Monday, 3 December 2007

Week 7: Art Direction

Once every so often you come across a game, and whilst playing it think 'wow just look at that!' and whilst it takes much more than one person to make design and make a game, the Art director is a very important person. The Art Director is the keeper and champion of the vision of the game. He is someone who would work closely with many people including the creative director, designers and the entire art team.

Essentially, the Art Director defines the artist style and helps develop it among the team. To me it seems like it is one of the most important roles within the art department, because if the overall style is off and not exciting to look at, people aren't going to want to look at it (putting it simply).

Art Direction is evident in most forms of media, but film is probably the area in which a art director would get the most 'kudos'. I do not think that games and films are so different, other than the fact that in a games the player has choice on what he/she sees and how events unfold, although cut scenes and certain games would be quite similar. In fact, games could prove more of a challenge since what is seen by the player is not predefined.

Proof that they are not dissimilar is shown by Jerry O'Flaherty, previously the Art Director for Gears of War and Unreal Tournament 3, being made the director for the upcoming CG-animated Thundercats film.

So to be an Art Director would require a massive understand of all things art. Lighting, color, perspective, scale, and composition. A big understanding in all of the jobs would be necesscary, such as, modeling, concept art and the game engine.
But all of these would mean nothing without a creative imagination and a passion for games.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Week 6: Game Design

Games Design, a pretty big topic, and with it comes a great deal of responsibility, if you don't have a good design you're not going to get much out of it. In a modern day game development company (obviously this is dependant on the size of the company and project) there would be a team of designers working together closely. Then this team would branch out into a number of areas such as lead designer, sound designer, level designer, character designer and so on. One quality all designers need is good communication, as the communication of ideas is what they do.

There are many stages to the games design process. These are started off by choosing a goal and a topic for which to base the game around. Then much research and preperation is done. The designer must immerse themselves in the topic, finding out information, details and anything relevant.

Next comes the design phase. This is divided up into three sub-sections.

I/O Structure - This is 'the system that communicates information between the computer and the player.' this includes everything from graphics to input method.

Game Structure - This is 'the internal architecture of causal relationships that define the obstacles the player must overcome in the course of the game.' So how to make the goal and topic into a workable system, and how the game would operate eg. how you would shoot/fight, and the tactics involved in these operations.

Program Structure - This is 'the organization of mainline code, subroutines, interrupts, and data that make up the entire program.' This structure is the vehicle which translates the I/O Structure and Game Structure into a real product.

All three of the structures must be created simultaneously, for they must each work together. Decisions made in one structure must be checked to see how they react with the other structures.

Now gameplay could be a term to describe how all of the above terms work and what experience they give you. A dictionary states that gameplay is the:
'Ambiguous term for the total effect of all active game elements. Refers to the holistic game experience and the ability of the game to command the attention of the player.

There are a number of things that are important to me when I play games, but i guess it depends on what sort of game I'm playing. For example if I'm playing a shooter, I prefere it to be realistic and a bit tactical. Even little details can win me over, such as if a character breathes heavily after sprinting of if the camera shakes when something explodes. What really impresses me is if a character moves realistically, reacting to the environment and whats going on around him/her.

One game that I thought did this well was Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2

But at the end of the day, no amount of realistic movement or camera shaking is going to get me to like a wrestling game.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Week 5: Writing About Games

After spend a fair few hours reading up on 'New Games Journalism' I came out with mixed thoughts, for each piece was unique and had certain qualities that I had never seen in games journalism before. 'Dreaming in an empty room: a defense of Metal Gear Solid 2' really dove deep into the game and analysed it in a way that I had never seen before, and it bought up some interesting points.

Whilst 'Possessing Barbie' dove deep into the mind of the gamer, showing how much we relate games to real life when playing them. Other examples such as 'Shoot Club: Saving Private Donny' and 'Going Planetside' were entertaining to read, and portrayed someones experience in an interesting manner but did not prove as intriguing as the first two I mentioned. (It seems a bit weird that im reviewing a review, but ah well!)

