Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Character Design in Games

So this week we talked about what makes a character. There are a few fundamentals that I think should be followed to creating a great character which has been echoed in all successful games to date. I’ll generally talk about these topics in this article.

Character Design to me is the representation of a fictional world seen through the eyes of this character you control. You experience their world through them, a medium of sorts…not the one that talks to spirits mind you. Sometimes you see them in front of you and other times you see them sometimes but it’s mostly you being them, in other words first person rather than third person.

The visual representation of  the character is important but is also carefully tweaked and mastered to make sure that it not only fits in this world but it’s something you can relate to. This is a massive task that I expect only high IQ people to do but somehow there are a few men and women out there that imagine these guys from their common brains. A few examples of some seriously over-rated but memorable characters are, Altair, Kratos and my least favourite Master Chief (or as I like to say master chef). Now as I like to disagree with the general male public these characters are memorable for the way they look, sound, act and their attitudes towards situations which include minor wounds to the body or massive exploding shit that rocks the universe. They relate as a human to the consumer which is what sells.

I know there is a misconception of most people that fantasy games are stupid looking and are crap but as they say, different strokes for different folks but it all boils down to what relates to who. If I talk about your average Joe who doesn’t really seek cultural influence will typically find master chief a great guy because he’s important, burly and has a gun. Someone who is interested in more exotic things and of a more fantasy nature will probably prefer a character like Cloud from Final Fantasy VII because he’s got cool, spikey un-natural worldly hair and holds a massive sword somehow on his small tiny body. Character design really is just who you want to target.

If you take a game studio like EA versus Square you’re going to get two completely different character sets because they’re targeting completely different audiences. Ideally they’d love everyone to go for their game but people are different for a reason which is why characters are created differently. Now the thing that these two very different studios have in common is that they make these characters seem human, compassionate and empathetic. You need characteristics of real human beings otherwise you aren’t going to relate. Now you could argue that an ogre for example doesn’t relate to a human at all in which case I put to you that it does because weather you  seem them as this war hungry green monsters they also have a sense of collective and pride which gets them in these wars in the first place. How can you not relate to that?

I think something a lot of games fall short on, which I consider to be a big importance, is racial definition. Sure you can have a bunch of strange and wonderful creatures plodding along in the world but what’s the point of them if you don’t get to interact with them. Something I think Mass Effect does quite well to represent. You’re full conversation and back stories with these other races makes you feel more connected to them and care more for them, in other words you empathise with them. You can see a repeating pattern here of what I think is important. A game I think that does poorly in this is Final Fantasy XII bar one race because she’s in your party. There are a ton of cool races in this game but yet you don’t interact with them very much at all and the only race you do is a bunch of bunny people. I’d rather talk to the funny blue guy sitting on the bench then the bunny lady.

The most memorable character for me in my life so far is Nemo from Finding Nemo. I know it’s a recent film but when I saw the movie I just felt more connected to him than any other character I’ve seen in my life. A child who is loved and cared for by their single parent but ultimately rebels because of feeling trapped under their love. I think every teenage growing up feels this pressure from their parent(s) and as you watch the movie you see how regretful and overjoy he becomes as he eventually he realises his mistake and shows just how much he really loves his dad and he becomes a better fish for discovering what his father was trying to do. Every child feels scared leaving their parents for the rest time and its shock at the start but you slowly realise you are capable on your own.

I think an important part of this connecting to people and me included is how real the situation is. It is a life experience which Pixar generally uses in its movies. The character might be a fish but they stick a couple of big eyes and some eyebrows in there for expression with a big nice mouth for expressionism and WALA! You have yourself a fish that connects to you through expression and life experience.

Now I don’t think just the way it looks and the way the story pans out is enough. The voices all the characters have in the movie have to relate to you as well. You have the dad who is very attached to his son, over protective and also a little bit boring because they’re afraid of leaving their child for a period of time, you have the son that’s really enthusiastic, excited and curious about the world around him but is ultimately rocked by the revelation he’s restricted by the one true person he trusts. The way these characters act reflect through their lines. When Nemo is told he can’t do something he rebels and says the most hurtful thing he can think of. If you did have good writing for characters you really wouldn’t understand the way their creators intended them to connect to the audience. An example of complete utter confusion in character connection for me is Silent Hill 2. I didn’t get one single character in that game apart from they’re fucking crazy. I’m sure there was more to them but I really couldn’t be bothered when I heard how annoying and dull they sounded.

