Wednesday, 10 December 2008


"Despite criticism, the term gameplay has gained acceptance in popular gaming nomenclature, being the only common phrase describing story quality, ease of play, and overall desirability of a game all in one word." - Wikipedia

Wow, what a complicated way to define something so simple. In my opinion, Gameplay is simply the way the user play a game. The way the user scores points, how we progress through the levels, how we accomplish our goals and overcome our obstacles in the game.

Gameplay is important, really important in fact. Computer games are interactive, and gameplay is essentially the definition of the game's interactivity, how the user plays the game. For example, the game has a story and characters, which puts the user in a certain situation trying to achieve a certain goal. How the user achieves that goal is down to the gameplay. So it could be a first person shooter game where the user needs to shoot a bad guy. The 'gameplay' as such would define the actions needed to be taken by the player, to achieve that goal. So in this example the player would most likely need to shoot the bad guy. This is the gameplay, how the user 'plays the game'.

It is so important to get this aspect of the game right, you can have awe inspiring visual effects, a compelling story, but if the game is unwieldy, boring and repetitive, people wont like it. The gameplay of a game, is basically the core mechanics. Take Pac-man for example, you could put any story or graphics you wanted into the game, and it fundamentally wouldn't change, and chances are it would still be fun. This is because when pac-man was made, computers didn't have the space or power to rely on graphics or storyline, so games were essentially bare bones and gameplay oriented. Most modern games are just adaptations of old games, gameplay wise. 'Crysis' for example, is not a world away from 'Doom', same as 'Doom' is not a world away from 'Wolfenstein 3d'.

While the gameplay of most games is often copied and adapted, it still does vary quite a bit. Different types of Gameplay have different types of rules, but not all are similar. For example, 'Pong' has much different rules to 'Pac-man'. But no singular set of rules can encompass all types of gameplay, which is why it is important to make sure of good gameplay in a game when developing it.

Gameplay is generally defined by the game designers before main development of a game starts. When designing a game the concept artists are generally left to decide the look of the game, and the designers to figure out the mechanics, such as Gameplay. Gameplay is generally decided before a game is put into development and therefore is usually the basis for the rest of the design. Often a theme for a game can be chosen for the gameplay, but the gameplay is often the most important aspect of the game from an early development stage.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


In pretty much any form of storytelling medium, the script builds characters that the viewer either loves or hates, and then manipulates their lives, evoking various emotions. The word 'Character' is essentially a combination of stereotype, dress sense and often more importantly - personality.

I enjoyed watching the film 'Fight Club' not necessarily for the artistic style, or crime, but more for the in depth look at the main character's (Edward Norton) personality. In the film Edward plays a delusional schizophrenic, who is influenced by a guy called 'Tyler Durden' (Brad Pitt) but (SPOILER WARNING) at the end of the film the viewer realizes that the man Edward has been seeing is actually part of his personality. Its a relatively simple twist however it has a large impact on the viewer as the two personalities have been built up in detail for the viewer.

While you are watching, you almost feel sorry for Edwards Character, he lives in a boring life doing a boring job. When he meets the exiting and dangerous Tyler Durden you naturally want him to follow him because you want him to have a better life, want want want. You start caring about him.

As for Tyler you see him right from the beginning as being a dangerous exiting character, which is naturally interesting, you admire some of his actions and audacity, and at some bits he is portrayed as 'that guy everyone wants to be'.

The script is obviously important for these roles because without it you wouldn't get the same type of view of the characters lives. As well a job as Edward Norton and brad Pitt do to portray their roles, there is only so much you can learn from a characters actions in one scene. The way the two characters interact is pivotal in building their rapport with each other, and the viewer as a result.

The writers are using various different actions to show the viewer who the characters are. For example, with Tyler Durden, on the First scene that he is shown, he breaks many social norms, but in such an air of confidence that he gets away with all of them. At first he jokingly asks him self out loud, whether, when getting out of his window seat on an airplane he will give Edwards Character 'the Ass or the Groin'. He then goes to steal a nice car in public and get away with it.
This introduction gives the viewer an instant behavioral pattern with which to relate to his character, also known as a first impression.

For Edwards character the director shows the viewer parts of his life, and during the opening scenes, the low parts of his life. This first impression instantly tells the viewer that, that particular character has a sad life.

While as I said earlier, a lot of this character development cannot be achieved without the script, it is also worth noting that the acting and the appearance of the characters has a large part also. Both actors are very experienced and do a brilliant job of portraying their role convincingly. But more notable for me, the characters are dressed to emphasize their position.

For example, Tyler wears leather suits, jeans, and has bleached hair. He essentially dressed like a relaxed bad guy. Edwards character on the other hand, wears office suits, and has a well kept hair style for most of the film. These stereotype outfits allow the viewer to make a stronger link with their character.

