Thursday, 29 April 2010

Constructive Feedback - “Time to swing some axes”

Thankfully we wont be swinging axes too much when it comes to the bad points in the course, as there’s a fare amount of good things that I’ve seen this year on the course. So since there are so few lets start with the bad’uns shall we?

Visual design, the big pdf that listed all the projects was awesome, it certainly made it easy to look up on upcoming projects, only problem is that when you add or change the projects it can get confusing, doubly confusing when there isn’t anywhere to look up on the changes without having to poke you and asking what it is. Perhaps if you sent a message on facebook when you made any changes, then any confusion can be avoided, we’re all connected on there so there isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t get the message and it shouldn’t take too long to do if you kept the description of the project brief.

Game production, myself and a number of other students tend to find the tutorials on blackboard to be confusing and unclear at times. I had less of a problem than perhaps the others but its certainly something that people have been talking about repeatedly.

Critical studies, this is more of a preference than a problem since I know some people on the course wont like it but, 200-300 words is far too small for me. I find that there are points that I want to make and feel are necessary, but find that the word count is always cutting me off. I do realise that to make all the blog tasks around 500-600 words, means that its less of a blog and more an essay, but like I said its a personal preference.

And now for the good points,

Course overall, all the resources that you give us via blackboard is immense and extremely helpful. I’ve been using them since day one and have found them to be a good source of reference for the work.

And for improvements, well the ideas that you have put forward are certainly good ones, especially having more formal lectures on stuff like art theory as by myself and a few others on the course are a bit weak in that area. And the video tutorials are also a great idea, it means that I have a resource that I can take home and watch whenever I get confused on a project, or if im looking for some more info on a certain subject.

I’ve throughly enjoyed the course so far and hope to continue to do so in the future.

11th hour change - Realism vs Cartoons

For any one that may have been watching the progress of Borderlands, a action rpg set on the planet pandora will take note that the game at the start had a realistic art style, and yet changed that art style very late in the development stage. This was due to the fact that at the beginning they had created a range of art styles, so that they could decide which one was for the game.

Problem was that this need for high quality artwork for the game meant that A - it was difficult to make and there were various levels of quality in the work created. B - It took long to make and it wasnt a problem that would be fixed by throwing money at it. Plus since the games action was over the top, (people exploded when shot, massive boss monsters and a ridiculous jump height) it didnt mix well with the realistic art style. And so after looking at their earlier concept art, the art director decided to risk it all and make a secret prototype, this would come to be the Borderlands we knew.

And because it caught the artists interest, didn’t require them to make extremely high quality assets, meant that most of the artists on the team, regardless of talent would be able to create the work. This continued until they showed the prototype to 2K, which thankfully they loved the work and so now instead of a realistic art style, they could work to a more cartoony art style.

This shift in art style meant that the action was no longer over the top, it stood out from the crowd of other fps games and it still looked pretty good. This story of Borderlands shows that making games is difficult, especially when people demand realistic high quality graphics, this puts a huge amount of pressure on the art team, who may not be up to the task, but they dont have to give in, as by changed the art style you can create a different look for the game, which still looks good, yet is far easier to create.

Looking to the future

People talk about the future in a way that is always bright and cheery, in that its always going to be better tomorrow than it is today, but very few seem to have a true grasp on what their future holds, its only those that have the desire, the will and the ability to plan that can grasp their future dreams.

A for me thats no different, I have already spent the past 3 years of my life preparing myself to enter the Game industry in some form, originally as a programmer, but now as an artist, and enrolling in Games Art at De Montfort is but a “step” in what I believe is the right direction. The course will certainly help me achieve 2 things, to have a greater ability to create traditional and digital artwork and a greater proficiency at 3D modelling. The fact that the course has many contacts in the industry itself certainly helps, but its not something to be relied on.

Do I think that I will spring straight from the course, into the Games industry? No probably not, the current financial climate is a bit shaky, with a number of companies already gone under, its certainly a time where companies are more likely to fire people than hire them. So unless something drastic changes in the next few years, I’ll most likely be stuck either having to do freelance work.

