Monday, 31 December 2012

Game Engines


So all those pretty games we play are all developed within game engines, they bring together all the elements of a game such as art assets, animation, AI, GUI, sound, networking and programming and they make the final product you play. They’re pretty cool things.

 But…

Game engines are Marmite.

I think no one will deny the fuzzy warm feeling of accomplishment you get when you get your model running in engine, and you know that’s exactly how it’ll look in a game. And then having the ability to run around you model and shoot at it is great. Love it.


Bliss

But to get to that point is like climbing a mountain in a wheelchair. The interface of these engines is so confusing, loaded with icons and words left, right and centre. After importing your model its then a game of problem solving trying to figure out why this and that doesn’t work and why you’re getting error messages nonstop,  nothing ever runs smoothly. Hate it.

There are many game engines on the market to pick from, from hobbyist, to indie, to professional. But I’m going to focus on the three main engines on the market (UDK, Cryengine and Unity) and list the pros and cons of each.

UDK



The biggest player out of the three, also been round the longest.

Games using UDK : Gears of war, Mass effect, XCOM, Borderlands, Medal  of honour, Dishonored.

Costs : Free for non-commercial license. $99 upfront then 25% in royalties after the first $5000 for commercial license

Pros:
  • Large developer community and documentation – easier to solve any issues you run into.
  • Very versatile  shaders – ability to create any sort of art style you want, from cell shaded (borderlands) to photo realistic (Medal of honor)
  •  Work on a variety of platforms – Pcs, consoles and iOS.
  •  Monthly updates – new features are being added all the time to stay ahead of the competition
  •  Low cost license fees make it ideal for indie companies

Cons:
  •  Confusing interface
  •  Before playing your level you have to build paths, lighting, AI etc. Can take a very long time.
  •  Poor lighting systems – only allows 4 dynamic lights (Better for indoor scenes)




Cryengine



The new kid on the block, but packs a punch.

Games using Cryengine:  Crysis, Mechwarrior, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2

Costs : Free for non-commercial license. Contact Crytek for upfront cost then 20% in royalties for commercial license.

Pros:

  • WYSIWYG editor – ability to see the final results of your assets in the viewport in realtime, no  need to build paths/lighting. Quicker Workflow.
  •  Better lighting systems - a lights are dynamic (Better for outdoor scenes)


Cons:
  •        Limited to PCs and Consoles
  •        Small community and documentation
  •        Editor can run slow due to realtime viewport.
  •       Need to be connected to the internet to run


Unity



Not eveyones first choice, but is worth taking a look.

Games using Unity: Temple Run, Castle Story, Battlestar Galactica Online

Costs: Basic version is free. Pro version is $1,500 (plus any additional add-ons).

Pros:
  •       Largest developer community and documentation out of the three – any issues can be answered
  •      Works on many platforms – PCs, Consoles, iOS, Andriod and Web browsers
  •       No royalties for any commercial release


Cons:
  •      Additional costs if you need more advanced features or need to develop for mobile platforms
  •           Lighting/rendering not as advance as UDK/Cryengine

     Refrences:




Saturday, 22 December 2012

Level Design


The first time I heard of the job title ‘level  designer’ my first thought of their role was to make pretty levels pretty, and thought to myself ‘Hell yeah that seems easy! I wanna do that when im older’. But after progressing with this course and game art in general I can say I massively misunderstood their role. Their job is basically make the level playable, interesting, support gameplay elements AND make it all look pretty….seems like a challenging job, but interesting.

Level designers go through several stages to reach the final goal, just like any other artist. Reading through an interview with a level designer (http://level-design.org/?page_id=917) ive put together a short typical workflow:

-          Idea generation – From the brief of the mission/objective you generate ideas that the player can encounter (enemy engagements, puzzles, checkpoints, item placement etc.).

-          Get an idea of player progression throughout the level – piece all the above encounters  in a more fleshed out way. Get an idea of how, when and where the player will encounter these within the level.

-          Whiteboxing – create a very basic level mainly with 3d primitives to get an idea how the level works with the implemented gameplay elements.

-          Playtest – Get players feedback on what works and what doesn’t, make any amends.

-          Polish – After everything is set in stone it’s time to make things pretty. Turns those ugly whitebox models into fully fledge 3d porn.

A good level designer will design the level in such a way that the player always knows where he can and cannot go within the level, and to also make sure they watch important events unravel in game.

This can be produced in several different ways, some are cleverly done, others not so much. Say for example the player needs to go down a certain path to continue the mission, the level designer  could show trees falling over, blocking the other paths so the player only has one option, or something with a colour that stands out from the rest of the scene near the path that can provoke the player to take a gander. Even though these ideas are a tad unoriginal it is still better than a giant red arrow showing where the player has to go (which ive seen in way too many games) this way also breaks immersion for the player.

Nothing says realism like a giant red arrow


They can also use similar techniques to make sure the player sees important set pieces. Like in FEAR, the player has to go down a ladder to continue on, and while doing so the player gets a quick glimpse of Alma, the scary ghost girl which the player never expects. This was brilliantly done and scared the hell out of me when I first played it (and second, third and fourth time).


Birds are effectively used a lot in games to draw the players eye to a certain point within the environment.