The issues that face reviwers are the fact that this is their opinion, and quite obviously people have different opinions, but I don't think that should be a reason for reviewers to make their reviews more objective. I feel this way because, to me, playing a game is an experience and if I'm reading a review hearing about experiences that changed someones view of the game is important. Sure features are important to understand the gameplay and how it works, but I would rather hear of how the reviewers jaw dropped than how many characters are available.

I often hear people say that you can't sum up a game with a score, be it 9/10, 87% or 3 stars, which is true, but the thing, is they have to. Why? Because sometimes people don't want to read pages and pages of information on the game, and how it captivates one. I admit, I would be like this sometimes. Take for example the new Ratchet and Clank game, I'm not a fan and would not shell out £45 pounds for it (the first Jack and Daxter was awesome though), but I took a look at the review out of curiosity, saw the score and though "meh". The score a game gets can also act as advert for the article itself, if I look at the score and it got 95%, I think "hmm this might be worth reading if the reviewer rated it this highly"

Monday, 12 November 2007

Recent Memories (Week 4 Continued)

So onwards with my history. I left you with my memories of the playstation and blowing up the Eiffel Tower, and soon I would be moving into the depths of the PS2.

I have always been a bit dissapointed with Sony at not coming up with a very original name for their new console, I mean, anyone can stick a number at the end of a name. I can make exceptions with games that have an arcade feel to them, because I think they generally don't have good storylines (or storylines at all for that matter) or if a film or game has a number and then a subtitle. For example 'Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong's Quest.

Maybe if Sony Had called it Playstation 2: The Games Strike Back, or Playstation 2: Return of the Games I might have been a bit happier, but the name stuck so that meant they HAD to name the next one the Playstation 3. I'd like to hear your suggestions on console sequel names! Ok, get this, whoever comes up with the best console name will respect, and nothing more.

The PS2 was great, from driving round a fictional New York running down tramps in GTA:3 to mowing down giant ducks in Timesplitters, and making the ultimate insult with Guybrush Threepwood (I've got a mate that looks like him by the way) , it really was a good console with great games.

So owning the PS2 and loving it, it was inevitable that I was going to get the PS3. Ok, so it hasn't had as much success as the Xbox 360 or the Wii (which I think is a novelty that I would play for 20 minutes and then get bored, and why is it encouraging people to fake doing stuff thats better to do in real life, the whole point of computer games, to me anyway, is to experience something new that isn't possible, or that I don't want to do in real life. I'd much rather play tennis than have character, that I made to look like me but who actually has the face of a mass murderer, inaccuratly replicate the game with crap graphics.)

I feel much better now, so let me tell you about my PS3, I think it's much better than the 360, which I do have, mainly for Gears Of War and Command and Conquer 3, partly because the PS3 feels more sturdy. Plus the fact that you don't have to turn the volume up to beat the noise of the fan. But all facts aside, I don't like Microsoft, because they ripped Apple off.

They say if you can beat them, join them, but I'm not joing Microsoft, I'm using them for my entertainment, so it's ok to hate them still.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Fear Of The Boring

When I look my posts I've made on my blog so far I often stop and ask myself, 'is this interesting?' But when I really think about it, I ask myself, 'am I trying too hard to make it interesting?' I know I can on a bit and reading my blog back I can see that some parts are boring but should I change them? I don't think so.

Take Crysis, for example. It's this beautiful world of living, breathing and functioning environments, with top end weather and sound effects, and advanced A.I. Giving you a realistic experience as if you were really there. But you know, Sometimes after a hard days work (whatever that is) I just want to mindlessly shoot human-sized ducks with an Uzi on an alien planet.

I mean, Crysis is pretty cool and all but sometimes I think they're trying too hard to be interesting. Timesplitters was that game that allowed you to mindlessly shoot human-sized ducks with an Uzi on an alien planet, and thats why I loved it, Because it let you make your own experience, not to be bound by the laws of real life. Timesplitters was stupid. Now how many Games Designers say 'Right, lets make a game that's stupid and makes no sense?'

