Sunday, 17 April 2011

Where did the time go?

Well it’s seems we’ve reached the end of the year. And OMG how fast did that go. It seems like 5 minutes ago I was having my mug shot taken on the first day of first year, and now I’m 2/3 of the way through the degree. *sigh* I’m assuming third year will go even quicker, especially if the international exchange all goes to plan.

In any case, I’ve come along leaps and bounds in a few areas this year which I guess is making transition from students/hobbyist in 3D and 2D to actual Game Artists. In 2D I’ve come to recognise that in terms of the course, Visual Design as a whole isn’t my forte. When it comes to Imagineering something and making it look realistic, I practically face plant the floor. But when it comes to imitating something that’s real, i.e.: life drawing or still life, my technical skill and colour theory have improved massively, which is probably stemmed from my love of drawing people and characters. This is probably one of the reasons why I was aiming down the character artist/3D path, over character design.

In 3D, it has become apparent that in terms of assets, my knowledge lies in my understanding of shape of and how I can relate that in topology, particularly with organic objects, again emphasising my character modelling skills. I have also understood much more this year how to involve edge loops with the overall shape and form in consideration of rigging and animation. Further, although it isn’t quite to the extent of my topology knowledge, my skills in unwrapping and texturing have improves massively, due to my better understanding of how different texture sheets work. I don’t know why but it’s almost as if over the summer, something clicked. In any case, one huge step for me was the beginning of learning how to add assets into an actual game engine through the group project. Making our assets come to life in a playable world is what being a 3D artist is all about. Although it’s not exactly what I want to go into, I can easily see how I felt the same way last year about 3D modelling, and with more practice, my understanding of UDK and how everything in that respect works, will improve, and bring about a new joy in exporting and level design.

Despite my reluctance to do anything for a sizable chunk of this year, I think I’ve done a bloody good job of avoiding the second year slump. Mike’s foreboding words at the start of the year in conjunction with several guest lecturers and the pressure to actually have something in a portfolio ready for an internship, had me working pretty much solid throughout the year. In contrast to last year however, This time last year I really didn’t want to be a 3D artist, I wanted to stick to the 2D side of things, which in all fairness is understandable, it was my comfort zone. But now looking at the broader picture, and my new love for character modelling, my goal now is to be a character artist, specifically a 3D modeller, but with me acquired knowledge of both, I can now take what I am best at from both aspects and make one impressive FMP. Lol. (so he says)

Come dead child, sit on uncle Tom's lap and tell me what you wanna be when you "grow up".

Where do I want to go and how do I get there? To be honest that’s quite a weighted question. It’s no longer as simple as it used to be. When I was younger I wanted to be a palaeontologist whatever the stakes. I assumed that I would go through the education system and once I graduated from university, someone would wave a magic wand and I’d have made it. My naive mind thought university automatically = success and dream job. These days however, every blind monkey with a stick has a degree in all manner of ridicules things.

I’m a little bit more clued up on how things work now though. I no longer want to scour the world to make the next big pre-historic discovery and get my name on it, but rather to be a game artist, a job I’m probably equally if not more passionate about. Specifically I would rather be a character artist than anything else. Characters and drawing organic things have always inspired me so much more than anything man made ever could. Even today I don’t understand why someone would rather have a Photoshoped cityscape on their bedroom wall over a forest clearing with god rays breaking through the canopy at sunrise. In any case, modelling organic assets always allows me to play a lot more with topology which is probably my favourite part of being a 3D modeller, and as an Artist, drawing people is what I enjoy most, even if my skills are still somewhat to be desired. In terms of designing characters, as a 3D artist, I would have little involvement with it but it would still be something that I could enjoy should my career take that path. I’ve always enjoyed from a young age, designing characters, thinking of their heritage, what close they wear and why. What trinkets they would carry with them or any traumas they’d had in their lives. Equally though, if I was to start in environment design, I wouldn’t be working in malcontent. I’d be happy where I was until I felt I had gained what I could from that side of being a 3D artist. Character design is my ultimate goal.

