Work In Progress

So today I thought it would be a good idea to document all the work I’ve been doing to get my automation test framework up and running with version control and a Continuous Integration build server. I came to the blog site and remembered that the upgrade to PHP version 5.6 had caused a few more issues than it fixed. So I’ve managed to get the blog site back up and running, but the theme is a little … black and white!

So at the moment I have a lot of things going on in the tech world concurrently. The main ones being

  • Creation of a game (primarily for the children on Android)
  • Creation of an Automation Test Framework Core
  • Creation of Automation Test Framework project specific tests
  • Updating the build system to cope with the building and testing using the Automation Test Framework and the Unity game projects
  • Fixing the WordPress Blog site (blog.shadowpuma.com)
  • Fixing the main website (www.shadowpuma.com)
  • Fixing the PHPBB Forum site (forum.shadowpuma.com)

So first thing was first and I tackled the WordPress blog for the Shadowpuma combined site. Regardless of what page I attempted to get to there was a PHP error around security. Using an FTP client (FileZilla) I connected up and changed a few permissions on the files being highlighted in the error messages. This wasn’t enough.
So I decided to do a manual upgrade to the latest version (after taking backups of both the webpages and database back end).
It was surprisingly easy to do following the instructions on the WordPress site!
The Shadowpuma theme had become very outdated so I changed it to the latest twenty-sixteen theme and so here we are.

Amongst all these updates I’m still keeping an eye open on the job market for any Software Engineer roles in the Gaming Industry. There is also the usual daily chores to get through, and most of all I have to keep active so this weight drops off again. I haven’t been able to do the usual non-eating thing yet because of all the events of the year that requires the need to receive sweets and cakes. Fathers Day being the latest of them! But the Jelly Beans, Jelly Babies, Humbugs and Skittles did all taste yummy. They are all gone.

Do not purchase items as gifts from Scan.co.uk

The title of this post really says it all. After my latest experience it is a wonder that Scan Computers, based in Bolton, is still having happy customers.

So let me explain further by starting many years ago. Scan Computers was always a cheap option for me to purchase computer electronic goods from. Their prices were competitive and products always arrived within a reasonable amount of time. I have purchased computer components including motherboards, processors, graphics cards, even a wii console when it was first released.
I stopped using them because other online retailers were becoming more competitive and when Scan were still charging for delivery others were not. So it made sense to go elsewhere and save money.
I also noticed that the delivery courier company that Scan uses was the Green and Yellow branded City Link, and their drivers reputation was going down in that their handling of packages was a bit brutal! Various forum members and website posts expressed these opinions far too much with lots agreeing.

So here we are today with my latest experience from them. For Christmas I added an item I would have liked to my list in the hope Father Christmas or other kind family member would purchase it and give it to me. My wish was granted. On Christmas day I opened my present … a new Wireless Extender, a plug in the wall item that will enable use of the internet at high speed at the top of the offices. Of course Christmas comes and goes, New Year happens and I’m away for a lot of it. I eventually get round to being back in my office early January, checking out the product information on the box and realising it will not help as much as I thought it would, I decided I would like to return the product. This is where Scan Computers, scan.co.uk, (have I mentioned it enough yet?) falls down flat on it’s face for Customer Services.
I begin by checking the website on how to return my unwanted item. I have all invoices and receipts (which was included with the gift) and submit a return query specifying my number and email address to contact. Expecting a call or email I wait…. only to find that Scan go back to the person who made the original purchase! What’s the point of having those fields on the form if you are going to ignore them???
So next I get a phone call from the original purchaser to advise that Scan emailed him the reply and the return has been rejected because it is over 7 days! It was over 7 days even before I got to open the gift on Christmas Day, so what hope did I have!?
I called Scan Customer Services and was told I would be able to return the item. “Great” I thought, but was then put on hold again. I then get told I can’t return the product because a decision has already been made via email. HUH!? But I was just told I could and an RMA was going to be created! So Scan switched on their decision and also stood firm that I was not able to return this item that is still brand new and not in a position to be used. I now have a nice bookend/paperweight!
I did happen to ask the Scan Customer Service agent what I am expected to do with this unwanted item. He did say it was his personal opinion (and obviously not of Scan’s!) and if it was him he would put it up on Ebay, maybe losing a couple of quid from the original price!

So there we have it, Scan is not going to have me purchase anything from them ever again based on past and present reputations and experiences. Good luck to those that still purchase from them. Just make sure you get your product choice correct first time. Goodbye Scan, forever.

