Monday, 11 February 2013

Elements of game technology, part three: interaction design

Interacting with a game is not something that I have ever been very interested in or bothered about. I was playing games when the control pad was a small box with only 2 buttons and a d-pad and you had very little interaction or input into the game. I personally really enjoyed these games and they remain some of my all time favorites, the limited input didn't affect my enjoyment of the game. In fact it may have even enhanced my experience with the game as I didn't have to think about all the complex inputs, remembering what button combination does what. Everything was very simple. 1 button to jump, 1 button to attack, that's it. This type of control system also made the game very accessible to almost everyone, young or old.

Having said all that it doesn't mean I think new controllers, with all their new buttons and combinations makes things less enjoyable, not at all. The advancements of our technology and the way we can interact with games has made games more interactive and gives you more options. Its not jump and attack anymore there is a range of choices and movements you can make, especially depending on the game. These days gamers are everywhere and we have the capacity to learn controls very easily. Despite the fact that most games will have a slightly differing control layout, which can some times be awkward to get used to, we are still able to pick up a new set of controls and ideas pretty quickly into a game. People are capable of learning a fairly complex layout of keys, such as the keyboard, while the layout of the keys generally doesn't change the size of the buttons, the distance between them and the shape of the keyboard can all impact their actual placement and we can pick up pretty quickly where they are, remember and start typing away without even thinking about it.

Steel Battalion controller - I own it, its HARD.
Where the new controls might be a problem in my opinion is the current non gamers. While most gamers will have learnt the general layout of control pads, which tend not to differ to much, and the basic uses of buttons, such as X is jump, others don't inherently know that. This can alienate people from the world of gaming sometimes.Its not as simple as it used to be, there can be a lot happening on the screen as well as the input you have to make as the gamer. I've seen people try do the cut scene sequences in a game, where you simply press the corresponding button that is on screen, while most people could do this without thinking and without looking, this person was really struggling and had to actually look at the control pad every time. I was amazed they didn't know where the triangle button was on a PS3 pad, but that's what happens. Non gamers who don't know the layout of control pads off by heart can't just pick up a pad and play like they used to be able to.

This is where the new motion systems come in, something which I personally have never really liked. The Wii, Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move are all exactly the same thing, they might all work in slightly different ways but the result is the same. Controlling the game with your body, which has now become so big even TVs are starting to be controlled with the flick of your hand. I felt it was a novelty at first and that it would fade out and go away, but it seems its here to stay. I honestly can't see that being down to the more experienced gamers, I doubt there are people out there really wanting to play CoD by running around their living room, ducking and diving. They're to busy being angry for that. I think the success of these new forms of interaction is down to the non gamers finding a new and intuitive way to play that doesn't require you to learn a bunch of button combinations just to give it a go.

I guess this is the future of the gaming industry, making things easier, more accessible to everyone and at the same time striving for realism which, at some point, will be down to our own physical interaction with the game. There's a limit to how realistic a game can be if your only playing with your thumbs after all. Maybe somewhere, really far down the line we'll be able to play games completely with our minds, but it will feel like we're actually there. We might not be swinging our selves about the living room playing virtual tennis but we could really feel like we are there, in the moment, running for our lives and things can't possibly get any more realistic than actually doing it. Something everyone can pick up and play.

Controller of the future?

Start of the group project

I've got some social problems and I haven't got to know that many people on the course, there are some I haven't even spoke to at all. So I was worried about the group project and who I might get put with. I didn't want to have any issues or not feel like I couldn't talk to the group about what we were doing, I just didn't want things to be awkward and then end up having a rubbishy project.

Thankfully I'm happy with the group I got put in and haven't really got any problems with anyone, its not that everyone seems really nice or anything but its more that everyone seems like we will be able to just get on with the work and work well as a group. Which is important to me.

We've already met up twice, once to have an initial chat and discuss what roles within the group might be, when we will meet up and how we can keep in contact during the project. I think the first meet up went well and laid some basic ground rules and broke the ice.

The second meet up was to visit the Queens Building and start gathering reference and ideas. We mainly walked around separately so we would have a broad variety of photos from different locations etc.

Over the last week we've been working separately to come up with ideas, mood boards, concepts etc ready to show each other on Tuesday 12th Feb. I thought I might struggle to come up with ideas, the building is interesting but there isn't masses of things you can do it that probably haven't already been done, and I'd like it if the group could be at least somewhat original.

Here is one of the concepts that I've done for one of my ideas - Spider Infestation.

I've put together a small presentation to give the group about my idea and what might work, what might not etc. I think it could work well, but I'll have to see what the group thinks tomorrow.

THQ Gone!

