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Totem Learning

       Team Totem 2016    New Year is always a time for looking forward to the year ahead – our team have been discussing what’s on their radar for 2016 and here are some highlights:                 






        PJ (Creative Producer)    2016 will have a heavy focus on VR and AR technologies in the gaming space. However it will be a slow growth process as unit price points, technology processing power and rendering speeds will hamper these technologies in becoming truly ubiquitous in 2016.   That’s not to say that these technologies won’t be hugely profitable for some hardware manufacturers and game developers, as early adopters will always invest in new technologies and new game IP. What will be interesting to see is, the creative use of these technologies and who and which variants of these technologies come out on top.                   






        Helen Routledge (Head of Design and Production)    In 2016 the trend towards understanding the real value in ‘proper’ gaming techniques and mechanics over just slapping badges and scores onto content will continue. The ‘easy’ trend of gamifying content has saturated the market place and we are seeing commissioners of content as well as learners shy away from these cheap tricks to boost short term engagement.   More and more we are hearing that gamified elearning just isn’t ‘doing it’ for learners; many elearning providers have replaced the classic next button with a dice graphic – it still performs the same function, it’s just, now it’s a fancy next button.     In terms of which areas of learning will do well in 2016 for me, I believe soft skills will continue to thrive and personally I’d love to see the area of recruitment move forward – as the possibilities of using games to evaluate possible new recruits are huge!  Also I forecast huge book sales!     












        Stuart Jackson (Artist)    The “big thing” I’m most excited about in the year ahead is the advancements in procedural generation in games. Many of this year’s up and coming games include procedural generation, especially “ No Mans Sky ”. Having technology that pushes the boundaries of design is something I think will inspire the future of serious games!      












        Amy Wing (Media Production and Marketing Executive)    I’m looking forward to seeing more 360 degree videos in 2016. There have already been some interesting applications already. In 2015 we've seen examples used on news channels and film trailers. This week, Pixar are releasing their first 360 animation, which is really exciting. But the most interesting aspect is the doors this opens for documentaries. The immersive nature of 360 filming gives film makers an avenue to reach their audience in ways never before possible.  The most prominent example from 2015 is  Polar Sea 360 . This hybrid of 360 filming and traditional filming techniques explores the effects of the changing Artic environment. The focus is how this change effects the Inuit population. To date it is the best use of 360 filming I have seen. The attention to sound, the care taken to cuts, ensuring a fluid immersive experience for viewers I suspect, is just a taste of what’s to come in 2016.                                             












        Vicky Rose (Head of Communications)    This year it would be great to see more collaborative (crowd sourced) problem solving.  One of Nesta’s predictions for 2016 is that Universities will move on from their individualistic heritage and become challenge driven, harnessing the collective brainpower of students worldwide to solve sustainable development goals.  We’ve seen it in the gaming world: Back in 2011, players of  Foldit , an online puzzle game about protein folding solved a molecular puzzle in 3 weeks where researchers had worked on the problem for 13 years.  Cancer Research released Play to Cure™:  Genes in Space  – the world’s first free mobile game that uses the collective force of players to analyse real genetic data and help beat cancer sooner.      






     A comprehensive list of citizen science games can be found  here . Technology helps with networking individuals and games are a great way to drive engagement and increase accessibility in some of the more complex problems.                     






        Richard Smith (MD)    I agree with PJ on VR in 2016. Oculus Rift and Windows HoloLens among many other devices are released and the API to integrate will be built in to Unity and other game engines. Gamification is about to crash in to the Gartner chasm in the Hypecycle. People are going to realise that is it not the answer to everything and has limited used in many applications such as L & D.       






      Serious Games to rise further as a serious experiential medium, fuelled by the technology advances, the faster and greater uptake of VR and other tech and the realisation mentioned above about gamification and it’s limited suitability in l & d Experiential/immersive learning whether “virtual” or real with things like “escape games”, role play, actors etc. Making learning as real as possible is going to be a trend too.                          Tom Cutler (Developer)     CES 2016  is currently on over the next few days, which is the consumer electronics show, so some interesting new tech will probably surface over the next few days. I know that the consumer version of the oculus rift is available for  preorder  now so I also expect to see a huge surge in VR activity.     












