Thursday, 25 November 2010

Blog Update

I keep forgetting to do this, but hopefully it'll become second nature after a few more posts.

Since my last update, I've finished my "Sackboy Self Portrait" for the Guru's and Grasshoppers. To put it nicely, it was a challenge both to create and texture, but really rewarding to see the final product. I've had feedback from my Guru's, and a lot of pointers as to where improvements/fixes need to be done. So as soon as I have time, I'll begin tweaking my sackboy using the Guru's advice.

We had a guest speaker come in - Simon Reed - who talked to us about his line or work. Simon focuses more on the graphical side of game development, such as user interfaces and icons. He worked on the menu system for the "F1 2010" game, so I instantly knew of his work. The thing that really appeals to me about GUI art is that it's practical. Sure, Concept art helps the 3D artist create his models, but the GUI is constantly seen and used by the player. That's a great draw for me - being able to do what I love doing and for it to have practical applications.

Since we were unable to go to the Pumping station this week, Chris has set us a project to design a vehicle. I was a bit confused at first, but I've spoke to him and got my head around what needs to be done. We're designing a vehicle for a purpose - for example, something to move equipment around or transport us somewhere.

We watched 'Black Hawk Down' in this weeks film session, a film I've seen many times and still love to this day. If there's one thing I love about that film, it's that it attempts to accurately portray war and it's effects on people and politics. It's also one of the only films I've ever watched that can make me really, really angry. The scene where the Somali mob overpower the American soldiers, kill them, and then parade their bodies around still makes me angry - even though I know it's both a film and that they're following the militia out of fear.

Personally, the only thing that's happened that's really worth writing about was the gig I went to in Nottingham on the 16th. Two of my favourite bands - Threat Signal & Sybreed - were playing, so I was really looking forward to it. Nearly missed it as well, I had to rush from Bradgate park, hopping on and off buses. It was well worth the effort though, because it was an awesome night and I met most of the band afterwards. I still can't believe I was sat around casually talking to Jon Howard (Threat Signal), and got to meet Ben (Sybreed).

The only other thing I'd mention is a new group I discovered - "God is an Astronaut". For the most part, my music library consists of  metal, but I couldn't help but like this Irish band. They do the most melodic, beautiful instrumentals. If you've got any spare time, I highly recommend listening to "Fireflies and Empty Skies". It's brilliant.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Video Game Journalism

As consumers of both video games and gaming media, we hold very personal – and very biased – opinions about everything we see and read. Often, we never stop to consider how something was put together or just how difficult something was to create, before we sound off and tear it to pieces.
The journalists who review video and computer games can be as passionate about them as the player. Passion is one thing, though, deadlines are another thing entirely. No matter how much you want to write a thoroughly brilliant article, you’ll always be limited by the time and subject material you are given.
Truth is, they have to scour the world of video games for writing material. Perhaps they’ll have a really good month, with a string of AAA titles released ready for them to consume. But other times, they’ll have to put up with scattered releases and struggle to fill the void. Ultimately, while they may have a keen interest in video games, their bosses don’t. And it’s their bosses who decide whether they’re worth their pay.

Gaming Magazines are valuable for a number of reasons. Firstly, they do all of the searching and analysing for you, so you can just pick out the best games to get. Secondly, they usually have a DVD of extras, like demos, movies and pictures – so you don’t have to bother downloading them. Generally, they contain most of the information you’ll need to make decisions about the next batch of games being released.

With the dawn on ‘New Games Journalism’, magazines are beginning to look redundant. After all, everything they offer can be found on the internet. Usually, it’s free and faster to get everything you need off the internet – and you have a much wider choice.

Thanks to the internet, Magazines are suffering the same fate as every other form of media. Sales are suffering because you can find the same content on the internet faster – and for no cost. Magazines are becoming a obsolete and lumbering burden in the age of information-on-demand. Where you would previously go to the store and buy a magazine, you can now access everything you will need free from your PC or Phone.

While you do still get some hardcore nut jobs who still buy the original, physical media (I still buy CD’s) – a fair proportion of people will take the easier option, and turn to the internet. With lower sales, Magazines are forced to save money somehow, adding more pressure to the journalists already pressurised routine.

