tirsdag 27. mars 2012

More character stuff... again

Labs are about to close-update

Nomad camp concept art gosh

 A spirit. Figures the player has to fight the bad spirit to cleanse it, and then when the spirit has been purged of bad things it will be a pure spirit.

Lunchy update

I'm going for the bottom right one I think. Red hair because he's a protagnist and main character, and because people with red hair are traditionally perceived as "wild." Boots are dark so that they'll contrast nicely with the ground, fur details on the coat white because this is a northern climate, and animals in snowy climates tend to have white winter coats. The white also seem "lighter" than the dark and I still want my character to be a lightfooted person. The cyan scarf, belt and hair-things contrast the otherwise warm hues in the costume, making the design stand out more. 

Also a WIP but the colours are really boring so far. I'm not good with outdoor scenes, need to do something drastic with that colour scheme after lunch.

Mostly characters and some environment thumbs

No idea what I'm doing in this top one. Black blobs galore.

Characters are undeniably my comfort zone so it's not very surprising that I started with that... Some silhouettes and stuff. 

Enemy ideas. 

More characters, starting do detail them and make them proper individuals. At first I wanted my player character to be a female archer hunter type, but then I kinda liked the third one with the feather staff here.
I don't like ranged characters anyway, I think it's much more fun to get up in the enemy's face. 

Started thumbing some environments and illustrations, and more character work too. Here I am starting to look at taking a different approach to the enemies, basing them more on native art that I found during my research. 

I settled on making the enemies reside everywhere instead of in just the mountains as was my initial idea. Basically they are corrupted spirits. A lot of native beliefs are animistic so these guys are animal spirits who have become greedy. Thriftiness, sharing and simple living is especially valued in many native societies because it simply made survival easier for everyone, so greed and gluttony would be bad traits that would make sense for negative spirits to embody. My notes in the following page sums it up really.

Finalising the character designs. The old shaman of the tribe, and the young apprentice, who would also be the protagnist and player character. I tried to do environments and characters simultaneously, but for me the characters definitely brought this alive.  

mandag 26. mars 2012

The power of colour keying

Someone posted this on facebook and I nabbed it because I think this is a really good example of how important colour keying is. Can you recognise the characters?
I could recognise all of these blocks of legos as the characters they're representing by their colours alone. That's pretty cool. 


Made some moodboards for environments, dwellings, people and the weird stuff. Did a lot of doodling as well, I suppose I'll pop by the library to scan this evening.

Researching for this has been awesome.

Also here is some cool music

Also people say deadline is on wednesday, I thought we had three weeks, whaaat arghhh no why

søndag 25. mars 2012

Environment design

As I am writing this, I am sitting outside in the sun with a gin and tonic. It is a sunny day, and we’re sitting in my friend’s driveway around his kitchen table, which we have moved outside. We’re all doing work on our laptops of some sort and anyone who sees us can see we are students. This is my environment right now. In our real world, environments can vary enormously just from one part of a city to another, not to mention across borders and continents, but in games, we tend to stick with environments with an overall theme that tie them together.

I would argue that often, the environment is perhaps the most important aspect of a game. A game would be very meaningless without an environment for the character to move around in, and while characters are important and interesting too, exploring an environment is the most important part of a game.

A game environment has four purposes, according to the “What happened here”-lecture.
1. To constrain and guide player movement trough physical properties and ecology (ecology: enemy and item placement)
2. To use player reference to communicate simulated boundaries and affordance
3. To reinforce and shape the player’s assumed identity while playing.
4. To provide narrative context.

In some games, you’ll be held up by NPCs lecturing you at length on the game world. This is boring and forgettable at best, annoying and frustrating at worst. It’s better to let the player partake in the world and then puzzle together the pieces themselves versus exposing the story; show, don’t tell, and this is why:

- It’s active. The player is invited to be curious about the world and discover the story, and they get to come to their own conclusion. Active participation leads to feeling investment in the game world.
- Each player is an unique person with their own unique views and experiences, which will lead players to interpreting differently. The interpretation then gains a personal flavour. The player fills in the gap and has space to imagine.
- The players get to pace the story themselves. They are pulling the narrative as opposed to chasing it, which makes the game more immersive and reinforching. They are making the story happen.

