Monday, 14 November 2011

Composition


The basic idea is to reduce the chance of achieving a low quality end result. This generally falls under composition.



Composition:The nature of something's ingredients or constituents; the way in which a whole or mixture is made up.



There's an old saying: Well begun is half done. This is quite apposite in the field of art as we've all been there at some point; looking at a painting we've been working on for a good few hours only to step back and realise... 'This is shit.'

Now there are a lot of reasons for this, lack of technical skill aside. Usually, if not most of the time it's due to a poor composition, that is, a poor choice of shape placement or the wrong colours etc. So many artists all around the world waste SO many hours on failed painting, paintings which they would believe they failed half way through when in fact, it's probable they failed it before they even put brush to canvas. What do I mean?



Bad PLANNING!



The difference between a compitent artist and an incompitent one is simply the ability to hold off on getting started on a piece to simply step back, look and study what you want to paint instead of rushing into it because you have this GREAT IDEA and want to get it down ASAP!



We've all done it - have an idea in our head, be it a creature concept or a super-kewl robot, and upon getting it down on paper we convince ourselves it's DA BESTEST EVAH! possibly taking it to a final piece there and then.

And with absolute conifdence I can say that it IS NOT the greatest it could be. The reason for this being that you can always push it further, add extras or take the crap away that doesn't make much sense. Even things like the characters expression or number of fingers can be changed out, the temperature of colour to set the mood and invoke certain emotion in the viewer and so on.

A famous illustrator and Sci-fi art legend, Syd Mead, really goes all out when it comes to planning. We're talking 30 hours or more before he even starts his final. Now, he works traditionally so this number would be cut down a lot nevertheless he refines his idea so much that by the time he comes to the final piece there isn't a doubt in his mind that it'll be successful. Pages upon pages of thumbnails, both environment and asset study from people to plants to his signature Hyper-Van. On top of that he also refines his colour pallette by doing colour thumbnails ending in a ~two hour blown up piece to see if it works well with an increased level of detail.



AND THEN he starts the final piece. Safe in the knowledge that he's pushed it as far as he can without wasting too much time on planning. As there comes a time when you have to say 'enough planning' and just get on with it due to deadlines approaching.

Really, nothing should be left to chance. I'm going to quote another artist here, again it's about composition though it's easily translated for game development as a whole:

Creating a good composition can be challenging but fixing a bad one can be frustrating – if not impossible. -Ian Roberts, Mastering Composition



Simply put, it's optimal to spend a lot of energy in the beginning getting it right as appose to jumping onto the production too soon only to hit a wall that's either really difficult, and time consuming (time is money) to get around. If it's even possible at all.


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Elements of game design - Planning and Concepting


If you don't iron out the kinks in your designs or push them as far as you can, be it characters, environments, story or the way you progress through the level etc then your game is not going to be as good as it could be. If it's not at it's best when shelved (if shelved at all) then you're going to have problems. Not stating it would be unsuccessful, merely that it isn't doing as well as it could be.



This reminds me of an illustrator by the name of Iain Mccaig, best known for designing Darth Maul. While drawing he constantly takes an eraser to his work (another traditional artist), this is usually frowned upon as we're often taught to learn from our mistakes by leaving them in there and trying to adapt them (within reason), however he has a saying for this:

“If it's wrong, take it out.”

It's an obvious thought but Mccaig practices this statement with utmost zeal in his drawings. If it's even slightly off, say the arm is just so that it doesn't quite convey the exact feeling he's trying to achieve (despite being anatomically correct), then he'll chop it off without a seconds thought.

In his GNOMON DVD – Visual Storytelling he frequently quoted the literature saying:



Murder your darlings”- Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch



Basically what it means is sometimes you create something that you're rather fond of however it might not fit in the grand scheme of things so in the end, to get the best result out of your painting/writing or whatever, there may come a time where you have to 'murder' it for the greater good.



In a previous post (I believe it was the one on environments) I described the different ways in which level designers go about creating environments using techniques such as silhouette, function and storytelling. These are all part of the planning process for a level, and as such, the entire game.



One of the most common parts of achieving a good or believable design are to use references, this goes from Google images to the real world. The use of Google images gets knocked a bit by artists because it’s apparently ‘shit’ or ‘cheating’ but that isn’t a reasonable argument, if the resources are there to use a reference from then why would you give yourself MORE work in finding something in person when it is right there in front of you? I’m not backing Google images I’m merely arguing why it’s seen as wrong to use it; probably a pride thing.



That’s not to say you shouldn’t go out and get real references, in fact I’d encourage it more than Google for the obvious reason that it’s better to see something up close and really get a feel for it. On top of that your photo references will be a lot more tailored to what you need instead of trudging through page after page of non-helpful images on Google. Still don’t think Google is wrong though, and you’d be an idiot to think it is.



Simply, using references will make your designs accurate as appose to bringing them out of your head which are likely hazy at best if not practiced regularly.



Process and planning is the part of design where you get it all right before you even begin the final piece because no one likes spending forty hours on something only to realise it failed right from the start due to poor planning and conception.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

'Ere we go.


So I scored 51% last year.

Shit.

Derp
Ah well, not like it was a surprise. I mean, I did the bare minimum if I'll be honest. Not intentionally of course it's simply been my mentality towards education for years. The only part of the course I seemed to do well in were these blogs - which I'm quite proud of.

Throughout the first year I was constantly warring against 3DS Max, convincing myself I hated it and would rather just do 2D, as to that, I was sure my 2D was complete balls as well. Whether it is or isn't, is hardly the point - it's more about the mentality. A defeatist attitude will just hold you back. Whilst you're moaning and wollowing in self pity you could be jamming out some really poor sketches or models. Poor or not, it's something and that's what counts.

So long as you're actively trying to fix your negative attributes, you're on the right path. Sitting there and moaping about it will just keep you down and inactive. As Mike said, if you're getting at least twenty sketches done in an hour, or spending thirty minutes a day on something you don't understand or struggle with in 3DS Max or another program then that's good. Extra-curricular of course. This is appose to spending eight hours on something boring and then burning yourself out on the first day, not to revisit it for a week.

