Image from the Dragon Age ISS

The Dragon Age ISS

In 2014, we worked with BioWare to create the ISS: an interactive, animated cinematic of a player’s history in the first two games of the Dragon Age series, narrated by one of the characters, Varric.

When we first met with BioWare’s online team to discuss the Interactive Story Summary, we were floored. It’s always a privilege to work with one of the best game development companies in the world, and the ISS presented a challenge that was perfectly suited with some of the tech we have been focused on for the last few years. The goal of the ISS is to summarize the complex narrative and decisions that players have made in previous games in the series, and give them control of those choices leading into their latest chapter, Dragon Age: Inquisition.

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Game Design and Life

I spend a lot of time thinking about video games, from concept to completion and then some. Whether making, playing or being involved with the community, there are a few things I have noticed that I’d like to share.

Game design is equal parts organic and structure, but the more time I spend with both the process and the end product, the more I realize that there are hidden, underlying core values in game design that closely resemble the six human needs. The more of these values/needs the game hits, the subjectively “better” the game is.

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The Evolution of Video in Flash

Back in the good ol’ days, Flash was very popular among many for playing media. It was used, online and offline, for displaying animations, showing presentations, and general advertising. Though there weren’t all that many options back then, such popularity still came mostly because it was simple. It was able to animate vector art very smoothly as opposed to large, clunky .gifs, as well as allow users to use simple interactions like mouse clicks and keyboard input. Macromedia Flash itself also had a very simple interface and UI, and was used in schools all over to help teach students multimedia and animation.

As the internet evolved, so did Flash. As video playback started to become popular, Flash had no choice but to adapt to keep up with competition and provide its users with the best experience possible. This involved cutting corners, taking back-doors, and even adding a whole new programming language to the mix at one point.

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Keeping it Grounded: Why We Avoid the Cloud (Sometimes)

The Cloud

Don’t get me wrong, the “Cloud” is great. Being able to utilize existing apps and not having to worry about updates or security is a huge time saver. But when it gets down to it, “In the cloud” is a buzz term. When translated to laymen speech it means “Storing your data and running your applications on an offsite server, somewhere”. It’s that “somewhere” that is a legal gray area for us, and for certain clients. For example; let’s say we’re working on a project for Microsoft, but are storing documents and files on Google servers. The two companies can (and do) collaborate, but what if they don’t on this project? And we’re storing sensitive Microsoft information with Google? It could cause legal issues if a dispute ever came up. This is the primary reason why we choose to self-host the vast majority of our infrastructure. The services we self-host include a Git server, bug tracker, wiki, file syncing server, and a custom built timetracker. Having a local server host all these services allows us to be extremely agile in development and with our workflows.

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Thoughts on Responsive “Art Direction”

In the creative community, there are discrepancies in how people use design-related lexicon. Terms like “Creative Direction”, “Asset Production”, and “Design” are often used interchangeably and inaccurately. It can be confusing.

“Art direction” in particular, means different things to different people, and there’s a recent trend in using this term to describe specific processes surrounding the production of scalable assets in responsive systems.

For example, according to the Google Developer’s documentation on responsive images:

“[c]hanging images based on device characteristics, also known as art direction can be accomplished using the picture element. The picture element defines a declarative solution for providing multiple versions of an image based on different characteristics, like device size, device resolution, orientation, and more”. – Google Developer Documentation.
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Better Typography for Any Web Project

Using the SCSS Baseline Type Utility

Typographers and type enthusiasts will attest that aligning a typeface to its baseline grid is an essential part of any text-heavy design. Maintaining a consistent vertical rhythm is an important part in the creation of beautiful typography and layouts. This is accomplished easily in programs such as Adobe InDesign. However until now, I have yet to find a tool that easily accomplishes this with web type, while remaining flexible to the individual needs of a project.

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Breaking Into the Web Industry

Taking Your First Steps

Finishing school and stepping into the industry is both daunting and exciting. Having gone through the process of graduation and job searching myself just a year ago, I want to shed some light on what to expect and offer some tips along the way.

After working at gskinner for one year, I was fortunate to attend the grad show where I had first met Grant when I was a student. Along with the CTO and Creative Director, we observed the new grads and discussed possible hires. It was an eye opening experience, learning how management assesses talent. It allowed me to empathize with the hopes and fears of the new grads as they try to find a way into the industry. Luckily, the web platform is broad and provides a large pool of jobs to fill.
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How I Picked Quality Headphones Using Teamsourcing

My headphones died, and the cheap replacement pair I picked up sounded terrible. At the time, a $20 pair of Sony on-ears seemed like a reasonable idea. But when I plugged them in I heard as much static and clipping as music. They were quickly returned, and I was left with the realization I was unfamiliar with headphone brands and didn’t know what would make a good pair for office use. I decided to use an approach we often used for solving problems, teamsourcing! Teamsourcing borrows directly from the concept of Crowdsourcing, using the experience and knowledge of your team to recommend solutions. I asked the team in our group chat what they would recommend for a decent set of headphones around $100, and embarked on a teamsourcing adventure. Continue reading →