Monday, 28 March 2011


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?


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 -
Various voices, Transformers (2007)

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.


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


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.

Reviewing Reviewers etc

 Thought I'd try this in a different style.

What issues face reviewers:
Time constraints (19 weeks for ~150 pages)
Time is the enemy of a reviewer (or any writer) as instead of tearing a game down to the very bones the have to make do with, at the very least, a single play through of the game. This isn't because they don't care about the game enough or find that one playthrough will give them the complete games spectrum of entertainment value. Most magazine companies are looking at around nineteen weeks to fill one-hundred and fifty pages worth of magazine. Due to this time constraint, a reviewer cannot be expected to attain 100%. As such they make do with what little time they have to bring a constructive review to the table.
This sometimes (often) leaves the review biased and inconsistent. Judging a game by it's sole story and not the other parts that make it up, merely commenting on them in passing.

Is an objective ranking system for games necessary:
Yes, because bad publicity can destroy a games hopes whereas good publicity can boost it over the hill. It's not essential however, as you really only need one follower to tell a friend, and then that friend tell a friend etc. If you work it around the underground and through cults you'll have a steady following already.
Like the creators of Uplink did. They spread their game around in the early stages by faking a few forum accounts and starting threads about this interesting new game. Word started to spread and money started to flow. Worked a charm.

What are your feelings about NGJ:
It's a hell of a lot more entertaining and interesting to read. As most reviews these days are almost as bad as someone reading from a list. Point, explanation, point, explanation etc.
Whereas with NGJ, they don't so much as review the game directly, but tell a story of which by the end of it, you'll have a good understanding of what the game entails. Such as 'Saving Private Donny': I had no idea what Joint Operations was, now however, I know that it is:
- A present day war game
- Multiplayer
- Has fog of war (not high spec game)
- Has friendly fire option
- Has different class options
- Vehicles

This is generally the basics of the game, it has all that. Ok, so? So, they told me the basics of the game while making it entertaining. As oppose to going in depth about every point. If I was going to buy a game I'd likely read an in-depth review but that's just for the sake of me knowing what I'm buying and not wasting my money; it's necessity, I don't enjoy reading them.

What other forms of games writing can you find:
Other than NGJ and normal reviews. The only one I can think of is not too unlike a normal review, just more rude. Zero Punctuation, by Ben 'Yahtzee' Crashaw, is a popular weekly internet-based video review using animation/frames with pop-culture references, stick men and photoshopped imagery. That's not what's great about it. What's great about it is that Yahtzee seemingly hates everything and rips the shit into every game he plays; without nitpicking. Quite a talent really as they're always funny, if you've played a game he reviews, you'll likely find yourself nodding agreement as the video goes on; regardless of whether you enjoyed the game or not.
Another such reviewer is the Angry Videogame Nerd. However, his niche is he only reviews old ass games from decades ago. NES, Atari, Sega consoles. Although I've never played any of the games, the videos are hilarious. You can lose so much time going from one video to the next. Unlike Yahtzee, however, the Angry Videogame Nerd's videos are recorded from life. With him as the focus of the review.

How do you feel about your own writing:
I would love to write engrossing and entertaining documents and seek to do that. However, as it stands, I'm not that good. I fall back on simple words, poor grammar and an inconsistent structure. I take pride when writing something, for a blog or essay etc, or have done since college and I like this new blogging thing. As one day I hope to write my own story for a game, or possibly a novel. I'm not interested in JUST being a 3D or 2D artist. I want to be a lead developer, an art director; the person whose idea it was, who tells OTHERS what's going into it.

Do you value objectivity or subjectivity:
Depends on what I'm after. As stated earlier, if I want to know about the ins and outs of a game, I like objectivity. If, however, I want to read something that doesn't bore me to death, something that will make me laugh and be happy I spent the time to watch it, likely ending up watching more; then subjectivity. All depends on what I'm after: information or entertainment.