Shadowpuma @ Eurogamer Expo 2013

The Eurogamer Expo for 2013 ran over 4 days, Thursday through to Sunday. Out of those days I have been able to attend the Thursday and the Saturday. Both days were exciting but for different reasons.

Thursday 26th September 2013 – Day 1 – I was at Eurogamer Expo as part of the Train2Game exhibit, meeting other Train2Game students and telling them about the team I am in for the Microsoft Venture as GallantCloud Games. After we had done our talking bit and answered questions we mingled for a bit and then off to the show floor.
Walking around we saw lots of new and exciting things coming soon to existing consoles. We even got to see some of the latest consoles and technologies, PlayStation 4, the Oculus Rift a VR headset.
As expected, the queues for the games were long and frequent. Games such as Assassins Creed IV, BattleField 4, Wolfenstein and TitanFall all had queues that twisted and twirled up and down their area section floor. People queued for hours to have around 20 minutes worth of play for these games.
The game stands I wanted to see in action included Batman:Origins, Killer Instinct, Tearaway, Lightning Returns:FFXIII, Super Mario 3D World, Beyond: Two Souls, Destiny, and after seeing all these there were lots more. The Indie section had games that looked both good and average, but all were interesting to see.
There were lots of hardware stands around including Alienware, Razer, Turtle Beach, Intel, showing off and demonstrating their latest technologies.

The visit to Eurogamer Expo wasn’t just about seeing the latest games and enjoying myself, while walking around and looking at the games each one sparked an idea in my head to apply to the future game development. Along with that the GallantCloud team made a few contacts to use in the future.

Saturday 28th September 2013 – Day 2 – I went back into London Earls Court for my second visit. This time I took the family to the event. The main reason was to join in with the app development for Train2Game. We spent some time drawing assets for the various windows 8 app games being created, a rocket and some moons, we even got to meet Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey) who was really nice and got to hear about the Train2Game students of GallentCloud Games and their involvement with the Microsoft Venture. Then we headed to the show floor to walk the stands. Sam loved Lego Marvel Super Heroes (we went to that game twice!) And he also played Tearaway on PSVita and got on with it so well! We also met Sonic, a knight cosplayer, and lots of other friendly people. It got a bit too much for the non-gamers of the family so we left and got to spend some time with family members in London Waterloo before heading home after an exciting day.

Thank you Train2Game for getting the passes to the Expo. We really enjoyed taking part on both days we could attend, learnt a lot, and hope our participation added value.

We got some great pictures during the whole event. Below are some of them.

Castlevania 2 statue at Eurogamer 2013
Castlevania 2 statue at Eurogamer 2013
Lego Marvel Super Heroes
Lego Marvel Super Heroes
Paul and Maisie enjoying Eurogamer Expo 2013
Paul and Maisie enjoying Eurogamer Expo 2013
Samuel testing out Tearaway on PSVita
Samuel testing out Tearaway on PSVita
Samuel and Tearaway
Samuel and Tearaway
Lego Ironman
Lego Ironman
Samuel and Super Mario 3D World
Samuel and Super Mario 3D World
Samuel and Pokemon
Samuel and Pokemon
Samuel pointing out the Train2Game robot
Samuel pointing out the Train2Game robot
Paul, Samuel and Maisie testing out their rocket asset loaded into the Windows 8 app with the use of Rapid2D at EuroGamer Expo
Paul, Samuel and Maisie testing out their rocket asset loaded into the Windows 8 app with the use of Rapid2D at EuroGamer Expo
Sonic at Eurogamer Expo 2013
Sonic at Eurogamer Expo 2013
Samuel and Maisie showing off their epic loot
Samuel and Maisie showing off their epic loot

wpid-20130926_162613.jpg

Wayne of GallantCloud showing off his Crysis skills on the 4K monitor
Wayne of GallantCloud showing off his Crysis skills on the 4K monitor
Eurogamer Expo 2013 from above
Eurogamer Expo 2013 from above
Wolfenstein
Wolfenstein

wpid-20130926_152201.jpg

Zombie Ben from GallantCloud exhausted
Zombie Ben from GallantCloud exhausted

T2G Update : Final Examination

train2game-exam3-resultsI got my results back today and I have passed my final examination! Yay!!
Finally I can update my portfolio and CV to say I have finished the Train2Game Games Developer course and been awarded the TIGA qualification.

The examination itself was the same as the previous ones. It was 60 questions in 60 minutes and mainly on the third and final section of the course on 3D. It also included questions on other parts of the course, and it was all split into different sections.

