Sunday, 12 December 2010

Uncharted 3 : Drakes Deception coming soon....

I said I would post the new trailer so here it is, I am amazed at the release date! Those hard working Naughty Dog employee's never seem to surprise me! Hopefully they will raise the bar they set in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, if so it could be the main contender for Game of the Year in 2011. Oh and it looks like Drake has done some shopping and got himself more than one outfit for this game!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception

So basically everyone is getting excited about christmas and running around shopping for friends and family worrying about the fact that they might not be able to serve brussel sprouts that no one is going to eat because of this recent cold snap! Mean while back in my nice warm flat where I can ignore christmas and try and care that its my birthday soon while everyone else is shoveling a mince pie in their face; I'm looking more like an excited 4yr old due to the fact I have watched 35 seconds of the new Uncharted teaser trailer which lasts only 35 seconds long. This is the game I am most looking forward to playing next year and from the 5 images and 2 videos I have watched I feel like i'm literally about to explode in the wait for saturday when apparently a longer more juicy trailer will be released (I will post it as as soon as I get my hands on it). Basically Drake has nearly updated his wardrobe to match the desert Arabian Nights feel of the game and so far it looks like the story and background history in to the mythology behind his epic adventures seems sound. IGN has done a break down of all the things in the 35 second teaser that hint to what's to come. So i'll just leave you with these images and a couple of videos distract you from what you really should be doing!



Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Level Design

I think I may have touched on this before, but it's a topic that I think is quite a interesting one. I find myself constantly annoyed when playing games as I try and explore all the environments I can and see how stuff is made or where I can go and find I usually get
stabbed or shot in the process by the annoying NPC's about the place!
I love to play 3rd person action games so the level design I find is something that should be thought through carefully and have some time spent on it. Now I know visuals are important to make the worlds look great like these, but how the character interacts and moves in that environment is as equally as important in making the level design interesting and most of all playable and fun. One of (if not) my favourite games is Uncharted 2 because it hits all the right points in making well constructed levels where I never felt
trapped or frustrated. One thing I loved the most is the fact I
could interact with almost anything in the world which gave me a lot of freedom in which to explore in my own way.

I managed to find a little example of art done for Uncharted 3's level design which shows some of the ways they wanted their characters to interact with it. I think it's great to see the basic clean sketches that do away with the window dressing as it really gives a proper feeling of wether the level design is going to work or not as no amount of nice art over the top of a crappy level is ever going to hide the fact it doesn't work!

Now I know the interesting sort of
cell shaded prince of persia had
some game play flaws but I really felt that the levels had a nice flow and look to them; I even spent a few hours just racing through them all for fun and panning the camera round dramatically saying ahhhh and ohhhh like some zombified moron.

Actually coming to think of it I quite like the idea of working as a level designer it's actually really fascinating, I mean as I gaze
up at my shelf looking for something to tell me what to right (oh there's Mirrors Edge obviously should mention that briefly)I think what's the one thing games encourage us to do... well it's go back through it and find all the extra nick knacks and doo dads that give a well done picture with a thumbs up you could be arsed to walk around our very large level and see how good it is achievement. Which is really an achievement in itself for a development team to encourage people to play through it again as its that addictive. Unless of course you are one of those vacuous people who play games to show everyone how big your gamer score is which in that case what I have just written won't really concern you!?

Actually if you get a chance play LIMBO the simple little side scroller that isn't that simple, I mean it has the best level design of any game I've played in while. Basically I don't want to spoil the game for any of you who haven't played it. Well your a boy who wakes up in a forest for no apparent reason with no idea why your there or who you are or what you want so you set off to find this out for yourself . Now this is where the level design comes in each level has distinct theme and it's all completely black and white and err well grey. Everything is a puzzle and is one of those games where it's really focussed on trial and error and many of the traps and other nasty things will often surprise you in cruel but interesting way! I don't want too give too much away, but the only thing that will upset you is it's kinda short and will leave you wanting more, which I think is a good thing as a little bit of pure genius is better than 14hrs of samey grass walking menu selecting garbage. Well heres a a video to wet your appetite.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Visual Composition

Visual Composition really leads on from concept art and how things we perceive as cool or interesting come from this very important element of painting and drawing. Composition is in everything we see in our lives through graphics in magazines, DVD and games menus and even on T.V guide pages. Composition is there to please the eye and draw us into the image or piece of graphics. It's also there as a way of forcing you to look at something in particular or creating a main focal point in the image.

