Sunday, 25 March 2012

Task 20: Elements of game technology, part three: interaction design

Task 20: Elements of game technology, part three: interaction design

Player interactivity has evolved over the years to encompass new methods of control. From the light gun to the joystick to the steering wheel, players now have a wider array of intuitive control methods at their disposal. These peripherals are specifically designed to be as user-friendly as possible, keeping all interactive intuitive and as natural as possible.

Recently, motion control has become a popular new method of interactivity. It was popularised mostly by the Nintendo Wii, and emulated in the PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect. Motion control allows player to control the game through gestures and body movement, either controlled via a handheld remote control or "hands-free" as seen with the Kinect. Motion control simplifies player input to it's most basic level, but in doing so removes the level of complexity you get with a standard controller, often limiting it's applications.

This new generation of Motion control has the potential to change how games are created and played. Traditional genres, such as the role-playing and simulation genres, wouldn't translate easily across the control schemes, and would likely be at risk if motion control surpassed conventional controls. Others, like racing games and sports games, would benefit from the new technology.

Designing a motion controlled game would demand a different approach, since developers would have to design the game around it's new form of input. There are plus sides to this, of course, as motion control is deeply intuitive and can allow for some unique gameplay mechanics. Some existing concepts just wouldn't work with motion control, like beat 'em up type games -- however, games like The Conduit have already proven that the new control scheme can apply to established genres like shooters.

3D technology is a relatively young technology that had mostly been embraced by the film industry. It has yet to see widespread adoption by video games, aside from Nintendo's 3DS handheld console. 3D adds to the players experience in a purely non-intrusive way, and requires little to no change in terms of game design by the developers.

Advancements in 3D technology are making it more and more viable within video games, especially with the newer glasses-free technology. Consoles such as the 3DS have proven that existing brands can adopt 3D technology successfully, so perhaps in the near future we'll see 3D technology incorporated into next generation video games.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Realism vs. Stylisation

I was talking to Aymen a few days ago about this, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. There's a compelling argument for both approaches, and both artistic themes work well only if done right. While realistic is hard to achieve, it's easier to research. Stylised looks easier, but I'd say it's much more difficult, as proportions and colours have to be tailored specifically to match the theme.

I don't think there's really much I can say here, as the debate really speaks for itself. Both approaches give a different feel to a game, and both require careful planning and execution. Rather than repeat myself for a few paragraphs, here's a few comparison shots from well-known games;

A shot from Team Fortress 2 next to a shot from Metro 2033. A side-by-side of a stylised and a realistic game.

Team Fortress 2 is easily the best example I can give here, purely because of it's popularity. I know many people who've never played the game, but still love it and quote it regularly. This is purely because of the art style and the recognizable characters in the game. I think if Team Fortress was done with a realistic, military art style, it wouldn't have done nearly as well as it did.

A shot from Timesplitters 2, next to a shot from Crysis 2. 

Personally, as much as I like Team Fortress 2's art style, I think Timesplitters is an equally good example of stylisation within a game. I grew up on Timesplitters 2's fast paced arcade action, and it's quirky graphical style. I think the Timesplitters series is a good example of "subtle" stylisation, as the characters have detailed textures and the environments are realistic looking.

A shot from Brink, next to a shot from Rage. 

Brink was a recent stylised shooter title, which unfortunately didn't do too well. Personally, I thought it was a good game overall, just little rough to play and lacking a single-player campaign. The art style Brink was, in my eyes, a cool move for Splash Damage to make, though I felt that it was done more as a gimmick then as a natural evolution. 

Battlefield Heroes, and it's big brother Battlefield 3.
Blogger's appallingly bad composition editor won't allow me to put these images side-by-side, now will it allow me to resize them a smidge so they fit. It's this, or tiny images. Bleugh.

Battlefield Heroes is a free-to-play multiplayer third-person shooter that has a nice stylised look, whichhelps lighten up the 1940's wartime setting.

A cartoon-ish character from Civilisation 4.