Birds fly off to get the attention of the player to introduce a new enemy


Some of the most memorable games I’ve played always played on human emotions and fears (works especially well in horror games). For instants I’m not the greatest fan of tight spaces, but games like FEAR and Amnesia thrive on your fear of this and puts the player in dark narrow corridors making the player feel trapped and vulnerable, making those scary moment even more scarier. Good games.

No way out


Good level designers also have an attention to detail making their levels interesting to look at, as games are a visual medium, so its nice to have something nice and pretty to look at and appreciate while you complete your tasks. Even people with no art interest can still appreciate all the little details in the environment.  

Replay ability is important in levels and games in general too. Designing levels in a certain way where the player can tackle a problem in several methods will mean the player will go back to try something different on the second/third play through. All this makes the game seem a lot longer than it actually is. Although sometimes level designs get lazy : I remember back in the day when racing games use to make the player race round the track in the other direction, which ‘doubles’ the amount of tracks the game has. Then there’s procedural generated levels, don’t get me started on these…. ‘An infinite amount of levels’, yeah maybe so, but it’s an infinite amount of boring ass levels… 

Level design, Serious business.

Interesting links:



Thursday, 13 December 2012

Composition


Composition is just a fancy word for how elements are arrange within a scene. Sound simple? Yes it does. But putting it in practice is a different story.

Now on the surface this might not sound that important when creating a picture/painting, and you might hastily  think that super awesome rendering skills with a pencil is something way more important than this silly “composition”. But after seeing a wide range of the good, the bad and the ugly of a good few pictures I can say composition is very important.

Good composition keeps the viewers attention, and surely that’s what the artist wants. They want all their years of hard work to master their abilities and art to be appreciated. Or they just want them to buy it, yeah maybes it’s that - the  more they look at it , generally the more they like it, so they’re more likely to buy it. Money makes the world go round and all…

Composition can be put into several categories/rules, these are :

Line
Shape
Colour
Texture
Form
Value
Space

These rules are not something you can ‘just get’ and apply awesomeness to all your paintings. It takes time to learn them, understand them, and apply them correctly. Analysing paintings from the masters to see what they did and why will help you progress at a quicker pace. And as a side benefit you’ll also start to appreciate art more too.  For instance I’ve seen a few paintings I liked when I was younger, like “Composition with Red Blue Yellow”, and some I just thought “Really? That’s art?!” aka the works of Piet Mondrian . But I never knew why, but now that I understand the techniques, like the golden rectangle, I can see the hard work and thought process behind these paintings, making me appreciate them more.

An hour lecture changed my opinion of this from WTF?! to Woah



A bit of researching of good vs. bad composition threw up some interesting reads. A good link I found was here http://digital-lighting.150m.com/ch07lev1sec3.html  (It has other pages which are worth a read, but the link deals with just composition) It goes through what makes a particular image bad, and how changing something very minor has a major impact, compositionally. Another golden link http://sevencamels.blogspot.co.uk/2006/03/10-minute-art-school-composition-101.html

 After a bit of more of an understanding of composition from research and a lecture I tried to put some of these techniques into my latest digital paint of Bradgate. The painting is finished, but at a later date when I have time I would like to revisit it.




I’ve listed the points in the painting below on the compositional techniques ive put and noticed in the painting:

A – There are a series of swooping lines which guide the users eye to the vanishing point, such as the brick walls and the line of trees with fencing.

B – Gives the viewer a sense of depth, trees were not this uniform in real life, but to get a better sense of depth I used artistic license to arrange these trees more uniformly.

C - I’ve made a tonal gradient from dark in the bottom right to light in the top left

D - There are different focal points across the image, such as the stone bridge in the bottom left and the tress to the right, disappearing into the vanishing point. All of these points keeps the viewers eyes wondering around the image (not aimlessly though) making it interesting.

When selecting what picture I wanted to paint I wanted my gut instinct/artistic eye make the judgement of which one had the best composition. It’s hard to explain, but when looking at pictures/paintings with bad composition it feels like your eyes are straining, I guess this is your brain trying to recognise patterns within the picture but cant. On the flip side you get a fuzzy feeling when you look at something nice. So when I get that feeling, I go for it. That is why I selected the above painting rather than the other 200 photos I took at Bradgate.

As I get further and further into this course and learn more about it I will be able create/arrange images to really sell my artwork more than at the moment.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Work Plan

I kept my promise, although a bit later than expected (better late than never comes to mind).

So in one of my latest blog posts i said i feel like i'm slightly lagging behind with work. So i decided to make a plan.

This plan gives me enough time to focus on my projects (3D, VD and critical studies), as well as a bit for personal development. I've made Friday a buffer day as i always find i need more time for work, so ill dedicate that do to catch up on any outstanding work. But if by some miracle i don't need to do any work on Friday than ill use it as a rest/personal development day. Buts its not all work and no play, I've left my weekends free, as this is usually when i visit my girlfriend. I see my weekends as a reward - work hard throughout the week and i get to see my girlfriend.

Anyway, here's the plan, crudely put together, but it works:




Ill keep you guys posted on how well its working. 

Thought process of a professional artist


After reading an article on the process of creating a concept, and then discussing it with my fellow peers I have come up with 5 rules of an ideal thought process when creating art.

I have prioritised these from most important to least (but is still important in the grand scheme of things)

  •        The 5 p’s

That’s proper planning prevents poor performance.