There was the addition to this examination that since I took it at home it was a requirement to have a free moving webcam so I could Skype with Train2Game and show them the room. The only purpose for this is to show them there was no training material or bits of paper around that could be used for cheating. I thought my styudy was all clear, but when going through the items on my desk it turned out the blank pad I wanted to use to make notes on during the exam was actually the back of printed paper from my portfolio projects. After realising this I put the pad out of range and got some blank A4 sheets to use. It was a good job too since I made a few notes on teh questions I struggled with. After the exam I went back and checked the answers and found a few were wrong while some where also correct.

So now I just have to wait for the certificate to come through and proceed with working on the gaming tasks set by the GallantCloud Games venture with Microsoft, but that is in another post!

T2G Update : Section 3

Train2Game - LogoIt’s been a while since I wrote an update about Train2Game, the Games Developer course. 1 year and 4 months ago I blogged about my Section 2 exam results. Since then, Section 3 has been the focus of attention.

For Section 3 I decided to complete the course as it was intended (instead of doing everything and then going back to complete the portfolio projects). So this meant the order of things went…

Section 3 Part A – Introduction to 3D games creation, objects, vertices, primitives, model skeletons, memory, materials, mapping, lights, cameras, to name the key elements covered.

Portfolio Project 03 – Creation of a simple 3D scene to include a player, some non-player characters, a floor, some walls, some terrain elements such as blocks, then add movement for all characters, collision detection, reset position, camera change and movement. Overall, it looked very basic and would never stand alone as a basis for a game (unless it was called “Crash my blocks”).

Section 3 Part B – This section went into more 3D elements of pathfinding and A* algorithms for characters. There was also information of picking and ray-casting, model animation, 3D pipelines for rendering, shaders, HLSL, and mixing 2D elements into a 3D environment (for things such as user interfaces), post processing and particles, shadows,

Portfolio Project 04 – This portfolio project was broken down into 6 sections. The overall aim was to create a 3D puzzle maze with multiple layers.
Part 1: Build the basic scene with a sphere for the player, non player meshes, walls, collision detection, key input movement, npc ai pathfinding, health reduction upon player/npc collision.
Part 2: Add the multiple floor to the maze game with ramp for the player to traverse, make the player and npc’s look different from each other using materials and textures, add textures to the wall and floor elements, give the npc’s some attack patterns, add in a goal post.
Part 3: Further development of the maze by adding in different terrain elements, add a list of destination points for the npc’s to pick from, camera changes to allow for 3rd and 1st person views, add a firewall for the player to burn themselves on, add a 2D/billboard background element, add a User Interface, add an end game condition, allow for procedurally generated levels, add pickups such as health and bonuses.
Part 4: Visual effects were added in the form of lighting, detailed textures on models, blur effects, surface properties added (lighting etc.), and some normal maps were added to the pillars.
Part 5: Particles – Explosions were added when the player loses all health and explodes, smoke was added to the firewalls, sparks were added to the player when colliding with the walls, Fire particles were used to replace the cube firewalls.
Part 6: The last thing to be added was shadows. Light sources were added to the scene, 3D volume shadows were added along with 3D shadow mapping.
At the end of the portfolio project there was the beginning of a game. Looking back now there are so many things I would change and do differently, but at the time using the knowledge I had from completing Section 3 Part B, the outcome was pretty good.

Section 3 Part C – This part of the whole course was probably the most revealing into how the advanced elements of games are handled. It covered areas such as dynamic environments, areas opening up upon key tasks being completed or areas opening up after time. AI (Artificial Intelligence) was revisited and knowledge about npc behaviour and logic was revealed and how to control such elements of a character. More aspects of route finding were touched upon. Player Profiling was explained, and how to keep track of players and their details such as games played, scores, loading/saving. Debugging and fixing errors was touched upon. If you hadn’t got the hang of this by this section of the course then there is little hope for your games to be completed without faults. Bug reporting was also mentioned and how systems are used to track them and fix in various versioning control systems. The section also went over how to enhance the game further with in game objects and the such.
Almost every part of Section 3 Part C was information and theory until the end where a near complete version of their Deep Sea Diver game needed updating.

