Thursday, 12 December 2013

Elements of game design, part eight: documentation

Within the game industry, documentation is extremely important in order to structure the development of a product. Regardless of the project, a studio will more than likely have a written brief and plan to ensure that every employee and designer knows what they are doing.

While I have been on this course, I have realised how important these documents are. In order to keep everyone on the same page, these should all be up to date with the managers and publishers plans as they are always changing. Demonstrating how these may be laid out, I thought I’d look at how one of my final major project ideas may be planned and set out.

The overall theme of this idea is the setting of an old valley based quarry or mine. Being in a rural setting, there would be old mud and dust tracks along with vehicles to drive about and work with. With this I also hope to put in a shooting range which would allow the player to try out various rifles and guns, which could be shot at targets. I would also produce a vehicle to drive around. The platform I would aim to create this for would be for PC and next generation consoles, aimed at a generally older audience, 16+. To produce this, I’d use 3DSMax, zBrush and Photoshop to produce models and concept art work. I’d also use various other software to help in the aid of my workflow.

You as the player will be the lead character. I had not intended to make this a known person and I would instead extend my focus onto the vehicle and weapons as well as the environment.  I would not produce a visible body so I would not really require any specifications for it, other than that of the arms and hands which may be visible when using the weapons.

I would like to give the player access to a land vehicle that could be drivable. I would need to set a budget to make it look good, yet efficient in engine. I would also have to consider possibly doing an interior for the driver to see if you were to drive in first person. But this would depend on the time I have to produce it as well as practicality with my ability as an artist.

The environment would be the edge of a valley, where you arrive at a waterfall with an old coal/slate mine low down on the slope of the valley, with a small stream flowing from the waterfall past the mine house. I would have to consider the possibility of making the building open or not, but this would depend on the time and budget. However, being able to enter the building would be unnecessary for the player as it would not help with the gameplay or experience.

As the main focus would most likely be the assortment of weapons; this would be my main focus and attention throughout development. These could be a selection of weapons such as a rifle, pistol and machine gun, or I could develop a single weapon with various attachments that could be added. As for other props, I would make the shooting range look as realistic as possible. With this being the main focus, it would mean that I could make this small section my main project environment and have the rest of the environment un-explorable with less focus on some of the environment.

Having written this plan, it’s helped me to run through the process and run possibilities through my head. As well as this, I feel like it has given me the realisation that I would really have to plan what I would want to make my main focus and desire so as not to cause any confusion or make the project too large and difficult to actually complete in the given time.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Elements of Game Design, part seven: Level Design

 In a game, levels are important. Like, really important. They’re what everything else is placed in or onto. Without levels, you just have assets. Because levels are so important, it’s no surprise that level design is such a complex process when it comes to creating a good game.

In most games, levels are designed and built depending on the storyline and plan of the game itself. However, with free-roam, open world games; you will usually have one very large “world”, maybe with the addition of more, smaller maps if a narrative demands it.

Like a drawing, painting or any 2D piece, a level would be built up in layers and processes; through development stages and construction stages. The game design pipeline will be followed throughout, running through initial concepts to early builds and white boxes of the map to see if it works for what the run through of the game requires. When it actually comes to finalising the map and adding assets, these will be built up like a painting in order to make the level look real. From graffiti on the wall to a tank on fire while sitting in a destroyed wall, these details, big or small really add depth and believability within the levels.

When looking at open world games, the environment has to draw the player in wherever they may be in the game world. It has to give the visual and aesthetic feel of what it is representing. An urban, city environment such as the recent GTA:V needs to make each part of the city different and entertaining in some way, but retain the immersion of being in an LA-like American city. This can also backfire on some developers however. Take Team Bondi for example: LA Noire had a large, open-world map between single player levels. Being and impressive and visually interesting 1950’s setting it almost felt like it was there to cover up a much smaller game. There was no fast travel, meaning you had to drive through the city, usually to very far off objectives. The only thing that the open world was good for was to find collectibles, cars and occasionally help at a random crime reported on the radio. This, in my opinion shows lack of polish when finalising the game and although GTA is similar, it gives you lots of things to complete around the whole world. Be it side missions, random encounters or simply buying and upgrading cars and clothes.

Following the pipeline process, levels are usually white boxed or mapped out to give a visual idea of how a level will look and play out. This is an important part of level design as it looks at how the level can and will be played, where the player can go and reach and how. It also explores the practicality of certain visual and technical parts of the map. To make the map in the way it is planned for story or mechanical purposes could change its look and asset positioning. This may be to give the level enough spacing. This is space between different events; giving the “tempo” to the game if you like. If too much happens at once and too quickly, then the player will feel overwhelmed and rushed. Too little to do *cough* LA Noire *cough* and you will find the player getting bored and uninterested.