The classic masters such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michaelangelo or Rembrandt all used composition as key point of making their paintings better, more attention grabbing and aesthetically pleasing. They would produce hundreds of drawings and sketches when studying an object or person or pose as a way of building the composition up and finding the one they really felt worked.
The most simple way of looking at composition is following the basic rule of thirds and how an image can be divided up to make a clearer and more focussed piece.

Take this painting by Henning Ludvigsen for example, it can be broken down very simply by placing a grid over the top and breaking it down geometrically on the page. I painted a simplistic grid over the image to show the compositional layout.
There is a nice balance and weight across her body on the page that fits into the "golden sections" of the compositional grid. Without getting too mathematical as I don't do numbers, it basically works on the fibonacci sequence that occurs in nature through the structure of shells to the structure of leaves and fruit and has been shown to be one of the most pleasing forms to the eye. What I mean by "golden sections" is the separate boxes in which the form is equally balanced in where her arms meet along the vertical and horizontal planes.

Composition really makes a difference in the way images and concepts are perceived. Even in a 3D environment when the camera angles for cinematics and general movement aren't pleasing or confusing for the player, it becomes frustrating and annoying and can ultimately ruin a possibly great game. Composition is there to make the money shot that really sells the painting or game imagery and make it awesome to look at and with a simple oversight can ruin what has the potential to be great.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Planning and Concepting

Concepting and planning should be the physical starting blocks an idea going into productuion should take. Though too often we see online art that is labeled as concept art but no sense of process is visible and a random un-processed thought is often the outcome and labeled as the final piece.

A concept artists job role is presenting and generating the visual style of the game or film under the direction of the art or creative director. Being a concept artist holds a lot of responsibility in createing the starting blocks for the visual style and overall feel for the game which gives them a lot creative freedom. However, a large part built into the role of being a concpet artist is being able to take constructive criticism and using it to push the ideas that are on paper and you may really like and developing them further for the needs of the project.

Weta workshop who created the props and concepts for the great sci-fi film District 9 are a great example of a good art direction team and group of concept artists. A main feature in the film is the alien exo suit though it didn't always look like the final image here. In their new art book there are tons of images and thumbnails for the design process of the exo suit and a different suit was originally made physically from the concept but was never used as the art direction wanted something less organic and humanoid looking.

Concepting is really the fleshing out of ideas not creating a piece of art that gets a thousand hearts and wow your awesome on deviant art. It's often seen as just making cool digital paints or illustrations that show an interesting idea and not something that you could really get a physical end product from. It seems a lot of people aspire to be a concept artist without knowing what the job really entitles.

I feel that i am a victim of not working through ideas in the aim of making something that people go wow at sometimes, though the vehicle project i have been working on recently has really shown me the fun and need for working through ideas and developing them further to make sure that the same old clich├ęd ideas don't get footprinted in the designs and allows the rubbish to be put on paper and removed from your brain and clear the way for something original.

Friday, 29 October 2010

A Brand New Day

So where am I now? Well I managed to survive my first year on my journey to becoming a game artist and I am now taking my first steps into the second year where I am hoping to pick up the pace on collecting the skills and learning the tools of the trade which will make me a ninja god when it comes to making game art!

The first year was hard as the sheer amount of learning was quite intense; it really pushed me to use my artistic abilities not only creatively but also critically as well. At first I freaked out at the fact I was going to have to use this complicated 3D software package that I seemed to have the great ability of breaking just by opening it. But now after discovering it’s actually not that bad I found myself enjoying what I was doing, like solving the technical problems with making an asset in game to be efficient and on a budget as well as having to make good artistic judgments to make sure it fits the brief and the environment its supposed to have come from.

I’ve seen my drawing skills get better as I looked back at older work and then found when I came to do it again it seemed easier and found I was producing better quality images in a shorter space of time, allowing me to make more interesting compositions when I knew I wasn’t limited by a lack of technical skill or understanding what I was actually seeing in front of me.

