Thursday, 27 October 2011

Indie Games - a short rant.

I often hear people talk about how indie games are the way forward - how they are a vessel of creativity and intelligent design. And while this is true for some indie games, some are truly awful. Which is why I always get slightly narked when people slate AAA games and praise indie games just because they are indie.

One of the more obvious aspects of this is price. If you're paying £2-3 for a game you're expectations aren't too high, as opposed to paying £40+ for one. Also, the label 'indie game' automatically lowers your expectations, and any downfall can be explained by simply saying "it's an indie game, it's probably developed by one dude, back off".

I agree that Indie games are an exciting endeavour. They're not a new idea, not by a long shot, indie games have been around since the early days. But it's new platforms like the iPhone store and Steam that are really bringing this indie games into the spotlight and making them a profitable industry.

It's undeniable that the vast majority of indie games are utter shite. Seriously, browse any flash game website and you'll find that only about 25% of the games are worth any merit. The same goes for the Xbox Live Indie section. As this video elaborates;

The video is only really highlighting the bad games, but it made me laugh quite a bit and it goes to show that indie games aren't all like Minecraft. 

Task 16: Elements of game design, part seven: level design

Task 16: Elements of game design, part seven: level design

Level Design is a rather broad term given to the large task of creating game worlds, and it usually covers both aesthetics and ergonomics. Generally speaking, level design covers everything from placing the geometry to lighting to sound effects. 

Most of the people I've talked to about this topic believe that level design is some whimsical process where the designer simply doodles on a napkin and it comes to life in game by magic. I've yet to come across someone who understands (or at least, tries to) the sheer complexity of creating seamless game worlds that are simultaneously pleasing to the eye and complimentary to the gameplay.

I've had experience with level design in the past, working with the level editors for shooters like Unreal Tournament and role-playing games like Fallout. I've also worked with editors for strategy games like Command & Conquer. In all three genres, the rules of level design are different.

In Unreal Tournament, flow is an important part of a map. Areas have to have sufficient space for evasive moves like jumping or dodging, and you need to make sure all of the weapons can be used effectively on the map. There needs to be plenty of 'Z' movement in the level, so that the level feels more like a fluid space than a maze. Then when you design a level for a strategy game, the rules change. Level’s automatically become much bigger and more open, and assets become sparser and spread out. Focus is placed on accommodating large units, and creating areas of strategic value to the player.

The misconception that level design is mostly a visual activity is apparent in a good portion of user-generated content. I’ve played many user-created maps that were pretty to look at but horrendous to actually play. Whether it was poor item placement or poor flow, these maps were missing the core of a good level – good design.

Back at College we did a level design project in Unreal Tournament (the original, so we used BSP instead of static meshes). The first thing on everybody’s mind was the aesthetics – how it looked. In our initial planning stage we focused on creating ‘cool’ areas and landmarks, and as a result our levels were pretty shocking to play when we tested them. To give an example, one guy made an ‘Atlantis’ level where everyone spawned outside and made their way inside. That would’ve worked for a single-player level, but in a multiplayer game like Unreal it killed the pace completely. Our problem was that we considered aesthetics first over gameplay mechanics.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Task 15: Elements of game design, part six: visual composition

Task 15:  Elements of game design, part six:  visual composition

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'd never really given composition a good thought before this task. It's one of the shameful things about being mostly self-taught prior to the course, stuff like composition just passed me by. I'd always had trouble creating an interesting layout for my scenes, and I'd always struggled to create interesting focal points, but I never could put my finger on it. And now I look at it, I realise it's something I should have looked at a hell of a lot sooner. A lot of my work prior to this course lacked any decent composition, and it looked very flat and dull.

Composition is essentially the process of arranging elements in a scene to make the most attractive combination. Imagine a box full of lovely flowers. In the box, they're nice, but not really much to look at. However, when they're arranged in a vase and in a room, they really shine and stand out. That's essentially what composition is all about - arranging elements to create the most eye-pleasing combination.

When you have a scene full of different elements and objects, it can be confusing for the viewer. Ideally, you want to use composition to guide the eye around the piece in a particular manner, drawing it to certain 'focal points' to help create the intended mood. For example, a gigantic building on the right hand side of a piece will instantly draw the eye away from the relatively uncluttered left hand side. Whereas a cluttered piece with no clear focal point will make the viewers eye dart around in an uncomfortable way, probably making them want to stop viewing the piece.

There are several ways to go about creating an interesting composition. A simple 'rule' we were taught early on is the rule of thirds, which breaks the scene down into a 3x3 grid. Using this method we are given 4 'golden points' which are focal points of the scene. Also, the top and bottom right hand squares are big eye-catchers since we naturally read from left to right. There are some good examples of this technique in the CGSociety article I've linked below and I've generously borrowed from all through this entry. Putting the focal point of your piece in one of the four points of the rule of thirds helps draw the eye to the object, almost pulling the eye towards it.