This is one of only a few sayings I actually like and try (especially lately) try to live too. The whole idea of planning is to set yourself targets and deadlines  so you achieve you end goal as efficiently as possible.
If this crucial stage isn't done you spend the first few days of your project doing nothing as you think ‘ah 4 weeks is ages, I can easily so it in 2, so I’ll leave it a few days then start’. Then you start and notice the project is a lot bigger/time consuming then you first thought, and you run into problems you never saw happening but they always crop up, so now something which you wanted done in 1 will now take 2 days, which pushes the whole project  back. And if you have a non-negotiable deadline you’re going to start taking shortcuts and your work will suffer for it.

From the little experience I already have I have notice this always happens to me. So now when I plan I make buffer days to combat this.

Planning is a major skill in anything anyone does, without it, the world would be a mess. All the following points can be loosely based in the planning stage. That is why its number 1 for me.

This poster should be in every workplace


  •        References

As fantastic and mysterious as the brain is, it can only think up so much, you’re gonna need references to help you out.

Actually scrap that, don’t do anything without reference. Reference is key! No matter how much you think you might know your brain doesn't exactly know how the folds on a silk cloth is going to deform while its covering a body, or how high polished metal reflects the environment.

This is why we gather references. Also don’t use your lack of references as an excuse because you’re creating something non-realistic i.e. anime.  Even that still follows basic proportion, form and confirms to physics.

Realistic or not, you need reference. Be it from taking pictures yourself, setting up lighting rigs or draping clothes over objects, heck Google images is better than nothing.  

  •        Rip yourself a new one

People need to learn to be more self-critical and not get emotionally attached to their work. If they’re too attached to their work all they’ll do is look passed all the flaws in what they've produced, thus not really learning much from it. You need to stand back at the end of your project and analysis everything about it – What could have I done better? Why didn't I spend more time on that? That looks wrong, but why?
Being critical on other person or your own work will help improve your artistic eye.

Hmmmm don't be too harsh on yourself or other though


  •        Gimme a brief!

A Brief will set out a line of objectives or goals to do by a certain time.

Without briefs we would be pretty lost in what to create , or what constraints we have to work too. And to a certain extent it would make the whole project very difficult to plan.

If no brief  existed between you and your client it will make things very difficult. If they don’t write a brief but just give you a general idea of what they want then you’d go off creating what you want to an extent, which might not be exactly what the client wants, so you then have to rework it. So everything you did before was wasted time, and as we all know (especially in this industry) time is money. So you need that brief.
Even if it’s just a personal  project, write a brief for yourself.

  •        Work it at the thumbnails/keep it simple

As easy as it is to jump into Max/Photoshop to create your idea you must fight your lust to do that and start of by creating quick sketches/ideas, aka thumbnails. This is so you can experiment with designs in a very quick way. You’ll find that very rarely your first idea will look good, or even work, you need to flesh out these ideas. There’s a saying: If it doesn't work at postage stamp size, then it won’t work at any size. This is very true, you can tell when something  just works, and its better to the reach that stage with only ~30 minutes of work, rather than 30 hours.

Right, I think I’m done here.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Things aren’t quite going to plan


So since my last blog update I said I was hoping to do work pretty much all the time so I can develop my skills faster. Well I have been keeping to it more or less things aren't  going as well as expected, here’s the problem – I seem to be lagging behind with work already, which is an awful start to this year. And it’s not to do with not putting the effort in.

 As  proof I've not been procrastinating (well not proof, but I guess you’ll have to take my word for it) I just got up, showered, had breakfast and I’m typing this before I go off to my morning lecture in 20 minutes, I would usually use this time to browse something stupid on the interwebs or something. But that’s the old me, this is the new me.

 I think one of the main culprits of this ‘lack of work’ is that I’m starting to try out different techniques for digital painting -  researching it then putting it into practice, which takes time. I could never get to grips with it last year so I’m determined to this year, and to also find my painting style. Maybe this is the lull I have to work through before I see the benefits of the work to pay off. I just have to make sure I don’t loss my momentum and get demotivated, which could happen easily.

I think I might have deluded myself :/. I’m telling myself I’m keeping to a plan, but actually I’m not, I’ll work for 10 minutes then procrastinate for 15. The work plan I have is just in my head not on paper, so maybe I don’t feel it’s real, so I don’t follow it? I don’t know. But what I’m  going to do is knock up a plan on paper in a couple of days. Hopefully because its real I’ll keep to it….well that’s the idea.

Expect an update with a plan in the next few days, until then I got some work to do.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Attitude change for year 2, and for life.


So I've had a whole 5 months of summer to change my attitude towards work, relax and get my motivation back. Even though its my first week back i'm buzzing, I just want to do work, and do it well. Just scraping through into the second year has really put everything into perspective, and how lucky I am. I'm not wasting this opportunity.

As I type this I just got back from a lecture, the first thing I did when I got back home was grab a drink and fire up Microsoft Word and start brain farting/ babbling everywhere, and you are reading the results of it. Go back 365 days ago, as soon as I was given a task, like this one, which the deadline is week away, I would start it the night before it was to be handed in, frantically typing whatever comes to my mind just to get something down, just to say 'i've done it' which results in pretty poor quality work.

Even though it's early days so far with all my projects/work I have been set I have started on the day it has been giving. Usually with the first day planning how and when I’m going to do certain bits of it, setting myself personal deadlines. So far its working well, I just need to stick at it for the rest of the year. This is going to be a hard habit to break, I've never been that good/caring when it comes to planning but I know it is a habit I have to break, no question.

