Tuesday, 12 March 2013

This Is Awesome...

Some awesome use of games and the minds of the gamers in producing something more than entertainment... The video pretty much says it all.

Friday, 8 March 2013


So last week we had to do a presentation on anything, five minutes on anything, the only restrictions were to have some form of audio video or props to aid the presentation...

Me being me I thought of things I could talk about, dismissed them as they seemed either pointless, stupid, pretentious or I couldn’t any decent video audio or props to do the presentation on. The second I finished the mucked up presentation I realised how dull, pretentious and silly I looked and I realised my first silly idea could have actually worked. This first idea was to do it on Magic: The Gathering the card game which has a massive community of players, artists and judges but is almost completely unknown to those outside of it. People may have been vaguely interested in it and theres a silly video from Adventure Time that I could of used to get a laugh...

Instead I decided to be all meaningful and chose a big topic, which in turn made me sound like a pretentious douche. I chose to talk about “The Worth Of Art” more to make people question those who don’t give art any value more than anything. I had written some thoughts on the subject down and I found a video of an artist showing how art can be of worth before the assignment so I went about changing this to fit into a presentation. Unfortunately the timer went off right before the ten seconds of the video I wanted to show and so became the only people out of the group to not tick the only box we were given.

This has become a key reminder to me, KEEP THINGS SIMPLE. I’m always telling myself this with designing things why didn’t I tell myself to do this when presenting? I mucked up big time and what’s worse is that I’ve had experience of presenting before... a fair amount and all in all I’m just pretty annoyed at myself I think I need to work on my decision making and my confidence with such things. What’s worse is that I manage to find some fake confidence from somewhere which doesn’t help me, instead I become this obnoxious idiot and live with the joys of regret... lets work on this especially for team based work which I know I’ll need to do in the future...

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Game Design: Environments

Level design is such a huge problem that a great deal of thought its put into how to lay out the levels so that the player will interact positively to the experience. Whether the game is an esports style game or a storyline based game the environment is one of the key elements to the experience. Creating an intuitive but not obvious path is really important to a storyline based game where it is very important to make the player feel immersed and not feel like they are being pushed or shoved in any direction. This gives a vastly improved experience for the player.

There is a great deal of psychology involved in the creation of environments and levels as the designer has to work out how the player will decide to roam around the area they are given. With the expansion of free-roaming/sandbox games this has become more and more important as the designer doesn’t want the player to get lost in the area or become overwhelmed with the variety of choice. The designer wants the direction of travel to be a choice the player makes and feels like they weren’t obviously influenced into going a certain direction.

This psychological thought is different when it comes to level design for esport based games as they have to be tactical and to be successful as a esport map the placement of things and the level have to be considered a great deal. This is important to making sure the game runs fluidly without one player dominating because of the map layout.

In terms of the visual art of the environment it is most important that all the assets you see fit in to the style of the game and that there is nothing which stands out as not fitting into the environment. Whether a game is stylised or not doesn’t really matter too much to the belief of the world but assets not maintaining the stylisation greatly affects belief in the world. Personally I prefer the appearance of a realistic environment, even though I’m not obsessed with hyper realism, as I’m not really keen on the appearance of many of the stylised games around. This is slightly left behind when it comes to the esports genre of game where realism isn’t really a key feature to me, gameplay is.

The level design in Dishonoured is stunningly well put together and just as stunningly produced. The game has so many different ways to be played that the level design is key to making the game work as best as it can. The levels have to have a multitude of different paths you can take and different techniques to move around this means that virtually all of the spaces you can see need to be thought about as if you can be next to them and walk around them. Sebastian Mitten was the art director for the environments in Dishonored unfortunately I can’t find out whether he was the level designer as well.

Game Design: Characters

Characters that I encounter via books, TV and in films are no different to those I encounter in games. The level of character development throughout a narrative, interactions or via the visuals of a character is key to judging the believability of a character. One of my favourite books “The Lies of Locke Lamora” is a perfect example of where you get to know the characters like close friends you know why they say what they say and you know how they think. This book and its predecessor are excellent examples of character design. 

One of the things the book does to create these developed characters which you can really understand is it starts from the beginning and then jumps in at key points from their childhood and allows you to almost have memories of how they grew up. Fallout 3 implemented this idea and you get to know the character of your father really well but then he’s gone and you’re alone. His character doesn’t come into play after the opening of the game. I feel this was a great mistake you have built up this character and you have the player seeing him as a child and creating differing memories from childhood giving the player a better sense of the father’s character. This could have been used really well later in the game. This technique to develop characters seems strong. The issue however is that not all storylines involved the growing up stages. This is where characters are developed later on, now in books, films and tv the character focus changes greatly there is often multiple different storylines which are interconnected but in drastically different places or even times. I feel games lose something by developing characters who aren’t in front of the player and lose even more by changing who the player controls. They are no longer games and become interactive films. This leads me to another comment on this obsession with character design and development, often stating that the multiplayer side to games are less important and they are less of an artistic piece or just simply that they take away from the game.

