It Takes a Village to Make a Game

David Lam, Bioware's Outsourcing Art Director, talks to University of Alberta students about the value of teamwork. Photo courtesy of Kevin Schenk and Vadim Bulitko.

David Lam, Bioware’s Outsourcing Art Director, talks to University of Alberta students about the value of teamwork. Photo courtesy of Kevin Schenk and Vadim Bulitko.

There aren’t many industries more multidisciplinary than video game creation. Musicians, artists, programmers, animators, writers, and people from pretty much every other skill set work together to develop games.

With that many different types of people and personalities in play, you’ve really got to be able to share your toys and play nice. This is why BioWare is such a big supporter of the University of Alberta’s CMPUT 250 course, which takes students from every faculty and teaches them how to work together.

Students in the CMPUT 250 course work in groups of six to develop games over four months. Photo courtesy of Kevin Schenk and Vadim Bulitko.

Students in the CMPUT 250 course work in groups of six to develop games over four months. Photo courtesy of Kevin Schenk and Vadim Bulitko.

The course on computers and games requires students to take a game from concept to release in four months. Each team includes a writer, musician, artist, and three programmers. Vadim Bulitko, who teaches the course, chooses each term’s students from a stack of applications to ensure an even distribution from the different disciplines.

“The greatest thing they learn in this course is how to work in an interdisciplinary team,” Bulitko says. “Now days, a lot of projects are interdisciplinary, and wherever you are, you’ll be working with people of different backgrounds and educations. Being able to work and be successful in that kind of environment is a great asset.”

Each year, the university hosts an award ceremony for the games the teams make, celebrating excellence in art and design, writing, audio, and technical achievements, as well as a Game of the Year.

The overall winner this year was a stealth-action game called The Day I Died, where players must use both corporeal and spiritual forms in tandem to solve puzzles and escape purgatory.

BioWare's Associate Recruiter, Shanda Wood, poses with the game of the year winners. Photo courtesy of Kevin Schenk and Vadim Bulitko.

BioWare’s Associate Recruiter, Shanda Wood, poses with the game of the year winners. Photo courtesy of Kevin Schenk and Vadim Bulitko.

“The games I’ve seen are very diverse: everything from first-person combat to stealth and logic puzzles,” Bulitko says. “Because there’s no commercial aspect, the exploration costs are very low, so they can just explore what they think is artistically and creatively interesting.”

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

On September 10th, BioWare’s “Gamers with Gams” strutted their stuff for YWCA Edmonton’s fourth annual Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event, the international men’s march to stop rape, sexual assault, and gender violence.

Our men stuffed themselves into high heels and wobbled down to Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton to raise eyebrows, funds, and, most importantly, awareness. Participants who raised more than $150 followed through on the promise that they would shave their legs for the event, and waxing was in order for those who were lucky enough to raise over $300. Let the evidence below show that fundraising efforts were a success!

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BioWare Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity

While making games is our passion, we also love the community we live in and try to give a little something back whenever we can. Recently, the BioWare team volunteered with Habitat for Humanity here in Edmonton, helping to build homes for a great cause.

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The Neufeld Landing project is the largest Habitat for Humanity build in Canada. When it’s finished, it will give 64 families a place to live.

We dispatched 21 eager BioWarians to spend two days working on the build in Edmonton’s Rutherford neighbourhood. It was an enriching experience, and a true privilege to work with the great Habitat team making a difference in our community. While our day job is creating virtual worlds to delight and surprise our players, it’s always nice to help make the real world a little better too.

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Fan Blog: Andrew Ryan, Artist

Hey fellow BioWare fans,

My name is Andrew Ryan, and I’m a freelance artist based in New York City that loves doing fan art for BioWare’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles. Here’s how I got into making fan art, why I enjoy it so much, and what my general process is.

I’ve been a huge Mass Effect fan since its 2007 release. I fell in love with its stylistic approach to the universe and with the option for each of us to craft our own individual narrative within the confines of the overarching plot. It reawakened within me the drive to be a more creative person. I’d always loved science-fiction and fantasy art, but I hadn’t really been drawing much since graduating from high school two years prior.

During this particular time in my life I was basically just playing a bunch of video games in my mom’s basement and working menial jobs. Inspirational games like Mass Effect gave me the motivation to start seeking out art schools where I could foster my desire to be creative. After a couple of rejections from other schools, I got into the School of Visual Arts in NYC. It was there, during my sophomore year, that one of my instructors introduced me to Dragon Age: Origins.

Fast forward to 2012 and my senior year of art school. I made the decision that year to go digital rather than traditional. Unfortunately, my classes didn’t offer much in the way of using Photoshop as a painting tool, so I figured the best way to learn was just to paint with it as much as possible in my spare time. I also figured that the best way to keep myself motivated was to paint something I really cared about. In 2012, that was Mass Effect 3.

