Thursday, 19 January 2012

My Review: Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is a game developed by ‘Team Ico’ responsible for ‘Ico’ on the PS2 and the upcoming PS3 title ‘The Last Guardian’. In a nutshell, the game is an action adventure where you ride around a large map on your awkwardly controlled horse and slaying giant stone like creatures, which you track down using your special light guiding sword.

Wander battling a colossi
There is no explanation to the protagonist’s background and the beginning of the game consists of a young man (the player) with another person covered with a blanket, riding on a horse towards a large tower connected by a very long and high bridge. He enters from near the top of the tower and makes his way to the bottom and places the girl on the altar. He is attacked by shadowy humanoid creatures but upon drawing his sword, a mysterious voice calls off the attack and asks the protagonist what he wants.
Wander and Agro
You play as a young man called ‘Wander’ who is trying to save his (presumably dead) friend by striking a deal with a god in the forbidden valley, in exchange for slaying 16 colossuses. His only companion being his trusty horse ‘Agro’. As the game progresses, you discover more about the events prior to the current story.

There were a few things that drew me towards the game. First it was the battles with the colossus. It was something different to me at the time, figuring out how to defeat a giant creature using your brain wits other than the hacking and slashing mindlessly at the target. Another thing was the lush environments and the vast open map to explore and immerse myself into.

I have to say that I was expecting a lot more action when I first started that game, but this isn’t what this game is about. Most of the action would be with the colossi. There are 16 colossi to battle throughout the entire game. Some may think this is a relatively short amount to for the entire game. In my first play through, most of the colossi took me about 40 minutes to an hour or so to vanquish and then there is the exploration side of the game. As you head towards where the colossi’s habitats, a short cut scene will kick in with some nice music, indicating that you’re headed in the right direction.

Wander is the pixel on the bottom left :p
When traversing the land, the game has no music and will only have the ambient sounds of nature and Agro’s galloping. When fully immersed into the game’s atmosphere, you are made as the player to feel very lonely in a wide, isolated and unpopulated world. It made me really appreciate having Agro around not only for the long distance travelling, but also for her companionship!

The game features a type of lighting rendering technique which the developers refer to as ‘Psuedo HDR (High Dynamic Range)’. Typically, the game will re adjust the lighting and brightness and have lights ‘overflow’ during the post processing into the surrounding areas according to where you are. It’s also referred to as the ‘Blooming Effect’.

For example, if you were to stand inside the temple and you look out into the plains of the forbidden land, the lighting outside would be very bright, almost completely white. It’s as if your eyes have not adjusted to the light outside. Gradually, the brightness will change to its proper setting, etc. The eye keeps changing…
The HDR technique is something that the PS3 and Xbox can handle but is not generally possible with the PS2, and so for the developers to pull this off, they were a head of their time back then.
There are a few problems in this game that many people have gripes with however, some being the clunkyness of the control, the glitchiness of the game mechanic (at times) and the awkward camera angles.

At times when you would want to perform a manoeuvre such as jumping from one ledge to another, one or all of these problems can really screw you up. Though it’s not game breaking, it can be very frustrating. The horse controls can take a lot of getting used to as it’s like the classic Resident Evil styled turning with a racing game’s ‘X’ button to ‘accelerate’.

Dusteh stuff
Moving onto the colossi, which I’m sure you all know, are the (only) enemies of the game. Each battle with a colossus is pretty much a puzzle itself, making use of the environment around you and utilising the clumsiness of the colossus. To defeat a colossus the player must use his sword in the light to reveal his weakpoints on his body. The player must then find a way to scale the colossus and stab into them. Most colossi generally have more than one weakpoint. As mentioned before, camera angles and the odd game mechanic can make the battle much more difficult than you thought it would be, and with the combination of the colossi creating a lot of dust clouds and flying dirt, can really rage the player. The designs of the colossi vary in size and seem to represent a type of animal, if not a few (not so much the humanoid ones though). The general look is that they’re usually covered in stone, or/and fur that looks very grassy; suitable for the style and theme of the game
As I slayed the colossi one by one, I personally feel really bad as I’m killing something that is sacred, especially when the music plays after defeating one. But it must be done in order to save your loved one.

Battling the colossi isn’t the only single thing to do as like most other games with exploration, have secrets to find such as hunting white tailed lizards to increase the grip meter. Those who are confident in defeating colossi can unlock special items such as different swords, arrow types, a parachute, etc.
The special items are unlocked through time attack modes, which is where the extreme gaming rage kicks in. It has no impact on teh story whatsoever and it there for the replayability of the game. Adding these elements can be good fun taking down a colossus a different way (and to watch Wander parachute off cliffs :p). Different difficulties yield different rewards and special items for Time attack mode but unfortunately, cannot have both item sets on a single file.

