Thursday, 29 November 2012

From Mags to Tags

Now that I’ve covered the history of games, I want to look at the way in which games are perceived in more modern generations. Through this, I want to look at how games are publicised in more recent year. There’s always been debate over which are the hottest games of the year…every year, but does this come down to hype of fanboys, or simply clever advertisement and publicity? These days, many of the large AAA games are sequels and therefore are largely successful because of their predecessors having a decent following. Usually these developers are clever in the way they break down the main story element into a number of games, this way there’s heightened entertainment value for fans and more money in the dev’s pockets…it’s a win win, correct?

However, when it comes down to rating a game, many people are subjective in their approach and judge it to their personal, hopeful standard. It’s very easy to play a game and have your own personal opinion on the experience. Because of this, gamers tend to turn to “professional” gaming journalists in order to have an unbiased review of a game. This way gamers will know which game developers are honest or not, developers make more (or less) money and the journalists make a living. This reviewing format originated through writing, specifically in magazines. A magazine which focuses on the Play Station for example would write reviews for Play Station games. A gamer would buy a magazine in order to get information on specific games in a collective place.

This idea of Games Journalism has now moved on to other forms, such as online reviews. This ‘New Games Journalism’ obviously works in the same way as magazine reviews. The difference is that it is more accessible and usually free, with the ability for more and more people to write “user reviews”. This widely used web format however, has begun to make it harder for magazines to sell and therefore magazines are slowly becoming obsolete. One of the main reasons for this is that with less profit on mag sales comes budget and staff cuts. With an average UK magazine only having 19 days to write 60,000 words on almost 150 pages can mean that is becomes a very difficult task to fulfil.

You may be wondering though, how would an online reviewing site make money. Well ultimately they will use adverts and may also earn from some game developers for helping to promote their game or make it sound better than it really is. Kieron Gillen once quoted “The games press is often painted as corrupt, lazy and — as I mentioned — fundamentally stupid. This is because we tend to be corrupt, lazy and fundamentally stupid.” However, he later explained that the only reason game journalists are being portrayed as corrupt, especially more recently, is not because all reviews are bias or misleading, but that more people are writing bad reviews. Because they write too subjectively, they give more justifiable reviews a bad name.

I think that this is a very bad way to look at the game press. Just because one reviewer is bias, it does not mean that other reviewers are the same. A review in modern gaming can have a pivotal effect of sales of the game. The good thing about new games journalism is that it is more widely available… but this does not make it better. I tend to check multiple “trusted” sites for reviews to compare their views. Normally the opinions are largely different making you rate the game somewhere in between two people’s opinions. Very rarely nowadays do I trust the reviews I read. I find myself trusting magazines more in recent years, as the quality of writing highly exceeds that of online reviews. Usually I will use gut feeling or personal judgement on a game from screenshots or a demo I might play, but occasionally you may find me in the game mag section of WHSmiths reading the latest reviews. In my opinion they are much more objective in their written approach and allow you to judge the game from a more trusted source.

When it comes down to money however, why pay for something that is free? Or does it sound too good to be true…


From Sonic to Iconic...

As I’ve looked at the history of games…I thought it would be worth explaining why I LOVE games. Hitting my head against the screen until my thoughts explode onto the interwebs won’t work and saying I’ve been playing games since before I was born probably isn’t the best description of my gaming history… so here goes nothing.

I’ve always been a creative and very imaginative person, I constantly think of what actions I would take if say dragons attacked while I’m walking through town or if I could jump off that roof and land on that lorry. I’ve always been like this, and I believe games could be the root to this thought process. I think the first game I ever played must be Sonic the hedgehog on the Sega Mega Drive. This must have been in the late nineties as our household inherited a Play Station on the brink of a new century. I believe that we as a family did not own a Mega Drive, but I was about 4 or 5 when I picked up the controller (I can just hear my mum and dad shouting a completely different truth, but that’s just what I remember) so I can’t really remember.
I remember messing around with the Sega’s cartridges, always wanting to play Sonic. I swear I can hear the pinging of those rings every time I think of the times I used to play. Although there were only some funky 8-bit tunes and a few sound effects with side scrolling platform action, I recall it giving me hours and hours of joy. Now look at him… mingling with Mario…You’ve brought shame to history Sega!

Once my family bought a Play Station, that all changed. I bought… Spyro the Dragon! This game was one of the first 3D games I played where you could move freely in a world. The ability to fly, breathe fire and explore was incredible. It was the ideal game for a boy my age, and I remember some of the story line surprisingly enough. I also recall Crash Bandicoot being a game I was very fond of, with Spyro and Crash mimicking each other’s style. The image of games in the fifth generation was very similar, but I guess this was just from the lack of realistic graphics and a more specific audience.

