Futureworks Degree Show

If you’ve been following progress with ‘Digital Dark Age’ you’ll know that I’ve recently completed my degree in music production with Futureworks here in Manchester, where I’ve been studying since September last year (after doing the first two years of my course online). It’s been a pretty hectic year to be quite honest, especially when factoring in freelance projects and portfolio work into the mix, but really enjoyable nonetheless, and I’ve met some super talented folk along the way!

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My little interactive audio kingdom…

Last week I showcased my digital wares at their annual degree show and it was fantastic to see a lot of the other students work on display. It can be a little insular when you’re constantly working on your own projects (not to mention being in dark studios all the time) so I took the chance to chat with folks and see what they’ve been up to!

One thing that really stood out to me was the overall quality of the work, particularly in the areas of animation, 3D art and environment design (although that being said it’s much easier to showcase this than audio / video in that kind of environment). Some of the final projects and portfolio pieces really made an impact and showed just how many creative and talented people attend Futureworks, even though they’re not always that good at blowing their own trumpets! I thought I’d drop a few links below to some of the folks I chatted to and would highly recommend checking out their work…

Bradley Mayo (3D Environment / game design)

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Ellie Durkin (Illustration / Animation)

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Sean Lewis (Sound Design)

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Lisa Lau (Illustration / Animation)

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Amy Collins (Composer)

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Cartrdge Portfolio Update

Posts have slowed a little on here recently as I’ve been working on a number of freelance projects, however I have recently updated my Cartrdge page to include my latest portfolio work. If you’ve not heard of Cartrdge before I’d suggest having a nosey at some of the developers, artists etc that are currently using the platform as there are some hugely talented folks indeed. You can find my page HERE including updates for Lake Lodge & DATA Labs.

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Digital Dark Age: What now?

Two weeks ago I launched my third year major project ‘Digital Dark Age’ – a playable concept album created in Unreal Engine. Since then I’ve been working to compile all the aspects of the projects production into an archive for the submission deadline on the 21st April but I wanted to write a quick post to outline a few thoughts from the launch event and some points for development in the future.

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Setting up for the launch at the Eagle Inn

Firstly, I had underestimated just how much work was necessary to complete everything I had in mind, but conversely I ended up creating more content than I had initially planned! My original proposal and concept for the level seemed ambitious but achievable, and this has remained true throughout the projects duration however there were many aspects of DDA’s production that I spent a lot longer on than intended. This included:

– Graphics / Artwork design and production (flyers, posters, in-game artwork, logos and MORE!)

– Animations and GIFs (in-game footage, logo and text animations)

– Social media promotion – I thought it would be good experience trying to promote a project like this as I plan to develop the idea (and similar projects) in the future.

– Level design and mechanics (lighting, props, POSTERS, models, environment etc)

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A fellow Futureworks student testing out Digital Dark Age. The fire extinguishers were thankfully not necessary.

The amount of content I had created didn’t really hit home until I started going through all the project’s folders but hopefully it will form a comprehensive archive that really showcases the work I’ve put into Digital Dark Age. So what now? The day after the launch event I was quite useless, tired and just needed a bit of a break mentally from the project but I’m very pleased with how it went. A number of folks came and tried the level and I got some fantastic feedback from people which has definitely inspired me to continue development of the level in the future.

After I’ve got my assignment all finished and handed in I’m going to focus on a few aspects of the level I know I want to develop:

– Optimising the level so it plays on less powerful computers
– Adding more interactive props at each point in the level
– Work on the overall audio mix and output volume
– Including additional vox-pops and audio commentary
– Adding main menu options for controlling graphics / audio settings
– Fixing a number of small bugs in the level’s mechanics

I feel that there is significant scope for Digital Dark Age, both as a learning project for me and an interactive learning environment focussing on the issues of digital preservation, sustainability and our digital heritage. I’d like to thank everyone that came down to the launch event and that’s offered feedback and thoughts after playing the level, both in person and online. I’ll be posting a final project overview style blog post close to my deadline in a couple of weeks. In the meantime feel free to download Digital Dark Age v.1.0 HERE (Windows only at the moment I’m afraid!) and have a listen to the soundtrack.

Thanks for reading!

 

I Told You So…

So a couple of posts back I was going on about digital preservation at length, after reading a number of articles about the topic and probably learning more about data backup, file storage and futureproofing than ever before, I was in a data archiving frenzy!

It was only fitting of course that I then became the victim of data loss in the form of one of my hard drives dying in the small hours of last night. All I could hear was my own voice saying “I told you so” over and over in my head, as I came to terms with what I’d lost…

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Thankfully, I hadn’t completely ignored my own advice and I do make regular backups, but over Christmas I’m ashamed to say I had been a little less than careful and missed a few project versions (one of which being Digital Dark Age!) out of the aforementioned backup regime. Luckily, I have a previous backup to work from, and lots of screenshots and notes that I can go through, but I could have easily lost a lot more. In total I lost around 350gb of data, which is a lot. It got me thinking though, again.

