Friday, 25 March 2011

Characters - Creating a loving relationship between player and pixels.

A character in a game has to be someone you can relate to, the player gets attached to the character and the player suspends their disbelief for longer. Characters in games are different from that of books and film as you actually become them walking the game world and choosing what to level up in most cases. Take FFX for example (sorry you’re probably sick of me talking about FFX) you can play as one of 6 characters and through a levelling up system you can choose multiple paths for the player to take them down the root of magic, strength, focus…etc. I went through every character and made them learn every ability that was available not because I needed to in order to complete the game but because I wanted to. I know I always played as Yuna, Tidus and Lulu most of the time but I always levelled up my other characters as well. I remember at the end of the game where you have to defeat all the aeons you tried so hard to get in the first place it was actually very heart breaking. I had formed bonds with the aeons as well as the characters and I sat for 30 minutes looking at the screen that said I had to destroy them and refused to play any further. Of course I ended up doing it because it was my duty in the game. Very little games these days offer the immersion that I got from playing FFX and even fewer make me feel any connection to the characters. Take Halo for example, how am I to connect to a character who I don’t even know what his/her face looks like.

Also if you look at the new final fantasy, even though I love final fantasy the characters in that are balls and completely annoying. I can’t express how annoying vanilla who I have named Flannel because she’s as useful as one. Characters don’t have to have perfect skin or extremely bubbly in order for us to relate to them, I love the characters who are quirky in their little weird ways because I am and most people are, we all have our quirks.
*cut cut cut* Shut up Flannel you annoying B****

In saying that you create more of a relationship between games characters than you do with characters in books is wrong. I find it much easier to immerse myself into my imagination when I read books that when I play games. Games have the world made out for you, the characters are there you just have to get from A to B. Books are different, and I try and read a lot of Sci-fi books because you have to create a whole new world from just a set of words. I love that the world is constantly changing in books and if you get something wrong it can be erased and made again, although if you have a brain like mine it will take a lot of effort to remake a world once it’s been built. Books can be quiet vague sometimes which is a good thing but also a bad thing. It’s bad because you have to create everything yourself and usually they will make the character enter a room without describing it and then later on when you have formulated an idea, then they finally tell you what the room looks like meaning you have to create the room again. I read a book a couple of years ago and it described the outside of the house a little…suburban quiet village but it didn’t mention the inside, when books do this I picture my brother’s house and I’m not sure why. My brother’s house has been in about 5 books I have read because of the lack of descriptions.  In saying that vague descriptions can also be good as you get to picture what you want without the author dictating every move, for example  read the passage below in your head, go slowly and try to imagine the words;

“The white square room was filled with white boxes, one piled up on top of each other creating cardboard skyscrapers. The height of the room was astounding it seems to go on forever my neck and eyes strained trying to focus. Something red was on the ceiling… a light possibly but my eyes were too out of focus to make out anything but a blurred silhouette. I returned my gaze back to the horizon line and made my way through the boxes making sure I didn’t bump into them.”

Right a short story wrote by myself as you can tell with my crap writing skills but who did you picture in the white room. Most likely yourself, I didn’t provide a description of the character to emphasise that your brain uses the most recognisable thing to the reader,  that is you. Now If I reversed that and gave a description of the character in 3rd person you would have focused on the character but would have created an environment to be in, even if that just is a white backdrop.

I forget where I was going with this point but I have immersed myself in more books probably than games but with both it is easy to get lost. I was talking to the interview students the other day and a parent admitted to me that she was addicted to tomb raider. What a legend is she, what she said was that she would play it and totally gets lost in the world and be up until 3 O’clock playing the game. This parent works as a dentist and it goes to show you that doesn’t matter what age or occupation you are in we are all affected the same ways. Of course there are exceptions; I know for one that my dad has never read a book in his life because when he was growing up he didn’t like reading and so neglected it for years, his duty was to his family and running the farm. Also he’s a technophobe and can barely work a television never mind a playing a game.
I think a lot of character development in games is about the way they look, how they move and even the voice acting. I got heavenly sword not that long ago and I was astounded at the quality of the lip syncing, the voices matched the characters and the facial animation was excellent. Below is a link to a cut scene, unfortunately it is youtube and not that great quality;

Also Mike I know you’re probably not the biggest fan of heavy rain but they cast real actors and used their voices and faces for the game to make it more believable and immersive. The video is of them casting the actors for the jobs. I know Sai said to me that you didn’t find it heavy rain that impressive is because it uses motion capture for its scenes but it is the most realistic game out there in the market. It’s a cross of film and game so why can’t it use both industries technologies. I still think it’s an awesome game and even though it uses motion capture you do get to play as the character and interact with the environment so it has to be rigged and rigged well.

The more realistic the industry strives to be then technically the more immersive games should get, so immersive in fact that we will one day do it matrix style. Plug ourselves into an alternate reality which will provide risks like all the movies suggest. If our brain thinks we are getting hurt then it will simulate a reaction to it. A lot of precautions will have to be made when that day comes.

The fact is you can’t please everyone and you won’t be able to create a character who will relate to everyone. But you can at least make the game flow from start to finish, this way you’ll hold the audience for much longer than if you are just switching between random environments, characters and storylines. Keep it simple don’t overcomplicate a storyline because the player just won’t pay attention and grow bored of listening to big words and complicated sub plots. Characters should not be flawless, have excitable personalities also don’t want them to be emo either. They should also be unique and relatable. The game should also have a good story with strong gameplay to tie into the game with awesome stylisation and colour range.  If you do all this, I will buy your game and so will thousands of others.

*note that I will not be inserting an amusing picture at the end of this blog post as I am currently not on my laptop filled with stupid pictures and so I will just bid you farewell.

Art Direction - The Making or breaking of a game!

The art director is the creative visionary, responsible for defining the visual direction of the project. What colors will define the mood of the environment? What level of detail should the textures convey? What are the buildings in a city supposed to look like? How does the terrain look on this level? What kind of ambient characters populate this world? How red should the blood be? The art director works closely with the game designer to shape the game world. The art director carries the burden of communicating his or her vision of the game design to a diverse team of artists.

I don’t have to say anymore after that description, thank you gamasutra. But if you think an art directors job stops there just read below. This is a link to a job application for being an art director. Just looking at the length of the description is astounding; they also need 10+ years working in the media industry…whao, although a link I will provide later from the art director of raven studios got their in 6.

A goal that some of us measly game art students set ourselves is to become art director but looking at the job description it’s a hell of a lot of work. Why does the art director have to monitor, lighting effects, colour, composition, level of details, style, emotional intention, environments, characters, cinematics…etc? Because art direction makes or breaks a game, if the art direction is good then the game is good. It’s that simple, it’s because art directors have such a large role that they can make sure the game flows from the characters to the textures in the scenes so there are no continuity errors. For example if light is coming from nowhere because the light model wasn’t imported in, also if one dirty box is beside a clean box, it doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t fit the scene. Of course art directors can choose to add in these errors intentionally that don’t fit in the scene to act as a signifier to the player, like a collectable or to build up a sense of unease, especially in horror survival games. Hopefully with next year’s group project I can get my group to add in purposeful errors to create fear.

What is the difference from art direction in films than in games? Well an art director for films does have a lot of the same roles but there are some things that they can’t control. For example recruitment and the director will decide the cast and so if a character doesn’t fit the art director can’t do much without the helpful hand of a plastic surgeon but I’m sure that’s illegal. Now a film with one of the worst casting ever is Avatar: The last air bender, for you to understand he’s a quick brief.

Avatar­­­ was a children’s series about a young Chinese monk boy who is the next avatar and can control all the elements, it is set in asia, and each element is based on a different fighting style.
stands for water; it means benevolence and adaptively, based on the art of Tae-Chi, they have darker skin than the other races.
stands for earth; it means strength and stability, based on the art of Hung – Gar, they are chinese
stands for fire; it means passion and intentsity, based on the art of northern shaolin, they are also chinese.
stands for air; it means peace and harmony, based on the art of Ba Gu, they look chinese and have bald heads in the fashion of monks.

Anyway M. Night Shyamalan was the director and is such a twat, in every film he directors he casts himself as an important role, he loves having power. So he made all the fire nation indian and made himself the fire lord, he then made the water nation white, the air nation…well there was only one air bender left but it referred back to his past where the old chinese monk in the animated series had now miraculously turned young and black. I was so furious after watching the film I wanted to punch both Shyamalan and the whole team in charge of casting. Why cast white and indian actors for what was supposed to be a full Chinese cast. M. Night Shyamalan spoke out at reports of him being racist in which he replied, that he cast the people because of their characteristics and they were the best fit for the roles. He also says he made a conscious effort to include all ethnicities. What I say is that the cartoon was extremely successful and kept to a lot of Chinese traditions and folklore and no one found the cartoon racist. The actors were not best suited to the roles as most of them can’t fucking act in the first place.
 I am not a violent person but the film was a complete and utter sham, it just about kept to the story with some changes but it was to­o fast paced and it was just one big epileptic seizure from start to finish. In saying all that the visual effect artist did well and the elements looks pretty damn cool but it still didn’t overwrite how balls the film was.

I am going to stop before I start cursing in every sentence but my point is even though some of the backdrops were nice and the visual effects where cool it was a badly produced film… and it wasn’t just the art director’s fault. An example of bad art direction in games would be pretty much all of them, here’s an article on Moby Francke art director at valve;

I quote “The next thing I’d love to do is not based on realism, but stylizing with a little more in-depth look to the materials in the world. Instead of just having an impressionistic background, or having highly stylized characters. Making the characters a little bit more believable, even incorporating bold design, getting a little bit more specific.

So it would be a little bit slash realism and stylization all at once. And it can be achieved.”

What he is describing here is brink, now I hate FPS’s because I can’t play them but I want to get brink because the art style is so different from the brown blobs we usually get from these type games. Some games that I think have good art direction are Machinarium, Mirrors Edge, Team Fortress, Brink, Fable and Shadow of colossus. Mirror’s edge has a beautiful style with reds and yellows acting as signifiers to either climb this way or the yellow cases you collect throughout the level. Shadow of colossus is one of my favourite games and really what is it? 16 bosses no little enemies and a vast world, it is basically nothing but it’s an amazing game because of the scale. The world is huge and with each boss battle you get new areas to explore and massive colossi to defeat. It still takes my breath away every time I play it.

Heres a cool link on the art director for x-men legends 2, I love this game because I love x-men and so I’ll pretty much buy any game they bring out and also because it has co-op, hurrah.
Another lengthy link…didn’t read it all but thought it was worth a meantion.

In conclusion don’t ever get me started on Avatar the last airbender because my held will explode. But also art direction is an important job that requires a certain eye for perfection that can see errors and how to correct them, they have to be confident and competent at what they do and extremely talented with all the different programs a development team uses. In that sense I have a long way to go but if I have to set myself a long term life goal it would be working as art director for Lionhead or Valve.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Inspiration 2

After showing some inspirational pictures in class I thought I'd do another one as my inspirational folder changes everyday. I don't know what it will include, just spamming from all areas I think are cool. Alot of the images will be about extreme detailing of buildings and origami, and I love derelict things so expect that and again more sculpture items from all different types of material  Sorry Mike I haven't kept reference to any of these either but I will try to in the future.

Look how amazing that Gif is, I loved this when I saw it. She isn't taking any prisoners and it's just one of the most epic and inspirational things I have seen on the web to date.