Thursday, December 27, 2007

For once in my life I have actually produced something purely in photoshop that I'm happy with. I think having a tablet has made a lot of difference.
And as an added bonus, here's an animated gif of me painting it, although you'll have to click on it to get it display.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pop Art Portraits

I'd known about the Pop Art Portraits exhibition since the end of Summer, and was gutted that I'd have to go away to university again just before it opened. As such, I made getting into town and seeing it one of my priorities of the Christmas holidays.
Pop Art has always interested me. It combines bold and exploratory styles with a probing insight into popular culture.
The exhibition was very good, although I felt some of the subject divisions were a lot stronger than others. The Marilyn section was very thought provoking, with many pieces exploring the price of fame, and the person behind the image. By contrast, the Experience and Innocence sections seemed slightly contrived. How can you define a point in history at which the public suddenly loses hope and becomes jaded, never mind having artists reflecting that? Why is Elvis being portrayed with a gun instead of a guitar an example of Innocence rather than Experience? Surely the manipulation of image and celebrities' experiences with this would suggest the latter.

The opportunity to see some celebrated pop art images such as the Warhol Marilyn prints and "What is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" by Richard Hamilton is always a welcome one. When you see artists' work in the flesh it is always such a different experience to seeing them in art books. Something is always inevitably lost in the translation from real world to print, even if the piece was print to begin with. Standing in front of Lichtenstein's "In the Car" is an experience beyond the image itself. You are slightly dwarfed by the scale of the piece. The car's inhabitants tower impassively over you. And yet, you feel like you are getting let in on a secret. Up close, the brush strokes can be seen, the bleeding of the Ben Day dots, an area where the edge did not mask properly.I should really get myself to some more exhibitions, I forget how much I enjoy them.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Creativity Conference

On Thursday morning I went to the Creativity and Innovation conference at the City Rooms. It was pretty interesting, and I definitely learnt some useful stuff, both about defining creativity and about where it occurs in our work.
The first speaker was Margaret Boden, attempting to answer the question 'What is creativity?'. She gave the definition of creativity as "Ideas that are new, surprising and valuable."
Many of the words in that sentence need to be further defined, however. New can mean either new in terms of all human history (H-creative), or simply new to the person themselves (P-creative). Although H-creativity may seem far more important, it must still begin with P-creativity. When teaching children, they may be encouraged to come up with their own ideas about how something works. The answer may be already known, but they are still being encouraged to be P-creative.
Value of a creative idea can change depending on the situation. An idea which may be great for an advertising campaign will probably not be as valuable for an art exhibition. When people are discussing whether or not something is creative, they are often not debating the core creativity at all, but differing about the creative value.
Surprise at a creative idea can occur in different ways, depending on what type of creativity produced the idea.

Combinational creativity:
is making unfamiliar combinations of familiar ideas

Exploratory creativity:
is working within a structure or style, and working to find the limits of a creative space

Transformational creativity:
is a new structure or style. The creator has learnt how to explore the space, and then changed the space itself.

Transformational creativity is rare and often only occurs after the creator has first mastered the existing creative space through many years of exploratory creativity. The backlash against transformational creativity can often be great, as they are challenging the current accepted system. An example of transformational creativity is the development of pointillism.

These definitions are theoretical distinctions between types of creativity. Creativity does not need to occur in one or other category, it can be a mixture.

Creativity can be discouraged by punishing new ideas, especially for being 'wrong'. Combinational creativity can be encouraged by having lots of ideas from different subjects readily available. Doing exercises such as making up a sentence or story to do with two random things can also encourage combinational creativity by getting the creator to think about the process itself. For successful exploratory creativity, the person needs prolonged experience in the area they are exploring. For successful transformational creativity, the creator should first examine other examples of transformational creativity and evaluate what they changed and how. They also need to learn to evaluate their own ideas. For all styles of creativity, the person's motivation needs to be encouraged.

The second lecture, by Claudia Eckert, was about analysing where creativity occurs in the processes of both artistic design and technical design.
Artistic design is design fields where visual or tactile appearance is key to the design and sale of the product, whereas in technical design the function of the product is more important.
I might skip to the conclusion for this one, as the main portion of the lecture compared different design processes in some detail. The main conclusion of the lecture was that creativity in technical industries such as engineering is seen as a necessary evil. It leads to uncertainties in the design process, which can mean increased production time and costs. Things are done sticking as strictly to the design process and brief as possible, and creativity occurs when a problem arises.
However, in artistic design, the process is almost approached from the other way. Creativity is factored in from the beginning, and through the design process itself the technical restraints are realised and decided upon.

It's interesting to think about where we fall in the processes. We're probably somewhere in the middle, we have a large amount of artistic freedom but we also have to stick to strict criteria.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Gender and creativity

I thought it would be an interesting idea to examine whether there are any links between creativity and gender. I did find a few papers online, most of which seemed to reach the conclusion that there isn't really any difference in creative ability based on gender alone. However, one paper did make an interesting point.
Girls in their early teens are more easily discouraged from being creative by a reward or assessment based system than boys of the same age group.

This is worrying. As creativity is inherent in pretty much every subject to varying degrees, does this mean that the discouragement of creativity is making girls less ambitious? If you are afraid to experiment, you will probably stick with what is safe and known to you. This article states that although girls are doing better and better at GCSE level compared to boys, they are still taking stereotypical subject choices.
This is a tough thing to think about. When you make decisions about what you want out of life, how often do you think of yourself as an ambassador for your gender? When I consider what I want to do, should I be considering working in the city as a high flying banker just because it's a male dominated arena?

This wasn't really as focused an exploration as I was hoping it would be, but it is at least an interesting aside.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's review O' clock!

Since I've bought my Wii, I've felt like I haven't really been getting the most use out of the thing. I've got Wario Ware and Twilight Princess but for some reason I never really play them. Wario Ware is for a more party situation and Twilight Princess has annoyed me within the first few minutes, both with the art style and the gameplay (although I've since got over that). The Miis are hilarious but all the fun seemed to get milked out of that in the first few weeks. It seemed like my Wii was destined to be nothing more than a shiny Gamecube which we all only used to play Super Smash Bros Melee until Brawl comes out.

But then I bought Mario Galaxy, and realised that there was a sound reasoning behind me buying this console. Mario Galaxy is a wonderful game. It's not graphically impressive, it's nothing groundbreaking in the engine, but it is pure fun.
The hub world is a really nice environment that improves as you progress through the game. More and more areas light up and the whole place fills with Lumas, little star things that dance around looking cute. Other characters like toads and Luigi wander around, and the whole place feels very vibrant. The orchestra playing the background music also grows, making the music much more epic. From the hub world you can access the galaxies, or levels. The galaxies vary greatly, but most consist of separate planets with their own gravity fields.
The way gravity is used in this game is really inspiring. Like Braid uses time, Mario Galaxy uses gravity. Gravity can change in different areas, leading to platforming puzzles. The gravity gives a great twist to the gameplay. You get on a platform, it starts to move and dangerous objects are hurled at you for you to dodge. So far, so standard. But it's when you remember, hang on, i can stand on the underneath of this that it starts to get interesting.
The controls are pretty good too, given the constant changes in camera angles and directions Mario is actually facing. You simply press the way you want to be going, and ignore wherever might have been forwards beforehand.