You can also handle composition using 'implied forms'. These are basic shapes created using the assets in your scene, such as circles, rectangles, crosses and 'L' shapes. You can use these techniques to draw the eye to specific parts of the scene. For example, with the cross technique, the eye is drawn up the vertical line, and the horizontal line acts as a divider between the top and bottom halves. With the 'circle' technique you can essentially create a 'tunnel' to focus the eye down. The 'rectangle' technique frames the focal point of an image, using the outside artwork to push the eye towards the intended target.

I'll certainly be trying out these composition techniques next time I'm out drawing, it's definitely something that I need in the toolkit if I intent to become a true artist.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Task 14: Elements of game design, part five: planning and concepting

Task 14:  Elements of game design, part five:  planning and concepting

Often overlooked and underestimated, the planning and concept stage is a crucial part of game design. This stage is intended to remove all confusion and misconception and bring all of the team into one 'hive mind'. For example, the design document is intended to provide the fullest amount of information about the project so that all team members are clear on the aims and processes involved on the project.

Another purpose of the planning process is to solidify ideas and bring them down to a realistic level. Any confusion about the quantity/complexity of a particular task is removed if a design document is written correctly, and any outrageous/unachievable ideas are toned down in group discussion.

Usually, the planning stage (namely the design document) is handled by directors and team leads. In the reference material I read (this link), I discovered that the general design document is handled by the project lead designer, with the technical specification usually being handled by the lead programmer.

Concepting is the process of visualising ideas, usually through quick sketches/3D modelling, but sometimes in more simpler forms like mind-mapping (or brainstorming, whatever you call it). This is the stage where you develop your initial ideas through experimentation, usually coming up with a few dozen variations or alternate ideas, then trimming them down.

I believe that the concepting stage is a very important stage, especially for refining your ideas. That underwater football game may sound awesome in your head, but once you start exploring the idea through experimentation you quickly begin to see the problems. That giant spider robot may sound like a cool boss battle, but after some quick sketching you may reveal a series of crippling practical issues with the design.

Speed is a crucial part of the concept stage, as it's purpose is to quickly expand ideas and experiment. Most of these ideas will be discarded or altered, so there's little point in going into detail. In contrast, the planning stage is very detailed and rather slow. They 'feed' each other - the concepting stage expands initial ideas and creates new ones, and the planning stage solidifies the refined ideas and renders them in greater detail.

The planning stage is often underestimated and underdeveloped due to it's lengthy and laborious nature. You could argue that it is the point where the ever-changing and energetic pace of the initial concept period is slowed down and committed to paper. But while that can be viewed as a negative, it is also a positive. Toning down the reckless and wild flurry of initial ideas is critical to creating a manageable and achievable project.

We often work with small, single-person projects, so it can feel like the design document serves a limited function. The planning and concepting phase can seem unnecessary at times, especially when you feel like all the ideas are solidified in your head.  But it is definitely a crucial phase in any project, a way of capturing a wild fire and keeping it in a controllable state, if you will.


Went out and bought Rage yesterday, since I'd missed it on it's release. It wasn't a game I'd been longing to play for ages, just something I thought looked good from what I'd seen of it. I've only played a few hours of it so far, but what I've played I've really enjoyed. Anyway, I'm not doing a 'review' here, I wanted to talk about Rage for a specific reason..

I felt the faces in-game worth a mention. There's some nice face animation on the main characters, and so far I've seen a good variety of faces. I've seen older people, scarred people, overweight and underweight people. It's something that really surprised me, and continues to. 

Also, the environments are ridiculous in Rage! The rock cliffs and skyline are of particular worth here, they are of an outstanding quality. Since I'm playing the game on the Xbox I can't really say whether this is Rage on it's fullest settings, but the scenery has distracted me and made me crash quite a few times now.

More on Rage later, when I've actually had a good play :)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Treasure Chest

Treasure Chest, final version.

I'll be back to do a write-up about the project, and to catch up with my blog tasks. I haven't forgotten, just gotten in a bit of a jumble. Anyway, can't make this a long post, in the middle of something. Just wanted to upload this final render sheet.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Time diary, Tuesday & Wednesday

Just a quick update on the timetable thing, keep forgetting to do it.

