Monday, March 31, 2008

Bradgate Park Painting

I just finished this, and I'm pretty darn happy with it!
It's interesting to compare this to the previous photoshop picture I put on here. I colour picked on this one, whereas I didn't on the previous one. Looking back, the burnt house picture seems pretty cartoonish with its colour usage.
Photoshop is still relatively new to me in terms of my whole artistic education, and I'm still finding it tricky to translate some of my skills into a new medium. I feel like you don't really get much feedback from digital painting, and strange as it sounds, it bugs me a little that it does whatever you tell it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Good and Bad

OK, I'm going to start tackling this one. I didn't want to start this as I felt a lot of it had been said in the initial talk we were given about it. Unlike creativity, good and bad can't really be researched very easily, so this is going to have to mostly be my own thoughts. I'm ususally pretty wary of writing down purely my own thoughts with no backup when it comes to factual matters, a mindset impressed on me by taking history A level I fear.

The first thing I think I should tackle is what good and bad even mean. I looked both up and they each have about 30 different uses each, amusingly the first definition for bad was 'not good in any manner or degree'- very helpful. But it basically breaks down to good always meaning positive and bad always meaning negative.
These words express the way humans feel the need to simplify the world around them. Right and wrong. Heaven and Hell. But it is important to keep in mind that these are entirely false constructs. All ideas of good and bad are learnt. Growing up, we rely on others to teach us what is right and what is wrong, and we absorb this information instinctively because it makes evolutionary sense to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us.

When you think about it, we take a lot of what we are told for granted. We simply don't have the time to test everything we are told for ourselves, so we weigh it up with what we know from our own personal experiences, and make a judgement on how likely it is to be correct. As Newton put it "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Do you know from your own personal experience that the Earth revolves around the Sun? I highly doubt it. But you have heard from enough reputable sources that it does, and so far no one has come to you with any evidence saying otherwise.

So, back to good and bad. We are learning all the time, and our collective idea of what is good and what is bad in terms of anything must be changing all the time as human knowledge and experimentation changes. The impressionists were widely slated when they first exhibited their work - a clear sign that the wider world thought of them as "bad". But in the present day their work is highly respected and seen as aesthetically pleasing, signs of it being thought of as "good". So good and bad are transient concepts, and we can only really assess anything as being good or bad in relation to today's current values of them.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Game Design and Social Networking

I thought I'd write up the lecture we had the Wednesday we broke up, seeing as I took plenty of notes, and as it was cool and interesting.
The lecture was given by Guy Parsons, who currently develops online communities and ARGs (Alternate Reality Games). More on those later.

At university, we have the time and freedom to create new things. We can take risks that we might not be able to take were we in employment, and we can create small games that might be a commercial flop, because it doesn't matter.
Guy gave a few examples of small games that push the boundaries like this. There are some links in his corresponding blog post.
A lot of them looked pretty cool. Toblo was designed by students and has a physics engine that allows players to use the environment as weapons. One multiplayer game let users create maps in MS paint and then import them into the game world. There was even a way to use Excel spreadsheets as a game engine.

Building up a community around your game was a factor that Guy mentioned several times. If you have a loyal following, albeit a small one, it bring a lot of benefits. You keep your game new and interesting, both from your fans bringing in new players and from user generated content. You have an eager audience for anything new you might produce, and you can also use the visitors to generate income, either through charging for the game itself or through advertising.

