Friday, 21 December 2012

Elements of game design, part eight: Documentation

Even though the mere mention of the word 'documentation; is enough to bore anyone who hears it, the process of careful planning of all your work from start to finish is what defines a successful project from one that's doomed to fail. As all projects work to a (usually) strict deadline, mapping out the development before you actually begin the creative process is usually vital, to set out all of the activities you will need to cover throughout the whole project.
To Prepare for the upcoming documentation I will have to do throughout my FMP in third year, I will now write up a practice run to try and nail down the fundamental information needed for any game idea. As industry requires any creative person to be able to work alongside a combination of briefs, timetables and technical specifications, its good practice to write up my own as well as see how it could be utilised later on.

Project Outline
My personal aims include creating a fluent document that states all of the ideas and specifications I will need to layout my plans for a game of my own concept and design. Through the process of planning and documentation I plan to learn the skills necessary to carefully plan every aspect and stage of my work, from concept to final, which will provide me with good experience for future projects (especially my third year FMP).
The platform of choosing would be current generation consoles, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and the Wii U, though I would also make the game available to pc gamers to reach a wide target audience across as many platforms as possible. The game would be available through digital download, therefore cutting costs on a physical release, and making the retail price lower than most new releases.

Games that are similar in certain aspects: Enslaved: Odyssey to the west features a world overrun with robots and old technology. And Red Dead Redemption, as my concept is inspired partly by the wild west setting and open world. 
The game itself is an action/adventure, with platforming elements to promote exploration. The games USP Is the ability to take any material you come across in the world around you and use it to adapt your character to whatever situation, to help progress throughout the game. As you play an old model robot, the ability to modify your character is key to upgrading your skills as well as changing your appearance throughout the course of the game. The title is aimed at not only the usual audience of males between 15 – 20's, but also looks at younger audiences with a stylisation that is universal such is used in movies and animation by Dreamworks and Pixar.

Films such as Wall-e and games like the Ratchet and Clank series are similar in style and concept to my idea, with their own unique take on the sci-fi genre. My idea takes the idea of the lone robot character into a vibrant alien world like those seen in the Ratchet and Clank games.
I will use 3DS Max for creating the elements of my idea in 3d, utilising Photoshop for the texture maps. For testing my assets in-game I will use the UDK Editor, to see how my creations work within various conditions.

Technical Specifications

Lead Character
A clunky old robot, based upon humanoid proportions. Exaggerated features that are made up of varying parts that are falling apart due to age. Dressed in wild west attire, wide brimmed hat and ragged poncho to mirror the desolate and mock western style surroundings.

Triangle Count: 8000 Tri's
1x1024 and 1x512 Diffuse texture map
1x1024 and 1x512 Normal Map
1x1024 and 1x512 Specular Map

Reference Imagery:

IG 88 ~Star Wars Saga
Clint Eastwood ~The Good, the Bad and The Ugly
Robot Pirates from Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction

Non-Playable Character
Scavenger style drone robot, built in the appearance of a metal vulture: used by an old government to search out valuable scrap to re-use. Are hostile towards the main character, due to his parts being constantly replaced with the scrap parts they are programmed to search for.

Triangle Count: 5000 Tri's
1x1024 Diffuse texture map
1x1024 Normal Map
1x1024 Specular Map

Reference Imagery:

Scavenger and Vulture droids respectively from the Star Wars franchise

A rusty old hoverbike that has been scrapped together, much in the same aspect as the main character. Though futuristic, is still an inferior mode of transport compared to the rest of the worlds alternatives. Is used to traverse large open areas, and also to reach those areas not accessible by foot.

Triangle Count: 3500 Tri's
1x1024 Diffuse texture map
1x1024 Normal Map
1x1024 Specular Map

Reference Imagery:
Classic Motorcycle
Speeder Bike ~Star Wars

A majority of the areas or levels featured in this game will be large scale and open to explore at the players own pace, and will range from wild-west style ghost towns where old mechanical structures dot the landscape, to overgrown and abandoned forest reserves to bustling future metropolis'. The more populated areas of the game will be more restricted in terms of exploration, to save on memory and amount of intractable assets required to make.
The technical spec's for each games area will vary greatly, though they will feature assets that include overgrown ruined factories, various abandoned vehicles and crashed spacecraft, and other relics of and abandoned world the main character is part of. The opposite will also be included though, with new futuristic constructs and architecture in one of the game worlds few thriving cities. A smaller area that would feature as the game's early stage, would be at least around 15,000 tri's, with various assets with their own 1x512 diffuse, normal and specular maps. As you progress through the game the stages will be expansive, though because of this it means re-using the same assets wont be as obvious and will save on resources.
Finished assets will be manipulated into place using UDK.