Level design is very important when it comes to game creation. It’s not just about the look and feel of it, but the way the whole map plays. If it is done right, you have a stunning game which is both good looking and interesting, making you want to play more. Do it even slightly wrong and you could lose focus from the player all together.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Elements of Game Design, part six: Visual Composition

In art, composition is a paramount understanding in the way artistic principals pull together to create an image. This can be seen in almost every master artist’s pieces; from those in history all the way to modern artists. Composition is like the ingredients to a cake; you can have all the right ingredients, but put them together in the wrong order and you won’t be having a slice.

Without composition, things in the scene can look “wrong” or out of place. On my course, this is something that you can’t afford to get wrong as you are trying to draw the viewer into the setting and make them lose focus of reality. You can’t make this happen without everything portraying the same genre, story and scope. For instance, you wouldn’t see a car in one of Da Vinci’s paintings, as it just wouldn’t be expected there and cars didn’t exist in his time. A lot of composition also therefore comes down to a good general knowledge of what is being created. If a concept piece is being drawn for a first person shooter set in the future, you would need to know what the weapons, clothing and environment look like or are based on.

Obviously a lot of artwork comes down to the imagination, which can even be noticed in some historical artwork. But the understanding of how things work in the world; the weight, the scale, reflectivity, etc. is vital in making a piece “belong”. However, composition can involve less if needed and can largely come down to the way in which light is used in the scene or how “ingredients” are positioned/mixed together. An example may come from looking at the rule of thirds and the rule of odds. The rule of odds suggests that people find an odd number of subjects look much more natural and less ordered as opposed to an even number. This is because humans pick out patterns in nature, and if a pattern is spotted the illusion can sometimes be lost. That being said, the rule of thirds helps to position the piece. Based on the golden mean (1:1.618) this understanding of division within the picture can help to naturally frame the subject of the piece and makes it much more visually interesting.

When we look at composition in 3D space, be it in a game level or when modelling and texturing a character, these rules still have to apply. A level must be built up using all the correct assets, putting them in space where they belong as well as giving them purpose. It would be no good making one long street and having the same building everywhere you look, with a tree in the middle of the road, it just looks out of place. It’s the small details which add to the composition. If you can affect the silhouette of something enough, it can look unique. Too much and it doesn’t belong. This has to be taken into account when putting a level together.


Thursday, 31 October 2013

Elements of Game Design, part five: Planning and Concepting

Within a game developing company, it is essential that there is a planned and very strict schedule to be followed at all times. For us on my course, we are learning how to plan and stick to these timeframes.

With each project we are set, we are given a brief which gives us the, genre/backstory, technical specifications and anything else we need to know about producing the final product. This will be given in different ways; whether we are producing work for 2D or 3D aspects.

Ultimately, these briefs are structured in similar ways. We are given the general outline of the piece before conducting research and finding reference. Then we look at silhouettes and idea generation which moves us on to a development of the concepting process and design exploration. Finally, you end up with the final conceptual idea, which can then be modelled, sculpted, imagineered, etc.

The time frame always depends on the product. For our visual design projects last year, we were usually given between 1-3 weeks, but this largely depended on whether we were drawing still life as practice or conceptualising a character or in game asset. With our Game production projects, we were given around 3-4 weeks; again, this was all down to the brief and final result we aimed for.

Already in second year, the step up is noticed. Although, there isn’t necessarily more work to do, or less time to do it in. A definite change in attitude and skill has improved everyone’s final outcomes with their work. The understanding of having a good plan is on my mind this year. I look to try and be consistent with each module, and to complete enough work to keep a balanced working ethos.

In Critical Studies we looked at the pipeline process that
an average game studio might follow. It follows a specific set of instructions throughout the process and always sticks to the brief. With our 2D conceptual projects, we usually just see it through to the final conceptual design and never all the way to actually building it in 3D space to put into a game engine. Because of this we have the developmental process, closely following that of a company’s design pipeline in game production, but less so if it’s just for a single asset/character.

The design pipeline for a company follows the entire process for creating a game. Although we don’t/haven’t made an entire game, we still follow these design aspects in order to explore and create the best ideas in these given tasks. Although there is one main structure, it largely branches out in order to focus on refinement.

For any game development team to function smoothly, the pipeline has to be closely regulated, giving you art directors and many other heads of authority keeping everyone’s stylisation and vision focused on the brief. This is an excellent way for directors to keep track of what the whole team are doing as the whole pipeline can be changed and shifted with the team still following. It is clear that without this structure and the development of all areas in the pipeline, games would be pretty pants. The clear focus of where they need the final product to be helps the development continue throughout the project, and not just at the beginning. This is how it should always be done.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Looking in the mirror and thinking… How am I still here?

So this is where my motor is reignited and churning faster than ever before. Second year of Game Art Design! It’s been a long break away from Leicester and I’ve had some time to readjust my body clock, learn some new things and earn some dosh.