The stories I find irresistible are often the stories where someone pulls through a hard time in their life. I'm not totally sure, maybe its because as much as I DO like to make jokes about humans, I actually care a lot about the people around me. This personal disposition means that films of the nature suggested, essentially do what I want them to do, hence why I like them. For example, I love the film Saving Private Ryan, the characters are brave and searching to help someone in need, this kind of story is the type I like.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Ow! My hands hurt.

Throughout the years, new console designs have included new controller designs. A 'controller' or 'input utility' or whatever you want to call it, is the players tool for interacting with the console. By traditional standards, it includes buttons, and sometimes and analogue device. You, as the player, sit in front of your TV for hours playing a game, with the controller firmly placed in your hands. But, out of the many different designs, which is the most comfortable?

I'm going to admit, I've always been a PC gamer. Consoles were never my thing, the games were over priced and my parents would never fork out for a console itself, so I just stuck with what I had, a computer, and £5 games from 'Electronics Boutique'.

But I'm not a complete novice when it comes to consoles, in fact I always had a good supply of friends who's parents WOULD fork out for the next console. And it starts with my mate Sam.

When I met Sam he lived two doors down from my house, we were about 4/5 years old, and together we would spend hours playing on his 'Atari 2600 VCS'. That thing was amazing, I still remember the racing game, Indy 500, I rocked at that, especially the Ice level.

Now, the input device for the Atari was a joystick, with a little red button. That simple, no arrow buttons, no trigger buttons, just a joystick and a button, the joystick either moved too little or too much, but it was fun. However, I think the excitement of you youth hides from me the fact that the design was clunky and uncomfortable.

Next, Sam's mum bought him a Sega Megadrive and this is where the fun/time indoors really started. We had loads of games, Worms, Sonic, but most memorably, 'James Pond'. We spent hours playing this simple side scrolling game.

The 'Sega Megadrive' had quite interesting controllers:

However, I have distinct memories about the problem with them. I found as a kid that I could never reach the C button, on the right hand side of the controller. And when things got intense, and your little hands were sweating, the controllers would very easily slip out of your hands. Yes, I know I have small hands, but it was still a design flaw.

Next in my timeline comes the Playstation, most of my friends had one, and tis fair to say that this console was a staple part of my upbringing, once again, though this time, it was my friend Jamie that had one.

The Playstation was brilliant, it had many different games and a gun! Now, I know the 'light gun' was actually invented a long time before on the old 1967 'Brown Box'. But the brown box had lost popularity by the time of the Playstation and it was all new to me.

The first Playstation controllers were also quite well made, and are still used today on the Playstation 3. Obviously they have been updated since then, but the fundamentals of the design are still there.

Here is a comparison - Playstation 1:

And the new Playstation 3:

Notice the similarities? And why change them? For me this is still one of the more comfortable designs out there. the buttons were reachable and the handles holdable, without being too heavy.

Next on the list was the Nintendo 64, and this one, my parents bought me for my birthday. What a mistake, this is where the skiving school started. The N64 was amazing, but its controller, very different. The new design of the controller was a memorable talking point between me and my friends. There were three handles? But only two hands? Was this designed for aliens?

In my opinion it actually worked quite well. In essence Nintendo essentially packaged two controllers into one. on the left side, you had a view changing joy stick, and directional pad, along with a trigger. But if you shifted your hands to the right side, you had a trigger, a movement stick and option buttons.

I also found the design comfortable, I don't remember at all disliking it, and in fact liking the console because of its cool controller.

Next was the playstation 2, but I won't talk about it much, because well, the controller is basically the same as the PS1.

I never bought an Xbox, and surprisingly neither did many of my friends, I remember us all bitching about the new controller, being big and clunky, and I'll admit, the few times I played it I did get a little bit of hand ache, once again, probably because I have small hands.

I currently own an Xbox 360, and my flatmate has Wii, and as you'd expect, I've played both quite a lot.

With my 360, I actually like the controller. I won't lie when i say I think I'm the only one, it seems most of my friends really don't like the displaced analogue sticks, but I personally find it more natural.

The Wii on the other hand... This one takes some thought.

Ergonomically, the Wii controller is a piece of ass (in my opinion). It makes my hand ache, I spend ages trying to find the buttons, it just doesn't 'fit' in my hand, or make sense. But does it?

The Wii controller actually does a hell of a lot right. Yeah it might not sit in your hand nicely, but when you use it in conjunction with the Nunchuck thing, its actually like you have taken a normal controller, split it in two, allowing you to put your hands wherever is comfortable.

It also has the revolutionary interactivity, the bit that essentially, makes the console. The controller has to be a gun, a sword, a baseball bat, a golf club, a tennis racket, an old Nes controller etc. All in one, so when you think about it, the stick design really is the best way to achieving all this.

Which brings me onto my next point: Where are console's going? are we going to see more wireless motion sensing, or is the D pad going to stay?