Stories I love are generally about a deep life changing time or scarred moment in your life. With the Finding Nemo story you also get UP. A man spends his entire life with the woman he loves for her to die before they could achieve their dream together. He becomes entangled in what he thinks they were meant to do but all along they’d done what they had set out to do. I like the feeling of connection through emotion. It feels more real to me then some guy blowing up a planet.

So these things I find important in a character design. It doesn’t have to be an over the top design but one that brings out a true connection through their general being. Since my teen years my opinion on characters has changed. I used to be into the really fantasy type characters with the horrible voice acting that really didn't look like those clothes should be staying together like that. I now want a character that's more believable. A man who's been to war shows the scars, shows the draining of life from his eyes and the terrible realization of the things he's seen. A man that looks broken. A buff man with a gruff voice who thinks it's cool to shoot guns doesn't seem like a true person to me. 

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Too much bloom in games you say?

So a couple of weeks ago we were talking about how bloom and gloss seems to be overused in games these days. It would appear that I stumbled upon the best example of this today for too much bloom. Prepare your eyes, it's BLOOMING BRIGHT!! This is from syndicate. I haven't played or even heard of this game but there you are...way over the top. I think I'll go find a gloss one to post now.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Black Hawk Down Review

I've seen this movie a few years ago and, well, I turned the channel. I'm not one for war movies and stuff so when I watched it recently all the way through I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed it. If only for the man that gone blown to pieces! *Evil laugh*

It's one of few movies that only progress. You never see any back track areas or flash back moments in the movie. Everything you need to know is there. Everything that you are required to know has been shown to you. That's a cool idea to be honest. One thing I always hated about movies and TV show, not to mention a particular game, is the amount of flash backs they throw in there either just to waste time or to tell you something that you wouldn't have been able to figure out without it...which most of the time you figure out anyway.

It seems sort of a mono-coloured movie. The tint throughout makes it seems like an event in the past and in essence it is. The whole area in which the movie takes place is a marvel really. It's incredible to think that it's not real because it really and utterly seems real. It's definitely a place I thought would have existed.

I didn’t realise the number of actors that were in this movie. I think spotting all the actors was more of a shock to me then the storyline! I couldn’t believe how well they all suited their roles as well. They all seemed like their characters and it really seemed like a unit. It’s the same with the army base as well. It feels like they’ve moved in, made it their home and are having the best of craic in a place they don’t want to be in.

I thought the movie dragged on a bit but I didn’t feel that that any of the scenes should have been cut. They all seem relevant to a certain degree which I have to say, I haven’t seen that much in movies.

The visualisation of the shots is also something quite unique. Most would sacrifice for another angle to save time or budget for special equipment but having all the angles as they are in the movie reflected somewhat of a human vision. What someone is seeing in these shots, not what a camera is seeing. It felt like you were there not stuck at the side looking in.

It’s a pretty good movie. I said before I’m not keen on them but I’m glad I at least watched this fully to appreciate how visually intense this movie is.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Art Direction for Games

An art director is the main man. The man that controls it all, the man with the one ring to rule them all! Well…maybe not but he is the man that decides and finalizes all decisions for anything that is related to the artistic value of the game.

The general role of an art director as described by the wonderful wikipedia:
Various artists may create or develop specific parts of an art piece or scene; but it is the charge of a sole art director to supervise and unify the vision. In particular, the art director is in charge of the overall visual appearance and how it communicates visually, stimulates moods, contrasts features, and psychologically appeals to a target audience. The art director makes decisions about visual elements used, what artistic style to use, and when to use motion.’

In other words, if you have a team creating the same thing and you all hand it to him, he decides which one is going to make it and which ones are going in the shredder! If you don’t have this guy doing this job you could end up with a game that has so many mis-matched ideas and styles that it would ultimately be very confusing and un-appealing to the consumer. This man of superior thinking has to think like a consumer but also needs to think like a true director! It’s a tough job, a double edged sword, a devil and angel on your shoulder, a marmite thing…he has to be the brain to the hive. The one that knows how to get you digging in your pockets to buy his game because it’s absolutely WOW. The vision this guy needs could be said as double vision. It’s the same with any art director in any genre of commercialism. In movies he has to think that it’s visually appealing to the viewer but it’s also the right style and cut for the vision of the film. In commercials It has to be friendly to all ages but also reflect on the purpose of the ad. Art directors are needed! They are the life that is given to these worlds and objects you’re viewing!


