Sunday, 22 April 2012

Character design.

Character design is a very complicated subject and recently some companies have been reluctant to make solid characters that are believable. For a time games companies just seemed to want to push the level of graphics in games, meaning many games were more like engine showcases than experiences. I hope that someday i would become a character artist for a big company like Valve. Their characters are always brilliant. They eek with personality, have flaws and show emotion, all these traits make them more believable in their worlds. Something that a company like Epic games have seem to forgotten, with their endless list of testosterone filled meat bags of death.

A good piece of character design would have to be someone like mario. Instantly recognisable, if you ask anyone today to name the most famous character they know, mario will most likely be their answer. But what makes his design so great? To start with, both the old and new version of mario have very strong silhouettes. It is easy to tell mario from another character from the quickest of glances. A premise that valve has taken to make sure that their characters stand out from the rest. A strong silhouette = good character, or at least most of the time. Another good piece of character design would be the use of a strong palette. What i mean by “strong” palette is not like really bright colours, but rather colours that work well together and within the environment the character will be in. So for mario bright red and blue makes him stand out from the background whilst also making him similarly bright to the rest of the environment. A piece of character design that i think is hardly used nowadays would be functionality. Many games these days choose to leave behind all functionality of a character’s costume in favour of an aesthetically pleasing one. Take Ivy from Soul Calibur 4 for instance, she is fighting against opponents that wield swords, hammers, scythes etc and what else could be more protective than a small purple bikini? well apparently not much as she never seems to get cut in the whole game, which is just ridiculous. Obviously all these points are not stuck in stone, but keeping them in mind whilst creating a character will always give them more depth. 

Valve doing what they do best. BEING AWESOME

Of course once a character’s design is finished it is then the job of the voice actor/actress and a good script  to really give them an engaging character. One of the games with the best script of all time would have to be Portal 2. Truly witty and at times actually made me laugh out loud, one of the few games to do so, i enjoyed every minute of that game. There are games though that try to be funny with their script and it can make a game fall on its face. My example being Duke Nukem Forever, Although as a whole this game is pretty much a flop, the thing i’ve always enjoyed about past Duke Nukems is the script and how it was almost purposely corny. This last installment however they crossed a line into the realm of neither corny or funny, you could feel how forced the script was and it really made me feel uncomfortable.

To conclude, character design is a very tricky subject. There are so many different attributes that constitute a good character that it takes a lot of experience and knowledge to be a good character artist. I personally believe that through good character design you are able to add another level of emotion and believability that some games miss out on.

Art direction in games

One of the most sought after jobs in the gaming industry is to be an Art Director. Huge responsibilities are rested on their shoulders to make sure that the game has consistent artistic design throughout. They would have to check each and every asset to make sure it fits the feel and artistic style of the game. Slip ups or bad decision making in the industry are tremendously costly and so art directors are often excellent artists with good communication skills. This allows them the ability to communicate their thoughts and ideas to their peers, meaning the game’s art style will be more consistent.

An art director is a very creative role. In fact the art direction sets the pace for the whole game. Usually working closely with concept artists, art directors are the key to the whole creative side of a game. On smaller development teams, often the art directors role is combined with that of the concept artist meaning his ideas and creativity and put straight into the mix.  As well as making sure that the game has a consistent overarching feel, art directors need to give criticism and advice to make sure all assets being made are up to the standard of the rest of the game. If this isn’t done right it will make the world less believable, making the player feel less involved.

Deux ex went all out in terms of art direction

Art direction in films can be a much different ball game. I think it is much easier to have and keep the same style all the way through. On a film like Sherlock holmes, keeping that same victorian style can be tricky, in the way that you need all costumes to be similar. In films however you only see what has been filmed and therefore only a small amount of characters and sets need to be kept in the same art style. comparatively, in games the player has the ability to roam around a scene, looking at characters and objects in the scene from different angles. Another point where film might have it “easier” than games is that all special effects are pre-rendered in films, so models and textures can be the very best looking. however in games, textures and models are limited in size quite majorly.

To conclude, art directors for games need to have a few things. An understanding of art, this allows them the ability to work really closely with concept artists to illustrate their ideas and to make sure that everyone on the team understands the art style for the game. Communication skills, this allows them the ability to further communicate ideas but also gives them the ability to give constructive criticism and advice so assets are made up the right standard. Knowledge, in my opinion a art director needs good knowledge in his field. with a good knowledge of past games a art director can borrow similar styles that have worked well for past games and integrate it into their own. It can also show them failed art styles to make sure they themselves don’t make the same mistake.

Game design.

To develop a good knowledge of game design you must first have an understanding of the major disciplines in games . In my opinion there are a few “disciplines” that attribute to a good game. They would be - Characters, story, gameplay mechanics, objective and artistic direction. These attributes i’ve chosen based off my own experiences with games.