Reference Imagery:

Old Wild West Ghost Town
Krell Canyon: From Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction
Ruins from Enslaved: Odyssey to The West
Props and Scenery Objects

A laser carbine, styled in the same fashion of an old fashioned rifle but with a cobbled together appearance to show it has been hand made from old materials. Various other weapons will become available throughout the game, though none will exceed the budget.

Triangle Count: 1000 Tri's
1x512 Diffuse texture map
1x512 Normal Map
1x512 Specular Map

Reference Imagery:

Various blaster type weapons from the Star Wars saga

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Elements of game design part 7: Level Design

Whereas environment design that I have previously looked at is concerned with the aesthetic side of how the surroundings are created, level design is done purely for games: it differentiates a piece of work that may be done purely to look at, and what has to actually be manipulated and function by use by a player. What iv e talked about previously about a concept and design having to be based on fundamental knowledge so that we know it works and looks right to the viewer is taken further, as the surroundings not only are there to look at any more with in-game levels, but are there to be interacted with in a variety of different ways.

Early examples of 3d games had the opportunity to make navigation seamless into the environment without obvious signposting: Here in tomb raider 2, this is done via ledges and platforms you have to find and navigate as part of the (at the time) quite expansive levels. Though clunky by today's standards, it was a way to make navigation and interactivity seamless, and make the player think of how to use their surrounding game world. 

I think its incredibly important to differentiate from the visual aspect of level design and the level itself.... Majority of levels are made purely with the process of making sure they are navigate able and able to be traversed clearly before any artwork or design is done to the levels contents, the meshes being left blank or covered in rough place holder art to distinguish one part from the other. At the end of the day a game is there to be played, and if it is difficult or unclear on how to do so it is failing at the most fundamental level. Numerous games use various methods to bring their in-game worlds to life by making them dynamic and react to the decisions made by the players to give the impression that your not only within something but also affecting it based on your own choices and decisions. And now, with more realistic games that closely mirror are own world as real as possible, elements that used to help us interact with a game that used to be merely part of the aesthetic side (a flat signpost telling us which direction to go) are now built into the game's level (Activating a switch that moves platforms allowing the player to navigate to a certain area). With the increase of exploration and freedom in games, the world isn't necessarily made up of blocks that are cleverly disguised as buildings any more, but fully implemented digital pieces of architecture with doors that can be opened, windows that can be smashed, and lights that can be switched on.

The basic layout to the start to any level design is the functionality aspect, and how the player can interact within it.  
While the game production work I have done on the course so far has largely involved the aesthetic side of making things in 3d, we are slowly being pushed towards thinking about the interactivity involved in our creations. The creation of characters introduced us to rigging, showing us how not only to make the human anatomy look true to life, but also make it work like it would in the real world. This was a start into looking at the functionality aspect of our work, and with recent projects with bringing our renders into the Unreal Engine, we've seen how important it is to make things work (albeit on a basic level) while in a game's level. Though I learnt the start with basic things like collision detection, it was interesting to see how my building that I had made could be explored in first person. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Elements of game design part 6: Visual Composition

The basic principles of visual composition lie at the heart of all forms of visual communication, and making sure that these fundamental building blocks are included in every aspect of art that you create is vital in making sure that the thing you are creating can be an accurate reflection of what it is you are trying to depict, regardless of how fantastical the subject matter. You could paint the most amazingly stunning piece of work, but all it takes is one slight error in how you out it all together initially, and the flaw screams out from the image, becoming blatant in where you went wrong.
A concept piece depicting good use of scale: the placement of the characters, looking out onto the epic landscape gives the viewer the same sense of a large scale environment. 
In environmental design, if buildings aren't geometric and viewed with the correct sense of perspective with their surroundings, then the overall feel of the environment isn't going to be convincing and only be a wrongly depicted image of real life. When what it should be, is a convincing window into an environment that is true to life in the basic principles, while still being as dynamic and original as possible, making use space and lighting. Positioning of the perspective in all compositions is also greatly influential on the images 'mood', for example, to give a sense of scale a wide field of view is used to capture a large landscape and sweeping vista's to show the large scale of an environment. For more enclosed settings, a viewpoint from close to an object and looking down on them tends to give things a more 'intimate' atmosphere, and usually works well when depicting indoors and scenes between characters. The placement of people within environments is also just as important, as an image to depict some sort of large scale surroundings is often amplified when a tiny representation of a person is included, as this gives a good idea of just how large the environment is in contrast to the person. 

This is a good example of an interior environmental piece of work that not only demonstrates an enclosed space but also the depth and height of it through a unique perspective, to show how tall the staircase stretches. The contrast between the lighting also demonstrates the bottom of the cold interior (with blue) and the warmth of the light leaking through above.
This is often seen in games, with the use of the in game camera, as 3rd person cameras over the characters shoulder are often used in horror games to give a sense of a claustrophobic environment and to generate fear.... while in open world games, the camera often pans back at opportune moments to allow the player to take in the world that seems to stretch around them, allowing them to take it all in.