THQ Filed For Bankruptcy

Its hard to explain just how crappy this made me feel. It feels like THQ have been around for aaaages. They've made some awesome games over the years and its really sad to see them go, hopefully it isn't a sign of more bad things to come but it wouldn't surprise me if it is.

Although THQ has gone, it put all its companies and IPs up for sale in an auction, with bidders including companies like Ubisoft, Crytek and Sega.

Most of the THQ studios found  a buyer;

Relic Entertainment (Company of Heroes, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War) went to Sega for $26.6 million.

Evolve, the new property from Turtle Rock Studios (co-creators of Left 4 Dead) was purchased by Take-Two Interactive, for a long time THQ’s closest competitor in the second tier of US publishers, for $10.894 million.

The Homefront IP was purchased by Crytek, whose UK division had ben contracted to produce Homefront 2. The $544,218 fee seems low for a banner IP, but Homefront‘s under performance in the market would have affected its price.

Publishing rights for South Park: The Stick of Truth, which is preparing for launch on March 5, was purchased by Ubisoft for $3,265,306

THQ Montreal – the first organically-grown (rather than acquired) THQ studio in North America, and its largest, was also purchased by Ubisoft, which already has a significant presence in Montreal. With no titles in the works, this can be seen as an opportunity to acquire a lot of talent relatively cheaply at $2.5 million.

I think the fact that THQ has had to close down is tragic, for the games market and the industry that I'm hoping to get into one day. Loads of talented people have been laid off and even the studios lucky enough to be bought will still have to sack people.

What gets me the most out of the whole thing though is Vigil wasn't bought! As one of THQs studios it went up for auction and no one bought it, not even that no one even bid. I'm a massive fan of the Dark Siders series and my favourite artist Joe Mad was co-founder of the company, I just cant believe no one bought the company. Dark Siders was the first game the studio ever made and it did well, their second game Dark Siders 2 was voted the most bought game in the US just last August, and now the company can't even get a bid.

This means Vigil has now closed down and is no more. For a few days/weeks this news really depressed me, it just isn't a bad sign of the way the industry is going. Most people start courses like this with an 'end goal' or 'dream job' and work towards it. Working at Vigil was mine and now its gone, which has left me with a bit of an empty spot where my goals should be and I'm not quite sure what to do now, apart from carry on and hope something new comes up that interests me.

Its a sad day for the games industry. :-(

The Mortal Engines Character

It seems a bit late to be doing a blog on this, it was due in last week but better late than never.

Our latest 3D project has been the Mortal Engines Self portrait. The trash and building projects that I've done so far this year haven't been very complicated, not compared to doing a self portrait anyway. The closest thing we've done was the 3D gladiator in the first year and mine wasn't very good. So I was a bit worried my mortal engines one wouldn't be great either.

The project was incorporated with 2D, so we had 4 weeks to produce visual concepts and design work, make a 3D model with 9000 tris, texture and rig it, and then make another lower tri version and texture and rig that, I think, I cant even remember.

It was really daunting to start off, it felt like a lot of work and not that much time to do it in, the 9000 tri character alone is the highest budget and most complicated piece of 3D we've had to do so far.

I got into the 2D pretty quickly, the steam punk theme is something I'm already quite familiar with so it was interesting and enjoyable to design a character of myself in that style. I started off with some quick concept ideas.

I decided on the 4th concept idea pretty quickly and started modelling.
Rather than model the full character straight away I actually made the basic mesh of my body first, without clothes so I could build up from it. I used the same method as my gladiator and started from the chest and worked outwards. I struggled a bit afterwards, figuring out how I'd model the clothes on top, I wanted to have a cloth modifier on my coat bottom but after a lot of trail and error just decided to leave it (the cloth modifier kept making my coat disappear??).

After modelling the clothes I wasted a massive amount of time with Zbrush. I thought it would be a good idea to try use it for this project to enhance my model, but I hadn't learnt anything about Zbrush before now. So  I wasted almost 2 weeks trying to figure out how to use it, just to end up not bothering anyway.

In the end I didn't manage to get my project finished on time, I think this is mainly down to how much time I wasted with Zbrush. I managed to get the main model finished with textures (apart from spec), I didn't get it rigged and I didn't get any of the low tri version done either, or the design doc.

I'm reasonably pleased with the model I got done but think it could of been much better if I hadn't been rushing to get things done on time. I'm planning to have all the bits missing done as soon as possible, even though Im not sure if there is another chance to hand in.

I'll post up some screens of my finished 3D models, when its finished I guess. For the time being here is my 2D final for the Mortal Engines Project.

