/console). Optimize for one over the other and you may risk creating a substandard experience on the neglected platform.
Anyway, there’s lots to think about, but for now…
Having tinkered with Unreal Engine for a while, I realized I’d need to (re)learn some modeling skills. Long ago, I used AutoCAD for 3D modeling, but that’s nothing like a realistic option now. I tried Maya a number of years back but wasn’t crazy about it. Also, last I checked, it far exceeded my meager budget.
So where to restart?
Blender seemed the obvious choice. From what I’d seen it could produce impressive results in the right hands. A quick Google search turned up a number of examples showing how to transfer work from Blender to Unreal. Blender has grown a tremendous, enthusiastic community around it. And, of course, it’s free. What’s not to like?
Answer: The interface.
That is, I didn’t like it at first. My first foray back into blenderland was awkward, clumsy, and wholly unproductive. Thankfully, there are numerous tutorials to be found. I worked through a few, found a series I liked, and stuck with it. Now, over forty tutorials later (!), I’m finally comfortable with the basics.
More than that, I feel like I’m back in the zone. I’m sure I’m doing just about everything wrong, but I love it anyway! I spent a few hours the other night just fiddling with some basic models and it was downright therapeutic. It takes a little time to really learn Blender’s interface, but it’s well worth the effort.
Right now, my two biggest challenges are time and encouragement. Time is short, always will be, and there’s not much I can do about it.
Encouragement is going to be an issue for the foreseeable future, too. To be clear, I’m not having problems with motivation. Even on days when I’m feeling harried or tired, I find it pretty easy to plunk myself down in my chair and set to work. Rather, there’s just so much to learn, so many unknowns to work through. I’m wondering what’s really possible for me at this point. What can I realistically hope to accomplish? How far can I take this?
I feel like I’m standing on a beach, looking out over a vast and foreboding ocean of knowledge. To make a decent game, I have to cross that ocean, and all I have to start out with is an innertube and some flippers.
I don’t know. Frankly, it would be idiotic to let unanswerable questions derail me. There’s nothing to do but dive in and start kicking.
Within a week, I need to know Blender well enough to produce some sample images for my next post. From there, I want to start exporting my work for use in Unreal. That’s going to require more research into light maps, UV’s, and other things I can type but don’t yet understand in the least.