Tuesday, 21 December 2010

As people, we’re sexual beings. It happens all the time all around the world, even now as I type and now as you read. So naturally, promoting sex and offering humorous innuendos where appropriate to sell a product is only natural, and there would be a massive gap in the sales market without it. However, it’s not always appropriate, or appreciated in certain situations.

Earlier this week when going through a stressful house hunt, I me and my prospective housemates, entered an estate agents and asked to see what 5 bedroom houses. We were given this:

Now, let’s take a step back a minute. I’m a 20 year old male. I’m hardly going to be the type of character which is prude, but seriously?! When I was first handed this, I didn’t know what the agent had handed me, or what they were proposing. I was kind of in shock. Perhaps it was just the fact that I was stressed from the house hunting situation, but I really didn’t appreciate this blatant promotion of sex to try and get me to sell a house. It’s not like there is any subtlety to it.In any case, I let it go and went on to look at the houses within the paperwork underneath the facade. Yet once I’d finished with that situation, I came home, signed into MSN as you do, and this popped up:

Once again my mouth dropped open. “Sexiest characters ever immortalised in pixels”. So I decided to follow the article into what is considered as a “sexy” game character and see if there was anything other than your typical “tits and guns” characters. For the majority of the characters, I’d say no, it was your regular Kasumi from dead or alive type of character, with breasts larger than life and “armour” that protects and conceals about as much as a piece of string in a high breeze. Just about the only positive grace for one or two characters were the fact that the body was anatomically correct and the artistic judgement on the colour scheme for the clothes against the character themselves and the composition of some of the images.

It seems however, that in terms of games, when it comes to selling games with sex, it’s aimed very much towards straight men. In all fairness, the vast majority of serious gamers are male. But with women all presented with tits and guns to appeal to men, what are games doing to the male characters to appeal to men?

From what I’ve seen there’s defiantly more verity with the male characters. Games with “bad ass” fantasy characters like the Gears of War and Halo have these unstoppable, supernatural, anatomical monstrosities for protagonists. With games like Red Dead Redemption or Splintercell, the character isn’t particularly attractive, or you can’t even see their face, but they have a skill or an attitude that the player would probably love to have them self. Also, RPG style games like the Elder Scrolls games, or Dragonage, the player can customise the character, to be as ugly or attractive as they live with basically a default perfectly defined generic body throughout, and they can customise the character’s skills and make choices to what the player wants in the game, including actually partaking in the act of sex. When looking at these games I noticed that they have one main feature in common. All these different types of male characters have an attribute that the player themselves would want to have given the choice. If the player could be this unstoppable killing machine, with a bad ass attitude and gets away with it, with the perfect body and can go around having sex with whoever whenever, they probably would. Having male characters like this allows them to escape into this world where they get a limited, consequence-less taste of this.

If I apply this same logic to the depiction of women in games, it's unfortunate, but it makes sense that the industry would assume that teenage boys want to see their women as objects of sex and attraction as oppose to female warriors with a back bone like Sigourney Weaver's most iconic, Ellen Ripley from the original Alien franchise. Which is a shame because personally, I'd rather play along side, or as Ellen Ripley than an in game version of Barbie.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Loved doing this week's project!

Before I actually begin this blog, can I just say how excited I was to read that this week’s project was to create a design document for a game. Even though it’s not actually our job as game artists and that is not the focus of this course, I would love to take this week’s brief of making a full design document and make a project based on this. Although I guess what’s what our FMP will be. Very much looking forward to it anyway.

To really get into the idea of this week’s project, I have design a project based on a basic online java script platform game so that I can quickly test that my ideas actually work and they aren’t completely farfetched or outlandish.

The objective of this design document would be to design a java script, fantasy, online role playing platform game. The target audience would be for 15+. This judgement is based on the blood and themes in that would be in the game as appose to any difficulty which would be beyond anyone younger. It should be simple to learn by anyone of any gaming experience but still be challenging enough for the most experienced gamers to find satisfying. The stylised art work would be done using Photoshop and the coding would be done using Applet which could be embedded into a webpage and hosted on an online server.

Screen size: The screen of the game itself will be 1000x600 pixels
Each screen will be composed of environment 25x15 blocks
Each environment block will be 40x40 pixels.

Environment blocks can be used to compose terrain, sky and obstacles. Terrain and sky must be tillable! The background may be a single Photoshop painting.
For example:

A brief example of how this could be put together:

To make sure the player’s avatar character remains the focus on the screen but is still in proportion with the environment, the characters must be 100 pixels tall.
A basic “naked” male and female character must be produced with optional hairstyles.
For example:

Note: when making these examples I realised how hard it is to work to this scale in Photoshop.

All NPCs will also be constructed from these basic shapes.