One of my changes I want to make this year is to make better use of my time, going back home is around an 8 hour round trip, that’s 8 hours I could be doing something productive instead of staring out the window on the train. I plan to use this time to read drawing/art related books. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Figure-Drawing-All-its-Worth/dp/0857680986 – i'm going to start here. Even the little things are going to make a difference, such as I plan to have a small sketchbook in the kitchen, so while I’m waiting for my food to cook I can doodle in the sketchbook. It’ll be just a quick 5-10 minute sketch but over the academic year that’ll add up to 25 hours (yes I did the maths....) that’s 2.5 credits right there! I spend a long time speaking to my girlfriend everyday on the phone, so i'm using this time to doodle/ do some drawings, although i am finding that she's getting mad at me for not listening :/. Its little things like this which will get me a decent job after I graduate.

I've also had the summer to change my mindset, I wasted too much time last year playing games and watching stuff on tv, while this is not a bad thing as these mediums can be another source of inspiration, the quantity I watched/played ate into work time too often. This will really be put to the test this month and next as many games I have been waiting for come out. Ill keep you posting about my progress.

To symbolise and motivate me to keep me on this new path I have ordered this poster:

This now hangs proudly on my wall above my computer


Thanks for reading!


Friday, 4 May 2012

End of year 1. Done.


Whhhhooooooooosssshhhhh!

That’s the sound of the first year going by, too quick for my liking. It really feels like it was just last month I was down at the canal sketching some terrible drawings, when in fact it was 7 months ago.

This year has gone so quickly, I feel like I haven’t really done anything, but then I look through all 3 of my sketchbooks and all my 3D work on my pc and realise i've done a lot, a ton, a stupid amount of work. But I know this isn’t enough, and if I carry on like this I know that ill probably see no future in the games industry as an artist. We was warned very early on by the tutors that as a group and an individual i wasn’t producing enough work, this was before the Christmas break. For a lot of people this “arse kicking” sunk in and they did something about it. While for me it didn’t sink in enough and I didn’t pick up the quantity of work I was doing that much. Only around 8 weeks ago did it hit me, and it hit me bloody hard, ive been given such an opportunity to do something with my life, by getting a job in something I love doing, and ive nearly (but hopefully not) ruined it. I was warned several times by the tutors but didnt really take any notice of it.... I wish I did. Because if I did, I wouldn’t be feeling like crap with the massive worry in my head that I might not get into the second year.

If any future first years are reading this I want you to take bit of advice from me so you wont end up in the crap situation I’m in - work hard, push yourself and listen to your tutors, give 3 years of hard work of your life and you’ll be sorted for the rest of it. 3 years is nothing. NOTHING.

Although I haven’t worked as hard as I would’ve liked, I feel like a have progress massively with drawing. Prior to this course ive never had any formal art education, the only drawing I used to do was the few odd doodles while on the phone, ive never put any serious amount of hours in any drawings. But because of this course and how its pushed me to do something I never really liked doing, I'm beginning to understand the fundamentals of what makes a drawing correct/good, and because of this I’m starting to enjoy drawing because I can (to a degree) get what’s in my head down on paper. Over the summer Im going to build on this so I can begin the second year with a stronger drawing ability.

Over Easter I redid several of my first drawings before the final submission, and its clear I have progressed at drawing, which does lifts up my spirits a tad, but I know there is still some ways to go. Below is the new and old drawing of the canal final, hopefully you can tell which one is the new one:




I came into the 3D side strong at the beginning of this course and I’m leaving even stronger. Even though I’ve been self teaching myself 3d for a good few years I have missed out some basic work flow techniques. But this course has taught me these fundamentals, and now I feel even more confident in my 3D ability.


Right, that’s enough of me talking about my downfalls, time to talk about the courses downfalls:


Visual Design.
  • More teaching on drawing techniques – I know this course is heavily focused on self study but sometimes I didn’t know where to go to find out the fundamentals of drawing. I've been pointed to the K drive with 100's of books on drawing, but where do I start, I felt out of my depth at times.
  • More feedback - I understand there is a lot of us, and one on one feedback is for all of us in pretty much impossible, but sometimes I don’t know if i'm going in the right direction. I was given an inadequate in my first assessment with no feedback to really work on, so I just kept on plodding along doing what I thought was right, which hasn’t worked out well for me. So maybe a bit more detailed feedback for the assessments would be doable instead of consent feedback for all students.

Game Production

  • Video tutorials – Although the written tutorials are great sometimes they can be hard to follow especially for people who are 100% new to the software. Learning from video tutorials I find much easier, and it should be easier to produce than written tutorials for heather too
  • Competitions – Even though I didn’t win I really enjoyed the texturing competition. Competitions and rivalry always pushes me to produce higher quality work. Maybe we could have a gallery of the top 3 pieces per project.

Critical Studies

  • More focus on the theory of games art – I found the first few lessons relatively boring and didn’t really see much of a connection with what was being taught and the course. But the last few lessons made much more sense to me. I enjoyed listening to what made characters/levels more appealing, and the point of art direction, because of these lectures I started to apply what was taught to my 3d/visual design work. Maybe these types of lectures pick up in year 2, but I wanted to learn more of it in the first year.