Year 2 for me is where I want to start to find where I fit in the world of games and what I can bring to the table as well as further develop and flex my creative muscles. That being said I have come to the great realisation that I need to put a lot in to what I do to reap the rewards of being a good games artist and ultimately have fun with what I’m doing. I have the image in my mind that year 2 is the training montage in Rocky 4, the hardest fight is to come and only by working hard will you have a chance of making it through to the next stage. Well that and the fact as a student we are really broke like Rocky is in the film and we have to make do with the tech we have!



Where I want to go from here is really the next stage for me as the road I'm traveling down is a little foggy at the minute and I need to start finding that place I want to be In and have that goal to help drive my work and start growing my portfolio in the right direction.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Splinter Cell Conviction

I have been waiting for this game for sooooo long and iut has finally arrived! I've not enjoyed a game this much in a long time and I have been surprised to discover that it is powered by unreal technology. When the deafening unreal animation came up i was taken by surprise as i had not expected that Ubisoft would use a game engine like Unreal, being that its most commonly used for big meat headed guys with more scars and crators on their square chins that one of jupiters moons. However, 'Batman: Arkham Asylum' was powered by Unreal and that to stunned me and gave me quite a few hours of enjoyment, and a few parrells can be drawen between to the two games. They are both dark, gritty and for the most part a stealth orrientated platform game, though Batman is naturally very acardey.

Splinter Cell has gone in a new direction as seems to be the theme over at the Ubisoft offices, only instead of people slating them for dumbing down Prince of Persia but awarding its art style, the critics have been drooling over the new Jason Bourne/ Jack Bauer-esque action approach. Instead of being given a laod of cool weapons to take out enemies but then being told not to use them or you fail like in the last game Spliner Cell: Double Agent, you now get to use them and with great effect as well! Visually it's very impressive and with the new added feature of having the game go black and white when your lurking in the shadows and highlighting useful objects in their natural colour has been not only a clever visual style but a useful one in terms of gameplay. Another great additrion is the HUD has been completely stripped down and now the missions appear on objects in the environment as if they are projected and keep the flow of the game going without irritating cutscenes every time you take a step [cough, Metal Gear Solid, cough].

Where to go now?

Being on the course has been a big learning curve for me and at times has seemed to be a huge mountain to be able to climb in such a small amoun of time. Though i know that a trait of mine is to expect sometimes too much too soon, especially when it comes to my artistic skills. I've started to see that with time and perserverance what i've been learning does pay off and starts to come through in my work and I have to have patience and not expect to be the best straight away. It's early days still for me to even have a clue to where I want to head in the future, but looking at the 3rd years heading off into the world that is the games industry it made me realise a few things. They didn't get good over night and i've still got another 2 years to get to the standard they are and hopefully surpass them if i'm lucky!

I guess that wondering where to go is part of the learning process and is always going to be a question that i will constantly ask myself. I tried to think back to the reason I wanted to do game art in the first place and the company name Ubisoft jumped straight to mind. They have always produced interesting art and styles in their games, but have also managed to back the visuals up with involved characters and stories. I guess I imagined myself creating art for a purpose for games generating the assets, environments or characters with the great story behind it and allowing me to bring that to life.





















Well for now I guess i'm on my way and getting closer to finding where I want to go, though as time goes on and my skills improve my goals will be moving around and will ultimately shape what i'm looking for.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Creativity

Creativity manifests itself in many waysand forms, the problem in defining creativity is that everyone can be creative in one way or another and creativity can be expressed in an immeasurable number of ways. Art is an easy example of trying to explain the creative process but one thing is to be made clear, just because someone has a lot of interesting ideas doesn't mean they are instantly creative. Being a creative person involves structure, clarity and being able to implement the ideas across to a desired audience. A great quote that helps further my views on creativity and what defines it for me is "Creativity without craft is like fuel without an engine-it burns wildly but accomplishes little..." Creativity is essentially a way of describing a unique thought process that allows us to creatr solutionsfor tasks and questions we have in an inventive constructive and often new way. Artists have as much right to the term 'Creative' as a Neurosurgeon who discovers a new way of treating his patients; the same can be applied to many walks of life.