Mario Galaxy is frankly inspiring in its gameplay and I'm hoping for more fun innovations from Nintendo in the future.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Limitations on creativity

It's strange to think that sometimes having limitations can open up more ways to be creative. I started thinking about this after Gamecity. Having helped out in the Indiecade for a couple of days, I was struck by what some of the games managed to achieve by actually have less going on that most mainstream games. The Indiecade, for those of you who may have missed out, was an arcade showcasing games made by tiny development teams or students. Some had been created entirely by a single person.

The fact that many of these games could not compete with the technological achievements of mainstream games actually seemed to free up the creative aspect of many of them. One of my favourites which I've actually downloaded and have been playing at home is Endless Forest.

In Endless Forest you play as a deer with a human face. You can communicate with other players simply through gestures and occasional mooing. There isn't really much of an aim either. You can explore, there are random events triggered by the game's creators, and you can collect different items to change the appearance of other deer from around the environment. It's easy to see why this could quickly become boring, but I find it quite liberating.
There's no pressure to do anything, and the fact that no one can type means you don't think of the other players as people sitting at their keyboards, but rather just as the deer they are presented as. It's very absorbing, and the fact that there aren't really goals makes it easy to dip in and out of.

Another game that was interesting was Braid. Braid is a 2D sidescrolling platformer. The main idea of the game is that we should learn from our mistakes, but not have to suffer the consequences of them. So in the game, you can rewind time at any point, for as long as you like. This way, if you are killed by an enemy, you can rewind time and revive yourself. You have now learned something about how or why the enemy attacked you, and can change tactics accordingly. The real puzzles begin when some items are not affected by time, or behave differently when exposed to time reversal. It leads to puzzles where you are forced to fling yourself onto spikes or drop to a place you have no way of escaping from in order to grab items such as keys which you can drag backwards through time with you.

While games such as Prince of Persia have the time rewind element, the fact that Braid has no limits on its rewind system makes you play completely differently. Prince of Persia still forces you to be cautious, whereas in Braid you can fling yourself into a situation just to see what will happen, and then reverse it if it wasn't the outcome you wanted.

So that's how it applies to games, but what about art? Forcing yourself into a limited artistic situation can lead to interesting results. It seems though, that you need to push it away from the familiar to really get deeper. Everyone uses pen and pencil, limiting yourself to just one of those doesn't cause any difficulties or present you with problems you have to solve.
However, if you only allow yourself to use tin foil and glue, or paint and a piece of card with no paintbrush to draw with, you start to open up more interesting things in what you are producing. The fact that you have having to fight your choice of media in order to show what you want makes you think differently than if you had chosen something you can use with ease, and this shows in the piece.

You get unexpected outcomes, things you didn't mean to put there simply because you're not good at using the media. Rips in the paper with the craft knife that actually look really good, mistake lumps of paint that show contours. Sure, it might look terrible, but that's the risk you take. And the best part is that you can give people the same media to use and everyone will use them differently, there is still personal style even in such an unfamiliar thing.

So what's my conclusion? A selling point for most games is going to be having the latest graphics and engine technologies. But sometimes the games without those things have got something more interesting to say than those with them.
If we can just learn to take risks with the small creative things we do, maybe it will feed into everything else.

Friday, November 09, 2007


I thought I'd make a post about cooking. Cooking is one of my hobbies which has only really started once I got to uni. I think of cooking as being a very creative process, although it isn't normally mentioned in the list of creative things everyone has been making in these blog posts.
Having had a trawl around the internet, there's not that much about cooking in terms of the creative benefits it brings. It seems to be assumed that you're cooking to produce the end result, rather than enjoying the process itself.
I don't like this idea. Cooking can be as much fun as any other creative activity. My favourite thing about cooking is mixing stuff together. It's like making mud pies in the garden when I was a kid... only hopefully without the horrendous food poisoning which would inevitably result from actually eating mud pies.
Throwing in loads of things which on their own are rather unremarkable and turning them into something that tastes good is one of the most satisfying things for me. It reminds me a lot of painting - paints on their own are nice, but you have to put them together to really achieve something worthwhile. My rapidly expanding collection of herbs and spices reminds me of my mostly useless collection of art junk in my room. Sure, I don't have a use for tons of different types of wool right now, but one day I'm sure I will.

I think perhaps cooking isn't seen as being creative because you're following a recipe. When you have strict instructions, is there room to be creative? Of course there is. You have to exercise personal judgement in when stuff is done, when to move to the next step. You can do things differently to how the recipe says. You can add, substitute, take away, present differently. Or of course, you can always do things wrong. Sometimes you'll have a happy accident, other times you will do something monumentally dumb like burning rice and stinking out the entire downstairs of our house.

Of course, there is the theory that cooking is actually some elaborate form of procrastination, and that the whole process, creative or not, is simply an excuse for me to avoid doing my actual work. I'll let you be the judge.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Creativity continued

For my mechanical project I've been researching Leonardo Da Vinci, and one of the most interesting things I've found about him is how he managed to combine so many different skills and areas of interest.
Da Vinci was "an artist, architect, musician, scientist, geologist, physicist, designer, mechanic and inventor" as it says in the book I borrowed from the library. In the 1400s, artists weren't mainly hired for their artistic skills alone, but for their knowledge of engineering, which they acquired during their apprenticeship. In an age of changing warfare, new inventions and reworked traditional weapons were the key to success.
Learning about everything makes complete sense. It's what I thought my art foundation would be, being taught as many different ways of creating as possible, so you have more tools at your disposal. Unfortunately it didn't really work like that, which I think is a shame. For all I know, I could have some secret metalsmithing talent which will now forever lie dormant.

Things are split up far too much, especially when it comes to school subjects. History links to geography, which links to the sciences, and then maths, and then music and so on. Separating things so much makes sense from a teaching perspective, but also forces people to drive a wedge between their interests.

Is it wise to specialise? Does focusing on one subject specifically give you a deeper understanding, or should you widen your horizons and have a larger understanding of everything?

I've often wondered if it's best to train for something completely different to what you actually want for a career in life. That way when you do work your way there, you'll have a completely different outlook and set of skills to everybody else, and will maybe think in a more creative way about the tasks in hand. Having come from a wider employment circle, you'd also have more objectivity.

Perhaps we should all have an Ancient Greek style education, where we are apprenticed into as many different jobs as possible.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hooray for the Tate

I ended up at home this weekend, and therefore ended up London town. After watching Have I Got News For You the week before and finding out that several people had fallen down into the current exhibition in the Tate Modern, consisting of a crack in the floor, I decided to go, and dragged Tim along with me. The piece is called Shibboleth and it's by Doris Salcedo.
Looks impressive doesn't it? It's really not as vast as it seems in that picture. The crack is only about as wide as a person's leg in the widest sections, so to fall down it you'd have to be pretty determined.
I've seen some really amazing exhibitions in the Turbine Hall, and a piece has to be incredibly powerful to hold its own in the space there. I don't think Shibboleth really did it for me. The crack seems very unnatural, it has regular spacing and you can see the chicken wire holding the two sections apart. It does make sense as the piece is about separation in society, and therefore man made divisions, but it seems to distract from what should be a powerful reflection about nature. Tim spent the whole time trying to figure out how it had been created.