Well that’s me done for year 1. But I cant rest, gotta push myself over the summer so I can come into year 2 guns blazing. Maybe something like this:


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Project Fun - Part 4

So after a bit of hard work I think im finally finished with this project.

Being honest with my work I'm not 100% happy with it, the image in my head looks nowhere near what I wanted, and comparing my final piece with others doing the same project doesn’t make me feel any better (I guess all aspiring artist have this probably of never feeling good enough. I'm one of the many). I did have fun with this project though, trying to get the viewer asking questions and connecting with the image. Hopefully that comes across.

The picture does get across some of the rules I made, well I think so anyway. But I still feel like somethings are lacking from the image which could reflect the rules better. I would’ve like to get more little objects on the floor such as hammers, nails and more household items to suggest the house was ransacked quickly and the occupants where taken by surprise. What I do like from the image is the strong contrast from the broken glass door and the rest of the room. I see this image as a starting point of the game, where the player can explore the room/house and might feel partly claustrophobic and open to attack and will start to ask question about what is happening from the objects/clues around the house. These could be answered when the player exits the house from the only way possible, the bright light from the broken sliding door. 


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Project Fun - Part 3

Well after deciding i really liked the feel of the bottom right of my thumbnail digi sketches from my last blog entry i wanted to take it further. I felt the overall feel of the picture tells a simple but powerful story of a newly formed family with everything to look forward to but something stops them in their tracks. Hopefully the viewer will ask questions of what happen to them, 'What?' 'Did the leave? 'Why?' 'Where they attacked?' etc.

I got this feeling from the thumbnail, but felt the composition was very boring to look at. So as i moved onto the final piece i change the perspective to give a better composition, making it more appealing to look at.

Below is the current WIP of the final piece, later on I'm looking to add more details to tell a story of what happend and then ill be looking to fill it with colour :

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Project Fun - Part 2

So after setting out the rules of how to design an environment well I can move onto the interesting part. I've been given the creative freedom to create an environment of my choice for a console with any genre I’d like to do.

Ive had a recent stint of watching twisted films, which fall under the genre 'Horror Slashers' (Think of the Saw series, that gives you an idea of what it's about). Something about people being put into a life and death situation or facing their fears and seeing how people react and what they’re willing to do to survive really fascinates me. Fears a powerful emotion which I don’t see or feel in many games. Some games do pull it off successfully though, STALKER and Silent Hill are a few to name. These games happen to be some of my favourite games I've played in recent years, that feeling of being scared is something which is something which will stick with me for a long time. And I think that's down to that feeling I had playing those games.

Now this is an emotion id like to get across in this project, along with that feeling of being helpless and loneliness. So I think the genre I'm looking to do will be survival horror. So to kick start things I pulled a few images from the Chernobyl accident which tell so much of what happened with just a few images, that’s the storytelling rule hit spot on. You also get the idea of feeling of loneliness, that you are just one small normal person in the big bad world, not a mega bad ass Rambo who can save the world (its clich├ęd and unrealistic). The only thing you can do is survive. I feel players will have more of an emotional connection with someone who is just an average Joe in a difficult situation. Then some mindless super hero. The Silent Hill series pulled this off so well.




Next up was to quickly concept some environments to get some basic ideas down, so I can take these ideas further later on. I produce 4 environments which felt like the starting point of a game, where the character would wake up and the player would straight away ask questions like : What happened? How did I get here? What will happen/what will I see if I take this path? I wanted to half answer these questions by having a few props dotted around the room, but ultimately keep the player partly in the dark and let them start to create the story themselves.

I also wanted to use a lot of contrast in the environments, with bright lights and dark areas, to help guide the player to the next area but to also to see the light areas as 'safe zones', playing on the physiological trait colours have.



That’s it for now, next time Ill have a more fleshed out concept.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Start of “Project Fun”

So I’m task to create a scene/environment of my choice, finally I can do something I want to do! I can let my imagination run wild. But before I jump into painting mental ideas, I should do a bit of research. I've read some interesting articles on environment design I came up with these rules:


- Direct the player with the environment/props


Environment layout and props help guide the player to the next section. Be it something blocking the players path so they have to try another one. Or a prop which catches the players eye so they go towards it.


- Use lighting to you’re advantage

Lighting/colours is a great way to sell the mood. If you’re trying to show the a dark/evil mood then there should be more cool colours. Lighting is also a great way to guide the player to certain area, like a bright light at the then end of the tunnel. All colours have physiological traits linked to them which is another way to imply things to the player. Red warns them of something bad.



- Storytelling through the environment

The environment is a great way to tell a story. Left for Dead's safe rooms had writing on the wall which really gave you an idea of what happen in the safe room before you arrived and what sort of people passed through there. It also provided a down time with some comic relief before tense action starts again. Which provides good pacing to the game.





- Let the players imagination do the hard work


Let the players imagination do the work at times, for example instead of having a dairy with what happened to a person in a torture room, have that room filled with props ( power tools, blood stains, scratch marks etc.) all of these props imply what happen in the room, and leaves it to the player to create their own image of what happened making it more personal to them, which I find makes for a stronger emotional connection.

- Pick a style and stick with it

Keep the style uniform across the whole game. If you want to cartoony and exaggerated look, then apply it to everything, not just one aspect. Brink failed to do this, it had exaggerated character models which looked great, but had photorealistic textures applied to it, two very different styles conflicted. If its done correctly, it makes for a more believable universe and immerses the player more.