This for me was a time of thought and reflection on my work and attitude to the course last year. I wasn’t as happy as I could be with my grades, and I entirely understand why. I don’t think it was that I fell behind, or that I missed deadlines. I think it was more my attitude and artistic history which had some things to do with this lower grade. Throughout school, I liked to think of myself as a bit of a “perfectionist” in Art. I didn’t learn a lot of theory and technique and so largely relied on my natural artistic ability. I liked to think that if I produced a piece of work that was 100% accurate when compared with the photo I copied, that it’d look better, and I’d be appreciated more.

However, since starting the course, I realised very early on that accuracy with speed is essential. Things need to be done to an extremely high standard and quickly. I guess it’s like flying a helicopter; you have to know how to do it well and constantly concentrate on your actions. Take your mind off it for just a second or neglect to plan ahead and it’s a downward spiral. Because of this “perfectionism” attitude, pictures took a long time to produce, which usually caused me to fall being on work quantity. But this didn’t concern me too much as I would work extra hard to complete work to the best of my ability. Although I did not always complete as much work as my fellow art students, I still got similar high grades to them from terms of effort. This always spurred me onto doing better pieces of work and that’s why I’m in Leicester… to improve my skill at the most rapid rate possible.

It’s hard to think that last year was about 8 months of learning the fundamentals of the game art world. The work load was an enormous step up, and already in the beginning of this second year, it’s obvious that the bar is going to continue to get higher. Having looked more into anatomy, form and lighting over the summer, I feel a little more confident about the year ahead .I wish I could’ve done more personal work, but work was essential in being able to afford the course. I aim to develop and stick to a tighter working schedule, as well as focusing more on what I am doing in order to be most efficient in as little time as possible. This year, is about me developing my skill. I hope that by the end of the year, even if I have a rocky first semester, that I have something to show for it.

Let the games begin!

Friday, 24 May 2013

The First Year of the Future

So here it is… the end of my first year doing Game Art Design. And all I can say is “Woah?! What just happened?” Because quite honestly it feels like I’ve been hit by a bus of knowledge and artistic skill! This past 8 months or so have gone by so quickly; I’ve learnt so much and met so many new people. I really don’t know where to start!

5 hour masters study - Rembrandt 1655
I came to Leicester in September as a stranger to everyone, unaware of what lay ahead for the year. Within a few weeks I had met so many people that I was struggling to remember names and the start of the course had me diving into a pool of artistic challenges. The learning curve of the past year has been a very steep one and has helped me develop as an artist significantly more than I had expected. In both my Game Production and Visual Design modules it is clear when comparing work from the beginning and end of the year that my skills have sky rocketed. And with Critical Studies, I have improved with confidence and the fundamentals of both blog writing (here, for those unsure…) and with my presentational skills.

But let me talk to you about Game Production first. Back in September, I had never even touched 3D software in my life and at first believed that this may hinder my chances of progressing on the course. But being plunged into the deep end really gave me a determination to do the best. Although at first my work was very basic and not on par with any 2nd or 3rd year work, it didn’t matter to me, and it has shown. I can now happily look back on work and understand how to change or improve it. I’ve also become much faster at completing this work with helpful tips and shortcuts given down the years through the second and third years. I also have also begun to understand how to look at a shape or object and have a good idea of how to produce it in virtual space.
Transit Van model - 4989 triangles

Secondly, Visual Design has shown me just how insanely quickly my artistic skills can flourish. I used to think I was a decent artist, and was happy with my skill level. However, within the first few weeks it became clear to me that I would really have to work on timing and mark making techniques and understanding. With the new idea of “artistic license” I’ve come to terms with a sketch or painting not being absolutely 100% perfect and accurate. I now know that if I want to succeed in my hopeful career I have to rapidly produce work at a high level of quality. Looking back at my work over the year, it is noticeable at how much my working speed has accelerated and that with anatomical and artistic studies I have begun to understand how to correct my errors and use many different materials effectively.

Overall, my first year has been extremely challenging but doubly exciting! One thing that really creates a good working atmosphere is the sense of close comraderie between the whole year and also with that of the 2nd and 3rd years. This is helped by the very useful and casual tutors who truly drive this course. With all of these elements combined, the course members can really develop with their personal skills and thrive within the working environment. I have thoroughly enjoyed my year and I am eager and excited to start with the second year of the course and see how much further I can push my skills. I look forward to seeing my learning curve turn to the sky and for my work to become more of an industry standard… Wish me luck!

To be continued…

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Beginning of the End – (Analysis and breakdown of the Xbox reveal event)

Tonight was possibly the most disappointing reveal event ever in the history of technology. Microsoft had kept up suspense for the “New Xbox” for a good 3 months in the run up to the event, after Sony’s PlayStation 4 reveal event in February.