In short, ‘New Games Journalism’ is brilliant for the consumer and a headache for the traditional journalist. While the quality of NGJ content is often questionable, the ease of access and availability of the content is often more important to the consumer.

Personally, I’ve always been a fan of the traditional, ‘objective’ game journalism -I grew up with games magazines. While I’ve tended to lead more towards the internet in recent years, I still take everything I read with a pinch of salt. After all, anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection can write a scathing review of a new release... 

Thursday, 18 November 2010

My personal Gaming History

When I think about it, I never had an interest in video games as a child. Maybe it was because they were never advertised on children’s TV, or because I had toys and my neighbourhood friends to keep me entertained. Then, on his birthday, my brother got the Sony PlayStation, and we were bedazzled with the plethora of low-poly romps available to us.

The first game I ever played was Duke Nukem: Time to Kill. In retrospective, I can’t believe that my granddad bought that for my brother, age 10. I can explain the logic there, but I won’t, because that’s a long and depressing story about my dad’s side of the family.

The thing that continuously bugs me is that we’re told that violent video games ‘corrupt’ young children and turn them into social menaces. Duke Nukem was violent, loud, and full of swearing and sexual innuendo. By their logic, I should have been in prison at age 15, but I was annoyingly pleasant at primary school. Maybe Duke had exactly the opposite effect on me, or more than likely, I didn’t think I had a reason to be angry and nasty. After all, these games were cool and groovy, and I saw them as fun, not real life.

Unfortunately, I skipped over all the childhood greats. I started with Duke Nukem and progressed onto Tomb Raider, Nuclear Strike, Colin McRae Rally and Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey. While I missed out on Mario and Sonic – I did manage to play Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon- and let’s face it, they were much cooler.

After the PlayStation we eventually got all three of the next generation consoles. I was never a fan of the PS2; I stuck with the Xbox, because it just felt right. Games like Fable, Unreal Championship and Halo were memorable for me because they were just so good. They had great game play, believable stories, and awe-inspiring atmosphere.

Those three qualities have become my standard unit of measurement when it comes to video games. Couple that with my love of sci-fi, and I’m left with a very narrow selection of games to choose from. It’s why I shrug off games like Forza Motorsport, FIFA and Call of Duty. It’s also why I loved Fallout, Command & Conquer 3 and Aliens vs. Predator.

When it comes to the future, I’ve become quite sceptical. After all, I only have to look at the success of the Wii and Call of Duty and I begin to fear the future. My biggest fear is that the games of tomorrow won’t actually interest me.  My interest in video games peaked with the Xbox – where I had over 30 games. I’ve had my Xbox 360 for two years now, and I have 13 games.

I would love to see game developers using their imagination and making their games unique in the future. I’ve grown tired of copy-and-paste copies games overpopulating the genre. Games like Fable, Knights of the Old Republic and Fallout have proven that you can make RPG’s without relying on the old “Dwarves and Magic” formula. Respectively, games like Unreal Tournament have proven that you can make great multiplayer shooters that use imagination and innovation – it’s weapon set goes beyond “Pistol, Shotgun, Machine Gun” into a range of Rocket Launchers and Bio Rifles.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

History of Computer Games: the New Millenium

Though ‘Next Generation’ is a rather broad term, it is currently associated with the current ‘Seventh generation’ of Game consoles. The seventh generation started back as early as 2004, with the handheld consoles, Nintendo’s ‘DS’ and Sony’s ‘PSP’. Personally, I associate this generation with the release of Microsoft’s ‘Xbox 360’ and Sony’s ‘PS3’ a few years later, but I wasn’t keeping count of things back then.
As with every generation of console, focus was placed on improving graphics within games and showing off better ‘tech’, with Sony and Microsoft fighting to prove they had the best stuff. Nintendo decided to take a gamble and pursue a niche market, given that their last effort was unable to top the PS2’s success. The gamble paid off and caught many off guard.

They produced the ‘Wii’, which was marketed towards casual gamers and featured motion control as it’s method of play. Similarly, the ‘DS’ was controlled through a touch screen, and had two screens. The ‘Wii’ and the ‘DS’ proved hugely popular, and have had a significant impact on today’s gaming market. Now, the casual gaming market is rising to become as big as the hardcore scene. And that’s important, because Nintendo must have known they couldn’t coax Xbox or PlayStation players away from their systems. So, they instead focused on a much larger untapped consumer base.