Little by little.

That's my reflection on last year, now that I've had a summer to think about it. The work wasn't the hard part, it was my negativity which led to a lack of motivation and consiquently affecting my results.

As to this year; well, I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say 'I'm going to work harder'. Sounds pretty clichéd – 'yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before.' This is akin to new years resolutions. Still, doesn't hurt to try and of course, if I don't, I'm screwed... so, not like I have an option.
That said, I'm quite enthusiastic about this year, group project aside, I'm eager to just go for it and I think the key to this is a system.

My feelings towards 3D last year
For 2D I will do more than the measley twelve thumbnails, instead going for several pages as well as artifact study i.e. if I'm to paint a landscape then I'll study the trees and other foliage as well as other little doodads such as fences, benches and bins etc. It's that extra mile that'll really push my grades I believe. On top of that I'm not going to do just one final; I'm going to do one traditional and one digital piece. Combine that with all the sketchbook work and I'll have done 15-20 hours a week easily I recon.

For 3D, it's simply a case of being more proactive; Get the model finished within the first couple days, within reason, get it unwrapped and textured asap (not to be confused with rushing) and once that's done, if I have time, which I should, then I'll do it again. I aim to do every project at least twice, three times would be preferable but with all the 2D work and blogs I'll have to assess that on the night.
On a side not, I want to actively seek out new tools and modifiers etc just to get the best results. Just push, push, push myself to make the best work I can.



Lastly a quick word on blogs. I did pretty well last year, as I said, and so have a pretty good idea of what is expected of me. Though this is a pretty boring post, with a severe lack of humour, my other posts (moreso personal ones) should be more entertaining, or at least that's the idea.
Review games I play, review movies I watch, write about game-related subjects I find interesting (or just for practice), whack up some of my work and maybe... maybe, a tutorial here and there. Not that I feel confident to give tutorials I merely think the activity of simply learning to do tutorials could be beneficial; making a tutorial requires you to basically review the way YOU work, something that we don't naturally do... to us it's near second-nature so when someone asks us 'How did you do that?' we often stare into space for a few seconds trying to compose our thoughts and processes.

One final note. Feedback: I'm now convinced this is the best way to improve and as such I will be getting my work critted often, all of it.
I appreciate your feedback.


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

What a long, strange trip it's been.

So the first year is over with just some loose ends to tie up and a few extra personal projects, then it's on to year two. I'm sure everyone says it but damn, this went fast. Seems only yesterday I was failing at drawing cars... oh wait, that was yesterday. Need more work on that.

Anyway, I'm extremely grateful for this chance to progress and to really find what I aspire to accomplish in the future. I'll be honest and admit I'm not very fond of 3D; I don't necessarily find it boring or difficult as I did at the start of the year, it's more or less a case of disinterest; I can still get on with it, and I want learn however that's really because any extra knowledge of the elements of game design on top of 2D is crucial. Therefore I will learn.

I became aware of this when I realised I never went looking for 3D art as I do 2D. I'm always going on concept art websites, or looking at the art from games like World of Warcraft, God of War and (the one I cant wait for solely because of the art) Guild Wars 2.


Nevertheless, I'll keep at it because it'll be of paramount importance for sealing a job. I've become slack with game production as well, not to say I wasn't trying hard at it but I could have tried far harder and practised more out of projects. I found that when there was a lecture on new tools and techniques I got lost within five minutes because I hadn't caught up on the previous weeks tutorials assuming I'd catch-up... I did, just took months. So a more proactive approach for next year as well as a shit ton more practice during the summer break.

Something I will do next year to aid this will simply be to go to the labs as oppose to staying at my flat to do work under the credo that my fridge and entertainment are there. A lunch box will sort that out and entertainment only stifles my work flow. Really is a pity that it took me a year to concur this.

As for 2D; love it. Simple as. I want to be a concept artist (yeah, one of them) and this year has really been quite significant in turning me into an artist. Not necessarily in the skill department but in the mindset. I like things I despised and tried things I didn't care for. All for the better.

Then of course there's the blog. Something I was pretty keen on from the start though found the earlier projects quite dull (history of games – I'm a heathen). The reason for me looking forward to blogging was due to the chance to improve my writing; no idea if it has however I feel the ability to write constructively while holding interest is key for just about any walk of life; like exercise, it's just something every should do to improve themselves. On top of that it's one more notch in the proverbial axe that is my resumé.

To highlight on that; more I hope to achieve in the second year is to become a better communicator. There's the game review planned as well as the standard presentation of the first semester so these are but two chances to try. I'm gonna go red and my voice is likely to sound like a pubescent geek but it's gotta be done. Maybe I'll just grow my hair long so I can shield my face from the judgemental gaze of the world. Although that might lead me to listening to Linkin Park and I'm not sure I could take that.

Something that I believe would help the students (even if they'd oppose this) is to make it mandatory to come into the labs at least 2-3 times a week for the full day. Not that the course should demand we work, this should be something we all want to do however we all get distracted when at home, and often prefer our cosy room and nearby fridge. This would simply improve productivity and assure decent grades at the end, which of course help the course to look better.

I'd dearly like to do more for the course, given the current cut to funding and the merge with... err.. humanities however I just don't feel like I'm at the skill level to really say: Hey, this is what the course can teach you. I imagine it wouldn't aspire to much. Hopefully by the end of the second year I'll be able to show off what I've learnt. For the moment however I shall remain in the shadows, learning what I can hoping that that will be enough to reflect the course's high standards and well-deserved accreditation.

Elements of Game Design - Environment


The design of a level starts with function; what is the purpose of this level? Or rather what is the player's purpose, their objective, their goal as well as their ability must be taken into account.

For example: If the player can jump high then there should be reason and room for such exercise; why give them a big jump if they can't utilize that? So, you would maybe put in ledges or gaps to leap across. This is something that is considered at the early stages of game development; the reason for a large jump would have been determined early on and so levels would be designed accordingly.

