Thursday, April 16, 2009

The NDA has officially lifted. "What I did at EA"

If you read my last blog entry, you know I had just done an interview with simoperations (which is currently in the process of changing forums, so I copied and pasted it here) about what I did as a "machinima artist" out in EA, and I had to clamp down because of the NDA. Imagine my surprise when I saw, the very next day, that GameSpot had put up screenshots of the tool we were working with, and had a very in-depth article about it. I contacted the folks at EA and asked what, exactly, we were allowed to say, since it is pretty much all out there, now, and they told me that the NDA had been "vague" in that area, and that we weren't supposed to talk until the official announcement was made. And the GameSpot article was the "official announcement".

So, looks like we're all free to talk, now. I admit I wish I'd known this information would have been released so soon after I did the simoperations interview; I feel kind of silly with the way I was strictly adhering to the NDA, under the assumption we couldn't talk until the site goes live, or the game comes out, or June, or whatever.

Drumroll, please.

GameSpot's article.

The 5 machima artists worked with a new tool for movie-making on the official Sims 3 site, to create "mash-up" videos. Machinima will be encouraged on the Sims 3 site, the way storytelling was, and still is, in Sims 2.

So, what we did was each create a video with this mash-up tool. Easy? Notsomuch.

I'll be honest: at the time it was EXTREMELY buggy and very frustrating to work with. The camera .ini file was not modified until either late Wednesday, or possibly Thursday, and since that's what gives you control over the camera speed (like all those dramatic slow-moving pan shots), we were having to record clips in real game-time. Hard to film anything "dramatic" at the rate sims really move. Everything looks comical at that speed. And the mash-up tool was either not showing previews, or was freezing, or we couldn't upload our clips to the exchange...

The process was completely different from what we do with Sims 2 videos. We were not using ANY outside editors. The footage is captured in-game, and from there, loaded straight to the Sims 3 exchange, and put in a folder, as is. The clips could not be altered in any way. Like, if a clip was too long, normally in an external editor, you'd cut out the unnecessary parts. Well, you can't do that with these. You can in the mash-up tool, itself (choose a stop time and a start time for each clip) for your actual video, but the clip will remain in the bin in its unaltered state for the rest of the community to use. But, you never know: what's unnecessary for you, when you're filming your own clips for a specific storyline, might be of use to someone else using your clip for their own movie, because they'll be mixing it to fit their own storyline.

If you are wondering what the hell a mash-up tool is (and haven't read the GameSpot article): there was a mashup tool for Sims 2, called SimsOnstage, but it was separate from the official site. (I just tried to find the link, and found it's been closed.) With the Sims 3 mash-up tool, people will be recording clips from their game, submitting them to the exchange, and others can then use those clips to make their own videos. It's really a way to make a video without having to do the actual filming. Someone else did it for you, unless you're using your own stuff, like we did.

The clips can be mixed in any order on a very basic timeline, set to music, which is all simlish music, and also provided on the official site. People who are experienced machinima artists won't be using this to make Sims 3 machinima, because the tool is frustratingly limited. There is only one video track, and one audio track. You can't trim the audio file, or fade in, or use multiple songs. So, syncing with the video can be a tricky thing. As for the video track, there are several different transitions you can use, and effects you can apply. Much like those used in very basic editors like WMM, only even more basic. I'm not sure, but I think they said they would be adding more effects to it by the time it's released. But this is definitely something a kid can use, and that's the point: to make it possible for people of all ages and abilities to make a music video. Plus, I think that being able to make a "mash-up" video will be a talent in and of itself. I'm not underestimating it.

And the story of the "Day I Officially Cracked" (Thursday night of the Camp) for those who heard me laughing hysterically on podcast at WorldSims: the machinima artists were already frustrated by week's end, and in a state of near-panic. We'd been dealing with game glitches, and the mash-up tool was not working properly, the camera .ini file was not modified, yet. TheSidDog got a video done the first day, but he was the only one. The rest of us seemed to constantly have people surrounding our computers, trying to fix another bug, whether in the game or with the mash-up tool, itself.

