Monday, 21 April 2008

Week 24 : A year in Game Art.....well, 7 months

I've got to say first of all that this is an ace course and wiped the floor with the others that I looked at before coming. But its not just the course that's great, It's the people too. Everyone is different, in a good way, and there's not an ounce of arrogance in sight, which is a rare thing when it comes to art college. I've been there, done that and hated the people who are up their own arses, so I've got to grant kudos to Mike for picking out not just the talented, but the unique and nice people. I think the people you work around are vital to your experiences and learning processes, and picking polite and helpful students must be a real talent.

I think that the structure is good, and provides and equal balance. I would certainly like to see more on digital painting, since I've come along way in them. The other day I compared one of my first paintings to one of my recent ones and I was shocked. In a good way of course.

Maybe looking more into marketing and franchises would boost our understanding of the industry as we know it, or looking at story telling and character building, but then maybe that's heading into game 'design' too much, I don't know. Maybe that's a good thing, broaden our horizons, but then again focusing might be a better idea.

I'm pretty much stumped for ideas of how else to improve the course, but if a light bulb does light up, I'll let it be known.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Week 22: GDC

OK, so I've had a look around at the sort of stuff that's going on at GDC, and I can safely say, Damn you Mike I want to go to! It looks like there's loads of interesting talks, but most of all because the weather doesn't suck to high hell over there.

Looking back on GDC 2006 I noticed that events took place in London, which is no more than a short train ride from where I'm stationed when not in Leicester. Looking closer on the events I saw there was an interesting title, 'Creating Emotion In Next-Gen Games' so I've decided to ramble on about that today. Don't worry, I won't get all soppy on you.

'An emotion is a mental and physiological state associated with a wide variety of feelings, thoughts, and behaviours.'

Now I'm not going to get all psychological on you (partly because I don't know enough about it, but also because it's not my particular brand of whisky), I'm just going to look at some of the key techniques used to 'move' you.

Generally people will connect with characters or NPCs, as people who play over the Internet are hardly Oscartm winners. They must make the player identify with the character, and in doing so induce the player into bonding with them.

Creating a history helps, telling you where they've come from and what they've been through. Any little detail that will breathe life into the NPC is vital, and will help them relate to the character, igniting players' emotions, making them hungry for more.

So a great deal of the emotion created is down to the script, storyline and characters, but how about graphics?

With graphics getting better by the day, developers are able to bring facial animations in that can give a heightened sense of realism, but then realism isn't always necessary. Final Fantasy VII stunned fans, and in some cases raised emotions, when Aeries died, and facial animations were non-existent in that game.

But when it comes down to it, there's nothing like a good plot twist, something unexpected that will move the player with the help of shock.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Week 21 : Where do I want to go, and how do I get there?

When I look back at this year, I think to myself 'wow I've come along way', not just in my work but in my lifestyle as well. Ive moved to a different part of the country, with different surroundings and a new subject. It feels like I'm gradually getting closer to that 'proper' job (since working in a pub isn't my idea of a career?

I think the thing that has changed the most in me is self directed study. All my life I've been at school working to timetables and restrictive curriculum's, where as now its about how much work I as an individual, put in myself.

Things that I've learnt over my six months (it feels longer) here, range from technical skills, such as using 3ds max, which has been a headache at times (and still is), to my artistic ability and observation skills. I feel that my self directed drawing work has really pushed me forward.

I have also discovered how much you can learn from working with other people. Everyday I will get a tip or a little trick from my class mates, and it's always a pleasure to return the favour. I'd say that a large amount of progression has been gained from working next to each other and simply observing work and techniques.

I find that looking back on my older work is always helpful and can be fun, just like going back and reading my previous blogs, it gives me an idea of what I was like and what I've learned.

So it's coming to the end of the year, and I'm really looking forward to the second year, not that the summer break doesn't go unwelcome. But the thing is I still want to do work over the summer, and I think that's the main thing that's changed, the fact that I want to get better and not just pass the course.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Week 19 - Life Changing or Career Building?

When I look around at a lot of games courses I tend to find that they're a bit detached from the art side of things. The other day I was browsing through a graduates online portfolio only to see a character that was badly drawn, poorly shaded and to be honest wasn't very original or exciting. In a paragraph explaining his he work he stated that his course didn't have much art-based work in it.

It concerned me because this guy probably wouldn't get a job with this portfolio. OK so maybe his 3D work was brilliant, but it's not like 2D and 3D work are completely detached.