2 Different styles clashing


- Attention to detail


I found many little things really add to the environment, they might be minor by they do add all up. Interactivity is one of these. This adds to the realism of the game, making many objects of the players environment interactive will immerse them a lot more. I find nothing more immersion breaking than not being able to open a door to check in the room. Little touches also really helps with immersion but I find many developers skip this as they think no one will notice, well, we do. These could be things such as flies hovering over rubbish.




Time to start painting crazy things......

Friday, 23 March 2012

Tax breaks finally hitting the UK games industry

So after years of struggling to get tax breaks for the games industry in this country it looks like it's finally here (or at least, round the corner). George Osborne only lightly touched on the subject on Wednesdays big budget announcement, but did commit to provide tax credits for the video games, animation and high-end television industries. How much and when is not known as of yet, but the rumour mill has already started to churn them out and people are making educated guesses. 

George Osborne may have single handedly saved the games industry 


TIGA, an association representing the games industry produced a report in February (which you can buy/look into here) explaining how tax breaks will positively effect the games industry and set out clear guidelines on how the tax break system should work if one was put into place. Here's a snippet of it : 20% tax relief on production costs for games costing more than £3m to produce and 25% on games costing between £50,000 and £3m. But this will based on UK expenditure, using British staff.


Its about time the UK is getting these tax breaks. The UK (in my eyes) has one of the best creative industries in the world, and that's not just for games. So its sad to hear of all these studio closures with all the talented people losing their jobs because the government wont recognise the games industry as a serious player in the entertainment industry which produces A LOT of money (it currently makes more money then the film industry). Because of this we lose our talented people to other countries which do recognise the importance of the games industry and provide tax breaks (such as Canada). This means business (and job opportunities) is booming, something which is currently lacking in the UK. 

Hopefully by the time these tax breaks hit and start to take effect ill be ready to graduate and land my first job.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

What makes a good character

Nearly every game to hit the market is filled with characters, be it the character you will be playing or someone you could be interacting with. So because of this, characters play one of the most important roles in videos games. As people we can relate emotionally more to other people (even if they’re not real, like those in a game or film) than anything else in a game.

Characterisation is something which can really make or break the character. So its important that the character artist can perfect it to make their character the best it can possible be. Characterisation can be how the characters sounds, their attitude, how they walk/move, all of these things build up a believable and interesting character.

Brilliant pose : He's cautious but ready to fight (Right side pose)


Characterisation is something which really sells the character, not how many triangles it has, what type or how many texture maps its using. This is why you can see so many low spec characters which are pleasing to the eye. It is something which can be artistically judge, so all good artist can make decent characters without the use of all the latest and greatest 3d techniques. I have come across work which is technically good (good topology, sharp textures, good use of UV space etc..) but not that artistically good, which in the end makes a pretty boring character. I cant help but think I fall into this category - I’ve used 3d software for a few years and know the next gen workflow well, but I’ve had no form of art education prior to this course and I think that effected the overall quality of my previous work. And now that I am developing my artistic eye and judgement I can see areas I can critique with my older models, and see ways of making better ones in the future. This is something which I have only started to build on throughout this course, so its something I must work hard to improve on over the next 2 years of this course as I aspire to be a character artist.

Brilliant pose, character and art style


Some of the best characters I have come across in video games which give of the most personality is Team Fortress 2. These characters are all very well done stereotypes, their design/characterisation compliments their personality/ role in the game perfectly (for example you have the small skinny cocky American who plays the scout, or the slightly insane German doctor who plays the medic). Their silhouettes are not overly complicated, in fact they are very simple, making them easy to identify at a distant or at a quick glance, something which is very important for a fast paced online FPS. The characters and environment follow a very simple colour scheme ( Red for team 1 and blue for team 2) as well which provides a good contrast between friend and foe, so identify who’s on which side is simple because of this.

TF2 very simple but highly effective colour swatches


The design of characters is not limited to games, the process also applies to films and TV shows. Some of the characters which stick in my head is the 2 main characters from the TV show Peep Show. I think this is because I can see my personality in both of the characters, even though they play totally polar opposite characters. They both have these inner monologues about everyday mundane things which I can relate to so much. On top of how they think they also act like real people (Mark has his boring interest in history and video games, and Jeremy’s a lazy man whore).



So not only are characters one of the hardest 3d objects to do technically, they're also the hardest to do artistically. All aspiring character artist have a long, hard road ahead of them.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Art Direction

The Art Director has the most important role within a game developer. They has just as much responsibility as a film director, just none of the credit that goes along with being a film director. Art directors are responsible for making sure the game has a standard visual style across the board to make for a more believable and immersive game. Characters, buildings and props are just some of the objects they will scrutinise. Even a little brick on the ground would go through the art director to make ensure its up to scratch with the rest of the environment. Is it the right size for the structure? Does the material match the time frame? Would it really crumble into those pieces if a tank went over it? These are just some question an art director will ask himself. If that is some of the questions they’ll ask over a brick imagine what they’ll do to the protagonist or the main level. They go through all of this effort to make all these assets, like foliage, buildings, props and characters as believable to the story and spirit of the game too enhance the overall experience for the player.