        Mark Pocock (Artist)    While I also agree with PJ that VR is going to the centre of attention in 2016, I would also like to point out, the strive for ever more realistic graphics is also turning a rather sharp corner. It doesn’t take a genius to compare game graphics from 10 years ago and now, to see that things have moved on significantly as it did in the decade before that and before that etc.. But in the few years or so the introduction of Physical Based Rendering (PBR), has seen visual believability step up to a whole new level.  In the background we have some fantastic shader coding that has allowed for believable specularity, reflections and global illumination across various platforms and hardware specifications.      






      In the foreground are the Artists who utilise this technology to create beautiful visuals that brings the games industry nearer to film level CGI. So my feeling is that with tools such as Substance Painter/Designer and Quixel; we will start to see more flexible artistic workflows which in some cases ignore the likes of Photoshop with more focus on the development of material/substance libraries for painting straight onto models, to create lush looking PBR textures for use in top end engines, of whom are forever improving and expanding on their usage of it to push boundaries.   In summary I believe 2016 to be the year of PBR. Companies are already trying to push graphics to the next level using this new technology.  With games such as The Order: 1886 and Assassin’s Creed: Unity already showing this off in 2015, by 2016 I would expect its usage to be more mainstream.      









New Year is always a time for looking forward to the year ahead – our team have been discussing what’s on their radar for 2016 and here are some highlights:


       Is 'it' green?: Drawing and researching      
      Draw, Draw and Draw!     












    You have to keep drawing! Even if it’s not going well and you find you just can't draw. Maybe you're having one of ‘those’ days. That's ok. Take a break. Leave your desk and get some fresh air. Have a bite to eat or a nice cool beer. Relax.  Then get back to your desk. Change from a pencil to a ball point pen if you have to, draw! As seen below! I believe you have to draw and draw and then some, if you are going to uncover the gem you're after.   I like using a ball point pen as it makes you focus on creation rather than refinement. I’m looking for the rough beats which I’ll get plenty of time to tweak and refine later.         






        Early sketches for the Data Executive    
    Here I thought I would save time. I jumped straight into illustrator without really thinking, this is what I came up with. Very mediocre, slightly lifeless icon style. The character still had comedic value but it was missing a vital ingredient. My advice is simple: Avoid doing this- work on paper and then scan it in when you are happy.     






        Back to research  I looked back at my research. I focused on some Italian characters that seemed to suit. I finally found a great celebrity to loosely base my character around and I went from there.     



              Green IT. Character Design Process, Nicky Rhodes  



      Now we enter the refinement phase. As you can see above my sketching is a bit ropey and raw due to them still being in the working out stage. Once you are happy with your sketch idea; get feedback! Get as many people as possible to look at it and comment. I let work colleagues look through my final 6 character sketches. They would make passing statements, good and bad. Pick up on comments like: ‘I don't trust that guy’, ‘Is she a ninja?’, ‘he looks like a knight’, chances are these opinions will reflect the masses thoughts too.        






        If you can: adapt or, at least, consider what would happen if you turned the janitor into a knight? It can give character added dimensions. Not everyone has to like your character, just as long as they recognise what it’s supposed to represent then your job is done. Don't take offence if people say "it’s rubbish" or "that could be done better". But do question them, ask for specifics so you can refine it and adapt. Equally, be mindful and question "is their criticism founded and worth pursuing". Also wise to remember; you won’t please everyone you ask. People will see different things and want different tweaks. Don’t try to please them all. Take the ideas that resonate most with what you are trying to achieve, otherwise you’ll end up with something designed by a committee: vanilla and lifeless. 



Draw, Draw and Draw!

You have to keep drawing! Even if it’s not going well and you find you just can't draw. Maybe you're having one of ‘those’ days. . .