A game from my childhood - Medievil! Totally forgot about this one till recently.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Task 19: Elements of Game Technology, part two: sound for games

Task 19: Elements of Game Technology, part two: sound for games

I am a strong believer in the importance of sound in most forms of media, whether it be films or games. A very easy way to see the effect music has on atmosphere is to play a game, or watch a film, without sound. Try watching a horror film without sound, or playing something like Morrowind with the music turned off. It's just not the same.

One example of excellent use of music and sound effects in a game I can give is Left 4 Dead. Musical tracks were played based on conditions within the game itself, so when the players are under attack a different music track will be playing to when they are exploring. This changes dynamically, and also includes music cues when bigger enemies are approaching or when the players discover something unusual. The moment a tank arrives, the moment someone recognizes the sound cue, it's a unanimous cry -- "Taaaank!" -- and everyone knows what's about to happen.

An example of how music can change how a game fundamentally feels is the Unreal Tournament series. Being a sci-fi arena-based multiplayer shooter, the Unreal Tournament series had relatively fast paced electronic/orchestral tracks that convey a sense of atmosphere and compliment the fast pace of the game. However, in Unreal Tournament 3, the tracks composed for the campaign segments are more ambient and slower in pace, which changes the mood of the game significantly. It stops feeling like an arena shooter in these segments and feels more like a story-based shooter -- however, the music can only carry that illusion so far. I wont go into that though.

I usually say that Fallout 3 is my favourite game, because it's the one that I always remember fondly. Now, the game itself isn't perfect, it has it's problems and it's shortcomings. The reason it is my favourite game is purely because of the atmosphere that oozed out of that game when I played it. Music was a massive, massive part of this atmosphere. Moments like when you first step out of the Vault and hear the eery ambient sounds of the Wasteland - to the first time you enter the ruins of D.C to the sound of distorted patriotic american music - will always be vivid in my head. 

Another memorable game for me was Metroid Prime, and again the music here was key to the experience. Nintendo's Gamecube wasn't known for having great graphics, and while they really did a good job of Metroid Prime's graphics, it was definitely the music that created the atmosphere.

Just hearing the first minute of this is bringing back the nostalgia. That's how great I think the soundtrack for Prime is, it's instantly recognizable and enjoyable. It might sound a little odd out of context, but it's the music for the boggy area so imagine rain and fog. edit: Oh, and a credit to the music of Metroid Prime -- I've just sat writing with it still playing and I haven't noticed. It just works that well, it blends in so easily and becomes background music so easily.

Notable video game composers, for me, are people like Nathan McCree (who did the music for Tomb Raiders' 1-3), Inon Zur (Crysis, Fallout 3, Prince of Persia: Two Thrones), Jesper Kyd (Freedom Fighters, UT3) and Koichi Kyuuma (Metroid Prime). Tomb Raider always had great music in my eyes, and as the levels were spread out across the world, the range of styles was great. Freedom Fighter's had some amazingly music in the early levels which really brought the atmosphere together, as well as some Russian orchestral tracks which made you really feel like you were in a Russian-occupied American city.

And as for Chic's "Good Times", all I can say for certain is that it's been sampled a lot and it's bassline is very influential. Googling the topic, as always, turned up a mess of misinformation and duds that left me with very few facts.

From the Wiki article on Bernard Edwards:
"His bass line from Chic hit "Good Times" has become one of the most copied pieces of music in history, and had a huge influence on musicians of many genres when released and was the inspiration for "Another One Bites the Dust" by Rock group Queen."

Friday, 2 March 2012

Personal Blog of Ulrich Thummler (His website)

I stumbled upon this today whilst working, thought it was interesting and worth noting down. It's the personal blog of someone called Ulrich Thummler, and while I do not know who this is, I can admire their work. He's put up some nice project work, in particular his Gothic-inspired medieval buildings and clutter is very impressive. He's not bad at characters, either.

I found it inspirational anyway, definitely inspired to keep on trying to improve. I'm now looking forward to the summer break, where I'll be free to knock out some personal projects :D



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