In my personal opinion, I believe that we are almost definitely going to see more wireless, but it won't be a complete switch. The button and analogue stick configuration works too well for developers to just give up on it. Motion sensing is still new, and will need to mature before it starts to become the mainstream.

However, I definitely think console manufacturers want to make their consoles more interactive. In the Uk alone the Nintendo Wii has sold over 3.5 million units, wheras the Xbox has sold only 2.3 million. Which begs the question, is it interactivity or graphics that sells consoles? Source: Wikipedia

Other than interactivity, consoles are also starting to look good. Designers are actually starting to care about what their new console looks like. Take the new PS3 for example:

Its sleek, its slender, its trendy, and it really does look like a George Foreman Grill (its so good, he put his name on it). I hate to say it, but its almost fashionable.

Same with the Xbox360:

With the beveled sides and sleek design, its almost arguably a decorative piece for the TV stand in the living room.

Its safe to say that developers are starting to care about their consoles now. They are no longer the chunk of plastic and wires that mum makes you put in your room before the guests come over. They are the tidy slender living room asset.

Now, to answer the question, I personally prefer the look of the Xbox 360. I think its the clean white surface that does it for me. I'm a bit of a clean freak and it just looks good.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Storyline! Storyline!

Story lines are often the focal point of modern computer games. Some games, have compelling and addictive story lines, whereas others... well, lets just say some developers don't have much imagination.

And then, there are the games with the most amazing stories, the story lines that just can't be beaten, the stories that are perfectly crafted to suit every individual... Multiplayer Games.

When we break it down, the computer games industry is very similar to the movie industry, in fact with every major release, the two are becoming closer and closer. Movies tell a story, often with plot twists and dramatic irony to entertain the viewer. Single player computer games often do the same things, essentially, a computer game is a story, but during which you are asked to complete small tasks in order to advance.

Lets take for example Bioshock. Bioshock has no multi-player aspect therefore relying purely on its single-player value to entertain the player, yet it sold massive units. The gameplay dynamic was relatively simple, you shoot stuff and progress through a story. Yet it was that story that brought the player in, the dramatic setting, the perfect art style, and the brilliant story of deceit and well, I won't ruin it for you. For the Game Bioshock, the story line really did make it brilliant.

But how am I supposed to argue story line as being an imperative factor without talking about multi-player games?

Well here is the thing, people would argue that multi-player games such as 'Battlefield 2' have no story line, but i really beg to differ.

The brilliant thing with multi player games is that we craft our OWN story, based upon the actions we prefer to take, and is therefore crafted for us.

I've just finished a quick session on 'Battlefield 2' (Project Reality mod to be precise). As my friend and I finished our game and spoke over teamspeak, we recalled the dramatic events that happened. Like the time we laid a perfect ambush for some tanks, or the time we held out in a bunker over a fierce attack.

This was OUR story, I enjoyed that story, because I chose those events. This is how I firmly believe multi-player games are stored in the brain, how they become appealing to us, I could be wrong, and it is just my opinion, but maybe there is something to be made of it.

As for games like WOW and Second life... Well here is the thing, I still see story aspects in these games. In games like WOW for example you accept small quests, these quests are a story in themselves. However, games like WOW and second life also rely on their social aspects, there is a social hierarchy in both games, and players generally want to move themselves up the hierarchy. But once again, this is also the players story unfolding for them.

In Second Life, you still have a story, once again, being crafted for you, by yourself, just as you want it to go. You also have a huge Social Aspect, especially so in Second Life, seriously, people fuck each other on that game, I'm not joking.
But its still YOUR story.

So, single player games usually have a pre-scripted story, that the player plays though. And Multi player games have a clean slate, letting the user craft their own story. Some single player games also do this too, they let the player chose what to do and where to go. Fallout 3 for example, I have my story of how I became the wastelands equivalent of Jesus, helping people and saving lives.

Stories are everywhere, especially in games, what is interactivity? Interactivity in my opinion, is the ability to craft your own part of the story.

and On that note, I'm off to pour myself a cup of purified water before I rest for a few hours...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Art Director

Games in today's industry are no longer made in a smokey bedroom by an enthusiastic nerd with too much free time. They are developed by huge teams of individuals, all working on different aspects of the game. These different people can generally be categorized into either Programmers or Artists.

I'm working towards becoming a game artist, its what makes me feel good, so I wont talk about the programming side.

But its no good having 30 artists, who can't agree on how the game should look, and create content at all different levels of detail and style. This would result in the game being very visually disorganized, and scrappy.

So, to lead artistic rabble is/are the art director/s. The Art Directors role is to quality check all the work being produced, ensuring it is not only up to scratch, but that it suits the current style. The Art Director often also hires/fires, mentors the inexperienced, controls the direction of the art work and ensures everything is being completed on time.

In most organizations the art and programming directors look to the lead designers for direction, and so it is important to note that the Art director is by no means the highest role of management in the industry. However, a smaller company with a smaller workforce such as the company Introversion would have members sharing roles.