Just giving people visual clues for what has happened works because we are hard-wired to fit visual elements into a larger framework, making us draw conclusions. This is the law of closure at work. We can give the player visual clues trough object placement, and how NPCs behave and dress.
Every small storytelling event should echo the premise of the game at large, be a part of the large chain of events. This is a self-reinforcing loop; the premise spawns events, events remind the player of the premise.

Sometimes the message should be unmissable, though; you can use the environment to telegraph gameplay hints, so that the player may prepare for the hinted event. This makes the player feel clever and observant.

The environment should be all over consistent. Breaking the internal logic within the game universe ruins the believeability of the universe, destroying immersion.

With this in mind, I am now tasked to design an environment and a few characters to go in it. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do since the start of this project.

I want to design an open world game based on an old comic concept of mine. I’ve written a little for it and I have very little visually worked out, it’s just a concept and a story that has tumbled around in my head for a while.
I imagine the genre would be an action adventure game with focus on exploration, the sort of game where you run around taking on quests and solving everyone’s problems. I’d like to work towards current gen platforms like 360 and PS3.

The environment is a nordic one, with nordic-based fauna and flora. Tall, craggy mountains, fjords, pine forests, lakes. Being from Norway so there is plenty of first hand experiences for me to draw from.

The friendly characters you’d expect to find here are nomad tribes. I don’t want this to be some viking-thing because people would immediately think “Skyrim.” I want to research inuits, sami, mongols and russian nomad people for inspiration for how they look and dress. They would live in the low-lands and congregate around bodies of water.
The enemy characters you’d encounter would be mountain men wearing masks. I would want them to look strange and inhuman, if not entirely evil. They’d be predators hunting the cattle of the nomads and maybe the nomads themselves. They would be the most common in mountain areas and rarer in the low lands where the nomads live, creating a natural reason for the player to stay away from the mountain until he is ready.

I would want there to be flashy magic combat. I find that incredibly satisfying and cool, so I imagine the protagnist could be a sort of shaman character utilising nature-based magic, maybe some sort of animal spirit thing. In a lot of native beliefs you have this nature spirit thing so maybe actual animal spirits might be fun to feature in the game.
I would also want the character to be lithe because lithe, fast characters are fun to play.
For travel, I figure there should be some sort of mount so that you can travel longer distances without getting bored of travelling. Horses would be the obvious choice, but maybe they could ride big goats or reindeer or something. Choice of mount should be reflected in what kind of animals they herd as well, and what materials they dress in.

To the drawing board.

onsdag 21. mars 2012

I watched the second years presenting their Queen’s project today and I have to be honest, before today the Queen’s project is something I’ve been dreading about the second year. Group projects are always difficult. Watching the cool presentations today, though, I’m feeling excited about it now.

Up until now we’ve only made detached bits and bobs in game production, so it was very cool to see examples of all the work being done put together. And the levels were really well done, I am excited to get the fundamental skills under my belt and be at that level. I can’t wait to get to start messing around with UDK now.

mandag 19. mars 2012

Character design

Yesterday I started playing Batman: Arkham City. I’m not familiar with the Batman universe at all, I just picked it up because I’d heard good things about it and it was on sale. So when I, or well, Batman, entered a warehouse and there was a big, hulking monstrous beast of a man with liquid tanks and tubes all over his body in there, standing with his back against me, I immediately turned on my bat-heels and fled the warehouse, thinking I’d stumbled into a bossfight prematurely. I’d only played for barely an hour, I didn’t feel ready to take on a giant lump of muscles.

Oh hell no.

Curiosity got the better of me a bit later and I returned to the warehouse, thinking I’d just reload if that thing beat the pulp out of me. And the giant lump of muscles with the iron cowl and the glowing green eyes turned around as Bat-me approached… and it turned out to be a friendly character.