As an Xbox/Microsoft fan boy I have been anticipating Microsoft’s “Legendary” reveal to the next marvel in gaming for years, and as I’m now on a Game Art Course working towards a potential and hopeful job in that industry I had high hopes that the event would be an amazing spectacle. However, this was NOT the case. The event, in my personal opinion, was a complete disaster. And I believe that I’m not the only gamer that thinks this.

The event began with the announcement of the “Xbox One” and a show of the hardware. Now, I have to admit that my first impressions of the Xbox were good. I thought that the design was nice and basic and the Kinect 2.0 was quite stylish. But then I realised how big the console was and saw the controller… Now, it appeared that the console itself is about a 1/5th to ¼ bigger than the original Xbox 360. This makes it bigger than the original PS3, which was rather large compared to other consoles in the past. But this was not the worst change. I do believe that the controller looked very comfortable to hold; much like the Xbox 360 and that the D-Pad issue has been fixed. But the thing that bugged me was the repositioning of the “guide” button located in the centre. It has been moved up a good inch or two since the 360 controller. I think this could cause problems and hurt thumbs trying to reach it without looking!

Now, at a game consoles reveal event, you may expect games to be one of the first things to talk about and the main focus for the console. But if your life depended on that thought, then you, along with almost 56.25million (of the 75million 360 purchases) people would have just died… IGN did a poll involving over 70,000 people and discovered that 75% were disappointed with the event. Yep, in reality about 75-85% of the event was actually more about making the Xbox One a media centre hub for every possible audience. Hence the name “One” possibly hinting that it will be the one thing you need in your house…

Let me just take one second to look at the name of this leviathan VCR player. It’s just awful. I mean, firstly it’s hard to say in one breath. Now you might be thinking that I’m over exaggerating a little. But come on! The rumoured and production codenames were: Durango, Infinity, Xbox, 720, with many others. I think you’d agree with me in saying that any one of these names sounds better than “One”! I mean that’s just close to being like the Wii or the Wii U… just… terrible names.

Back to the conference, and what’s this? They’re talking about the dashboard and the snap feature. Nice idea, and well executed in the demonstration. But when would you ever need to search the internet (might I add Bing search… just really?!) at the same time as watching a film or playing a game. I mean it’s like reading a book while also driving a car… literally. Now, I don’t mind some cool multimedia features, like the Love Film or BBC iplayer app on the 360, if they mention it briefly or even talk about it for 10 minutes or so during their conferences. But spending about 30 minutes talking about television and how good their new television services will be in an hour long conference and the gaming magic seems to dissipate. 

Much of the focus on television also centred around US media and sports. Now, fair enough, Microsoft is an American company. However, it’s a global business and they need to provide to their market audience (now apparently every living soul). Just looking at a frickin’ map it is clear, however much they want to believe it, that America is not a majority on a global scale, and a huge chunk of Microsoft lovers come from everywhere other than the USA! So anyway, Microsoft’s Senior VP Yusuf Mehdi came on to now talk about sport and the Skype feature. Finally, something good, Skype could be useful for in-game communication and with the Kinect 2.0 you can connect visually as well. But, if you thought they’d focus on a globally recognised sport such as football, or basketball you’d be completely wrong. That’s right… They focused on an American sport NFL. Just WHY Microsoft?!

Kinect 2.0
So this focus on sports was probably the first turning point towards games, now about 30-35 minutes into the hour long review. Now, sports games are not my favourite genre to play, but I understand that a large amount of gamers enjoy to play these games. However, I don’t believe that sport games really appeal to core gamers that much, and personally at this point, I’m getting ready to put a metal knife in the toaster… So finally EA Sports get to show off their new “Ignite” engine for next gen sports games! A little voice in your head tells you “Now we get to see some gameplay of next gen sports!” Shortly after, you hear a faint gunshot and the voice stops. This is all because the “gameplay” turns out to be a pre-rendered sequence of footage with some shots of wireframe models in 3DSMax! By now, you can here every gamer screaming or crying from being stabbed in the back for about 40 minutes straight.

The first glimmer of hope! The blatantly obvious and predictable Forza 5 announcement, along with a new IP; Quantum Break. Finally, we get to see some gameplay from at least one of these, right?
Wrong! Again pre-rendered footage and a painfully tacky and slightly spooky live action trailer. Forza 5 did look pretty though… but without gameplay, I think I’m just going to believe that it was a cinematic. Wake up Microsoft!  The worst thing about this part of the conference was that they quickly added that there will be 15 more Xbox exclusive titles released over Xbox Ones first year, with 7 new franchises. Fantastic news, but nothing was given. Not even a couple of teasers or hints to get our nerves tingling. Instead, Halo’s famous art style and scenery appear on screen. Could it be that the horribly overused franchise of Halo will be announcing their next title? Nope… they’ve returned to television, with the announcement of the Halo: The television series (exciting name too… Not!).