Forms follows function – Louis Sullivan
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_follows_function)

Form follows function is an old rule of architecture, considered a simple truth, this is arguably the basis all architecture is grounded on. However, this is related more with the world we live in as oppose to the imagined worlds of gaming.

The principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose. “ - wikipedia

Mad Photoshop skills.
The reason for this being more related with the real world is that gaming environments need not necessarily adhere to the laws of physics that our world does. Also things like resources, manpower and time hold little cause for concern in games. i.e. a one-hundred foot tall crystal palace is entirely conceivable given the context, whereas in the real world it is quite fucking bonkers.

Hence you can construct a grandiose area that supports the games intentions while delivering a compelling experience due to limited restrictions. Limited restrictions being memory and deadlines though given the current state of equipment, memory doesn't seem to be a massive issue; that is if you don't go over the top and know to pace your level; don't clutter expensive assets etc.

Out of place
At any rate, there are certain attributes and techniques a level designer will use when creating a level, here are a few:

Silhouette: This not only serves as one of the best designing tools but also takes purpose in the actual game. Team Fortress is a very good example of this as by just looking at the characters you can tell who they are, even from across the map which means a player can easily identify who it is.
Team Fortress character sheet

Function: As explained above.

Storytelling: This is pretty much the same as function however it has more purpose. The level should tell a story all in itself. For example: In Modern Warfare 2 you shoot your way through a favela in Brazil. Just by looking at the scene you can tell that it is a deprived area; shanty town, broken/stripped cars and other vehicles as well as trash and junk all over the place - a real shit hole.
Favela

Going back to function and silhouette for a second, some of these buildings have a 2nd floor, windows and doors as well as some other chest high walls here and there. The player, in the heat of a gunfight can instantly concur that:
  1. enemies are likely to poke their heads out of these windows and file out of the doorways and
  2. these holes (windows) and chest high areas could also be used as a viable source of cover.
    This is what a player needs; to be able to compose a plan within an instant in order to succeed. Good use of silhouettes helps the players mind to work faster, composing plans on the fly.

Other techniques such as space and light, immersion and consistency are also employed. Immersion and consistency going hand in hand in importance. Nothing breaks a game more than to think 'yeah right' as your mortal man just jumped 30 feet to the ground and didn't seem to bat an eyelid. That said, there are certain levels of unlikelihood we as players will accept; like taking 10 bullets in the chest and still being alive or after taking said bullets in the chest only to hide behind some cover for a few seconds as the wonders of nature heal your Swiss cheese meat and potatoes.

http://deanemccullough.com/post/3124728295/bulletstorm-developers-people-can-fly-epic 
Bulletstorm developers (People Can Fly & Epic Games) take the piss out of the Call of Duty franchise

Something that broke immersion for me in the much acclaimed (and boned over) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (among many other things) was the part where he climbs out of the train in the mountains. He has been shot in the side, yet still manages to climb up this derailed train that's hanging over a cliff in the freezing cold weather only to then trudge through the snow in nothing but his jeans and jumper fighting off the bad guys.
Coincidence?
During all of this he is bleeding profusely from his gut which would make him cold from blood loss, then factor in the freezing conditions of the mountain and you'd have one dead Nathan Drake. Not only that but if you've ever had even just a bruise on your side, even the simplest act of lifting your arm becomes a tad painful, let alone going for a little climbing exercise.

However that is more of a storyboard error than level design. An example of an immersion breaking design flaw would be for example, in a shooter; you have guns that shoot lead and grenades that blow shit up. Right, so you've blown up that lovingly placed crate and it's now pencil shavings. However, that wooden door over there, no matter how much you unload into it or how much explosives you use, it doesn't leave a dent.

Some games that boast destructibility, like Black, also fall short on this. What broke the immersion for me in this games was that everything I could blow up and smash to pieces seemed almost too planned out. Especially the cars that you can blow up. They were never out of the way, or down some alley; no, they were always in the center of somewhere, where enemies would ALWAYS run to. Whenever I saw a car I just waited for the fuckwit ensemble to merry it's way over there, oblivious to the fact their mother and sister are the same person, to then fill their organs with the finest of German engineering.

On top of that, despite supposedly EVERYTHING being destructibility, there was a wall in a house, made of buggered plaster and withered planks that was surprisingly invincible. A 3 inch thick wall stopped bullets that go through stone like butter. This broke my immersion, because for having so much fun in this game, blowing shit up, an enemy was behind this wall where I felt particularly clever with the idea to exploit said destructibility by shooting through this weak wall and killing him without a face to face confrontation. Denied.

It's key for level designers to work with the storyboarders, this allows for a more streamlined, immersive experience when handled properly. Thinking like the player helps here; should I put more cover here? A chest, more enemies or a puzzle etc. A map that goes from A to B appears easier to design, as you are guiding the player through and so testing this would be easy. However a sandbox game or an open world must be far harder to populate. Is there anything truly memorable about the streets of GTA, or the arid lands of Red Dead Redemption? Only that they look pretty. Compare that to then something tailored like scaling Mt. Olympus on the back of a titan in God of War 3. 

Here is an environment I particularly like:

It's Warsong Hold from World of Warcraft. The story behind it is that the evil bad guy sent some of his minions to strike fear into the hearts horde members in the capital. The horde built this in the bad guys lands as a response - 'the Horde fears nothing.'  
What made this particularly cool was that it is the first building of this kind you see for the horde. This base is the start of the content and so to turn up here, see this great black stone keep with fire and spikes jutting out of the country side as YOUR base inspires you, the player. It represents intimidation, dominance and immovability - which is what the Horde is. Now, many of the Horde structures in World of Warcraft employ this architecture including the rebuilt capital of Orgrimmar which has been there since the start. 
It tells a story in itself whenever you see it, that the horde started out with wooden and clay structures, as if to fall down at any moment and now the massive black stone structures of superiority. 

