Friday, 28 November 2008

Game technology - design & user interaction

At first, the novelty of moving pixels was enough, but when gaming got serious, so did design and consideration for ergonomics. Consoles have become more sleek and shiny, controllers more rounded and hand friendly, all in a bid to win our consumerist hearts and *ahem* "hard earned" money.

Now, obviously the console designers have to take into consideration all the technical..erm...stuff that has to go into the actual console, which limits their ideas somewhat. Personally, I think the Xbox 360 has the upper hand in design. Whilst the old design was branded for 'hardcore' gamers, the xbox360 has a more universal appeal and customisation options such as faceplates and skins, as well as being available in black or white. You can get ps3 skins as well but that's it.

To me, the ps3 lacks any personality what-so-ever and has anyone else noticed that it's just the ps2 with a convex slab on top? They have polished a turd.
It just seems like Microsoft have beaten Sony to the punch every time. Their online experience is better, they incorporated a guide button onto their controller, which is miles better than Sonys and now they have avatars! What more could you want? Yeah, I know, free Xbox live, never mind.

Sony also seems to have strayed off the gaming path; their console is more like a multi-media Frankenstein with web browsing, blue-ray compatibility, blah blah blah, where's the soul? The entire 360 dashboard menus are dedicated to game-related stuff and sure you can upload pictures, download movies and play music as well, but the focus is still on gaming and the fun of it. It's just full of life. Zomg, I'm a fan-girl, oh noes.

As far as Nintendo goes, I think their consoles have at least tried to look a bit different and they'll always be retro classics like the Snes with those rectangle controllers. Their latest console, the Wii, while not so graphically capable as others, is light and slim and also supports it's 'wiimotes' using motion sensor technology and more recently, the wiiboard using pressure sensitivity. All clean cut white with blue lights and a user friendly interface.
Nintendos' DS is also a forerunner in the handheld market with the lite versions improved sleek design and of course the touch screen capability is far more interesting than anything Sony could produce with it’s PSP.

Well I've rambled on for quite a bit now, so I'll wrap it up. Call me biased but I think it would be hard to surpass the Xbox controller at this moment in time; It's just so comfortable and easy to use. Sony have, of course, tried and failed to produce a better one after the whole boomerang incident, bless 'em.
Console design has to go to the Xbox as well; the first one stood out and the 360 has successfully moved with the times. I actually couldn't find the ps3s’ 'on' switch for quite a while, I am ashamed to say but you can't really miss it on the 360 now, can you? Especially when it's sporting those red lights we've all grown to fear.

Monday, 24 November 2008

out & about

Thought I'd share a few of my favourite photographs, just because.
The ruins at Abbey Park

Law enforcement on geese ^_^

A walk home on a fresh, sunny evening

Plus, if anyone on the course has xbox live, feel free to add me 'flumpinator13' ^_^

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Storytelling in games

Another subject with many sides to the discussion.
Everyone appreciates a good story, and you can tell the difference between a good and a bad one quite easily in games just as you can with films. Obviously not every game needs a strong storyline, like kids games for example and physically interactive games like guitar hero and singstar.
Otherwise, the story is really the driving force of games.
The game starts. Where are you? why? Who are you? What's your characters background? What happened to them? Where are you going? why? And so on. Everything that happens to the character is relevant to the story. This is true in a linear plot (e.g.Gears of war) but not always in more open games like RPGs as you get mini stories/quests where you can deviate from the main story line (e.g. oblivionIV).
Games can still flourish through attributes other than story, like how you control the character and their movements (e.g. Assassins creed), stylisation like Team Fortress and online multiplayer capabilities like Left4dead.
Companies tend to skimp on the writing because of the budget they have, without realising how important a gripping story could be to their game.
Personally, the story is an important aspect to me. I love to read a good fiction book and be totally immersed in the world. The same goes for games. You know when you get completely attatched to your character and you're focused and there's nothing around to distract. I want to react to the storyline, to have moments of shock, disbelief, revenge, sympathy etc. You can't get these emotions from a completely predictable storyline.
As for whether a strong storyline makes for a better game. Well, it makes for a better story and might keep you playing for a bit longer but it won't make boring environments, repetitive gameplay or lackluster characters any better, no. As I've said in my previous blogs, everything needs to come together and work in harmony. The storyline is just a larger piece of the jigsaw.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

(trouble)shoot me

Problem: I can't connect to the internet
Answer: Here, use this help website
...Why, I do believe that's the most idiotic answer in the history of crap troubleshooters.

