Thursday, 24 April 2014

Life Changing or Career Building?

Since I started this course, and now coming close to the end of second year I am very happy with my progress and how much I have improved not just as an artist, but as a working machine. Being in such a competitive market has made me and many others on the course really push to do the best we can in our line of [hopeful] work. But is it really enough to have some university teaching and a portfolio at the end of three years learning it all?

Over the recent years, games courses have become increasingly popular as they have become easier to gain access to. Young students want to learn what it takes to make your own game and thrive in that industry. However it has become increasingly obvious that there really just isn’t enough jobs in that industry for graduates. Many industry professionals even admit that they don’t tend to look at an applicant’s CV if their work isn’t what they’re looking for. Oli Christie, founder of Neon Play Studios explains that “a candidate who can demonstrate their ability, be it the form of a completed game, a physics demo or impressive artwork is help in far higher regard by studios than a qualification.” This is understandable as with such a visual aspect, why would you look at how good at maths someone is if they can’t produce the work you’re really looking for?

I think that the danger with a games course is that modules and projects can be heavily directed and gives no artistic freedom to the graduate. Senior Producer at Firefly Studios, Paul Harris says “Work created at university is ok, but it’s often quite dry or lacking in imagination.” So this suggests they get a lot of art traffic which they say no to. This doesn’t make me sweat however, as I feel that on my course we are directed with some projects and others give us almost complete freedom which requires you to scope down to your own capable skill. I also feel that we create some very unique and creative artworks, influenced by traditional masters.

Paul Harris also goes on to talk about how work created in spare time and outside of a course usually has more flair. As a student myself I know that myself and my course mates share knowledge and tutorials to learn from. As well as this we have the fortune of having constant communication other year groups on the course. With all of these credible sources a great deal can be learnt which may not be found in an online tutorial or during a seminar or lecture.

Many among the gaming community tend to discredit most artists and designers because of the majority who lack some key skills or don’t have that spark which is sought after. This mainly appears to do with the idea that graduates that have learnt to be a game designer or game artist won’t have the necessary skills to do any other job. However, being on a course that focusses heavily on both 2D and 3D gives us the opportunity to have a wide range of skills which cover multiple tasks as well as the potential to go into any other visually creative industry, such as film or advertising.

Although I agree that studying a game art course or not have their own pros and cons, I do feel that studying how the industry works and what employers look for in their employees is very important. I am lucky enough to be on a course which has many very passionate industry professionals that have worked in the field since I was a boy. Because of this there is a range of skills; old and new which I hope will give everyone on my course that edge when it comes to showing what we can do.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Creativity, the Talent and Myth of Craft

As young as I can remember, I’ve always liked to be “creative” I’d always get in trouble for being messy, playing with my food, or drawing instead of doing work. It is something that I've always felt everyone can do, but that only some people choose to really chase it and make random, unordered things. I used to think creativity is our ability to express our imagination. A way that we can show the world how we think.

But what really is creativity? It is one of those questions which will probably never be answered, essentially an ultimate question. There are many different ideas about what creativity is. Robert W. Weisberg wrote that he believed “creative” has many factors; referring to it as being the creator of the work as well as being a “novel products of value”, as in giving an object or work appreciative value.

This raises the question as to whether we just simply label things as creative, that it’s just a word to express skills that have been learnt or talent that seems innate. Is creativity a talent in itself or is it an influence which reinforces a talent? Ken Robinson talks about how everyone is creative as a child and how our upbringing or understanding of how to nurture it affects the future of a potentially “creative” individual. He uses the example of # who had what would now be known as ADHD at a young age. He explains how she flourished as a stage artist and has become an iconic figure in the dancing industry, but mentions the danger that she could’ve been “treated” and never understood or trained what would become her profession. This could come down to the state of technology and how our understanding of how to create with what we have wherever we are may just be a human trait which comes about when we truly require it.

Some believe that creativity comes from culture with the difference in society and environment. This could be seen when comparing Chinese music with Russian music for example, or looking at the difference between art styles in these cultures. In this way, it could be down to the attitude of a government for example which nurtures a skill or not or whether they try to stop this freedom.