Obviously when an aspect of design concentrates on character development, the focus on fundamentals is based around proportion and shape, and how closely they are to real life. Regardless of how sci-fi or fantasy based the character is, it has to function on the basic functionality of organic life that exists in our world.... weather it be human or part of the animal kingdom. Everything is based on functional shapes and how they work together, and every part of composition shares that.

With my own work, in visual design I have slowly began to hone all the individual elements that make up the rules of composition, it being the first time ive been taught in detail all the important factors as opposed to the more randomised way id work before, which would always demonstrate the important information im missing in the final outcomes. The process of sketching quickly and repeatedly to nail all of the important elements down, has been an important factor in how my 2d work has evolved and how I then tackle my final pieces of work. Composition in game production is the next step, as it takes things to the next level by introducing not only the 3d element but also the dynamic element of time, now that we've begun bringing our work into game engines. This takes the compositional aspect into the realms of functionality, and how players can literally interact with things that were originally just there aesthetically. 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Elements of game design part 5: Planning and Concepting

Planning and concepting is pretty much the key factor in the arsenal of any game designer, regardless of what area your working in. So long as your creating something, you have to have a clear idea of WHAT you want, HOW your going to do it and WHEN your going to be able to do it by.... its really that simple. However explaining the process is a lot easier than actually doing it, and achieving the ends that you set out to. Every idea starts somewhere, weather its found amongst research, sparked from a doodle on a piece of paper or just an everyday observation, it doesn't matter where it starts so long as the idea creates the inspiration to build upon it and take it further and to an ultimate goal... whether its film, games, music, writing, art in general WHATEVER. The filed you are working in is irrelevant, what is important however is what you do with it.

Now, me personally, I have always been strongest when I'm throwing any random ideas down onto paper via sketching or doodling, whether its an idea from my thoughts or imagination or just inspired from a single word, I have to get the things that particular thing generates in my mind down onto paper to help me better understand whatever the hell it is my brain is concocting. A lot of the time ill do this for awhile, pretty unfocused and I know this is a bad habit, but sometimes ill like an idea visually before ill have the concept built around it. Now what I should ALWAYS do, is as soon as I have an idea I think is strong, begin to look at all the ideas around it building it all up with research, both primary and secondary to make the idea itself founded not just in my imagination, but also in reality... because even if you think of the most fantastical thing imaginable, if it has no reference points or foundation in the real world, its just wont look or feel right to whoever is seeing your creation. A lot of the time, if I struggle for ideas in general research is done first to inspire the first spark that helps get my ideas down onto paper... this is how most people usually work, and It helps in set you on the right foot at the beginning.

Assassins Creed is a good example of a recent game that was born from a very strong, unique idea, yet has a solid foundation in the real world and its rich history. The research in the various places in history each game is set is evident, in everything from the clothes the characters wear to the type of architecture evident... and yet the original vision and uniqueness of the game's concept stands out amongst all of this.  

Obviously, planning plays a big part of any creative process, so knowing when your going to tackle the different stages of your idea is vital: All areas of design work, whether game or not are all part of a tight schedule, so knowing how your going to do what you intend to do and what the extent of your abilities are in the time given is extremely important. Time management is one of those really tricky things, (that I seem to have yet to master). There are numerous examples of games that have been caught up in time management issues due to lack of foresight in things like development, marketing, changing something at the last minute, lots of things that hit at the worst time possible in a games lifespan.... and also games that because of this, have never seen the light of day at all.

(Research blog looking into the overall game development process)

People Practice! :D

Thought id post up what work I've been doing over summer, pretty much involving my focus on human anatomy and portrait work, the work I most enjoy :) 

Sketch done in fine-line pen: tried to make use of hatching, and fast sketches of varying depths to nail down as much detail as possible.

Sketch in 6B grade pencil: Again, incorporating hatching lines for simple and fast shading. Its a good technique that I haven't really used much before, but I like a lot when doing speed drawing. 

A portrait piece using 6B grade Pencil: I focused on specific areas in this to create larger depth in the features, so that the overall models expression could be translated as easily as possible. 

 Another portrait using 6B pencil: Used a lot more time to show the detail in this sketch, paying attention to the shadow depth around the eyes and cheeks to show features, regardless of how obvious they appear. 
 Pencil and Watercolour life drawing studies: Using literally a few minutes on each piece in pencil I sketched out the basic shapes to then add the detail in watercolours, sticking to single colour shading (will tackle proper colour theory later).
 Some watercolour work, this time looking at portraits: Kept most the detail on the facial features again, using loose strokes at first to get the basic shades then adding more detail with less diluted paint afterwards. I kept my focus on the balance between the mid-tones and the darker areas to show distinction in the features. 