Each character in the game world will also need a set of clothing. Since the genre of the game of fantasy, the game will have your typical classes, Warrior, Mage, Archer and Rogue. For each of these classes, different clothing designs need to be made to fit over the top of the character. A male and female outfit of each design must be made. There should be a mix of top and bottom piece armour /clothing, and or robes so the player can mix and match.
In addition each character will need weapons for each class and they must be in proportion to the character.

Below is an example breakdown of a warrior class male armour, male mage class robes.

As a Fantasy game carts and horses may be included in the background to add character to game but they must be in proportion to the character. Boxes and crates and other static environment equipment must bear in mind the 40x40 texture spaces for the foreground environment.

Trees and bushes for the background directly behind the character would also be an additional touch to give the game some depth to its otherwise flat appearance. Below is a example of how the pieces could come together in game.

Obviously this is just brief, but for town scapes, buildings will be need to be designed, a backdrop will also need to be designed, and enemies all MUST bear in mind their proportion to the characters and the size of the screen.

To mark the end of doing that design document and it's specifications, forcing myself to look at all the aspects of a game that an artist needs to consider and in maintaining a style is more difficult than i previously thought, especially when working with so few pixels. However, i well and truely enjoyed doing the example pieces and had to contain myself from actually making the game in the document. It was a nice reprieve from doing 3D work.

More project like this Mike. major thumbs up (y)

I choose left, which looks more interesting than right but take me the same way anyway...

Level design is a very interesting concept in itself, one in which does perk my attention. It is a job which requires much artistic understanding, similar to the writings of my previous blog, yet at the same time it requires a technical understanding along with an understanding of what the characters can and cannot do. It is a job that I would probably be moderately interested in and be willing to widen my range of skills to do this should my current career path turn out to not be for me. The level designer must consider how to guide the player intelligently through a technique called, “flow control”. Much like channelling water through a pipe line with valves to control which way the water goes when. In modern 3D environments for games, besides free roam R.P.G.s like Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls and Fall Out franchises, games these days create the illusion that the player has the ability to go where they want but in the end, whichever side route or passage they chose, their goal is the same at the end of each area which will channel the player towards the main plot’s direction.

After doing only a small amount of research into the position so far, it is painfully clear how much time goes into just the planning of each level. Particularly with modern online games. Games like Call of Duty or Halo need to be interesting and fun to play in, but at the same time they need to be in terms of vantage points, weapons and load outs, shelter from fire and have a range of close and ranged combat options i.e.: indoors/outdoors to keep things interesting. Quite often games do do symmetrical maps which is very O.K in my opinion, but just o.k. In terms of the campaign, the designer needs to consider what would happen when to trigger a certain part of a level to be accessed, what N.P.C.s are visible from where, and when they would interact with you. However, This applies mostly to modern F.P.S games. The Type of game will result in varying types of level design. For example, a platformgame R.P.G level designer would have to consider obstacles, mental challenges, where enemies are placed and the difficulty of each areaA game which is a brilliant example of how this is done is Rayman for the PS1. A game which has brilliantly well designed levels which challenge the player constantly, yet is balanced enough for the player to have fun with. Yet not one person I have ever spoken to has completed it. Strange how it’s so hard yet so loved. Once again, not that I mean to use this as another good example again, it is such an amazing game, but Abe’s Oddysee/Exodus use visual stimulations in the background to hint where secrets are in the foreground for the player to find.

Fortunately, I haven’t come across a terribly, omg I want to kill the designer, over my past 15 gaming years, but I have come across some which are just god damn lazy, and It’s easy to see how this can affect how much the player enjoys the game. Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom for the 360. Oh dear. Recycled levels in a game doesn’t bother me too much when they play well and interestingly each time you go back through them. However, KUF:COD was composed of about three or four different lay outs, each lay out was just topped with a different texture and one or two different assets to make it either a jungle, desert, snow or volcanic mountain, AND the levels were recycled. This just about made for the most BORING game I ever wasted my money on. Literally the only reason I didn’t take it back after an hour or so of playing was because it made my 360 game stack equal the size of my original xbox game stack at the time. Looking back I really had my priorities wrong.

In any case, when done well, level design can produce a well enjoyed and memorable experience of a game which is always good for a game companies reputation. The original Fable had no marketing and spread souly by word of mouth and now look how big it is. Equally, poor level design can leave a player frustrated, angry and leave a player wanting to forget their experience as quickly as possible.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Lay of the Land

Although many games have their own individual art style, there are very few which use their art style for any compositional purpose to add to the quality of the game.