Art direction in games vs. art direction in film. Well, I think there are very few differences between them. They both have producers and executive producers to answer to, they both have major roles in deciding what the viewer sees and also ultimately are responsible for what the viewer hates about it. The only difference I see in them is that game art directors have to work with a poly limit. The game engines and what the modellers can do with the artwork given to them where as a movie art director doesn’t have this worry. They have a much bigger poly budget that allows them to get away with more complex visuals and because it’s on a big screen you don’t have to worry about it lagging out.

To become a successful art director you need a few important skills. Number one on the list, crisis development...I mean management. Crisis Management.  Probably a very important learning step to any director. It shows the skills to work under pressure and under an extreme change.  Bill Gates himself this is an important skill to learn because without it you’re not going to be good at your job. The second on the list is leadership. You need a strong leadership skill to be able to deal with the amount of people under your belt. You need that booming voice, that sympathetic tone, that good guy boss smile! You need to be able to have the control to order your minions about! And third on the list is a keen eye for detail and stylization. You need to know your shit to make sure it all works in perfect harmony. You can’t be much else if you don’t have these. Oh, also the will to persist if you do something wrong. It’s your responsibility if shit hits the fan.

All in all an art director is a pretty cool guy and doesn't afraid of anything.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Combat Trailer

I thought this was relevvant to our studies at the moment. This video goes into detail about the combat design for the newly released RPG game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It was released on the 7th in america and is released tomorrow here in europe. It's got a lot of names behind it. R. A. Salvatore wrote the universe and lore for the game. He's a noted fantasy writer. Todd McFarlane, the man who created spawn, did the artwork and Rare. Ltd's Grant Kirkhope did the music. Developed by Studio 38 and Big Huge Games it's nice to see something that looks solid coming out of the fantasy genre. Also shout out to the black developer in the video! You don't see them very often and he waves swords about!!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Game Design

Game design isn't something I’ve really thought about…or realised I should think about. As a game art student it’s a completely relevant thing to think about and I guess I do think about it to a certain extent but just haven’t realised. Game design to me is the creation of the story, environment and game play of the game. Basically all aspects planned and thought out by a group of people looking to make an awesome game about an awesome person. Most of the time it works…most of the time it doesn’t! I think about game design a lot more when playing fantasy games just because I feel there has to be a lot of attention to the environment you’re in, a whole world created out of a few people’s minds. Then you the armour and characters to design, all the weapons and all the cool spell effects. I never really thought about it for most games like first person shooters too. Granted you don’t really have to pay attention to the character you’re playing as but the environment and the weapon designs are a major part in them. You need to be accurate in the clothes they wear and you have to bring something new to the game play to pull it away from the un-ending pile of generic. It really isn’t something I thought about but now, it’s something I better get used to thinking about a lot!

The definition of game design as said by our favourite internet source in life, Wikipedia:
‘Game design, a subset of game development, is the process of designing the content and rules of a game in the pre-production stage and design of gameplay, environment, storyline, and characters during production stage. The term is also used to describe both the game design embodied in a game as well as documentation that describes such a design.  Game design requires artistic and technical competence as well as writing skills.’

I chose to review Gamasutra’s Game Design: Theory & Practice Second Edition: 'Not All Game Design Documents Are Created Equal' an excerpt created by Richard Rouse III. It covers a big range of all the things you need to know about how not to game design as well as the documentation you do as well.

It starts off with an attack of documentation that’s too thin. Short documentation that doesn’t explain much of anything or references other games it’s based upon without any further detail as to what exactly it’s like. You don’t get any help from that and it’s not the best idea to fill in the blanks with your own theories because they could be terribly wrong.  Most thin documentation has too much back story and not enough information. It describes what it’s based on but not what it’ll be like.

This leads into the second part he goes over. This game design document has solely been written for the purpose of discussing the back story to the game. When I read the first line of this paragraph I immediately picked up on the fact he changed from describing a writer to the writer being a woman…like women are the only people that can waffle on for 400 pages of back story. Nice.

