Thursday, 23 February 2017

Mastering 3D Design and Game Programming

Ever since October 2016 I put trying to get my novel published on hold, and instead took up some new pursuits. One day I came across an ad on Facebook offering a video game development course on a website called Udemy.

Well, the last time I had ventured into computer coding was 10-15 years ago during a semester of Java class at my old high school. I wasn't any good at it back then but I figured - "What the heck! I'll give it a shot."

Little did I know that one Facebook ad would send me tunneling down a highly lucrative rabbit hole. One that has since I started, allowed me to release my own Android game, Jungle Jumpers, and start my own game design studio, Wild Cockatiel Games.

Learn to Code By Making Games

The course I signed up for was called Learn to Code By Making Games, taught by an English programmer, named Ben Tristem. I'll admit, the promo video on the course splash screen was alluring. It promised to teach a complete beginner like myself how to code with a program called Unity. It would start off with the bare essentials, like creating a text based number guessing game, and progress all the way to a 3D real-time strategy game, over the course of a few hundred videos.

Before I knew it, I was well on my way learning C# and Unity. In the beginning, concepts were often difficult to understand, but it was fun and I applied myself, mastering them bit-by-bit. Before I knew it, I had developed my own Block Breaker game and Laser Defender simulator.

Block Smasher

Laser Defender

Sure, I had created them by following tutorials but what did that matter? The point was I had started learning to code in C# and could do it again.

In fact, it wasn't long before I did start to do it again. I created a YouTube channel called Unity Game Programming for Beginners (formally called C# Programming for Beginners) and started creating helpful tutorial videos. My thoughts on the channel were this:

1) Teaching will help me solidify the information I'm learning.
2) A beginner might not gloss over concepts that seem obvious to a pro, but aren't obvious to other beginners

The channel has so bar been quite successful. It seems every day it's accumulating new subscribers with little marketing effort on my part. I developed two playlists, showing how to make advancements to the games linked above. They pick up right where Ben's Udemy course leaves off.







Ben's Udemy course shows you how to create the base game. My Advanced Block Breaker series shows the viewer how to do things like create an extra life system, respawn the ball, create a collectible coin system and spawn special power balls. My Advanced Laser Defender picks up and shows how to create particle explosions, a level up system for the player and enemies, an animated health bar and a sidegun upgrade for the player.

I'm pleased to say that the feedback on the channel has been extremely positive. Here are a few of the highlighted comments I've received.

Nathan van Jole:
Awesome videos. Fun for people who are looking to take the Laser Defender game a step further 😉

ChimpoTalksGaming:
Great tutorial series. Took longer to get through than I anticipated! I figured, cool, add a few perks to the game, shouldn't take long. Took me a few days, as I attempted to absorb the code into memory by writing and rewriting it.

It very much felt like a real Udemy tutorial at times in the vein of Ben Tristem. You took my attention away from his course. I'll now head back to Ben's course and begin the Laser Defender's section, after which, I will then return for your advanced addendum videos to Laser Defender and pick up where I left off 😄

Thanks Jonathan.
"Cool!" - Ben Tristem and Jonathan;

Subbed, and thumbed up every video I watched 
😄

Arib Babar:
Really spiced up my game, and learned a lot of new stuff. Thanks a lot man!

Tracy Strong:
These videos are super helpful.
I had zero scripting experience when I started the Udemy course, so having bonus activities is really helping me understand how this stuff works. 
😄

Ben's course is amazing and terrific for a beginner programmer, but it's not the only good one. I also ended up taking another course by a programmer named Fahir, who teaches game development on Unity, specifically geared towards Android and iOS development. Fahir's course, "Make 6 Games From Scratch" is another I highly recommend.

Make 6 Games From Scratch

Not only did I learn Android and iOS specific coding from Fahir, but he provides a MASSIVE free collection of assets for 2D and 3D game development when you sign up for his course.

I wish it stopped there... actually, no I don't. I was and still am having way too much fun with all of this.

When I started the 3D section of Ben's course, "Bowlmaster," a fork in the road was offered. In one of the early videos, Ben collaborated with a 3D modeler named Michael Bridges who offers a 3D modeling course on Udemy using a free program called Blender.

This looked cool and I had to give it a shot. I signed up and before I knew it, I was well on my way to becoming a 3D modeler and animator, in addition to a game developer. Not bad for spending roughly four months on this path.

Shortly after signing up for the course I was posting some of my uh, shall we say lackluster creations on Facebook. I was proud of them though!

Model Plane

It didn't take long however before my 3D creations started becoming more and more advanced. Here are some of the other creations I made after spending 1-2 months in this course.