When I was 7 or 8 Santa treated me, my two brothers and my sister with a Play Station 2. I remember opening the wrapping paper, seeing the iconic “PS2” logo and bursting into tears… Yup, you read that right. I cried when I got a PS2 and my brothers haven’t let it go since! I remember owning at least 50 games between me and my brothers on the Play Station 2. We built up this huge collection over about 5 years, with many, many games that I still look back on and think “WOW!” But then at Christmas 2007-8 we received the next gen version of yup…you guessed it! The… XBOX 360?! Although I’d been wishing for a PS3, I guess my parents ignored that plea and picked what would make me turn in gaming faith over the recent years into the present day. I would say that my favourite genre differs between years and trends, going from the racing and adventure games of the PS2 to the shooters and action games of the current generation.
With graphics that we now take for granted, I enjoy looking at the development of console exclusive games. I find it interesting to see how Microsoft and Sony compete, with games such as Halo, Gears of War, God of War and Uncharted. It’s interesting to see how these have found fame in their own sectors and may be tempting to both sides of the gaming world.

What I would love to see from games in the future is the ability to play with more people. Not just online or in the same console community, but I would love to see the next generation of games incorporate cross platform play. Although it has been tried before, and with little success cough *Shadowrun* cough I do think it could work, especially between Sony and Microsoft’s consoles. I would love to be able to play EA’s acclaimed Battlefield series (they never fail to disappoint) such as Battlefield 4 on my XBOX 720(?) against a PS4 gamer! Then we can settle who the best players are once and for all!

PC gamers of course!


The BIG Three

And on into 2000… As technology further increased throughout the nineties and into the next century so did the market for games. With newer 32 and 64-bit consoles being released and the transition of 2D to 3D being at its peak, it was clear that the gaming industry was evolving at a very rapid rate. This was evident with Nintendo’s Nintendo 64 (N64) in 1996 and the Play Station in 1994, which allowed the industry to escalate into the Fifth generation of consoles. The aging consoles such as the SNES began to die out with fifth generation preferring to use CD-ROM formats over cartridges, with the exception of the Nintendo 64. This was due to the fact that CD’s could hold more data and were cheaper. Although the N64’s unique sales point during this generation was cartridges over CD’s, it never could challenge the sales of the Play Station with many game developers notably Square with Final Fantasy VII favouring this CD platform console.
This was a pivotal point in gaming, especially towards the end of the 20th century with many companies moving away from manufacturing consoles and towards game development. This slowly led to certain companies standing on top in console development. Sega backed away from consoles and continued to develop and publish games. This became a trend for many of the large developers. The cost to produce games was simply beginning to get more and more expensive. What used to take a small development team a few months to complete, now took years and with much more staff. An example of this is the comparison between Pac-Man and Halo 2. Tōru Iwatani’s idea of “Puck Man” was programmed over a few months by one person and cost about $100,000. Looking at Bungie’s Halo 2 it is clear how much changed between 1982 and 2004… With 190 people taking over 3 years and $40million (!!!!!) to finalise this game.
With the arrival of the Dreamcast starting the sixth generation of consoles in 1998 came in-built modems for internet support. This was a breaking point in console development as this led away from online play only being possible on PC’s. Sony’s Play Station 2 and Microsoft’s XBOX followed this trend and online games took off. Many game developers saw this new multiplayer ability as a brand new scope in game making, with online play in games almost being a necessity. It became much clearer during the seventh generation that there were three big companies left in-charge of the hardware side of gaming. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft became these dominant figures in console gaming. With the XBOX 360, Play Station 3 and Nintendo Wii competing in the new “console wars”, these companies began to think of unique features in order for their consoles to sell. Consoles stopped being all about games and have now moved into a generation of home entertainment. With movies, music and tv being more accessible in one place, and the new market of “casual” and “hardcore” gamers being almost segregated, the need for constant change has been a focal point to this day.
As these manufacturers struggle in the battle of making these games constantly accessible through handheld consoles and mobile/tablet apps, game developers struggle in the battle to stand out to the market. With rising development costs throughout the sixth and seventh generation and now entering the eighth generation, nearly 80% of developers don’t even make profit on games. In my opinion, this is a huge concern in the current market… but I raise the question; will this actually present leading development studios and narrow the market, or will it make the current and next generation of game crumble in genre and choice?