As for this particular place, you can tell that it is in a quarry, however there are also cobwebs all over the place. Instantly you know what's going on. The Horde are mining resources yet now they've come under attack by a spiderlike race and need to defend. The first several quests have you clearing out the immediate area from all foes. They put you straight into the action; no 10 minute walk to the quest area, it's right here, right now! This was a brilliant set piece by Blizzard to get the expansion going. 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Semester 3

Right, just got back to uni yesterday, and after a nice break I'm ready to get on with some work.
Going to set a breif reading list for this term (to be done by summer break) which should keep me nicely occupied.

Books to read: I've bought a few books over the year to do with art yet never really picked em up for more than a few minutes here and there. Therefore they will be going here on top of other things.

Mastering Composition - Ian Roberts: "Without it(composition), even the most compelling subject will look flat on the picture plane."

Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist - Stephen Rogers Peck: Life drawing can only teach you so much, knowing what lies under the skin and that which causes us to move the way we do is an invaluable, if not mandatory, base of knowledge for getting anatomy right.

Color and Light - James Gurney: Speaks for itself really. I'll be combining this book with the Colour Mixing Bible to help get a solid grounding on colour theory.

This post was more about a reading list than anything else, I may edit some more info in at a later date (after assessment) so to bulk out and have a solid work plan.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Something about a Sheriff?

More tac; this time two.

'A medieval wooden sheriff with big eyes.'
So I did this and forgot about the whole wooden thing and the fact he's meant to be from medieval.
Anyway, was trying a different technique here, instead of using the tone first, colour second approach I just went straight into colour using the soft brush and different saturations + colour picker tool to blend. Not bad for first time sing that I think. Really simple design but had the idea to have him look down the scope of his rifle to give him the 'big eye' part.
Yeah, looks pretty shit. Think I should stop saying whether I think it looks shit or not given my current level of expertise.


So I tried again but this time forgot about the big eyes bit.. and the wooden again. Colours look a bit translucent and the overall design is pretty mediocre. Was a little stumped for what to do for a sheriffs hat so on the spot decided a pikeman helmet would be good.

Oh, I should say that I used the lasso tool a lot for this, especially the first one. Don't know quite what to think about it at the moment. Should probbaly use it more and refine it somewhat yet feeling the urge to drop it. Don't like using it.

Update

So I've been slacking completely, with my sleeping pattern completley screwed up I've not been very productive.


I can't remember the brief exactly but I think it was: 'A withered king with a mutated arm'. Bit shit really. Come to realise I don't like doing backgrounds; likely due to fear of doing them. I did this in the usual way i.e. work out tone first then do a colour overlay. It seems to be the only way I work for characters so either gona have to refine it a hell of a lot or stop myself and use a different approach.

Incase you can't see the mutated arm it's the one hidden from sight (as you probably would), nothing really abnormal other then the fact it's quite long and has long fingers. Wasn't thinking too much on this one, so yeah pretty shit. Might start with some quick thumbs on later ones.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

#5: "A nuclear pharaoh in robes! "

So I thought instead of spending half an hour wondering what to paint I decided to try one of those new-fangled idea generatorifiers. Passing by several ideas I came across this one: "A nuclear pharaoh in robes!"

Was going to discard that idea n'all, instead I took just a second to stop and think for a moment and came to the conclusion that this must be a great idea! Cus if I want to do it then it's obviously a great idea, m'kay.


Really happy with how this turned out. A few things that are meh but over all I'm quite proud of the concept and colour pallette. Well, colours to an extent.

The breif was a Pharoah wearing robes with a nuclear motif to it. More skirt than robe but is there really a difference? Gave him the standard headress but with a gasmask face as well as some obvious radioactive symbolism, like the altered ankh. On top of this I gave him sickly pale skin as well as a general sickly looking pallete to emphasis a sort of decay that nuclear power produces. The colours are similar to that, also, of WW2 uniforms and such, can also be strongly related to nuclear power, the gasmask adds to this further.

Added in the protons(?) thing to add some wierd arcane vibe to it while retaining relevance to nuclear power. Pharoahs were the most powerful people of their time so having wierd balls floating around you could probably be taken as powerful. (We fear what we don't understand, and fuck knows if I'd understand why someone would have shit floating around em like that)

Though it's hard to see in that image, the nuclear core thing in the center of his chest has wierd wiring coming out of it, based on a nuclear reactor. The placement of it is also relevant to the proton gibble.
And finally the headress is actually meant to represent a chimney, hopefully realised by the smoke bellowing out of it.


As with all characters I create there are generally stories behind them. This guy is intended to be reminiscent of a horseman of the apocalypse. The mask covers his eyes, an old trick to make something look soulless and inhuman. Also spreading toxic fumes wherever they go.

I suppose the idea was to make it look more like an Egyptian god, where they have the head of an animal. I had to try and give this he head of 'nuclear'... bit wierd but meh.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Speedpaint #5: Rock solid.


Based off my favourite champion in League Of Legends: Malphite. He's a big rocky unstoppable force however in the game he is upright, standing on two legs.
I put him more into the form of a Gorilla due to the way he plays in game, a sort of juggernaut that knocks everyone into the air while also slamming the ground dishing out damage to everyone around him. Figured a Gorilla physique would suit him more.

As for the green and excess foliage I'm really not sure. Went overboard on it aiming to just cover the background and insert him into something so he wasn't floating aimlessley.

I'm number 4.


Monk, Golden Monk. I guess. Jotted down a quick pose and seemed happy enough with it to proceed, the pose being a fighting stance I figured a monk would be a really simple progression onto this given they're largely bald and dont wear a lot.
Basic pallette using warm colours on the body mostly around orange with a blue background to make it pop. Hopefully.
Next one I might try using 100% opacity on colours for the overlay and see where that goes.

#3



The design is vaguley based off something that's been floating around in my head for a while. In RPG games the mages and wizards always go around in a lovely dress and a jaunty hat. So I decided to go against this and give him trousers, opting for a sort of Edwardian style to the clothing with dull browns and a waist coat. Though this waistcoat is meant to look like leather.
Added some belt straps to the arms to break up some of the white shirt. Arm guards and knee-high boots to hopefully show some degree of combat readiness and finally playing with the idea of a robe by changing it to that long tail bit at the back which I've not the foggiest as to what it's called.

