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.