Although, it’s becoming a cliché to use this as an example of how the industry does something well, the Halo franchise actually uses composition very well and has developed a reputation its views and compositional land/sky scapes. In the first game, Halo: Combat Evolved, it has become an iconic moment at the opening of the second level when you step out of the escape pod from the Pillar of Autumn, and you find yourself on this alien planet it almost seems until you look up and realise you’re on this ring. Even though with this example you have no choice but to notice your environment and be in awe of what lies before you, throughout the Halofranchise, they’ve become very good at getting you to step over a ridge or turn around a corner to what is often a very atmospheric and well laid out piece of scenery. Particularly the Sky backdrops which have been emphasised in Halo Reach for the space battles.

Not that I mean to make a habit of using this franchise as an example for every one of my blogs this year, but the first two Oddworld games: Abes’ Oddysee and Abe’s Exodus both use, composition, and a mixture of complimentary and contrasting tones to not just create a nice back drop, in keeping with the games own charm, but to get the player’s eyes to go where you want them. For example, the image below with the green background, the bridge that heads off into the distance channels the player’s eyes towards the sign which shows the player their progress so far and the repercussions of their current actions. These days we see very little thought going into backgrounds and scenery like this and they are there purely to stop the character from floating around in nothingness.

This is defiantly something I should look more into to improve the layouts of not just my final piece but also my prep sketches. If I get myself into a regular mindset of trying to find the best composition for every photo I take the outcome will work to the benefit of all my artwork, including my personal surreal works.

After taking a look at some masterpieces, of my favourite artists, it’s only just become clear now, how the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Mean are actually useful in composition. In all of the examples above it is clear how these images have been thought about compositionally from that particular view point using one or both of these techniques. However, not even in my previous education did I learn about these two compositional rules. Only from my own studies did I come across them, but now after doing research for this blog has it just clicked how I can actually use these techniques in my own work as appose to just using them as reference when analysing a piece of art. Now that I think about it, It’s actually quite ridicules how as an art student, this has never even been mentioned to me, and I would still be none the wiser if it wasn’t for my own extracurricular studies.

Big face showed up; taught me about planning and concepting.

The most obvious example of planning a project or not, having a successful or unsuccessful outcome is most defiantly myself. As with the abysmal quality of my first project this year, that in itself was the result of basically non-existent planning, which I am still, genuinely embarrassed to call the result of a second year project. Too self critical? I’ve been told that but refuse to accept its standards are welcome on this course in the second year, let alone industry.

Moving on from that though, a brilliant example of industry quality planning, would be to look at a returning childhood favourite of mine, Oddworld Inhabitants. Although, they’ve been focusing on film production, television and online space over the past 6 years, it is well worth looking back over their beautiful work in games. Take their first game, Abe’s Oddysee. Plot: you play as a hero who breaks the mould of your typical bad ass hero, by basically being a weak, retarded alien whose mouth is stitched shut and dies from a single hit from ANYTHING. Manages to overcome the most freaky and equally retarded looking enemies to over through the planet’s biggest slave business and save his even more retarded and lazy friends. But if you take a look at every aspect of the game, everything fits, everything works and creates quite a believable world, all be it freaky looking. The creatures, including the hero Abe, are all caricatured and twisted in the same way . After reading the “Art of Oddworld Inhabitants first ten years” it’s clear that they took every day concepts and exaggerated them in a way which is damn creepy and hilarious at the same time.

Take for example the Kento. Not actually in any of the games but this example is as good as the rest. One of the artists took the concept of body builders. Guys who work all day on their upper body and get huge, but their legs get tiny. Exaggerate this, and you end up with a Kento. Obviously it’s not as smiple as that. They worked how far to take it and exactly what it would do, move like, it’s roll in the world, natural habitat etc. But just about everything in Oddworld has this kind of “what the hell is that” kind of look about it. Almost all enemies don’t even have eyes. Oddworld itself is supposedly 7 times the size of earth and as I’m sure you can imagine the diversity across the world in both flora and fauna, yet all the Oddworld games are set in different locations but all maintain the same kind of out landish charm which brings the world together. I am truely glad to see them returning to games and looking forward to what other wierd and wacky creations they can bring to Oddworld.

With my future projects, I am aiming at putting more time into prior concepting. I found that in my first year when i was doing preliminary sketches for 2D, they were just sketches for the sake of doing sketches, I wasn’t actually gearing my work towards my final piece which resulted in an often sterile, personalityless piece of work. If I take a page out of Oddworld Inhabitant’s artist’s book and actually gear my work towards working my style, not only will my outcomes be better in schooling, but in industry it will put me in good stead for aiming my work towards that particular project’s aesthetic.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Aerith gave her life, hopefully i won't have to go quite so far.

Although there is much more to learn, which is glaringly obvious as far as my 3D work is concerned, I came over in leaps and bounds in my first year. Even though I wasn’t up to the standards of the best in the class, and still, am not, to go from not ever using any software packages other than Microsoft word and paint, to being able to model and texture in 3Ds Max using Photoshop as a texturing tool to the standard I did in only a year, it’s safe to say I’m pleased with my progress and hope that my rate of learning only increases over the next coming year.

