Sunday, 17 April 2011

Untitled Update, 17/4

It's been a few days since I made an entry, so I thought I'd just touch base while I've got a moment to spare.

Finding it really hard to fight the temptation to slack so far, I've been forcing myself to go out and draw and to do practices at home. I won't lie, I've had days where I've done nothing, but I put that down to a lack of motivation. I'm thinking about sitting down and gathering a whole heap of stuff that inspires me so I can really get the engine started again and get back into the groove.

Going back home on the 21st, just to break up the Easter holidays. Not looking forward to the massive break we have before the start of the second year, it's going to be a massive challenge to keep myself on track over the 5-ish months we've got after this final assessment. On the bright side, that's 5 months I've got to really practice and work on getting better. So, time will tell if I walk out of this holiday better or worse.

Hate to put such a downer on things, but I know that I've really got to work hard to keep up and I know that all of this time out of formal lessons is going to be hard to control.

I'm going to try and finish Chris & Heather's Easter projects before I look at the summer ones. I don't think many people are bothering with them, which is a shame. While Heather's Easter project is mostly texture unwrapping (my least favourite part) and texturing it'll be a good challenge.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Task 7 Game Review, script

Since we never got around to presenting our Game Review for Task 7, I thought I'd post up what I had written for it:

Flight Simulators are complicated and intricate beasts, built to be accurate representations of the real aircraft. As cool as this sounds, they have steep learning curves that keep them out of the hands of the average gamer. Apache: Air Assault hails itself as an “accessible flight simulator” – with options to tailor the game’s difficulty for either side of the crowd.
Focusing almost exclusively on the Apache Gunship, the title claims to be based on actual missions flown by Apache pilots. While care has been taken to keep Apache away from the major clich├ęs, the storyline still essentially revolves around the “West vs. Terrorism” notion, though there’s no patriotic war cry to be found.

As a general rule, Apache: Air Assault’s story focuses around pirates and their inexplicably well-armed militia in the backwash of Somalia or some other indescribable country. Disappointingly, most missions tend to start off as a ‘patrol’ before you discover and destroy some pirate base.  It’s a shame, I was expecting to have to escort convoys and help out foot soldiers – but instead you’re a flying juggernaut of destruction.
In some places you’ll be forced to protecting a helicopter or stop a specific convoy from escaping, but essentially it all just boils down to “fly here, blow everything up”. Fortunately, the game isn’t hindered by the lack of story, and most people will probably pick it up for it’s gameplay.

There are two difficulty modes; “Training” and “Realistic” – which roughly translated are the ‘Arcade’ and ‘Simulator’ difficulties. Unless you have prior experience with Flight Simulators you’ll be stuck on Training difficulty, with assisted controls and streamlined flight. Training makes aiming and evading much easier, as is well suited for newcomers and casual players.
Realistic difficulty is strictly for advanced players. While there’s no difference in the general difficulty of the game, Flight becomes a much more delicate affair. A certain amount of Finesse is required to keep the vehicle pointing in the right direction, and every successful run feels more like an achievement.

One of the core aspects of Apache: Air Assault is Combat, and unfortunately it is a mixed affair. While the game controls smoothly and is a generally polished affair, Combat is a little more spontaneous and unpredictable. This isn’t entirely a bad thing – it can catch you off-guard and force you to play the game seriously – but sometimes you’ll find yourself dying from shots fired from miles away.
Combat can quickly become a tricky and cumbersome affair. Against other aircraft, you’ll find your air-to-air missiles are less than useless. You’ll be resorting to spraying bullets and rockets blindly at the enemy, often taking several retries to destroy one aircraft. Ground targets can be easily destroyed with missiles or rockets, but they have a massive attack  range and can somehow see you through thick foliage, making each attack more of a charge than a strafe.
The first few missions are fun and have a relaxed pace, but soon the difficulty picks up and becomes increasingly frustrating. It’s a shame that Apache had to have such issues with Balancing in the later missions, because it’s a genuinely fun game to play. And in its defence, there are plenty of missions which aren’t a complete pain to play. Apache also allows you to play customizable missions, so you can fine-tune your experience to be less stressful.