Was really satisfied with the amount of practice I got in as I was able to fill an entire sketchbook with various sketches and doodles in different media. Really like drawing the female anatomy, though I think I need to focus on the male as much so I can get them both spot on for y'know... when I actually want to design a male character :p

Reflection on Year One, And Ambitions For Year two

After year one studying game art, I really experienced how easy it was to be overwhelmed by a new change of direction with study.... having lots of increasingly difficult projects thrown at you using a program like 3DSMAX that I've never used before, as well as more of a focus on traditional art was all fairly new to me, as even though I come from a higher level of study than most, it was all focused around design, so adjusting I think was my first step in settling into this course.
I found that the constant barrage of difficult 3d work has actually made it sink in though, and even though I tend to struggle with aspects of 3d still, once I realised as much had sunk into my brain than I realised, it felt quote encouraging to know how much I have learnt in such a short space of time.

With the traditional art side of the course, I know its probably my stronger area but at the same time I've come to understand the areas I need to focus more on, such as use of colour, digital painting and speed..... I still spend way too much time on concept stuff, and I look to try and be speedier with getting my ideas down on paper. Making use of materials such as markers and brush pens is something I hope to look at, to help get my ideas down faster... at the same time though I don t want to just take up a certain material because its good for speed, so I'm also going to look into methods with Indian ink and watercolours that are media I'm comfortable at using, and that would benefit my work in the long run. I realise digital work will be looked into in the upcoming year, and its definitely an area I need practice on, as I still feel comfortable in traditional methods...which I still realise is a good think, and think will benefit my steps into digital later on, as its just another medium I want to utilise.

I think as well its important not to get bogged down in what I have felt in the last year has been, quite a competitive atmosphere, especially with a course as focused as this. I felt that it created an unnecessary feeling that you were comparing work to other peoples...and that's an attitude I've wanted to avoid since then, with the focus being entirely on my own work and my own progression. There's nothing wrong with competition as it can help you better yourself in various areas, but at the same time its important not to get bogged down and focus on the reason I'm here, which is for me and my future career.
I think an area id like to focus on in terms of learning is the concepting and imagineering side of the course, both areas in which I chose to study game art in the first place, but ones that because of various reasons haven't been able to focus on so far. I hope to tackle these areas more full on in the second year, as they are the areas in which I think my strengths would be better utilised. 

Monday, 30 April 2012

End of Year 1 Review

Visual Design 

Looking back I think that my drawing ability has definitely come leaps and bounds before I started the course, mostly because I have never done a dedicated art course before, so ive found the focus on developing my artistic ability a great help in pushing myself forward. The initial structuring of working to develop sketches and work up to a final piece to cover a set amount of hours, has helped me in how I work so I can make the most of my time as well as concentrate on the areas I need to work on. I also think that working in lots of mediums, such as paints and inks has also made my mark-making a lot more confident in working outside of my comfort zone, as well as being extremely fun to do, working in these new mediums. An area of Visual Design that I have loved working on the most has been the anatomy studies, and life drawing, and this has definitely been an area ive worked a lot on outside of classes to improve my skills. 

Game Production

I think this is definitely one of the classes on the course I have definitely struggled to get into, though probably more through fault of my own, as I don’t particularly enjoy working in 3d and I think this has affected my drive to work hard at it. I think this is obvious because when I really push myself hard to work on the 3d projects I can actually work really efficiently and get a lot done in a short amount of time without rushing, as when I had to redo both my van and gladiator projects to up their standard I managed to complete both of them in the space of the few weeks during easter, as well as the weapon of choice project (which I completed in the space of 12 hours). I think its important that if I don’t enjoy something, it shouldn’t stop me from working hard on it as it will ultimately benefit me in the long run, and I think that I have definitely have learnt a lot in a short amount of time from never having used this project to creating fully textured and rigged characters within several months… I think that’s bloody impressive.

Contextual Studies

I think the one thing that has plagued me in contextual studies is leaving blogs until the last minute and not constantly updating them, which has made it harder for me to write about things weeks after we have covered them in lesson. I've slowly begun to get better at updating over the months whilst studying here, but there would still be times where id leave a post for a few weeks instead of doing it instantly. I just need to get into the habit of constantly blogging when I get ideas for projects or anything else that links to me studying here, as I think its important at bringing all my work done here together. 

I think overall my first year here studying game art has been quite a big one for me. A combination of things have made this year incredibly tough, and having to live away from home for the first time and deal with all these personal problems out of my comfort zone has not only impacted myself but the way I worked. I think its fair to say when I was at my worst I hardly had the motivation to work at all and that impacted badly on my coursework…something that looking back on was tough to deal with. Now im past all that ive done everything in my power to catch up, and get into a state of mind of determination to keep going forward, as being here is the only thing I want to do right now and I plan on making the best go of this opportunity and putting everything ive got and getting everything I can out of this course. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Environmental Design

Environments. They feature in all games, some more heavily than others, but their always there. Depicting the world in which your playing in, surrounding you with a landscape and backdrop in which to play against and explore, environments in today’s game have evolved to the extent that they have become equally important as the characters that inhabit them, as they develop into a character of their own. 