ANYWAY, he describes that these writers spend too much time on the stories and not enough time formatting the document. It has no clear reference points or system for you to refer to so you can just skip parts that you don’t need to sit and read. He also describes how it’s unnecessary to have so many pages on back story as you wouldn’t include all of that in a game you were developing.

The next section leads comfortably on to the overkill. Describing every last detail about everything you intend to do. Some things are more important to describe than others and these kinds of documents just keep going about something trivial. For example how an AI would move, sleep talk in great detail which really wouldn’t be necessary.

The last two he describes are related in a way. A grand scale and boundless document for a concept that has no limit or constraint what so ever, that has a completely unrealistic expectation. The last is more of a summary of them all, what happens to a poor design document. It becomes shelved, put to the side, slid under the carpet, locked in a closet never to be seen again. In other words they become a fossilized document.

When you read about these documents and how they are flawed you can see why. It needs to be concise and explanatory but limited in areas that are less important and each section gets the same amount of attention as the next. I’ve heard this said before which he mentioned, documents are measured by their weight. When I did work experience in a small game studio I received a game document for that game they were making at the time. I had never seen so many pages tied together describing the same topic.

It was an interesting article to read. It was more of an obvious statement of what you already knew but didn’t think about because it’s not something that bothered you before. Well for me at least that’s how I saw it. It’s a nice guide and warning signs for things not to do in your own documentation. Hopefully I can follow these and maybe not be boring about it.

Who are the leading lights in game design? Gabe Newell and Gabe Newell. Ok there are more like Peter Molyneux, Will Wright and Shigeru Miyamoto. They’ve created games that have been so successful everyone has heard of them, knows someone who’s played and has seen countless of pictures of their games on the internet. Gabe Newell to me is the best game designer and to be quite frank, best fucking guy in games development right now. This guy has games like half life and portal under his belt. He created valve, my absolute dream to be working in. If there is any man or woman to follow in the games industry now it’s him. He’s such a genuine guy and really thinks about his player base as much as his games. That’s something I think a lot of games designers don’t think about and they lose sight of the aim of the game they are developing.

Game design is the staple in creating a successful game. If you don’t have a solid design it’s not going to be a solid game. I find that the best games that are developed are not created by one person alone. It has the input of the entire team. In Kojima productions, they developed a great way to develop a game. A piece of paper was given to each member of the team and at the end of the day at least one idea would be on this paper. This proved to be successful as a lot of the ideas on these papers were put in the Metal Gear Solid game they were developing at the time. You don’t just get a great and creative game from one mind alone. It needs several minds involved to bounce of ideas, to tell which ideas are shit and which ideas would benefit.
I think designing a game is essentially the same for any genre of game. It all has to have the same basic points explained and developed. There may be small differences that need to be added or not used in others but they all conform to the same standard of document produced by each game made.

When I play a game I want something that’s stimulating. I play a lot of fighting games and I enjoy them because I have to work at a combo, learning each part separately before putting it all together to make one sick move. It’s the same with fantasy games. You work your way through areas, you level and develop your characters and then ultimately you use it all at the end for one final battle. The process of learning and developing in a game and then using it at the end is satisfying to me. It’s probably why I don’t play shooting games that much…I know there are upgrades you can get and the more you play the better you get but when you play the levels you never feel like you’ve achieved something. It’s an endless learning curve which I don’t like. I hate things that drag out and never end. 

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Princess Mononoke or Mononoke Hime

Movie review time!!
This is my absolute, all time, best of the best movie. I watched this when I was 13 in America and my whole being was just wrapped around this story. The animation of the creatures, the colours and the whole lighting of the movie was so incredible to me. The opening minutes showing the fierce fight between Ashitaka and the boar god was something else. seeing the demon spread infront of itself to attack him, wrapping round, gripping his arm, seeing the clothes and muscle bulge at how tight it was just blew me away. I have never seen so much detail  in an animated movie. As you continue to watch you get the whole feel for the tribal area and how different they look to other characters later on in the movie. The colors they wear are unique to them in the movie and the huts as well. It's a contrast to see a beautiful sunny day and then Ahitaka wincing in pain at the boar god's curse.