Visually, Apache: Air Assault has moments on both sides of the spectrum. The Aircraft themselves are beautifully modelled and look convincing, and the game’s environments look stunning from up in your cockpit. Damage affects the state and appearance of your helicopter, and often you’ll see your aircraft literally torn in half by an explosion.
Visual Effects are 50/50. Some of the explosions aren’t particularly nice to look at, but the rocket trail and bullet tracers are pleasant.
On the other hand, the game does let itself down close-up. You’ll have moments where you get a close up of the game’s world, either through the gunner’s camera or when you’re hovering close to the ground. While the game isn’t ugly at close-range, it’s nothing special and you won’t find yourself admiring all of the little details in the environments.

Sound wise, Apache is top notch. There’s a distinct sound to each weapon so you’ll know what’s coming your way. You’ll often forget that the rotors make a sound, because the chosen sound blends and loops so perfectly it becomes part of the background and doesn’t start to irritate you. You’ll more than likely grow tired of the siren that fires everytime a rocket is heading your way- it usually sounds every other second in the later missions.
In terms of quality, the Co-Pilot’s voices are brilliant. They sound focused and collected, like you’d expect a British pilot to sound. They seem to talk a little too often for my liking, always pointing out whenever an enemy has locked onto your aircraft and pointing out every shot you miss.

After the first few missions, you’ll probably find yourself playing your own music over the game. While games like Left 4 Dead tailor the music on-the-fly to ensure it fits the scenario – much like the film industry – Apache’s tracks are played in a standard fashion. This would be fine, but the music tends to jump up and down constantly, and it plays havoc with your brain, tricking you into thinking something’s about to go down when it isn’t.

The whole package fits together rather nicely, and you’ll soon find yourself able to overcome the games flaws to enjoy it. Apache: Air Assault isn’t a massive game. It isn’t trying to tempt you with a wealth of features, endless customisation or lightning-quick multiplayer. But that isn’t why you’d buy Apache: Air Assault. You’d buy it for what it is – a well-designed helicopter game that allows newcomers to the genre to blow stuff up in a fun and amusing way.  

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Piracy Rant, Arrr.

I'm not talking about the suave, romantic Pirates who steal Rum, Tobacco and Spices from the British Empire. I'm talking about the 'secret pirates' - they're all around us!

I think there's something fundamentally wrong with my generation. Y'know, as kids we were taught that stealing is bad, and we always saved up our pocket money to buy something we really wanted. We didn't just walk in and steal it. Then the internet comes along, and suddenly stealing is easy and okay!

My favourite set of excuses include:

"Bands make their money from touring, not from CD's"
If that was true, then why did bands/artists make cassettes/vinyl's in the early days? Why bother if it doesn't make any money? And if they were just making the CD's so people could have a recorded version, why not just give them away? Or just charge £3 or however much it costs to buy the plastic?

"All the money from the CD's goes to the record label, not the band"
And who pays for the production, packaging, promotion, distribution and touring costs? Who pays the musicians? The record label. Wow, you really thought that one through.

"If they're doing it for the love of music, they don't care about the money"
It's their job, no matter how much they enjoy it. And they need to eat.

I haven't heard any noteworthy excuses for illegally downloading computer games. Usually it's either laziness or lack of money/unwillingness to pay. Laziness is just pitiful, if you're too lazy to go and buy a game (you could use Steam, or other digital distribution) then that speaks volumes about you personally. If you're unwilling/unable to pay for a game, you shouldn't have it. End of. Saying "I downloaded it because I'm broke" is the same as saying "I stole it because I couldn't afford it". No argument.

Piracy has been around since the birth of Video Games - Pirated cartridges, "chipped" consoles ect ect. With the rise of the Internet, piracy has become fast, easy, and relatively untraceable. If they feel they can get away with it, people will steal anything over the internet. The fallout from this affects the legitimate customer more than the pirate.

If you get a really old PC game you'll notice you didn't need a serial code. Now every game has one, so you can forget about installing Unreal Tournament on a second PC so you and your mate can have a laugh over LAN. Some games now require an internet connection to authenticate themselves - that was a nightmare for me when my PC wasn't hooked up to the internet.