Pretty much the only way I can achieve this is the blatantly obvious. Aside from going through the motions of getting my face and my work out there, and making the effort to make myself stand out from everyone else on our course, nothing short of bloody hard work will get me to where I want to be. To become a better game artist requires practice and patience just like any other discipline, and that’s pretty much what I must so to get me where I need to be. And we can start by not failing the second year.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Interact with this Design!

Interactive design is in my opinion, the most important part of a game. No matter how good the plot is, how dynamic the game play is or crisp the graphics are, if it handles like an asthmatic and with some heavy shopping then it’s pretty much a waste of time. Interaction design could be considered to be the bridge between worlds, real and cyber. It’s what allows the player to be enveloped by gaming world.

Let’s take a look at what the player physically interacts with to get what they want to happen. The control pad. Let’s just say that I’m just about the happiest person in the world that within my life time, ergonomics and anthropometrics have made their way into the design of the control pad. Even though I’m too young to have experienced what it was like to physically handle a joy stick, in an arcade filled with sweaty pre-teens, I understand that they were designed for practicality, they worked, and they worked well. However, when it came to home entertainment systems, looking now at the designs from the SNES, Sega mega drive and PS1, not only were they ugly, but they felt disgusting and uncomfortable in your hand, until they got warm. I mean they worked, but just, eww. And then the consoles themselves, they worked, and to be honest, the design for the time was perfectly fine, we didn’t know any different, but good god, there was no style, rather very little to their designs, they were all essentially bricks. It kinda makes me chuckle now as I look over at my SNES next to my latest model 360. Ahh we’ve come so far. Gradually over my short lifetime, as technology developed, and technology got cheaper, the control pads and consoles evolves into the much prettier things they are now today.

Yet within the past 2 years, a new way for the player to interact with the game has developed for the home entertainment system. No longer do we need a control pad of any description. Not even a wii mote to dance around our living room, but our bodies ourselves become the control pad, which has brought about a real chance for the family to interact in games. Not that families didn’t before, but it was generally just siblings or father and son kinda thing. In all fareness, this does work well for certain game genres, and there is much more that they can do with it. However, I don’t think that they will ever truly get rid of the control pad. There are certain genres of game, just too popular, which require a control pad to play.

In terms of GUI (Game user interface), fundamentally with games, not a great deal has changed. If I go back to Super Mario World on the SNES, and I press pause, I’m greeted with pretty much the same thing now as I was then. “continue”, “options”, “save”, “load” & “quit”. And depending on the genre of the game maybe adding “combo list” or “hints” etc. However, one thing that has most defiantly changed is how these things are presented. Back in the days of the SNES the game would stop and you would be presented with a flat screen of text. Although, a lot of games do still do that because the genre demands it i.e. fighting games, a lot of games have started presenting the title menu on a 3D real time background, usually with moving stuff behind, with the text font related to that particular semantic field. Other games, largely first person shooters, recently including a reward system and upgrade system for everything, have added masses of options to those particular lists. One game which stands out head and shoulders above the crowd for GUI, is Dead Space. With Dead Space, the Pause menu doesn’t stop the game, the game is constantly running. It also doesn’t come up full screen, it is a projection from the protagonist, Isec’s wrist. This fits in perfectly with the survival horror theme. To stop and look at where you are on the map, where you need to go, look at how much ammo or health you have, leaves you vulnerable to ambush and forces the player to think about where they pause. Not only that but instead of having a standard health bar in the corner and ammo/ lives next to it, all these things are displayed on the character himself, adding to the element of realism, and avoiding distraction from the player’s focus on the atmosphere of the game.

Love Dead Space.

