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

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Move over old game journalism, a new kids in town now

As the years move on games and gaming is becoming more popular, especially with the introduction of the Nintendo Wii, bringing gaming to the masses, making more people turn to the internet and gaming magazines to find out the latest news. With this spike of gaming popularity the last few years more and more games are being produced, and for every game out there, there is at least 1 review/preview for it. Major AAA titles will see many interviews,hands on, previews and reviews over their development cycle.

So what does this mean for gaming journalists out there?

Work, work and more work. More work to do in less time before they move onto the next AAA title to review, or that first hands on which everyone is looking forward too.

The average gaming magazine today consist of 150 pages of gaming related news. Sound like a lot doesnt it? Well it is, plus they only have 20 days to throw it all together, then do it all again for he next month. So how do they ease the load? They can hire more staff, but that means more money going out of their coffers, which wouldn’t be so bad if we wasn’t in this recession.
So to get more money rolling in they talk about all the little games out there, cutting deals with game publishes to advertise their latest AAA game. Maybe they’ll give it a perfect score if enough money is being passed under the table *wink wink*.

Back in 2007 the gaming website Gamespot.com laid off their editorial director, Jeff Gerstmann. Rumours circulated on the net that he was laid off because he gave the game Kane & Lynch a fairly poor score (which it deserved). While this was going on Eidos Interactive were investing a lot of money into marketing their game on Gamespots website, who received a cut for advertising it. Things didn’t go down well for Jeff after the poor review was released. Since this incident its become difficult for some people to take game reviews seriously, as more people think journalists are getting paid off to 'bump up' a review scores.

From what i've seen the last few years I personally prefer and objective view for anything, I like to hear the truth/facts about games and not to have things sugar coated or glaring mistakes missed out. But I feel there isn’t a place for this view in mainstream game journalism. It seems reviews have to be sugar coated to keep the publisher happy, higher review scores = more sales.

New Game Journalism (NGJ) represent a new way of reviewing games. Kieron Gillen (The author of NGJ) makes a major point that the way journalist would review games would be to list the points of the game design, production, plot, sound and graphics. The writing would not come across as that personal, thus not connecting with the reader/gamer. NGJ changes that. Journalist make sure the writing connects with reader. Making the reader understand what its like to play it, to feel it.

Although in recent years this has backfired. Any average joe can set up a blog, and most of these aren’t competent writers. They seem to mix up personal writing with being strongly opinionated, which does the exactly the opposite of connecting with the player.