Bowling Scene

Bowling Scene

Chess Set

3D Chess Set

Animated Lamp



3D Heart



I'm also working on a few other projects at this time, but will keep those under wraps until they're ready to be posted. 😁

Learn Anything

Anyway, if you're looking for a place to find a new passion and learn something really cool, Udemy is the place to be. The best part is, the courses max at out at top costs of $200 and often go on sale for MUCH less. You can frequently get a $200 course for about $15 and once you buy it once, you own it for life. The community is wonderful and each course has it's own question and answer section, which I've always seen busy.

Whenever there is a promotion going on, I'll be sure to let you know about it in this post. In fact, if  you leave a comment down below, if there's a promotion going on I'll reply to your comment so you'll know.

Udemy

Just to recap, here are a few of the courses I'm enrolled in on Udemy and highly recommend.

1) Learn to Code By Making Games (Unity, C#, Game Programming, 2D, 3D, Ben Tristem) - List price is $200 but often goes on sale for much less

2) Make 6 Games From Scratch (Unity, C#, Game Programming, 2D, Android, iOS, Fahir) - List price is $200 but often goes on sale for much less

3) Learn 3D Modelling - The Blender Creator Course (Blender, 3D Modelling, Michael Bridges) - List price is $200 but often goes on sale for much less

4) Creating 3D Environments in Blender (Blender, 3D Modelling, Rob Tuytel) - List price is $130 but often goes on sale for much less

Creating 3D Environments in Blender

Got questions? I've got answers. Leave a comment and let me know!


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Why Literary Agents Stop Reading Your Manuscript Submission


Why Literary Agents Stop Reading Your Manuscript Submission
On August 20, 2016, I attended Toronto Writing Workshop at the Marriott Hotel. Besides having Chuck Sambuchino from Writer's Digest as our target speaker, there were ten literary agents in attendance and one small publisher. You can see which agents were present by clicking the first link and scrolling down.

You could pay extra to meet and pitch to agents one-on-one. I highly recommend doing this as its infinitely better than emailing query letters with no prior introduction.

Immediately after lunch, we entered into a session called Writers' Got Talent. The premise was that Chuck would read out the first page of an atendees unpublished manuscript, and the agents sitting on the panel would raise their hand when (or if) they would stop reading. If six hands went up, Chuck would stop reading, altogether.

How were the submissions chosen? At the start of the day, writers were invited to hand in twelve copies of their first page to the volunteers. No names or story titles were to be included - only the genre. A few of those submissions would be chosen 'randomly' and read out loud. I put 'randomly' in quotations as I suspect it wasn't truly random, due to the diversity of book genres we heard.

My own manuscript, Elementalists: The Fires of Canicus, a YA Urban Fantasy, was not selected and I'm not sure if I'm happy or sad about that.

During this session I kept detailed notes on what made agents stop reading so I could present the information to my readers later.

So why do literary agents stop reading your manuscript submissions? Here are a few reasons why:

1) (I didn't record the genre): Too much telling and not showing. It had a prologue. Starting with action sequences is good but pausing for description interrupts the flow. Excessive swearing for no reason.

2) Middle-Grade: Too much early description isn't a major hook. The same word, "tree" is repeated too much. You have to grab middle-grade readers attention quickly. Exposition and description isn't the way to do that.

3) Erotic Romance: (This was the only submission that was met with applause immediately after Chuck finished reading). Dialogue has to be realistic. Would you really say that to a friend? "Look at that piece of sex on a stick." Her skin became hyper-aware. - Your skin is not sentient. Describing a friend as "muscular" doesn't sit right. Two agents said they don't like stories that open with dialogue. One agent said she doesn't mind.

4) Sci-Fi Comedy: (6 hands went up) - First paragraph is too techy. Also, it's an early indication that the book will be too wordy. Description overkill. First sentence was, "Hey, dude, you ever get tired of probing things all the time." - two agents liked this but one didn't (said it showed immaturity on behalf of the character). Probed is a great word but reusing it throughout the first page reduced its effectiveness.

5) Women's Fiction: (6 hands went up) - Lots of description. Lack of flow. Avoid starting your story with the 3-W's: Your character Waking up. What your character looks like. The weather.

6) Low Fantasy: (6 hands went up)  -Grammatical errors - yikes! Profanity for no good reason. Genre sounds misclassified and like it should just be regular fantasy.

7) YA Sci-Fi: Cliche phrases like "grimacing" (minor thing). First line didn't have a hook. Lack of congruency between internal thoughts. A lot of books start with "bored" characters. Not the best idea because that energy can transfer to your reader. Not clearly seeing a plot or any immediate issue.