Bit of Zbrush "fun"

I've wanted to practise Zbrush and try learn it since the start of summer last year. I've looked into it a few times but never gotten very far, I've found the books about it complicated and confusing. I've also had too much going on to try learn another program that just confuses me to look at.
The Mortal Engines project seemed like a good time to try get into it and put it to good use. I thought I could spend a bit of time learning the basics and it would help make my character look better. I was wrong. The project was 4 weeks long including the time to do 2D work towards it, concepts etc, I ended up wasting almost 2 weeks messing about with Zbrush trying to figure it out and understand how I could use it. In the middle of a project was a bad time to figure this out as I ended up running out of time and not getting my character project finished.

And I didn't even use Zbrush at all in the end anyway! Huge waste of my time.

Some of the little things I made after figuring out the basics were pretty cool though and at least now I might be able to use Zbrush in future projects. Maybe.

This is the end result of my brief battles with Zbrush and how ever the hell it works!

Inspiration Presentation

When we were told we'd have to do a presentation in front of other people I was ready to run all the way back to Wales. Presentations are hard for most people but I don't see myself as most people and I was really dreading it. I thought I would be awful, boring and probably unable to even speak.

I tried not to worry about it too much and designed my presentation and made notes about what to say for each slide, but when it came to practicing I couldn't even do it at home with just me, Sarah and the dog. I froze up, couldn't speak and it ruined the rest of the day for me. So I thought there is no way in hell I'm going to be able to do the actual presentation on Thursday.

The end result of the day was much better than I could of expected though, not only did I manage to give my presentation I pretty much managed to do it twice. I don't think I've ever been more chuffed with myself, that's something I never thought I would be able to do. It really helped motivate me for the rest of the week to do better at all my work it was awesome!

The presentation was about our inspirations and I think this helped a lot in me being able to do it. It didn't feel false or for the sake of talking about something. Basically I got to talk to people about the things in my life that make me want to do this course and inspire me to do it and that wasn't so bad.

My presentation was on a few things;

Joe Mad - probably the biggest inspiration in my life since I was 15. He is an amazing artist, with a unique style and recognisable pieces. He was working at Marvel as a teenager and ended up founding his own games company as the Lead Creative Director. Awesome!

Simon Bisley - another great artist who I have liked for quite a while. I like Biz's style, like Mad's its quite different to a lot of the artists around today which I admire. I also like the fact that his work in mainly, if not completely traditional, I think its impressive to still be doing traditional these days when most other art is digital.

Other inspirations I included in my presentation were, comic books and graffiti. I find these interesting and impressive for different reasons but both are based around an art stylisations that I enjoy and aspire to.

Elements of Game Technology, part two: sound for games

Sound is undoubtedly a massive part of games. Video games and life in general wouldn't be the same without music, it has an incredible ability to invoke emotions and resonate with all of us. I find music is what really brings something together and ties it all in. Without even watching the film or game, music and sound in general takes you through the story and you can imagine whats happening. For example you can instinctively tell when there is tension building, something scary happening, something very sudden and unexpected or the drama is escalating. Music in this way is an incredibly powerful tool that in some cases can be even more moving that what we are actually seeing. Games and films would both loose much of their appeal and enjoyment without the music to back them up and engage with us.

The majority of the public who enjoy watching films or playing games probably don't bother with learning the names of all the important people that go into making it, such as the directors or producers, but there are always some big names that are well known. However directors and producers have a much greater chance of getting their names known than the composers or score producers, these people more than likely just fade into the background, despite being a huge part of the success. If there was no music in films or games we just wouldn't like it as much, but we might not realize, at first, why that was.

There are lots of good music composers out there working in the film and game industry which tend to have their own defined and recognizable sound. One who I can immediately think of that most people will know, if not by name but his work, is Hans Zimmer. He is the composer for films such as; Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Inception and the hugely successful and very recognizable Pirates of the Caribbean. I personally don't know of many composers as I'm guilty of not paying much attention to the credits, but Hans Zimmer is a composer I have been aware of for several years. His sound/style is so recognizable that I immediately made the connection between the music for Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean, I didn't know they were both done by the same composer but it was immediately obvious when hearing them. The list of films and even some games that he has composed for is pretty impressive.

As films are more often than not actual recordings of living people I think its easier for us to believe them and become emotional involved in them and there for enjoy them. Despite video games getting better graphics and becoming more realistic they still aren't a substitute for a real person with subtle facial expressions etc., that tweak our basic human reactions. I think this makes it harder for us to get emotionally invested in games, even if we do enjoy them. This is why music becomes so important in games, its another layer of the drama and the excitement. Well picked music used intuitively connects with us on a deeper level, one we might no even realize and helps to draw us in and become invested with the game. Video games especially just wouldn't been the same without sound. 