In a large company with many artists, the management aspect of the Art director becomes more emphasized and as a result the creative aspect of developing computer game content becomes left to the artists under the directors influence. This is where the split between being an artist and an art director becomes apparent and is often why some artists do not chose to move into management, favoring to stay on the artistic team as a lead artist.

The role of 'Art Director' does not exist only in games. There are Art Directors in the Film industry, Publishing, and generally any other type of creative industry. Many aspects of the role are similar. When comparing to film, an art director is still in control of the art produced, and is still in control of assigning tasks to the artists on the team, and ensuring that the tasks are completed to a high standard and on time. It is a very similar role throughout, as it is essentially and art management position.

There are many qualities that need to be present in an art director, but without a doubt the most important quality of an art director is experience. An art director must lead his team, and be able to spot flaws in any work. This can only be achieved if the art director in question has the experience to know what to change and what is not quite right.

An art director must also be a respected member of the team, this applies for any type of leadership position. A leader must lead, and have the confidence to know that their decisions are correct.

They must also be organized, as being an Art Director means they are no longer only organizing their own work, but everyone else too.

But once again, Experience, Experience, Experience, Skill.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Game Design

Game design is a fundamental part of any computer game. A game can have amazing graphics, or a brilliant storyline, but without well thought through fundamentals, it will almost definitely fall flat on its arse.

Game design is quite a loose term, but what it generally summarizes are elements to a game such as the planning of the game mechanics, scoring system, levels and generally actions taken by the player to advance through the game. These elements are also called 'Gameplay'.

It is hard to say who the leading lights of game design are, as there are many fine developers in today's industry and past times. However it is a certainty that the player is of the utmost importance to anyone designing a game. It is essentially the player that dictates what is in, and not in a game. The many different types of players we have in today's industry influence the types of games that are being developed.

All kinds of design start in one place, the human brain. Whether we are designing a chair, garage, painting or computer game, the first baby steps of design start in the head. In the games industry development within a development studio is often handed straight over to an employed 'games designer'. It is up to these people to design a gameplay that is enjoyable for the player. However, it is not always like this, some smaller games studios design their games either with a democratic studio wide approach, or by giving experienced members of staff the responsibility to make sure that the game is enjoyable.

Every game released today can generally have the gameplay dynamics traced back to a few classic games, or trends. An example of this would be to look at almost any first person shooter on the market today, and compare them to the genre classic: Doom.

There are many trends passed down the generations of computer games, of which Doom has passed down quite a few. For example, Health, Armor and ammo. These names for stats have stayed with the genre right up to the present day. Also, Red Barrels Explode in shooter games.

Doom Barrels -

Crysis barrels -

Common design principles such as these help the player recognise the genre. however is still vitally important that games are different from one another, as people can qucikly get bored of the same thing.

"Though balancing an original game is a hideous amount of work, cloning a game has its own pitfalls.

When an original game is created in an iterative fashion, each iteration builds upon the past iterations. The rules begin to support each other in subtle unexpected ways. It's almost like you are building a pyramid, with each additional level supported intimately the rules below.

When you clone a game, you look at the obvious rules of the game and implement them. However, the subtle interactions of the rules are not immediately obvious and are therefore not implemented. These interactions are lost, and the emergent gameplay is destroyed. It's as if you made a plaster cast of a digital watch, painted it exactly the same, and then wondered why it didn't tell time." - Daniel Cook


For me personally, it matters less than some. While I still enjoy playing a well thought out and fun game, I find that my deep interest in 3D causes me to analyze games. To research how the artworks were constructed, techniques used, and then download the development tools and take the game to pieces.

When playing a game, I can't help but ask myself "How could I make this better?". Or "I wonder what the texture map for that object looks like". I suppose in my circumstances, this is probably better for me, but I can't help but think my ability to blindly play and enjoy games has suffered. Though, not to suggest I don't love modding them anyhow.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

NGJ (New Games Journalism)

I'm not one for trawling through newspapers, keeping up to date with news sites or reading different sources of information on a regular basis. Its just who I am, if a teacher was to ask me to review a work of Shakespeare, chances are, I would rent the DVD then spend the night rattling away on my keyboard.

But I have been known to read games journalism, it is fair to say it has almost always been a part of my life. Starting back when I was around nine years old, in the days of 'Ultimate PC' I would beg my mother to buy me a copy of the magazine when she did her weekly shop. Sadly, after time, Ultimate PC was no more, and I don't have any idea where it went. As my computer childhood developed, the comforting friend of a trusty PC mag vanished... And became PC Gamer.

And, things haven't changed, PC Gamer still resides on my desk, and my biased view of magazines still resides in my heart. I must be very closed minded, monotonously boring, or devoutly loyal, but I can't bring myself to read anything else.