Okay, so I wasn’t too fond of the original ending and the destruction of the Mass Relays. I wanted to know that my favorite characters weren’t forever stuck on some remote planet, so I started painting epilogue scenarios. I had Garrus and Tali retire to Rannoch, Wrex rejoin EVE back on Tuchunka to lead the krogan to a new age, and Kaidan, my love interest and favorite character, return to the Citadel ruins to search for Shepard. These were my attempts to get the closure I felt was lacking prior to the release of the Extended Cut—which thankfully remedied the business with the relays.

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Around this time I also got to thinking how fun it would be to evolve my skillset by depicting some of the hypothetical enemy forces we didn’t get a chance to see during the Reaper War, such as the Reaperized hanar, volus, and drell. Looking back, I’m not too happy with them. I could have pushed them to be a lot more grotesque, but I had a blast making them and enjoyed sharing and discussing my concepts with other fans.

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My next fan project, Dragon Effect, was inspired in part by the existing blood dragon armor set that already served as a bridge between the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises. I planned to just do Shepard originally, but then I started drawing parallels between the two worlds by comparing biotics to mages and synthetics to golems. This led to rendering almost every Mass Effect character in a DA-inspired outfit. I’m currently working on bringing the Dragon Age cast into the Mass Effect universe, which has been equally challenging and entertaining.

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When determining how a character should look, I consider several things: I gauge the overall aesthetic appearance of its genre and how to transfer it to the other. I find similarities in personality to another existing character. I think about how to make the final lineup more interesting. For example, I’ll try not to make every single mage a standard biotic adept but instead make some of them vanguards when it better suits their DA fighting style.

Miranda, for instance, had certain traits in common with Morrigan: a confident attitude, a desire to keep others at an emotional distance, and parental issues. There’s also the obvious biotic-mage comparison, so I took elements from Miranda’s Mass Effect outfit (Cerberus insignia and honeycomb patterning) and implemented them in Morrigan’s staff and skirt. I also traded color schemes as it’s an easy and obvious way to change someone’s look but retain the overall feel of a character.

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As for my process, it’s always changing. I’m still relatively new to digital painting, but generally I start with a solid line drawing followed by layering in separate solid dark colors underneath. I then add various textures on top of that to give the image a bit of “tooth” and so it doesn’t look quite so digital. Once I lay in the textures, I move onto the face. I use a lot of reference to nail down as close of a likeness as I can to the character. I’ll use the lighting direction in the reference photo so that I can render out the rest of the body. At a certain point, when I am happy enough with the direction, I combine all of the layers into one and start doing little tweaks to make certain forms read better. On the final pass, I add custom features like tattoos and buttons.

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Although I’m never really happy with any of my art—I tend to only see the flaws—my fan art has been a great way to expand on the intrinsic love and admiration I feel for these games. I look forward to bringing you guys more in the future!

Please visit my site to follow my future projects or to view my past works:
http://andrewryanart.deviantart.com/

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BioWare at Dragon*Con 2013

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We had such a great time at last year’s Dragon*Con that we’ll be there again this year! David Gaider (Dragon Age Lead Writer) and Aidan Scanlan (Assistant Director of Design) will represent the BioWare team in Atlanta and are looking forward to meeting you!

Where to See BioWare at Dragon*Con

Saturday, August 31st

  • 7:00PM: Gamer Girls Unite! – Hilton Grand Salon C

We’ll discuss how various female characters are portrayed in games, the involvement of women in games communities, and more.

  •  8:30PM:  Behind the Scenes of Dragon Age Panel – Hilton Grand Salon D

David and Aidan will be on-hand to talk about the creative process behind the Dragon Age series.

 

Sunday, September 1st

  • 10:00AM: Join the Video Game Industry! – Hilton Grand Salon D

Professionals from all disciplines share the secrets of a great portfolio for those who want to get into the game.

  • 11:30AM: Voice Actors of Mass Effect – Hilton Grand Ballroom East

Meet the actors who provided the voices for several popular Mass Effect characters and storylines, including Raphael Sbarge (Lt. Kaidan Alenko) and Mark Meer (male Commander Shepard).

  • 8:30PM: Sex in Video Games Panel – Hilton Grand Salon D

Attend this highly anticipated follow-up to last year’s panel discussing sexuality in games.

 

Monday, September 2nd

  • 1:00PM: Writing for Videogames – Hilton Grand Salon D

A discussion of the creative challenges involved in writing branching dialogue for video games.

  • 4:00PM: Join the Video Game Industry! – Hilton Grand Salon D

Professionals from all disciplines teach the secrets of a great portfolio for those who want to get into the game.

 

We look forward to seeing you there!