Now, I’m not saying this is an example of bad design. Obviously, when you work with a licence like Batman you have to stick to the source material or the fans will chew on you, and the character is a villain, it turned out, he and Batman just have a temporary truce now that they have a common goal. It’s just an example of how I immediately interpreted the character as a threat I should run from, based on a brief look at it.

Similarly, if I’m playing Team Fortress 2, skipping about gleefully as a scout. If I catch a glimpse of an enemy heavy, I’m running in the opposite direction because I am ill equipped to take the threat on. However, if I encountered an enemy medic, engineer or spy or another scout in the same situation, I suppose I might have gone after him with murderous intentions. The colour of the character lets me understand if it is friendly or not, and the silhouette of the character helps me assess the situation in no time to quickly make a decision; fight or flight.

When designing a character, I need to think about what sort of character I am trying to design, and how to effectively communicate this to the viewer. How can I do this using only visual cues, without any dialogue?

First, I should think about silhouette. The viewer should be able to recognise the character based on silhouette alone. The silhouette of the character is determined by three factors: The character’s physique, his or her’s costume and props, and their body language and posture. Each of these are tools that alone can communicate a lot about the character with broad brushstrokes. When thinking about this, I should keep in mind that the posture should be easy to read and have strong action lines.

I should also pay a lot of attention to colours and contrasts within the costume and look of the character. I should use these tools to draw attention to interest areas, or, indeed, to the character itself. No one notices a grey mouse.

I should keep in mind what environment the character is from and in; what is the climate like? Where is the character, is it a city, a forest, a mountain? What culture is he or she from? What is the role of the character within society? All of this should be visibile in the design so that the character is consistent with the environment and does not stick out like a looney toons characters in a live action movie.

The iconic big daddies from Bioshock not only blend into their environment perfectly, they are almost Rapture embodied.

I need to keep assymetry in mind and use it; our faces are not symmetrical, and it would be uncanny if they were. Similarly, costumes should also be assymetrical, it makes it more interesting. Symetry is boring.

The face of the character needs to be easy to read. Facial expressions, along with body language, convey what kind of character this is and what they are feeling, and how they react to the events around them.

Characters are often the soul of a story, be it in a book, movie, or game. I’m willing to sit trough a flat, dull story if the characters engage me in a way that makes me care about them, and usually I find myself caring about characters because they display emotions. Sometimes we even perceive items, such as houses or cars, to have feelings or a personality, often because certain aspects of the object resembles an abstracted human face.

This car looks friendly because of its rounded shape, the lights resemble round, cartoony eyes and the bumper looks like a smiling mouth.

Wall-E and Eve from the Pixar movie Wall-E. They are robots, but we still care about them and feel like we can relate to them because they display such a wide and convincing range of emotions.

Another thing to be aware of and use is stylisation. Applied in small quantities it can be used to enhance and exagerate the physical abilities and the personality of the character. Even if a character is heavily stylised, or doesn’t resemble a human at all, we can still relate to the character, like Ewe and Wall-e, above, shows us. In fact, if the character becomes too realistic but isn’t “quite there,” we might find it off-putting. This is the uncanny valley at work again. The more the character resembles us, the more we expect it to be have and be excactly like us, and when it doesn’t, the effect is gross, frightening, and immersion-breaking.


søndag 18. mars 2012

Film review: Black Pond

I watched a very bizarre, british movie yesterday in the Phoenix Cinema; Black Pond. This is a very strange movie and I’m not sure explaining it properly is possible, but here’s my go at it.

The Black Pond is a black comedy drama telling the story of of the conflicted family Thompson. Sophie and Tom are husband and wife, but their marriage is stagnant. Their two daughters, Katie and Jess, have moved out and are living in a flat in London with their friend Tim, who is awkwardly in love with the both of them. And it is also the story of Blake, a strange and emotional man.

Sometimes Black Pond is unsettling, and in a few sequences, nightmarish. At other times it’s awkwardly intimate, sometimes touching and beautiful. Sometimes it feels very familiar, and sometimes it’s weirdly funny. The pictures are beautiful and most of the time, rich with colour, always enhancing the atmosphere of the movie.