8) YA Fantasy: (6 hands went up) - Starts with character looking down and describing herself. Weird things in the description. Scenario isn't clear.

9) Literary Fiction: (6 hands went up) - Books described as 'literary fiction' garner an immediate "uh oh" from some agents. They think writers who do this are either self-congratulatory or have a big ego. Using big words to sound fancy for the sake of being fancy. (Those were the issues with this first page)

10) Memoire: (6 hands went up) - Breaking the 4th wall - creates an uncomfortable feeling. Don't want to read about a character who isn't self-aware. Should be hearing a story we've heard before but told in a different way. Leading questions are bad. Nothing unique about this situation.

***

Ten submissions were all we had time to get through before the agents had to go back to the other room and listen to more book pitches. This entire process took about an hour and a half.

I hope you've learned something useful from this post!

By the way, I've been building a new website called Writing a Book Café for the past two months. It's a site jam-packed with useful articles on how to plan, write, edit, publish and market your own book. I also have additional long-term plans to help writers publish and market their work with this website.

I'm hoping to have it launched by the end of September. Please like the Facebook page or subscribe via email to be notified when it goes live.


Saturday, 30 April 2016

VR Is Primitive as Heck... And It Still Rocks

It was July 13, 2015 when my Gear VR Innovator Edition for the Samsung Galaxy 6S arrived at work via Canada Post. This event has officially been marked as one of the most exciting days in my life, to date. Ever since learning about the Oculus Rift a couple years prior, I had been following the development of virtual-reality like a hawk watching its prey. Finally, an actual virtual-reality headset was within my grasp.

Now if VR is an unfamiliar concept for you, here's the gist of it. There are currently four main virtual-reality headsets on the market:
  1. Google Cardboard - the most affordable experience, but also the lowest quality headset available.
  2. Gear VR - a mid-range experience that's affordable and works with several Android smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge +, S7, S7 edge and Galaxy Note 5.
  3. Oculus Rift - A much higher-end headset that kicked-off the current VR revolution, developed by Palmer Luckey. It requires a very powerful computer to use. You're looking at approximately building a $1,000 - $1,500 CDN machine just to use the Rift.
  4. HTC Vive - currently regarded as the most powerful and expensive VR headset. It's the only headset that allows room-scale VR. This means you can literally walk around in VR. You also need a fairly clear space to use this to it's maximum potential.
Particularly on Reddit, you will find a lot of people with their favourite brand (HTC or Oculus), often bashing the other side. It's quite similar to the love-hate relationship of Android vs. Apple, Starbucks vs. Tim Hortons or AMD vs. NVIDIA,

There is some humour in these headset wars because really, everyone is on the side of pro-VR, regardless of their brand preferences. Developers are currently innovating and pushing the technology to its absolute limits. Of course, there's nothing wrong with some healthy competition either. It inspires the other brands to step-up their game and do better in the next round. Right now, it seems widely accepted that the HTC Vive is leading the pack by providing the best overall VR experience.

As for me, I'm a fan of all VR, refusing to take sides. However, I'm also not ready to shell out the roughly $2,500 - $3,000 CDN it would take to invest in both a VR ready computer and either the Oculus Rift and/or HTC Vive. The Gear VR, currently priced around $100.00 - $150.00 CDN from Amazon, is a much more affordable VR solution. The current consumer model is also a little cleaner looking than my innovator edition, which less than a year ago, was almost double the price, closer to $300.00 CDN.

VR Is Primitive and Still Totally Awesome

VR is extremely exciting. It's been interesting watching what is essentially the birth of a new industry while being an integrated user at the same time. There's a certain inexplicable feeling of awe looking at an app store that can be cycled through from start to finish in just a couple of minutes.

When I got my Gear VR headset last summer it had a rather limited number of uses. The app store was tiny, there was no Internet browser, no Netflix, and in order to use about half the apps, a Bluetooth controller was required. Well, that last part hasn't really changed.

Even so, the thrill of putting on a clunky VR headset for the first time and experiencing the wonders of being immersed in a totally virtual-world is a feeling difficult to describe. I can just imagine 50 years from now, showing my kids and grand-kids what my first virtual-reality headset was like and hearing their comments;

"Eww, you wore THAT?"

"But it's so big!"

"Didn't your head get tired?"

"Why didn't you just get a VR implant?"

"Yeah! Didn't they have VR contact lenses?"

Virtual-reality headsets as they are now feel both really neat and at the same time, a bit like old brick cellphones. I mean, the headsets are still really cool, but 50 years from now the current technology will undoubtedly be looked at like the way an old brick cellphone is looked at today. Did I say 50? It will probably happen a lot sooner than that.