But even though Shibboleth was not all I was expecting, there was another nice surprise. This monstrosity, sitting outside the Tate Modern. Maman, by Louise Bourgeois. It's an amazing sculpture, alien yet so very rooted in the familiar. Kids were saying to their parents that they wished it were real while Tim and I just widened our eyes in horror at each other.
We also saw some people having to shield their view as they walked past along the river, probably due to arachnaphobia. It seems almost insensitive to have a sculpture which for some people is horrific, out in full view in a popular area. Even worse is the face that there are posters all over the London Underground with the spider on, advertising the full Louise Bourgeois exhibition.
Art is supposed to provoke a response, but if it is involuntary, and people don't want to be exposed to the art in the first place, is that fair? Should art be concerned with what is fair anyway? It's certainly not concerned with what is legal in many cases.
But anyway, the sculpture was certainly unexpected, and even helped me out with my drawing project a little bit.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


OK, so this is the start of us revisiting the issue of creativity. After the interesting video shown to us by Mr P about creativity being stifled by the school environment, I decided to look into that a bit more. I work with kids in the summer so I feel like I have some vague connection to the issue.

I found this on the National Assosciation of School Psychologists website, which was very interesting to me:

The personality traits which some creative children develop are often viewed by others as strange or unproductive:
(a) Free Thinking. Toying with ideas may appear undisciplined and lacking in goal orientation;
(b) Gullibility. Creative children get excited about "half-baked" ideas and may not see the drawbacks or flaws that an adult would easily see;
(c) Humor. Creative children find humor in ideas which adults consider to be very serious. This ability to question and see other perspectives may be interpreted as mocking and obnoxious;
(d) Daydreaming. Creative children learn through fantasy and solve many of their problems through its use. Letting one's mind wander can help imagination to form new connections but may be seen as being inattentive or spacey;
(e) Aloneness. Creative thinking develops from delicate, unformed ideas. Children need to be alone while their ideas emerge, but society's emphasis on togetherness makes this difficult; and
(f) Activity. Ideas often come at times of "doing nothing." But once the idea comes, the creative child will become absorbed in the activity. This fluctuation, from what may seem to be laziness to over commitment to only one thing, is confusing and frustrating to others.

I wonder how many of those are familiar childhood traits of people on this course, and how of us didn't even realise what they were indicative of? Thinking back, I was certainly gullible in many situations because I wanted to believe in things that I thought were exciting.

I also found a few lists with Do's and Don'ts for encouraging creativity when planning activities with children.
Don't: Constantly watch over them, evaluate their work, offer rewards, over control, encourage competition, restrict choice, give examples.
Do: praise work, remember that the creative process is more important than the final product.
OK, most of those make sense but some of them are just impractical. Restricting choice is often a necessary evil, especially with things like equipment. If you get all the art equipment out for every session, you'll spend half your day getting it out and putting it away and all the kids' work will be coated in an inch thick layer of glitter which will never dry. And glitter gets everywhere. For their choice of what to do with their own work, sure they can do whatever they like.

The one I did really take issue with was 'Don't give examples'. Kids copy stuff, it's what they have always done. I drew a dinosaur on a whiteboard once just to make the art room a bit more interesting. There was extra time at the end of the activity so we let the children draw stuff. At the end I collect up 12 drawn copies of my dinosaur from the board.

When we offer a choice of activity, being able to say 'you can make a hat like this one' and demonstrate the hat, is far better than just saying 'you can make a hat', it captures their imagination more and gives them more ideas. Children do have brilliant imaginations, but they also draw a blank on so many occassions it makes you wonder.

In the morning on playschemes, we have a big roll of wallpaper for the kids to draw on. They're meant to draw stuff to do with the theme of the week, things like Summer, around the world, history, but they can do whatever they like really. A lot of times you would tell them what the theme was, and encourage them to draw things and they would have no ideas or enthusiasm at all. Around the world especially stumped them completely.
So I guess my main point from all that was that children are unpredictable and you can do everything articles tell you to and still get it wrong.

I also found this poem, called The Little Boy by Helen Buckley. It illustrates brilliantly the problems stifling creativity creates. And the sad thing is, this was written in the 1960s and not much has changed.

On an entirely different note, I found an article about how the height of ceilings affects creativity. The article is here, but the basic summary is that people think in more abstract terms when in a room with a higher ceiling. However, this does not extend to being outside, without a ceiling. Perhaps we should see if we can apply to have the graphics floor removed entirely so we could have a nice high ceiling in the lab? Maybe that storm last year was trying to tell us something.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Crying for fun and profit!

If you don't get your way, cry and throw a wobbly. This seems to be the common mode of attack for many kids at work. However, what they don't know is that all the staff have absolutely no tolerance for this, as when you let one kid get away with it, they'll all start to do it.

Allow me to provide examples. One merry Tuesday we were working in a village which is barely in the district the playschemes serves. The main road is actually called The Street, as it's the only flipping road there. We all have a theory at playschemes that every kid in the village is related to one another, with their collective father being Mr *villagename*. Some of the kids are Odd.

But anyway, we only have 12 kids so we decide not to offer separate sport and art activities like we usually do but to lump them all together. It sounds a bit mean but when you have 4 kids decide they want to do sport and the rest want to do art, the sport kids are going to struggle to have a decent game of anything.
So we start playing uni-hoc (kids are given numbers, when their number is called out they play one on one hockey with the corresponding number from the other team). Great fun, everyone loves this game! Except we have two sulkers in the corner. One is just sulking, the other one is full blown crying.
They don't want to play this. In fact, they want to go home. They haven't even given it a go. As it's the start of the day and some kids get a bit homesick, they're found another activity, but the cycle starts to repeat itself and our patience wears thin.

The cryer proceeded to throw several strops, each with different excuses as to why she wanted to go home. She was ill, she had a headache. She came up to me at lunchtime and told me that her dog was at the vets and she needed to phone home to check if he was alright. It was clearly an excuse to phone home and whine about how she didn't want to be here.

Even in the art activities she threw strops when things didn't go her way. When her clay didn't turn out right, she started to cry.
At the end of the day the deputy leader told her mum that if she didn't want to be here, it was pointless bringing her.

At another site we had a girl who cried in order to spite other people. Some girls were playing a game and then suddenly one leaves the group and sits down in a corner, crying. I ask her what's wrong and she says the other girls stole the ball off her. I ask the other girls and they seem genuinely confused, saying that was part of the game they were playing. I ask if they'll apologise anyway as the other girl seems upset. They do so and the girl continues to be in a huff.

She later asks me when one of the other playworkers will be coming back off her lunch break (she'd grown attached to her), and threw a strop when I told her it would be 15 minutes or so.
"But she said she'd be back in a MINUTE"
"It's a figure of speech. She didn't literally mean one minute. One minute to have your lunch in is a bit harsh"
"But she said in a MINUTE!"
"Have you never heard someone use the phrase in a minute? It just means an amount of time!"
A pout, followed by her storming off.