So really my intention was to design a mage character that looked different yet still credible as such. The fireball was just to seal the deal.

As for technique. Started on black and white finding marking out the character and then finding value to later using an overlay to add colour on.
The form seems a little off on the right shoulder, a bit rigid, and the feet are naturally wierd as I've yet to get them right. On top of that the left hand seems a tad large and the face is pretty aweful, though I didnt spend much time on it. Little bland with no detail. I should be more adventurous in paintings. Especially digital seeing as you have many ways to recover lost work whereas in traditional it's quite laborious.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

First environment speedpaint with a little reflection.

Just a short post with todays speedpaint.


Attempted an environment. The fundamental problem here was a lack of planning, I just went straight into it (sort of the point with speedpainting) however I drew a nice sillhouette initially with the right side holding some interest however I failed hard on filling the majority of this piece, opting for a row of crap houses and a broken bridge. Yes, that's a bridge.
With the textures on the right on the road I wanted to make it look grungy, a bit wet as well as to give some noise to the rubble there however it ended up looking more like a rush of dirty water.

The method I used for this was the same I used for the character; I'm under the impression that a different work flow should be formed for environments.

A speedpaint a day keeps the exam board at bay.

Alright, so my new years resolution was to do a variety of things every day. That flopped of course so now I've decided upon something new. Instead of cramming a heap of work ontop of me I've decided to keep it simple: One Speedpaint every day (excluding holidays due to no comp).
Naturally, on top of this I can do extra just this is a way for me to definetly get something done as I'll be posting them all up here, every day. Possibly every few days in bulk to save on space.

The reason for this, other than to get be more productive, is because I'm not very good at painting. I have an alright understanding of how to start painting but after the initial construction phase when colour gets introduced I get a little confused, with very little knowledge of how to push it forward. Therefore by doing at least one speedpaint a day, I hope to push it here and there by simply practicing. If this goes well I may well add one traditional piece, be it acrylic, watercolour or merely pencil with 3D models even farther after that.

Consiquently this will further my blog, so I hope to have a steady workflow across the board soon enough. The reason I'm starting at a seemingly lazy one speedpaint a day approach is because of motivation. I'm not that good at 3D and 2D so by forcing myself to do more of both it becomes quite disheartening. So by starting with 2D, which I'm more confident with (also what I really want as a job) I hope to get more into the workflow adding more on little by little.

The bonuses of starting with speedpaints as appose to traditional medium is that I get to learn the software that would also benefit my 3D texturing, something that needs a lot of work.

So, for starters: My reef character, although the design is different in regards to armor the head, which is my focal point of this creature, is the same. 

This was more about practicing in photoshop, using the different layers and playing around with brush settings than an actual finished piece. Pretty much what the whole point of these speedpaints are for me.
The idea was to give the impression of this creature bursting out of the waves. Given that the water is all dull and grey it should say that this isn't in some exotic island, moreso some dreary harbor town in some far off eastern european shore. I saw a film called Dagon a while back, crap film however it was based on H.P Lovecraft's novels. Despite not reading the books this entire project was based around creating something inspired by that.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Amnesia: The Dark Descent. (or crux of any self-respecting main character's starting story, though I guess that's a little long for a title... sort of like this.)

 
 Awakening to the walls of a cold and harsh castle, you stumble forward precariously, unsure what to expect; with only distant screams to assure you that it is far from friendly.

You are Daniel, a forgetful sort (possibly due to his amnesia, I dunno) who, only moments after coming to, reads a letter that was addressed to him... by himself.
You see, the then Daniel drank a potion that gave himself Amnesia, to forget something horrible, yet wrote instructions on how to proceed upon this letter: “Kill Alexander...” Alexander being the Baron that owns yonder dark and creepy castle.

So the new Daniel decides that he obviously has nothing better to do and so proceeds through yonder dark and creepy castle where the probability of dismemberment is a safe and steady 60%. Marvelous.
Of course, that's only if you care about the reasoning behind such madness; as to why you wouldn't simply turn around after the first wall lovingly splattered with hopes and dreams is beyond me.

Any-who, that's the start-up and general story: Waltz through creepy castle and kill the Baron. The only thing between you and that are the natives; and they're an unsavoury lot I tell you now. Although they only seem to appear after you've completed a puzzle or picked up a special item and so become quite predictable. Punctual even.


What separates this from your run-of-the-mill survival horror are two things: Firstly, you cannot attack anything; your only options are to either run, sit in a corner and hope for the best or the balls-out bring it on motherfucker I don't need no weapons approach. I wouldn't advise the latter. 
Agitated resident

The other thing is that unlike other horror games, where zombies and other questionable members of society are around every corner waiting for you with the patience of a saint, Amnesia spreads them out so you never really know when a monster will appear; other than when stated earlier in regards to picking up a specific item or completing a puzzle.


Inventory
On top of that you don't have a health bar, or any HUD for that matter. What you do have are two measurements of respective conditions, those being your health and sanity. The health one is obvious and in itself nothing new: you get hit, you take damage; you take enough damage, you die. Just with this game they give you a diagnostic. Hmmm, just a few cuts and bruises.
They then employ this for your sanity, this is a double edged sword; you see, your sanity drains when you're in darkness or if you look at a monster. What keeps it straight is staying in light (you have a lantern and can light candles placed throughout levels using a limited surplus of tinder) and completing tasks. I assume that takes his mind off the fact he's being hounded by Sloth from the Goonies. 
Simple, right? Not so, as you see when a monster is ready to make a meal of you, you need to hide; and nothing says hiding like lighting your ass up like a christmas tree does it? So you're forced to hide in darkness, slowly going mad while having some inbred prick breathing down your neck as you wait for him to get on his bike and fuck off.

Hey you guys!
All that said, I never had a real problem with sanity, the screen went blurry a lot and he started chatting to himself about stuff, but who doesn't?... huh? My point is that it never became a serious problem.