Portfolio Project 05 – The final portfolio project of the course and of course the most in depth. The aim of this project was to take the nearly completed Deep Sea Diver game and enhance it!
Part 1: Player information was added. So a mission briefing when the player starts, a highscore table that saves and loads players scores, options screen, and an attract/demo mode that plays automatically to show the game off.
Part 2: Advanced enemies were needed so projectile attacks were added, electricity collisions were made when colliding with the jelly fish, and more detailed collision detection between player and enemies was added.
Part 3: Updates to the player character were made giving him advanced weaponry, heat seeker, rapid fire, three way, explosive harpoon arrows. A shield of invulnerability was also added.
Part 4: From here on out it was more about making effects to the game to give it more depth. So enemies had additional particle effects added. There was an intro flyby camera added to the level. The hardest part of all these changes I found was with the level lighting. It turned out I couldn’t turn all teh lights off because they were being processed during the HLSL effects meaning I had to search through all the effect files before finding which effect made all the characters and models light up! Once it was updated then the lighting of the level was changed so a darkness mode could be created.
Again, Post Processing effects was a bit tricky to get started. My understanding of how they all worked was great, but knowing where to put them in the existing code proved to be a bit tricky. After some direction from the tutor team (no exact answer mind you!) I was editing and adding Bloom and Depth Of Field like no ones business!
The potholes were changed so they made the player fly up into the air and back down again, harpoons were changed so they stuck to solid objects instead of flying straight through them.
LUA scripting was added so object position and level management could be maintained during runtime of the game instead of having to recompile the code each time.
And a rigid body physics manager was added to handle collision of boxes when the player collided with them.
Part 5: Controller configuration was added so the player could change the keys assigned to movement. And usb controller support was added so any controller can be added and used to move the player around. I only had a PS3 controller to test with, but it did the trick.
Part 6: First Person Mode added to allow targeting through a scope and better accuracy of aiming.
Part 7: Split Screen 2 player modes added. This wasn’t the hardest but was certainly the one that took the longest to work through. There were different modes for co-op play, treasure hunt mode, 2 player death match, and capture the flag.

After all these sections and portfolio projects were complete I sent them off at the end of May for marking.

I have yet to see the official results of my portfolio projects and determine where I did well (and not so well) since my 3 years of studentship automatically expired at the end of August (typical that it was the day the results came back). This is quite annoying since the system should have seen I was still doing the course and automatically extended me. Now I have to wait a few days/week(!OMG!) before I get my studentship extended and I can log back in to see the actual results. The person on Customer Services though was kind enough to advise I had passed all three portfolio projects!

What is left to do now??? Well, Section 3 has certainly been a learning curve to gain knowledge on how a game is made and the effects applied to the end result. It seems that every game I play now I don’t play it purely for the enjoyment of the game, I play and analyse how things are created and produced and what the coding behind it would be.

So when I get my access back to the Train2Game Student World section I can find out what the next steps are for taking the final examination of the course. Looking forward to it!

I have also created a portfolio website for myself.
http://games.shadowpuma.com/
It has details on the Deep Sea Diver project along with information on how to contact me.

Over the past weeks I have also taken up learning Unity. But that is for another blog posting.

Develop Conference 2013 – It was fantastic!

Develop Conference has been happening for a few years now and this was my first visit to one. I went along to meet people and gain information about what is happening in the games development world at this time. I managed to achieve what I set out to do, and had fun whilst doing it!

I went to the Wednesday and Thursday sessions of Develop. There didn’t seem to be a need for me to attend the Tuesday Develop Evolve sessions this year, maybe once I’m a bit more established!

Upon arrival my printed reservation was scanned and a pass given to me. “Paul Rayment, Shadowpuma Games” it said. I was really happy to have it say that instead of “Student”. Then on a table just over from the registration booths was a goody bag! Full of magazines, leaflets, and other bits of information. The gentleman behind the table said “Would you like a t-shirt?” and of course my response was “Sure” not trying to sound too eager to get free stuff! The t-shirt came across and on it was the Develop conference logo along with PS4 written on it! Awesome!

The conferences
There were numerous conferences happening through out the days. Each one was about an hour in length and tackled their topic very well. There was only one or two out of the ten+ I went to that could have been better, but the information was fed back through the develop app session feedback forms.
Some that stuck and were memorable included:

Opening Keynote: Mark Cerny talked about his history in the PlayStation development over the years and what was next for the PS4 development. I loved this one since it was topical and was a great inspiring opening session for the day.

Forward+ Rendering for Next Gen GPUs: Gareth Thomas gave his presentation on how the rendering techniques of Forward+ and Tiled Forward Rendering impacted the way in which rendering takes place. The presentation was very structured and interesting for coding rendering functions in my own projects.

Indie Keynote: Barry Meade previously from Criterion, now from the studio Fireproof Studios, spoke about how he left a large corporate games development environment where deadlines and figures were more important than allowing for development of the skills of employees, to now working in an environment where the game is complete when it’s ready and the team had fun doing it. Before attending this session I had not heard of The Room, but after I felt it a requirement to play it and find out what the experience was. I’m glad I did because the puzzle game was an eye opener to puzzle games. I finished it quickly, but the path you take through the game is very pretty along with making you think about what it is you are clicking on and opening, turning, pushing, twiddling, and any other descriptive word used to move things around.