I caught her later trying to land some other girls in trouble. When I was talking to them she had a massive grin on her face, thinking I was telling them off. I confronted her about it.
"I'm just a happy person!"
"If you're such a happy person, why were you sulking earlier?"
"I wasn't sulking. I was having a tantrum!"


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I hate children

And my job has only confirmed that.
OK, that comment was a little sensationalist. I don't hate all children. On an individual basis I quite like many of the kids at work. But as a whole, children are awful. Children are like humanity filtered down to it's basic elements.
Children are curious, and they are innocent. But they are also cruel, selfish and ignorant. They are also incredibly prejudiced without even realising what a terrible thing it is.
I suppose you want some examples.

Gender values are hammered into children as soon as they can start absorbing information. Girls like Bratz, Barbie, Dora the Explorer, etc. Boys like Transformers, Star Wars, etc. There is no middle ground for a lot of them.
"You can't play football, you're a girl!" This statement, and many others like it, have made my blood boil these past few weeks. Where are they getting these ideas from?! Yes, a lot of the girls are not as interested in football as the boys, and therefore are not as good at it. But to say they CAN NOT play is just unreasonable to me.
"Euuuuuurgh, you like girls' stuff!" When said to a boy this is for some reason one of the most cutting insults there is. I have tried explaining that even though so-and-so might not actually like Barbie, there is nothing wrong with him liking it if he wants to.
*Cue puzzled look* "But he's a boy!" It went round and round like that.

You also really see the differences between the genders at this age. Young boys are awful. They won't sit still until they have run out all their energy, they play up and refuse to listen, they fight. And if there's a creative activity of any kind it always comes back round to ways of killing things. Or creatures that kill things. Or just killing. It actually seems to be an inherent male thing.
Conversely, young girls are also awful. The trick with girls is that they never SEEM to be awful. They are a lot better at the creative activities than a lot of the boys and they join in with the sports. But when it gets to play times they get nasty.
"SHE did this to me!" "So-and-so's being mean!"
They will gather in groups and giggle about each other. They will cajole others into doing their dirty work for them and send their lackeys to say things to people or attack them with play equipment. They lie to you about what others have done. They enjoy getting others into trouble. They sulk, they cry, they get in a huff about nothing.

So, summary: Boys are into causing physical pain, girls causing emotional pain

It really makes you think. If it weren't for hormones that kick in at puberty, I honestly think men and women would continue having little or nothing to do with each other for the rest of our lives.

That post seemed very negative, but I've had a terrible day today. We only had 6 kids (all boys) and they managed to drive us all absolutely crazy.

So that was gender values, next update, I shall write about crying for fun and profit!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

City of Heroes

Alex tries to kickstart his modelling career

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In other news....

I made a 3D graphic for one of my website designer mates. Check out the rotating Z at the top of this page. Uh huh, that was me. Pretty happy with it, and it gave me good experience of working on something that didn't really have a final outcome planned out from the start.

I wonder if saying 'Hey I designed your website banner logo' will get me in for free?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Goodbye Bede Hall

Well, I am currently at home as I'm typing this post, although I'm heading back to uni tomorrow so I can go to the GameCity meeting. I just thought as I started this year's blog with antics of me living in halls, it would be fitting to post something about moving out.
Halls has been a positive experience for me on the whole. I got on with pretty much everyone in my flat, which I know is a pretty rare thing. I aim to keep in contact with several of my flatmates next year and continue our girlie nights out. Dancing to cheesy music and drinking strange alcoholic cocktails made of whatever was on offer from Nat's, does it get any better?
However, life was not all sunshine and roses. Things I will not miss:

  • The guys downstairs with their infernal music travelling up through the floor
  • The constant stench of weed throughout D block
  • The hall manager who hates all of humanity, with special wrath saved up for students
  • People rolling in at 2 in the morning screaming/ singing 'Oggy oggy oggy, oi oi oi' in the courtyard
  • Fire alarms at 3am
  • The piles of bins in the kitchen (which actually spawned maggots at one point, thanks everyone!)
  • Becki with her cooking that splashes everywhere, thieving of cheese graters to grind weed, and screeching arguments with her boyfriend at midnight - complete with slamming doors and sobbing in the toilets. When asked to be quiet the response was 'I'M HAVING AN ARGUMENT!'

So I'm glad that chapter of life is closed and next year I will be in a house. With 3 guys. Everyone has told me I'm crazy and to be honest I don't doubt it. Alex is already threatening to limit my time in the bathroom. He shall be pranked, and pranked severely.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Everything I cook is orange.

I discovered this when I decided to defrost something I'd previously cooked from the freezer. Only problem was, I - in all my infinite wisdom - had not labelled it.
"Well," I thought. "It's orange, so it must be spaghetti sauce or bean chilli." Easy.
Six hours later and said object is defrosted. And is in fact chicken tikka. Good job I like chicken tikka.

I had a sitdown and a think about these events and I came to the conclusion that EVERYTHING I cook is in fact orange. Or at least turns orange when you freeze it. I shall dazzle you with a list:

Bean chilli
Chicken tikka
Spaghetti bolognese sauce
Bacon pasta sauce
Chicken fajita mix
Sweet and sour anything
Sausages in barbeque sauce

The one exception to this rule was when i tried to make a stew of my own invention and it froze grey. Which is really not a very appetising colour, and just goes to show that I should not try to be creative in the kitchen ever.

What is it? Nobody knows.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

OK, I felt I should blog about something, simply because I haven't done so in over a week.
I achieved some, but not all of my holiday objectives. I did work at playschemes and earnt myself some cash by playing in glue and dealing with children on a sugar high. I also went round London a lot and returned to some of my favourite places. Canary Wharf, the Natural History museum and Covent Garden.
I didn't quite make it to Turkey. The flight costs went up too much so we went on a day trip to France and Belgium instead. It was lots of fun and I returned with crateloads of cheap alcohol. All the bottles are currently lined up on top of my shelves like an identity parade.
Welcome to sunny Belgium!

It's nice to be back, it seems like I've been here weeks I've already done so much. Night out at Liquid sporting a top hat, surprise birthday party for Alex round Caz's (a big surprise as it was 3 weeks after his actual birthday), lots and lots of Lord of the Rings and two house viewings. Phew!
And I have actually done some work. I should really get over to the library and try to scan all my sketchbooks in, but I might give up and just take photos.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Being ill is really quite pants.

I have grossly swollen tonsils which makes swallowing food and drink very painful, achy ears which has also thrown off my balance, achy joints, a raging headache and when it gets towards evening time I go very hot and cold and need 2 blankets and a jumper.
Needless to say I'm not particularly thrilled about the situation. It's always my luck that I fall ill at the start of a weekend so it's impossible for me to get to a doctor's and get any medicine, so I've had to make do with homeopathic remedies which one of my mum's friends does. To be honest, I'm not sure if I even believe it works but I have no better options right now.
I was warned that it might make me feel worse before it makes me feel better, but this morning I have woken up feeling just the same, although the headache seems to have got a bit worse. Fantastic.
Mum's friend is making me another remedy at the moment but I'm not sure if I want to take it. The other one didn't exactly do any good, who's to say this one will?

It's not like anyone I know even has a nasty cold thing! Where has this come from!? I seem to have a magical ability to pick up slight traces of an illness and magnify it, causing myself misery. I managed to do it last year by catching shingles, although having read that article it seems it just comes from dormant chicken pox. Surprisingly, that doesn't make me feel much better.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

So, what's going down in Louiseworld?