What if I hadn’t backed up that hard drive for a month, two months, or even longer? I’d probably not have the mental capacity to write this blog post that’s for sure. Let this be a warning to everyone, backup everything, all the time, or your Digital Dark Age will come sooner than you might think.

Terminals: Digital Dark Age

Today I started work on the terminals (computers) for each of the key points in Digital Dark Age. Each terminal will essentially be the starting point for each corresponding song on the album, and offer information to the player as they play through the level. I’d love to say I know how to create an interactive computer system in-game, but I don’t! So, the likelyhood is that each terminal will merely act as a trigger to display information nearby (possibly text or graphics / dialogue).

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A quick flythrough of the first section of the level so far.

As you can see above, the terminals basically replicate the main DDA logo that floats over the main pathway. The tricky thing here was re-creating the motion graphic of the logo on the terminal’s screen… it’s hard to see in the video but it is actually glowing and glimmering slightly on the old CRT monitor! I might exaggerate this in further iterations of the idea.

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Aligning the graphic was a nightmare…

I ran into a number of issues, but finally settled on using a Flipbook in Unreal to create an animated version of a spritesheet (see below). This was something I had very little previous knowledge about so I turned to Youtube for help, and after some messing about (including a lot of resizing / scaling / rotating) I finally got it to fit on the screen, albeit with some weird horizontal compression. Turns out, I think that looks pretty cool on the old-school CRT monitor so I think I’ll be sticking with it. You can see the difference in the scale in the picture above.

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Creating the animated material in UE

I’m reusing the computer model that I implemented in DATA Labs which was created by SilverTM – check out their page on the UE marketplace here for some of the other awesome stuff they make.

 

Digital Dark Age – A Beginning

After settling on a suitably dramatic blog post title I thought I’d introduce you to some background information on the ‘Digital Dark Age’ – my interactive concept album / major project for the third year of my Music Production degree. In last week’s post I talked briefly about what the DDA is, but this week I want to look at what gave me the inspiration for this project and…

WHAT am I actually going to do?

  • Write and record 5 songs based on the concept of the Digital Dark Age
  • Design and build a first person style level in Unreal Engine to implement the songs as non-linear versions for game-style play and provide an informative narrative.
  • Release the 5 songs as a concept EP via Bandcamp
  • Produce physical format cassette versions of the album for sale
  • Write a blog post every week

This is of course on top of the actual written evaluations, research and other academia that goes along side a degree level piece of work. It’s something I’ve wanted to work on for a while and I was pleased that it fitted into the mould of my major project assessment criteria, essentially enabling me to indulge in lots of fun things and hopefully get a good grade at the end of it all!

So to get the digital ball rolling here’s a quote from one of my favourite books…

‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past’ (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949)

I recently read a research paper about the DDA by Terry Kuny written in 1997 and this quote was the starting point of his report. It got me thinking about what the DDA means to me, and how it can affect our lives. How can we learn from the past and prepare for the future if we don’t have access to the information?

Clearly the Digital Dark Age is something people have been discussing for some time, and Kuny believed that they were living in the midst of a DDA back in 1997. With that in mind it’s hard to imagine that things have really improved since then, as we march further into the information age. The idea of ‘data preservation’ is something I’m really enjoying researching and whilst you may not find it as exciting as I do, it’s an issue you should be aware of because it affects all of us, every day.

At this juncture I should point out that the term ‘Digital Dark Age’ to me extends further than the realms of digital technology, and as such it’s worth mentioning that analogue data storage mediums can be just as prone to being unreadable in the future as digital documents, files and formats.

Have you ever wanted to find a bunch of old photos from your previous mobile phone? Where did they go?! I hope you backed them up to a safe place! What about that CD-ROM video of your pets 1st birthday? Does your new Macbook have a CD-ROM drive?

And so on…

Whilst I like to think of myself as being fairly ‘tech savy’ I know that I need to improve the way I store my precious data, but what can I REALLY do? It’s all just zero’s and one’s right? This is a question that many organisations are trying to answer, in a big way. Preservation is nothing new, we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years but digital archiving and preservation is still a relatively new area of expertise and it forms the backbone for a lot of the conceptual ideas for this project. The tracklist for the album is below, with a brief description of the narrative that will be part of the interactive, playable version.

  1. Digital Dark Age – An introduction to the concept, facts, terminology and impact.
  2. Preservation – Exploring what digital preservation means and how it can be used
  3. Fabrication – A look into the future as historians struggle to find information on the past, and ultimately guess or make things up to fill the void.
  4. Speculation – Wondering what the past must have been like for those living in the information age. Asking questions like “Why do pictures of everyone in 2015 include a canine’s nose and ears?”
  5. Brave New World – What comes next? Are future generations going to be living in an ill-informed, digital void where the past is forever being re-worked, reimagined or completely forgotten?

Of course much of this is hypothetical but I personally feel strongly that everyone should at least be aware of the impact of what the ‘Digital Dark Age’ could be, and the whole idea lends itself nicely to a concept album. SO here we are, that was a lot in one go but it won’t all be waffle in the future I promise, there will be music, and animations and a game (lets hope). As usual – I’d love any thoughts or comments you might have. Now go and back up your smart phone / watch / toaster quick.