I've been without the internet for about a week at home and it's surprising how hollow I felt without it. I have fixed the problem though after many hours spent on the phone. It was a simple login error, how can they not know this? However, I have been getting out and about a bit more from my lack of internet-ness.
I did some drawing in town today, and quite a few people get curious about what you're doing, as if it's the weirdest thing they've ever seen which is highly unlikely in the middle in Leicester.
I take it back about Braggy, this was the coldest day ever. But I got a few nice comments, and the music playing from BHS kept me going ^_^

Anyway, I did my 2-point perspective drawing which was kinda hard because of the detail in the buildings which I just scribbled in. I hope this drawing doesn't have to be completely technically accurate and incredibly detailed because I'm just not that capable yet and it would require many more hours and patience and frost-bite. Also, am really not adept at digital painting so don't think that's gonna go down too well.

I'm going to post my initial drawings on my other blog
and hopefully I can get some feed back. I've looked at no end of stuff for inspiration for my organic project but I'm still thinking. All I've come up with so far is an angry tree man, and some pokemon rejects.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Art Direction

It takes one helluva lot of skill, experience and responsibilty. I am so far away from all of these things, it seems like such an impossible feat and looking at these job descriptions, I don’t think I’ll ever get there.
In 3dsmax, making boxes is about all that I’m proficient at, at the moment. How depressing.

Anyway, Art directors have a lot more on their hands; it’s a surprise they get any sleep at all. They get a lot more control over art direction though, which is very desirable as long as you know where you’re going with it. They also have to lead the people; it’s a job that relies heavily on communication and efficiency in all areas.
Qualities would include being good at solving problems, making decisions and obviously communicating well. All of this is on top of the experience they expect you to have, your in-depth knowledge of current 2d and 3d software and, of course, your skill as an artist.

I think the job would be quite similar when working with films also. Many films have their own distinct style whether it be through colours, lighting, settings, characters etc. and the same can apply to games.
Team Fortress for example has a distinct cartoon-style, which personally I don’t like, or maybe it’s lack of female characters. Ok, so it’s a macho cartoon style game with a well thought out colour palette and original, easily identifiable characters.
Using the film we recently watched as an example, City of Lost Children had low key lighting in sickly, saturated colours throughout, as well as the cast of odd characters including Ron Perlman leading with his imposing presence.

To sum up, being an Art Director requires a person with the abilities to lead and direct and also have the desire and passion to do so. People who wouldn’t be comfortable with this responsibility would have less to strive for in a career except to improve in the job in which they are currently employed.
I did however, read about Radical Entertainment and how they made a position of ‘guru’, so this person would not have to manage people but still have more acknowledgement of their skills and ability to impart their knowledge to others through mentoring which I think is a very good idea and more accessible to those of us without natural leadership skills.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

My own gaming history

>Insert<> I am SO sorry this turned into probably the biggest essay I have ever written in my life, but who doesn't like talking about themselves? So get reading.
OK, let's get this straight. I've not been gaming since I was born, like everyone else. I've only really got into gaming since the xbox360. As much as I hate to admit it, it was my male friends that introduced me to the world of gaming, making me as lazy and blissfully ignorant as themselves.

To be honest, it's been quite hard trying to remember the games I've been into. I think it started with the gameboy, no colour, and super marioland. Then pokemon yellow. I think they were the only two games I bought for it and I didn't finish either. Hmm. That's the thing with me, if I get stuck or die so many times, I just give up. You might call it a defeatist attitude, I call it common sense. I'm not gonna waste any more of my time listening to pikachu chat gibberish if I'm just not quite good enough yet.

Anyway, after my failure on a handheld, I had a go with the first Playstation. Lol, what the hell? I was just looking up playstation 1 games and found one called Bastard!! Only in Japan. Crazy mofos'. Anyway I cannot, for the life of me remember which were ps1 games and which were ps2 so I'll just mix it up. The only reason I gamed back then was because it was my brother that bought the console and games so I didn't have to, haha, I was a leech, basically.
So, I wasn't really big on shooters. I got scared and hid, which wasn't really helpful. I was more into racing games like Need for Speed and Burnout, and puzzly adventure games like Crash bandicoot and Kuri Kuri Mix (wicked fun / immensely frustrating game).
Then my brother got me playing Medal of Honour with him and I actually liked it despite it being war-related. (Not a fan of war themed games, they're just and all too similar).

During high school, a friend lent me his xbox and Halo 2, I asked "what's this?" to which a resonating world-wide reply from most of the male population said incredulously, "WTF, you don't know what halo is?!". "STFU!", I countered, "I live in a cave".

Still not having completed an entire game, I was introduced to Fable, Soul Calibur, Alien Hominid and a few others but by this time, Microsoft had announced the Xbox360 and I was looking forward to buying a console of my very own, even though none of the new games interested me too much to be honest.