Right this second I am listening to all my utterly terrible cheese music that I found on all my CDs at home. You know the ones. You buy them when you're about twelve and S Club 7 ARE the best thing ever. You discover them a few years later, feel disgusted with yourself and bury them under a pile of Basement Jaxx and Artful Dodger (or bands of choice). Then you rediscover them a few more years later and accept that yes dammit, S Club 7 WERE the best thing ever and rip them all to your PC.
I don't care what you all say about it, I am going to be happy in my little pop bubble.

So, what's been happening? Well, I dragged Alex, Tim and my friend Chris to the Tate with the plan of hurling ourselves down the slides, but it didn't really happen because of the queues. So we went round the Tate and chilled out in the park in Canary Wharf instead. I may also be furthering the 'London Ducks' series of photos. Yes it's now a series.

I have also been working at playschemes, where I get paid to eat chips and make mess. Well, it's not quite like that. I also have to help manage a load of kids, endure a lot of humiliation from doing stupid dances and get sat on by small children at high speed. Small kids are boney.

I am also practically exploding with delight at the sight of this marvelous trailer. Yes it's the new Ratchet and Clank, Tools of Destruction. It looks like Insomniac is having a true return to form. No more generic dark and grungy FPS, no more stupid arena combat, trying too hard to be badass Ratchet and Clank. A fun, brightly coloured, humour-filled, lovingly crafted Ratchet and Clank.It has crazy enemies, it has grindrails, it has boss fights, it has Ratchet's poofy tail. What more do I need? I cannot wait for this. The only problem will be finding a PS3 to play it on. I don't even want one, I just want to borrow one so I can play this game.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Well, I'm home again now. Been up to London today and eaten sushi, yum! I am definitely planning on going on the slides at the Tate modern before this holiday is done.

We also had assessments Tuesday and Wednesday which went very well for me. I got an A- for the van which I am very pleased with, and if I fix the errors I identified with it (namely the shape of the bumper and the amount of polys on the roof) then I could make it an A.

The art assessment was interesting for me to say the least. I was really happy that all the tutors were so positive about my work, and it's really inspired me to crack on and keep doing crazy stuff like embossing and ink blowing and stuffing things in packets full of hair gel. I'm happy that I got some positive reaction from people in the class who didn't even realise that we could do stuff like that, and I hope that a lot more people do go and just have a play with different materials. The worst thing that can happen is that it goes wrong and even then you've learnt something.

In a way, I'm also pretty happy I got some negative reactions. People don't see the point, people think I'll get laughed at, but I don't really mind. It shows that I'm doing something different, and (to quote Cool Runnings) "People are always afraid of what's different." I also got defended by all four tutors, which was pretty cool.

I think the crowning glory for me was Mr P's comment (paraphrased)." I told you all to do a blog task about the definition of creativity. This is creativity. "
I think it's possibly the most huge compliment I've ever recieved about my work. Let's hope I can keep this up.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Final Blog task

I came to this course from an illustration focused art foundation, which turned out to be nothing like I was expecting. I was expecting to be taught different skills in different media to help me establish what I wanted to do in my art based future. Before about year 12 I wasn't even sure I wanted to do art. Art was just something that happened in my spare time and in art classes. It was part of me, but not necessarily who I was. As I specialised further and further in my school career, dropping things for GCSE, dropping things for A level, I began to realise that I couldn't just let art go.

I'd had the idea of drawing concept art for games for quite a while, I think since Ratchet and Clank 1 where one of the secrets you could unlock was the concept art for the game. I was inspired and the idea lodged in the back of my head along with my other vague plan - illustrating books.

So I moved on to the art foundation, where I was given vague ideas and comments. 'Produce a final piece on the idea of a votive object.' 'Draw without drawing' 'This is wrong but we will not tell you why'. When we came back after the Christmas break and were told we had better be damned confident in ourselves if we were going to be illustrators because we would have to sell ourselves every second of every day I broke down. I knew I couldn't do it. Couldn't compete with the egos and strange dress sense and overwhelming confidence in something I didn't even understand.

So I explained to my Mum what had happened and I bunked the next day and spent the entire time trawling UCAS searching for my two ambitions: Game Design and Book Illustration. I hadn't even realised you could do Game Art as a degree! I'd been planning on trying to get my foot in the door after finishing an illustration degree. I phoned round for some open days and suddenly life seemed a lot better.
As you can guess, I had an open day and interview at DMU and got on the course.

So why did I write all that? I don't think I've forgotten since I've been here that I have battled through a course that I truly didn't enjoy, and where I didn't learn what I wanted. Here I have felt settled and like I belong on the course, something I never felt on my foundation. I've also learned a lot, and it was stuff I was expecting and hoping to learn. So basically I am grateful for what I have here, which is something to keep in mind when reading my whiny complaints!

So do I have any suggestions for next year? Well I felt that the first project really flung us in at the deep end. While it did make us learn quickly, it was also pretty stressful. I know that Joel did his best with so many people who had no idea what they were doing, but I think we could have done with more one on one help. So for the sake of the next first years, I'm going to suggest a buddy system. Teaching other people how to do things that we already know how to do will ease the stress on Joel, help the first years feel more accepted and also re-enforce what we know.
Also having PCs that don't die every few minutes would be wonderful. We were all so impressed with their shiny newness at the start of the year but now you're lucky if half of them will run Max.
Other than that I feel like the 3DS Max stuff has been going well. I've really enjoyed making the street furniture and trees because you can see how it's directly relevant and ready for a game environment. There have been grumbles that it isn't interesting enough but we have to be able to walk before we can run. Group work should be interesting for next year, and maybe for after Easter if people still want to model animals from the zoo.

As I said before I've been really enjoying the drawing module. I surprised myself at the tutorial with just how much I've done. 3 full sketchbooks, one A5 sketchbook from the zoo and a big fat texture book. As well as a hand, wire man, chimney and arcade cabinets.
The formal drawing lessons have been really useful and not something that I've really had before. I had picked up various rules and tricks but the perspective stuff really helped. Shame we didn't get round to colour theory. That would be nice for next year.
I'd love for there to be more focus on the hand made 3D stuff next year, I've felt like it's been really beneficial. More time with Chris in classes would also be really good. I know he wants to be a full time tutor and I think it'd be really useful for us to have his direct input on our 3DS Max work.
I'd love if we could have our own studio space where we could work. I'm running out of space for all my 3D junk and my room is littered with the results of my artistic experiments.

The blogs have become a lot more fun for me, and I think I'll do my best to keep them up. God knows what Mr P thinks of all my days/ nights out but I like posting about them. It's a fun way to communicate with everyone and it's far better than essays would be. It would be nice if the blog tasks would link more closely with the lectures we have but I know that's not always possible because people are unpredictable.

The lectures have been really interesting and have provoked a lot of discussion. I think the inclusive gaming was probably the most hard hitting one for me because it made me analyse my own habits and preferences and examine what they're affected by.