Yesterday (Tues):

08.30 - Wake up, breakfast
10.00 - Labs, 3D work and timetabled lesson
17.00 - Back home
17.30 - 20.00 - Attempt to do work, muddied by talking to mates instead
20.00 - Cooking, distracted by TV
22.30 - Gave up on trying to get things done, watched TV and called it a night

Today (Wednesday):

08.30 - Wake up
09.00 - Breakfast
10.00 - Labs, 3D work
14.00 - Weekly film! ^.^
16.30 - Back to the labs, converting files so I can carry on work at home
17.00 - Back home, cuppa and short break
17.30 - 3D Work
19.00 - Big cook! (Housemate who is uber-chef is ill, so I offered to do it)
20.45 - Back to 3D work
22.00 - End of day cool-off break, perhaps some Gears of War and then an early night

Monday, 17 October 2011

Monday Work Update!

So, first order of business, my final for Loughborough;

I'm quite happy with the end result. It's not polished and smooth, the brush strokes are thick and clear, but I like that. The bottom area is lacking, mainly because I got tired of constantly reworking the vegetation. I've sunk about 5-6 hours into this so far, so I lost patience with that bottom section towards the end.

I'm really pleased with this piece because I can see a definite improvement, in comparison to my last paint. My only concern is that this is a "one-off" thing and that my next final wont be of the same quality. I'd be quite gutted if this was just a lucky paint, but time will tell.

Also, I did a little doodle tonight. I wasn't in the mood to fire up 3D tonight, so rather than waste time I thought I'd just doodle;

It's a Stargate! Took a good few hours though, not really the timescale for a 'doodle'. I enjoyed painting it, and it was nice practice, even if it was straight from photo reference. I'm not really too confident in painting straight from my head at the moment, I still feel like there's some basics I need to refine before I can do that at a competent level.

Been doodling around the Newarke museum today too, felt I improved my rendering techniques there whilst I was drawing. It's semi-obvious in my drawings, as towards the end my shading starts to become more crisp and defined, at the start it very much becomes a blur. More on that later, tea's done! :o

08.30: Get up, get ready
10:00 - 16.00: Visual Design - Drawing at Newarke Museum
17.00 - 20.00: Personal Painting - Stargate
20.00 - 21.40: Traditional Painting practice
21.40: Probably going to unwind before sleep.

Sunday Time-thing

Meant to do this last night, completely forgot;


11.00 -- Got up, Family came over to prod things and gossip
17.00 -- Family went home, started finishing off Loughborough Final
21.00 -- Had tea, relaxed for a bit watching TV before bed

Okay, so it's not really accurate. I've just forgotten what I did yesterday, I didn't do much really. I'd mostly written yesterday off due to the family visit, but I managed to get my Loughborough Final done in those few hours I had left over, so not all bad.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Saturday time-diary

Today is what I'd class as a "write-off" day. Got very little done today.

11.30 -- Got up (had a lie-in)
12.00 -- Went up town, got a camping stool for outdoor doodling
12.30 -- Sat down to do some painting. Got distracted talking to mates, doing more washing, reading articles posted up that then lead to about four other articles...
19.00 -- Tea

Ala, write-off day. Complete waste of a day. Did get further on the painting, nearly finished now. But otherwise, today was lost :/

Friday 'time-diary'

Today's 'time-diary';

08.30 -- Got up, had breakfast, tried to wake up.
09.00 -- Headed towards train station
09.50 -- Got train to Loughborough
10.10 -- Went to Loughborough's Great Central Station, did some doodling
13.30 -- Started heading home
14.00 -- Got home, had lunch
15.00 -- Went to labs, did 3D work
17.00 -- Headed home
17.15 - 19.00 -- Lost internet time, mostly Facebook, backing up work, listening to old music and reading reviews of obscure games I'm not even interested in.
19.00 -- 2D work, painting
21.00 -- Ate, Washed up, Sorted out washing
22.30 -- Watched Family Guy on the TV, played half an hour of Gears of War, talked to housemate about 3D stuff

While I didn't waste as much time today as I did yesterday, I still lost about 2 hours when I first sat down at home. Lesson learned there? Working in the labs is a lot more time efficient then at home.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Fursday Update. Yeah, Fursday.

First order of business, the weekly film. We watched 'The Mechanist' starring a disturbingly thin Christian Bale. It was a pretty confusing film at first, but I think I've finally got my head around the plot. There's not really much I can say about The Mechanist, it's not a film I normally would've gone looking for. But it had a very dark visual style, with a lot of dark shots and desaturated scenes. The musical score was interesting too, added a lot of drama to the film in the more tense scenes - it reminded me of the crescendo events in Left 4 Dead.

Secondly, I've decided to take on the 'diary'-esq challenge discussed in today's Critical Studies session. Back in the first year, I wasted an awful lot of time doing things like spontaneous cleaning or reading crap on the internet. Or watching hours of My Name is Earl just because it was on the TV in the kitchen. That's something I want to ditch this year, as I really wasted a lot of time I could've used doing more meaningful stuff.