Not that I can really complain about this game, I mean it was mostly created by a team of five people, there are some mainstream games that aren't as good as this for fuck's sake! That should say a lot really. So as far as that goes this game is actually damn impressive; the graphics are next-gen with decent lighting and shadows. Really couldn't ask for more in regards to visual style. However I will say the models for the monsters seem less scary once you've seen them upclose, which ironically is when they should be most scary.

Sounds are a big part of this game as well. Not so much in the sense of being quiet to remain hidden but in the sense to give you the willies: screams, creaks, footsteps and of course, music getting louder and more intense going up to the YOU'RE FUCKED melody all serve to shit you up good and proper. Again however, the predictability of monsters popping out to say hello somewhat makes the jumpy sounds a little redundant as nine times out of ten, it won't actually be a monster. So, chill out, take it easy and practice that surprised face for when it actually turns out to be a monster.

From start to finish the game lasts about six hours, pretty dire but what do you expect from an indy game costs less than a second hand T-shirt? ...not that I'd know how much they cost.
As I said before, some maintstream games don't even touch this game, even in terms of length *cough* Force Unleashed 2 *cough* so you're really getting your monies worth.

For the first time in ages, I've not regretted parting with my money for a game.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Characters

Characters are generally meant to evoke emotions in you so to feel a response to said character. For example, a bad character is usually a complete prick. This is simple, why would you like him? It makes disliking the bad guy and defining who is the bad guy easier. However sometimes, bad guys are actually quite likeable. Take Mr Wonderful from the book Mogworld (Yahtzee Crashaw): He's evil, he wants nothing more then to kill people in bloody and gruesome ways, he loves torture and drawing out pain. Horrible basis, why would you like this character? First of all, he's called Mr Wonderful, you have to like that. On top of that he's cynical, ironic and has a satire humour to him. I should mention this book is a comedy, this particular character made it so much more enjoyable.


Kel'Thuzad, Warcraft 3 - Prince Nuada, Hellboy 2 - Ruber, Quest for Camelot

Hero and saviour of the world,  Tirion Fordring
Strange how that works; liking the bad guy even when, in this case, he's a mass murdering pyschopath. Then there's the flip opposite; the knights in shining armour type characters. The kind that shout justice and honour every chance they get, the sort of chosen ones with the gods on their side who always get the girl and it all works out for them in a lovely happy ending. I find these kinds of characters somewhat repulsive. They're without flaw, aside from the usual bad childhood crap like, oh I dunno, they were an orphan, or their daddy is the bad guy etc.
These are the characters you're meant to like and chant on from the sidelines. Having to play as these guys puts me off games.


A game that almost did this but pulled it off well is Mass Effect. I put off playing this game as it just seemed like another: 'Hoo-rah soldier, America saves the day.' sort of storyline with some curvy women chucked in for good measure... that's not to say it isn't.
When I got around to playing it I was pleasantly surprised that at the beginning of the game you get to choose John Shephard's background. Of course, you can go for the clichéd hero with a troubled past or, you could go the more adventurous route and take a ruthless bastard who grew up on starships. Ruthless does not directly translate to evil, just less... savoury. This instantly made me curse myself for not playing it sooner.

I seem to have a warped view on what a good character is to me. I loathe the clean boots, do it by the book style heroes, the ones I'm supposed to like, and yet prefer the ones who I'm meant to dislike; to an extent. I don't like the moronic bad guys, the kind that assume a couple henchman will finish the protagonist off while they retreat to practice their surprised face. Like these bunch of dipshits.


The Lich King, World of Warcraft - Megatron, Transformers - Skeletor, Heman

Though that's more to do with poor script-writing. So tired of seeing the same clichés over and over again. When will I get to play as a truly bad person in a dark and tragic storyline?

Garrett

To expand on script-writing; this can make or break characters. They could have all the write ingredients yet if the script is poor and inconsistent, they'll just be another character. An example of a well done character with a decent script would be Garrett from the Thief series of games. He was the good guy but not as you know it, he was just some dude living one day at a time trying to make ends meet amidst solving some rather strange mysteries. The thing that made Garrett so great was his frequent comments throughout the levels, often sarcy – he was essentially talking to himself with just you listening in. Characters who don't talk are often unrelatable and pretty bland characters.




Take Gordan Freeman for example. I feel I should really like this guy, the Freeman, he doesnt talk and looks like a bit of a geek, which is unique. I like him as far as that goes however it stops there due to him never saying a word. How can you relate to this guy who does nothing but swing a crowbar with repetitious monotony? Still, he gets points for being different.

This brings me to voice acting. In books there are no voices so you have to make it up in your head, I'm a little slow with such complex exercises so generally all the characters sound the same. This doesn't necessarily ruin it for me. However in games a good voice actor can really inspire appreciation for a character whereas a bad voice can completely ruin it. A few examples of good voice acting:
Several of the voices from Fable 3: A lot of the voices in this game were done by well known actors such as Simon Pegg, Stephen Fry and Michael Fassbender. Getting professional talent for your voices, though not essential, really helps it a long. The prince (you) however, has a terrible voice that doesn't fit. Your brother isn't really that posh, yet you are, very. Add that onto your everyday role of slicing and dicing, burning and looting and it seems to disintegrate the image somewhat.

Another good example would be Martin Septim from The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, played by Sean Bean. You can tell he put a lot of effort into bringing across emotion into this character. Game Director at Bethesda, Todd Howard, stated that Sean Bean "didn't get enough credit for his role as Martin." With which I strongly agree.

Some links to examples of what I find to be good voice acting:
Shade of Aran, World of Warcraft - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZbBHr92SRQ
Various voices, Transformers (2007) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJKGAZO4beI

Adding star status into your games always seems to be a winner. Ron Perlman, Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart for just a few examples of this. It's nice to see more and more actors lending their voices to games, it shows that this industry is really going somewhere and being accepted.

Voices, however are not the be all and end all, despite the power to absolutely destroy a character with poor voice acting, or possibly cause them to become pop-culture icons because of it like Barry from Resident Evil or Dante from the first Devil May Cry.