I feel that games have become increasingly diluted and mixed up. From the start there was the adventure game genre and then there were the arcade games and the more multiplayer games. These have all been mushed up somewhat, now I have no issue with this I think its great but I think that when talking about character design many people will say that the games industry has to focus on characters more than ever before and has to change the way they are doing things to create better stories. I personally see a great number of well made and thought through characters developing in front of you as you play games and you become attached to them or you start to know who they are and how they operate. I also feel that games have some of the most immersive storylines. I think games are doing quite well with this but what I feel is that if this idea that character development and story should take the forefront of the game there will be a certain amount of gameplay lost in games becoming interactive films. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs you will know that I like the idea of games being esports. At the end of the day I feel that games which have put the focus on story have lost some of the concept of what a game is. The easiest example for me to bring up is The Walking Dead Game... THIS WAS AWFUL! Released in 2012 this game reminded me of Putt-Putt or Spy Fox I mean I understand that you want to create a story based game but what they produced was just a poor attempt at an interactive film, and this has been done before, its not new and original. And the way they made the game meant that it is a terrible game to play and more than aggravating film to watch. You are given options and instead of, as in most games, making those choices as you would in day to day life, instantly, or as in most films where they show you the characters choice; in The Walking Dead Game you are given a heads up display of your choices and a timer showing you how long you have to choose... this breaks the immersion and you are left waiting or getting bored by slow, clunky dialogue or the choices which if you were watching a film or TV series you wouldn't be bored of, you’d be paying attention to. That is just my rant about the way focusing on storyline and characters isn’t necessarily a fix for games, assuming for some unknown reason that games are broken in this respect.

In terms of storylines, I said earlier that I feel games have some of the most immersive storylines and I maintain this statement by looking at game universes like Half-Life and Portal, Assassin’s Creed, Dishonoured, The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect... These games have entire universes of stories to discover and you often find out more about their universes than you do in a film or book. This is not to say that the storylines are better but to say that the universes are often fuller and more immersive. I think attributing games as being the things to spew blood everywhere is fundamentally wrong, I personally think think that the control people have over the character is what allows this to happen, you see films like Saving Private Ryan as incredibly powerful because the acting and camera are controlled if you remove this control you get something like battlefield 1942 where people can do as they wish. Films, TV and books are a form of education by showing, where games can be seen as a form of education by experience...

I feel the story writing for games has improved so greatly in the past decade or so that I’m certain that this will continue to improve and perhaps we will have the next epic written in game form...

Game Design: Art Direction for Games

Art directors for game studios essentially supervise the “vision” of the game making sure that the art being produced is fitting with the desired visual aesthetic and feel of the game. The art director would make decisions about the artistic style, level of stylisation and making sure that the desired mood is achieved by the artists working with the art director. Most importantly they are in charge of setting the quality of the work produced. In the case of film and games the art director is just below the production designer and answers to the production designer if the company is of a large enough scale.

The art director should be considering every last detail of the game, each crack on the wall, each tree and other such “pernickety” things are essential to creating the immersive value of the games which we are seeing today. The games industry unlike the film industry has almost no margin for error, where the film industry has a great deal of post production opportunities games do not. When the game is in the customers hands it is expected to be flawless. This difference in margin for error is also seen in the fact that in most games nowadays one of the key concepts is exploration and so the player will be going anywhere, the art director has to account for the player truly exploring whereas films have a set view of the action.

The art director seems to be the person in the production pipeline who oversees how everything is coming together and supervising the creation of the game. From this statement the position doesn’t seem particularly creative more about teamwork and supervision; however such a creative industry and such a creative environment would mean that the art director would have to be a talented artist with a great deal of industry experience to be able to demand the respect of the artists working with them. Also they are likely to work on the project themselves in different ways varying on the person in the role. The role is unlikely to zap all the creativity of a person who, to get such a job, has to have proved their creativity and understanding of art and the games industry to have even got the job in the first place.

To become an art director I feel the main thing I need to improve is my ability to make others aware that I’m listening to them, this is quite a personal flaw and one that I am very aware of. The issue here is that often I seem like I’m shooting someone’s ideas down or that I’m trying to keep the attention on me which truly isn’t what I’m meaning to do. I often think of things and have this feeling that unless I get them out I will forget them and perhaps the person would have a misinterpretation of what I’m trying to say. This manifests itself in an almost arrogant form of confidence and something that I greatly regret, and its from this that I feel difficulties can arise when it comes to team based work. While I feel quite comfortable in a position of leadership I don’t feel that my serious approach to things or my interpersonal skills are quite up to scratch for such a position. This is something I am working on for benefit on an everyday level and will hopefully help if I were to be in such a position of leadership in the future. Obviously my artistic ability and my understanding of the industry must greatly increase but I feel that these things are things that come with time and experience and so we shall see. It is certainly a position that I would love to be in but it is a far off goal and I need to direct the focus back to now.