However, I’m well aware that this year there is more emphasis on autonomous learning than there was last year. In the first year we had our hands held quite a lot, even more so than my second A level year for art and design so It’ll be good to get back into the habit of getting on with it and being expected to just produce it. I can honestly say though, this year I am terrified of the second year slump that Mike has mentioned a few times during our critical studies sessions. In the first year I met a few, rather a lot of bad humps that could have potentially had me fail the first year and I’m doing all I can to avoid those through a crippling fear of failing. This new calamity however, oh dear, I can already feel it. My time management for my first 3D project went right out of the window, it crept up on me, and it shows. Why did I let it? I don’t know. Pure stupidity? Or the lackadaisical attitude of being a second year?

Seriously I cannot and will not let this beat me. As Aerith gave her live, and Cloud fought both Sephiroth and his own identity crisis to defend Gaia from the Dark materia calamity, I will battle with all my might to remove this equally colossal attitude defect.

In moving on from food of my nightmares, this year I very much hope that I can fully get to grips with 3Ds Max and sort out my time management so that I can put myself in good stead for an impressive intern student over the summer. So far as far as that’s concerned all the places I have looked are only really interested in about 5 month Internships or longer. Although we had a really long one between year 1 and 2, I don’t think we have that longer summer this year so I’m still on the look out for a game art based internship that is only 3 months or so. Though in all fairness, I have been looking at pretty grand places so far, I need to look at smaller companies, it’s getting to the point where I just need somewhere to get the experience under my belt. If I fail miserably at getting an intern I’ll end up doing Camp America again next summer, and as much of an amazing experience as it is, it’s not exactly conducive towards my ideal future career.

This for me is to work for Blizzard as either an environmental or character artist. Not too sure I’m mature enough yet to handle a managerial position yet but then my skills aren’t mature enough for that either, nowhere near. They’re recruiting now, and I have been looking long and hard for what they’re after. mostly programmers, but in art the main thing that caught my eye apart from the fact I’m learning programs they want, +1 for Game Art DMU, they want a minimum of 3 years industry experience and 3 games that have reached it onto the shelf. MINIMUM. Oh dear. What they also consider as a massive plus is having a strong art background, +2 for Game Art DMU, and being able to work low poly with high quality textures, +3 for Game Art DMU. Unfortunately right at this moment in time they’re not doing internships, which is a shame because they’re based in France just 40mins away from where my parents live, which would have been all too convenient. But Blizzard is my target and their standards are high. I’m under no disillusionment of what my chances are of getting there, and most blind monkeys with a stick want to be there too. I must become the monkey who doesn’t have his eyelids sewn shut and has a longer stick than all the rest.

Friday, 30 April 2010

I still don't know the Lecturers!

To be slightly more concise than my last opinionated blog:

I’ve found pretty much all aspects of the course this year to be useful or rewarding in some way or another. As Critical studies goes, writing these blogs has helped me take a step back and actually consider not only what it is I’m doing, where I’m going, what I’m walking into, but It’s helped me reshape my time management, hone my presentation skills and learn to assess myself and other things properly. Part of that is also due to the brilliant idea of having a Facebook account strictly for work. The amount of constructive criticism from peers caught me off guard at first and it took me a certain Giygas incident to appreciate it, but it has been vital in the improvement of my Photoshop skills and has also provided a source of competition. It’s always good to keep an eye my peers to make sure I’m stepping up to the mark. Lol.

As far as 2D is concerned, I can defiantly see where it links into developing your skills into transferring 3D information into 2D and back again for the 3D module, but I would like to see more emphasis on this as appose to the 3D module, particularly as far as Photoshop is concerned. Before I came onto this course, my software skills stretched as far as Paint. To suddenly be surrounded by all these people who know how to use all these programs was a bit of a shock and to then realise that this was a program I needed, I busted my balls to try n get it to work but I’m still nowhere near as good as most people on the course with it. Maybe it’s just that I’m more traditional minded but this over use of Photoshop seems like a bit of an easy way out. I can see that in industry, Photoshop and other software like it will be used for many concept sketches and merchandise but it clashes with the ethos of the 2D part of course: to train your brain into transferring 3D into 2D and vice versa. No one who used Photoshop can tell me that they do their work on sight.

Unfortunately, it seems that the whole point of developing the 2D is to get good at 3D. I do appreciate that having skills in 3D as well as 2D is important in selling yourself, and I’m having great fun with 3D, as much as it nearly killed me at the start of the year, I don’t want to actually be a 3D modeller. It makes sense that the first year developers the ground skills for all aspects of being a Game artist, but it would make equal sense for the second year to allow you to begin to specialize your skills in the direction you want to go into. As we first years all desperately need Heather time, we all know that she can’t possibly see all of us one on one all the time, so it’s a god send that she’s posted up all her demos onto blackboard, but I still don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to put into a design document. If she was to go through it just once with the class then I’m sure that would help on people’s final grades.

