3DBuzz's founder Jason Busby has swiftly built up a dedicated following of student artists, and, increasingly, the ear of game and tool developers who want to use his expertise to help game mod creators (themselves potential games industry employees.) His website (http://www.3dbuzz.com) already has 110,000 members learning about 3D Studio Max, Maya, and SoftImage, and Epic are officially relying on him to help educate modders in the Unreal Engine. Most of all, his use of freely distributable VTMs (video training modules) has meant easy access to high-quality tutorials for everybody who wants to learn about games, even professionals looking to learn new tools and techniques.
Q: What motivated you to start up 3DBuzz.com and start offering free tutorials?
A: My true day job is Director of Animation at the Renaissance Center (http://www.rcenter.org/), and I'm a certified instructor for Discreet, Alias, and SoftImage. But what I decided to do, a couple of years ago, was to build a website that catered to a unique community of beginners who were interested in getting into 3D and into game design. I wanted the community to be unique in that it wasn't just forums for people to come and post questions. I wanted to capture my personality and teaching skills in video, but to make it free.
Q: What are the ways you work in educating mod creators, and how is that an advantage over previous methods?
A: We've had the privilege of being on the leading edge of doing training for people with regard to mod development. I don't mean training like written tutorials, I mean video training - it's become a huge thing over the past year or so. First of all, your standard video training is just one guy with a microphone who's just talking, and it gets very boring very quickly. What I try to do is bring in at least one other person, if not two or three, I get everybody microphones, and I treat it like a virtual classroom session. That way, when your viewers are watching the video, they get to hear questions asked, or I get to ask the other people on the video if it makes sense to them, and go back and cover it again if it doesn't. People say it's like you're sitting in a classroom, and that makes it much easier to understand. When you're reading a book, it's very static, the book's not going to talk back to you, and it's very easy to understand what a book is telling you to do unless it's described well.
Q: How about going more interactive - with in-person talks or even interactive tutorials in the game engine?
A: The whole personal experience - being able to ask the instructor to explain things, and indicate you still don't understand, is definitely important. Even with the video training, it's still static to a point, because if you don't really get it, you can't talk back to your monitor and say so. As for in-engine interactive tutorials of great complexity - I see that happening - but any time soon? I don't think so. There's a lot more variables to take into account.
Q: How have your efforts related to Epic's big "Make Something Unreal (http://www.makesomethingunreal.com)" mod contest?
A: They sent myself and a co-worker all around the U.S. and Canada as part of the "Mastering Unreal" project (http://www.masteringunreal.com), which has Unreal-specific VTMs available for free download, and we went to gaming centers and give a 4-hour lecture with regards to particles, terrain, building levels, and so on. That was how they kicked off "Make Something Unreal", but Epic have kept us so busy that I haven't had a chance to look at all the submissions and winners of the competition yet.
Q: Why have Epic been particularly proactive in modding and educating the mod community?
A: They take a lot of interest in the community - you know, they get a lot of people from the community that end up working at Epic Games who were modders to begin with. I think they feel it's very important to give the community what they need to grow and become very knowledgeable about their technology. It's much better for developers to see somebody in the community that's grown and released a mod that's absolutely mind-blowing, rather than getting someone's resume and going through the interview process - it's a great way to pick employees
Q: How have graphical innovations affected 3D art creation and mod creation in the past year or two?
A: Rendering engines themselves have been improving, the graphical hardware and driver support, everything is gradually getting better and better. Normal mapping is about to become a really big thing, because you're no longer going to have to focus on having such high polygon counts because now you can have a low-poly character that's using normal mapping, and then you end up with unbelievable graphics which look like they're a million polygons - but obviously they're not.
Q: Do you think CG creation for TV and movies and game art creation are getting closer and closer together?
A: We're seeing machinima becoming a bigger and bigger thing, so we may see game developers creating their own TV shows and their own mini-movies using these gaming engines. Some of the material entered into Machinima Film Festival this year was just fantastic. It's amazing to see material made in the Quake engine that you're no longer thinking of like that, because it's a film short.
Q: Is specific study in individual game engines starting to happen, and are you considering doing tutorials on further engines in the future?
A: I'm starting to talk to more and more universities who are interested in focusing on a specific engine that's already complete, and having people start to generate games from that engine. Also, many people email me and ask if we're going to make content for Doom 3 or Half-Life 2, and the answer is yes - Epic has been fantastic in helping us out, and we've helped them out, but my goal is about the community as a whole.
Following the interview, Busby mentioned that the exclusive VTM content contained on the limited Special Edition double-DVD version of Unreal Tournament 2004, which is currently available nowhere else, will be available again sometime in the near future, and that fans looking for that content should look out for an announcement regarding it. [The limited Special Edition sold out in just 36 hours, so many mod makers and artists are clamoring to get hold of that content in some way.] We were also one of the first people to see a draft of Busby's mammoth book on creating graphical content for the Unreal Engine, already 900 pages long and likely to be way over a thousand pages when released by Sam's Books later this year - amazingly, it's just Vol.1 in an intended continuing series, which could add up to thousands of pages when released in its entirety.