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.