Nowadays, I only stick to a couple of genres, though I suppose I should be broadening my interests. My absolute favourite game ever is Oblivion IV on the easiest setting but, y'know, it isn't about being able to say "look, I'm so uber l337, I played it on the highest difficulty", for me, it's just having an enjoyable, immersive experience, hell, even the over-sized rats leaping around like bambi made me jump sometimes.

Suprising to myself, the majority of my games collection are shooters. Ok, the main cause of that is probably peer pressure but still. You know what, I'm just gonna list them, then talk after. Halo 3, GTA IV, The orange box, Viva Pinata, Rayman raving rabbids (don't ask), Mass effect, Beautiful katamari, Lost Odyssey, Oblivion IV, Gears of war, Gears of war 2, The Darkness, Assassins Creed.

Not an enourmous list, I know, but I'm quite picky. Well, Gears 2 was the most recent, It's just a shooter on steroids, really, and I bought it mainly for the online multiplayer, because, quite frankly I was crap at the campaign on the last one, but am quite enjoying it this time round.

A couple of weeks ago I bought The Orange Box and am annoyed at myself for not picking it up earlier. Portal is fantastic, and after my first extremely confusing and disorientating attempt, I got the the hang of being able to try and play tag with myself and thoroughly enjoyed it. The sarcastic humour and story element is what made it great, not just another puzzle game.
Half-life 2 is also amazing (I havn't played the first one though). You just get dropped straight into the action with barely time to rest, you're always on the run, I think they balanced it just right, it's like a book you don't want to stop reading even though it's 3am.

Mass effect. I was skeptical about this one, It just looked really tacky but I must've played it through four times now. When I'm feeling quite emotional, which is most of the time, the ending really gets me. I got really attatched to my character and I, admittedly, may have almost shed a tear when I thought she had died. Yeah yeah, call me sad, but I'd rather be overly attatched than have no emotional involvement what-so-ever.

GTAIV was pure peer pressure for the free roam. The Darkness and Assassins creed just looked different and interesting in their own ways.
The Darkness scared the crap out of me whereas Assassins Creed was really fun to play (and Altair was phit, always a bonus).
Beautiful Katamari was just a quirky time killer and Lost odyssey was good but I still hate those bloody random battles, the sound makes me jump eeevery time. Some of the story was heart-wrenchingly sad but I still only felt like an on-looker, not really involved, just a tool being used to get to the next story part.
So that's it for the xbox360.

My family also shares a wii but I have no incentive to play it because no one wants to spend money on games for it. I want to buy LittleBigPlanet for my brothers ps3 but again there's no incentive, just that it looks cute. I think it'd feel weird not working for achievements aswell, they're like an addiction.

I've mentioned before that I have a DS and that I'd rather buy an xbox game than a DS one but nevermind, it's good when you find a good game to play on it like Legend of Zelda. It's kind of an expensive novelty but a step forward for handheld gaming and touchscreen technology at the same time. Why do I game then. Well, I would say it's 30% to socialize and 70% escapism. I don't really need to explain, it's as simple as that.
Games have gone from having no importance to me at all, to being my whole life.

In the future? I would like to have more or all senses involved in gaming - I don't know how, you didn't ask me that so *sticks out tongue*, maybe something like a smell ommitter, ha. I think they're developing those things which you wear over your eyes, I think they're a good idea because you're blocking out more of reality so you don't get distracted by things around you, you're completely involved - until your mum shouts you for dinner. But what about people who wear glasses & not contacts, hmmmm? Erm what else, maybe something more active like Nintendo's trying to do but incorporate it into FPS games maybe. I don't know, I just keep thinking of things that have already been done, so I might get back to you on that. Wouldn't it be cool though, if they replicated the most popular game maps for paintballing? Obviously they'd have to be realistic, like the ones in Gears and such games. Have they done that yet? Probably. Meh.

Game Design - An overview

(First off, I apologise if my blogs still sound little wooden, I'm learning some of this stuff on the spot, so, sorry.)