Finally, the last thing I’d want to add is...I still don’t know the lecturers! I’d like to see more banter time with the staff and hopefully over the next 2 years I will see some.

Once bitten twice shy

Ok, of all games at GDC 10, Fable 3 got the biggest emotional reaction out of me. I’m not entirely sure whether I should even discuss this game but here goes anyways.
As a mahoosive fan of the Original Fable, which I still love and adore today, I literally died inside at the release of Fable 2. I followed it intently throughout its production, every interview and video about it was under my belt. Clearly Peter Molyneux is renowned for being able to talk about something and make it sound good, but during all his interviews and speeches he spoke of things being in the game which got such a good response and then never made it into the actual game. Although I do appreciate how some things must naturally be cut from the game, I couldn’t help but feel lied to. Yet that wasn’t the beginning of the slide.

It was said that the world was going to be so much bigger, and so much more of it could be explored, when in actual fact, the explorative areas in fable 2 were so much smaller and much more linear. It also completely contradicted the original geographically. They really should have thought about it a little more. The Clothing variety was also much more limited, even though you could change the colours of items. The spell system was so much more flawed in the second Fable that there was a limit to about 8 spells in the entire game. The childhood scene seemed as if was placed in the game purely because it was a hit in the first one and no real emotional connection was made with your sister like was made with your best friend Whisper in the first one before you choose Whether she lived or died. The crucible was a blatant waist of time, nothing on the coliseum in Knothole Glade and they even toned down physical changes to your character according to your alignment. The emotional connection just wasn’t there.

Granted there were many improved things like: the work and shopping system, buying things and the way actions with the NPC’s takes place was improved. Marriage, and children along with homes and the tax system was improved. Even though the dog thing was an improvement and it was well done, I’m not a dog fan, and I didn’t like how it was compulsory. I was sick of cheering it up or having to feed it/heal it when it jumped in front of a gun. It didn’t quite add to the plot and the emotional value of the game like the first one did. It felt too commercial and forced unlike the first one which clearly had a LOT of passion put into it.

When Fable 3 was announced I wasn’t sure how to feel. As usual, it sounds good, They’ve taken into account what fans like myself have thrown at them, brought things back, added other things, removed some things which should never have been added. What looks rather good, potentially better than the original is the way you physically change in your alignment through emoticons. And the way when your dating someone you can hold their hand etc. I very much get the impression that will add greatly to my emotional involvement. However, the concept of spells being applied through rings seems the biggest pile of shit ever. What’s the point of being a Hero if everyone can put on a ring and do a spell. That was the whole point of being a hero, you’re the only ones who can use Will. FFS. I also don’t like the idea of being King but we’ll see how they work it. The general overtone to the plot seems simple enough but I’ll be interested to see what they do with it.

No doubt that I will buy it just because of my love for Fable and the sound track which I also fell in love with at the Original Fable. Peter Molyneux has the uncanny ability to chat on and make anything sound good, but I am still sceptical from the betrayal I felt at Fable 2. We will see...

Thursday, 29 April 2010

When i grow up, I wanna see the world, drive nice cars. I wanna have boobies!

“When I Grow up I want to be a palaeontologist” I used to say. I used to want to scour the world looking for dinosaur bones and discover the biggest and most fascinating of them all. But even then I knew that that kind of lifestyle would mean compromising family and social life at home. Yet having a job that I enjoyed and made me happy is what always counted the most for me. Now however, that my mind is...more grown up, my priorities in terms of wanting a job that I am passionate about over anything else hasn’t changed. The only thing that has is where my passion lies, and that is well and truly as a games artist, specifically a character designer, above all other specialisations in the game artist’s world. As much as I would still enjoy the development of environments, or to do actual 3D work, I find the design process and development of a character, in thinking about what they would wear, why, what items they would have etc so much more interesting.

As a fan of games, there is obviously things that I would like to change in the industry and improve; countless games these days are released in a state which if given a few more months of love and attention, would have been so much more satisfying to the gamer to play. Yet like all industries, I can’t expect to graduate and within a few days be Jr. vice president of Microsoft’s entertainment department. I will have to work hard a graft my way into the position I want, yet equally, I do expect the skills that I work on over the next few years to point me very much in the right direction.

10 years from now, ideally, I see myself working for a major games industry, on a team of artists working on the game which will generate as much hype as Halo: Combat Evolved did. However, other than working my ass off to get there and maybe stepping on a few people’s toes, I don’t exactly know how to get there. Only time will tell and hopefully I’ll make all the right decisions.

The good looking guy always stands next to the ugly guy to make himself look even better!

