First half of CMU ETC “Boot Camp”

So seven weeks have passed and now finally it is spring break! It has been a tough and long first half of the semester, for we have been working for 7 days a week without much of a break, thanks to BVW.

We had 4 rounds of BVW so far. In the first round, my group had to use the kinect to create a world to guide a character to achieve his goal. Our first interim build was badly criticised, but we worked hard in changing our kinect mechanics from just gestures to full body mapping, and managed to pull it off in the final round with some praise. In the second round, which is probably my best so far as I had a pretty good team to work with. Everyone is skilled at what they were doing, and it was quite easy to come to an agreement during our meetings. It was a naive guest round, and my team decided to make use of the commonly understood mechanism of a steering wheel and throttle to control a steampunk style airship. With the use of cloudstoy, L3DT and contrast enhancement in unity, we managed to create a beautiful world which allows the guest to drive through floating islands to collect gold. My teammates also made additions to the pirate ship wheel prop we had, creating a throttle which can store a Wiimote. Our naive guest successfully finished the map without any troubles, praise God! Anthony Daniels (the voice and actor behind C3PO) was present, and he tested our builds and said that it was absolutely wonderful. In our third lightning round, we had to build a multiplayer game on the jamodrum within one week, and my team decided to use the wheels of the drum to control the turntable of – my favourite – trains! There are four drums and hence four turntables, and the coloured trains will spawn randomly, and they have to be guided to the correct coloured tunnel. We had a lot of favour with the professors as they liked the mechanism, as we are controlling something other than the moving object. They felt that it had potential to be expanded to a bigger game. And our fourth round, which is a second lighting round, we had to develop another game in one week, this time my group chose the playstation move. We decided to do a multiplayer rock climbing game, controlling only the 2 hands of a ragdoll, similar to GIRP. We made it comical and added powerups to the holds, so that you can climb faster or throw eggs at the other player. Haha. Our professors liked the idea although one of them didn’t get the eggs thing. Haha. The class was laughing a lot as the ragdoll was very funny as it maneuvered up the rocks.

The other time consuming but enjoyable module was Visual Story, which is about filmmaking. Our first assignment was creating a promotional video of our team: loose screws factory. We had a reverse asylum idea and we filmed what we were crazy about. As for me, it was maps! Haha. Our second assignment was retrofit, which is to readapt a movie scene and recreate it in (almost) exactly the same manner. And so we chose Stranger Than Fiction. Initially we wanted to ask Don, our professor, to act for us. But he was too busy. So we had to use our backup plan: act in a penguin suit! One of my teammates gladly volunteered for it, and it turned out to be pretty good and funny! We also managed to get Anthony Daniels to be the narrator! It was very amazing to see him do what he does best: voice narration in the sound booth. I also managed to get his autograph and see him speak on C3PO voice animatedly. He is hilarious and I think I’ll miss him.

As for fundamentals, we had an adventure module (see other post). So far, Don has been a funny lecturer, teaching us the fundamentals of theatre and plot. The last class is improvisational acting, in which we learn what people do in whose line is it anyway. Each class, we learnt how to make one another look good, and how to help to progress the story and assume everything that is said is true.

Another small interesting thing that happened was that we had to create resumes as part of our class, and apparently my resume format was recognised as one of the best, and the staff kept telling everyone to follow my resume, and in the end, everyone sort of saw and followed my resume format and ended up looking like mine. Haha.

After coming into ETC, I realised that the headfake, as Randy would say, is not creating video games, but to teach you how to work in teams with different kinds of people. There’s not much teaching or learning of technical skills here, you are expected to be already good at what you are doing, and then work in teams to create things which you cannot do alone. The things we learn are just additional “surface pleasures” that make our games and interactive experiences better. I’m still not sure if that is good or bad for me, I would just see where God leads me to. I’m sure there’s a reason for me to be here. It is tiring to work 7 days a week without a sabbath now, and I’m not really liking it. There are also not many film projects, but only one or two special effects one approved each semester. The only hopeful stuff is that there are future film-related projects which are to be tied up with some local studios in Pittsburgh and New York, which seem pretty promising. I can’t wait to get out of cold and boring Pittsburgh! It’s trying too hard to be the most liveable city yet it doesn’t have all the happenings of a city and doesn’t have all the charms of a suburban town. The most happening event I went is the free cultural district gallery open house and the Distant Worlds concert. Other than that, the downtown is pretty dead on weekends.

One of the other ironies is that in NUS, we tend to not interact with people from other nationalities unless absolutely necessary, but now in ETC, we are forced to interact with them and some of them have become my best friends. Being able to speak another common language, like Chinese, helps too. It is fun to share our cultures, to tell the Indians that I love Indian food, share steamboats with the Chinese, and also makes me proud to be a Singaporean at times.

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