Before I get all carried away with the philosophical side of a games environment though, its important to look at what an environment is. it’s a level, a level in which you have to navigate to make your way through the game, regardless of how pretty and immersive it may be, its essentially still a level. Back in 2D games it was easy for you to navigate your way forward as you were pretty much always headed in the right direction and you only really could go back wards or forwards. With 3d games however, environment creators need to make it clear to the player where it is they need to go to progress. Without resorting to literal signs with an arrow on to insult the players intelligence, techniques are utilised to lead the player whilst at the same time keep the believability of the game world intact. Things such as locked doors to stop a player getting lost in a building, broken bridges so you have to search for another alternative route. Things like these are more obstacles that force the player to find other ways of progressing, and are a lot of the time utilised as puzzles adding an extra element of game play to the game (featured heavily in Tomb Raider) though as games become more and more open, visual clues have to be more cleverly implemented so that players don’t become literally lost in these vast worlds. Sandbox games such as GTA have to utilise a compass on the map, but more subtly in games where you might have to remember a landmark as it will lead to your desired location, therefore testing your memory skills as well as your ability to navigate. 

I think the environment can easily dictate the atmosphere of a game, as it being something your within and more often than not being an interpretation of the real world, so as in real life the colours, shadows, shapes used in the surrounding areas all impact on how you feel whilst in the environment. For example, if your in a forest your surrounded by nothing but trees and there’s an overwhelming use of natural objects and colour, so you as the player feels tranquil though maybe if its in a game that this environment stands out, then ill at ease and wondering where the enemy might ambush you from this unique environment. Like wise in a city setting, you get the feeling of being somewhere busy and at the heart of something, regardless of how populated it is, because that’s the impression that inhabited settlements give. And obviously lighting plays a huge part, especially in horror games. The use of poor light is a great way to create tension, and removing the light source altogether are techniques used in this genre to generate an extra level of fear to the immersive experience. 

I think its important to be true to the source material and references of which an environment may originally be based upon, though I think its also equally if not more important to take these inspirations and adapt them into something new. There’s no point just copying from real life, it has to be artistically recreated to suit the whole theme of the game and at the same time create an original experience out of it. The more original idea, if the basis of reality is there from the beginning, then it will still capture the players belief in the game they are immersed within.

This piece of environmental artwork was created for the game Okami, and was produced by the lead scenery art director, Katagi Naoki. The overall theme of the game is based off traditional Japanese mythology and artwork, so the environments were created keeping these things in mind, and this example like a lot of others created for the game, pays homage to a lot of traditional Japanese Sumi-E woodblock paintings. This is evident with the thick brush strokes used to define certain outlines, as well as the stylised clouds, and the subtle gradient that runs from top to bottom in this piece. the clouds were often depicted in tradition Japanese partitions as symbols of divinity, so they have been utilised with this in mind in this to show the mystical nature of this environment, it showing the 'river of the heavens'. 

Life Drawing and My Opinions Thereof

Ever since starting this course Life Drawing is the one thing that ive looked forward to doing the most, as drawing the human figure has always interested me, and even though ive done it before I have never spent as much time doing it as I would have liked. 
Something that i have enjoyed studying human anatomy in the life drawing classes here, is that with each week we were challenged with experimenting with a new medium to use, and I loved it! ive always been one to try new methods of drawing, and this gave me a great excuse to do so. 
A medium in which I enjoy using a lot is Indian ink, and in the life drawing classes I was re-introduced to it and reminded how much I love it in the first place. Using a brush to create very thick and strong lines has always been one of my favourite techniques, and originates from my love of Japanese art. Im definitely going to use this practice with Indian ink to take up my brush again!

For my self directed study time, ive focused a lot on using both Indian Ink to draw the human anatomy so I can fine tune my ability to capture the human form, and area I love studying. I think this constant observational work will help my understanding a lot when it comes to the character projects we have been set, and will be set in the future. 

Character Design

As long as ive been aware characters have always been something that have stood out to me regardless of whatever medium they were in. This may sound stupid, as characters in all things appeal to someone on some level, but to me they stood above everything else, and a characters story would be what captured me from start to finish, and in turn influence me in drawing mostly ‘characters’ (whether they were of my favourites or of my own creation) for as long as ive been old enough to draw. 

