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.