Uncharted 3 : Drake's Deception has some of the best art direction i have seen to date in a game


Art direction in games isn’t too different from films, different medium but same principle. Directors in each field both do the same, making sure the visual style is standard across the film/game, be it characters or buildings. As films generally have bigger budgets then games, art directors can go to more lengths to nail down that visual style they're aiming for, like location scouting. Having the ability to go to a real locations to get the correct visual vibe for a scene does wonders for the immersion and believability of the film. But as games are becoming more and more popular, budgets are increasing, which means the art directors from AAA studios can do the same research as their film counterparts, such as location scouting. Art directors and a team of artist will visit a location and take many photographs and videos of the environment (For example) to get the best quality 3d assests. Motorstorm developer “Evolution Studios” went to these length to get life like environments for their race tracks. Taking thousands of hi res pictures and hours upon hours of full HD video. If you want to hear more about this, take a look at this link:

http://www.definitionmagazine.com/journal/2010/5/19/making-of-motorstorm.html

Art directors are really at the top of the artistic food chain. So if anyone wants to peruse that godly like role then they have to do one thing: work, work hard, work so hard on art that they shit art after eating an art sandwich. 



Most art directors, have a somewhat relative art skill and have worked their way up the food chain from a 3D artist to an art director in 10 or so years because of that magic word, work. They need to be on top of their game technically and artistically. If a new piece of software comes out, they are the first ones to get hold of it. A conference is coming up, they’ll be there. They're worst enemy just released a AAA game, they’ll play it. All of these things help art directors become the best at the role. Having strong drawing skills is a most too, as this is how the art director will communicated his ideas to the set team for example.

Being able to quickly get your idea across by drawing is a lot more cost and time effective way of exploring ideas rather than just jumping straight into creating the environment,character etc.. As they might relise half way through building a set and saying 'oh wait, this doesnt actually work, tear it down and start again'.

The role of an art director isn’t just insuring every bit of art flows the same, but its also to manage people and time. Key skills they’ll demonstrate is leadership, they want to lead their team to success, the can only do this if they are good leaders. This is complimented by great communication skills.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Game Design

Before you start making assets for a game, producing the story line or anything else, you start on the game design. This is a mix of different design elements, such as: gameplay, storyline, environments and characters. This usually starts off as a proposal in the pre production phase, where the game designer has had an idea and its then fleshed out to cover the basics of the concept, gameplay, storyline, features, staff and budget estimates. But as the development goes on certain features from the proposal might not be achievable, this might be because of the budget limitations for example, so these features might have to be axed or changed.

Gameplay is the way you, the player, interacts with the game, be that the characters which populate a town or a wooden bucket on the floor which you can throw around.
Even though games have transformed from basic sprites to fully 3d models, the essence of gameplay has pretty much stayed the same- you have a goal and something is going to get in the way of you reaching that goal. PacMan had 4 ghosts, Fear had one scary little girl. Same concept but these game couldnt be further apart, you could also go on to say that even board games following this concept of reaching a goal and something/someone is stopping you. If we look back to arcade games from the 80's the whole reason you put in your hard earned cash was to get a score high enough to get your name in the top 10 (from my experience most people have the name 'Ass', odd that). But if we look at any modern online FPS shooter we dont have that highscore anymore, its pretty much been replaced with experience points and levels. A numerical number still represents your skill, its just done in a slightly different way.



Some of my personal favourite game designs are Peter Molyneux, famous for Populous, Black&White and Fable. But unfortunately has been known to over hype his games, promising amazing features which never make it into the final game ( ala Black&White with its “ground breaking” creature AI, despite this it still remains a personal favourite of mine).
Will Wright deserves an honourable mention for creating the most addicting game series, The Sims, A game with no story or goals, but somehow ended up being the best selling PC game. Making the player do all the hard work by letting them create their own stories, ingenuous!



While these people are the main designers, its not just them, its a team of designers all specialising in their own field such as level design and game mechanics, they work together to bring the whole game to life. Depending on the type of game a team could have more of specific designers than others. For instance the team behind LA Niore which is a very story driven game would have hired more writers, to make the game a more cinematic experience, which goes hand in hand with their facial capture technology. Whereas on the other hand we have games like Far Cry 1 and 2, where the level and environment design are key to the games open world gameplay, having the ability to explore when and where you want just to take in the scenery is visual bliss, complimented by their cutting edge graphics engine.



When playing a game I love to be engrossed in the world, makes for a much more enjoyable experience. But sadly the last few years ive noticed im not making that emotional connection to games as I used too. Maybe its because iv been doing game art for a good few years so im constantly looking at objects/characters in the world and thinking 'that looks good, I wonder how the artist got the shine just right on that piece of metal' or 'bah, a texture seam in an exposed area, the artist rushed this piece'. I guess its something ive got to live with, and its only going to get worse as I do more and more game art.


Friday, 27 January 2012

Pans labyrinth, a film for the artist

A Film which all aspiring artist need to watch, especially character artists, is Pans Labyrinth.



This 2006 Spanish fantasy film tells a story of a little girl, Ofelia who loves to immerse herself in the world fairy tales. We are led to believe from the opening of the film that she is the princess (or at least the spirit) of the underworld who reached the surface of the world and died shortly after. Her father, the king of the underworld knew she would return one day.