By now it’s clear that with the last 10 minutes of the conference, we may finally see some gameplay with the imminent reveal of the internationally anticipated Call of Duty: Ghosts. Well, if you thought this… your dead body just got incinerated. That’s right, instead of Activision’s usual tactic of showing off a short real time gameplay demo. Somehow they thought it would be a good idea to show two in depth videos explaining almost nothing anyone cares about and a trailer. Understandably, Infinity Ward wanted to show off their “incredible” new game engine for next gen CoD titles. One of the videos showed some glimpses of in-game action, focusing on the technical aspects, such as:
Fish AI – giving them the sense to move out the way of the player
Interactive smoke – which moves around objects
Continued movement – such as jumping over a wall that you’ve just sprinted at
More curves… - basically advanced levels of tessellation and detail dependant on depth of field
Dog – the dog that you will apparently love like a friend…

MW3 > Ghosts comparison
Now I’m not brilliant with game knowledge (HAHAHA just kidding) but I believe that these “advanced” features have been implemented in games for years now. I’ll just mention a few names in order of the CoD features: Spyro (PS1), Metro 2033, Battlefield 3, every game ever and Fallout 3. Not to mention that the environments were still easily outmatched by that of Crysis from 2007.

So with the event finally over and me perched on the edge of my window ready to jump, we have many unanswered questions to be answered at the post show event. This is the time where they’ll finally clear up this crap rumour about Always-Online DRM on the Xbox One.

Or maybe not. In matter of fact, they didn’t even seem to know the real answer, instead being very unclear with them. As it turns out it is not Always-Online, they obviously learnt from the mistakes of the past with Diablo 3 and Sim City. But what’s that?! You have to connect and update every 24 hours for games to work… sounds a little bit like always-online to me… I don’t know what dimension of time Microsoft’s employees live in, but they’re the only one’s clapping for this.

This is without even touching on the horrible decision for Microsoft to make you register and install all of your games onto your Xbox One. Let’s look at the install idea first. So yeah, it sounds like a clever idea, I can have all my games in one place and ready to play at the click of a button. You know there has to be a BUT! Once the game has been registered, the physical disc is unusable. As a console gamer, this presents a wide range of problems. Firstly, if you want to lend a game to a friend, they must pay a fee to play (rumoured to be the price of the game itself). Secondly, if you buy a pre-owned game, you will also have to pay this fee to “register” it to your Xbox One. In my personal opinion, it sounds to me that physical discs seem pointless; why not just use digital downloads if that’s the process. Also, I’m pretty sure that everything I just described is a computer… Microsoft hasn’t made a console; so far they’ve taken everything that makes a console and buried it alive.

Another problem that arises from installing all your games on the Xbox One’s hard drive is that it only has 500GB of data. Xbox One will finally have a Blu-ray drive and therefore Blu-ray discs. Blu-ray discs commonly hold at least 4.7GB of data. Doing the simple maths, you find that you can only install about 106 games on average. You may be thinking “That’s a reasonable amount of games I can install.” Well, bear in mind that the Xbox One is being designed as an entertainment device. Therefore, it would be expected for someone to also install movies and other forms of entertainment, as well as apps and Downloadable Content (DLC) for in-game expansions. “But, I can replace the hard drive if I need.” If this thought passed through your head, you’re really not getting this are you… Microsoft has stated that only they have the power to remove these internal hard drives, but have said that external hard drives will work. But surely the name suggests that there will be ONE box in the room. Now it’s a box with other smaller boxes surrounding it. Good move Microsoft, there’s another thing that makes the Xbox so great… G.O.N.E.

I’m very nearly at the end of this monster rant, so if you’ve got this far… you can hopefully make it to the end.
One last question remains! The Xbox One’s cross compatibility. Able to play all of my 50-100+ Xbox 360 games in the same place as all of my new games; they’ve truly succeeded in merging current and next-gen hardware, in order to only have the Xbox One and therefore one device in your room. But, here is where Microsoft has made possibly one of their largest mistakes. They claim that that there is no backwards compatibility whatsoever…

It’s okay though Microsoft have thought this one out and said that you can keep your Xbox 360 (I’m starting to think that’s all I’ll keep at the moment). But, again, that’s another extra box to go with the Xbox ONE! Also, if you’re like me and you have the original version of the Xbox 360, it will most likely be on its last legs and ready to call it a day.
Xbox 360

For me, the next Xbox was going to be my saviour, like the Jesus of the console world, taking all my gaming problems away and uniting all gamers as one. But Microsoft may have well of come on stage and presented a cardboard box saying “Presenting the ‘Box’, its pretty crap, don’t get it unless you’re under 5… those guys like boxes…”