As the movie progresses you see a very stark difference in color when he reaches the steel town.Dark, grungy colors showing how overpopulated and busy the town is. You see the men guiding bulls down a steep and narrow mountian path towards it. The plot forwarding device to get Ashitaka to the steel town.

The people he meets here are unhappy, rude and overly confident. They're how you would see a nation of people these days. Stressed by their lives and only caring for themselves. People care about money and don't want to help others. The greyer colors of this area reflect the mood and show just how different he is to these people.

Enter the second and most important character, San. She is named as Princess Mononoke to the steel town people. She is a human girl who was raised by a wolf god. She fights the steel town people to save her forest and her family. Her colors are unique to her as well and her style.

Progressing through the movie the colors change quite a lot. Most of it is set at night or in heavy forested areas. The lighting is either very dark or very vibrant in areas and you see the wonderful effects they produce for water and the animation used for Didarabochi. When he starts appearing some horrible crazy shit starts happening and then you get the weather effecting the environment. The motion they use is took cool and really shows off Studio Ghibli's animation to it's fullest.

This movie will never get old for me. It's so inspirational in it's colors, art and animation style that I will forever be in awe and envy.


So SOPA was shelved and such. We will see it again but for now it's gone which is grand...but now a new evil which doesn't only just effect america it effects every country. This bollocks is known as ACTA. It's pretty much the same as SOPA but it's far more extreme and this article I found on it today just proves how fucking stupid these things are.


I want people to know that if this passes we aren't going to live in the same world any more. This is literally going to stop us from saying what we want. How can you take that away!? Please, please read about this bill and share to others that this needs to be taken away now! If I find a protest here in the UK about it I will be there because I'm not letting this destroy my internet!! GET RID OF IT NOW!! SHOUT OUT AGAINST IT!!

Also another link to what people in the European parliament(remember a guy resigned because of this!!) think of this.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Session 9

Pretty cool movie. It didn't end the way I thought it would but I guess that was the point.

Best moment in the whole movie
I think everyone must have laughed at this. I've seen it on the interwebs before I actually saw this movie so I thought it was hilarious!

There was quite a lot of things in this movie that was strange to watch. The annoying sounds they used to trip your mind out or repeat loops of the same bird through out the movie...it got to me but I think maybe that was the point? Drive you insane considering where the movie is set. The colors in that place were pretty orange for where they worked and there was a significant difference between the outside colors and inside the building. Different worldly feel to it when they were all doing work and discovering things. It seemed more like a story that would watch a group of people go slowly insane and kill each other but I was quite shocked at how it was just more of a reflection of the curiosity of people needing to know something or wanting to find something. I really felt through some moments that they should REALLY stop what they're doing because you know they're just going to get whacked over the head for being too fucking curious! It didn't happen so my heart rate was exceeding itself for no reason. I remember the main character talking at the very start of the movie and was off put by the fact he wasn't american like the rest of them...it felt a bit forced making him the main focus because he was different. He clearly was from the rest of them. I don't know, it felt awkward watching him. Considering how it ends it feels more forced to be honest. I wasn't quite sure why the chair room kept popping up as they weren't even in it at all during the movie apart from passing it one scene but the lighting in it was cool. Very musky and run down.

Overall it was a good movie. I don't think I'd watch it again cus it wasn't my thing but it seems to be a good reference for lighting and mood in general. Also the guy who decided to put all those horrible noises in needs his ears cut off.

Gustav Klimt

Anyone who says this guy isn't amazing can go find a bridge and jump of it! 
This man, this artist is the reason I love art. He is such an individual with his work and when you see it you know it's him straight away. He just has that overwhelming sense of being and I honestly, every time, sit and look at his stuff for hours when I come across it on the web. I had the extreme pleasure of seeing his art in person in Vienna quite some few years ago. Me being young I didn't fully appreciate it but I loved it! Today I can say truly adore his stuff. I painted the tree of life in school once and that must have been the one thing I was proud of doing. My mum bought me a puzzle of expectation and I must have sat there and completed about 100 times just staring at how pretty it was. He uses such primitive shapes in his well known works and the gold combined is just something really fantastic and unique. I love him! One thing I really want to do this summer is get to his work again now that I'm older. Gief plane ticket plx!

My absolute fav!