In a way, it’s both a good and a bad thing that ‘casual gaming’ is becoming more of a focus for game developers. With the ‘Wii’ and the ‘DS’, the lower system specifications push the focus towards artistic style and game play gimmicks. The cost of developing ‘Wii’ and ‘DS’ games should theoretically be lower than development for the Xbox/PS3, and so the stakes are lower should a game fail to make an impact.

Smaller Game development studios should therefore have more stability should a title fail to make an impact, and ultimately the returns on a successful product should be higher, given that ‘Wii’ games usually sell for around the same amount as Xbox/PS3 games (For example, the RRP for ‘New Super Mario Bros’ was £45).

Seventh Generation games for consoles like the Xbox 360 or PS3 have increasing levels of details and immersion. ‘AAA’ titles like ‘Halo: Reach’ and ‘Killzone 2’ often aim to hit a cinematic quality.  To create games like these, development teams need high budgets and several years worth of time. If the final product fails to return a profit, they stand to take a massive loss. Such was the fate of ‘Free Radical’ – who produced one of my favourite game series, Time Splitters – who went under after Haze failed to make an impact.

For an aspiring Game Artist like me, news like this brings a mixed reaction. Given that the games industry is in – or about to be in - rough waters, finding a job could prove difficult. Moreover, keeping that job could prove equally difficult, as publisher deadlines and cross-platform releases put the team under real pressure. On the other hand, these turbulent times may even themselves out, leaving a more stable and balanced market, should I emerge as a beautiful Game Artist Butterfly.

Well, all I can do is hope and stay positive. 

Monday, 15 November 2010

1980 - 1990; the history of computer games

The Early 1980’s played host to the last years of the second generation of computer game consoles. This generation started in the late 1970’s, and put consoles like the ZX Spectrum into the market. These new ‘Gaming Computers’ brought computer games into the living rooms of the consumer, rather than the arcade. Now, publishers would have to create a new type of game – one that could actually be completed, rather than continuously played until the coins ran out.

While the Magnavox Odyssey (first generation) was the first console to use cartridges, the idea wouldn’t really take a firm place until the second generation, where it became the standard. The introduction of Cartridges allowed computer game consoles to have a growing library of titles for their owners to purchase and enjoy.

Now, the computer game would start to show steady progression, stepping away from the more simplistic games that populated the arcades, and into the more experimental and story-driven games that we have even today. Some of the today’s greatest series have their roots in the 1980’s – Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, The Legend of Zelda, Prince of Persia, Metroid and of course, Mario.

Due to an oversaturation of poor quality games in the market, the computer games industry crashed at the end of 1983. This effectively brought an end to the second generation of computer game consoles.  A few anecdotes summarize the crash – more Pacman cartridges were made than actual consoles, and Atari are rumoured to have buried the unsold/returned E.T in a New Mexico landfill.

 In retrospective, this was the virtual kick-up-the-arse needed to propel games into the next generation. With the release of Nintendo’s ‘NES’ (Nintendo Entertainment System) bundled with Super Mario Bros, the third generation of computer games emerged.

Though the third generation consoles were an improvement over the second, the NES and the Master System were the only ones to really stand out and gain popularity. Also, these new consoles were not longer ‘gaming computers’, so the user could no longer write their own programmes on the system.

As we break into the 1990’s, we begin to see the major developments that later evolved into the technology we are enjoying today. The fifth generation of computer games is most notable for the transition from 2D to 3D, with consoles like Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s N64 using 3D technology.

The jump from 2D to 3D literally opened a whole new dimension of possibility, allowing game developers to create more intricate worlds and expand on existing classics and genres. For example, the previously minor genre – the first person shooter – would emerge with the release of DOOM in 1993. DOOM was both popular and controversial, well known for its excessive violence and use of satanic imagery.

However, DOOM set the ground rules for nearly every other first person shooter. It would be the spiritual grandfather of games like Quake, Unreal, Halo, Call of Duty and Half-Life. Like the endless ‘Pong-Clones’ of the 70’s and 80’s, there would be endless ‘Doom-Clones’ over the next decade. 