I think I'd like to comment on the amount of notice we get for some stuff. In my experience Art departments are always slightly shaky on the organisation front. Deadlines and criteria changing, sudden field trips, unexpected tutorials, and timetable mess ups have all been annoying simply because they are all so preventable. Notices on the VLE would solve most of it.

Finally, the VLE itself. Could be a very useful tool but people just don't really check it now apart from for briefs and project deadlines. At the start of the year it had a bustling forum which has now sadly stagnated. Perhaps having a link to a separate Vbulletin messageboard or similar might be better?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Wow, the final blog task is pretty hard.

I've had a pretty cool week this week, Tim's been down, we've all finally viewed a house, played drunken guitar hero, saw 300, had a smoothie from the nice milkshake place in town and eaten chinese food. It seems far too early for the term to be over.

Plans for easter:

Catch up with all my friends from home.
Dress up like a pirate and go boating on a lake with my friends. Did this last year and it was brilliant.
Work for playschemes. It's basically a day camp for kids during the holidays. We do stuff like ourdoor sports, art and craft, drama, whatever. It makes you never want to have kids. EVER. Ah but the money is good.
Go round London lots and lots. Enjoy the extortionate prices, stupid tourists and tube bogies.
Go to Turkey. Oh god I need a holiday this will be sooooo nice if it happens.
Maybe some work will fit in there somewhere.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Have you ever wondered what would happen if your life took another direction? If at some point in your life you made a decision that changed how you are today? This may sound like it's going to become all philosophical and deep, but it really isn't. It's just an excuse to post pictures of me dressed as a chav.
For those of you who don't know what I look like or need reminding here is a photo of me and Tim, who for some reason looks like a ska musician:

And here is a photo of our bizarro universe chav counterparts. We were actually very scared of one another for a while that night, especially when Tim decided to name himself Darren, or 'Daz' and continually ask people 'if they were startin'?!' .Someone actually told us that we were so convincing that if they saw us in the street they would cross the road. High praise indeed.
So in conclusion I'm glad I'm not a chav.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

All Hail the Zoo!

I went to the zoo today along with Caz, Alex, Nikki, James and Joel. Getting there and back was quite an effort as we had to get a train to Nuneaton and then a bus which only came once an hour and took an hour to wind its way through the countryside to the zoo. But it was definitely worth it. We got the bus fare and zoo ticket together for just £6.50 which was a nice surprise, and we all took tons of photos and did loads of drawing.
Quote of the day:
Alex: 'I only eat solid waste.'

The whole idea of this is to model loads of fun animals and make a first person mauler, where they all run around slicing/ goring/ trampling each other to pieces. Should be fun!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Week 22: Games Design Conference

I had free rein on this one so I just decided to look around the site until I found something that sparked my interest. This lecture looks really interesting, about knowing your target demographic and knowing who plays games. It seems similar to the lecture we had about inclusive gaming, if you make a game more inclusive, it will appeal to more people and therefore have more potential sales. This part in the description especially interested me:
"Analyze This! - Players Live On Stage" a live player study on the Wii provides insights into players' minds.

It's incredible when you think about it how many different ways people will come up with to play the same game. This is especially apparent in multiplayer versus modes, where different tactics will have different advantages. When we play Lord of the Rings in the lab, we all seem to have settled in to our chosen races. If there is a choice, I am usually Goblins, Tom the Elves, Sophia the Men, Alex the Dwarves and Darsh Mordor.
I prefer the Goblins because I can make lots of mountain giants, big ro
ck throwers, and then spam cheap basic units to act as a meat shield for them. But why do I like to play like this? I could easily go a different route, but yet I don't. Why do I play the way I do?

What kind of factors most affect how we play games? Is it to do with our personalities? How we solve problems in real life situations? How we've played games before? I'm not offering any answers because I can't go to the lecture but it's interesting to think about.

Another slight tangent I went on from the lecture description was here. Facts and statistics about computer games and who buys and plays them. The pie charts for the best selling genres really surprised me. Action and sports games had the highest percentages for console games and strategy and children's games for PC games. If you'd asked me what I thought sold most I probably would have said shooters and maybe racing. But is that because I'm currently in an environment where those genres are more popular? Lots of people play CoD and Gears of War in the lab and any adverts on TV tend to be more shooter and racing game orientated, although I have seen some for Final Fantasty XII and Wario Ware.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Let's draw retarded Pokemon

So I did.
Ah how I love :)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Week 21: Where do you want to go and how do you want to get there?

OK, so it's time to reflect on the course so far and then think about what I want from it in the future. Let's break it down into modules for what I've done so far.

Drawing: I would say drawing is my strongest area. I do work hard at it, but I also really enjoy being able to just play and know that it's helping me get somewhere. I've ventured into photoshop for colouring things which I was hesitant to do before. My media usage has become a lot wider because I'm not hampered by project deadlines like I was in art college.
Hopefully in the future I'll go more into the sculpture and plastics side of things and try making some 3D characters. I think it'd help me a lot and show potential employers that I'm pretty versatile.

3D Studio Max: I've found Max pretty tricky to get to grips with, but I am learning something with every project we do. I get a little worried sometimes because it doesn't come as easily to me as it does to others in the class and because I'm not as enthusiastic about it as I could be. I think I'm afraid that I'm not good enough when really I've been progressing a lot and have a lot to show for the past year.
I think my personal confidence is what's holding me back in this module, so I need to sit down and do some tutorials on the K drive as well as some from my 3D Studio Max Bible. Quite looking forward to the group projects to see how well co-operation and management works out, as they will be important skills for the future.

Art Style Guide: I'm going to lump the schedules and specifications in here too, as it's all document management. Although a bit tedious I can see the need for these documents in the industry. I don't feel like I've had a proper crack at the specifications having seen a second year example, but I'm going to try and do them in an instructional style for the van and resubmission of the tree. Timetables I feel have gone well and I have stuck to reasonably.
Obviously there will be a lot more focus on this area next year and I feel I do need a few more goes at it before I can really say whether I know what I'm doing or not, but I don't think I have any specific problems so far.

Blogs: Some of the blog topics I have loved, some of them I have found confusing and/or hard to write about. I don't think I have trouble with the blogs, but I wouldn't say I excel at them either. I like the way that I've started using it as a more social and fun thing by posting whatever pops into my head and by adding the blog to my facebook. It makes it easier to write in.

So there we go. I'd say I'm doing pretty well, although I need to give myself a kick up the bum with regards to using Max more. Now for the future:

When I leave here I want to have a strong set of valuable skills appropriate for the games industry. I'm currently really happy that if I keep working hard in all aspects of the course that I can achieve this. I'm happy on the course and feel like I know what is expected of me and that there are achievable goals I can work towards. The only thing I would say I want from the course is more focus on 3D sculpture in the drawing classes as I feel that this could help broaden my portfolio and provide more research for the Max work. But Chris has already mentioned all this so hopefully it will be in the pipeline for next year.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I went to see Hot Fuzz at the weekend!
Truly cinema cannot get any better than Simon Pegg drop kicking an old woman.

Brilliant film with some great references to Shaun of the Dead. Everyone go see it now!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Week 20: Creativity

What is creativity? Creativity is the ability to think of new and different ideas that are also useful and applicable to something. For me creativity always seems to manifest itself at about 2 in the morning when I am trying to go to sleep. My mind wanders as I fall asleep and stumbles on things that I always need to get drawn pretty immediately or I forget them.