But I am a fan, of New Games Journalism, I prefer it because it is much more personal, almost like having a conversation with someone about a game, not only do you get someones opinion on something, which I personally prefer with games and other forms of entertainment. This is because there really aren't many technicalities of right and wrong when it comes to entertainment, a game could be very cheap and visually shit, but could still be fun and addictive. Therefore I find a well written opinion, using references to support arguments, gives me a better background with which to make an opinion of my own.

I also enjoy the fact you can get to know someone's personality as well as their opinion, after months of reading, you almost feel like you have made a reliable friend in someone (providing they have an appealing personality).

But are magazines really a reliable source of truthful and honest reviews?

Computer games magazines use a ranking system, in order to rank reviewed games amongst the rest. However, with a game, or anything for that matter, is it really possible to give it an accurate rating using numbers? The problem faced with this technique of describing the experience of a game, is that every experience is different, and peoples personalities vary hugely.

A more accurate way of describing the contents of a game, would be to rate different aspects of the game it self (for example, storyline, graphics etc.), but this in turn takes longer, is possibly too in-depth for a relaxed reader and generally complicates things past our attention span.

However, a bonus of the Rating system is that it provides a very quick reference for any reader to decide what game is worth investigating, and what game is not likely to be very good.
Providing the reader reads the review as well as the rating, they would recieve much more information about the way the game makes the player feel, due to the use of personality in New Games Journalism.

However, New Games Journalism faces issues and Challenges which are many and varied. One is that it relies on the writer's personality, to help furnish the review. Being that personalities are always biased, it is safe to therefore recognize that reviews are also biased.

Another, and almost definitely influential challenge is that a magazine must be produced in approximately 19/20 days. With often huge contents , this forces reviewers to make quick and not always well researched decisions and ratings.

Many people accuse Games magazines of being corrupt and offering bad ratings for games. However, with only a short amount of time to review, mistakes are made, and can be seen my the ignorant as signs of corruption.

"And Games Journalists are corrupt because an incompetent or rushed decision when viewed from the outside can appear to be entirely identical to a corrupt one.We’re not perfect, because we haven’t time to be perfect. Just like developers." - Kieron Gillen


There are also issues facing reviews from the 'Moneymen' or the 'Publishers' to be precise. The publishers pay the wages for the Reviewers, and ultimately sack them if the magazine stops selling. This is becoming more of an issue in today's industry as the internet is doing the same 'shit filtering' job of the magazines, for free and often faster.

This internet competition in the market has hit the sales of all magazines and is one of many popular sources of game writing, and has put huge pressure on the publishers to maximise profits. The publishers want to reduce costs, and as a result are reluctant to add extra features, or attempt to revolutionise a potentially dying market. While the creative types, want to do exactly that, in order to re-establish previous selling figures.

"When things are bad, it’s a war between money-men who want to keep profits by reducing costs and the editorial who want to keep profits by being better. The idea of “being better” is somewhat alien to the money-people, who’ve pretty much forgotten any idea of what creative impulses actually are – or, more relevantly, the ability to have faith in anyone else’s." - Kieron Gillen


But all this talk about NGJ begs the question: How do I write? What kind of writer am I?

It is fairly apparent that I do not write often, my literary skills are not well practiced and finely tuned, and maybe as a result of this, or as a result of my love of socialising, I find myself to be a subjective writer. I much prefer to express my opinion, this is neither because I think its the only right way, or that I insist on others believing it. It is rather because I can find listed critique as being boring. Wholly useful, and reliable, but boring and without personality.

People are amazing, and we should get to know more of them.

Monday, 1 December 2008

The Current History of computer games

Well, we have covered the past, but like time, games don't stop. They keep coming, in new forms, new styles, with new features. And in this blog I will briefly investigate the current state of affairs, and where I believe games are heading.

In recent times we have seen an exiting phase of computer games history, new interactive consoles have been released, Direct X10 has been released, and the graphics in computer games has been getting better by the year.

But more interestingly, the industry has hit a potential fork in the road. As the new wave of 7th generation consoles have created a split, between interactivity, and graphical advances. The consoles have highlighted an important question: Does better graphics always result in a better gaming experience.

Nintendo took their 7th generation console, the Wii, and made almost no graphical advances. Choosing instead to make their console interactive, with motion sensing equipment. Whereas Microsoft chose purely to improve the graphical experience with their xbox 360 console.

This split in the direction of the games industry begs the question: where are we heading? What are the next generation of consoles going have as their USP? Photo realistic graphics, or lifelike interactivity?

The industry is also under multiple sources of pressure. More people in general are playing games. Children who grew up with games are now adults, families play the Wii, and the playing audience for computer games has grown more than ever.

Another source of pressure is that with the growth in photo realistic graphics in games, is it still a computer game? or a simulation? The concern being that shooting games with life like graphics, would stop being a fun game, and become a shooting simulation.

I believe that while the issue of violence and graphics is not huge at the moment, that in the future it will become a bigger issue, when the next generation of consoles beings about the next generation of graphics.