Any solid story contains archetypal characters that we can all relate to, whether they are
obvious or not. Here are some examples of the 'wise master' seen throughout various stories.
Books like Harry Potter and literally any Terry Pratchett novel, are some personal choices in which characters would stand out to me, both full of great examples. Movies as well, and the Star Wars saga in particular influenced me in my early childhood to have a fascination with the human character. key archetypes are seen throughout all great stories, regardless of what media they are in, and comparing two of my personal choices above; the wise old master (Yoda and Dumbledore), the hero (Luke Skywalker and Harry) and the ultimate bad guy (Darth Vader and Voldemort), and these archetypes are important. Too many characters seen in game try to be in depth by avoiding being the obvious archetype but by doing so become bland in the process and lose the character that the audience wants to connect with and empathise with in the first place, the sort that are prevalent throughout all good stories. Because that’s what a character must above all do; tell their story, and the best characters can make you believe them and stick with them from the start of their journey to the very end…. And make you genuinely sad when their story is over! Because emotions are what humans use to respond to other humans, its how we read stories and situations and how we connect to a story being depicted to us. 

Although older games struggled to translate the strength of their characters with their 2d sprites, the closer and closer we have gotten to perfectly replicating the human form in video games the less appealing they seem to be (in some, not all instances)... maintaining that the internal character and the power of their story shines through their appearance and design, and reaches their audience is a character designers main challenge.
Although the appearance of a character is how we initially relate to them, they have got to appeal to us on a much deeper level if we are willing to accompany them on their journey and invest our time in them, as we look at their heart, their plight their nature and the reason behind them being the characters they are. I think that’s why regardless of how advanced graphics in videogames get, it doesn’t affect how much we then relate to the characters being depicted to us; its like the uncanny valley theory, where robots that have been advanced to the point where they look almost identical, but not perfectly like humans, cause people to be repulsed by them. This is because when things are pushed further and further to resemble a human, it will sooner reach a point where it becomes not human at all, and the rest of us will lose the empathy that we share with others. This shows that appearances aren’t the key thing to how we relate to a character, and the clue is in the name itself; Character, its their identity how they behave and act that will appeal to us in the long run, regardless of what media we encounter them in. it’s the characters that carry a story to its conclusion. 
I think the stories that really reach out to me (and most people) are those we can relate to in some way. I personally love big epic adventures, that take you to faraway and fantastical places that spark your imagination. Its not only a form of escapism, but its all relevant to life; starting out in your early days, setting out to experience something new, unexpected things happening along the way, new friends encountered, happy and sad times experienced, and the ultimate conclusion…. All of these things reflect our life, down to the most basic comparisons and it sounds cliché (but what doesn’t nowadays?) but all good journeys reflect the journey of life, all full of those interesting characters we relate to and experiences we go through, from beginning to end. 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Directing Art with Art Direction

Art direction in the game production process is easily one of the key things that is naturally responsible for how the finished product will look and feel to play.  As the name suggests, Art Directors are the ones responsible for leading the way and making the key decisions on the games visual feel and style, and making sure all the elements that tie into the game work fluidly together to create a polished finished game. All of the game artists that work on a game, regardless of whether they are responsible for characters, concepts, environments or props they all answer to the Art director, as they all need to follow his vision of what he has set out for the game to ultimately be. 
Though a role that allows a lot of freedom creatively, the strength of the ideas created by the Art Director is ultimately what will make a game good or bad, as well as their ability to look at the bigger picture of their vision and be able to piece all of the game elements together into one solid Idea. Everything in the game must relate to what the Art Directors vision is, because if it doesn’t (e.g. if say, a tree is created and put in the game that has a very European influence and setting, and it’s a palm tree then its going to stand out like a sore thumb and detract from the immersive qualities the game is trying to create for the players) then the illusion of a believable world is going to be shattered. 

Storyboarding for video games is used not only to show how events
progress and happen in the game, but also how the player would
manoeuvre the character about the game world itself. 

Though Art Director’s are pretty much the same throughout whatever medium they work in (games, movies, etc) they have to make their idea adapt to whatever platform and medium they are working to, so they get their vision across as clearly as possible. For example, an Art Director working on a game would have to create Art specifications for each element going into the game, such as a detailed description on characters and props, outlining not only how they act but also illustrations and references of them and information on what the budget is for modelling each thing. As much information is provided to make the transition of the Directors vision to the game artists to the final in game rendering as smooth and seamless as possible. Art Directors who work in films do very much the same, but have to take into consideration other aspects such as location, and actual props and set pieces to utilize in the filming process. Its only until recent times have the lines between the two become blurred, as production costs now rival those of movies, as they utilise the same research into location, epic set pieces and in depth character expression that only used to be seen in the movie world. 
With movies, set pieces and capturing the action that needs to
be translated onto the big screen seems to be the main focus, though
as shown here the focus on characters and how their emotions and
expressions come across, is an equally big factor. 

I think to become an Art Director in any creative industry, you’ve got to have the ability to take your ideas and present them as clearly as possible to others. Although a strong idea will make or break a game, if it isn’t carried all the way through the development process, through solid design documents, storyboards and visual research and influences, it can lead to what was a very strong idea being turned into a crap game. 