In fact, by Thursday, the rest of us had yet to even USE the mash-up tool, we were having so many problems getting our shots filmed. I had my sim actors disappear every time I closed down the game. So I spent every restart in CAS, trying to recreate my sim actors, losing precious time, and having to rework a storyline to fit the ever-changing cast. To add to this, we were told that on both Thursday and Friday, we'd be leaving the lab early, to make room for testers for another game.

Eggzie sat to my right, and had been going for a very dramatic shot, all week. One that desperately needed to be slowed down for effect, and he had been grumbling and mumbling to himself for a couple days, trying to get this particular shot done. He finally got it shot on Thursday, and opened up the (I'm laughing as I recall all this) mash-up tool for the first time, late that afternoon. He assembled his clips, hit preview, we all gathered around, and the clip was so fast. After a sudden sputtering of "language", Eggzie pushed his chair back in frustration, and turned around to face the maxoids and whoever from the dev team was there and said something like "All right. Somebody's gotta say it. This mash-up tool sucks!" and I lost it. I started laughing so hard I turned red and had tears streaming down my cheeks. We had all been so frustrated, and Eggzie's words just seemed so damned appropriate. Of course, it was all out of frustration. His video actually turned out VERY well, all things considered.

HAVING SAID THAT, keep in mind that this was a VERY beta version of the tool, and that's what we were there for. To help find the bugs. I am sure the kinks have gotten worked out, now, if EA is allowing GameStop to officially announce the feature.

So, my final take is this, going from my experience months ago: This tool should be fun for those who want to try machinima, but are a little queasy thinking about all the work that goes into the actual filming and editing. Now they can mix pre-made clips however they want, and they can upload videos to the exchange. And they can also make their own clips to upload for others to use, as well.

My disclaimer for when my video goes live on the site... well, if you read all this, you'll understand why I might be a little nervous about people seeing it. If you're expecting something polished, you'll be disappointed. I hit "publish" on mine literally as I was standing up to leave the room for the last time and head downstairs for dinner. That evening, when everyone's creations were shown to the rest of the group, I was so nervous it had even published correctly, at all. I had to walk out before receiving any confirmation.

So, now you have it. That's what I did at EA.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

SimOperations Sims 3 interview

Hey all,

Just putting a link out there for those interested; I did an interview with simoperations about my experience at the Creators' Camp, and with Sims 3, in general.

Edit: simoperations is currently moving to a new site, so the link is no longer valid. I will update with a new link soon. Luckily, I still had the original interview in my email sent folder, so here it is, in its entirety:

******************************

Hi, Thanks for taking the time for this Q&A:

No problem!

1: What kinds of things did you make at the Creator's Camp?

Well, I'm limited to what I can say regarding what the "machinima
artists" worked on while out there. Although the other content creators
have been more free to talk about what they did, the videomakers are
still under a strict NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) with EA until the
official site goes live. So, I can't go into specifics on what I did
while out there, other than I worked with the video-making aspect of the
game. The other custom content creators were making sims, clothing, and
some really gorgeous homes.


2: You're a Machinima artist. Are the movie making tools in The Sims 3
good or do they require improvement?


From the build we worked with, the machinima tools in-game are very
similar to the ones in Sims 2. We had to modify our camera .ini file to
make a few adjustments, but that should all be fixed by the final
release, from what we were told at the time. One difference is that
there will be 5 camera presets, not 4, like in Sims 2.


3: What can you tell us about your experience of the game? Does it need
more work?


Again, we were working with a beta build, a few builds behind what the
development team was up to, so of course there were quite a few bugs
that needed to be ironed out. We were all writing down notes as we went
along, recording any bugs we encountered, things we thought could be
improved upon, and the development team was right there in the room with
us, pulling up chairs, sitting on the floor, even, writing down
everything we told them. They were very interested in what we had to
say.

4: Can you tell us a little bit about what happened over the course of
the week?