That said, I believe that the industry is heading towards a more interactive future. The huge selling figures of the Nintendo Wii (34.55 million units worldwide! [source: Wikipedia]) have without a doubt influenced the market, and other developers will almost definitely be looking to capitalise on this new feature.

Personally, I am exited, I cannot chose which I prefer, interactivity, or graphics? My ideal game would combine the unique features of the Wii, the graphical supremacy of the Xbox 360, and the storage space of the Playstation 3. I would love to play a cricket game for example, with life like graphics and a genuine skill required to play.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Making the most out of graphics

Without doubt, when someone says 'This game has better graphics than this other one' they are almost always talking about levels of detail. Almost everyone associates the phrase 'good graphics' with cutting edge details, high resolution normal maps, and 'realistic' graphics.

When new games come out, the developers strive for the aforementioned terms. Games like 'Gears of war', I'll admit, I've never played any of them, but the graphics are awesome, they look REAL, or as close to real as we have got these days.

But I can't help but ask myself, is this what makes 'good' graphics? Is photo realism all we ever want out of graphics?

Over the short time I have spent on my game art development course, I have started to look at graphics in a different way, and in my opinion I have started to see a boring trend with modern graphics.

You see, in my opinion, games don't have much of a graphical 'Style' anymore, developers just shoot for photo realism, depicting maybe a big gun, or a grungy metal wall. But it is always metal, and grungy, for fucks sake someone come up with something new.

Today during a lecture we watched a French film called 'The City Of Lost Children', and the lecture before we watched 'Dark City' - While 'Dark City' was in English, today's film was not. Now I must admit a flaw, I am almost decisively closed minded to films in a different language, and usually European films in general. But I feel that watching films like these has helped me gain a deeper insight to artistic styles.

These two films are set in very Dark, Steampunk Cities, both not having daylight scenes and both using a unique blend of Greens, Blues and Yellows to set the tone of every scene. And in my opinion it is pure Brilliance, here are some links to the trailers:

The City of Lost Children:

Dark City:

The artistic styles are what, in my opinion make the films. The story lines are interesting, but that at the most. What brings these films to life for me is the perfect lighting, colors and moods of every scene. But as I watched them, I immediately noticed similarities with a bestselling video game... Bioshock anyone?

Here is the Bioshock trailer:

Notice the blatent similarities, almost specific aspects of the films have been copied and placed in the game. This is not to say that these films made, or were the only sources of reference for the game, but I am willing to bet the developers watched these films.

But Bioshock was unique! It took on a brand new artistic style for computer games, and did it well. At the end of the day, the mechanics of the game were standard, you shoot stuff that attacks you. But what made me buy it, and play it for hours, was the style, the greens, the blues, the dark story and the setting. It was exiting, new and compelling.

What annoys me about modern games, is that the art styles copy each other, and generally produce copies of the same thing. I don't think it would be too hard to start making games graphically unique, to pick a new style and run with it.

There is a game I remember, that caught peoples attention, definitely mine and my friends. A game called XIII - here is a link to the Wiki Page:

The game was average, and the gameplay was boring, but the art was unique, it had never been done before in a game, and it was the sole reason I bought the game, and in my opinion the reason that made it stand out from the crowd.

Fallout 3... Well... I guess I can include Fallout 3 in this list, not only because it has been killing my productivity, but because once again Fallout 3 has a unique style, a unique blend of 1950's illustration and graphics, with a futuristic wasteland. If it was just another Oblivion, I really don't think I would play it so much, but it is again, Unique.

It is unique art styles like these that set work apart from the mainstream. Anyone can make a space fighter plane. Anyone can draw a tree man, these things have all been done. It is our responsability as artists to draw new trends, to use new styles and to be Unique.

Unique art sells games, why don't developers understand such a simple concept.

I can't wait to be unique.

Monday, 27 October 2008

The middle Ages of computer games

The 'middle ages' really started around the second generation of computer games. With the first generation being the already explained arcade and simplistic 'Pong' type games, the second generation of games, were for the second generation of games consoles, E.G the Atari 2600, Matell Intellivision and the Colego vision.

These consoles were a giant step forward from the consoles of the first generation such as the clunky arcade machines and scientific calculators. These consoles were specifically designed for home use, they were user friendly and designed with the only purpose of entertaining.

Yet unlike the 'Pong' console, these systems allowed the user to buy different games, often stored on cartridges or tapes, and play a different variety of games.

The first of the second generation consoles to hit the market was the Atari 2600 in 1977. The Atari 2600 made famous the plug in cartridge games, though it was not the first! The 'Fairchild Channel F' was the first console to have cartridge games, though the release of the Atari overshadowed the Fairchild's poorer graphics.

In related news, the Atari 2600 was the first console I ever played, and it was owned by my childhood friend Sam, whom I have known for 15 of my 19 years!