Creativity is all around us. Every man made object we see was designed or planned by somebody at some point. It's easy to forget about.

I don't think creativity is necessarily hindered by technical constraints, it just helps to shape it. In the sound lecture Pip mentioned that it was a pity in a way that games now had a more wide ranging musical voice as they had lost the identity the music had in the NES era. Limits can force you to a conclusion you might not have otherwise reached, and doesn't always mean the work has to suffer.

I think everybody in a game 'does' creativity, although some may be more limited in how they can express it. A good portion of creativity for the game has already been done in the design document and it's up to artists and programmers to interpret their individual briefs as creatively as they can while staying within its boundaries and making sure it achieves what it needs to.

As an artist I'd think that most of my creative exploration would take place before drawing or modelling anything. I've been having a lot of fun in the plastics lab and print room lately so perhaps I might have a play with ideas in different media before properly beginning a project. In drawing I could use different types of media to convey an idea or be creative with the ideas themselves. At the moment I'm pretty fond of mashing together two different project ideas like hands and bits of heated up foil and seeing what comes out.

What does creativity look like? This is such a tricky question because as I said earlier absolutely anything produced involves creativity. However the quality and breadth of creativity is a varied thing. Creativity can be housed in a brand identity as it encompasses the setting, characters and art style of a game. It can also be found in the art style, programming and the gameplay.

I really like the creativity found in the Sly Cooper series by Sucker Punch. The characters are anthropomorphic animals, using the idea of familiar attributes that can be easily related to by a wide audience. Animal characters are often found in fairy tales or fables. The idea of playing as a thief is also creative and makes a change from the fairly standard fighter character.
Creative programming can be found in FarCry, where enemies use military tactics to surround the player and try to kill them.
For creative graphics and visual style I would give the example of Psychonauts. Wacky character designs with definite shapes and also a very lateral way of representing abstract concepts (actual baggage for emotional baggage and small men screaming "NO!" at you to destroy errant thoughts) make this a very unique game to play.
Finally for gameplay I would give the example of Guitar hero. Being creative in taking the idea of rhythm games and the secret dream of just about everyone to be a rock star, and combining them to make a great game. Games which come with their own standard control system like Eyetoy or Donkey Konga always seem that little bit more novel.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I feel like some of my posts lately have been slightly controversial and have made people disagree with me. Which is fine really, a debate is a good thing to have. But to counteract this argumentative tone, I have decided to post pictures of kittens!


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Week 19: Life changing or career building?

This week's task is a pretty tough one to get info on. The main questions is whether games companies want fresh arts graduates with open minds who can be taught things or whether they want graduates who have taken games orientated courses and have learnt modelling, texturing, animating or concept drawing skills.

I've searched through the jobs postings on gamasutra and all of the ar
ts ones are asking for experience in max and photoshop, as you would expect, but they do also want traditional art skills.

I found a pretty good interview on gamasutra with Doug Tennapel, the creator of Earthworm Jim.

Tennapel says he likes everything Insomniac does, as well as the game Psychonauts which I am inclined to agree with. I liked the way Psychonauts was pushing the exaggeration of the characters, but I did feel that this meant that some looked like they were in a different style to others. Some of the campsite kids have a wildly different look to other ones, but on the whole the designs are brave and work well.

One of the main messages from the interview was that videogames companies need to be hiring artists who have more of a broad art background with experience in skills like colour theory and anatomy. He claims that instead many are being blinded by the details that artists can achieve

"Like for instance, if a guy maybe renders with his pencil really well, puts good shading on a creature, but his anato
my is completely wrong…they hire him because he tricked them with his cool detail, even though the foundation of his drawing is weak."

It's good to see that a message like this is coming from someone within the industry, asking for all round applicable art skills. I feel that the balance between art and modelling is a delicate one, and one that this course handles well. The art skills we get taught by Chris in the drawing module are applicable to all types of art. Perspective, colour theory and anatomy are universal skills which perhaps are not as prevalent in the games industry as they should be.

But perhaps neither is original and creative thinking, which would be more likely to come from art course graduates. My art foundation certainly taught me how to think outside the box and redefine words like 'drawing'. A drawing is not pencil lines on a piece of paper, it is any type of information about anything presented in any kind of way. So if I were studying oranges for example then yes I might do a traditional drawing but I might try cutting it up and printing with it, rolling it in paint an
d then on paper, casting it, trying to replicate its colour, warping its shape, measuring it and writing down its stats, rolling it and recording how it moves or smashing it on a canvas.

All these are legitimate drawing techniques, which I don't think some people on this course really understand, perhaps because they weren't expecting to have to address them. It would explain the slighty underwhelmed response to the exhibition the other week, which was full of interesting abstract work.

So I've basically come the long way round to saying I think this course has it right. The industry is asking for specific skills like 3D Studio Max and Photoshop which we can deliver but hopefully with some prodding we can deliver a more broad understanding of artistic techniques and skills which can help expand the horizons of the games industry as well as providing the more immediate benefit of accuracy and understanding.

Monday, February 05, 2007

I have a new hobby. It's called papercraft.

Expect to see my print budget disappear very rapidly

Friday, February 02, 2007

Week 18 Sound for Games

I thought it was a bit of a random addition to the bottom of the list of questions to get you started, but it seems that 'Good Times' by Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards could actually be one of the most influential pieces of music from the 20th century. Wikipedia informs me that it is one of the most sampled tracks in musical history, and gives a long list of artists who used it, including Queen, Blondie, The Clash, the Beastie Boys, Busta Rhymes, De La Soul and of course DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (hee hee). The song is also ranked #224 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. So there you have it. So it is of course very important that someone as influential as Nile Rodgers says:
'That's when I got hooked, and then I got involved in some other titles and the next think you know, I decided one day that I was taking all the things I had on my walls in my office down and replacing it with all the video game media that I had.' That's some pretty heavy stuff. One of the musicians who produced one of the most sampled tracks in music is giving a big thumbs up to video games and all media assosciated with them.

So, game music. I have the odd game song on my playlist, and I also have the entire soundtrack to Final Fantasy 9, by Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu is a very important game music composer, and has worked on many of the Final Fantasy games ranging from 4 to the latest one, 13, although his work on 9 was the last soundtrack he did alone. The music for 9 is fantastic, the musical styles and feels change depending on where you are and what you're doing in the game. One of the most satisfying sonic moments for me was when you first get the airship in FF9, and you are suddenly free to explore the entire map, no longer hindered by sea or mountain ranges. The music that starts up as you begin to fly your airship is fun and uplifting, with lots of guitar riffs to remind you just how cool this is.

Another notable game musician is Martin Galway, who began his career in 1983 making music for his friends' games. They approached Ocean Software who liked the game and were also impressed by Galway's music. Galway was lent a state of the art composition unit and proceeded to work for the company. His work spanned many games and genres and was pushing the boundaries of technology wherever it could, using multiple instruments in themes for examples. Galway remained on top of new technology for the rest of his career, introducing sampled sounds on the Commodore.