Barry
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZE5iFapm-Ys 
Dante
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obPYsLZwhxE

Stop laughing; I am evil!
Aside from voices the biggest part, with first impressions riding on it, are appearances. As I stated at the beginning, I loathe knights in shining armor. So for me, to see that typical guy in full plate with golden trim, mighty steed and heaven forbid, wings, causes me want to shit myself with woe. Poor character design can really cripple a characters persona like Venger from the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon series; He's bad, but could you really take that guy seriously? He's got one bent horn thing sticking out of his head that seems to have a bit of a growth issue on the back. On top of that he's goofy and wears a dress.


Sunday, 27 March 2011

Reflection

I've noticed a recurring pattern with my posts. They're mostly about me whining or wollowing in self-pity about how I can't do this and how others are better than me.

I enjoy ranting and venting frustation in these posts however when it's to do with me feeling crap as an artist I end up looking back on the post and think what a little girl I'm being. Time to get a grip and just get on with it.

Just gotta keep at it. Stiff upper lip and what-ho.

Art Direction

An Art Director is effectively the Captain of the ship; they are responsible for absolutely everything that goes into a game on a visual level. This includes: visual tone, quality, the art style of the game, what direction the visuals of the game goes in and the level of detail. Even the mood and colour is down to the Art Director.
This really is no easy job, the sheer amount of responsibility riding on his/her shoulders is tremendous, they practically own the game.

They're indirectly responsible for every object, texture, level, character and effect used in game and must consider it's every possible application i.e. position and use. Even studies such as composition should be taken into account, balancing the area as much as possible. Baring in mind there are often no fixed cameras and, given the opportunity, players will go wherever they want if allowed which means possible excavation of unsightly areas.

Another role of there's which I found quite interesting is the adherence to verisimilitude. How right something feels, as your immersion might slightly knocked off-balance if you saw Master Chief going around with a bloodied meat cleaver or a jungle with no vines and rocks, only trees. They have to make sure everything 'fits' appropriately.

The problem I find with Art Direction is that it doesn't seem as creative as, say, being just an artist. As instead of doing the painting and modelling, you're watching others do it, making sure they're doing it properly.
Like a farmer watching his pigs, he's just there to make sure they do what they do... whatever it is that pigs do.


Art direction for games is not too dissimilar from that of film making. You're required to consider every possible angle, taking into account composition, the 'weight' of the scene, lighting, colour and of course, story telling.
I feel (an uneducated statement right here) that film direction is far easier than game direction due solely to the fact that films decide where and what the audience sees whereas with games, mostly, the player is often allowed a certain amount of freedom to look around at the area, so vital components such as composition and lighting could be skipped over.


My ultimate career goal is to become an Art Director for a games company. Having now read up on what the role en tales, I can see where I need to improve; and there's a lot of room for improvement. First of all I'd need to become more fluent with communicating with others in a professional way, i.e. not sugaring the pill when it comes to criticism. On top of that I'd need to broaden my knowledge base of pretty much everything, as you never know what ideas might spring from. The fundamentals need a good fine-tuning such as composition, colour, mood, levels of detail and remaining consistent.
Definitely a lot of work to do before I'll become an Art Director although having seen that this job is less about the drawing/painting side of things and more about management, I think being an artist in the industry would suit me better.

From Pong to NextGen

Gameplay is simply the actions a player is allowed to perform in a game. If those actions are enjoyable and the controls are intuitive, you have the most important ingredients of a great game. -Duane Alan Hahn

At a fundamental level, that is what gameplay is. What you do in a game, what you can do, what you're allowed to do. It's all about how you interact in the world you've been dropped into.
Strangely, gameplay often takes the backseat in todays games which I find absurd. A backseat to grahpics and visuals.

We used to spend so much of our time on game play and today's games seem to put too much emphasis on graphics and sound. It's the game play that makes a game fun, sometimes they forget that. - Larry Kaplan

A good example of this is God Of War 3. Sony spent several years, crunching at the end to bring us this third installment of Kratos' blood frenzy. I was an avid fan of the God Of War series from the get go, loved it – no other game was like it. At the time.
Then they brought out a second one and yeah, it was alright, I guess. Pretty much the first game just with a couple new weapons (which were made obselete by the default blades Kratos wields from the get go). Still, a nice game with nice new areas etc. Gameplay is exactly the same as the first one, only change is visuals.

Several years later the long anticipated God Of War 3 for PS3 is released with high expectations. Again, the visuals were upgraded to a spectacular level not just in terms of graphics but on scale; there really were some incredible scenes in that game. Gameplay? Yup, exactly the same. You are Kratos, you press square and triangle in an orderly fashion until things die in glorious gysers of blood. New weapons, again made redundant by the default blades he has in the start. Sure, they have their strengths but why bother? It just means spreading out precious experience points where you could simply jack-up one weapon.
After the second instalment I was a little on the fence with the series as to whether I was a fan or merely a guy that would say 'Hi' if I saw them at the bus stop.
After the third game I could really give a shit. Wasn't a BAD game, just uninspiring and didn't pack that punch the first did.

All because visuals took priority over gameplay. Another series of games that's met much critical acclaim with a similar ailment is Uncharted by Naughty Dog. Same story as God Of War. Gorgeous visuals but same old gameplay: Hide behind waist high cover and unload your gun into baddies who are also hiding behind said waist high cover. With all the other games out that are doing the whole cover-to-cover shooting, this leaves much to be desired. Again, the same can be said with God Of War and the 'simon-says' style button mashing.

I'll end this part with two quotes that sum up my feelings towards the game industry:

It's like these developers are trying to invent chess and have created a superb, glossy-looking board and a whole new set of exciting pieces and then sit back and say, "Look! Look at his new board game we've made! Look at these shiny pieces and this state-of-the art board! What a great game this is!" - Neil West

Many people in the business today seem to be more interested in making movies than in making games. - Tim Skelly

To expand on what gameplay is: I'd say it's most basic function is to appeal to you, the player, on a sensory level to generate an emotional response.
The most important part of game design, including it's fluid and unhindered generation, is the design document. A documentation created by the designer on what will go into the game largely based around what things will look like and how things will work. For example, a character idea should be at a level of detail as to let the artist read it and fully understand what they have to create without the need to track down the designer and interrogate them upon every query.