Three years after Atari released the 2600 and during Atari's dominance of the market, Mattel released the 'Intellivision'. The Intellivision console featured graphics far superior to anything on the market, and their advertising slogan was 'The closest thing to the real thing'. This console was only on the market for around ten years, and in those ten years it sold over three million units at a market price of $299!

Two years after the Intellivision the 'ColecoVision' console was released, not much had changed except the different games and better graphics, a trend still seen today. However, The ColecoVision did not see the booming sales of the other consoles. But it had better graphics? surely with a growing industry it would see large sales?

At this point in the industry, things started to go pear shaped. With three major consoles overcrowding the market, and a glut of poor quality games making the industry look poor and foul, the industry crashed in 1983/4.

These poor games are exemplified by a game called 'Custers Revenge' created by a company called 'Mystique' who made a collection of pornographic games for the Atari 2600. In the game 'Custers revenge' the goal of the game is to move General Custer across the screen, and rape a native American woman while dodging arrows.

These poor games put a lot of people off video games consoles, and created a lot of bad press that stopped potential customers taking interest in the industry, that, coupled with hundreds of companies creating games for an uninterested audience led to many of those companies going bankrupt. With so many companies going broke, there was little incentive for new developers to start in the industry and as a result things ground to a halt.

However, the third generation kick started things again with the NES (Nintendo Entertainment system) in 1985, which really became popular in 1987.

On my next blog entry, I will talk about the modern Era, and how I believe the industry is looking. Until then farewell.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Motivation station

Its strange...

For years in my life I have had somewhat of a problem with motivation. Whether its waking up on a Saturday before 12pm, or brushing my teeth before I go to bed. I almost always used to have trouble committing to these tasks. I just 'couldn't be bothered'.

I have been gearing towards becoming a professional 3d artist for three years now, but knowing I should be drawing and working, and actually committing to it is something else. I used to just read a bit of theory, admire someones work, then get halfway through a 3d model using someone else's photo for reference.

Lets not lie, I was lazy, and lets face it, you snooze you lose. No game artist got their job because they were lazy and their artwork was crap. I'm not going to get into an interview based on my drinking achievements or my ability to sleep like no other. I will only get a job if I am fucking good.

This prospect is scary to most, myself included. After these three years of university... Will I really be that good? The questions, the insecurities, the positive beliefs and the doubts are swimming amongst our little first year minds. And in most cases I should be shitting myself.

But here is the thing - I have come to university in a city I have never lived in before, after a long trip around America. I have managed to enrolled on a course that inspires me, and motivates me like I have never been before.

Right now, or before I wrote this blog, I was packing my sketchbook full on little thumbnails, repeating, practicing, and nailing my single point perspective. My friends are out drinking, as I would normally be but here I am, in my bedroom, spending much less and learning. And its not a chore, I've not been set it by a lecturer. I am doing it because I want to, because I enjoy it, and because I am motivated to be the best artist I can be.

I have come from a very shit 2d art background. I have generally had little confidence in my drawing abilities. I have always known I can draw, and often I can draw orthographic images for characters, but I would never draw an environment for fun, or to practice anything. Becasue there was nothing to practice, no theory, skill or technique with which to refine. But now I find myself enjoying it, repeating it, and downloading dvd's by 'Feng Zhu' (but I diddn't tell you that). Because all of a sudden I have a technique that I enjoy using, I have a new way of looking at and thinking about pencil strokes, I have a reason to draw.

I love learning new, I love getting better, I love feeling motivated, and because of that I love this course. In only three weeks I have learned enough to see an improvement in my work, and I can't wait for the future...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Oh how the world is changing

I am generally a very open minded person, while I might be thinking of a funny joke to make about someone or something, I never usually mean it. I just enjoy the challenge of finding the joke and delivering it. But some small things really get on my nerves.

In a personal project I was working on during my free time today, I decided I would make a young trick or treating girl with a knife and brains in her bag (I stole a competition brief just for practice).

What the hell does a young girl look like? I really cant say as I've ever drawn one before and I need reference pictures, but here is the thing. How on earth am I supposed to get reference pictures of a young girl?

I can't bring myself to type 'young girls' into google, and its not like I can go down the park and take pictures of children on the swings for fear of being slammed onto the sex offenders list with the other half of Leicester.

Society just gets silly after a while, don't get me wrong, I am all for just laws and rules. But health and safety is really starting to take the piss. My Auntie (love her to bits) tripped on the single bad paving slab on her walk to the shops and sued the council, or BT or which ever chimp couldn't figure out how to align squares.

Now I love my Auntie, but how about she just looks where she is going? Its one paving slab, shit happens, there are a lot of paving slabs in the country, I can't imagine it is feasible for the council to go around checking on paving slabs every day (though with the standard of todays education it might be a good way to reduce the number of spongers taking dole)

If I trip up, its my fucking fault, just get up keep walking, suing almost sounds silly.

