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.