VR's Potential Might Be the Best Part

I've already mentioned that upon receiving my Gear VR, it's actual uses were fairly limited. Over the course of the nine months I've owned my headset, its number of applications and possibilities available have already pretty much doubled in size. Here are a few of my favourite applications.

The VR Theatre (Oculus Cinema)
Here you can watch movies and/or videos downloaded onto your phone in a virtual movie-theatre that feels astonishingly like you're in a real one. You can also swap out the movie-theatre setting and watch from a home theatre, a soda can, or even put yourself on the moon with a drive-in-theatre-like-screen in front of you.

Netflix Theatre
This feature one came out a few months after purchasing my Gear VR and despite our limited Canadian selection, it's still really nifty. The Netflix theatre puts you into a simulated luxury home with a large screen TV where you can sit back and watch some Netflix and chill, by yourself.

I feel like the Netflix theatre is one of the best examples of how efficiently VR tricks our brains. Consider for a moment what it's like watching regular Netflix on your phone. You're looking at a small screen in your hand. It feels tiny because it is tiny.

In VR, the Netflix screen is even smaller because it's only taking up a fraction of space on your phone's screen. The other space is taken up by the virtual room environment you're sitting in. Yet, your brain interprets this as watching Netflix on a large screen TV and it feels larger. It is larger. Even though it technically isn't.

VR Games
There are a handful of games and a lot of them feel like demos of something bigger. Some hits from the regular Android store such as Temple Run and Smash Hit have been recreated in VR and feel wonderful. It's cool to play Temple Run in first person mode where you can turn around and watch the monster chase you. There are also a number of shooting games that can be played with the headset's touchpad, although you're basically just shooting at incoming enemies since you can't physically move yourself.

To get the most immersive experience from a Gear VR headset however, you need a controller. In Canada, these can be tricky to get but I just purchased the Moga Pro Power off of amazon.ca a couple days ago. It's easy to set up too. Simply charge the controller, set the bottom switch to "B" mode, scan for the controller via Bluetooth, connect and play. Redditor, danegeroust, even came up with an ingenious overheating solution using this controller, which is great because overheating is a major problem when using your Gear VR for an extended period of time. Here's another useful article recently linked on reddit for keeping your Gear VR cool.



The controller works well. It feels a lot like an X-Box controller and it can even hook directly into your phone and charge it while you play. Alternatively, keep in your bag and use the controller as a spare battery pack when you're on the go. Finally I was able to enjoy Herobound, a VR Platformer, which has been my best VR gaming experience yet. Although I haven't gotten very far, I'm vaguely reminded of my old N64 favourite, Banjo-Kazooie.

MOGA Pro Power
The MOGA Pro Controller for Gear VR
There are a few other games that require a controller I'm excited to try out. Dreadhalls is a popular first person horror game that leaves people screaming and Minecraft just came to Gear VR this past week. I've never been a Minecraft fan myself, but I'm definitely looking forward to trying it in virtual-reality with a controller in hand.

In my opinion, there does appear to be one major flaw with VR gaming in general. Simply put, because the technology is so new, developers are still working on figuring out how to create the perfect VR gaming experience. While the VR games that exist are definitely fun, a major VR breakthrough like Final Fantasy, Half-Life or World of Warcraft just doesn't exist yet.

The same can be said for VR films, there are plenty of shorts but no feature length movies available. Still, this is clearly something we can expect to see developed within the coming years. On one app called Milk VR you can watch a faithful recreation of the opening scene of The Martian in VR. I showed it to my dad and he was blown away. Hopefully the actual theatre industry can figure out a way to incorporate VR into movies because going to an actual theatre for a truly immersive VR experience is something worth looking forward to.

The potential is there and it's only a matter of time until truly groundbreaking games and movies do exist.

Everyone Who Tries VR Loves It

Hands down, my favourite part of the VR experience so far hasn't been using it myself, it's been letting others try on my Gear VR headset and watching their initial reactions as they experience virtual-reality for their first time.

The first two people to try my Gear VR headset other than myself were my parents. So far, they've been the guinea pigs for pretty much every new Gear VR app I ask people to try. It all started with Jurassic World, which is a simple simulation that runs for about a minute. It's great for giving anyone a quick peek at what a VR environment can be like, especially because it's downloaded to your phone and doesn't require an Internet connection to play back. In the simulation, you watch as an Apatosaurus gets up from a nap, strides directly up to your face, grabs food from a tree above you and then goes back to sleep.

Sounds simple enough, right?