Elements of Game Design

All games are based upon fundamental elements, the key things being content, background and rules; these building blocks are what set the foundation to all games, breaking up the overall game into these categories:

  • Character (who, or what you play as)
  • Setting (the world the game is contained within)
  • Motivation (the reason to keep playing)
  • Threat (The enemies and obstacles you face)
  • Reward (what you get out of playing, the payoff)
  • Music (sets the tone, ambience and mood)

We are aware of these things throughout all games by comparing both older and more recent titles, and by doing so we see the key features are evident in all. 

A game such as Pac Man has all of the things mentioned, you play as Pac Man a yellow, cheese-like guy, its set inside what is essentially a maze, the motivation is to obtain and beat the high score, The threat are the Ghosts that chase you, when you die you are visually rewarded with the little death animation of Pac Man, and the music builds up as you play creating tension. If you compare all of these things to games of today you can see that their clear to see, regardless of how complicated a games mechanics are in today’s market. 
A key change in factor to games today is immersion. As soon as games made the transition from 2D to 3D, the extra dimension gave people the feeling that they were actually in the game instead of just in control of a sprite they were watching on screen. With the introduction of 3d brought with it the 3rd person shooter, and even though 2D games had utilised viewing a game from the perspective of the player before, being able to move within the game world around you took it to the new level, and games such as Golden eye, Call of Duty and FEAR  (amongst numerous others) gave players the chance to dive straight in, making the sense of escapism an even greater element in videogames. 

Another thing that continues to be pushed further and further is interactivity in games; From the earliest examples of sonic tapping his foot when you stand him still for long periods of time to show his impatience, up to modern games where you can literally walk down a New York street and have passing pedestrians swear at you when you barge into them… ways and methods have always tried to be implemented, to allow the player the experience of immersion and to make them feel like the world they are buying into is moving and living around them as they play. 
Its not just how graphically realistic and true to its real world counterpart a game is that helps in immersing the player into a world though, otherwise games such as Sonic The Hedgehog, Mario, Pokemon and Zelda wouldn’t have become so popular. With games such as these people tend to empathise with the characters and worlds more than they would with a more realistic game, such as Call Of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. I think this relates back to the point I brought up before about escapism; a large majority of gamers play games to escape the stress of the real world, and regardless of how realistic a game is, being able to do extraordinary things and disassociate themselves from real world events is what people look for. With games that are set further from the real world the easier it is to become lost in it, and with most of the games I mentioned in this category, they are so well made with all of the elements needed that they engage their audience and allow them to believe the setting and characters they are playing as, regardless of how obscure they are in design.

Saturday, 3 March 2012


Year: 2000
Genre: Japanese Rpg
Platform: Playstation 1, PSN
Publisher: Square

The Final Fantasy series has always been one that has divided opinion. Ever since it has arrived in the west, there have been those that dislike them for their turn-based game play and complicated storylines and those that adored them for their unique characters and epic worlds they depicted. As a fan of the series I suppose you could say it was difficult for me to pick out just one….although FF7 was the game that introduced me to the series, it wasn’t until Final Fantasy 9 that came to realise just how incredible and influential on myself they actually were.
Final Fantasy 9 follows the story of a young thief called Zidane, who is part of a gang of thieves who plan to stage an elaborate plot to kidnap the princess of the city of Alexandria. This is only the start however and things soon develop into an epic adventure that takes Zidane and his companions across the world as they slowly come to realise that the kidnap plot was part of a much bigger picture, involving the conflict between nations and ultimately the fate of the world as they know it. 

The story of FF9 is very easy to get absorbed into, and this is due in part by the characters that you meet and are developed along the way. From the womanising thief in the main protagonist Zidane, the tentative mage Vivi and to the bizarre chef Quina, every character you come across in this game, regardless of whether they play a large part in the story or not, each have just that; Character. Their all so outlandishly designed, a far cry from the ultra -realistic characters seen in the series’ latest instalment, but this makes them unique and the human qualities that each one embodies is more recognisable than the 50 billion polygon creations of this generation. there are too many scenes to choose just one of, but very simple scenes involving interaction of the games characters and a simple dialogue box evoke more of a reaction out of the immersive experience of this game without actually putting that much effort into the technical side of showing it. You actually care about the fate of Vivi, the black mage who discovers the truth behind his origins and begins to doubt the reasons for him existing at all. Isn’t that something we can all relate to? The age old question of ‘Why are we here?’ is captured brilliantly in just one of this games expansive cast, and the tragic nature of his found answers is what compels you to keep playing; not only to find out about Vivi, but every other character in the game who is developed to this degree, from start to finish. 