I found a great article on Gamasutra about the music composition for Myst III: Exile, done by Jack Wall. The article is a reflective diary about the production, and how the composer immerses himself in the atmosphere and music of the previous two games before attempting his own version. It really made me think about how much work goes into game music and how similar it is to art design. You have to have a united, yet varied sound which enhances the game experience without distracting the player.

I also have some music directly influenced by games, be it fan music or a band's tribute to certain games, such as the Legend of Zelda theme by System of a Down. I also can't remember where I read this, but artists are also starting to make music using old gameboys and old video game sound chips to produce tracks, as well as manipulating the chips to produce sound they normally wouldn't be able to. It's called Bitpop.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Game

I have decided that it is time to explain The Game. I have already begun spreading it around uni teaching it as it was taught to me by Chris and as was taught to him and so on and so on.

The aim of The Game is to forget you are playing The Game. If you remember you are playing The Game, you have lost The Game. You cannot win The Game. No one can. Everyone in the world is playing The Game, just that some of them might not know yet. If you remember you are playing The Game, and lose The Game, it is your duty to inform everyone around you, and irritate them by making them lose too. There is a five minute grace period after someone loses in which no one else is allowed to lose, in order to let everyone fully forget about The Game.

You will find after a while playing The Game that certain things will trigger losing. These can include: seeing the person who taught you The Game, certain objects - for me bananas, melons or cheesecake, seeing Lost on TV, hearing a song by rapper The Game or talking about any kind of game.

Enjoy :)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Week 17: Game Engines

A game engine is the core software of a game with real time graphics. They will control tasks such as rendering the graphics, physics, animation, scripting and networking, and can help make game construction easier, faster and cheaper.

Developers can choose to construct their own game engine to suit their needs or can purchase an existing engine such as the Unreal engine. Developers can also purchase 'middleware', engines which can be tacked on to an existing engine to provide a different function. Examples of these are the Havok physics engine, which can be used to control ragdoll physics, and SpeedTree, which can procedurally generate trees once given examples or specifications. Both of these examples of middleware can save developers time.
Developers can also develop their own middleware and swap and share amongst each other. I seem to remember Naughty Dog and Insomniac sharing their weapon engine and environment creation engine.

Subtractive and Additive are terms used to describe the way a level is created within the game engine. The Unreal Editor for example uses subtractive creation. The game level begins as a solid block and the user uses brushes to carve away shapes. The brushes have many different qualities, and can add solid, semisolid or nonsolid objects to the game level. However this method can cause problems and lead to crashes in the editor due to the way the brush effects are memorised. Using mesh objects such as those created in 3D studio max can help to solve the problem as they are easier to process.
An additive level editor begins as a blank space and is then built up rather than being carved out.

The advantages of using an existing engine are that you know it works, it's ready to go and only needs minor adjustments, and you can focus on the artistic elements of your game. However, the engine may not do exactly what you want it to and your game will have to work around the limits of the engine with its gameplay. If you build your own engine, you can focus on exactly what you want your game to achieve, can make the code as complex or simple as you want and have the option of selling the engine later, ensuring more money from the game.

The key issues for next gen engines appear to be based around light and shadow. New dynamic shadow and light mapping is being developed for the Source engine, and the Unreal 3 engine site boasts of its support for four methods of shadowing techniques .

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I was thinking earlier about how you get a lot of film to video game conversions, and a lot of book to film conversions, but not a lot of book to video game conversions. The only ones I can really think of are the Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy text adventure game, and a couple of Discworld games. But then again, Hitchhikers was never really one format to begin with, and Terry Pratchett is notoriously picky about who can do what with his books.
I say this because I was thinking about how the Hungry Cities series of books would work as a game.

I've just finished reading them, and they honestly blew me away. They're about a post-apocolyptic world where leaders have decided to move their cities around to keep them from being attacked. The cities have huge jaws on the front to devour smaller towns or static settlements. The materials they gather are then sorted by people in the gut and used to extend or maintain the city. Due to the movement of the cities, the earth is constantly churned up, and no vegetation grows. A group called the anti-traction league have settlements in the Himalayas, and want to restore the Earth to its green state.

There is a lot of scope for a game here, either sim city style, managing your moving city: Where do I use the new materials? Where should I hunt next? Who should I trade with?
Or perhaps as an adventure with the two main characters, Hester and Tom. Between the first and second books they go adventuring on the Bird Roads - paths taken by trading airships. This leaves a lot of scope for players to visit all the cities they could wish to without upsetting any plot balance. You could play through the first book and then adventure in the Bird Roads.

This sounds so fun. I'd play it! Fortunately, Wikipedia says that "It's rumoured that Peter Jackson has displayed an interest in making the Hungry City Chronicles into an episodic video game for Xbox 360." But then again you can't trust everything on Wikipedia.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Week 16: Game Cultures

This one is really interesting for me because it's only when I sit down and think about it that I realise how much of my life revolves around game cultures. In 2000 I joined a chatroom called pokemasters on mIRC, a chat program. The chatroom was obviously dedicated to the topic of Pokemon, it being the height of the craze. The chatroom was the child of a larger site, which is still here, although missing a lot of the content that used to be there
My handle was Pikachuinapeartree as it was festive and I stayed a member of that chatroom for many years, long after the chat about pokemon had died off and the room had dwindled to a few hardcore members.
I met many friends in that channel. Some of them very close real life friends, some of them I never actually met up with. Me and my friend acquired boyfriends from the channel who we went out with in real life.

That in itself is another game culture influence. My friend's boyfriend, who we shall call wormania for now as that was his handle for a while, was a very hardcore gamer. He played for high scores in a lot of different games. At one point he was seventh in the world or something for the high score in the home run contest in Super Smash Bros Melee. Number one in the UK I think. He also played a lot of Halo. As my friend was not a gamer at all, it was hard for them to relate sometimes. They did find a way of gaming together eventually through Runescape, a terrible free MMORPG.

I've just had a big discussion with the boyfriend (who I coincidentally met through the internet) about high scores. My gut reaction with high scores is to consider them a bit sad and a waste of time, but why? Athletes who train all their lives just to shave a couple of milliseconds off a world record time are just the same. They are dedicating themselves to something that, in the great scheme of things, is really not that important. I suppose on a primal level we recognise physical achievements as a desirable trait, whereas virtual achievements aren't quite there yet.

What cultures am I part of? Well not many at the moment, seeing as I have no internet gaming in halls (Grrr!). However the one I miss the most and really enjoyed for a long time was the Wacraft 3 custom game scene. It's pretty similar to mods, you have a game editor where you can come up with your own games. It's how the legendary tower defence games were born, using the different defensive towers from the game and customising them further.
Here is a flash version of the Element TD. Imagine it with better graphics and played against lots of people all talking to each other and calling each other noobs and you basically have the warcraft version.

I suppose I was also part of the fanart culture for some games. For Pokemon certainly, although I'm not showing any of my embarrassing art. Some things I would just copy the artwork for practice, I found a lot of Golden Sun, Spyro, Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter copy stuff in a folder when I had a clearout. And also some more original stuff for Ratchet and Clank. Thankfully I don't get obsessed with it like some people. They call themselves 'fuzztakus' and basically fawn over Ratchet because he is fuzzy. They scare me a lot.
Go here if you dare.
This one is by me and I'd like to think is semi-decent: