Monday, November 27, 2006

Memory Loss

I seem to have little luck with memory devices recently. My trusty 256 meg MP3 player/ storage device has finally gone up to that computer shop in the sky after having broken. It now will not switch on and play any music, nor will my computer recognise it.

I also managed to break a 2 gig memory stick a few months ago that a friend gave to me to transport my flash game to and from college. It corrupted itself and managed to mangle half of the files on it.
Not to mention that around the same time when I was transferring stuff onto this PC from the home PC half of it managed to disappear despite me KNOWING I transferred it. *sigh*

Perhaps I have a terrible power over memory sticks that I can't yet control. I fear for my shiny new digital camera's life.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Week 8: Storytelling in Games

Plot to me is pretty important in games that seem like they should have them. Obviously many games just dump you in a situation and expect you to go for it, but games which attempt a plot I think should strive to do it well.
Emotional engagement in a story can be a powerful tool. I really loved Final Fantasy 10 because I got so attached to the characters. I almost felt like I was playing a soap opera, with snippets of cut scenes and information emerging at different points of the story. When I got to the end game content I really missed the cutscenes and felt like I didn't know my party as well as I did before.
I don't think that all games have a story. I think some games have a setting, or a backstory and the player is then left to their own devices. Call of Duty is not a war story, in my opinion, it is a war setting. Capturing a flag is hardly relevant to the course of a war and has always seemed strangely out of place to me. Of course I may be biased as I haven't played the single player mode.

Unless there is true choice and alternate paths in a game, I believe story happens to a player. In Ratchet and Clank 2, a linear plot game, the characters mock the player's inability to control the action when yet again they arrive at an area too late and the person they are chasing has got away.
Ratchet: Damn! He got away again! We always seem to be too late.
Clank: Why is that?
*Both characters stare directly at the screen*

I know that putting variable narratives in a plot is difficult, I looked at this for my final project at art college. I basically made a book starring Mark the office worker who gets to make choices on what he does during the course of a day. By creating 15 pages I was able to generate something like 32 different courses that the story could follow.
I also tried to get away from the idea of 'good' and 'bad' endings. There are positive and negative endings, but it ultimately depends on how much you like Mark as to whether these are good or bad. In a game it's a different situation as the main character is an avatar of yourself, and so affects you more.
Maintaining continuity in a story which twists around itself is a tricky thing, and you also have to have consequences for every action or the entire thing becomes sheer randomness. Plotholes in games with multiple paths are a problem, and I've heard stories from people who've played Baldur's Gate 2 where they've walked into a room and had people simply explode because they were supposed to have died in an alternate pathway and the game didn't know what to do with them.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Art Direction.

The closest experience I have to an art director style role is being head of scenery in a drama contest at school. The year after I was head of scenery I became head of the entire production and I found that hugely stressful and full of politics.

As head of scenery I was responsible for identifying props and scenery needed for the play, similar to identifying all assets that need to be created for a game. I also had to either delegate the creation of these things to other people or do them myself. I had to remain in constant contact with both the heads of production and the other departments, for example choreography, to make sure people didn't want to dance through a huge piece of scenery.

Whilst obviously on a far smaller scale than that of an art director, I feel that the role has a lot of parallels. I enjoyed feeling that I was contributing important aspects to the play and also getting other people involved in the artwork, and I imagine these feelings would be magnified for a professional art director.

The role seems to be extremely creative. Art directors get to manage the look of a game and provide guidelines to help the rest of the team achieve their vision. They need to be good, clear communicators and have good people skills to get their ideas across and also to encourage and help the rest of the art team.
Art directors have great responsibility in that they are responsible for the performance of their team and keeping them to deadlines. They are answerable to the producers and any delays coming from the art side of the game can have knock-on effects on other areas such as programming. Therefore the art director has to be able to manage time effectively.

Art director seems to be the highest you can reach in the industry whilst still being a hands on artist. It does involve a lot of responsibility and management skills but it seems like it would be a very rewarding area to work in.

