Thursday, 29 December 2011

Elements of game design, part six: visual composition

To be extremely simple and straight to the point about this, visual composition is the arrangement of elements you see set out in a certain frame, photograph, painting, or perhaps even a 3D made object like a sculpture. I think without the average person  even realising it, they would be able to tell out of two pictures displaying the exact same amount of elements but placed differently, which one would be most visually pleasing according to compositional rules. However I do also think a test like that would leave you with mixed results as personal preference can change the way somebody sees and understands something. Not every artist or critic is the same and one person may even notice an element or shape you have created that you might have never even thought about. That is just the way life is and what makes it exciting.

I still think composition is important nonetheless and it is quite easy to tell if something is slightly off or if a picture could have been taken in a more appropriate position. Creating an image, constantly working on compositional technicality, is key to mastering it and this mastering process is done still during the planning and concepting stage of a game, bashing out those thumbnails and finding a pleasing end result.

So what rules do we try to follow when looking at or creating a picture? Instantly, the rule of thirds and amount of elements come to mind. I see it for everybody’s sake as two stages; the way somebody uses their eyes to scan the whole image then once focus in on a picture, observing the elements more closely. The rule itself tells you where yours elements lie within the images frame because you would visualise splitting the image into two thirds, both horizontally and vertically so that you have 9 squares. The 4 intersecting points in the middle tell you these are even points of interest. Think, if you had elements crammed to the left of an image you would think, what is the point of the rest of the space, or if you see one element slap bang in the middle, your attention Is obviously directed to it, ignoring whatever else might have meant to be interesting around it. This is not a good decision if you want to make your scene dynamic. If placed correctly, you want to be able to scan the whole scene and believe there is a good reason this is there, and that is further back there. To make a scene even more dynamic however, I have learnt that an odd number of elements may stop you from pairing objects together as we tend do this in general frequently.

Of course placing an object or objects directly on the mid sections of a 3 by 3 grid could be equally boring so it is good to consider depth and distance between objects closer up or away in the mountains. An even set negative spaces around the whole scene would indirectly attract somebody more to an image because you took thought and care into every single area you left empty around main elements. Lighting placement and shadows enhance an image greatly and give character to a scene or even be a main element to define a good arrangement and colours rules are another big point to take into account. It takes practise, practise, practise and a high quantity of studies to get the right outcome because, as I have been told on this course, working on one image for such a long time may well be a waste of your time because you got the composition all wrong in the beginning. Find your points of interest, lay out many variations of your scene, show them to others to see if they agree or what they prefer, then you can spend your time making it special. You need to make it appealing to others working in the games industry so following and mastering these rules will get you a on the right track to success hopefully.

This picture visually pleases me as the person is placed left to the centre of the image with space for his hair to flow to the right and i love the dull colour palette with specs of green to add almost an eerie aura to match his eyes. I like the background how it is lighter on the left compared to the darker space on the right where glittery specs intensify more. (did i mention i like manga? :P)

With my link below, I like a point the writer made here saying that rules are meant to be broken and following this rule doesn’t mean you have failed at making the image interesting. "a wise person once told me that if you intend to break a rule you should always learn it first to make sure your breaking of it is all the more effective!" Love It! :)


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Elements of game design, part five: planning and concepting

Absolutely everything you see made in shops, online, on TV, heck, everything around you, begins with planning. Even the process to make something that has been planned needs to be planned out properly. Really, that begins with an idea and little jots and doodles on pen and paper to start with can go a very long way. But that is of course when you begin to concept on that idea, basically mapping out a variety of potential outcomes visually because think about it, the end result needs to be seen and needs to appeal to us humans at the end of the day so making various concepts for an idea are extremely important. That is my definition of the matter which leads me to think that everybody needs that visual understanding if they are going to work in any job role. I notice that people who do not class themselves as “artistic” will still have some sort of idea of it such as being organised or tidy noticing something that doesn’t seem right or even seeing the clothes they wear. Now, I believe you should not really call somebody artistic, just more visually aware and having that visual understanding, because as I might have explained before (can’t remember), art and design is not a talent, it is a set of rules you must give yourself the patience to learn, realise and practise like any other academic course.

So with the bottom line out of the way, planning for games, you may start with a genre in which to base the game, a story to develop off of it, characters that may be involved. It’s good to clear up the overall mood and colour palette of a game. Seeing a well layed out scene can instantly tell you what you could be getting yourself in for before playing a game. The biggest similarity to planning and concepting a game is when planning and concepting a movie or a drama TV show. I just believe games are a more difficult and complex process. A movie scene has props in the background to enhance and set the scene further that not everybody will notice. Then you have certain games where you want to explore beyond strategically set out scenes. As you have the time and ability to search your surroundings you would be more curious as to what could be around the corner of this dark room or, what happens if I hit this purple mushroom. I believe all that is relevant to planning a game scene. The more notes and explanation with your concepts, the better the point you are trying to put across to the developers showing how organised you are. You are trying to make progress after all.