When it comes down to education people for a career in the games industry, the biggest problem is that games are still considered by most as children’s entertainment and any course with the term “Game” in it automatically gets the presumption that it’s a “Micky mouse” subject. Most people, particularly the people apply for these kinds of courses take enjoyment from them as a form of entertainment but don’t understand or appreciate the level of work, dedication and commitment that goes into the years of processing a game goes through before it gets on the shelf, resulting in the “Micky mouse” theory.

As the course becomes more popular and games are clearly making its mark on the entertainment industry, this unfortunately isn’t reflected in people’s attitudes. As these courses become more popular, the “Micky mouse” stigma and lack of understanding results in people who have no idea how a game is made, running for these courses with this idea that they can sit around, playing games and drawing whatever crap comes out of their head and as if by magic it makes its way into a game.

In addition, most new comers to try and make their mark on the games industry don’t appreciate the fact that the Games industry is still considered to be a new one, and thus considered a risk by investors. Many games which consume so much time and money and may even have consumed some of your passion may never even see the store shelf. Weather the game will make money or not is very much a gamble. Also, as games companies collapse and renowned, well established teams find their secure footing in the industry, the rate of employment in the industry to graduates from courses on the games industry is falling. To exaggerate this, the fools who know nothing of the industry with their fantasy of playing games all day, are making annoying competition for those who have a real passion and talent in the field they’re willing to properly dedicate their lives to.

However, Even I must admit, that in an industry where you take so much enjoyment from the outcomes of your work, It is hard to balance playing games with doing work on games, but gladly, being a games artist is what I want to do more than anything and I’m under none of the illusions that society casts over games. How could I be so blind as to walk into an industry without being well versed. The idiots of this industry who don’t know what they’re walking into have their uses I guess...they make those of us who are serious about this look amazing. Lol.

Musik Horen!

Like films, music in games is used to create all types of emotion from tension and suspense to sadness at the death of a character. However, in my personal opinion games achieve so much more through music than films and even that of artists in the charts. Not only does music help to engage the player into the game but after the emotional effect has passed, the music holds its emotional value even without the game.

Today many games who have dedicated orchestras for their music release sound tracks. Martin O’Donnell, composer of the Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 3:ODST has created music which not only works well with the game, but the music also works so well without the game and can bring excitement or a calm mood depending on what I’m doing or how I feel. It can even be played with other games. Similarly, Nobuo Uematsu, Writer of a lot of the Final Fantasy series’ music, has held many concerts with his orchestra, playing only Final Fantasy music, which are massively popular. Every time I watch one on Youtube I’m horribly envious of the crowd. Funnily enough, my number one “sonic moment” is by Nobuo Uematsu. Quite typically, as a Final Fantasy VII fan, it’s no surprise that my number one moment is when Aerith/Aeris is impaled by Sephiroth’s Masamune and her hair bobble/Holy material bounces down the stairs into the water to her theme, and as the player/I was emotionally distraught, you have to fight off a piece of Jenova to Aerith’s theme tune. *sigh*I’ll never forget how devastated I was...

But swiftly moving on, lol. Besides the emotions that games can create, music from games is massively under rated. I often listen to game sound tracks and people always ask me who it’s by or what it is to look into it themselves, but as soon as I mention the fact that it’s from a game sound track, they either sound disappointed, or shocked. I think this is a reflection of how games are still stuck with the stigma of being for kids, which truly is a shame as the composers of some of these game pieces really do write some fantastic pieces of music that just demand respect and appreciation.

Monday, 26 April 2010

I'd rather stand on a hornets nest...

Let’s take a few steps backwards to assess the situation. At GCSE maths and IT were my weakest subjects. At A level, I avoided both at all costs. Now I’m at Uni I would happily pay someone to look at numbers for me, can’t stand the sight of them. So naturally, the concept of even beginning to get my head around a Games engine is a daunting one. From where I’m stood right now it is by far the most boring part of the whole game making process. Despite how I may feel about it however, it is incredibly important in making something feel more believable. Although the artists deal with the physical elements of the game and making that look and feel authentic, that would be useless if the programmers couldn’t get a decent facial expression out of a character when the love of their life has just been ripped apart in front of them.

Even though I did go through how I feel about the game already, this would be a perfect time to talk about the game engine of Alien Vs Predator again. In all honesty, I can’t fault really the design work or the 3D modelling of the game as it sticks to the original designs and environments which a fan like myself would have really freaked out over had they not. However, it is clear that this is an example of how the men with money have gotten their hands on something which could have been great given a little more love. For example: when playing as a predator and in heat vision, corpses stay warm and when hats or guns are dropped, they are completely warm and stay warm even when they’re not on a soldier’s body. There is about 5 different human characters, after that you just seem to kill the same NCP over and over. Handling and movement of the Alien and Predator is inconsistent, makes no sense and often costs you your life in game play. Even bosses didn’t really do anything, they kinda just sat there and waited for you to do damage to them. Lazy problems which could have been resolved given the time.