Coding Keynote: Tim Sweeney talked about his history and how he made it into the world of Epic Games and the development of the Unreal Engine.

Git Off My Lawn: This talk was all about moving from existing control management systems over to Git. The guys from Sega Europe, creators of Sonic Dash, gave their overview of moving over, the tools used, the good and bad points from the users point of view, and other areas of the team’s work flow changes. Since I use Git on my own, it was good to see how it is used within a corporate environment.

During the whole event there was the Expo taking place up at the top of the venue. A large room with stands for various companies to show off their latest developments and to take any questions that people may have. I found just looking around was a great way to see what was going on with the various organisations. Standing chatting to people was a great way to see where they had come from and to hear their tales of progress.
The Expo was a great place to hang out and meet people. Even if you just wanted a break from it all you could easily find a comfy seat and take in what had been going on.
I did most of my greeting of new people at the Expo between sessions.
The atmosphere was very much a buzz throughout, and you could literally just say ‘Hi’ to anyone and a conversation was started.

Down at the bottom of the venue, The Hilton Hotel Bar was buzzing again with people there to have meetings and drinks and chat. A very friendly but busy atmosphere. Of course, the drinks weren’t free, the free drinks were back up at the Expo!
The hotel bar was to play it’s part though at the end of the days. It seemed to be the meeting place of everyone to show off their bar skills and buy drinks for their friends. The drinks were running out fast so getting in early was a must!

Over the course of the two days, being social and meeting lots of new people and taking in the information that was being given at the conferences was starting to be very draining. The walk back up the hill to the station on the first day was ok. The walk back on the second was near impossible. But a good nights sleep sorted it out.

Shadowpuma Games got treated to a curry at the end of the first day. A nice treat.

What have I taken away with me?
I took away the fact that it was a fantastic time to network and meet new people along with old friends (who then introduced me to more new people). The atmosphere at these events is that everyone is there to talk and have a great time sharing what each other are doing. There may be possibilities out there for change in circumstance

If I ever get the chance to go again then I would love to. It really is an event to network with the people and find out the latest in development.

YouTube, informational and inspirational

Over the past few months I’ve been subscribing to more and more youtube channels. Most of them interesting to watch. A lot keep me up to date with the latest gaming news. A few are technology video blogs or vlogs as they have become known. And then there are the various silly humorous channels which lighten your day.
Overall I’ll have to say I’m happy with my subscriptions and actively seek out to find them in amongst my “What to Watch” feed. These include the videos featuring the likes of Ray William Johnson, Felicia Day, Max Scoville and Tara Long, Cali Lewis, Justine “iJustine” Ezarik, Grace Randolph.

I’ve often thought about starting up my own youtube videos, but like anything I wouldn’t have the available time to put the effort in to get a regular and hopefully popular video out there. So I will just stick with the blogging when I can, the gaming, the websites, the coding, the family life, all still exciting and interesting each and every day.

Develop Conference 2013 – Looking forward to it

So the Develop Conference 2013 is happening this week. I’m not attending the first day for Develop Evolve, but I’m really looking forward to the rest of the two days for Develop. I’m all registered up, got my schedule plan sorted on which sessions I will be attending. And even downloaded the app and found the names of interest.

Leaving my family behind I will be off to stay with family the night before heading into Brighton and sorting out registration and getting a good look around.

The sun has been hot hot hot over the past few days, so hopefully there is air conditioning inside the Hilton building keeping the attendees cool so the information is easier to soak up instead of fidgeting in sweaty seats!

A social evening is planned, whether it be with people I know, or new people I’ve met with similar interests where I can gain information and exchange details.

I would really love for some career changing events to outcome from this time away from home networking with professionals. I know it will require effort, but I intend to put that effort in.

For anyone interested, I have put together my first version of my Games Developer Portfolio. You can find it at http://games.shadowpuma.com

Fathers Day 2013

There are times when being a father has its perks. Fathers Day lets me never forget that what I have is special. Two children that are growing to love the same things as I love. My wife has also played a huge part in making Fathers Day great. Gifts are great, but they are not what it’s all about (but they are great to receive). I got hand made cards, sweets, and a new monitor to replace my broken one.

The day so far has been relaxed. Breakfast in the morning followed by watching Disney Princess Cinderella 3 with the children. I guess if we have time then Batman is next!

Later we are off out to spend the day with family.