You may have been given certain instructions on what kind of scene to create but with concepts, I think there is no problem in adding your own little twist which may turn out to be a good new idea to work on once everything is confirmed. It’s all about bashing out those thumbnails, throwing in some colour here and there, ditching a bit of this, adding a bit of that until, somebody goes ‘YES! I like where this is going’. Then you set bigger scenes, add some characters, some depth, some textures, some emotion and so on until you have an environment or character ready to build fully.

I absolutely love art books you get with special editions of games and concept art you unlock through playing games displaying initial ideas that were different to final ideas, for example mirror’s edge, when you collect all the bags or god of war 1 showing older concepts of their 3D character models. I love how Guild Wars would show their final digi paints on the loading screen as you enter that certain area. You just appreciate it all more when you see a progression to the outcome.


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Digi Paint Update 1 - How to make a digital painting using photoshop.

So I have developed some digital paintings for my year 2 visual design finals which was my main goal as most of my finals in the first year were mainly pencil drawings, one canvas acrylic painting and a watercolour painting. And this is to show progress from my appalling attempts over the summer break. I will show you my bradgate park final which I ended up saving in stages because of breaks I took inbetween, It will be quite interesting to show you the techniques I have developed over a short space of time still being a beginner and all. I will go through them step by step.

Here i blew up my brief final composition to A4 size in my sketchbook, and went over it in pen. Got it scanned and into photoshop for me to begin next step.

Here, using the drawing on an upper layer and after changing its blending options to multiply, i start blocking in the basic colours bit by bit with a big sized brush.

I begin to add more detail, preferably from the background of the the image to the front, for example, doing the sky, then the forest, then the landscape coming up to the main vocal point, the tree.

So this is my final outcome. More defining details came later as I made my brush size smaller and zoomed in adding more tonal value to where it is needed and relevant textures. I don't want to be too specific as I shouldn't be taking too long to paint this ideally. If i want it to look bang on like the photo, what is the point, i may as well hand in the photo. I prefer to be brief, stating what i am trying to achieve with the painting and giving it a style rather than realism.

adding the drawing on top just to see gives an interesting effect and even sharpens areas or shows you where you may have adjusted the image. I perhaps adjusted certain items as i believed it was better for the composition.

Hope this helps even though i am just a beginner but i tried to make it simple as there are not enough simple tutorials out there (wait since when did this become a tutorial?? 0_o). Remember it doesn't need to be perfect, if something is unnaturally off, you will know and you will fix it. The majority of your audience will not see into it as deeply as you or your critics ;) See Ya

Monday, 5 December 2011

Reflection on year one, and ambition for year two

Having had a few months to get myself together over summer, I must admit I never used all of my time to learn which I partly regret but it has allowed time for me to finish some games I was meaning to complete ages ago, come out to all my friends and family 0_o, find a wonderful bf (let’s see if anyone reads this and catches on) and enjoy days out and so on. Reflecting on year one I really wanted to improve my visual design skills, having learnt the methods and techniques and such. I want to, in the second year maintain the standard of my understanding and begin to define my own personal style. With thumbnails building up to my final I need to be more specific on what I want to achieve in my composition and start whacking out those small studies meaning, spending less time faffing on them.

Another thing is my learning to digi paint using a graphics tablet on Photoshop. So over the break I barely picked up my tablet pen but when I did, I was frustrated at how, even as I tried to develop my paintings like all these good tutorials were showing me, something wasn’t right and my results came out a disaster. I currently have a discontinued (in other words, ooooooold) Wacom A6 Volito2 tablet and pen which, before this course, was given to me by my best mate as he hardly used it and wanted a tablet laptop eventually. I never used it up to this point even though I was meaning to at the beginning of the first year of uni. Anyway, stupid flipping me never realised that, even though tablets are basically more accurate versions of a mouse or laptop touch pad for drawing, they have PRESSURE SENSITIVITY LEVELS!! And I obviously didn’t install the software to activate this because the cd it came with never worked and I thought I was all okay because plugging it in made it work. I eventually installed the bamboo tablet software from the official website and all is well. I have a few studies below that show my progress during the disastrous period and I will eventually show my progress as I improve over the second year hopefully. Once I get the hang of it I want to make my very own style, even though it may be similar to others I need to find my comfortable point, stick with it and work on it to create good shit.

First study before i knew about pressure meaning it took long as i kept pressing down on the tablet to make darker values.

Before i knew about pressure, my failed desperate attempt (on the left) to paint an apple like the tutorial version on the right.

Finally when i installed the proper software, file name: ICANBLEND.psd 

So basically colour studies with watercolours, Photoshop and fast efficient thumbnails are my main focus points for the second year as I hardly did any in the first.

I am happy with my critical studies work over the last year but it became a rush towards the end and I had NO personal or progression posts meaning nobody knows about me and what I do or feel about specific work so that is a must this year, even if I make just a few blogs.

With game production I believe I can do well once I figure out good topology then good UV building techniques as I’m not entirely confident with my character design even though I would rather be an environment or asset designer. I need to be in the know and get over those hurdles in my mind so I have a method for everything then I can start speeding up and experimenting different techniques within 3DS Max. Good textures will come with my improving digi painting skills.

Lastly I want to develop my “Cool Shit” folder into a reference learning experience. Meaning folders within, specifically showing pictures I have gathered of inspirational 3D topology and paintings all included with text files explaining tips and tricks and things to remember. Hope I can do well this year J.


Tuesday, 8 November 2011


Yes i finally added some spice to my old blogs from the previous year.

This blog is to report that i am still alive and have made it to the second year of Game Art DMU and will soon be posting my main blogs and work updates for it! :) See ya.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Personal review of the first year

Ok so it’s like the end of the first year and all of us on the course have had time to develop our personal skills while given expert teaching methods pass  on from our tutors and each other. Despite my slower pace and workflow in the beginning I feel I have learnt a hell of a lot in terms of dealing with new software, discovering different aspects and techniques of producing good art work and how the industry is run over time as computer games increase. It all feels like is has gone extremely fast.

Everyone found 3DS Max rather difficult to get to grips with and so did I in the beginning. I thought I would never be able to create complex shapes in our to get the desired outcome, especially with the first task being a dalek. With a generally good idea of size and proportions, I began to feel one step ahead because I felt I began to crack mesh building and adding separate parts to an item the make the full one. Texturing worried me until I began to get more used to building up UVs and simply placing the textures onto areas. I think suggestions to improve overall quality of items or to help speed up simple process is to give as much examples of quick mesh building techniques such as twist and taper, although we can discover this ourselves with the time we have, im sure  a checklist of useful tools and where to find them or what shortcuts to press will please all years in speeding up their production of work. Plus, trying to get the right look for different materials textures need to portray.

My final 3D project was to make a weapon of choice, so i wanted a detailed sword. Rock added for random lulz :P

I knew I would struggle with visual design the most which is weird but I did not have enough practise beforehand which I really wanted to do during summer before starting the course. However given a new outlook from the very beginning and looking at already good artists within the same year, I felt I was starting from scratch all over again but learning the proper methods. I said to myself, “if only I could have learnt about some of this sooner”. Perspective and horizon lines were new to me, something I didn’t learn in college as we were given pure still life to work with. My details and rendering needed some help but with the discovery of mechanical pencils and tools like a blending stump and such, I believe at this point near the end of the course I have improved. I notice that giving yourself more time and not leaving work to the last minute allows you to be more relaxed and work comes out extraordinarily well as you experiment. I feel I am behind in one aspect in particular with digital painting which goes on to mean I have not had enough colour theory practise. What I suggest is that we should all be required to buy a small watercolour set and begin practising simple colour swatches and themes in order to learn about setting the mood before we get taught how to digi paint.

My final Visual Design project was a revisit to Bradgate Park, Leicester.

For me personally I am really going to work hard in learning to digi paint using brushes and so on in photoshop over summer as I have a graphics tablet and pen but have been hesitant to use it. I know there are recommended tutorials to follow and students who are already skilful in this section so consulting them will be a must. With 3D work I, am happy with my current progress but, with the summer and personal projects I want to learn the basics of UDK for the second year and learn faster techniques for mesh building and learn to build up more sharp and convincing textures. Playing high rated games and watching movies are great for reference and taking ideas of colour schemes and perspective or even finding key mistakes. I will carry on reading ad learning about the industry as my dad never stops buying games magazines anyway. The main goal I want to achieve is better concepting when it comes to creating or adding original ideas to work and once I improve with photoshop painting, I believe I can place myself on the same level as the stronger students in my year.

A lot has been learnt but there is tons more to learn and it never stops, in when you find a job. But that is what makes this course and working in this changing industry so exciting. I will be posting much more blogs of progress and what I find interesting over summer in my particular goals. Until next year :).

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Elements of game design, part three: environment

You could say after possibly reading my character blog or by thinking generally, environment design for games is similar to character design. Yes it is in general terms but there is a bit more to it and I would like to pick up on that in this blog. Environments interest me the most purely because it literally sets the scene and without a level you have no game, without an atmosphere, it has no character, without proper structure, the game is doomed to be a confusing wreck. Developers like to into account, accessibility to areas and usage of the environment nowadays that games couldn’t achieve as much in the past.

