Monday, 27 May 2013

War of the Worlds Poster

I tried various different scenes for my War of the Worlds project, but eventually decided I wanted to do something stylised.

 I decided I wanted to produce a movie poster, and so I took a look at various 1950s horror film posters. I wanted to try to capture the style they used, with bold colours and simple layouts.

I had a vague idea of how I wanted the poster to look, so I drew up a series of thumbnails to try different compositions. I eventually settled on the one with two tripods, one of them looming over to give a sense of scale and one further away, that was seen fully, as most of the poster I looked at clearly showed whatever the monster was.

I then had to pick a colour scheme. The poster I was using for reference had a large variety of different colours, but usually they were bold, with at least one primary hue and the different colours clearly separated. I narrowed it down to blue/turquoise/yellow/pink as I really liked how the blue metal tripods looked against the turquoise, and tried different compositions of those colours, taking into account how the title text would look against the background.

The biggest difficulty was trying to make sure the legs of the tripods were distinct from one another, since they crossed over and were oddly shaped. I tried to make the places where they crossed were separated so it was clear which parts were continuous.

All in all I’m quite pleased with how it came together.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Task 17: Documentation (part 2)

Part One

Vehicle – planet terrain buggy

This will be a single-person vehicle modelled after a dune buggy – an open-top all-terrain vehicle suitable for travelling over a planet’s surface. The vehicle should continue with the retrofuturism theme and visibly take inspiration from 20th century vehicle designs while still looking futuristic.

There needs to be three versions of the vehicle: one undamaged, once slightly damage, and one very damaged. Each mesh should be under 15k tris.

Since the vehicle will be seen both from a zoomed out third-person view and from inside over-the shoulder, it needs to be readable from far away, and also have enough detail to look realistic from closer up. In particular, the dashboard needs to have detail that looks interesting from closer up, and some of the damage needs to be visible from the over-the-shoulder view so the player can still gauge the condition of their vehicle. The vehicle should also have a mud splatter decal that can be applied incrementally as the buggy travels over different types of terrain.

 The mesh should be textured using the following maps:

2 1024x1024 diffuse map with alphas

2 1024x1024 colour specular map

2 1024 normal maps

1 512x512 diffuse with alpha decal

 The textures should be produced digitally with Z-brush and hand painted in photoshop. The textures need to convey the different textures, especially the smoothness of the metal/plastic and how it is dented or broken in the damaged versions of the model.

Environment – Artefact chamber

One of the environments in the game will be an abandoned alien city. The architecture should be based both on real architectural designs and sets seen in science fiction. The building should feature a strong circular and geometric aesthetic with plenty of smooth metallic surfaces. 

One environment in particular will be the room housing an alien artefact that the player has to collect. The room will be tall and circular, with the artefact on an elevated pedestal in the centre. Parts of the scenery will be damaged and broken, requiring the player to complete a series of platforming manoeuvres to reach the artefact. The path the player takes should not be obvious, and the parts of the scenery facilitating the player’s path should blend in with the rest of the architecture. The collapsed parts of the scenery should take into account the underlying structure of the building to make the damage look realistic.

The environment should make use of both repeating assets to establish continuity, and unique assets to make the room feel individual. These assets need to be designed to fit together without any gaps of obvious seams.

There is no set polygon limit, but the meshes should take into account the polygon density of both the player character, and of other meshes surrounding them. Higher polygon density should be used for more detailed scenery objects, and lower polygon density for more simple shapes. Decals and varying lighting should be used to break up any tiling textures.

All textures should be produced with z-brush and hand-painted in photoshop.

Scenery object – Control console

Many of the levels in the game will require the player to activate part of the scenery. One of the ways the player can do this is through an alien control console. These will open doors, deactivate security systems, and so on.

These consoles will be repeated throughout the level, and their presence will be a clue to the player that part of the environment can be changed. They must therefore be visually distinct so the player can recognise them, although they must still fit into the overall design on the environment.