In America, if someone falls down, and I go over to help them, and touch them god forbid, they can sue me till I bleed. But, if I walk off and don't try and help them, they can also sue me (apparently). What the fuck do I do? Fall over as well, hey if we are both hurt no one gets sued right?

Its fucking pathetic, I can't even run in tube stations wearing a puffy jacket and tricking people into thinking I had a bomb (Best way to ensure you get a seat and a quiet journey).

Its silly, I used to love my country, now I just live here.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Early History Of Computer Games

I know its hard to believe, but computer games have been around for longer than some of our parents, yet they never played them? A strange thought, why is it that we, the new generation have a huge following in computer games, yet the generation that pioneered and first made them, have often no interest? It almost seems rather ignorant, but this blog entry will briefly review the early history of computer games, and answer the one question that really makes me think... Why do our parents hate computer games?

Where did it all start?

Shockingly, computer games were first coming into a playable state around 1952, in the form of Naughts and crosses. A simple game, yet a tough task for young A.S Douglas in the university of Cambridge, England (Take that yanks!). Studying a PHD in Human-Computer Interaction Douglas used the universities EDSAC computer (Essentially, a giant stick of Ram) to start the games industry. However, The game was programmed for, and only worked on the universities EDSAC computer, and therefore was not the most accessible game made.

What next?

Later, in 1958, William Higinbotham designed the computer game 'Tennis for two' on the Brooklyn National Laboratory's Oscilloscope. While the game was once again a healthy development for the computer games industry, it was also once again designed for a specific piece of scientific equipment. And was not accessible to the general peon public.

But things started to improve for joe public in 1962 when Steve Russell Invented the game 'Spacewar!' designed for computer use! This was better, because a handful of people owned computers, while still rare, they were still more popular than the household Oscilloscope.

To the public!

In 1967 Ralph Baer invented the game 'Chase'. Chase was the first game designed for a television set, this meant people could play it, because even the middle class owned televisions! The industry became interesting, people started reading, hearing, and learning about new computer games. Scientists, devoid of any care for physical appearance smiled on the front of magazines with their new toys. People got interested.

Then came 'Pong', notice how most people think 'Pong' was the first ever game? Thats because most people are stupid and shouldn't be humored when they open their mouthes.

Pong was the first hugely popular commercial game. People wasted quarter after quarter down the arcade, playing this piece of modern history. After its huge success in arcades, the creators,
Nolan Bushnell and Al Alcorn, started Atari Computers, and developed 'Pong' as a household Game.

By this point, and after over 20 early years of computer games' existence, everyone knew what a game was. They even existed in peoples living rooms, by the television.

From this point on, history mainly repeated itself, a developer would make a game, sometimes with a friend, and it would be released either at the arcade, the home, or both. I shan't write about it because frankly it is boring.

However, there is still an interesting future to come, and I shall write about it in a later blog, the great depression etc.

But now, back to my question, why is it, parents don't like computer games? Surely their families would have been a part of the hype, their parents may well have purchased 'Pong'.

I am almost certain that it is down to one of three reasons:

Social Stigma
Cost too much
The depression coinciding with their childhood

The Social Stigma maybe? It is well known that when computer games were first made they weren't liked by everyone. A lot of people saw them as a waste of time and productivity, and almost everyone doubted that they would catch on (ha, what a mistake you old farts).

Cost too much? A lot of people weren't well off and new technology costs a lot of money, maybe the parents, thinking the games wouldn't last, or catch on, decided to keep their coppers and send their children to work in the mine?

We all know that feeling, say for example, when I was young I used to play with my Thunderbirds, I had them all, metal and proper. They would come and save my lego men from the terror of my cat, Launching out of their polystyrene base, why polystyrene you ask? Because my parents were too stingy to buy me the Tracy Island base I saw on television and begged for every Christmas. Funny. I wont be springing for the silver package when I stuff those two in the old retirement home, revenge is a fucker isn't it?

Back to the question... Maybe the depression? We will find out soon...

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

My First Blog

Well, it seems the opportunity to blog has been arguably shoved in my face and I am yet to decide whether to take advantage of this possible 'gem' or to immaturely refuse to take interest. I think common sense would suggest that the former is more in my favor but I do like being rebellious and besides, I never have been one for writing unread messages. Often finding that considering and reviewing problems, rather than whining about them on an internet blog read by people with little value or life experience, is a more effective way of dealing with them.

So, this blog will not be about my every emotion, and 'black holes of sadness' (whoever invented emo's really had a sense of humor) Instead I will write about things I find interesting, inspiring, and I shall show off my works in progress (providing I remember to update, something I'm not great at doing).

I am even planning a large series of posts on the history of games! Because this really inspires me to work hard and makes my instincts tingle with delight! (box of chocolates for the first person to spot the thinly veiled sarcasm).

So read on, let the blog grow!

And you know what, I am even starting to warm to this...