Like Jolyon Webb said, it's easier to teach 3D programs than to teach how to draw. For this reason I think it's a good idea that for game art courses to be more 2D art based, and that's why I'm here.

I think it is essential that key skills in all areas are taught, but the point of an education is not just to qualify students for work, but to prepare them as well.

Another issue is one raised by David Braben at gamecity. He stated that most game courses are five years out of date and that they aren't teaching what they need at the moment.

"If a university can take over a year to introduce a new module to the degree, then how is it at all possible to keep up to date with an industry that has changed major technologies several times in the last 12 months and is only now just beginning to get to grips with the power of PS3 and X360?"

So how do you educate for an industry that is advancing so quickly? An Industry that has technology, which is constantly developing? Well unless we can download weekly updates from the companies directly into our brains, I'm clueless!

Friday, 11 April 2008

Week 20 - Creativity

I hope when I graduate from university that I would have gained new skill sets, that will allow me to qualify for a job in the games industry. But I also hope to come out with a new way of thinking of and looking at things. A question that I've heard so much is 'can you teach creativity', and I can't think of a good answer to that.

I suppose I think of myself as quite creative, I can generate ideas and think 'outside' the box (sorry), but in this type of work, would it be advantageous to be the most creative person in the world? This work has limits, for example, how high-poly something can be , and if you were to put a cap on how 'creative' you can be would it work. Or maybe being creative is not just how unique or brilliant you're idea is, but how much can you get out of those limits.

Some people say that Halo was a brilliant game, one that re-defined the genre. I don't think it was very creative though. The story was pretty much non-existent (unlike the novels written by Eric Nylund, which I recommend to everyone, even if you don't like the game), the levels were samey and weapons were nothing compared to Timesplitters. But it was a good (not excellent) game and sold by the bucket load.

So you don't NEED creativity to make a good, successful game. Of course there are always going to be those people who buy Fifa every year, and that's not a bad thing because that's the market. Loco-roco was a very creative game that used motion sensing and had an appealing graphical style (not to mention little coloured blobs that you had to wake up who then sang in Japanese, each one with its own unique voice! anyway...)

Maybe we should be using creativity to take the games industry forward instead of churning out WWE 2013. Maybe the games industry should be trying to overtake the film industry. With the growing amount of real actors you see in games these days maybe they are.

You may have noticed me being creative by doing week 20 before week 19, now that's thinking outside the box.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Week 18 - Game Technology - Sound for Games

Sound is one of those things that I think rarely gets the credit it deserves in games. You can often find that the best sound is that which you do not notice, because, it immerses you in the game experience, but without it the game would be dull. It is almost a sub-conscience thing.

Sound is a great tool for setting the mood or creating a feeling, and is something used to great advantage in the horror genre, which I have to say, I play for 5 minutes and then wuss out of. Sound is a huge part of the film industry, and I think, that more game developers should build on sound design to make it an even bigger part of games.

My noticeable favourite soundtracks include Final Fantasy VIIs ballads, which I think played a huge part since there was no voice acting, and the epic soundtrack of Shadow of the Colossus, where the enormous orchestra played to the scaling of the titanic creatures.

My favourite artist made soundtracks have to be the adrenaline pumping hard rock and drum and bass of Motorstorm, and the tunes pumped out in SSX 3 as you navigate your way down secluded mountainsides.

It's not just music that grabs my interest though. Sound effects are another big part in games. The weary and disturbing ambiance in Max Payne was a real mood setter, whilst the pure noise in Black left me hearing my heart pound throughout my body.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Week 17 - Game Technology - Game Engines

Game engines are the core software to a game, to put it simply, without them there would be no game. The software will crunch the code written by programmers, and construct the virtual world that you are playing in and everything in it.

There are many different types of engines, some created for specific tasks. For example the widely used Havok engine, used to simulate realistic physics and 'Speedtree', which was used to generate the realistic trees and vegetation in The Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion. These types of engines are know as middleware and are usually deigned be used in conjunction with other engines.

Many game developers will buy into an existing game engine to use on their game, which will save on time developing a new one and cut down on man power. A different approach will be to develop a new game engine or improve an existing one. This would enable developers to create the engine to suit the experience they want to make.

A good example of engines being used together in a next-gen game is in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. This game uses the Euphoria engine, used to generate realistic human responses with other humans and the game world, with the Havok physics engine and the DMM Engine, which regulates what objects are made from what substances and how they shatter and break accordingly. The game appears to push the boundaries of physics in gaming, and you get to be Darth Vaders apprentice, how cool is that!?