What the future holds for interactive design in the games world, well, that could be interesting. I think in terms of the control and direct player to game interaction, that has the most way to gain here. If they actually put more effort into developing assets like Kinect and compatible games for that, then we could pretty easily hit off on virtually reality for your home system, which thinking about it could be detrimental for people like the WOW lovers out there. Modders have done it already in their homes, but equally, if interaction was to take that path, it could easily become a phase as virtual reality in theme parks worse off pretty much instantly. On the other hand, something in the direction of the minority report would be brilliant in terms of pause menus and title screens would be brilliant and would go a long way.

Who wants a geeky tattoo?

For about a year now I’ve been “mmming” and “aaahing” about whether or not to get a tattoo, particularly a game related tattoo. There about 3 of 4 games which I’ve been thinking about, games which mean something to me and it’s been on my mind a lot more recently. However, today while I was doing a whole lot of nothing, this popped up:

Convenient much?

As I Delved further into the article, the most common tattoo seemed to be the Triforce symbol from Zelda, but needless to say that I discovered some pretty hardcore gamer tattoos. Some awful, some quite simple and cute, but what I had in mind was far removed from the entire character selection screen of the Marvel vs Capcom on my torso. I was thinking something small and personal.

In any case, it was defiantly interesting to hear why some people got their gamer tattoos. Some said: it was to remind them of a particular person, or fond memory. Others said it was to remind them of a simpler time in their child hood, free from taxes and bills. A couple simply said, “because I love the game” or “I add every game I’ve completed to the collection”, but whatever their reason, to me I guess the reason that makes the most sense would be of sentimental value. But in any case, This article didn’t really help me in my decision, it just confirmed that there are so many people out there with a passion for games, equal to mine. So much so that they’re willing to give that particular game the highest honour they can, by branding it on their person for the rest of their days. Don’t know why but this article almost made me feel like it’s my duty to get out there and help continue to inspire people so passionately.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Musik im Computerspielen

The last time I visited the subject of music, although I was aware of how music affects games, my actual knowledge of the subtleties of how it is used was very limited, and although I still have much to learn my time in our group project and trying to incorporate music appropriate to the genre has made a massive difference to how I see music in games.

Although I do still agree that artists such as Martin O’Donnell and Nobuo Uematsu are amazing composers and have rightly earned themselves a name, the grandeur of their music isn’t appropriate for all gaming situations. RPGs and first person shooters, like within Halo and Final Fantasy have music of high energy and give everything a sense of scale, all be it few sad moments or music for “evil characters” there is next to no ambient music, or music that gradually builds tension or creates a theme or atmosphere.

The genre of the game we produced in the group project was that of a survival genre, so naturally, if we were going to include music, we had to research into that which is included in survival horror games and films of the same nature. Music that was ambient, yet atmospheric, and what was appropriate to create a jumpy moment or simply sound effects of dripping water or a broken circuit board.

The artist we found who made the most appropriate music in terms of ambience and creating the right atmosphere we wanted, was Jason Graves, who composed the Dead Space Soundtrack. However, it wasn’t just enough that we had found music we could use, we had to consider when to use it and where to slowly build up tension with the player. Too much or little tension in the wrong place could unnecessarily leave the player with a feeling of anti-climax which is the last thing you want when playing a game. We also gathered a compilation of sound effects for items in the environment, several sounds for each asset. We then had to consider the extremity of the sound or how synthetic it should sound depending on the actual level of destruction of the asset and we had to consider how that played a part in the environment. For example: when considering a dripping pipe, we had to ensure that it was a slight drip, not too frequent. It had to sound like it was dripping into a small puddle, not a pool or solid concrete, and we had to take into account the volume of the sound in conjunction with the ambient music. All these little details needed to be taken into account for every sound effect which gave us much appreciation for how much effort and skill goes into creating different moods and levels of tension in all genres of games.

Coming back to the Halo franchise, Although it has no elements of eerie tension like Dead Space does, Martin O’Donnell creates a different kind of tension through different instruments and keeping the pace of the music high as halo is a much faster paced game. As a skill I would say creating moods through music takes a massive amount of skill for whatever genre of game or film it is being produced for, which I now have a much better appreciation for.