In conclusion, I was extremely disappointed with the Xbox One reveal. It barely showed anything to do with gaming, with nothing to really excite the core gamers. The presentation itself seemed badly organised and executed confusingly. And everything Microsoft has grown great to be with the Xbox 360’s life cycle has been removed or burnt at the stake, supposedly for profit. But the worst part is that Microsoft’s Senior VP Yusuf Mehdi claims that they believe in achieving 1 billion unit sales of the Xbox One in its cycle, alongside a further 25 million Xbox 360 sales. Personally though, I honestly think they’re pulling these figures out of a squirrels arse, bearing in mind that the Xbox 360 has sold roughly 75.9 million in 7 years. At this moment in time, I am strongly swayed towards changing allegiance and converting to the Japanese goliath Sony. The PlayStation 4 so far exceeds the Xbox One in every way imaginable.

I eagerly anticipate E3 on the 10th June to find out if Microsoft can dig themselves out of their grave. But I believe they may be 12 feet too deep. Goodbye Microsoft, it was nice knowing you.
Thank you for reading my rant… check back after E3 to see if I’ve bothered to expand on my views.


Friday, 8 March 2013

Elements of game design, part four: environment

Environments within games, films and books are extremely important when telling a story. Although people may interpret a description of a place differently, it is dependent on a genre and the story that is trying to be told. If the style is not a justification of the targeted genre, then the whole game or film can collapse. This is why artists work on making the character match the environment’s style in most cases. This can make the world seem balanced rather than two styles trying to erase one another.

In games, level designers are usually tasked in opening up the world to the player. Obviously they won’t make a controlling free-roam game which restricts you as a guide to its true linear path… Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising! That is just false advertising and leaves a massive amount of work which no one will see. The level design has to match the style of the game, so a controlled path in a game will guide the player along the right path, and a free-roaming game will give freedom to where the player goes. However, the designer will not make a linear path seem obvious. It will be subtle in most cases… after all, gamers are not idiots and they know this; for example, if there are two possible paths, one that has some climbable rubble and another covered with lava then you’re not going to try and wade through 2000˚c. That’s just stupid.

The designs of the levels don’t just help guide players through them; they are also there to add to the games whole look and atmosphere. The architecture must relate to the characters as well as the genre and style of the game. This gives the whole look of the game balance which adds to the possibility of this world existing in reality. If the game is too stylised when it doesn’t suit the genre, it can sometimes make the game feel like it’s actually designed for a different genre. But again, this is a problem with realistic games as well.

Environments don’t necessarily have to have a lot to them. I mean, obviously this depends of the skill of the artist as well as the type of game, but sometimes environments are more simple and minimalist in order to avert focus onto the character. An example of this is LIMBO, in which there is no colour throughout the entire game and the backgrounds are extremely similar and linear. This art style works, but only really for this game.
One game I like in particular with its environmental art is Far Cry 3, again as with Vaas, the environments are designed very well. Although the in game, Rook Island is made up, the artists have managed to replicate it realistically, giving the illusion that it could exist, adding wildlife which you can hunt around the island. Obviously this will more likely be seen in a free roam game, but with a game that has such believable characters, you would expect the same from the rest of the island/environment. But again, there is balance in the game. Some of the minor objectives require you to climb radio towers in order to unlock vision of an area of the map. Although I’m not sure how realistically they’ve been located or made, it adds to the features and the game, and takes that thinking process away from the player.

Elements of game design, part three: character

Characters… Characters are kind of the main requirement for any film, book, game or story in general. I mean they act as the focal point of that visual story. I never said it can’t be a human or necessarily living character, but there must be at least one character that drives the story forward. I mean look at Rubber for example. It’s a story about a car tyre! Obviously the film makers knew that selling a video of a tyre just lying in the desert for almost 2 hours is nearly impossible. But they knew that if you gave that tyre telekinetic powers where it can blow things up with it’s… tyre… mind, then you have created a character with mystery and to be quite honest one of the weirdest films out there.

When you compare a character in a book, film or game, you may notice that they are in fact very similar. They usually have a very intricate and leading story in which a viewer, reader or player can follow and gives them depth. But this all largely depends on their genre. All of these media creators understand that a story can drag you into that world and push out thoughts of reality, and if they do it well enough it can lead to more story’s, more money and all together their one main goal… a franchise with a fan base.

The characters I enjoy in games and films however, have to be the classic action/war hero, and also, clever genius’. I like to play as a hero as I like to feel like I’m in that world for a reason. Usually being a powerful war veteran or an assassin fighting for a cause, you can find yourself being led along a path through the story. Elements around a free roam world or background dialogue in a game can lead to understanding the character and the story even more and it leads players to want to find this out.