                                                 Cloth of Desperation (Parachute)

A HD remastered version of the game has been released alongside Team Ico’s earlier title Ico. Looking at the gameplay videos, the game looks much smoother, as you would expect. I’m usually not too fussed with remastered version but this is a game that I’ll most likely pick up as I’m interested to see just how much the updated visuals and smoother gameplay will impact the overall experience of this beautiful game :).
                                                             HD Comparison

Sunday, 8 January 2012

New Game Journalism

Back in the day of secondary school, my good friends would frequently bring in their copies of a new gaming magazine that they’re subscribed to. That stuff was the shit and it probably filled my tiny brain with more things than school did.

I have to say though, during those days I looked at the pictures and features more than the reviews and what people said about games. That was the thing back then though, I bought games and played games on what they looked like and how it sounded to me. I was then able to draw my own conclusion on games on how good they are. That’s how I find out if I liked a game or not.

I have heard many people saying that they won’t buy a game because “it got shit reviews”. I don’t understand why people put their trust so much into these people writing about their thoughts on games; strangers they (probably) have never met, and taking in their ‘opinions’ as truth and fact. Well, in my opinion, that’s horse shit. I’ve always found reading game reviews interesting, reading about people like, don’t like, what they think works and what they think don’t work, etc. There are times I agree and times I disagree. But I would never judge a game before I play it based on reading up what people say about a game. If this was the case I would have never played and loved games such as Devil May Cry 2 (yes I know I use DMC2 a lot), Dynasty Warriors, etc. Both are games that are commonly slated as being rubbish.

With game journalism, you’ll be reading and absorbing information through the views of the writer. But people still trust and buy games through the words of the game journalist. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s your thing, but personally, I’m wearier of game journalists being very biased towards game companies, fans of genres, franchises, very different tastes in games than me and many other factors. 
Who are they and why should I trust them?

Many times have I read up an article on a games review website like IGN or GameTrailers and they would completely miss out issues or under emphasise some large flaws in a game, whereas completely going overboard on the smaller issues of another game.
People may want to step back and consider who these game journalists really are, who pays their wages, are they connected to certain gaming companies or do they have a bias against a franchise or company.

Here is a game review that I almost completely disagree in and is a good example why I don’t buy games based on reviews:

The reviewer of the vid, Adam Sessler
The guy clearly dislikes this game, what with his nonstop slander at the game for over 3 minutes with the last 40-50 seconds saying how he still enjoyed the game and gave about 3 reasons as to why (though he still kind of nit-picks at one of the reasons..=\). The website seems to give equal amounts of pros and cons for some reason.
Many angry fans of the game wanted the reviewer fired for his review. This could also factor in on how very popular franchises are reviewed in case of feeling the wrath of potential viewers and fans…

Game is utter shit: 5/8 star rating!
Game reviews are often followed with a rating. I don’t see the point in this… I mean if you had someone listening to you anyways about all the gripes and goodness of a game, is it really necessary to rate it? Maybe it’s to give the game some sort of value to what it’s worth? A lot of the game ratings don’t even make sense. Many cases they would shoot down a game in almost every way and then give the game say a 6/10 when they just made it sound like the worst game in existence.

Nowadays, I buy games through various ways, such as watching gameplay videos on YouTube. This is because I have a chance to see the game in action. Even the ones with commentary, I will take in what they think about the game, but what they say won’t have any effect on me buying the game if the game looks fun to me.

Looks good to me, think I'll try it!
I’d say if you are to look up reviews, take it with a grain of salt keep and keep an open mind. Try games out and see what you think, just as you would with trying new kinds of food to you, etc. It could end up being freakin’ awesome.


Progression with the Pencil

The pencil

A basic, affordable and awesome drawing medium; however just like any other medium, can be hard to master.
It has been my main companion for the drawing projects since game art and has been great growing on this course with it. I have never been amazing with the pencil and was very self-conscious when we started out, often taking much longer on something that should take half the time that I did it in.

Throughout the first semester, I have learnt to not to be extremely precious about your work. Keeping the mistakes I made really helps me to understand where I went wrong and areas I need to improve. But as usual working more and more will just make you better and better!
I will talk about some of the hardships I've had with the pencil and the time I have had growing with it throughout the frist semester.


Learning single point perspective was a fun challenge and was great that I had met some awesome people to draw with. Though I had some difficulty to start off such as having the horizon line right and the vanishing point in the right place, I felt that I had learnt a lot form this project such as finding good compositions.
When I was uploading my work for the first time, I wasn't sure if we were able to darken lines with photoshop to make it easier to see; just incase it was considered cheating =\.