Making a level environment look good is one thing, but level design needs to build up something in a way that it is accessible and this gradually became more of a circumstance once games moved on from 2D side scrolling to 3D roaming worlds. To navigate around these levels, set paths such as in the crash bandicoot games simply lead you to your destination in a straight line but you must overcome obstacles in your way. Freedom of choice in your path to reach your goal started in early games, in particular, RPGs. The legend of Zelda series delivered on this but to make the environments even more exciting and appealing, you get signs and maps telling you where you should or maybe even shouldn’t go. Areas are blocked off by obstacles you cannot tackle yet until you gain a certain ability and to add to this you may get NPCs in the area affected by this or the fact that a river is dried out, it affects the environment but changes when you restore it. This adds a therapeutic value to the player’s gameplay or an element of confidence as you get stronger, able to tackle new and difficult areas. Assets became more accessible in that you could use it to your advantage to solve a puzzle or just kick it around for fun. Of course depending on the genre of game, you get different methods of dealing with your environment meaning you get a different experience or feeling towards it. Games like call of duty black ops shape the pathway for you, like when you look at a road ahead, you reach it and vehicles come to block its way so you are forced to take a singular route. This can add intense cinematic value to games making it similar to films.

What I mentioned before about adding signs or messages, assets or actually the environment’s specific location, is where references to the outside world come in. Realism is obvious to point out with its use of photo taken or realistic made textures in a game scripted in a believable human world. Stylisation is realised when you see games similar to World of Warcraft, fully hand painted with unusual buildings and cartoon-like characters. Nevertheless, people adore it because it still may use references from real life and use past ideas then brand them their own making it more believable and balancing its power with realism. Combined with good, accessible gameplay, the environment takes you to places you couldn’t experience in real life or fictional places you find beautiful as if you wish you was there.

One of two favourite environments of mine that stuck in my head is Bioshock. Old fashioned advertisement posters made you know you were in the past but you are stuck in a totally original and obscure underwater paradise bent into destruction due to failed experiments. A result of this had you exploring a damp, dark, misty, water leaked environment with old fashioned radios eerily playing classic music. The constant reminder of the creator in your ear and his pictures and quotes plastered all over the place made me want to carry on playing and find out more even though creepy sounds and strategically placed lighting (or lack of) made it a scary place to be. Frigging love it and I still need to play 2 before the new Bioshock Infinite comes out!


Elements of game design, part three: character

I believe characters to be a major part when designing a game as is with books, films or a TV series. From the top of my head and to be brief, a cool protagonist in a game is Kratos from god of war, who defies the gods and rips his enemies to pieces, Tidus from Final Fantasy X, a cheerful, loveable character who isn’t always perfect. Funny characters, Wario from the Mario series, the enemy and totally everything opposite from Mario himself but has enough public interest to have his very own series of games developed to suit his rude characteristics. Evil characters, Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, muttering only one word and relentlessly following you throughout the whole game makes you shudder every time you turn a corner thinking he is going to pounce on you. These are just my examples of successful character design that everybody would remember and talk about with others, pretty much leaving their mark.

I think characters need a good voice actor who doesn’t try too hard and really captures the situation they would find themselves in. I cannot stand the squeaky squirmy voices you get in many cartoon anime series or games. However, when they gave the sonic cast voices in their very first full 3D game, Sonic Adventure, even though the voice acting was not perfect, the right type of voice was given to each and at the time I loved it. Sonic had that cool teenager voice like, dude. Knuckles had a deeper voice to match his tough mysterious personality and appearance. Amy was bloody annoying squeaky, high pitched kind but now you can’t imagine it any other way. Moving on, I love English period dramas in general due to the amount of effort put into creating costumes, portraying how living life was in the past and defining the large difference between a noble and a peasant when it comes to the characters. Those in power held their head firm, a body part never out of place and spoke with intensity for example, Elizabeth in TV dramas. This sets the image in which you can imagine how important a certain character is. Are they back up their words? What was this person’s past? Can I trust them? Reading a script is the starting point of where you can imagine your character is heading but it would be up you the actor to fully take on this person.

The kind of story that gets me excited is when it’s not so direct or even though you know who is evil, there is a valid reason or a background as to why they are committing devious affairs, so some viewers/gamers may take sides. Mystery, surprise and an extremely cool character is who I love. I would love to see them suddenly change or make a decision that shocks everyone or has a dark secret. If I was to write a script they would have to be natural and have overlapping arguments, not ok I’ll wait for you to speak then make my move because life isn’t like that.

The feeling of the character portrayed through appearance and appealing to certain audiences, facial and clothing-wise caught my attention in the passage where some developers talk about their work on the early next gen Ninety-Nine Nights xbox game as it can be expressed more as the budget for games increased. Mizuguchi also explained how it is difficult to bring games and drama together being game developers. It brings me back to the course and makes me realise how important watching films are as recommended by tutors, as I am sure a lot of us who start year 1 just want to make cool games with nice models and art but it is a good deal more than that. We all need to think like script writers, whatever role we take.


Sunday, 10 April 2011

Elements of game design, part two: art direction for games

There are a hell of a lot of information sources on being an art director which I am sure are all very interesting in their own way of explaining it. First I’ll look at a typical job description of what an art director does. The links given showing some examples have expired now but I found another and will provide it in the reference links when I finish.

Typically an art director is ultimately responsible for the setting, style and quality of art incorporated into a game and managing the rest of the team pretty much constantly. Animation fits into this too and maybe even the music but I am not too sure on that one. Many sources say a background, perhaps a degree, in fine art is a must, due to the vast amount of knowledge in particular techniques like drawing, colours, texturing  plus, all artists need to be creative including the directors visualising how a character, an asset, a scene or particular section should look once complete. I think the major part to grasp from the general job description is the communication with other team members. It is their job to check up with what everybody is doing and, in Phillip Bossant’s case, who was executive producer and art director for the America’s Army public game project, would go around to everybody one by one to see progress.

Many times, I'm just providing feedback but sometimes I am directly involved with making the solution”.

I almost see this as being everyone’s teacher or tutor keeping order within the team and eventually making sure that, once merged together everything still flows but still be open to new ideas and suggestions. If everything flows, then you have a solid game and that is important.

Compared to film, there is not much difference when looking at art direction. I am sure film directors try their very best to make sure everything from characters, costumes, sets, musical scores and such stick to the film’s theme meaning checking each part individually. Mistakes would need to be altered beforehand and just like an art director, the film director needs to keep order. Handling takes when it comes to acting, it is the film director who calls out “action” and “cut” as retakes are made to get parts just right. Colour palettes are determined depending on the type of film so if it was a natural fantasy film, greens, yellows and reds could be reflected in the environment and characters to indicate a cheerful sunny scene and it is no different for art direction.

The job may sound simple enough but I reckon it takes a copious amount of experience, confidence, leadership skills and communication skills to be able to work with just about anyone from senior to beginner artists and animators in a team. Bringing workers together and checking on work is one thing but you would still need to use your artistic skills if the need to clean parts up yourself arises and I can imagine they all get plenty of emails and files sent to them. I can see it being a competitive but exciting job however because the job description I found says an art director can branch from an artist with more than 3 years experience in the games industry and the amount of talent will vary greatly between applicants.


Friday, 8 April 2011

Elements of game design, part one: from pong to next gen

I think game design is an extremely important topic to cover, especially on this course. Even though I would be a part of the art direction, if I was to have a job in the games industry, learning the basic fundamental processes it takes to design a game is still important to everybody in their separate fields and helps drive everyone to their goal. My tutors always say there is no such job as a game designer as it is not specific in any way. You would be required to work on your specific skill role, be it the artistic, technical or writing which are brought together for publishing.

However, back to the very beginning of when games were made on mainframe computers, the lead programmers were considered the game designers and were the driving force of the art team. It was when technology and computing advanced, that separate game designers were needed to drive the programmers and artists and it stayed this way as games became much more complex. Learning the process and in what order, off by heart, would be the best way to start in my opinion. Those roles will then branch off in their own way but those are for the later blogs, more specifically in my field of interest with the course. Then I’ll look at what makes for a good game design.

So designing a game of course starts with an idea. The idea needs to be placed within one or combined genres allowing the theme to be created. I have learned that, for success, the best ideas are not created from absolute scratch. A brand new idea unfamiliar to everybody may not sell as well an idea people can relate to in real life. Our job would be to steal already successful and familiar ideas and make them our own. This would apply to the protagonist of a game, themed environments and objects you may find in the game. With the initial ideas jotted down at the first meeting, the process is carried on by making a design document, containing suggestions of more ideas that can be built on. Once an agreement is made on what type of game will be made, constant tests and changes are made and mistakes are discovered early meaning the first design document will never be an accurate view of the final outcome. We all need a starting point nonetheless.

Depending on which genre you choose, you would need a different method of design. A driving game design doc would be totally unlike a role playing game. All games need a goal of course but an rpg would contain a storyline and sometimes driving games don’t. A driving game could be a total reference to real life whereas an rpg could be totally fictional.

When I consider gameplay, level design and mechanics, I look for originality, as we all do nowadays but not so original it becomes an alien entity that only select fans will enjoy. Target audience is the major factor within all this and you need to make sure they and perhaps newcomers would enjoy the experience. Random terrain mentions mechanics within a game such as cheat codes making a game more enjoyable because you customise your own experience encouraging genuine play over competitive play. The writer talks of randomness and replayability, where he enjoys a new experience each time you restart the game. Its something that board games have over computer games which have a set path requiring you to learn a sequence in which you will already know the outcome. I can understand where he is coming from as I like I game to be open to choice changing everyones experience. That is what made the elder scrolls and grand theft auto very successful, making a game open world.

However I do like a controlled storyline line plus amazing cinematic visuals you must work hard to try and see. I love very hard games that require repeating parts until you get the right tactic and you are rewarded greatly. It’s fantastic because gamespot recently put up a blog of what makes a good villain in a game and points out famous ones that were and were not triumphant in achieving this. I thought it is a great example for this blog on how ideas of game design keep the average player hooked into a game so much because elements like story, characters, environments or exciting gameplay become a memorable experience. The link to it will be below.


