Sunday, 22 April 2012

Personal Review of the First Year: The End of the Beginning

So our first year of Game Art is coming to a close and the last week getting everything together for the hand in date has been full on! It’s sad to think that our first year is coming to an end; I’ve met some really awesome people and had a lot of fun on the course.

I’ve had a blast learning from others on the course and seeing their style of work. There are times when I feel I should be moving on to digital painting and colour as much as most others on the course. However I would be confused as to joining the fad of digital painting, or listening to the advice of my lecturer and focus on pencil drawing and mastering the fundamentals. I felt I should stick to the advice of the lecturer, especially since I’m not very confident with my art skills at all. So most of the year I had stuck with the traditional pencil as my companion, moving on to digital painting during the last few weeks.

Yes... you can laugh T_T
My plan originally was to practice digital painting in my spare time and during the summer holidays, however I found myself lacking in variety in my work compared to everyone else and really wanted to add more to it. It was really odd getting used to drawing onto a screen from traditional pencil and paints. It took me a little while to adjust. I remember the first time when I tried to digital landscape paint in colour; I burst out into laughter (as well as crying a little on the inside!) about how poor it was. It was almost like a little kid blobbed up something.

It's getting there... I think!
So instead of jumping straight into colour, I wanted to get more confident with grey scaling my digital work in thumbs; moving onto a colour in a few of them eventually. This really helped me as I was seeing improvement within every thumb I did. With my second attempt at a colour digital landscape, with the advice of my good friends Luc and James, I was able to learn a lot about digi painting from that one piece I made.

Baby Dalek!
3D work is another thing I found very interesting during the year. My first 3D model of a dalek turned out to be a 'baby dalek' as when I set up my reference plane (well, one of the second years that helped me out XD) was distorted! Even my lecturer laughed at its cuteness. Most of us were in the same boat where we were absolutely mind boggled when we first started out using the 3DS Max program. I was able to get to drips with the program much faster than I would have because we would often have a get together to do 3D work together and learn from each other as much as possible. I remember Sarah being able to pick up 3D very fast and was a big help in our friend group at the time. Each 3D project was challenging and but was very interesting as we all learnt new skills involving the project and we were all there for each other to climb over that we got stuck behind.
My first proper digipainting

Learning from friends on the course has been a very memorable and important part of my university life. Most projects have been really interesting and fun and I have definitely learned a lot from this year alone and am happy to see improvement in my art skills. Though my pencil work still has a lot of room for improvement, my next goal is to move onto digital painting. I really need to practice this summer and step up my game if I am to keep up with my friends.
Another thing I would need to practice is character designing and drawing vehicles.

Though it has been a very rocky start to the year, as well as a rocky end due to personal problems, that won’t stop me from trying my hardest to improve as an artist and carry on through the course to reach my dream of becoming a game artist within the industry.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Elements of Game Design part three: Character

Mitsurugi (Soul Blade)
When I think back to my favourite characters I think back to the time when I was a kid. Since I was brought up playing video games and not as much on cartoons and TV, it’s only natural that I would think to video game characters and not TV or Film characters. Playing on games such as Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Soul Blade and Zelda at a young age helped shape the character I was through school, high school and college. As I grew older, many more memorable game characters would in a way mould me into the person I am today.

I don't need to tell you who this is...
I also watched cartoons and films such as Batman. There are many others but I chose Batman as he is one of my most memorable characters as a child. He is a good example of character design in my personal opinion. He is cool, strong, clever, dark and a hero. One of the biggest reasons we are able to connect with him is because we all know his real identity in which he conceals even to his allies (with a few exceptions).

Characters in games are representatives of you and the inhabitants of the in game world. He/she/it would have to be likeable, interesting and cool to play as! But these days, enhanced visuals are not enough for the player to be fully immersed within the gaming world. Mainly, with the story of the game, most of the time the game character’s back story and personality will be fleshed out as the game progresses. 
Every detail of the character must be considered, from the way he moves and acts, to the way he speaks and reacts. 
Solid Snake

A good example of a character design would be Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. For me he is a character that I can believe in his world. The way he speaks with a gruff voice, the way thinks as a soldier and the way he smokes on stealth missions says a lot about him as a character already. He has a ton of backstory and history bridging from the older games that all link together. The stories often unveil more about his past and his connections to other characters, provoking the player’s interest in Solid Snake’s mysterious past events. Characters in the game all have a have a different view of Snake and react to him in different manners such as Meryl treating him as a war hero and Grey Fox treating him as a mortal enemy.

In a 3rd person or top down view, the character you play is your avatar and your connection to the game world. A character that is likeable keeps me interested in playing the game as I can really connect to that character’s personality and want to play their role within the game. In fighting games, character design is also very important, but there will be the majority that will choose characters on their ease of use and tier list. 
In first person shooters like Call of Duty, there isn’t anything that generally makes you connect with your character; it is just a shell that portrays you as a player on the battlefield. In the multiplayer however, I find that the way you as a character is defined to other players is you play style and load out choice.

Saints Row III - Indepth customisation
It seems that these days, customisation is getting big and a predetermined visual look of your character isn’t as important. For example, Saints Row III lets you customise you character completely from skin colour to voice and gender. Even with an extremely large amount of customisation choices, the backstory of your character is already determined within the beginning of the story at least. You get to customise your gangs and cars and even your taunts.

Character design in multiplayer games is all about the customisation these days. It’s popular among many gamers that they bring in their character into the single player.
I personally love customisation within game characters and would love to see it expanded upon in the future. 
However, I also love many characters in the past and even in recent games which have impacted my life and mannerisms in some way. I wouldn’t like to see original characters created by designers trashed in favour of pure customisation. But there really isn’t any worry for me about that stuff yet!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Elements of Game Design part two: Art Direction for Games

Games are being created in all sorts of interesting visual forms. From games such as Call of Duty 4 and its first person cinematic feel, to Marvel VS Capcom 3’s 3d Comic styled visual. However games weren’t made like that just because the document said so. I every game needs artists to work on the visual of the game, and every game needs someone to hold all the artists together in a collaborative effort. This is where the art director comes in

Call of Duty 4, A very brown and gritty game
Being an art director isn’t about being the best person at drawing or painting. An art director consists of much more. The Art director is more of a visionary and is responsible for pushing the visual direction of the game. From choosing the palette to affect the mood of the area, guiding artist to the amount of detail models should have to how many characters should populate the level and the type of terrain on the floor. The art director shapes the art design of the game by closely working with the other artists of the company.

Ultimate Marvel VS Capcom 3, a VERY vibrant game
An art lead is someone who helps the other artists technically and artistically. They guide the artists to create what the art director and game designer envisions. Lead artists would also manage the artists and would look to keeping the group working comfortably and efficiently.
An art director must be creative as well as being able to explain and show the kind visual feel and direction they want. By working closely with the art lead, they can ensure that they get exactly or close to the visual they want.

Many games of the present have a very high cinematic theme towards them. Particularly in games such as Call of Duty and Uncharted, the cinematic cut scenes make it seem almost like a movie. It may be with the use of professional actors used with motion capture software to give games very convincing movements and along with their voice acting that gives many games of today that same feel we get from a film. I also find that it comes to as no surprise when many games have employed or collaborated with professional film writers and directors.

Uncharted 3, A very cinematic game!
I was at the Eurogamer convention at the end of 2011 and I attended an Uncharted 3 Q&A as well as showing off the the game. They had the actor Nolan North, who voiced and did the motion capture for Drake and started to talk about how he worked and what he did, showing a video behind the scenes of his acting and voicing for the game. It was very interesting to see that they are hiring big time professionals and take it just as seriously as those in films.

Metal Gear Solid 4, a VERY cutscene heavy game!
When I think of a very cinematic game and cutscene heavy, I think of Metal Gear Solid 4. It comes to a point where the game, in my opinion had too many cutscenes and where gameply was a little dull. It was as if they were concentrating on giving the player a movie to watch. I find that although I enjoyed Metal Gear Solid 4, I felt like I was watching a movie with all the cutscenes. I remember the ending being extremely long, and I was bursting for the toilet and wasn't sure when it was going to end!

An art director within the film industry has a similar role as one within the gaming industry. An art director in films would attend meetings with other directors of the company. They would also assign tasks and roles to other members of their department and overlooking the creative decisions and budget.

An art director must be able to inspire and encourage his department as well as others to see his vision of the product. He must be able to see the bigger picture of the entire project and direct his department in the right direction and creating the right feel of the game.
If I am to ever become an art director I feel I must broaden my horizons with my creativity as well as work on my communication skills as I have a hard time getting across my thoughts and ideas to others.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Elements of Game Design part one: From Pong to Next Gen

As a gamer for most of my life, it comes to as no surprise that I have thought up many games that I wish that I could create. In my earlier days, I would often think about types of games based off of my favourite genres and would be nothing but a few doodles from my head.

What makes a game? A game is a set of rules that determines how the game will be played. Games back in the old days were still as much as any game of the present. Cinematics and music alone doesn’t make a game. Sure they help with immersing the player within the game world, but without it’s actually rule set and design, there is no game.

Pac Man
Comparing Pac Man and F.E.A.R, both completely different game genres and styles, they both have a set of rules which dictates the how the game is played.

A game designer is someone who would design the game’s rules before it is being produced.

A lead designer would be the one to ensure communication and overlook other designers. The lead designer is often the one to present the work outside of the designers and would also often be the world designer for the game.

Games mechanic designers are those who would balance out the games rules. They are also known as a system designer.

A writer would usually be hired as part time to narrate the game through just about everything such as the dialogue in the cut scene, tutorials and hints, etc. They often collaborate with the rest of the designers.

A game in the present day such as Halo 3 or Marvel VS Capcom 3 cannot be realistically made with only one person. It must have a team of designers, with someone to hold it all together for it to be created effectively.

Final Fantasy X. A very explorable game
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. A very linear game.
So do I think different game genres require different design principles? I think to a certain extent with certain genres such as and RPG and a First person shooter, the rules must be written in a different way such as the limitations of what one can do within the game and the choices they can make which can differ greatly to other kind of genres. I find that this can be applied to the same genres as well. But in the end it all still boils down into a set of rules that the game designer creates. Final Fantasu X is a game where you can 'level up' and explore many areas and can usually re explore thoes areas after you have visisted them. It gives you a chance the power you characters and find hidden treasures. In Fire Emblem, you also level up and find secrets. However in this game you are unable to revisit areas and do not have a second chance of finding secrets or explore once the stage is over. They both have a levelling up system and both are designed to be suited for their own game and works differently.

What I personally think is important when I play a game is to see how well executed the game is. There are often times when I read up on a game and it sounds brilliant, only to be disappointed with its execution.
Brink in my opinion was poorly executed
An example recently for me would be a game called Brink. Although I still loved the game (I’m very easily amused with games with very random reasons) I found that the balance of some of the gameplay modes and the design of some maps were very unfair and poorly designed. It really broke the flow of the game and killed a lot of the fun for me and many others.

In my next blog, I’ll be talking about the art directions for games and what being an art director entails. :)