The challenges that I had in this project was the rendering. I found it extremely tough to render the water and trees. My week of frustration came from that than learning perspective lines.
There is something that bugs me in this picture though. If you haven't already noticed it (I'd be suprised!) is the house. I somehow didn't realise that I was drawing it at a slant. I drew it along the pole infront of the house and didn't realise that it wasn't part of the house. A dumb mistake from me.


The archway was when it got a bit confusing for me. I was really muddled with the perspective lines especially when the road and walls curve. I found it hard to get different compositions as the archway area wasn't paticularly big (I don't think). When I think back now though I could have done some wide angles rather than the standard 'looking down the path'. I was still unsure about the whole improving your drawings with photoshop so I left it just incase.

Though the project was much tougher than the canal, I still found the project enjoyable. I drew a few thumbnails from the same perspective and I saw minor improvements everytime.

With the final, I once again had trouble with the trees. Since the canal project I've been experimenting different ways to draw trees and found some ways that worked and some that didn't. However everytime I tried drawing trees in a way that worked for me the first time, it was very inconsistant and never worked the same way everytime. I figured there is no one way to draw trees...
Again I ended up slanting up the building slighty again. I now frequently look at my drawings from a distance to spot any obvious mistakes that would be easier to miss when working close.

City Centre

This project was tough as I was very self concious about working in public. I was for some reason embarassed especially when working on my own outside without other students around.

I really enjoyed this project as I felt I understood perspective lines better. The vanishing point drifting off the page was a little hard to adjust to though.

With my final, I wanted to push the tone a lot. I was quite rather proud of how it turned out. I left in the perspective lines to partly show my working out. It also makes the final look a little more interesting (IMO).

Vehicle Project

This was a project that I couldn't quite get to grips with. I found Jack's process of making cars really interesting but found it difficult to make work. I got there in the end but I will need to practice this much more. I really like seeing perspective lines in these sort of drawings but I couldn't get the proportions of the car as accurate as I wanted.

The final turned out better than I hoped with how it was going. The rear wheel looks too small to me. Infact, I think the whole car looks a little squashed at the back. I remember the lighting being very awkward and didn't look right when I was shading it.

The Museum

This project I found myself improving on shading a lot. It was also a nice break to back off with the perspective lines. I think I ended up dwarfing all my main pencils on this project. This project definately has the award for the widest range of graded pencils used!

With the final, I started the perspective a little off so I decided to add in the background slightly. I didn't work much into it at all as to not take the focus away from the dino bones. When I look at it though the composition is actually not that bad. The top left of the picture really bugs me though, I should've rubbed it out as that mistake is so obvious that it's not really needed to remind me of something like that but eh =\

Bradgate Park

The park was a really nice place to visit. The only shame was thats it was bloody cold, extremely misty and wet on the first day (my socks were soaked the entire day!). When we were actually able to see the landscape though it was really nice to draw. Tiring than most projects as we usually walked long distances and in uneven terrain, it was nice and quiet. I took the opportunity to work on drawing some trees as I know that they're not my strong points.
However another problem would come up which was similar. I would find it hard to draw grass... I tackled this just by trying out a few mark making techniques but its something I need to delve into a lot more.

I reallly liked the composition of the final. The way the water flows towards the viewer makes it look nice. I really enjoyed this piece. I didn't want to put too much on it incase it took the focus away from the composition and was too heavy with detail.

Space Centre

The centre was a nice trip out. Had many facinating things that was rather distracting but was not nearly as distracting with school kids running up ad down screaming into your ears. It wasn't as bad once you get your head stuck down and settled into some art, but some kids came up to me and asked me millions of questions and random shit -_-;.
Nonetheless, the things at the centre were interesting and I decided to jump into some other medium. I used marker pens, a brush pen (that slightly exploded when I first opened it) and watercolours.
I really liked the space suits as it also gave me a chance to slightly work on the human shape; something we haven't really looked at yet in our projects.

The final was done with the trusty pencil as I felt my pencil skills are still not as sharp as it should be.
The reason I chose this for my final was solely based on the angle. It was difficult and what made it much more difficult was the shading to try and show a shiny surface as well as looking into the cieling and getting a stiff neck. Again, I didn't want the main focus lost on the background so I didn't focus as much on the cieling as it's just many things repeated over and over again.

Overall, looking back at my work during semester one I feel I have made a lot of improvements, I have a better understanding of perspective, composition, shading has improved and overall just much more comfortable drawing than when I first started out. Learning from your mistakes and being reminded of them is something that really helped me out. I know I need to work at a much faster pace. I have tackled this by doing some speed thumbs and drawings in my own time. A website I find useful is I still struggle keeping up at times but hey, I'll just keep practicing it 'til I ace it. :p