Monday, 4 April 2011

Prince of Persia – Sands of Time Review

So the game I have chosen to review is Prince of Persia – Sands of time, a 3rd person platforming, action-adventure game. It was made by Ubisoft and released in November 2003. It released on all platforms during the previous generation of consoles such as GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC then once the 2 sequels were released, it was developed into a triple pack for PC and very recently for PlayStation 3 remastered in HD. So it’s a pretty classic game as you can make out because, to this day, it still appeals to the current gen.

To further back this up, of course more games were later made due to its success, those are Warrior Within and The Two Thrones but also a mobile version and a Game Boy Advance Version were made. Even last year, Forgotten Sands was released as a sort of in-between storyline  to also go with the recent movie actually titled, Sands of Time but I will not go any further into that and I have yet to watch the movie.

Ok so what is the story? I’m not good at explaining storylines so I’ll be brief. You play the son of King Sharaman of Persia who wishes to prove himself in battle. During a war he sets out alone to the city walls in search of a mysterious dagger in which he thinks he can use as his prize and to gain the reputation he desires. However upon releasing the dagger, he discovers it has the power to alter time. Successful in his escape of the collapsing castle and when the war is won, he presents the knife in Azad only to be betrayed by their vizier who tells him to unlock the hourglass. The sands of time unleash, corrupting all but the bearer of the dagger. You then find yourself fighting to undo this curse and stop the Vizier’s plan with the help of another survivor named Farah, a daughter of the Maharajah.

Ok so why do I love this game. At the time, I believe it embarked on original ideas in terms of combat, a platformer and storytelling. From the very start, you are instantly taken to a beautiful world with a mystifying atmosphere aided by the prince’s voice throughout, speaking not only as narrator but as if he has sat you down to tell you this story. This was a new experience for me and I felt more part of the story and settled into the well-designed environments.

You may already know that this Prince of Persia was not the first. It began in 1989 when the first PoP was made for apple 2 as a 2D side scrolling action platformer, then later on other gaming platforms all way up to the Wii as an unlock in its version of The Forgotten Sands. Looking back to this, it is easy to see the gameplay has been kept similar to its predecessor however, with a change to a 3D world we would all think, “Well that’s not going to work out is it”. Instead it turned out better than expected, keeping elements from the first game but evolving them into more detail and I am sure that is what the developers wanted when they sat down that important meeting.

You can see that in the old PoP you traverse across gaps by jumping from the very edge, grab onto ledges and climb up with larger gaps, you must avoid traps, hit switches and engage in duels with enemies in a repetitive mazy dungeon. All this is mimicked in Sands of Time except the mazes are replaced with one set path cut up by periodic save points for you to carry on another time. With a new 3D world, brand new actions could be taken to get from point A to B for example running across and up walls, swinging along poles, spinning around pillars, shimmying thin ledges, pushing blocks and so on.

Combat involved locking onto the enemy, using your main sword to hack at enemies and eventually take their sand which involved stabbing them with the dagger of time when they are down else they would revive. Combat is not easy however, as they can block or parry attacks, and gang up on you as you prevent them from revival. Tools such as guard, dodge roll and other various effective techniques were added to give different approaches when fighting a new enemy that says no to your usual method. That is the most challenging part of the game.

One final mechanic to mention is that, in an effort to eliminate annoying loading screens or pauses in gameplay and keep the constant flow of gameplay, the dagger of time allows you to turn back time at the press of a button to a previous state of your choice. So if you fall down into some spikes after a failed wall jump, as long as it is not too far back, you can rewind time back to the ledge before you took the jump so you can try again but usage is limited unless you of course retrieve more sand from cursed enemies.

It is this combination of fantastic smooth paced gameplay, well voice acted storytelling and cut scenes, and the overall mystical atmosphere in an attractive detailed world that made this game very popular.

I actually began to record a playthrough of it on PC and only produced like two 10 minute parts and to this day part 1 has reached 81,000 views (which is more than I expected) since March 2008 and remains my most viewed video, and still gets comments of how people loved it back in the day, then the odd hater here and there but you know. Anyway, that is my review of a game that is rather old yes but is so good, they can re-release it in HD on next gen consoles and people will still buy it over, say, Enslaved perhaps.

Writing about Games, Previews, Reviews, Commentary and such.

Ok so in the past when we never had internet in the household, we would always buy the latest console official magazines. We then moved on to the magazines that were less console specific and covered them all because of course the Official Nintendo Magazine would only state their bias love as representatives. Neutral multiformat journalism has a broader look at international going’s on and go into more depth when interviewing workers in the industry or when previewing games.