The first day, Monday morning, we had a tour of the EA campus, then
demos (demonstrations) of the game, and that afternoon we got to start
up the game for the first time. We had various meetings the first few
days that were optional to attend, depending on your specialty. I
attended the machinima meeting, but not the CAS one or build mode ones,
for instance. We spent some time in the Media Lab on the second day, and
got to sit in on a session with Nicki Rapp, who you know as the child's
voice for Sims 2. She will be continuing on in Sims 3. Most of our days
were spent at our computers, with the machinima folks doing video work
in one room, most of the other custom content creators were in the room
next door. Bloggers, journalists and a film crew followed the event, all
week long. During the evenings, the attendees were usually hanging out
in the Sofitel Lounge, or going into San Francisco, blowing off steam.
By Friday, we had our projects done, and had a presentation and awards
show showing everyone's work, that evening. It was amazing to see what
everyone was able to do in a week's time. Many of the attendees have
blogged about their experiences. I blogged about mine back in January
and February on http://acuppajoe.blogspot.com/ , so check it out!

5: Will we be seeing more machinima from The Sims 3 in 2009?

Definitely! EA is putting more emphasis on machinima with Sims 3, so it
will be encouraged. At the machinima meeting I attended, Todd (todnyc,
who now works for EA) told us EA would now be referring to us as
"machinima artists" rather than "Sims videomakers" or "Sims
moviemakers", for TS3. I am still in contact with many of the attendees,
and even a couple of people who weren't on the machinima team are now
trying their hands at TS2 machinima and wanting to work with TS3
machinima. You can count on me continuing on, for sure!

6: Finally, anything else you can say about the Creators Camp and the
game?


The Camp was such a fun experience. Everyone was really down to earth,
and it was great meeting people whose stuff I've used in my videos for
years. The Maxoids were great, too. They sat with us, ate with us, and
had a great sense of humor. It was a rather surreal experience, sitting
with people like Kate from Parsimonious, or Maxoid Drea, or Shtinky from
Holy Simoly, or Jope and Suza... I almost felt a little starstruck at
times, but everyone was so real. No longer just a name on a website or
forum. The weirdest part had to be when I was recognized at the airport,
from my YouTube vlog, though! And then again at the Sofitel, by two of
my fellow machinima crew, SidDog and Eggzie. It was sad leaving
everyone, because we'd all become pretty tight by the end of the week.
We had a party at the Sofitel lounge the last Friday night, with several
of the Maxoids, and it was a lot of fun, but very bittersweet. On
Saturday morning it was so quiet in the hotel lobby.

As for the game, I enjoyed it. I think others will, too, but they need
to keep a realistic perspective about it all. My standard response when
asked about my impression of Sims 3, is that I don't see people giving
up Sims 2 completely for Sims 3, like most did for the original Sims and
Sims 2. Rather, I see people playing it in *addition* to Sims 2. At
least I will be! Sims 2 will remain on my Windows partition, and I'll
install Sims 3 for Mac. With the original Sims, it was such a drastic
improvement, from the graphics to the AI. Genetics, family ties...all of
that was frustratingly non-existent with the original Sims. The main
difference between Sims 2 and 3 is the fact that the entire neighborhood
is playable, with one "active household", and storylines continuing on
outside of that. The graphics are amazing, too. Having said that, people
have to keep in mind when they first fire up the game, that it will be
"vanilla" (and custom-content free), so they may feel a bit frustrated.
But think back to the switch from The Sims to Sims 2, and how little
custom content was available at the time, and it's pretty much the same
deal. It'll take some time for it to really get going, and once the
custom content creators get going on it, it's going to be really cool.
It's a fun game, I can't wait to play it again, and I am dying to see
how the outside storylines go on around your sims. I didn't get that far
into gameplay, since I was only setting up scenarios for video work. So,
yeah, I'm looking forward to June!

******************************

Back to your regularly scheduled blogpost...

And for those of you coming HERE from THERE, I am editing to add links to the Creator Camp entries:

Here
Here
Here

Easy peasy.

Also, I've become a social network whore and have signed up with both Twitter and Plurk. Because myspace and facebook weren't enough.

https://twitter.com/VRevis

http://www.plurk.com/VRevis

You'll also see a widget has been added to the blog, to the right. Nifty.

(This is what happens when you get in a car accident, and are stuck with no wheels for days, and have to do all socializing online. And are REALLY REALLY BORED.)

Oh, yeah... was in a car accident Thursday. Cross your fingers for me that my car is not totaled. I'm okay, a little bruised up, but fine. My car, however...yikes.

Until next time!

~V
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