The purpose of this document, as stated above, is to make the ebb and flow of game creation as smooth as possible with as little setbacks as possible. Though this doesn't always (if ever) seem to be the case as design documents are often flawed; either lacking information or overburdened with it. Deadlines are also stated here.
The structure of the document is also highly important; it's contents should be labelled and indexed allowing anyone to merely pick it up and find what information they require without having to read through it as if it were a novel.

The inception and creation of the document is down to the designer however it is shortly thereafter put to the criticism of the lead artists and programmers to gauge it's plausibility. i.e. can this team of artists accomplish the amount of work marked out?

For me, what I find important in games depends solely on what the game is trying to accomplish. For example, if it's multiplayer only with the gameplay based around you and your team winning a battle, like League Of Legends, then I don't care for narrative or story, as the games sole purpose is multiplayer and gameplay.
On the other hand, in games like Bioware's Mass Effect or Knights of the Old Republic, story takes priority over gameplay. However, the gameplay in both of those games, to me, is pretty damn aweful. I cannot stand pausing during combat to select my abilities or to have a sort of, turn-based combat. That really ruined those games for me, story was pretty good however gameplay was horrid.
Then we look at something like Oblivion, by Bethesda. The story was alright, nothing spectacular and awe inspiring however the gameplay was simple; click to swing your weapon/cast spell. Simple, doesnt get in the way, anyone can pick it up. Of course that's a little stale but it doesnt get in the way of your enjoyment of the game, you just click. Nice.
I didn't play Oblivion to be pressing 20 different keys in a precise order. I played it to enjoy the scenery and embark on some woefully trivial rpg quests. Yet if the gameplay required me to press 20 different keys then I'd likely not enjoy it, as doing those trivial quests and a bit of sight-seeing would require lots more concentration and therefore dwindle my enjoyment of this simple game. I play beat'em ups if I want to mash the controller; you expect that from them.

Therefore, what's important to me when I play a game is relative to the game I'm playing.

Fable 3.


You'd have to be living under a rock to not know what Fable is by now. At any rate, it's an RPG developed by Lionhead Studios.

Your brother, the King of Albion
The story goes: You're a prince of Albion, or princess, and your brother is the King. He's also, a bit of a dick. Overtaxing, instituting child labour and executing anyone who steps out of line; a real tyrant. No one really knows why. For when he began his reign he was a good king. Only when he returned from one of his expeditions did he become so ruthless. So you, as his sibling, take it upon yourself to reason with him. This doesn't go so well.

After your brother forces you to make a fatal choice between love and duty, you decide to flee the castle along with your mentor, Sir Walter, your butler, Jasper and your dog swearing to take him off the thrown.

So begins Fable 3...

The main jist of the story is you're out to start a revolution to overthrow your brother. To do this, you require followers. However, typically, they won't follow just anyone. Being that you're the King's brother, they want you to prove yourself. This generally involves sorting out their lives: ie. Killing bandits, saving idiots, recovering a relic or the peoples favourite: handing over cash. All in a days work for a hero.
However you soon find out that not all is as it seems with your brother; and there are bigger things a foot.

I'll leave it there in lue of spoiling it however I will say that it's generally a decent story. It's rare in games that you play as somewhat of import right from the get-go as you often start the game in a prison cell, or with amnesia. So starting as not just nobility, but royalty is quite refreshing. Although it becomes trivialised when you escape the castle and pretty much start from square one. No riches. No Horse. But you do get a butler... and a dog.

The butler being played by John Cleese no less. Simon Pegg, Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross, among others, also lent their voices. Something about having English voice-acting for games makes me proud.

As for the gameplay I've really got no problem with it. The combat is pretty smooth incorporating melee, ranged and magic rather fluidly, magic having been made pretty streamlined. It's all under one button now. But that's because you only get one spell until half way through the game where you get something called 'spellweaving' allowing you to combine two spells into one.

Combat is also made more enjoyable by the odd Coup de'grace every now and again killing the enemy outright. Some are pretty brutal as well.

At first I was quite annoyed that you only had one spell, however they handled it well. Considering the previous two games had clunky casting systems. The second one's in particular. They also made two of the spells from the previous games into potions freeing up space. On top of that you don't really need any more than what they give you as they have their own little effects such as a stun or splash damage making you choose carefully over what spell best suits your playstyle, made a lot better once you get spell-weaving and can combine two spell effects into one. Allowing for a more custom feel.


This game, for me, had a lot to do with customization: resurrecting previous choices such as hair style, hair and armour dye, tattoos, gender and the special changes from character development such as going evil or that otherworldly glow you obtained from using magic, while implementing new ones like the look of your weapons altering depending on your playstyle and of course, spell-weaving.
Ben Flinn, voiced by Simon Pegg
To expand on the weapon aesthetic changing due to your development through the game. If, for example, you find a lot of treasure, your weapon may change to have a more ornate hilt, to reflect your wealth. Or perhaps a bone-styled stock for your gun after killing a fair amount of the undead.
The annoying thing is that you cannot choose what your weapon will look like unless you plan ahead. I wasn't disappointed by it although I'd have preferred the option to choose for myself. Albeit, how many games give you that anyway? After all, the idea of this was to REFLECT your play-style.
Although you don't get to choose the voice of your hero, as the prince just doesn't sound right with his upper-class rich-boy accent when I put him in a tramp beard and shaved his head.

There are a whole bunch of collectables, legendary weapons and achievements for you to waste a little more of your life unearthing as well as the property development, which was quite good.

After completing it twice within four days I figured I must've quite liked the game. Not as much as the first but a hell of a lot more than the second. Which was boring, seemingly broken and the story was ruined at the start.

I would say it's worth a buy however I borrowed it from a friend. So I didn't have that 'is it worth £40' burnt into my skull.