Not long before typing this up I have been reading Kieron Gillen’s specific workblogs on journalism and becoming an indie developer. His style of writing confuses me with the constant references from outside topics as a way to describe the main point of the blog. When I was younger games magazines such as Edge would also confuse me in this way and, even though it’s a review I found it difficult what exactly the writer would be babbling on about other than the actual game at hand. Of course my knowledge of the industry was too basic and Kieron’s writing makes me feel like im back at square one. I guess I just prefer the simpler approaches to explanations and learning. Aside from that, one quote picked up from Kierons blog on New Games Journalism is that “If Games Journalism is just a job to you, you really shouldn’t be doing it.”

So while trying to decipher his babble, I learned that, one big issue reviewers face is time, hence his description on the games press being “stupid”. It takes, with around 150 pages containing at least sixty-thousand words, 19 days for a modern British magazine to be put together and with the rush from issue to issue, there is little time for serious in-depth reviews. Given this, he says games journalists are stupid because they have no time to think and become lazy. Then it is when Kieron mentions in his NGJ blog that he discovered New Games Journalism first online and not mags. His confusing references became wild at this time but he did mention that NGJ rejects the worth of a videogame lying within a videogame but within the gamer instead and their imagination taking over. He described it as not knowing what you’re doing as opposed to knowing what you’re writing about in ordinary game’s journalism. It seems like one of those things that is fascinating to some and babbling nonsense to others. As much as it may try to find a way to be more accessible to the average human, finding the real reason why we spend hours on a game, to some it may be just for fun, to tackle boredom, to escape away from real world issues or the love of interacting in a fantasy or fictional world. Perhaps it could be explained more simply. I have played and loved games for most of my life so thinking of the gamer instead of just the game has entered my mind when I grew up but it should be kept simple as it is the enjoyment and the money that matters at the end of the day.

Ok so if I was to be a games journalist I would always think of how much time and effort it took the game to have been created in the first place. I found Too Human on Xbox 360 way too mediocre and linear considering the almost 10 years it took to release it. Rather than looking at guides to determine lifespan or consistency of a game, I believe it is best to experience it yourself. With that in mind I do not want to be playing games that I do not find interest in, for example, the Fifa series. It takes a fan with knowledge of the games and interest in that genre to be able to suck a game dry and eventually give a full review. That is one reason why I do not favour magazine or popular game website reviews anymore if somebody has limited time to play a game they may not enjoy and give a bad score at the end of it. I like the fact that personal reviewer’s scores on gamespot are combined to make an average. I believe it is a much better representation of what kind of score the game deserves. An rpg fan may despise a certain game whereas another loves it, representing public interests of certain development choices for a game and ultimately neutralising into an accurate score. Also reading what some users say will give you a clear idea of what approach they take to games jouranlism. Too Human was given a 5.5 officially from gamespot but 3748 users gave the game a combined average of 7.1, perhaps a more valid score.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Computer Game History: Kane Limited Edition (1995-2011)

I first have to put out here that, among everything, I am a hardcore gamer and I cannot last a week without some sort of gaming fix like I’m sure many of us do. Of course I’m not an antisocial recluse but I can spend hours hooked into a game forgetting to eat and playing into the night. I still owned lots of toys and had time to play out with my mates during school and holidays. I blame my dad for getting me into computer games. Apparently my parents told me I began playing games since the age of 5. I honestly cannot remember my first game though, however I believe the first console I owned was a Sega Megadrive. From there the craze begins and, believe me, we never missed a console after that.

As a wild guess I would say perhaps my first ever game played on Megadrive was sonic but if my dad had a console or a game that I didn’t, he would let me have a go. I fell in love with sonic and the series onwards and that developed my love for 2d side-scrollers. So while my dad owned the half dead commodore and last legs Atari, I played whatever game he threw at me. By time the GameBoy and orignal Nintendo released, I grew a habit of diving straight into a game without reading insctructions or speech in games. I was told off when the family sat down in the living room to me playing some old classic NES RPG with loads of text and I just kept pressing  to skip.

New consoles began to release, I can’t remember the order but we owned a Super Nintendo,  Playstation fat and slim, Sega Saturn, a personal big time favourite of mine, Game Boy Advance (and all of its different re-releases), Dreamcast, N64 with expansion pack, Playstation 2 fat and slim, Xbox normal and crystal, Gamecube, neo geo, n-gage, Nintendo DS (and all of its different re-releases), PSP,  Wii, Xbox 360 old and slim, PS3, iPod and now currently my dad owns a 3DS.

Back to life at home however, my dad (besides fishing) loved the video game culture and whatever released, news in other parts of the world and so on. He literally bought (and still buys today) stacks and stacks of games magazines and of course, having got me into games, he would let me borrow the magazines or he would be constantly talking to me about current news or the next new game that is releasing and that he really wants it. The part of the past I regret is the fact that, we are not rich so we traded a hell of a lot, meaning we didn’t have all the consoles at once, like some game freaks do. We wanted to stay up to date even if it was to get a new colour xbox and such.