Elements of Game Technology, part one: game engines

Game Engines, I don't know much about them really. The only experience I have had using one has been with UDK a few weeks back. It wasn't an awful experience, I was expecting it to be a lot harder, but I didn't get into it much.

I know there are several games engines out there but I'm not really sure what the difference is between them and why different ones are needed. A brief look into the world of game engines has shown me there are probably 100s of engines I had no idea even existed, so for now I will just try and compare two of the most well known and commonly used today.
Unreal Engine (UDK)

Most modern games created recently that have good graphics and adaptive gameplay will be made using either the CryEngine or UnrealEngine . Cryteks latest engine, called the CryEngine3 is better at detailed graphics than the UnrealEngine, but every time the graphics become better, the machines have to aswell in order to run them.

The CryEngine

Characters and faces are becoming features of almost all modern AAA titles, and Crytek is the closest in achieving realistic individuals in real- time graphics.  CryENGINE3 brings together the most technically advanced, integrated and scalable animation and graphics technology to deliver astonishingly real characters to cross-platform games, at no extra licensing cost.

- Better graphics

- More detailed characters
- Creative and adaptive environment (the movement of grass, bird, smog, etc.)
Advanced 2D and 3D algorithms allow the AI navigation paths to be modified in real-time in response to events which may create, modify or destroy existing paths – a critical feature for creating believable AI in a highly interactive and destructible environment
- better at creating more "interactive world"

-Intelligent AI

- In order to get the maximum potential out of the engine people need high end computers
- Graphics/textures take longer to load

The Unreal Engine

Unreal Engine 3 is integrated with numerous leading middleware technologies through Epic Games’ Integrated Partner's Program. Continual optimisations are made to the Unreal Engine’s highly mature tool pipeline, massive world support and multi-processor performance. Unreal Engine 3's advanced tool set is designed specifically to accelerate developers' productivity for ultra-complex, next-generation content.
Pros :
- More stable running on mid computers
- Widely used with a network of tutorials/guides and people that can help you
-More user friendly and easier to program than CryEngine
- Unreal have been the leader of game engines for several years, they've had time to work out the kinks and make a less buggy and stable engine
- They are currently working on the UnrealEngine4, which could potentially match or better the CryEngine3 in terms of graphic quality
- Lower graphic quality compared to CryEngine3
- Less detailed customization
- Currently an older engine that it showing its age on the newest games.

I've only looked briefly at two of the most well known engines, and its clear there are some differences between them, pros and cons to using either. Which engine would be best suited to a certain project is hard to say and down to the developers, depending on what type of game they were making, how long they had, how detailed they wanted it to be and what device they were developing it for. Thankfully I don't have to worry about that anytime soon, because Im still not sure what Im talking about when it comes to game engines.

Some interesting reads:
CryEngine specs

UE3 specs

how game engines work

Massive list of game engines and about them

Elements of game design, part six: documentation

Working on it. -.-

Highlights of 2D so far

Thought I should post some of the highlights of my Visual Design work from Year 2 so far. What little there is of it. Found myself falling behind in 2D more than usual due to larger 3D projects than I'm used to which have been eating my time.

Here's a few bits of sketching work.

Despite really really not liking digi painting, I have forced myself to try get better. I've had mixed results but I think I'm getting better.

Here is some of my digi work so far this year.

War of the worlds!

Personal Bits

 I've managed to fit in some personal stuff over the Xmas break. Mostly been drawing or digi - drawing but I've been trying to experiment with digi-painting and colouring somewhat, hasn't always gone very well but I need to start somewhere I guess. 

I've spent quite a bit of time trying to learn anatomy better. Its something I have wanted to do for quite a while. Also tried to get some life drawing done too.

I've been drawing some other things too, less about learning anatomy but trying to learn some new techniques using colour or mark making or just because I thought it would be kool to do.

I enjoyed drawing a lot more over Xmas because I could do more drawings of the things I found interesting and in the style that I like. I think every time I do a digi paint I get a little bit better.
I often don't think I've come very far as an artist, but looking at some of the things I have done over Xmas I know I couldn't of done them 2 years ago. So I guess I'm getting somewhere. Even if its nowhere fast.

Task 16: Elements of game design, part seven: level design

I've never really considered what level design is about until now. I'm guessing its largely focused on environmental work and design, which isn't something I'm interested in or good at. I'll do my best to get my head around it though.

Level flow design
Lets start with the purpose of level design and their goals. Level design is needed for two main reasons, providing players with a goal and providing players with enjoyable play experience. Good level design will produce quality gameplay, provide an immersive experience, and sometimes, especially in story-based games, to advance the storyline. A poorly designed level without thought will stand out as badly done and feel awkward to play, detracting from the gaming experience.