We’ll find out soon enough…


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Death of the Arcades

Over the past few weeks, much of our critical studies module has focused on the history of the gaming industry and how it has developed over the past 40-50 years. I've already looked at games up until the 80's in small detail, so why not continue the streak into the 90's.
The 1980's were the start of the competitive gaming industry, where games began to move out of the arcades and into the home.  Because the market for home entertainment was growing, so was the industry, which led to studios being founded, some surviving more than 20 years...*cough* EA. This new rivalry in innovation of games led to many new genres appearing during the 80's. Many of our significant modern genres came out of these older more specific genres, such as First Person Shooters, Action Adventure and Role Playing Games.
The development of these games was very significant in order for these genres to grow. For example, Action Adventure games were spawned from Adventure games. The development of the adventure genre was very great throughout this decade alone, going from text only adventures to point and click environments in third person perspective with SCUMM system (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion system). One of the first well renowned text adventure games was Zork in 1980 (you can play this on CoD Black Ops for all those secret stalkers…and not the fish), shortly followed by Mystery House, for the Apple II. Mystery House wasn't just significant in the fact that it was a text adventure with graphical images. It was also the first graphic adventure game on home computers. This just shows the huge advancements which can happen in games in under a year!  
However, just because a company has a brilliant and unique idea, it doesn’t always mean they will be successful. Roberta and Ken Williams, Mystery House creators founded Sierra On-Live now more commonly known as Sierra Entertainment. Although they have thrived in the industry, they only really had major success during the third to sixth generations of consoles. Sierra focused more on home computer systems and conceived some very successful franchises such as the Crash Bandicoot series and Spyro the Dragon series, as well as creating the first Half Life for Valve, notably one of the most successful studios in the current generation. As Sierra showed success in the fifth and sixth generation, particularly with Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, the evolution of consoles into the seventh generation was not so successful, publishing games such as Robert Ludlum’s: The Bourne Conspiracy (personally, an awesome game… I suppose I just have better taste than most) which was not hugely successful.
The transition between generations is usually caused by a huge boom in ideas and technological advancement. This leads to some companies crumbling, and others envisioning brilliant steps in game development. For example, the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) is said to have revived gaming along with sparking the third generation of consoles in 1983. This led to awesome new franchises such as Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. This generation also gave rise to the narrowing of specific dominant consoles, which made other companies such as Commodore and Amstrad struggle in the “console wars”. With the new large advancements in technology came new graphics systems, and the crossover of generations causing the age of the arcade to slowly die out forever.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Bins, unicorns and freakin' cars!

Since my first post, the frost has begun to kidnap the sun and everything’s turned orange. That’s another way of saying, “time flies when you’re having fun!” The past few weeks have flown by, but I’ve enjoyed every day of it. Although the workload is very hard to cope with at times, the freedom of the course has allowed me to develop strongly as an artist even in such a short space of time. With uni-life presenting the challenge of balancing a social life alongside work, I’ve made new friends, learnt some awesome new artistic techniques, and made friends who have learnt these techniques too!

So what have I been doing over the past few weeks…

Well, With Heather in our Game Production module, we were given the task of creating and this time texturing a wheelie bin! I know that sounds rubbish (bad pun…sorry!), but it has been a simple way to develop my skills with texturing in a manner of different ways, such as learning alpha channels and how to unwrap and texture the UV’s of the bin. Aside from that, we’ve been with Chris in our Visual Design module. During his tutorials and time out on the field, I’ve started to develop my techniques in two point-perspective to draw buildings and more recently cars. We also drew dinosaur and animal bones in New Walk museum in order to understand tonal values and textures of objects and how to render them accurately.

In Critical Studies with Mike, I’ve also learnt a lot. His tutorials help us to understand certain areas of the course and are usually very relevant lessons. With him, we’ve looked at how to act as artists and how to understand the discipline we follow, as well as how to be a great games artist without making  mistakes which quite frankly make a piece of serious work unintentionally hilarious! I mean unicorns, slutty women and unoriginal mythical creatures.

But to continue to fully understand what I am learning I must understand how video games were first conceived. In looking at the very early history of games, I discovered that the first video game was created in 1958 by William Higinbotham, although the game more commonly renowned for being the first game was ‘Space War’ in 1962. Steve Russell designed ‘Space War’ on an MIT PDP-1 mainframe computer, which was about the size of a car. I think that one of the main reasons for the birth of games is clearly the development of technology. With humanity’s creative desire to make everything fun, it doesn’t seem surprising to me that such a new and revolutionary piece of hardware was converted from a military purpose in most cases, to one of entertainment, even when it was the size of a freakin’ car!