By time I was at secondary school, I began to take my own path as I received money rather than just had games bought for me. PS2, gamecube and Gameboy advance was booming at this time, say around 2005 and due to my dad’s interests and my own developing interests became an RPG freak, from pokemon to final fantasy and this was for life.

At this time I also saved up and bought my own pc not only to do work but for gaming of course but since I didn’t buy I gaming pc, I ended up buying the parts separately and was forced to build a new pc up from scratch. It was I little phase I had wanting a current gen gaming pc in a stylish case with a side window and blue neon lights (I will proved a photo in due course). Once the hassle of gaining an internet service provider, the first game I played was guild wars with a close friend of mine I knew since primary school, and me must have played almost 1000 hours sucking it dry. Before internet however, I enjoyed games such as neverwinter nights and warcraft.

Moving into the current era, I moved away from pc gaming as technology developed too swiftly and high end graphics cards began to become too expensive and my processor was and still is having nervous breakdowns every now and then. It is currently xbox 360, Nintendo ds, PSP and finally the PS3 I am deeply into and with the introduction to achievements and trophys on the big consoles I have become what you call an achievement whore. I think it is not only a brilliant sales idea, but it urges gamers to appreciate games a lot more and get their money out of it but that is for another blog entry.

I wish I could mention more and I’m sure I have missed a lot out so maybe I can make an extended version. I will definitely create a list of the most iconic and memorable classic games I have played in a future blog mainly for personal record and out of reader interest. I think I will stop right here but say this is the most enjoyable blog I have written so far :D Until next time.

Computer Game History: Millenium Edition (2000s-current)

The final part of this gaming history research, carries itself into the 21st century, in which we all live in now. Wikipedia explains it as the sixth generation of video game consoles which include Sega’s Dreamcast, Sony’s PlayStation 2, Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo’s GameCube. These consoles had a good few years before they hit the hay and production stopped for even bigger improvements. Sega unfortunately lasted a mere 4 years in Europe from release in 1998 and that was the end of Sega consoles as we knew it. Despite being the first sixth generation console to release, it made the least sales. After that came GameCube, then Xbox then the prodigious ps2 which still sells today.

Aside from facts and figures, changes during this generation had major publishers creating a cross-platform strategy, releasing games for major consoles, pc and sometimes handhelds. This is a wise and obvious choice if you want to maximise revenue and ignore even more console war debates. You still get comparison and performance wars but I say that’s just becoming too picky and would not apply to single console owners. Some publishing companies also merged with competitors.

As games grew more realistic and began to contain many references to real life, issues of sex, crime and violence were more so raised than older generation games and lawmakers took actions against the video game industry overall. A stand-out game regarding this is Grand Theft Auto:  San Andreas, the bestselling PlayStation 2 game of its time shipping over 19 million copies. GTA games Vice City and Manhunt, both by Rockstar games, faced lawsuits over racial slurs and minors being influenced into crime while San Andreas had sexual references and an adult rating. I think it makes sense because despite age ratings and parents being responsible for keeping minors from all this, a large amount, maybe even the majority of children with a PS2 are going to see or have these games bought for them by parents and it is worrying if children become hooked to a characters dangerous lifestyle within a fictional game. However games should not be the only reason for possible increases in crime. It could be other factors such as the setting a child lives, or real life movies of course sometimes being a more realistic representation of life not to mention higher accessibility to movies due to the fact that DVD players by this time were very cheap and film prices over games. Real life humans in movies, music artists will have more effect obviously because they are role models to the younger generation.

Now onto the current consoles, deemed the Next Generation of gaming with the introduction of next gen consoles, the PlayStation3(2006), Xbox 360(2005), Nintendo Wii(2006), Nintendo DS series(2004), PSP (2004) and what is now becoming a solid gaming franchise, the iPod/iPhone. Many new discoveries of advanced technology began to change gaming from just pressing buttons and watching on your fishbowl TV. New technology implemented includes, widescreen High Definition display for crisper visuals, motion sensing within controllers (the biggest selling point for the Wii), camera detection, online gaming and so on. Gamers are starting to split into hardcore and casual categories and games have begun to explode the media and entertainment industry, even beating movies. Much more money is spent on developing games and teams increase in numbers for more specific jobs as demand for certain desires increase due to the higher power and processing the consoles can perform. More and more reviewers posting scores for new games add pressure and sometimes make the decisions for whether customers want to buy them or not.

Relationships between developers and publishers changed when funding increased with the process of games. Developers wanted to create innovative, original games based of their love of gaming in which new game ideas were considered successful whereas publishers push for large returns and a small success is not enough for them if it is for pride. They would rather write off new ideas and demand sequels and licensed promotions like movies. If it gets better results I say that is okay but encourage more original games. I will expand on this however in my later blog tasks and end these interesting points here.