After the fantasy intro we stick to Spain, 1944, during the civil war. Ofelia is then taking into a “safe zone” with her pregnant mothers boyfriend - the general of the Spanish army. This safe zone is actually an army outpost, constantly under attack from the Spanish resistance. Ofelia being the curious girl she is, takes a wonder round the camp and finds a ruined labyrinth. This scene introduces us to one of the brilliant designed characters from the film, The Faun. Taking inspiration from Roman mythology and then using cutting edge CGI to bring it to life. It stands tall on its goat like legs, with its menacing horns twisting round protecting its head. Its desaturated earthy colours blends it into the environment, making him camouflaged which is fitting as the faun is the silent messenger for the king from the underworld, but also reflects the films dark and threatening story.



Ofelia is given task from the faun throughout the film so she can return to the underworld as the princess again.

One of these tasks she has to steal a ceremonial dagger. This task introduce my personal favourite creature, the child-eating Pale Man, who sits silently in front of a large table of bountiful food guarding this dagger. Warned not too, she starts to eat the food, waking the eerie creature up from his slumber. The creature then feels for his eyeballs rolling around on the table, finding them, he then inserts them into his hands (yes hands, thats not a typo). Then he lifts the hands too his face and suddenly opens his palms, revealing an iconic image. He then stands up, showing that hes a towering menacing creature, then proceeds to chase Ofelia, who has a close escape. The way the creature has been designed to have very little facial detail, is frightful. As humans we learn to read peoples faces from an early age to get an idea of their emotions, but when that all gets taken away, especially the eyes, we find it very hard to make a connection with them. And the fact that half of the scene he is silent, sitting at the table with an emotionless expression really adds to the unknown, building a horrible amount of brilliant tension.



The film is all in Spanish with English subtitles, but if you can handle reading while watching I highly recommend you watch this film, if not for the fantasy story then for the amazingly designed creatures.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Battlefield 3 Review

For a long time people have been waiting for the true successor to the amazing game which is Battlefield 2, and its finally here. We had Bad Company and its sequel to keep us busy for a while but its time to move on.

Since the Battlefield series has always been seen as a mulitplayer game ill be concentrating on that aspect of it in this review. Its single player is good, but its nothing to get excited for. While It does have some memorable moments, its the memorable moments you would have had from of all the other big modern FPS's released the last few years. Think of it of like a best of.

Battlefield 3, the adrenalin pumper, as I like to call it. As soon as you jump into the game for the first time you’ll be straight in the fire fight, and most likely the firing line. Bullets whizzing by your head from a hidden sniper in the distance, he missed, your screen is blurred from the suppression. As soon as you can, you leg it, taking covering behind a rock. Your safe from harm. Until a fighter jet plunges into you. This was first experience of the multiplayer. Your first time might be different, but it’ll certainly be fun and it’ll keep you on the edge. This is what the Battlefield series has been to their fans. Battlefield 3 doesn’t change it's award winning formula.


2 RPGs against a tank is better than 1


Dice has done a great job with Battlefield 3's engine – Frostbite 2.0. Its graphics are second to none, quite possible the best looking game this generation. If you’re lucky to own a pc powerful enough to run it on max (and trust me, you will need one). You’ll be double taking, thinking your screen is a window on a real battlefield. The dust kicking up as bullets hit the ground around you, the pores on your team mates face, the blinding light of your enemies tactile attachment are just some of the little elements you’ll enjoy as you immerse yourself with Battlefield 3.

Move out!


Something else you’ll found staggering is the sound. While its best enjoyed with 5.1 surround sound, i've had no issues playing it with headphones or a basic 2.1 speaker set up. But with the 5.1 setup you'll hear and feel the thud of the tank next to you as it fires. The crack in front of you then the glass shattering behind you from someone trying to franticly gun you down. Its audible heaven.


Something BF3 does well : Scale


Perks, points and unlocks have become something of a stable diet of recent online FPS's. Battlefield does it well with many unlocks all catering for the 4 different classes (Engineer, Recon, Assault and Soldier) and all the vehicles. Some unlocks will help the more stealthy players out there, who like to creep around the battlefield unseen, picking off his enemies from a distance with his personalised sniper rifle attached with his newly unlocked high zoom scope. To the players who like to go all Rambo, kitted out with the extra ammo perk, gunning down anything and everything. All the weapons, attachments and perks will keep you coming back for more, itching to play one more round so you can unlock that M98B rifle you've always wanted.

Bad Company brought us the endless fun of a physics engine, Battlefield 3 uses that same engine but has been enhanced. So no more can players feel safe hidden from a tank in a small concrete house. One shot from a tank will create a massive hole in the wall, another will complete raze it, with the roof crashing the victim inside. This completely changes how you play the game, making for some interesting tactics.

Mind your head!


A few bugs plague Battlefield but nothing game breaking, unlike the beta. These are mostly aesthetic bugs, such as bodies stuck inside objects, rubble from a collapsed building stuck in mid air, and micro stutters which effect flying a plane (although this could be a server side issue). The biggest bug i've encounter so far is a complete freeze, which comes from nowhere, and sadly, quite often too. Even the good old Ctrl+Alt+Delete doesn’t work, a restart is needed. This is annoying having to restart your PC, then find another server, then load the game. But luckily your stats are constantly being saved, not at the end of the round so everything you’ve unlocked up to the freeze will have been saved.

If you’ve got nothing planned for the next 6 months of your life and have a decent PC, pick up Battlefield 3. You wont regret it.

Graphics – 9.5
Sound – 9.5
Gameplay – 9


Score 9/10