'splitters was a rare thing (That was of course until EA got hold of Timesplitters 3 and sucked the soul out of the series by trying too hard) and I hope we see more games which don't take themselves so seriously and take the piss a bit more.

So I guess you guys will have to put up with the boring stuff for now, otherwise I might turn into EA.

(As you can probably tell by the post time, it's pretty late, and I can't sleep, so I hope didn't make too much sense for you)

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Week 4: The History Of Computer Games: To the Millennium and Beyond!

So lets see where we are. It all started in the 50s, where we saw coin-ops, spacewars and oscilloscopes, then through the to the 80s and 90s in which we played the Master Systems, SNESs and playstations. Now onto the stuff that got me hooked for life.

The Playstation 2 was set free in March in Japan and November in Europe of 2000, and with it's smooth, detailed graphics and unrivaled gameplay at the time, it was sure to be a success. I remember looking close at the screen and dribbling at the tracks left by the snowboards in the original SSX.

Over the next couple of years nintendo release the Gamecube, and Microsoft release the Xbox, providing competition and creating some of the best games ever seen, such as Super Smash Bros. Melee, Grand Theft Auto 3 and Halo (though some people may disagree). These three consoles battled it out, until the time came when they decided more consoles were needed. Que the next generation consoles!

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo each went for different stratagies when designing and marketing their consoles. Microsoft releasing their Xbox 360 before everyone else hoping to get a head start, whilst Sony took their time designing their PS3, a more high spec. console hoping to last longer and then their was Nintendo who aimed the Wii at casual gamers hoping to find a gap in the market.

At the moment the standings as of September 30th, 2007 are as follows

Playstation 3: 5.59 million consoles sold
Wii: 13.17 million consoles sold
Xbox 360: 13.4 consoles sold

Well thats about all the history I can give you without getting out my crystal ball, so on to current affairs.

When I signed up for this course I didn't kid myself thinking 'wow I'm going to make millions, live in a mansion with my super model wife and drive a Aston Martin DBS (what a car)', I just wanted to do something that I enjoyed and earn a living doing so. But I have to admit, all this talk of out-sourcing and the games industry transforming is making me wonder, is that even possible?

Recently in Game City, I attended a seminar all about the games industry, which if you've read my post about Game City you'd know that I thought was brilliant, but it did bring up certain issues. Like the Game Artist who said that it is best to specialise and choose one particular area, but how do I know what I want to do 6 weeks into the course?! He also mentioned out-sourcing and how the companies have a small design team that come up with the basis and then out-source it to a mass of people to produce for a smaller amount of time thus being cheaper. It made sense, and it made me think. But hey, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Week 3: A History of computer games 1980s-1990s

So after seeing Atari formed, and pong born in the 70s, we move onto the 1980s. Just after a home version of space invaders was released for the VCS (or the Atari 2600), there was seen to be a bit of a crash in the games market. Magnavox released a game called K.C. Munchkin, which Atari thought was to 'similar' to pac-man and so sued them (as you do in America) and won.

Atari then released the highly anticipated version of Pac-Man for the 2600, which didnt represent the original arcade game at all! Together with the dissapointing E.T, the companies sales plumited like a plane with no wings and as a result, massive numbers of Atari's games ended up in a landfill in New Mexico (I wonder if they'd still work if we dug them up).

1983 saw the release of the Commodore 64, which outperforms any video games console to date, but with too many products on the shelves from a multitude of publishers, many third-party companies go out of business.

Next comes Alexey Pajitnov, with his mighty game Tetris in 1985. Tetris comes from the Greek root tetra-, meaning four, and Alexeys favourite sport, Tennis.

In 1986 the great war between nintendo and sega started with of the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and the Sega Master System. This part of the war was won by Nintendo with massive sales, crowding out Sega and Atari.

Then the market for Tetris explodes, and great contraversy is created by who owned the rights. There is a very interesting program made by BBC4 on this, which I suggest you check out if You get the chance. That with the release of the Gameboy, the Sega Genasis, the TurboGrafx-16 and Atari's handheld 'Lynx' was as busy year for all 4 companies.