Who is a level designer? A level designer is a game designer who creates environments and scenarios using a level editor and other tools.  They work on levels from pre-production to completion during various stages of the games overall progress. Game programmers usually make the level editors and design tools for the level designers so they don't need to modify or use the game's code.

Blocking out simple layouts

It is the level designers job to layout a level, aiming for consistency, clear layout and playability ready for game artists to then produce concepts over block outs or texture artwork. Many level designers have skills as both a visual artist and game designers, which helps them to imagine what the level may look like and produce compelling work.

Level design itself can be quite complicated. Each level in a modern game typically starts with concept art, sketches, renderings, and physical models. Once completed, these concepts transform into extensive documentation, environment modelling, and the placing of game specific entities, usually with the aid of a level editor.

Indicating where in a level things will happen

There are various steps involved in laying out a map and these steps vary depending on what game genre the level is for. 
General steps include:
  • Laying out the large-scale features of the map, such as hills, cities, rooms, tunnels, etc., for players and enemies to move around.
  • Determining environmental conditions and "ground rules" such as day/night, weather, scoring systems, allowable weapons or gameplay types, time limits, and starting resources.
  • Specifying certain regions where certain gameplay activities or behaviours occur, such as resource harvesting, base building, water travelling, etc.;
  • Specifying non-static parts of a level, such as doors, keys and buttons with associated mechanisms.
  • Specifying locations of various entities, such as player units, enemies, monster spawn points, ladders, coins, resource nodes, weapons, save points etc.;
  • Specifying the start and exit locations for one or more players;
  • Adding aesthetic details such as level-specific graphic textures, sounds, animation, lighting and music;
  • Introducing scripted event locations, where certain actions by the player can trigger specified changes;
The level design process is complicated, there are a lot of things that need to be thought about and considered when someone sets out to create a playable level. The process may need to be redone several times to achieve a desired outcome and the design of a level may change several times during its creation.

Good level design and planning is important, levels aren't just thrown together, they are carefully planned and evaluated and its an integral part of a game being enjoyable and believable.
Hopefully this new insight will help with the group project which has just started.

Elements of game design, part five: planning and concepting

Concept art is something I have always been interested in, over the last few years especially. I have collected a library of concept art books and art books in general. If a game is released with a concept art book, I probably own it. I enjoy looking at concept art work for games, characters, environments etc but all that awesome can also depress me.

Guild Wars Concepts = Horribly awesome

As much as I enjoy concept art, I think I have got the idea of it wrong. Most of the concept art we all see is very polished, finished, impressive work by some of the best concept artists in the game industry, this is depressing. My idea of concepts is ideas, rough sketch's, quick paintovers, just lose pretty rubbish art that helps get an idea across that other people can visualise. So when concept art becomes this polished stunning artwork, it makes me feel that is what I have to produce as a concept as well. With so much amazing input I find it hard to break away from all that and just do what I'm capable of.

Dark Siders Concepts = Depressingly awesome

It seems unlikely that concept artists would be producing such finished pieces of work at the concept stage when all you're doing is idea generation. Or they are just that awesome its easy for them, which is also depressing.

It would be nice to see the real concepting going on. The first ideas, planning and experimenting with the brief before everything is decided on. This would give an insight into how the game was made, how people think and work together and what artwork really helps shape the look and feel of a game and gets people inspired into working on it. It would hopeful be less depressing and more inspiring.

Some Bioshock concepts = interesting, not depressing!

It would be nice if the idea everyone has about concept art was reset, it wouldn't just be stunning digipaints that fill the internet, but much more basic ideas and sketch's that help give you ideas, rather than depressing thoughts of not being good enough.

Basic concepts, interesting and creative.

Planning, something which I am rubbish at. I make plans then don't stick to them, which seems to be what a lot of people and games companies do. But plans can change. There are often things that get in the way of plans, like me breaking my thumb during the summer. Game companies will start with a plan, of what they want to make, when they want it done and how much it will cost but things get in the way and plans change, games are often released much later than their original release date, or in some cases not at all. Some reasons for these problems might well be the lack of good planning in the first place, meaning things never get done and the game is never finished.
What my daily plan consists mostly of.

Despite all the things that can go wrong planning is vital, without planning nothing would get done in the first place. Randomly doing things would be pointless if there wasn't a plan to follow with an outcome. Game companies set up teams, objectives, limitations and deadlines. They plan everything out, even if they don't know what the end result might be exactly, they still need a basic plan, even if it ends up changing down the line.