The Games Industry is full of a broad range of examples of creativity, not only from the artistic team but also from the processes in these areaqs and across all aspects of many industries, the generation of new and innovative ways of getting things done doesn't happen. This is where creativity can be seen in some form and the product of a group of creative people or person can then be measured. In the games industry triple A titles that are produced such as Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War or the Hitman series, all possess a large manifestation of creativity due to their stylistic approaches and also their ability to appeal to a wide range of people.

Creatvity is all around us in everything we do and see in our lives. Though its hard to describe and pin down to a black and white answer, as it seems to be a very grey area that people always disagree on. There is no denying that Art isn't the only thing that can be branded with the exclusive use of trhe term "Creative" and that people shouldn't ignore that fact.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sound in Games

Sound is an overlooked and essential part of games. It is such a natural thing to hear sounds we recognise in games such as trees rustling, footsteps crunching on gravel and the splash of water. But because the sounds are so real they become an invisible form in games and if they weren't something would feel wrong. I mean my own personal experience playing the recent Call of Duty on a friends PC was very different as his sound wasn't working and I put the game down as the atmosphere of explosions and bullets firing past my character wasn't there and I felt detatched from the action.

I really enjoy the soundtracks for games in general as they are very different and I find they are enjoyable to work to as a lot of the time the songs are purely background music without lyrics and usually classically composed and have a lot of story through them. Games are usually easily recognised by the songs that accompany them, If someone puts Halo on in another room i will know as usually the loud and dramatic orchestra will be blasting trying to break the sound system its coming through. Though even if i can't hear the title music the iconic sounds of the plasma grenades or the blast of the generic assault rifle is enough to be sure that someone is palying Halo without me.

Another game that sounds are easily recognisable is Metal Gear Solid, I mean the warning sound of the guards with the most ridiculous "!" symbol over their heads when they spot you is classic and anyone who has played it or seen a friend play will instantly know where the sound is from. Hideo Kojima has an entire orchestra that works on his games and they even hold concerts with the game playing in the background for fans of the game and the music alike!

Sounds in games have always been limited to actions that happen in game based on whether the character does something to effect the environment. I mean most gamers will remember the Mario coin blip and the Sonic spin as he went into a ball but what about the more realistic games. Sounds always seem the same and never appear to change as they do in real life due to the nature of being pre recorded.

Its a shame that the technology for sound in games hasn't been improved, I will say the quality and crispness does get better as time goes on. The sound systems for TV's and surround sound systems improve but as with many other aspects of games today it could be pushed easily to another level.

Game Engines

Game engines are essentally what run the game and tie all the elements of programming , art, animation and sound together. There are a whole variety of different game engines around that are used for different reasons as they all have their ups and downs. A company always has a few options in how they get their game to run. They can use a pre-made game engine such as Unreal or they make their own in house engine, this of course is down to the amount of money and time the company making the game has and can afford to spend.

There are other options like using middleware programmes which are basically smaller game engines that help create certain different effects within the main game engines react. For example the DMM engine allows objects in game to have assigned material properties and effects they way objects in game respond to different effects on it. In other words wood will splinter, snap and burn but glass with shatter crack and melt. This software was used in the Force Unleashed and allowed the characters and world to respond in a more realistic way with each other.

Game engines have also in recent years become more user friendly so that it doesn't take a team of programmers to build a level and import objects in. Now the artists can build the level and assests realitively easily and are able to render and light their scene and have more control of where they want everything to go.

There is also a major difference in the way game engines can build levels, they are either additive or subtractive. Its pretty straight forward in the differences, a subtractive game engine means that you start off with infinite solid space and you carve into it and create the world in which you move in. An additive (also named Relative) engine allows you to build and create your world and environment in an empty space usually called a void by creating the solid forms and working out form there. The Unreal Engine has the ability to allow users to do both which makes it a very versatile game engine to use, opening itself up for wider uses.

The introduction of game engines has allowed games to be made more efficiantly and cheaply, without them many games wouldn't be able to have all the great visual aspects that make them so great.