I mean looking at a character such as Vaas Montenegro from Far Cry 3, you can see that a lot of work went into him, not looking like a lean and fear evoking leader of pirates, but bringing out the fear in the player by making Vaas insane and very unpredictable. Every encounter with him makes you feel on edge as it keeps you second guessing a somewhat obvious outcome. They also made him somewhat chillingly realistic, in the sense that it could actually be a real person. And when you witness him kill your playable character, Jason’s brother, you somewhat feel Jason’s anger and sense for revenge, which swallows you into the adventure.

I feel its many elements which brings this together. With the acting of Michael Mando through motion capture being so superb, his amazing interpretation of the script and the style of an insane pirate accurately being portrayed, I think that this adds depth to one of the best characters out there. For a game to be able to produce a better character than many films out there, it’s no surprise as to why more and more people are playing games and giving these franchises such large fan bases.  

Elements of game design, part two: art direction for games

Art Directors are the glue that holds a games development and production together. Without an Art Director, a game will have no real artistic or stylistic structure. This structure is paramount for their success and with 80% of games losing money in the current climate; it’s no surprise as to why games have such a long and intense production cycle.

Art Directors have one of the hardest jobs within a studio. They are in charge of the style, mood and look of the game, while also having to be aware of every graphical asset within the game. They must know what is happening with almost every character, level, texture and object; and how these look from any and all angles within the games world. Every detail must be as accurate as possible, as these details help tell the story and give the illusion of the game world. These slightest details or errors can cause the mood of the game to die completely and can have an abrupt effect on the player during the game. So it is vital that these elements fit together like a jigsaw.

These managing figures are responsible for all the other artistic sections of a studio, such as concept artists, 3D modellers and texture artists. Although it’s a managing job, the role still requires an extremely artistic and creative knowledge and they must understand how each art role works. Their partnership and artistic bond with an artist helps them to convey ideas and artistic knowledge, which both ways, adds to the game’s integrity. They have to incorporate the game’s style and genre into this feedback, and make sure the style is consistent throughout the game. If the style changes from level to level, then it can leave the player feeling lost between levels and disjointed throughout the story line. So an art director always has to be on top of his game.

This art direction is similar to that of film direction in that they are ultimately in charge of the project and they control how it is run. It’s their job to keep the whole team in check, and understand the whole production cycle of the product. However, Art/creative directors are not in charge of the whole project. There are different managing roles depending on the studio; and usually there is a project manager overseeing every group of management. But largely, both film and game studios have very similar management and development structures, so the Art direction is largely the same, especially in animation studios.

To become an art director; if it turns into something I may want to pursue as a career. I’ll need to improve my skill in all departments, so that I would be able to relate to the area of work I may be directing, I would also need to understand genres, and how to set the mood for specific genres, just with basic and subtle changes, such as light/shadows, architecture, style. I would also need to grasp a mood advanced understanding of colour theory, not to mention an extremely good understanding of the anatomy and characters which may be relevant for a specific genre or game. One other major skill I need to sort out is organization. Although I may get assets and characters created in time, I know there would be some key details that would be a miss.

Elements of game design, part one: from Pong to next-gen…

Gameplay is the fundamental part of a computer game. Without gameplay a "game" wouldn't have a defining nature. Gameplay is usually the mechanics which allow the player to feel in control and drive the game forward. However, gameplay can either be enjoyable or poor, and this is usually determined by the developer’s skill in structuring the gameplay.
Gameplay is usually found to be more fun and fruitful throughout many higher budget AAA games, coming from developers like Ubisoft, EA, Crytek, 2K and many others. But these are usually based on structured gameplay used in many games of their selected genres. However, more often in recent years, smaller, independent game developers have started to think of new original and unique ideas which bring a greater depth of creativity to the way these games are played.
Game play is one of the biggest design features of any game. The game mechanics are built up of elements of story, combat systems, art style and many other things. But game design is usually in almost every aspect of the creation process. You will have story which gives the genre, scope and generally the style of the game. Based on this, artists in many departments can begin to design combat, characters, visual style, etc.
However, this is not a single person’s job. There are many dedicated teams, including; level editors, designers, technical artists, modellers, lead designer/design manager and many others. These all have a job of their own and all add their own little unique elements. When they come together, the game builds up so that the game can immerse a player and make them feel like they are actually in the game. With this idea, gameplay is not just the players interaction with the input of controls in a game, but the emersion and feeling of being somewhere else, that they are changing and moving the game alone and effecting the world as they play.
Not all games will have dedicated or segregated teams however; some smaller independent studios will more likely have less staff, and possibly some employees doing more than one job! This means that development time is longer and less games can be made in that space of time, however they get past this weakness by, in my opinion paying more attention to detail and making the gameplay elements present themselves more and to a much higher quality.