I've watched as kids in my family reach out, trying to pet the dinosaur. I've seen adults lunge backwards and scream. For some, it's been too much too handle and they've had to take off the headset. For many others, they want to watch it again and then see what else the Gear VR can do.

Another super fun VR experience to show off its capabilities has been a horror app called 'Sisters.' In it, you sit on a couch and in a dark and scary mansion room and look around as a couple of dolls initially sitting on a shelf, aren't quite sitting there any more...

Nothing to see here, just a creepy doll of a little girl
I won't spoil what happens, but when I showed it off to my aunts, uncles, cousins and their kids at Easter, it was a huge hit. I thought the kids wouldn't want to go anywhere near this app, but they were begging to try it and then wanted to watch it again and again and again. Then they passed it on and got their parents to try it out. Virtually everyone screamed at some point while watching and a number of them started but couldn't finish.

I'm really excited for these kids. They are going to grow up with VR technology the same way my generation grew up with the birth of the Internet and gaming consoles like the Super NES and N64.

The Future of VR Is Exceptionally Bright

If you think VR is all about watching videos and playing games, well, that actually makes a lot of sense. I mean, that's pretty much the impression I've given you in this write-up. Nothing could be further from the truth though.

Honestly, the limitations of VR are virtually limitless. Yes, games, entertainment and of course, porn, are largely responsible for pushing the innovation and development of this technology, but it's uses - both current and potential - go so far beyond that in scope.

Already, VR is being used in surgery to give medical students an eye-witness account right into the heart of an operation. VR recently helped an amputee who suffered from phantom-limb pain experience relief after 48 years of suffering. DeepStream VR has a mission of promoting health and wellness, both physical and mental. VR has numerous uses in education. For instance, Google is already in the process of rolling out Expeditions, an app that will allow teachers to take their students on virtual field-trips around the world.

Have you seen videos like the one embedded below this paragraph that show off the scope of the observable universe? For VR users, an app called Titans of Space let's  you experience something similar to this on a VR scale. Imagine going on a tour through our very own solar system, witnessing the scope of the planets and our sun as they sit next to each other. In VR, you can do that.



This is where VR begins. Who knows where it will end? I predict that within 10 years, VR headsets will be as common as smartphones are today. Not only that, but I predict they will probably be no bigger than a pair of sunglasses, completely wireless, twice as powerful and only a percentage of the current price.

Think this is an exaggeration? What I'm describing is practically no different than what happened with the rise of cell phones and smartphones.

What Do You Think about VR?

Do you have a Gear VR headset or one of the other VR headsets yourself? Are you just dying to try out virtual-reality for your first time? Have you been debating getting a headset and has this article helped you decide?

I want to know!

Let me know in the comments what you think about VR so far, what your experience has been, or what you're most eager to try out.

If you've found this post helpful and are thinking about getting your own Gear VR headset, please consider purchasing one through my affiliate link. It adds no extra cost to your purchase and is an easy way of saying thank you if this information has been helpful to you in any capacity. You can also leave a comment below with any questions and I will do my best to answer them for you.

These products have my full endorsement: Here are the links:


Yes, we are living in a time when VR is in its infancy. VR is primitive as heck... and it still rocks.

Friday, 29 April 2016

How to Make the MOGA Pro Power Controller Connect to Your Gear VR

You've purchased a MOGA Power Pro controller and now you're trying to get it to connect to your Gear VR headset.

While this is not difficult to do, it can be slightly tricky. If you follow the steps in the MOGA instruction manual then you're likely to wind up confused because their instructions won't actually work for your purposes.

What MOGA tells you to do is download their app, switch the controller to 'A' mode, and then connect to it via Bluetooth. This will make the controller work with their apps only.

In order to make the controller work with Gear VR apps (or anything non-MOGA), you need to move that switch to 'B' mode. Once you have done this, go into your Bluetooth settings, press 'scan,' and connect to MOGA Pro 2 HID.

To reiterate... being connected to MOGA Pro 2 via your Bluetooth settings DOES NOT WORK. If you are connected to this device it means you are connected to 'A' mode, which works with MOGA apps only.

Connect to MOGA PRO 2 HID instead. This means you can use the controller to play your Gear VR games. The switch on the bottom of your controller must be set to 'B' in order for this to work.

Also, I found that switching the controller to 'A' mode will automatically make the controller show up under 'available devices' in your Bluetooth settings, but when it's set to 'B' mode, you actually have to click 'scan for devices' first.

That's all there is to it. Leave a comment below if you have any questions or still need any help getting your controller working.

Don't have a MOGA controller yet? You can pick one up here.

Want to know more about the MOGA Controller and Gear VR? Click here for my review on both: VR Is Primitive as Heck... and Still Rocks.