Gaming Culture

Games have always had the tag of being something for social recluses and the geeky kids who stay in their bedrooms and cower at the sight of sunshine when their curtains are opened. Gaming has totally changed since the home console was first introduced, arcades used to be a place of social interaction where friends would hang out and try and beat each others high scores on space invaders or asteroids. But since the introduction of the home consoles people stopped that side of social gaming until games started to become large money making industry. Yes a lot of games had multiplayer if you wanted to compete against your friends at home but you never knew where you would stand against the rest of the world.

Now we have online capabilities that have yet again enclosed people in their rooms, though gaming has evolved due to the interest from advertising and other companies sponsoring gamers to compete in competition. This is where the arcades had a rebirth (mainly in Japan) as games such as tekken and street fighter then challenged gamers to play agianst each other and become the best. This pushed gaming culture and pulled people to events to compete to be the best and win cash prizes, limited edition merchandise and of course notoriety amongst the gaming community. These competitions are held all over the world and allow the more bedroom orientated to get and experience the world for real rather just viewing pictures of it on google.

Huge LAN gaming tournaments and invitationals are also very popular especially amongst first person shooters where teams are made up of the best from countries or cities and can meet up and make friends or meet people they already know from online gaming sessions. Games are becoming increasingly more popular and have started to build huge communities on and offline and with the increases in technology and how people can communicate through digital media it seems that gaming culture and its social aspect can only get bigger.

The games Industry

The games industrty is said to be recession proof. This is however a very bold statement and is also very innaccurate, hundreds of job cuts and companies downsizing has occured. Though the games industry has been quite resiliant against the large brunt of the recession it still has the problems with now trying to save money and keep spendature to a minimum and yet keep the quality they produce to a maximum. This has led to many large and in some cases smaller independant companies outsource to other foreign companies to get quick and cheap results especially in terms of the smaller in game assests where companies don't want to spend a lot of time or resources in having to create smaller assets in game.

Nintendo has been a great player in the survival of the games industry as their company alone has made upto 3/4's of the industrys total sales. They have made the games industry more accessible in nature and managed to capture more non bedroom gamers and have brought the games industry back to the world of the money making corporations rather than just the guy eating fast food and programming the same world of warcraft games for a select few.

The games industry is facing turbulant times but seems to have past a lot of the recessions storm and is on its slow way to recovery and slowly gaining its confidence back. Which is good as if the games industry is able to recover and get stronger as they have to work harder to push the boundaries of games to make them better and worth the £40 price tag then gamers of all ages will be in for a treat wth more original release titles and stunning story and graphics.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Gameplay

Gameplay is hard to describe but in its most simple form it’s the relationship between the players enjoyment and interaction with the set of tasks, puzzles and action that is given to them to complete. Gameplay is one of many fundamentals in gaming that if implemented incorrectly will leave games falling flat on their face before getting off the starting line and onto the shelves. Games are all about the interaction between the physical player and the digital character(s) on screen.  If for example the challenges in the game are not… well…challenging then why bother paying them. Gameplay is supposed to be designed to make the game fun, exciting and involve the player in creating the story and the characters own actions throughout that path. If gameplay was removed from games then it would essentially become a Film or TV show as the sense of full immersive interactivity with the story and events that happened to the players own character would be removed. 

Gameplay lies in the way the player controls the character or army or actions on screen and if this isn’t cohesive with the joypad or keyboard in a way that feels natural and becomes invisible then the immersive actions on screen become lost. The gameplay spell is broken as players become too wrapped up in focussing on the button presses they have to pull in order to make something happen, I mean take guitar hero for example. It’s immersive, fun and relatively simple, but to a novice there can be a point when they give up and think it’s too hard to bother to learn and invest time and leaves only the more dedicated to try and master the fast paced button mashing.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Story and Character

Games rely heavily on the main character you play, its simple really a lame rubbish looking character isn’t going to make you want to play as them or be involved in their world in any way at all.  However, get it right ad your part way there to getting a game to sell. A good example of creating a successful character in a game is Max Payne; he had everything you could want from his characters archetype. Max Payne was a moody badass detective type who went through the game killing just about everyone in his quest for revenge for the murder of his family. What made him good was the fact he was stylised in quite a dark anti-heroesque way which fitted well with his back story and in turn helped tie him into the game world and connect with the player.