On the plus side however, game engines give programmers a visual interface to make a game without a hell load of glitches. It allows them to see their progress or mistakes without them having to read a load of C/C++ stuff to get where they want. Although this does make it easier to transfer information between platforms, games engines do have problems of their own. They’re limited to a memory budget according to the memory space on the platform it will be assigned to. Hence why PCs are in constant need of upgrading their CPU, particularly with shaders in modern titles. Shaders themselves are a piece of software which read the information from normal maps in a 3D model. They make the model appear more textured than the bare wireframe using 'height' information to determine which areas of the model would attract the most light and which areas would shadow.

In addition there are also other software programs such as Middleware, which can be employed, and today are expected to be used by programmers for accurate physics portrayals of objects being kicked, falling thrown and particularly for explosions. These are all of paramount importance in making and interlude, cinematic and game play experience more believable.

The Industry today

The games industry today is still considered to be a new industry and too many industries are considered a risk to invest in. However, over the past 20 years it has become obvious that the popularity of interactive entertainment is growing and shows no signs of stopping. From being confined to arcades, games have crawled their way onto personal computers, consoles, mobile phones and today is breaking free of control pads and buttons and moving onto motion detectors to allow consoles to read the players body motions and put them into game. With Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo leading the games industry, other areas of the entertainment industry have taken note of its potential. Even the BBC has taken a leap of faith with the release of episodic gaming for the Doctor Who series. Despite the economic down turn, the games industry is well and truly on its way up.

Personally I would love nothing more than to be part of such a creative industry. With games being considered by some as an interactive was of telling a story, modern games and films like Avatar can’t help but inspire me to want to create my own and contribute to an industry which can invoke such an emotional response by the gamer/viewer. Today, increased specialisation of jobs in the industry means that about 70% of studio is made up of game artists whether they specialise in environment or character design, special effects work or 3D modelling. Personally I would be much more interested in the development of character design or environment, mostly due to the fact that I would want my job to be satisfying to my creativity but also presents a challenge. However, with 3D modelling being among the better paid jobs, I doubt I’d complain if I was to stumble into that position.

However, my only issue with the Games industry thus far is the fact that it is starting to show the same annoying patterns of the Hollywood film industry. Endless sequels for the sake of profit and the same kinds of repetitive game play and generic plot which are seen over and over make it obvious that some games lack passion and creativity and money is clearly the primary objective. Although I don’t that I could ever fall out of love with games, if the games industry were to completely fall into the hands of the money thirsty corporate giant, the creative element of the industry which has caused people’s emotional responses to the industry, would be quickly lost.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The all new and 'improved' AVP for 360

Unless you are a mahoosive alien fan like myself, alien verses predator for the 360 is unlikely to be your go-to online FPS. One of the main features about this game is that in the campaign is that there isn’t just one. There’s a separate campaign for each of the marine, alien and predator. Each of the campaigns start off well! All have their own thrills. The first few levels of the marine are dark and rather jumpy, very reminiscent of the original alien films and kept accuracy within the original alien film story lines. Playing as the Alien you escape from a lab for some entertaining ambushes, head chomps and generally toy with the AI. As Predator, it can be fun to jump around and get yourself in position for a gloriously stealthy and gory trophy kill. But the thrill soon wears off as you soon find out in each campaign that AvP has some annoying basic errors which unless you are willing to put your back out to learn how to use it to your advantage like I did, it can really put you off the game.

The dark and much more thrilling levels of the marine give way to tedium as they are replaced with much more boring jungles and temples. The thrills of running around as a zenomorph as lost as the inconsistent movement controls suck out the pleasure and usually cost u your life. And in the predator campaign, poor movement is just as much of a problem. As Alien, you’re supposed to hold right trigger (Xbox 360) to change the surface your crawling on, but in actuality there’s no consistency to the movement, you’ll crawl onto some walls and outcroppings whether or not it’s what you want to do, which when you’re trying to ambush someone, peruse someone, or run away from someone is just about the most annoying thing in the world. This inconsistency also invades the predator campaign, where there’s just no rhyme or reason to where you can jump. Sometimes you can jump up to 20ft above you, while other times you can’t even jump over a 3 ft fence.

The brutal and close up kills are probably the best part of Alien versus Predator. As a Predator you can yank out some guys spine and stroke it as if it was caressing a woman’s hair. Personally I just think it’s wonderfully gross and the best part of the single player portion. The Alien also get some equally sadistic moment so if you like your gore, you’ll have some fun here. The story isn’t bad either, and some of the voice acting is well done and really brings the characters to life. It’s unfortunate that the numerous little errors just mount up into a big pile. Not that I mean to go on, but: boss fights are pretty lame, the recycles levels are fine but work well with one species and not with another; aliens and civilians alike act in really stupid ways, which keeps you from feeling like a bad-ass, and some of the visuals are quite frankly, sloppy.