Then in 1991 comes the release of the awesome SNES (so what if im a bit biased) and the iconic Sonic (see what I did there).
But even the release of Donkey Kong Country in 1994 can only just help Nintendo Catch up to the might of the sega Genasis.

Now that the Gaming Industry is starting to kick off Sony decide to jump on the bandwagon with their 32-bit Playstion, and chuck Sega off. Now Nintendo see this and decide to make a 64-bit machine, the N64. (Honestly, it's all about a bunch of blokes trying to prove who has the biggest CPU)

Whilst Sony and Nintendo battle it out, Sega try several atempts to jump back on the wagon with the Sega Saturn and the Dreamcast but never prevailing as the Saturn is never able to compete with the popularity of the PS and N64, and Sony releasing the PS2, which was just more powerful.

So we've seen Graphics advance from Pac-Man to Mario 64 in these 20 years, which I find astonishing when looking back at the previous 20 years. The advances where happening even faster and to a better quality, which was a good sign of things to come.

Continuing with my history we find me still on my SNES, and increasing my collection with the likes of Jungle Strike, Super Mario Kart and Jurassic Park(which is probably the hardest game I've ever played since there are NO save points in it!) Going back to Mario Kart, I can see that that was another big game in my gaming history, and probably because it was something I used to play with my dad a lot. We would battle it out in the mushroom, flower and star cups, and he was pretty damn good at it.

Then one birthday I got a playstation. This was probably in 1996 or 1997 im a bit foggy on the date, but none the less it was brilliant. Proper 3D environments! CD Quality audio! But I think that one of the things that was most exciting about my first game Air Combat, was that the pilot cursed every time your missed a shot! Ok so the extent of it was him saying 'JESUS MISSED!' but I was young and that sort of thing would create gasps and 'ummmm's amongst 8 year olds.

Games like Command and Conquer and Final Fantasy IIV (which you may have read from my profile is my favourite game ever) started to appear in my collection, which I think turned me from a casual gamer into a semi-hardcore gamer, starting to get involved with the stories rather that gaining quick thrills. Also issues of morality seemed to matter more, for example, not wanting to let you npc team mate die, and being able to choose which historical monument to destroy with the Ion Cannon when you complete the NOD campaign in Command and Conquer. You could pick from the White House, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gate. I have to say, it was the French every time.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The City Of Games

Over the weekend I attended the festival game city in Nottingham, and with high expectations I didnt come out dissapointed. One thing about the festival was that it wasnt as structured as it made out to be. I expected big halls, tons of press reporters and eager gamers/students like myself. But when attending some of the events, it felt empty, like either no-one knew about it or no-one wanted to be there. Saying that it didnt take much away from my experience.

By far the talks that I enjoyed most were the tetris seminars with Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of tetris. I could have sat there and listened to him talk for hours, answering questions, which I have to say were well thought through and really made the most out of the session. So kudos to the lady who interviewed him! Greater kudos to Alexey though, for creating the one of the greatest games of all time.

Unfortunately I didnt manage to get a picture with Alexey (mobile phone batteries aren't what they used to be) and ive got a feeling i'm going to regret that for a long time!

I definitely recommend reading up on the interviews, if you're a fan of the game (c'mon who isnt).;title;4

This link by the way, is from his second talk which is more about tetris as a game, where as the first talk ventured into the events surrrounding it aswell.

The other seminar that proved to be very motivating and worthy of note, was called 'What's it like to worrk in the games industry'. This featured 5 professionals who literally went through everything to do with the games industry (which took 2 and a half hours, which in turn meant I missed the Haze exclusive, but it didnt bother me since the talk had me hooked). Everything from the structure of a team to how to get into the industry, and even what people were like and the average day were explained from 5 working professionals point of view.

Overall it was well worth it, and I will be returning next year.