The setting for IX was also a very unique change of direction from what previous instalments were heading towards, with more futuristic and modern worlds. IX went back to its roots with a more medieval setting with its emphasis on kingdoms and overall style of the environments it depicted. Even the airships, that are a continuing theme in the series, were designed in such a way that they looked like if airships were invented in medieval times that they would look like the ones you see in this game. Even though the final fantasy games have always mixed up magic with technology in the worlds they depicted, the focus on this instalment seems to be how magic is being used to fuel technology and in so being turned into weapons for war. This reflects on how this instalment was definitely a look back to the very first games in the series and how the simplicity of those could be translated into this newer game, and still be successful as something new, whilst at the same time paying respects as a homage to the games before it that paved the way. 

The gameplay of Final Fantasy IX is the same system that has been utilised in many previous instalments, with battles taking place in random encounters when you are travelling in the games Overworld map. Battles are determined by the ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge under each characters health, that when full determines that characters turn to act in the battle. Its more dynamic than the usual ‘turn-based’ style of a lot of JRPG’s, though the random and menu based system of combat will only appeal to those that love this genre and style of game, and this is probably where it will divide opinion. Although the menu based combat wont appeal to non-fans of the JRPG genre, the method of developing your character is the simplest one seen in the series in a long time, and despite the easy to get into system, its nevertheless satisfying and addictive to master, appealing to newcomers of the game without overwhelming them with baffling menus. 

Final Fantasy is always going to appeal to some people more than others, but at the end of the day, if what your after in a game is a sense of adventure, a great story and world to immerse yourself into with a wonderfully varied cast of characters… then I couldn’t recommend a game more perfect than this. A great introduction into a series of games that, love them or hate them, stand the test of time and continue to go strong and spread their influence today

Cut scene's

Random Inspiration Strikes and Makes Me Cry Like a Little Girl

Gotye ~ Bronte

This here is a song by Australian artist called Gotye, called 'Bronte' from his latest album 'Making Mirrors'. Give it a listen and pay particular attention to the animated video...

You know your experiencing something special when it can evoke the sort of emotions such as sadness and reminiscence of bitter-sweet memories, that this particular piece of music does for me. The song itself is about the loss of a pet, Bronte being the name of a dog of the artists friend, but with the animated video you get a sense of something more than just losing something that is close to you. Listening and watching this, I couldn't help but get the feeling of sadness at the realisation at the loss of the ability to see the world with completely innocent eyes that we are capable of as children. We all know that we have to grow up to become adults, but only when we see or experience some thing as poignant as this video (for me anyway) is the point driven home of what we have lost in the process of growing up. 

Well never get the innocent days of childhood back, but well always have the memories. And the ability to witness those days again through our own children. 

(Check out more music videos by the same musician, done by varying animators but all very good:

Each and every video has its own individualistic style that separates each one from each other, but still manages to capture the message and style of the song its for perfectly)

Saturday, 21 January 2012

But wait......I haven't finished expressing myself through the medium of interpretive dance yet

I seem to be on a roll with these random journal entries, but that's good! I didn't do enough of these before Christmas and its something I want to do a lot more of cos its not only helping toward my course, but im also finding it quite therapeutic in helping me with things as they stand at the moment :)
After browsing through other journals and blogs something someone said really caught my attention and got a reaction out of me; them basically talking about how a game that they saw someone play just didn't do it for them basically, and how they really struggled to see how it could be 'fun' and how they really found it hard to cope with even watching this game being played. As the particular game in question was the latest in the game series that has influenced me into wanting to be a game artist, despite the obvious fact that im aware that everyone has their own tastes and opinions, it really made me want to jump to the games defence! 

Its funny, because you can have opinions of other games and think yeah I really don't think I could ever get into this, and it could be the biggest and most technically marvel of a game ever.... but at the end of the day, if it doesn't interest you then your never going to go out of your way to play it. Its all about personal preferences (obvious I know), but that's another things that I've also noticed at the moment. I've recently been playing Red Dead Redemption as I got the game of the year edition for Christmas, and even though the whole wild west genre and setting has never interested me in the slightest, its quite easily one of the best games ive ever least on the current generation of consoles. Just the whole open world thing, and how authentic it feels is very true to how Rockstar make the Grand Theft Auto series, it just feels so easy to immerse yourself into the vast Wild West landscape to such an extent that you lose hours just roaming about and exploring. 
Them Bastard Cougars! literally one tap on your horses ass is all it takes to take them down, then next thing you know your cat food.... if that doesn't justify hunting them down and skinning them so you can have a nice new hat then I don't know what does
Its also taught me that as someone who has strong views against animal cruelty, you can still have a whale of a time killing and skinning literally every animal you come long as its just in the game, of course....~cough (now where did I put my knife...?)
Yin and Yang right there 

Hahaha, I guess the passion I have for games is still there, so thank you to the little sparrow that caused me to react in a way that made me realise that :D