In between the story of these few peculiar days in the lives of the Thompson family and Tim, we are shown “interviews” conducted with each of them, supposedly a good while after the events of the movie happened, as well as a few clips of Tim seeing a horrible theraupist who is really just out to make fun of him. During the interviews, the characters are talking about their thoughts about what happened in these few days, as well as what happened afterwards. This creates a very strange feeling. The contrast of having the characters talk directly to you in the interview-bits versus watching the story sequences, further enhances the surreal feel of the movie. And because of the interview bits you are told very early what is going to happen at the end:

Blake dies by the Thompson family’s dinner table, and the Thompson family bury him in the woods at Blake’s wish. They are then suspected for murder and the media blows up the case, finalising the already begun destruction of the family.

There is no mystery, no surprises. You know everything that’s going to happen before it happens.

The story starts when Tom, the dad, looses the family dog Boy when out for a walk. While looking for Boy, he meets Blake, and the two end up sitting and talking by a local little beauty spot called the black pond. In an interview sequence at this point, Tom tells us there was something strange about Blake, as if he lacked the restraints people have towards strangers; “his boundaries were very porous.” And indeed, Blake is always shown standing or sitting very close to the rest of the characters even though he has just been introduced to their lives.

Black Pond - Tom meets Blake from Black Pond film on Vimeo.

Blake tells Tom the story of the wife of a judge who disappeared in winter, when the pond was frozen over. A year later, as the judge walked by the black pond again, the entire pond was again frozen over, except for one spot. That was his wife, telling him she’d fallen trough the ice and drowned. Tom invites Blake over for tea. The glee Blake expresses over this is both endearing and pitiful.

Tom and Sophie are fairly wealthy; they have a big house and a swimming pool and a tennis court. They are both shown as proper and well groomed, suppressing and hiding the problems in their marriage. They can’t talk to each other without ending up with an argument. Blake, in contrast, is a short and somewhat chubby fellow with a scruffy beard and sad eyes. He is intensely curious and openly emotional, and very, very lonely, and so he appreciates the contact with Tom and Sophie immensely. He ends up staying for dinner, then he and Tom play tennis and get drunk, and then they have a swim in the pool. It is then dark outside, and Blake stays the night because he’s too afraid of the dark to go home. The scene where Tom asks his wife Sophie if Blake can stay is so reminiscent of a child asking if he can have a sleep-over. “See, I told you she’d say yes.”

 The next day, Tom is out walking Boy again, and once again looses Boy. This time, Boy does not turn up allright in the Thompson’s garden like last time. Tom meets Blake, soaking wet, in the woods again. Boy has drowned in the pond. Blake tells Tom he at first thought Boy was dancing in euphoria, and when he realised the dog was actually drowning, it was too late.

They take Boy home, and call the daughters so that they can come home to bury the dog. They bring their flatmate Tim, and Blake stays for the burial as well.

They dig a hole in the garden, but as the dog has been laid to rest, Tom suddenly exclaims that it is wrong, that Boy should be buried in the woods, where he was happiest and the most free. The rest of the family is quiet, but Blake, wide-eyed, says “I think that’s a lovely idea.”

So they bury Boy in the woods. The entire Thompson family, Tim and Blake, all dressed in up in stiff, black burial clothes. The Thompsons then return to their home, Blake to his.

Life in the Thompson family then keeps falling apart, until they are gathered around the dinner table that evening, and Blake shows up at the door, wearing a brown suit. The audience knows what is happening now, we’ve been told, and we’ve seen Blake taking pills, so when he says he’ll be gone in five minutes, we understand, but the Thompsons thinks he’s simply leaving in five minutes. Once again, Blake tells the story of the woman who fell trough the ice, and we understand that it is his own wife he is talking about. He says he believes Boy was his wife, come back to him. He asks that they bury him in the woods with Boy, because he does not want to be lonely.

The movie ends with the Thompson family burying Blake in the woods as he requested. We know what happens with the family after that because of the interview sequences; Tom and Sophie get divorced, Tim moves away from the sister and starts seeing a theraupist, who brings the case to the media, and the Thompson family is investigated for murder.