The game’s online features are much better however. There’s lots of fun to be had when you mix, aliens, predators and marines together. Things still feel a little awkward but it still feels rewarding to land a kill, whichever species you are, without the crazy civilians giving their lives to you. The Best modes are Infestation and Predator Hunt, because they highlight the differences between each species, but if you want something more traditional there’s death match and team death match where the three species face off. Survivor is the usual co-op mode where you shoot off waves of enemies. It’s not as good as some other games out there but it’s still a lot of fun because it reverts back to the dark and creepy feel of the first marine levels.

I guess that for an Alien fan like myself, this is a really entertaining multiplayer game. For someone not as fanatical as myself, it will be the little things that drag the game down. Some grotesque kills and some entertaining multiplayer moments just won’t cut it when there’s so many excellent FPS shooters on store shelves. Alien vs. Predator just doesn’t have the attention to detail and the obvious care that go into the best games. The thing it does best is make you wish you were 8 years old again playing the original on pc while the ‘grown ups’ weren’t looking.

ahh yes the culture of games

Over my entire gaming life I think it’s safe to say that I’ve almost been part of every gaming culture that you can spawn out of your head, ignoring the wonderful dogma of sports games that is.

It’s easy enough to consider the fact that there is a large gamming culture of vampic teenagers, hunched in front of a screen for days at a time, rhythmically rattling away on their key boards. But as real as that is, especially in my case, gaming culture doesn’t end here. It’s exponential growth over the past decade has caused it to pour out into the rest of society. Whether it be games for educational purposes, sports sponsorship or the promotion of other products games are pouring out from the constraints of a dank bedroom .

From my own experience games have also brought about massive social changes. It takes a very dedicated gamer to pack up and carry around all their gear every time and travel (sometimes hundreds of miles) to a LAN. LANs can be a fun and highly social event and participants show a level of commitment to gaming that is rarely seen by outsiders of game culture. It's a whole lot of fun to spend time with like-minded people who share your passion and enthusiasm for video games. And lastly, it fosters a strong sense of community amongst gamers when they meet face-to-face.

MMOs. Although I’ve grown out it, well I say I’ve grown out of it. Rather I’m scared that if I play them again I’ll become addicted, I’ve been a massive fan of MMORPGs. Once upon a time when Thomas was young and MMOs were relatively new, MMO culture scrambled out of gamming culture and into a part of his life. As cheesy as this is going to sound, I used to play an MMO called MapleStory every day with the same group of people, some of them I knew in RL and most I didn’t. One in particular I enjoyed spending more time with than all the others and we became friends outside of the game. She was from America and in time she became my pen pal and, I went over to visit and holiday several times and now...nearly 6 years later, I love all the friends I’ve made over there and we still keep in touch.

Aside from gaining real friends, people speak, rather type has also changed from gaming culture. Weather people are aware of it or not, a lot of the abbreviations and acronyms people use are Leet or have developed from Leet. Some of our favorites include: Noob, Owned/Pwned, and the most annoying... ‘Lag’!!!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Another pointless piece of terminology

Game play, until now I never even questioned what this impossibly vague description encompasses. “the game play is really dynamic” – what does that mean? I kinda just completely ignored it in the millions of game interviews and reviews I’ve seen and read. The way it’s used most of the time makes it a completely pointless word to use, unless you break it down to have a meaning of value.

I guess for me it’s a term which describes what the player does, the challenges a game poses the player, the responses the player can make and how enjoyable the overall experience is. Yet, verying from genre to genre, these areas of “gameplay” will vary again. There’s no way that the game play of a strategy game is fairly comparable to that of an FPS or an RPG, or vice verca. Parts of a game which make it enjoyable will be very different in one game than they would in another, ie: a fighting game like street fighter IV, fast paced, competitive, online and local play, it’s a quick thrill which can be played socially but personally I would never sit and play through the campaign on my own. Where as a turn based/real time strategy game like Rome Total War, which is hardly quick paced and has disappointingly poor online capabilities, has an unlimitedly variable campaign, is highly addictive and replayable is historically accurate before the variants kick in and has the largest real time battle scenes than any other games of its genre (other than other games of the Total War franchise)

So Basically, which has the better game play? I guess that’s pretty much subjective to the person whose playing the game and their opinion on the game. As good as the graphics are and all the possibly ways of playing COD there are, personally I’m more of a Halo player, so to me, the “gameplay” in Halo is far better than that of COD. So clearly, how enjoyable a game is has a big impact on how the player considers the gameplay, making the term gameplay, completely subjective and still, quite a pointless term to use. I think I’ll continue to ignore it in interviews and reviews.