Games should draw inspiration from anything and everything. Start with something you perhaps wouldn't associate with games, like a fine artist. An Escher inspired game called Echochrome is currently in development for the PSP and PS3, with the environment changing shape as you rotate the camera, allowing you to continue across the terrain. It's crazy stuff.
The bold and memorable art style of Team Fortress 2 is a good example of casting a wider net for inspiration. The Valve team were influenced by 1920s illustrations: here are some of their reference images with notations from their slide deck about the design process behind TF2. The slide show itself is a really interesting read, and goes into loads of mathematical shader detail. The 'fan reaction' section is quite fun, with loads of different game dev teams cosplaying as the TF2 classes.
These weren't actually in the lecture as Guy hadn't managed to find the images, but he later put them up on his blog:

An important thing to remember when coming up with a new idea for a game is that EVERYTHING is a game. This is nicely illustrated by Chore Wars, an online game where you compete against your housemates to see who can do the most chores and therefore earn the most points. If you can attach a score to it, anything becomes a game. Another example given was a website where you could download goals to aim for when running.
More examples of cool little games: - currently has 300 different types of game mechanics
Defcon - those who were at Gamecity will have probably seen this one. Basically it's the doom screen from every movie where there's a terrible war and the nukes are going off and everybody dies. You can't really win
Desktop tower defence - the popular Tower Defence custom game from Warcraft 3, but in flash game format set on a desktop
Kingdom of Loathing- An RPG that takes nothing about itself seriously. I saw some Kingdom of Loathing graffiti once in a toilet in Camden. A good example of the hardcore nature of KoL fans.
Bejewelled - A casual game where you have to line up 3 or more gemstones of the same type to get them to disappear. Casual games are tipped to be the next big thing, and this is a very popular one
Peggle - Another popular casual game
Scrabulous - Facebook application which is a Scrabble clone. Scrabble are sueing the creators for copyright infringement
Line Rider - The little dude will ski down the line you draw
Audiosurf - If you've been anywhere near Joel in the last couple of weeks you'll know about this game. It's like a cross between Guitar Hero and a racing game, and it can use any song in your library to generate a race track. It's available to buy on Steam.

A relatively new and immersive type of game is the ARG, or Alternate Reality Game. ARGs present a game scenario which ties in closely with real life. There may be blogs, social networking profiles for characters, coded websites, real world location drops, and even interactions with actors posing as characters within the game scenario. The players of the ARG must work together to solve what is going on in the scenario, so the sense of community is strong.
Guy described it as for people who like stalking other people on the internet, only not as sinister.

The conclusions from the lecture were these:
  • University is a time where you have 3 years with no commercial constraints, and is a perfect time for experimentalism, innovation and creativity. If you come up with an idea, prototype it.
  • Inspiration comes from everywhere - life is a game. Pay attention to everyday life and draw inspiration from it. Because you're pretending, that makes it fun.
Oh, and here's Guy's Blog.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Keyboards and RPGS

I have decided I want a Dvorak keyboard. Here is the wikipedia on it, for those who are not in the know. Basically, the current Qwerty keyboard is intentionally the worst possibly layout for a keyoboard you can have. It was introduced when typewriters jamming was a common problem. By spreading the most commonly typed letters around the keyboard, typing becomes slower and the keys are less likely to jam.
I am quite proud of the speed I can type at, it probably stems from the amount of time I used to spend in internet chat rooms in my mid teens. But if I could become even faster, and have a keyboard which confuses other people to boot? Well that sound awesome!

This does bring up a serious point to do with stuff being good and bad. Sometimes things are the accepted norm, but they're not actually good, they're just so ingrained that people think they're good. How many people think about their keyboards? It's just a tool you use to get words on a screen, most people would probably assume that the current design is the best one possible.

Another example relating back to games that I can think of off the top of my head is the traditional RPG setting. If it's an RPG, it has to be set in Europe, in the middle ages, with Orcs and Elves and Dwarves and magic. WHY? There are infinite places/ eras/ situations that an RPG could be set, but it always comes back to this. I suspect that Dungeons and Dragons is to blame for this, with many a game designer enjoying a game of D&D either in the past or currently. Does everyone simply want to try to create the situations they were imagining in their roleplay sessions in immersive 3D?
Perhaps this is it, but why not create a new universe where you can tell your own stories? Have fun designing your own races? Make people see ordinary everyday things in a new light? But I suppose that involves effort and risk...

So I suppose the small conclusion I can get from this is that when you're doing something, don't assume that the way it's done now is the right way to do it. It might be just the opposite.