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.