So here goes today's time-diary-thing;

10.20 (ish) ; Got up
10.30 (ish) ; Had breakfast, watched about an hour of the 1968 Batman series on TV
11.30 ; Head towards Uni
12-12.40 ; Lecture (Crit. Studies)
12.40-15.30 ; In labs, working in 3D
15.30-16.00 ; Room tidy, washing sort
16.00- 17.30 ; Haven't a clue, lost internet time
17.30-20.40 ; Painting (digital), talking to mates

Already I can clearly see a lot of wasted time there... efficiency is definitely something I'm going to need to learn.

Finally, here's a rough work-in-progress painting of a carriage from Loughborough;

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Ooh, blog!

Got shown this blog earlier whilst up in the labs, found it quite interesting to look at. Plenty of different styles and mediums too. Will give it a better look when I'm back home;

Monday, 10 October 2011

Monday Update

Alright, I'm just going to come out with it. I broke up with my girlfriend last Wednesday and it's still hitting me pretty hard. So my posts are going to be pretty down beat for a while, but I'll try to keep focused.

Last week we got our first batch of 3D projects, and went back to Abbey Park to do some drawing and colour painting. I've decided to do the 3D projects in order, since they have staggered hand-in dates. I've finished modelling the Treasure Chest now, I've just got to tweak it based on the feedback I've been given and then move on to unwrapping. I'm quite proud of the model so far, but obviously the textures are the key component of this low-poly project.

I've had troubles getting the lid to fit properly, it's a problem with the design. The lid is curved at the front and has 5 golden coin "teeth" which dig into the legs when the lid is closed. I have two options at the moment; either alter the legs so the teeth fit, or remove/reduce the coins.

Here's a digital painting I did from the Abbey Park trip. In comparison to other artists on the course, it's not brilliant, but I've noticed an improvement in my painting skills so that's definitely a plus. I struggled with the trees in the background, it might be worth investing in some special brushes to help with foliage. 

We visited Loughborough's Great Central Station today, so I'll have some stuff to show for that soon. I'm going back up on Friday to do some more sketches, and I'll be doing more digital painting from reference I took there. Also, this week I should be moving onto painting the diffuse (colour) map for the Treasure Chest, so I'll post about that too.

Blog Task (13) : Reflection on year one, and ambition for year two

For me, year one was a complete change of pace both in academic study and general day-to-day life. It was the first time I'd had to fend for myself like that, away from home. And admittedly, I struggled to cope for the first few months. In terms of study, I found the university pace to be hard to adjust to coming straight from College, but in time I did come to understand it.

I learnt a lot in the first year, especially in 3D. I'd had prior experience in Maya, but it was brief and rough. I found Max a little scary at first, but the tutorials and feedback I got both in person and on Facebook helped me understand it better. In terms of 2D, I was mostly self-taught before the course. The help and guidance I got really helped develop my skills, refining my self-taught ways and learning new things. And before University, I saw work blogs as a chore. As I worked through the first year, I began to realise the purpose of our blogs - basically an artist journal. 

So what do I take from the first year into the second? Quite a lot actually. I've realised that working at home is a lot less productive than working in the labs, and that keeping to myself all the time is counter-productive since I don't get feedback and help from other students as much. I've learnt that sometimes work gets tiring and cumbersome, but procrastinating only serves to worsen that feeling.

In terms of aspirations for the second year, I really want to improve my workflow outside of coursework. While we improve our skills working on the given projects, only we really know which individual aspects we need to improve on. So I hope to focus on my main weaknesses this year, hopefully helping to bring my overall skill level to a respectable point. This will also help ease the transition into more self-directed study, which is a core part of year three. 

Overall, my aim for year two is to get more involved in the course and in self-directed study. I feel like I floated through year one, so I want to get more involved this year. I understand that it is not something I can just jump into - it's going to take some time to change my routine. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Game Art, Year 2

You'll have to forgive me for keeping this one short, I'm going through some stuff right now I'd rather not talk about. I'm not really in the mood to write much at the moment, but hopefully this stuff will be sorted out soon. Depending on whether the other person is willing to talk like an adult for once..

So yeah, Year 2! Even thinking that brings in a rush of different emotions - excitement, bewilderment and a touch of fear. Strangely, it feels like Year 1 never ended. Which I'm guessing is a good thing, I'm not going to have any problem getting back into the flow of things.

Like I said earlier, my head's a bit clouded right now, so I'll come back in a day or two and properly do a "Year 2" starting post. But I will say this, it's good to be back!



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