Anyway, it's fairly clear what I'm trying to say here, so I'll stop before I start really ranting. I just don't think people think about the consequences of what they're doing - or they just don't care. And in the end, everybody loses.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Play4Free or Pay2Win?

Alright, I'm not ashamed to admit it. I spend a few hours today 'researching' EA's Play4Free Battlefield game - curiosity got the better of me.

I've never been a fan of the Battlefield series, and this latest addition isn't likely to change that. I tend to avoid the muddy soup of Modern Warfare titles that arrive every year, generally because they don't offer anything particularly new or interesting. In that sense, Battlefield Play4Free is about as ground-breaking as the latest Medal of Honour.

Understandably, my standards are much lower for free games/mods than they are for paid games. After all, I was taught from an early age that you get nothing for free. And I expect that. That is true in Battlefield Play4Free, or Pay2Win as some have called it. It uses the increasingly common micro-payment system - seen in other 'Play for free' games like Combat Arms.

Most of the character customisations and new weapons need to be bought with real money, the few that can be bought with in-game currency are temporary and expensive. Purchased weapons are more powerful than the free versions, and players can also cheat their way up the rank ladder by buying XP with real money. Still, money doesn't compensate for skill, and it's fairly easy to take down someone whose got a flash gun and no skill. They should change the arbitrary feed to just read: Average-Joe-Stingy-Bloke kills Sir-Gregory-Expendable-Income-Fancy-Pants.

You can't moan about the micro-payments, though, because the game is essentially free. It's not like you can't enjoy the game without paying. If you're that fussed about it, you can always buy an Xbox Battlefield title and not have to worry about the micro-payments.

The Cap signifies that this player isn't a stingy bastard and is willing to give real money away for virtual cloth. 
BFP4F's gameplay is smoother than Bad Company's - which was a relief for me. The graphics are nice to look at - nothing overly snazzy, but definitely not ugly. Sound effects are accurate and not overpowering. The one music track in the game is the menu music, which can get annoying if you're on the menu for a lengthy time. In-game there's no music, so I just played my own over the top.

In conclusion, Battlefield Play4Free isn't imaginative, ground-breaking or even different. But if current trends are anything to go by, people like that. It's still in Beta, so there's not a lot of content - but more has been promised. Even though I pride myself in liking sci-fi games like Gears of War and Fallout, I found BFP4F fun and enjoyable. After all, it is free.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

5th of Tuesday

Not much to report at the moment, as I'm just practising in the run up to Easter. Done some experimentation with pastels and chalks, but I'm not that keen on them so I'm looking out for something else to try. Probably going to get a watercolour pad from the works and do some watercolours.

Unwrapped and started texturing my SA80/L85a1 model, though I made a fools mistake. I didn't consider the variations between the SA80/L85a1/L85a2 and all the different configurations, so I've been using reference of different guns essentially. So I decided to just play it a little and use my imagination in places. Most of the texture will be flat/very clean metal as the real weapon is, and the real work will be in the specular map. I did this on purpose because I was told this is something I need to improve.

Bought "The Second Book of General Ignorance" from the works for £2 yesterday, felt like reading some interesting things. Didn't know that France actually has the most successful military in Europe!

Had an interesting talk with another student, didn't know you could play through Fallout 2 without ever firing a weapon. Interesting concept to me, but not work a blog entry or anything lengthy. Thought it was a cool thing to have in an RPG though - the option to be a complete diplomat!

Third year students have their presentations tomorrow, so it'll be interesting to see what they've got to show! I'm reserving judgement for now, I've heard conflicting things.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Personal/Summer Work - April Fool's Day

In my assessment, I was told that texture space efficiency and specular maps were things I needed to work on. So, I started a little personal project to practice those things, before I get started on the summer projects. I decided to do an existing weapon to speed up the construction process. Finished the first version of the model, I decided to practice creating the British SA80 rifle. 

A weapon was the first thing that popped into my mind when I thought about something that would need a specular map, since it was our last project. Hoping to texture this tomorrow, and get some interesting materials on it.

Work-in-progress Model.

Also, we went back to Bradgate Park earlier this week. Got my stuff scanned in today, after I've had something to eat I'm going to have a crack at doing a painted final. Here are some scans of sketches I did there;



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