The consoles must give feedback to the player – they are unreactive when the player has not yet activated them, react negatively when a player has not solved a puzzle yet – for instance to indicate that another console must be activated first – and finally react positively to indicate when a player has correctly solved a puzzle and can proceed.

The consoled will do this both visually and through sound – for instance a green light display for a correctly activated console.

The model needs to have some part that can be moved by the player – for instance a lever. The console needs to look simple enough that it will not look strange when repeated.  The mesh should contain no more than 3k tris.

The mesh should be textured using the following maps:

1 1024x1024 diffuse map
or 1 1024x1024 diffuse map with alphas

1 1024x1024 colour specular map

1 1024 normal maps

The textures should be produced in z-brush and photoshop.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Task 23: Life Changing or Career Building?

There’s no denying that the game industry moves quickly. The expectations of the graphics for a professional game are very different from what would have been expected a couple of years ago, and will likely have changed again in a few years’ time. It is important to acknowledge this increasing push for realism and that as consoles become more and more capable of producing complicated graphics, the high standards will not just become expected, but mandatory for any game that wants to exceed. 

However, that doesn’t make technical skills learnt now obsolete. Future developments in game graphics are only going to build on current technology, and while some techniques may be dropped because they are inefficient or unnecessary, they could still give a valuable insight into why certain things are done in a certain way. Knowing how to optimise a lowpoly model will help someone use resources more efficiently even when the tri count is in the tens of thousands.  

Many skills are transferable, for instance between different modelling software or between game engines; learning one makes it quicker and easier to learn how to use other programs. Even models for next-gen games use the game basic programs; it is only the techniques that are different. Next-get character models are still created using software such as z-brush and blender. The difference is that there is more freedom, because the graphics are less restricted by the technology. 

Besides, just because top-end graphics set a standard for console games doesn’t mean there isn’t still a place for low-resolution graphics, such as on tablets and phones. There is a high demand for portable, casual gaming, from an audience that has become accustomed to almost photorealistic quality graphics. At the same time, hardware in tablets is still at a much lower level than consoles an PCs, and so if game produces want to compete in the same market they much make the best use of the available resources.

At the same time, basic art skills are also important. The principles of colour, composition and anatomy don’t change just because they’re in the medium of 3D game graphics. In some ways, these skills are more important, because they are more fundamental. Furthermore, it is artistic ability and creativity and that will set someone apart in the industry. The ability to plan ideas, to concept them and convey them efficiently will always be a part of the visual side of games. As much as realistic graphics are important, stylisation and compelling design are what really draw players into a game.

However, without knowledge of how to implement them, these skills have a very limited use. The ability to use the available technology to best effect allows underlying artistic skills to be fully realised. It is much more constructive to think of them as two different tools that have to work together for the same goal. With technology improving, technical constraints move aside to allow characters and environments to be fully realised, and to be used effectively requires people who know how to make the best of the available resources.

Task 20: Interaction Design

When you’re so focused on the visual side of games it’s easy to forget that, at their most basic level, games are built on interactivity. It’s easy to measure visual quality by what you see on the screen, but how easy a game is to interact with is much harder to quantify.

Certainly, it’s easy to tell when a game responds badly – to someone used to playing games it can be obvious within a few minutes of gameplay how responsive the controls are. However, this assessment is hardly objective, because it’s based on the perspective of someone biased toward games they have already played.

There are certain controller mechanics that have become standardised across multiple games, but it’s unclear whether these continue to be used because they’re the best way of doing things or simply because they’re what people are used to. Nobody likes change, gamers less than anybody.

Even with PC games that all use the WASD movement keys, something as simple as a different key from jumping can feel off-putting when switching from one game to another. In something as diverse as combat mechanics, what one person finds fluid might feel clunky and restrictive to another, but that doesn’t mean those mechanics are bad.

The question is, what do we really mean by intuitive? For someone used to using a computer, when they’re controlling the cursor, they decide where they want it do go and move it – they don’t think about the mechanical aspects of their hand pushing and pulling the mouse. For someone used to playing a certain kind of game, the controls may become second nature. For someone who is not familiar with games, almost any game will feel clumsy at first.