       Is 'it' green?: Incorporating character stereotypes            Stereotypes in the Design Process    






      Always reference from real life. I restricted myself to certain nationality groups. My aim was to capture a typical Slovenian/Italian etc   face type; taking into consideration features such as eye shape, skin tone, hair colour, etc. Often determining these traits are big generalisations and not factual. But it is a good exercise to have recognisable traits in your characters. It helps people easily associate your character with the nationality, age group, occupation etc your character belongs too.   A great example of this in practice is Wallace and Gromit. Many of the characters are ‘stereotypical’ British people. They have bad teeth, a fanatical love of tea, an insatiable appetite for biscuits and a dubious taste in clothing!      






      Stereotyping traits can refer to personality, such as a love for tea and biscuits, or physical traits like bad teeth. When considering the latter it is always best to get a wide sample for inspiration, then pick out the most commonly occurring similarities. Take care to be   aware socially when creating characters. My teeth are lovely and straight, by the way, but I can’t resist a cup of tea!     






     This is an example of my influene. I took inspiration from specific people in the limelight so the audience can easily connect with them. It’s always good to base characters on celebrities or actors, loosely. It is a great starting point. You may also find your characters become influenced by family members or work colleagues.        



Always reference from real life: I restricted myself to certain nationality groups. I was aiming to capture a typical Slovenian/Italian etc face type; taking into consideration features such as eye shape, skin tone, hair colour, etc. Often determining these traits are big generalisations and not factual but it is good to have recognisable traits in your characters so people more easily associate with the nationality, age group, occupation etc your character belongs too. 


       Is 'it' green?: decision making with design            



              Nicky Rhodes  



     Step Two - Narrowing it down  So now you have your initial research done. It’s time to break it down into categories. This will help build a clear picture of what to focus on.  With Green IT, I took the styles I thought best appropriate for the brief and split them into similar looking sections. Doing this helps to work out what style I want to achieve. At this stage it’s still ok to not know exactly what you want and you're allowed to get it wrong. This is a good process to narrow down your options to design styles which suit the brief and you are happy to pursue.     












        Decision making time!  I find this stage super tricky. I loathe making decisions. I’d rather merge all the styles and ideas together but this is an ill-advised method. It can become time consuming, messy and often doesn’t work out in the long run.  If you find things are getting tricky- you can't find the style you want and nothing is working out- go back to the previous step and do some more research. You might just stumble on something better.   Looking back, the images I have chosen all seem similar. I had drifted back to my comfort zone without realising, doing exactly what I wanted to avoid.  Back to the initial research stage; this time you know what you're not looking for. You have come a bit closer to the style you want through eliminating those you don’t.        






        Even after the decision making process you can still add or take away pictures that are more in fitting with what kind of style you want to achieve. Styles can be merged together or influence each other too. There is never a right or wrong way as long as you keep all your research in this way you will be ready to work in a clear and focused direction.  Three mega things to take into consideration:  -     What stands out most?  -     What styles connect with each other?  -     Which path is most efficient? (Depending on your project length and budget, you may need to be limit how far you stretch yourself)     Back and forth  There are still a fair few styles on those pages. But narrowing it down, we are starting to see some strong themes emerging. For example: a cut out style with flat defined lines. The only images that are swaying focus are the Monkey Island and Rayman imagery. These indiscretions become easy to spot using a layout like this. It saves time and lessens headaches, allowing your brain to focus on creativity.  Refinement- Last-ish step before we start the design process.  Now you will be able to see that I have taken out loads of images and added Scooby doo character stylings into the equation. I have done this because it’s all part of the refinement process. You can take away images… it doesn't matter how many. As long as you're left with a range of images that help you work towards your desired style, you’re making progress.  As you can see I’m very indecisive and want to pinch bits from different images. This isn’t wrong, if anything, at this stage in the process, it makes your work unique and hopefully best tailored to your brief.   



So now you have your initial research done. It’s time to break it down into categories. This will help build a clear picture of what to focus on.


       Ten reasons why you should switch to serious games



Our at a glance top 10 of why you need to switch to serious games for your learning and development. This infographic taken from a previous blog post by Helen Routledge, shows you some of the research into why games based learning has such huge and far reaching benefits for organisational training.