I really liked this movie and I strongly recommend watching it. It was very different from the linear sort of movie we usually see, and yet managed to not be confusing, probably because of the contrast in the interview parts and the story parts. It was easy to keep the two apart. I believe part of the reason this movie worked so well is because we are told what’s going to happen from the start. It then no longer is about the twists in the plot and the actions of the characters, but rather about why the characters act as they do.

onsdag 14. mars 2012

Heather's texture competition

This is our game production tutor's mesh, and my textures... I decided to have the two mirror each other thematically and in colour palette. So here we have a dead-looking fisher man with an octopus on his head and a pretty sailor girl with an octopus tattoo on her arm. I don't think she's up to anything good.

lørdag 10. mars 2012

Art Direction

A game or movie environment can be totally different from the real world we inhabit, but still be believeable to us. How?

Good art direction that ties the made up environment together consistently. The imaginative world follows its own logic and as long as the world follows that logic, we’ll believe it and understand that this universe works that way, and we can immerse ourself in it without questioning believeabilty. But when art direction slips and the universe breaks its own rules, the universe looses credibility and immersiveness, as we no longer believe in that world.

That is why art direction is very important. Art direction is the visual glue in video games. When you put everything; the environment, the lightning, the characters, the props, together, good art direction is what makes the simulated world seem logical within itself. Mood, visual style, viewpoint, and colour palette are all elements of art direction that need to come together to create great visuals.

Art direction in film and art direction in games is very different, I think. The biggest, most important difference between games and movies is interactivity. The creation of an interactive world the player will explore and be a part of and hopefully feel engaged and immersed in is very different from showing a viewer a movie; the movie will always be the same no matter who views it, but different players may wish to play the game differently. You also need to tell the player what to do and direct the player, while the movie can simply go on whetever the viewer understands it or not.

To be a good art director I believe you have to be very good at drawing, and very fast. Drawing is the cheapest and quickest way to generate, visualise and crank trough ideas, giving you the opportunity to nail what you need to nail in a non-time consuming way, saving you time and money when you start the time consuming processes of modelling your world or characters or filming your clips.

I think you’ll need a very good grasp of colour theory, lightning and perspective. These are essential tools to setting the mood and telling a story with pictures as effectively as possible.

And I believe you need to be curious about the world and always eager to learn about new things. You'll need to conduct a lot of research; read, listen and see.

You’ll also need to not be precious about your ideas; killing your darlings, things you really liked, might be necessary to obtain the good end product. You also need to be able to tell your bad ideas from your good ones, and more importantly, be able to crank out all of them so that you even have your good ideas in solid form.

fredag 9. mars 2012

Elements of game design

When you break most games down to their most fundamental frame, games consist of these five elements:

The visible, graphic world - the level.

This is true for both board games and video games. Let’s break down a few board games.
Chess. The level here is the checkerboard, the characters are the pieces, the gameplay is moving your characters around according to the rules in order to put your opponent into check mate, the peril and motivation is the danger of being put in check mate by your opponent, and the reward is defeating your opponent and the smug, good feeling of being super good at chess.

Or Risk. The level here is the map of the world. The characters are the little pieces representing your soldiers, the gameplay is achieving the mission you were given at the beginning of the game by conquering the other player armies and gaining new territories. The peril and motivation is the other players fighting you while trying to fulfil their mission before you. The reward is, again, winning. Is there anything we like better than being better than our friends? For the looser, I suppose, the reward lies in playing the game itself, for the fun of it.

Now let’s look at video games.
The game Portal featured quite innovative gameplay while, in essence, being quite a simple game. The visible, graphic world of Portal is the Aperture labs; you venture trough several white, sterile test chambers. Sometimes you break out of the test chambers and explore the other parts of the world, parts that are able to tell you something about the story of the world. But Glados always ropes you back.

There are only two characters in the game; there’s the silent protagnist and player avatar, and there’s the antagonist, the vicious computer Glados. Glados is an omnipotent force in the game. She sees everything and is able to control everything. Trough most of the game she is only a voice telling you what to do, until the player rebels against her and defeats her.