But many theories suggest that creativity is something given to us by a more spiritual being. The idea that all creation is combined as one…  “There is one mind common to all individual men” This idea known as transcendentalism was explored by Ralph Waldo Emerson during the 19th century who referred to a “sovereign being” as the Over-soul. This idea of all being one is re-explored by Ervin Laszlo who writes “We raise the possibility that the minds of exceptionally creative people would be in spontaneous, direct, though not necessarily conscious, interaction with other minds within the creative process itself.”

This again evaluates the idea that we learn from one another and the creative process is almost a collaboration of many unique minds. A creative person is someone who understands the beauty of their surroundings and learns from them, be it through other creative works or works of their own. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her research into pre-modern creativity in the video below. She explains how in ancient history, creative minds thought for themselves and did not look up to another as an almost God like creative being. This is an ideal which has come about in the more recent centuries and is something which she believes is potentially dangerous to creative minds across the world.

Throughout my journey on this course my views about creativity, my talent and the skills I've learnt have drastically changed and made me really think about how I use them. I understand that I have a talent to produce artwork and make some really cool things. But I also think about where I could be now if I had better or worse teaching in school or whether I would have always had an innate talent and creative process regardless. It is one question which really cause you to pause and think about how creativity is one of the life forces behind modern life.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

From Generalist to Specialist?

Over the years, the game industry has expanded in to a goliath with in the entertainment scene, pushing its way almost to the top of the mainstream. It has turned a hobby into a job, and what some imagined never taking off into a multi-million dollar powerhouse of the entertainment world.

The game industry is now one of the largest in the world; hiring thousands in the UK alone. Not all are full time roles or careers, but many are. As a whole the industry looks for extremely skilled people with special talents in specific areas. However, freelance artists are also sought after as well as the lower cost of outsourcing studios. A company will look for the best job at the cheapest rate. Outsource companies are usually contractors working outside the EU or US which will work at a significantly lower cost. This is very effective when trying to save money as a large company, especially when they take on a large project.

Although, this could be a cost effective way to make a game, it can also lead to confusion within a studio, and in the long run may cause problems for the development of a game. One reason for this may be that the managers have to wait for certain assets or that the layout of a level cannot be fully understood. Also contact may be more difficult due to language barriers and time differences, etc. Without personal one-to-one interaction with other artists and mangers/directors, etc  it may also be hard to express the right critique and may cause a wild goose chase of files and assets being sent back and forth between developer and outsourcers with little progress. But sometime outsourcing is done between more than one developer.

An example of a game that fell victim to outsourcing was Sega’s Alien: Colonial Marines. The teasers they showed in early development were stunning and many fans had hopes that this game would recreated the horror franchise and it truly showed the beauty of dynamic lighting. Gearbox Software had been working on this game for 4 years when they released the very successful Borderlands in 2009. They immediately began work on Borderlands 2 and so the Aliens project was outsourced to TimeGate. The project struggled because of the lack of planning between companies and the conflict in ideas.

Developers like to find talent which specialises in certain areas, but also knows how to work in many other areas of their field as well. With a general overview of how to do most things and then to also be a specialist in one of these departments can help in getting recognised and receiving work. It also helps lower costs for a company. With an employee who can do most things as an artist, they can use this person to work in different areas of a game as well as them focusing on their key skills. Being this kind of worker could also help the learning of skills in their “general” areas as well.

In Valve’s ‘Handbook for New Employees’ they talk about what they call “T-shaped” people. This is their example of a generalist and specialist. They look for people who are both generalists, being the arms outstretched and a specialist, the “vertical leg of the body”. They also ask questions such as: “Would I want this person to be my boss? And “Would I learn a significant amount from him or her?” when hiring. As a developer they understand that everyone learns throughout their career and that people within work learn life-long skills from working with one another. That is why they want generalists working together and learning one another’s specialist area as a general one.

Looking at Valve’s vision, it is interesting to see that they want people “higher up” in their business to learn from those who may appear insignificant. They, as many companies look for generalists who specialise, because they want to save money at the same time as having many of the skills in one place with the specialism in required areas. This view is understandable as it can avoid confusion between companies working with outsourcers as well as freelance artists who specialise in one specific field.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Elements of game technology, part three: interaction design

The difference between a movie and a game is the element of interaction. You as a viewer/player cannot intervene in a movies events in a way that you may be able to during a game. This idea of interaction brings us that bit closer to the immersion of the many games played today. Just the ability to make decisions and choices which affect the characters, mechanics and environment of a game can change the outcome of an in-game event and therefore story.