More recently characters such as Altair and Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed series have been well thought through as the story directly ties the player with wanting to hunt down the characters memory and solve the puzzles. As this was cohesive and solid throughout, the game flowed and developed rather than the player being dragged through pointless missions where the best reward is the cut scene rather than the gameplay. Bioshock being a first person shooter and never really showing the characters face, plus the fact the game throws you in the action straight away instantly connects the player with an emotional bond and with the constant struggle the character faces only builds upon that and creates a steady step by step story flow laying smaller parts for the player creating a more thoughtful approach and smoother transition on each part of the game.

Story and character is a symbiotic cycle e.g. a good sounding story can fail if the characters aren’t interesting and unique enough or good characters can fail if the story is weak and full of plot holes. Ultimately games need to start thinking hard about the way they are built. Story and character should be considered a forethought and not an afterthought to special effects and glossy graphics.

Games Technology

Games technology has improved dramatically in just over 10 years not only in the way games have become more complex and graphically more impressive but also in the way the consoles and even handheld consoles have had a lot of thought put into the design. Consoles had always been seen as something like a PC so should be built for purpose, though home use of consoles started to demand the need for more ergonomic and stylised finish that would be appealing in the home. Also making something visually appealing automatically gives the buyer an attraction to the product and adds the feeling that they would buy it over another console just on an aesthetic quality.

On the other hand designers can go to far with their quest on making something aesthetically unique and ergonomic. A good example is the first design of the PS3 controller with the weird and supposedly better more comfortable design for the user to hold, though it’s a weird boomerang shape. It seemed too weird for a lot of gamers when they first saw it and started to put people off the console and so it was changed to a more streamlined version of the original PS2 controller. The only reason I saw the benefit of having a boomerang shaped controller is that when you get frustrated with a game and you launch the controller at the screen it immediately returns after circling the room in a graceful manner. Well Microsoft couldn’t have gotten any worse in the design than the original Xbox, that as the name stated was a huge box that weighed a ton and had a massive luminous green X on it. The controllers however improved dramatically, they got rid of the old black and white buttons that sat somewhere off the original controller and became shoulder buttons on the new controller. Also for people without tiny hands the larger size of the control pad made gaming easier, still not perfect but with time I think they’ll get there. Overall design has become a huge part of modern culture and controls the way we buy things so games console manufacturers will have to keep stepping up their designs in order to compete for the need of cool looking gadgets.

Storytelling in Games

As a gamer it really grinds my gears that story seems to be this mystical and rare gift bestowed upon games these days. It’s like the development team put all this effort in to making these games and then go and pay a monkey in bananas who has watched to many American soap operas and moody cop shows to right the storyline and the script.

You get a choice of about three things happening with story in the games industry.

1. You get an amazing blockbuster Spielberg-esque story.

2. You get a more watered down version of Spielberg’s story as if someone had vaguely described one of his films, as if they had watched it a few months back missing out vital plot points and then filling them quickly at the end leaving you a bit confused dumbfounded.

3. You get someone who should never be let loose with a pen and paper, shouting about the best story ever where they just rattle off a list of cool action sequences usually to do with aliens or monsters or something roughly set in the future or something and tell you they’ll finish the details off later…and never do.

Without a good story in a game you might as well just be running around shooting stuff or using magic for no apparent reason and have characters with the personality of a grapefruit. Story doesn’t just involve an Act 1, 2 and 3 but also sets up the world everyone lives in and the way the characters act, look, behave and relate to the world they are in. To many times, does a lack of good story, kill a potentially great game. I mean the Tomb Raider series started off well and then went all weird and tried to be dramatic and cinematic and ruined the gameplay and then decided to commit game suicide by killing off the main character in their franchise which then had to be explained away in the next title whilst the old title was being quietly swept under the carpet.

To me story is one of the most important and often overlooked parts of a game. Nowadays, consumers are expecting that with next gen graphic and physic engines a next gen story should be involved as well. As £40 or even £50 is a lot to ask people to part with if they are only getting something that is half-baked. To end on a positive note games are getting better with their stories and developers a starting realise the effect story has in so many parts of their games, I mean just look Mass Effect and its soon to be released title Mass Effect 2 where the choices you made in the first game effect the way you play the next game. Interesting ideas like these will push the ways in which games will look feel and play and add a better sense of depth to them.