I guess, if you think about it, all types of games are similar in some way. You're always trying to win, finish or survive a game no matter what shape or form, it's just the design that varies.
There are so many aspects involved with game design, it's hard not to just make a big list.
So, to start from somewhere logical, you need an idea (a realistic one). Game design is the process of creating and refining this idea through communication with everyone involved. This will normally begin with a design document - a guide to work from - which will be constantly changing throughout the process.
All limitations will need to be taken into account, as well as genre, narrative, gamepl-- see, I'm starting to list now, gawd.
Ok. You catch my drift anyway, It's all about teamwork and constant reviewing, play-testing, changing, refining etc. To make a game successful, all of these aspects need to come together seamlessly and effectively, and most of all it needs to be fun. That's the whole point to games, isn't it? A form of entertainment, fun beyond all else.
Gameplay/game mechanics are an important factor in making a game fun - how you interact with the environment, how your character moves around, how the UI works and so on. It's all just about trying to outdo one another really, and pushing boundaries opens up new avenues to explore.
Every game company knows that innovation & originality could produce great things but a lot of them aren't willing to invest the time and effort, or just simply can't. Again, money is a factor that can't be ignored. Maybe if we lived forever and money grew on trees, things would be a little different, maybe not economically sound, but different. - I'm quite speechless, I mean honestly.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Game City 3

It wasn't a pretty sight, let me tell you. Zombie isn't a good look for me so I just turned into a pirate later on. Anyhoo, Game City was pretty good, I am now part of the world record of largest zombie gathering ever :) probably the coldest day ever aswell, I almost joined in the cheesy thriller dance just to keep warm!

Earlier in the day I went to the curry session and heard a talk about film/game classification by the BBFC and what affects their decisions. We had the greatly welcomed curry and then he showed us the naughty scene from 'mass effect' and suffice to say we all just laughed because it was so cheesy.

We briefly checked out the Indie arcade, got stuck on all the games and left. It took us long enough to find though, I don't know if it was just me or the map was a bit awful.

Anyway after the whole freezing zombie world record thing, I changed into my pirate outfit and headed down to the halloween party which was, I have to say, a really good night ^_^

Starting with a free-for-all rock band battle in which the guys from Harmonix did indeed epic fail, this led on to performances by Paul & Storm and then Jonathan Coulton.All three of these guys are "bad-shit awesome" as Paul so elegantly put it. They're definately worth checking out. Then we all sang along to 'Still alive' after some hilarious songs and banter. Worth every penny, I'd say.

Writing about games

Where to start?
Well I have to say, I'm quite taken by this 'New Games Journalism' style of writing. It's so much more interesting than reading any games magazine jam-packed with shallow reviews and glossy page-filling images.
When I started reading Kieron Gillen's Workblog on the subject, I must admit his writing appeared a little arrogant and I would've dismissed him on that first impression alone, but five scrolling minutes later and I'm hooked. He's brilliant.
I read some examples of NGJ - I particularly like 'always_black' - and although it's thoroughly enjoyable to read, I wondered how it would work if everyone started writing like this? I don't think it would. We'd find ourselves over-saturated with poorly executed, soulless attempts.
Also, the subject matter seems to carry heavier issues of social and political matter intertwined with the gamers real life and their virtual gaming world.
It's refreshing, but it doesn't tell the reader about the game, more the gamer. I think it satisfies human curiosity with insights into other peoples lives but ultimately, has it really helped decipher the game? Is this what everyone wants to read? No, but I do. I'm just trying to look at it from an outsiders point of view.
As I don't think I could put it better myself, I'm going to insert an excerpt from Mr.Gillen here:

"What a gamer feels and thinks as this alien construct takes over all their sensory inputs is what’s interesting here, not just the mechanics of how it got there. Games have always been digital hallucinogens – but games journalism has been like chemistry, discussing the binding reactions to brain sites. What I’m suggesting says what it feels like as the chemical kicks in and reality is remixed around you."

"you’ll be interested in it even if you didn’t give a fuck about videogames. While it’s using videogames as its subject, what it’s really talking about is the human condition."

1) The worth of gaming lies in the gamer not the game.
2) Write travel journalism to Imaginary Places.

Personally, I can get really involved in a game, especially one that can invoke emotion. I think that's a target which is worth striving for. That is, perhaps, why I feel I can relate to this style of journalism. It goes beyond the surface comments of 'awesome graphics', 'awesome gameplay' and just 'general awesomeness'. It has depth, soul and the capacity to reach out to more than just gamers.
On the other hand, I understand that magazines have deadlines and they are only really marketing to the gaming community. Their job is to review, say what's good, what's bad, does it live up to any hype. It isn't their job to tell us stories, they have to sell us facts and scores and reasons to spend our cash. I've bought oxm a few times recently and noticed there is a considerable amount of competition in the gaming magazine market. I mean if you're gonna charge £7-£8 for a magazine when you could buy a perfectly good fiction book for that price, then what the hell am I buying it for?
My answer: the demo disk. and a few free gamerpics. That's what swayed it.
And did I buy any of the games they said were a 'must buy'? No. Why? Because I spent all my money on your magazine, that's why.