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Weekly Update

I haven't posted in six days, so I thought I'd leave a little update on how things are progressing.

We had a lesson with Jack today (Chris is ill, unfortunately), focused on reinforcing our perspective technique by drawing vehicles - mainly cars. It was quite a challenge, as cars are smooth and often odd shaped, so marking out their basic geometry was pretty hard. Went to the National Space Centre last week, did a few landscape drawings of the buildings there. Wasn't worth paying £10 to get into the main area, though.

We've been focusing on texturing in Heather's Monday lessons. Right now, I'm around 80% finished on my building now, it only really needs the guttering to be textured and it's done. Finally got in touch with my "Guru's and Grasshoppers" group, so got straight on with their project. We have to build a personalized Sackboy, which is coming along nicely also.

I'm going to try and be more regular with my Blog entries, as it's important to jot down my thoughts and opinions  on the weekly events. Looking forward to winding down with the weekly film tomorrow, should be a great way to get some perspective after this busy week so far.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Birth of Computer Games; a look at the first titles to grace the screen

The Computer was created for a number of reasons, the most prominent being calculation. On the other hand, Computer games were created with the sole purpose of Entertainment. And while Computers had big inputs from the Military and the Government to speed their development, the humble Computer Game would be created by individuals.

In 1958, William Higinbotham created ‘Tennis for Two’ on a small analogue computer. Higinbotham was a working man, earning his living at a nuclear research lab in New York. He wanted to create something that would entertain visitors while they learned. ‘Tennis for Two’ was created in three weeks, with help from Technician Robert Dvorak who assembled the device.

Not only was Higinbotham the first person to create a Computer Game, but he was the first to realise the use of Computers for Entertainment. And I think his creation was vital in setting the foundations for future Computer games. In time, the Computer game would expand out from Computer labs and College mainframes, and become a widely accessible entertainment device. Importantly, Higinbotham proved that Computer games could be created by individuals and small groups, without the input of big players like the Military.

Later releases like ‘Spacewar!’, ‘Pong’ and ‘Space Invaders’ would prove to be instrumental in the evolution of the Computer game. ’Spacewar!’ set the basic blueprint for the action genre, based around the idea of fast-paced competition and ‘kill or be killed’. ‘Pong’ was the first Computer Game to be widely accessible to the public in arcades. ‘Pong’ proved that the Computer Game was a viable commercial product – though I doubt anyone predicted that the Computer Game industry would rival or even overtake the Film Industry.

Though ‘Spacewar!’ set the initial blueprint for the action game, it was ‘Space Invaders’ that would truly fix those principles and become the archetype for the single-player action game genre. The Game has a limited narrative that was roughly explained before the game starts, and featured a single player fighting waves of increasingly harder opponents. To achieve his task, the player had three lives. Early Games like ‘Space Invaders’ had no end; the aim was purely to achieve the high score.

In one way or another, most single-player action games are an adaptation of ‘Space Invaders’, always using all or most of the basic rules of the game. The core fundamentals of ‘Space Invaders’ can be found in most modern games. For example, “Aliens vs. Predator [2010] features a game mode called ‘Survivor’. ‘Survivor’ pits the player (A single Colonial Marine) against increasingly difficult waves of the serpent-like Aliens. The Player can hide behind scenery objects to block enemies and dodge their attacks, and the game mode has no end. The waves increase in difficulty until the Player dies. Then, the high score is added to the scoreboard, and the player is given the opportunity to try again.

When you break it down, ‘Spacewar’ and ‘Pong’ set the basic rules for multiplayer game play, especially for the action and shooter genres. The fundamental game play element of ‘Kill or be killed’ emerged from these games. The game play of ‘Spacewar’ and ‘Pong’ was real-time and tested player’s reflex skills – much like the modern shooter.

In conclusion, the early Computer games were more than the primitive entertainment they appear as to modern gamers. They were like an experiment, making breakthroughs in design and technology through success and failure. They explored the possibilities of the computer game and paved the way for more advanced titles like ‘Super Mario Bros.’, ‘Doom’ and eventually ‘Halo’.

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