The gameplay in Portal is essentially shooting holes functioning as doorways you can walk trough, and using these to solve puzzles, sometimes with the help of carrying around cubes and placing them on buttons. You have no weapons, only the portal gun and the ability to safely jump from tall heights without being crushed by gravity.

In the beginning you are motivated by the rewarding feeling of being able to solve the puzzles, gently progressing trough safe challenges while Glados’s voice promises you cake for completing the Aperture Science Enrichment Program. The voice of Glados gradually grows less robotic, more human, and more twisted and the motivation becomes peril as the challenges become deadly, and Glados introduces turrets in her puzzles. It becomes quite obvious that this machine is out to get you; you need to get out of here.

At the end of the game the ultimate reward is defeating Glados, escaping Aperture and obtaining freedom for the player character. Troughout the game you also have the lesser rewards in the satisfactory feeling of being able to complete the puzzles, as well as uncovering bits and pieces of the secrets of the Aperture Science. And then there’s the good fun in tossing yourself trough portal holes at high velocity.

Simple, brilliantly executed and highly replayable. To me, Valve is definitely one of the leading torches in the industry, both in how they market their games and in what they contain.

onsdag 7. mars 2012

Game journalism

I am so behind on myself I might as well bury myself in concrete. 

So game journalism. 

I’ve never cared much about games journalism. There wasn’t much of it available when I was younger, or maybe it was but I didn’t have acces to it. The only instance I can remember is receiving a copy of the Nintendo magazine, being handed out in the local Burger King as a sort of marketing campaign I suppose. I’ve probably read more game journalism in the past year than the entire rest of my life.

Along with gaming becoming more and more normal and accepted as part of our lives and cultures, it is not unusual to see game journalism in the regular newspapers. In the Norwegian net newspaper I read daily, dagbladet.no, I could find three video-game related news on the front page today. Even in the middle of massively important events as the court case against the Utoya-murderer, the newspaper finds it relevant to write about Sim City, Mass Effect, and Molyneux leaving Lionhead. Maybe because people need to think about other things.

Mostly you see game reviews, sometimes developer interviews, and less frequently, news about the industry’s hardware developers and the working conditions in their factories. It’s not just an issue within the games industry, really, but workers in cheap-labour countries live in such hideous conditions that they feel they have to use such drastic measures as mass suicide to threaten their employers into treating their workers like actual human beings, as this example from a Microsoft factory. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/01/11/world/asia/china-microsoft-factory/index.html This, to me, is important, meaningful news.

Any opinionated prat can sit down and write a game review and have it published, so I am sceptical about letting a review guide my opinion on a game that I haven’t played myself. I’d rather judge the game from watching game play videos than read a game review about it before deciding to purchase it or not.

Game reviewers are subjective, and they have to be, really. What you like and why you like it is very subjective. A good game reviewer, I think, is someone who can understand the demographic of a game and try to perceive the game from their point of view. Like if I was going to write a game review about a game like Viva Pinata I would try to view the game keeping in mind that it’s a game that should be suitable for young children. The tone of the game and the non-existing difficulty-level of the game is grating on me, but for a child it is probably a good thing.

Sometimes game reviewers are extremely subjective and offensive for the sake of entertainment, such as that guy who does those yellow stick man videos while talking super fast. I don’t like him, I can’t understand what he says.

So I’m not such a big fan of game reviews. But I absolutely love reading interviews with developers. I follow my favourite studios on facebook, and sometimes they’ll link to interviews in news sites or just interviews they’ve done themselves. Now such journalism isn’t critical journalism but more a self-advertisement sort of thing, but it is still interesting to read about actual game developers and what they think and do and say. Irrational games, for example, do a Featured Employee ocassionally, with mini interviews with their workers. I like these, it’s very cool to read about the very different roles people have in the game industry. http://irrationalgames.com/studio/featured-employees/ Though I probably wouldn’t read them if I weren’t already a fan of their games, like I wouldn’t be very interested in reading interviews with the people who developed, say, any generic FPS game.