However, gameplay can depend on the genre of the game entirely. A horror game cannot allow the player to ride on unicorns as that takes the whole atmosphere and makes it unbelievable. Just as a Hello Kitty game can’t include levels where zombies jump out of dark rooms and expect players (a target audience of young children) to proceed in blowing their heads off with a shotgun. The designers have to understand the mood, style, and colour palette of the game in order to make it appealing to its target audience or fans.

I think the most important thing for a game developer to understand, is that players buy games because of the genre or style. It usually depends on age, with teenage boys liking FPS titles such as Call of Duty and racing simulations such as Need for Speed. I think the most important thing for gameplay is to get the game you have bought! It’s the best feeling as a player, when driving a car in a game moves like the real thing, or shooting a gun gives realistic recoil. I believe that a game developer should make sure the gameplay is as good as it can be before improving graphics. But it is still very important to have decent sound and graphics as it really adds to the immersion of games.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Personal Game Review - Battlefield 3

Guns, explosives, helicopters and tanks… 12 year old me would say something like;

“There is no guy on this planet that doesn’t like guns?!”.

But then I grew up and reality took hold of my stupid little mind. I now understand that there are some guys who think handbags can solve terrorism. I guess I have just experienced the exhilaration of firing a real gun under realistic circumstances, and having the mentality that it’s you or them while in the army cadets or just paintballing with friends. This exhilarating, team-based immersion is definitely one of Bettlefield 3’s strong points as DICE have managed to bring this multiplayer feature through from its previous First Person Shooter (FPS) games and given it new life with the new squad spawning mechanics.

“I need a medic!” being screamed down your ear could never sound more real when my brother or fellow squad mate is incapacitated in one of the many epic fire-fights which happen between both teams in many areas of the multiplayer maps. Now the maps are what really give the game its legs. The game boasts 9 varied maps, which with the addition of all 5 expansion packs will increase this number to 29 maps! The size of these maps all vary in size, with more compact, close quarters combat taking place with fewer vehicles drawing in an audience similar to that of a call of duty game. While other maps are much more open, with tanks, jets and helicopters becoming available to players.

Although having vehicles to command is extremely cool and presents some very cool vehicle battles, larger maps can become tiresome on the console versions as much of the game will be spent waiting for a vehicle to spawn, or sprinting from flag to flag across the map in order to try and get in the fight. This can cause combat to seem rare and long winded at times, making the game seem less personal and more of a long distance chore.

"Did you see that shot?!"

My brother cries as he shoots a foe from 400 metres away. The style of combat tends to vary between game modes and maps considerably, with large maps, showing tournaments between the snipers of both teams.  This style of combat is very unique in that the Frostbite 2 engine takes into account the forces of the world causing bullets and rockets to drop if fired at a long range. This means that players who use sniper rifles actually have to have some degree of skill to achieve a long range kill. This is an area where Call of Duty player may struggle with… you know, thinking about stuff.

The smaller maps, which include the Close Quarters expansion DLC give light to insane iron brawls. Lead and blood is spent and the gritty reality of war starts to shine through putting you and your team mates in the spotlight. These bouts are frequent and are seen in tight areas of the maps. It may be that a team is defending an M-COM station in Rush, defending an outpost in Conquest, or simply trying to earn a kill-tally in a team Deathmatch. Whichever is the case, these battles never cease to entertain, with squads on both teams constantly attempting new tactics, to try and flank or outwit the other team. The winners are usually the team with squads that work well together and present their skill as a certain class.

However, although the Frostbite 2 engine produces some staggeringly beautiful graphics, which makes the game both gritty and realistic; it does occasionally have some annoying little glitches and can lag substantially at times, which really ruins the game. Although DICE and EA have addressed some of these more comical issues; like the “zombie” glitch and some boosting glitches, the game still has some time out and lagging issues which can see you kicked from a game for no apparent reason.

“What about the storyline?” I hear you ask…

Well, there is a polished single-player campaign in addition to multiplayer. The story follows Sgt. Blackburn of the US 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, and several other characters who are important to the plot along the way. Blackburn, the main protagonist is being questioned about events that happen throughout the game. I won’t give away too much, but the campaign does have some unique missions which give you a bit of a buzz. However, it’s something that has already been done and isn’t really that original. In fact, it has some extremely similar moments to that of the Call of Duty franchise. Specifically looking at MW2 and MW3. All in all though, the campaign is fun to play, with some unique and heroic feeling twists. Only let down, by some confusing events, muffled dialogue and repetitive combat.

The saving grace of Battlefield 3 has to be its multiplayer modes. With so many variations in play style and scale no battle ever feels the same. The amount of weapons and customisation choices far exceeds its predecessors and other games in the genre. Teamwork is key in this game however, so it is more fun if played with friends or friendly strangers. If you are more of a lone-wolf, then prepare to become bored very quickly…