 The development of video games in the past few decades have been extraordinary! Starting with simple graphics moving on a screen and text-based adventures to now having interactive three dimensional models which react to realistic, world like physics; this is obvious to see. But how has the way we play these games changed over this time?

 The interesting thing about video games is the idea that you are sucked into a game by your interaction with it, regardless of whether you move your body or not, you feel in control as that character or entity. The addition of new technologies allows us to be in control in different ways. Developers have always thought of new ways for a player to play their favourite games and also sometimes as a marketing strategy in order to make sales. It’s all about adapting to the market and be one step ahead of your opponents.

 One example may simply be the joy stick, used at its peak during the flight sim era of the 90’s it changed the way the player could fly, feeling like they were in fact the pilot. Another may be the “GunCon” controller which was bundled with a copy of time crisis. This was essentially a replica of a pistol, which allowed the player to shoot and take cover all with this controller. Although this was a new way to submerse the player within the game, it had a compromise. As the user could not move while using the gun; it meant that the mechanics of the game changed. Therefore, the character would move stage by stage using dynamic sequences as progressively harder opponents face the player.

Although it may be a compromise, it could also be said that this new game mechanic and technology influenced games in the future. An example of this might be that of the ‘Gears of war’ franchise and its ‘Horde’ game made, which saw wave upon wave of increasingly challenging enemy attack you. This in turn has been adopted into many other games since then.

 Modern interaction in games has recently been focused towards virtual reality and pushed further by combining this with motion controls. One of the most highly anticipated devices of the current and next generation is the Oculus Rift VR headset. With head tracking software and a screen attached to your face, it literally puts you in the game. Many companies have noticed it’s potential and so are combining their technology to further heighten the immersion.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Elements of Game Technology, part two: sound for games

Sound is something that naturally comes to us… literally. We are born with the ability to hear, and this allows us to take in the world around us, giving us information, which in some cases triggers a visual representation of what we have experienced before. Even if we have not witnessed these events take place, we still have an understanding built from the sound that our brain has registered.

Visual entertainments have tried to enhance and further use music and sounds in order to trigger an emotional response for decades. Film has grown to create masterful scores and spend a lot of time perfecting audio in order to really create a sense that we are in the events of that film. Sound in these cases are used to instigate, fear, excitement or sadness through known and unknown sounds. They can help us to understand the world of the characters and it can draw our attention and focus to specific areas that the story teller wants us to see.

As games have developed into a more “mainstream” mode of entertainment and their popularity has increased, so have the budgets and technology. Because the technology has improved so rapidly over the years, the visuals have improved and stories in games have become more complex; even more serious and require more cinematic moments in order to help tell the story and set the players mood and focus. One thing that has come with this is the realisation of the importance of music in video games. Composers have begun to make revolutionary and popular scores to accompany a game; such as you’d find in a film. The music is important for many factors to succeed. The music can set a mood, triggering our emotions; which altogether enhances gameplay and in some cases nurtures a player’s skill. Another important use of music is identity. Some of the most popular games in the past decade have had extremely unique scores, in which the main theme will define that franchise over time. This can be seen with franchises such as Halo, Battlefield and Elder scrolls. Or classically: Mario and Sonic. This could also be said to have a major impact on sales.

The emotional response which is triggered by music may help a player, and could drastically change the way they play without them even noticing. The use of ambient sounds is important and breaks the barrier between fiction and reality. Most games may use music to do this, but others, especially in the horror genre may use ambient sounds in the environment; such as rustling trees, or creaking wood/doors. This could act as a signal to the player of where to go, but may also create a tension and fear for the player. Game developers have learnt how to use sound over the years, with the use of pentatonics, adaptive music and skilful sound theory.  Pentatonic scales have been used throughout gaming history in order to create cues to praise a player and to act as acknowledgement of a correct action. Doing this saves the use of a visual cue instead and can work with the music to enhance the players feeling throughout without them even catching on.