Monday, November 13, 2006

I've realised that there are no pictures in my blog and also that there are questions I need to explain, mostly about melon cheesecake.
Melon cheesecake is more of a concept than an actual thing. It is a reference to the ultimate question. Would you prefer: melon inside a cheesecake inside a melon OR cheesecake inside a melon inside a cheesecake.
Choose wisely. It says a lot about what sort of person you are... but mostly about whether you like melon more or cheesecake more. I personally would go for the former. This whole business came about in summer 2005 when I went on a girly holiday to Turkey with my friends and we found ourselves very amused by the fact that they had entire trucks filled with watermelons. No other fruit or vegetable, just watermelons. I have no idea where the cheesecake came in.

Here is a photo of the holiday in question. We were on a jeep safari where we saw exciting things such as a tortoise, a wild shoe and some 'things that go kwaak kwaak' basically some kind of wild chickens.
Games Design

What do I enjoy in a game? I enjoy something that clearly has a goal and then sets out to achieve it in its gameplay. Gameplay is really the core of a game, the idea that's left if you strip a game down to its bare bones, without shiny graphics or controls. It's the experience. I've enjoyed being an incredibly agile thief in the Sly Cooper games, being able to use practically anything around me to get to different part of the level. Training a team of monsters in Pokemon and being able to choose from whatever monsters I can find. Being a scientist trapped in a situation much larger than myself and trying to make sense of it with my trusty crowbar in Half Life. The genre of game is almost secondary to what the game is actually about.

One of the important issues that emerged from the articles I read this week was that of repetition and lack of originality. The quote database in particular seemed to be full of people complaining of games copying each other, reworking themselves only to change the graphics or using the same tired ideas.
A thing I am particularly sick of is the repetition of races in MMORPGs or even standard RPGS. Human, elf, dwarf, orc. Sometimes cat people. For goodness sake, it is really not hard to come up with something different. Even tauren in World of Warcraft are a refreshing change and they're just more animal people. Just sitting here thinking about it now I've come up with about 3 different ideas. Actual animals. Why not have a MMORPG where you can just be an animal? You eat stuff smaller than you, you run away from stuff bigger than you. I think it could work.
You could have an inanimate object RPG. You could be a lamp or a book and whenever a human shows up you have to freeze or some kind of trouble occurs.

Enough of that. I doubt those will happen because they're not tried and tested. Games design seems to fall to an individual who implements the design document after the idea has been discussed and finalised with senior design and business personnel. The sites disagree on whether or not the original designer should stay involved in the project. Some say that the idea should be strong enough for production to continue without the original designer, whereas some say that the designer should keep a check on their idea to make sure it is being realised as they imagined.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

New Games Journalism

Strangely enough I had read a couple of those reviews on one of the websites before without realising they were a radical new style of journalism. Whilst the fanboyish, over-personal reviews on websites such as gamefaqs annoys me, clinical and completely objective review styles are perhaps not entirely relevant to games articles.

When I play a game - especially an online multiplayer game - I will have a completely different experience playing the game to someone else. You do become personally involved in a game, despite how silly or meaningless it may seem as explored by some of the article. If someone slags you off on, you do get annoyed. And although the ignorance and sexism of random 15 year olds across the globe shouldn't bother you, after many hours of gaming it begins to grate. So therefore if I were reviewing a game and certain issues or experiences arose which were either unique to me or unique to the game, it would make sense to include them in a review, to show the various possibilities of the game.

Damn I just got carried away and ended up reading a ton of Penny Arcade comics. Which is of course very relevant. Webcomic artists often have comments within or after their comics about companies, reviewers and games themselves. High profile comics like Penny Arcade can often be very influential and powerful about showing the views of gamers themselves.

Perhaps the current system of reviewing and having various scores out of ten for games is demeaning. Ranking games on graphics, sound, controls, replayability or multiplayer options seems to punish games for not relying on technical aspects. Video games should strive further to be more of an artistic medium, and therefore be reviewed in a more artisitic manner rather than being broken down into chunks. If I read a review of an art exhibition, the artist is not punished for choosing not to include sound in their exhibition, as sound may not be relevant to what they are trying to convey.

Videogames should be reviewed as a personal experience relating to what the videogame is trying to achieve and also what the reviewer views as important. Whilst not in the style of new games journalism, manages to incorporate issues important to the reviewers into their articles without seeming to push an agenda. After the review is concluded will be a section entitled 'Making efforts towards women' and the reviewer will discuss how the game fares on this particular issue.