Possibly then, one measure of how intuitive a game is could be how quickly the average person can get acclimatised to it, but that is difficult to measure. Simple games might be learnt in a few minutes, but then be limited to very basic input, while other game could take several days to learn fully, but once everything is learned fully and being used in the right way, be a lot less frustrating and a more enjoyable experience. Think of it as comparing ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors” to Chess.

Of course, this is where a good tutorial can help to ease someone into the controls, allowing them to learn simple interactions at first such as movement and working up to more complicated functions such as hotkeys and the like.

Personally, I can’t stand using a console controller. I made it through Assassin’s creed II on the PS3 simply because I wanted to see what happened, but found it a lot more enjoyable playing subsequent games on the PC, simply because I wasn’t fighting with a controller that felt like it wanted to jump out of my hands.

On the other hand, playing the first Assassin’s Creed game on PS3 for a short while was what convinced me to actually get the game for PC. I managed to actually pick up the base mechanics pretty quickly. Assassin’s Creed did actually make an attempt to change the way its mechanics worked, with the context-sensitive controls, and compared to other console games I’ve tried playing I found them fairly user-friendly.

Its controls are certainly different; if I play assassin’s creed and they switch to a more typical game, it takes a while for me to stop pressing the mouse buttons trying to sprint.

There have always been attempts to introduce new ideas into gaming mechanics, especially in the early days of consoles; it’s just that few of them have been financially successful. The few that were successful carried on and evolved.

This could be taken as proof that the most common mechanics we use now are just the best way to do things, but equally those consoles’ failure could be down to the limitations of the technology of the time, or the limited market back then. Look at the Virtual Boy for an example, which was basically the Oculus Rift MK 1, and was a commercial failure.
More recently there have been innovative new consoles which have been a success, such as the wii. One thing to note though is the audience for these games is somewhat more broad than for other consoles – in particular, it targets families and children, people who are less likely to have tried more generic consoles, and experience the games without preconceived notions.

However, perhaps it’s more fair to attribute the wii’s success simply to how easy it is to use. Compared to other console handsets, with buttons on every available surface, the WII controller looks relatively unintimidating.

The games are fairly simple, if the one game I’ve played is anything to go with (Wii bowling, for ten minutes or so while I was doing work experience) and tend to have easily understood concepts, such as sports, which people are already somewhat familiar with.
Kinect, like the Wii, is another non-typical method of controlling games. It detects both movement and voice commands, and can be integrated into some pre-existing games.

The oculus rift is another recent introduction. It’s mainly caters towards immersion, but it also allows the player to look around my moving their head. This is obviously a much more instinctive way of looking around than manipulating a joystick or a mouse, and it frees up part of the control for some other use, such as moving around of selecting objects in-game. It does, of course, completely obscure the player’s vision. While there are plenty of people who can use a keyboard or controller without looking, many can’t, especially if trying to use hotkeys, or buttons that are used infrequently.

Sometimes it simply comes down to whether you want a simulation that mimics reality as closely as possible, or something with more options. Not all games are looking for the same things.

Task 22: Creativity, the talent myth and craft

The idea of creativity is often rather ill-defined. It’s often used in the sense of generating new ideas from little or nothing, or at least ideas that nobody else has thought of first. The phrase “be creative” is usually intended this way – that is, it’s an invitation for someone to make their own choices about what they do.

There’s the seemingly conflicting concept that limitations boost creativity. Plenty of sources recommend this. To give a few:

 When taken in that context, creativity can be seen as the ability to explore all the possibilities of I situation. I think this definition is a better example of my own type of creativity. If something it too open-ended, I have the tendency to be indecisive. Think of it this way: if people are allowed to, they will go with what it familiar. Imposing restrictions pushed them out of their comfort zone and forces then to do something unfamiliar.

Possibly creativity is instead the ability to actively seek out inspiration, and to implement self-limitations. After all, inspiration works much better as an active process than a passive one. This might explain why creative people can seemingly be better at coming up with ideas from nothing; they’re actually just better at looking for them, and seeing potential is things that others wouldn’t.