The reason games, in my opinion, are better than movies is because you get to participate within the story. An epic story can make broken or boring gameplay an afterthought, as it did for me in Assassins Creed 1. I played through the repetitive and at times boring gameplay to learn more about the animus and what the assassination targets had to say, all of the information coming together to bring a cool although slightly weird ending. Another example would be Deux Ex: Human Revolution, although the gameplay wasn’t “bad”, in my opinion it was only slightly over average at best and often broken. However the twists and turns of the story kept me stuck to the screen until i had finished the game. Some games prefer to get an amazing story told than adding new or innovative gameplay elements, Hell, Metal Gear Solid 4 was practically a playable movie!

Old games such as Pacman or Digdug didn’t have the means to show off a big elaborate story, but through fun and, at the time, new gameplay elements. I feel that over time gameplay has been pushed down the list of priorities for game devs, which gave light to the ever creative minds of indy developers eager to create fun and new gameplay. Games such as Sequence on the Pc merged gameplay elements of guitar hero and pokemon to make a truly fun and interesting little game. Look at Borderlands for example. A game with a simple story. You’re on a planet hunting for a big treasure. The rest is fun, addicting gameplay. Also games like Super Mario and Legend of Zelda. They pretty much copy and paste the story, but its the gameplay we come back to.

Character and overall art direction are pretty similar within games. Characters are important in games as they pull us into the game and provide us with emotional context. Once these characters have pulled us in it is then the work of the art direction to keep us within the game. A strong art direction can make for some powerful atmosphere whilst playing games. One recent game with amazing art direction would be Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The heavily used black and gold palette really sets the mood for the game and makes it stand out from other games.

Ultimately the thing i look for in a game is fun. If i don’t find a game fun i won’t play it. Please mind that fun is a pretty broad word in this case as even though i find it fun to play skyrim cutting people’s heads off is not what i’d call a fun evening in real life, it is more the experience that i find to be fun. Dear esther is a game i played a couple of weeks ago. It is short and the only gameplay elements you have at your disposal is basic movement, however the combination of a nice story narration and amazingly nice environment modelling made it a great experience for me.

Team Fortress 2 Review

Every so often in the FPS genre there is a diamond in the rough. With every FPS trying to be the next big thing, rarely there is a game that follows it’s own path quite like Team Fortress 2. Made by Valve, Team Fortress 2 is a class based multiplayer shooter and sequel to the highly successful Team Fortress Quake mod. Like its predecessors, Team Fortress 2 is centered around two opposing teams competing for an objective. These two teams are meant to represent a demolition and a construction company as a part of the back story: Reliable Excavation Demolition (RED) and Builders League United (BLU). Players can choose to play as one of nine classes in these teams, each with their own unique strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and roles. Although the abilities of a number of classes have changed from earlier Team Fortress incarnations, the basic elements of each class have remained.

My main love of Team Fortress is the art style. Initially in early development of the game, seen through leaked concepts, the game appeared to be deviating from its predecessors by pursuing a more realistic and militaristic style, but the design changed over its nine year development period. The final rendition is a cartoon style that i love. As well as the art style, the animation of Team Fortress 2 is amazing. Having a small history of doing animation and a massive history of watching it, i appreciate how every action taken by each individual character is spot on with the personality of each one, such details are missed by most games developers these days.

Each of the nine playable classes eeks with personality, each with small histories shown on their “meet the” series used by valve as advertising. My personal favourite in terms of personality would be the sniper, a rugged and ready crack shot from the Australian outback . “No, not a crazed gunman Dad, I'm an assassin......Well the difference being that one is a job and the other is mental sickness.” a quote from “meet the sniper” that had me in fits when i first watched it. Even game characters have family problems!

All of the levels are full of the same fantastic art style and humorous character. The most well known of which would be “ctf_2fort”. It is one of my favourite maps of all time. perfectly balanced and amazingly well textured, it pretty much encapsulates the feeling of playing Team Fortress 2. Each map has a game mode tied to it, and for 2fort it is capture the flag (intelligence briefcase) . I think it would be nice if the mode of the map could change, to team deathmatch or something, however i can see why they would want to keep it the same, as they specifically designed the maps for each of their game modes. Which might be the reason why the level designs are so great.

The best thing about Team Fortress 2 would have to be the modding community. Through them we have had more incredibly fun maps and more recently Valve has been making mod creators money by putting their weapons and hats into the game for players to buy. An article i read on Pcgamer some time ago said that more money was being made through microtransactions than through the selling of the game . As well as being a major earner for Valve, the sales of hats have been used for charity. After the tsunami in japan, a set of hats were made for which all the proceeds went to a charity to help the people affected by the tsunami. I think it was an awesome move by Valve because through making only a little effort they managed to make $430,543.65.

I have much love for Valve and especially Team Fortress 2. I’m not a very good writer and haven’t given it justice but i think everyone should play it and see for themselves. It is free after all!