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.