And I’m happy with that, I have a few friends that have set up a company that caters to getting artists work, kind of like an agent for a writer or actor, it allows me to concentrate on the work, without having to worry about finding it and while I wont get the all the money from the work, I will certainly have money coming in. Which will give me time to figure out what to do next.


Just what is creativity, the view on creativity is unique with each person and with no right or wrong answer, which just makes it harder to sort it, which to me is great! Creativity to me is the ability to see beyond our “perceived” reality, that “view” is coloured depending on the way that the person is trying to see beyond their boundaries, whether that is in the visual arts, writing, programming, mechanical engineering or the realms of quantum mechanics, and with so many ways to show creativity it makes it hard to point down how its manifests.

But do those boundaries limit our creativity? I believe that depends on said boundaries, for an artist if it is to create a new look for an existing well known character, like Batman for example, then rather than being diminished, their creativity is enhanced, with so much reference material to look back on, allows the artist to create a new look for the character. This of course answers another question people ask about creativity, “Does it have to be unique to be creative?”, we all have our own different ways on creating something and by making something, we are making something unique.

But what is creativity in games?

In games, just about everyone involved in creating them are creative and work together to create the best possible outcome, which can be found in both a band identity and the gameplay of the game itself. Whether its a new game mechanic, or a unique way of visualising the game, for example in black, white and red only.

And for me I shall show my own creativity through art by showing my experiences and knowledge, I have a large number of topics and media to draw from, from films, books, different cultures, history and other areas. And by making sure I do whatever is the most obvious first, so that no matter what, whatever comes next is always more interesting than what came before.

Talent Vs Creativity

So why do some want highly trained graduate artists/programmers, while others claim they prefer creative individuals with a Liberal arts background, the reason is this, while talent is most certainly important, you don’t always get great creativity from such a person, whilst someone with a Liberal arts background has a wider general knowledge of the world and is able to use that when creating their work.

So what would be a perfect graduate? That would be someone who does have the technical ability and yet knows a wide range of topics of the world, whether that is films, games, music, cultures, food or anything really. But how would a course get around that? One possible way is to show the students different media from around the world, get them to do projects on different cultures, have them research topics that are outside their area of work, music and films are a good example for someone to study if they are doing art.
But the problem is, if you do that, then your students are rushing everywhere, trying things that might not seem to be relevant to them, as hell how can food be relevant to designing a character concept. As such you should make sure that any knowledge that you guide them towards, is used in a project that does involve their skills, for example if you told your students to go and research a certain area in the world, you should ask them later on to perhaps make a panting of a landscape, or an animal.

But of course while they are rushing about you have to remember, Game developers also want skilled graduates, not a walking encyclopedia, so remember to make sure your students are still improving themselves, while going off researching weird and strange subjects.

Gaming Audio - Beep boop beep

Sound in games in one of the unsung heroes, on the surface it seems that the only important aspect is the ambient music that you hear, but what many dont realise that everything that you hear in games, from weapon fire, rain falling, footsteps, voices and a huge number of different things are part of what the sound guys use to help create a visceral experience.

And with people like Martin O’Donnel, Yoko Shinomura, Jeremy Soule and Koji Kondo working on creating audio for games, means that we can be assured that games will continue to have excellent audio work, and with each of these composers having games which I consider to be excellent in the area of audio.

And as for my own key moments when it came to audio in games, I would have to say that a number of recent games have certainly caught my ear whilst playing, but Halo ODST is the most recent one for me to take interest. The feeling of solitude is evoked when travelling the empty city of New Mombasa thanks to the music and this sensibility continues on even in the action scenes of the games.

And whether the Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards ‘Good Times’ being one of the most influential recordings in the 20th century, well I have no clue, due to a recent interest in music with most of it being very modern or that which I play, means that very little of the influence that may have occurred to exist. I did take the time to listen to the song and search for information, but couldn’t see why it was influence. I’m sure that it was influential to people, Duran Duran have said to been influenced by the song, but apart from that I found very little influence.

But then so long as people continue to make great music, then all is not lost.

Game Engines

Just what is a Game engine? Well a game engine is what the game is built on, it handles the physics, the rendering of the game world, sounds, animation, networking and a bunch of other things, each one being an important part of the engine.

But that doesn’t mean that it comes up all roses, game engines have to be continually updated to be compatible with todays technology, for example multi-core processors (in essence its 2 processors in one), its pretty common to have a dual core processor, but few games make an effort to take advantage of dual core, or even the recent quad core processors. Which is what the current developers are trying to do, this is because you could get different cores to do different jobs, and work together when more processing power is needed.

And since according to Moore’s law, computing technology doubles in power each year, 10 core processors are looking to be a possibility next year, so when you think about all that processing power that could be on tap, its not surprising that Game Developers are trying to make technology to take advantage of that.

And there are 2 types of game engines, subtractive and additive, subtractive is where you carve out your game world from a pre existing block, whilst additive is where you add to a seemingly infinite space. For example Valves source engine is an additive game engine, whilst the Dark engine, used by Thief and System shock 2 is subtractive. But you dont have to make a game engine, you can buy one!

And there are many advantages to buying someone elses technology, for one you dont have to spend time making it and there is usually already tutorials and a free version so that you can get to grips with it easily. But of course there are also disadvantages, in that your already spending money on something before you even get round the making it, and depending on how you purchase the technology you may even have to pay royalties on your product.

Gaming Culture

Throw away your misconceptions of what a gamer is, far are they from the loner in a dark room, for nowadays just about everyone has been influenced by video games in society, your kids, your parents, even your grandparents are a part of the global phenomenon and I do mean global!

In the past the lone gamer stereotype was created due to the games themselves, being for a single player only, thus forcing players to find escape on their lonesome. But these days gamers are connected to thousands of like minded people, allowing them to form communities around their favourite past time. For example, World of Warcraft (WoW) has thousands of players from around the globe, which has formed a community that is rooted in the game world and the game itself. The only problem with this, like all communities is that you need to spend time in it. I personally have been a part of the WoW community, but never really became an active participant, as I only played every now and again and only by myself or with friends.

But a gaming community doesnt just play games, there are entire communities devoted to creating content for said games, or creating entirely new ones. The Modding community is just as big as the other gaming communities, due to the fact that many games these days are released with SDK’s (Self Developer Kits), so that just about anyone, including myself are able to get in on the action.

But there is one thing that sets these communities apart from real life examples, in that many people that form these merry bands, might not have met in real life and only know each other through the Internet. I myself have had friends that I only knew online, but fell out of contact with them in the end, as while talking to someone across the world is all well and good, but face to face communication has its merits.

Game industry - Is it going up, or is it going down?

The Game industry is massive and fairly lucrative industry with people spending a millions on digital entertainment, makes you think that the industry is fairly healthy, but you would be both right and wrong.

The industry as a whole is fairly healthy, but individual companies are at risk of becoming bankrupt, thanks to our current economy, the average Joe is far more interested in keeping his wad of cash in the wallet, than spending it, which thanks to the sheer number of video games out there, means that a lot of developers either have to make something that dwarfs the 2nd coming of Jesus, or go under the wing of a fellow games developer and have them help. Video Game Piracy is certainly far more prevalent than before as well, since if you can get a game for free, why bother spending money on them!

And so developers like Bioware are forced to team up with other companies (EA) just to ensure that the company itself doesnt go under and to have them shoulder some of the costs. And how do the employees feel about this? For most it seems to be a case of “Don’t complain and hope you don’t get sacked!” For it seems that while they might be getting more money into their pockets, the people who develop games are finding that there are less jobs to go around than before.

And because of all of this developers are less likely to develop new ips, (and if they are new ips, they are likely going to be clones of successful games) due to the high risk of not turning a profit and so more sequels are being churned out. And in an attempt to combat piracy, games are being sold with Downloadable Content (DLC), which you can only aquire through buying the product, this forces people to buy the game if they want the content.

So is it going up, or is it going down?