Oh and that wii light-sabre joke.......not very funny.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Week 1: Blogging - Rick Stirling

First of all this was supposed to be my first entry, buuut I got some papers muddled up so its become my second, sorry for any confusion :D

Now, the blogger I've decided to look at goes by the name of Rick Stirling, a game artist, designer, egotist and raconteur (whatever those last two are :s) His first site, rsart, is a good read and has alot of interesting and useful information on the games industry and his experiences in it. One entry that I found particularly interesting was called 'how many polygons in a piece of string?' which came from people asking 'how many polygons should I use in characters/environments/vehicles?' and his simple answer was 'it depends', then going on to explain why it depends, going through reasons such as platform, style of game and power required.

I feel he has a style of writing that gets his point very well, and spents a lot of time on his blog recommending books that he found useful and answering questions from anyone, which I think is decent of him.

His second site on twitter is more of a personal blog, talking about his personal thoughts none of which really relate to his job (apart from conplaing about it). He has stuctured it as short commment, which just show what sort of mood he was in or what he was thinking at the time, which is a nice change from technical computer talk.

As for me, Ive never writen a blog before, or even kept a diary, so it's a new experince. Im alright with the fact that i'm writing for an invisible audience, partly because I doubt that many people will read it (prove me wrong people!). I guess there is part of me that doesnt want to sound like an idiot by rambling on, but I do tend write too much generally, and go over word counts, which didnt make essays any easier, buy hey, I just guess thats my 'style'

Anyways, Ive got to get back to cleaning my bathroom since they did the flat checks a day early (sneaky bastards), here are the links to Rick Stirlings sites...

Oh, and these

egotist: a conceited and self-centered person
raconteur: Someone who tells amusing or interesting stories

They say you learn something new everday, yesterday I learnt that door frames hurt when you headbutt them.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Week 2: A history of computer games 1950s-1970s

Where did it all start then? Well, back in 1951, a young engineer was given an assignment to build a television set, one that would be the best. This engineer was named Ralph Baer, and he had the idea of incorporating a game into the set itself. He wasn't sure what kind of game he wanted to produce, but it didn't matter because his managers scrapped the concept. It would take another 18 years for his concept to take form.

In 1954 a US Korean War veteren by the name of David Rosen saw the popularity of mechanical coin-op games on a US Army base, and so started a company called Service Games to export these to Japan. In the 1960s he decided to purchase a Tokyo jukebox and slot machine company to make his own games with. The name SEGA, short for 'SErvice GAmes' was stamped on all of his products, and was eventually adopted as the company name.

1958 proved interesting when physicist Willy Higinbotham invented a table-tennis game displayed on a oscilloscope. Whoever said that science was boring! He later ran it on a 15inch monitor...but didnt patent it. I bet he was pissed when he found out it's now worth $58 billion.

In 1961, MIT student steve russle created Spacewar, the first interactive computer game. played on a CTR screen with new teletype terminals.

So back to Ralph Baer and his idea of using a television to play games on. He decided, in 1966 to continue researching it, and developed a chase game and followed it up with a tennis game. Wierd choice of sequel if you ask me. He finally patented the idea in 1968 and gets it licensed by Magnavox, to create an arcade version of spacewar in 1970! Well that only took 20 years.

When did it start for me then? Well the christmas of 1994, I was going to ask father christmas for a Jurassic Park compund! Being a Jurassic Park nut, having all the toys and watching the film about twice a week, this was the mother of all toys! My dad on the other hand had the bizzare idea that I should ask 'Father Christmas' for a Super Nintendo. A super what? Donkey who? As far as I was concerned, having my T-rex break the walls down on a compound, reek havok and eat people was never going to be surpassed by a gorilla collecting bananas on a tv!

But my dad was adamant, and since I knew he had some pritty serious connections to Father Christmas I trusted his judgement, and boy was I glad. Donkey Kong Country was my first ever game, and what a first game to have. I personally, still, think it's the single greatest platformer ever made.

So from now on, whenever my dad "Do you think a career in games is a good idea?" I can simply turn round an say "well I'd have been an paleontologists if it wern't for you!"