Talent generally refers to an innate ability or aptitude for something. It is often used interchangeably with skill, but talent really doesn’t say anything about someone’s ability to do something, only their potential. In terms of visual art, someone who is talented my find it easier to learn certain things, or they may automatically be able to do something that others have to learn.

Talent only goes so far, though. For instance, someone who has an eye for composition may be able to arrange elements in a scene without having to know why they look best where they do, but unless they learn the technical aspects behind what they’re doing they might never get any better. At the same time, someone without a natural eye for composition may have to learn what looks best, but through actively trying to understand composition, gain a much deeper understanding of the subject, one that isn’t just based on whether something feels right.

Given how broad the definition of creativity is, it’s difficult to say what isn’t creative. Programming might not typically be thought of as something artistic, but it shares many of the same creative properties, such as thinking of new ways to achieve tasks.

Who is more creative – the person coming up with an idea, or the people who expand on it? Within video game art, in very simplified terms, you could see the art directors as the one who sets limitations, and the artists who defer to them as the ones exploring the possibilities. They are all creative roles, even if they show different types of creativity. Similarly, the initial concept of a game may seem like the big creative factor, with artists just churning out content that fit within a set parameter with no input it what it looks like, but unless what they are producing has been rigorously predefined, then any input they have on the final product could be considered creative.

Games tend to be defined by large ideas, but more often than not it is the entire scope of them that defines the experience.

For an example of creativity, take Portal. The idea was one that had not really been explored, at least not as a large game, and was created within the restrictions of a first-person shooter engine. In turn, the levels and puzzles in the game were created within the abilities of the in-game world.

Task 21: An introduction to the Game Industry

Video games are now a huge industry, with all the associated risks and rewards. No longer is game production something done by individuals; the success of a game affects the jobs of hundreds of people, and if a game fails it can be a devastating loss to many people.

 As games become larger and more complex, it’s inevitable that larger teams are needed to produce them.  Not only that, but the demand for increased quality has to be met by introducing specialists into the industry, meaning no longer is the person working on coding also producing the sound, or the animation. Instead, people with vastly different skillsets have to work together, and the organisation of such a group of people is of upmost importance to their efficiency.

Sometimes two individuals will have vastly different jobs – for instance a music writer and a character animator, or sometimes the jobs will be as closely related as two 3d artists working on different sections of the same environment. Either way, these individuals still need to be coordinated in a way that will produce the best final product, with the most efficiency.

Usually, production teams are split into their specialised groups, with each smaller team having a leader who is responsible for content specific to that area, and another person overseeing the co-ordinating of all those groups. Sometimes, within these groups there is further specialisation: for instance, the team producing concept art will have some people designing environments, some designing characters, and some designing vehicles. In that example, even with a wide array of different subjects, there still needs to be a consistency in the style and colour, and it is the job of the art director to both set that standard, and to enforce it.

Game production is an industry that is very time sensitive. On one hand, the games themselves take a long time to produce, and on the other hand companies are continuously competing with evolving technology, trying to get a game out before progress in graphics or other areas makes their current project obsolete.

As such, companies almost always use a pipeline to structure their development and to ensure that the game will release on schedule. There is a very distinct order which tasks have to be completed in, as further steps are reliant on previous ones. For instance, 3d artist cannot start working until they have something to base their game assets off of, and game testers cannot begin until they have something to test.

This dependency also means that any type of delay with have effects further along the chain. Delays in releasing a game could potentially lead to huge loss of profits.

Having certain part of the company working at different stages like this does create the problem of some teams having nothing to do for long periods of time. There are a few ways companies can get around this. They can overlap pipelines, meaning once a section of the game is completed, they immediately start work on the next project.

Parts of production are sometimes outsourced; individuals or teams are hired only during a certain period of time, sometimes to create a specific set of content. Outsourcing means that companies only pay for them when they are needed. Sometimes part are outsourced because the people being hired are specialists and can create higher quality work, or sometimes the outsourcing is undertaken by a group working in a different country where labour costs are significantly cheaper.