Sunday, 29 April 2012

Level (Year) One, Completed

Where to start? I'm feeling a mixture of emotions right now. Relief that the year has finally come to an end, I say finally as it feels like it has taken much longer than one year to reach this point. I’m satisfied by the work I have produced but on the other hand I feel I could have given so much more if the course was the only thing I needed to focus on this year. It seems like all year other things have demanded too much of my time and attention away from the course, and this hasn't only depleted my time being spent on my work but also my energy levels, my motivation, and the state of feeling stressed and overly-committed have been overwhelmingly abundant this year. I have often felt that the demands of my everyday life have exceeded my ability to handle them and again this has affected my concentration levels and my cognitive processes.

I know that these feelings have affected my work in many areas and severely in some. I started the year with a strong, positive attitude towards my ability to produce the work needed and still manage things in my life away from the course but as time has gone on things seem to have gotten harder, either that or I have found it harder to cope. Towards the end of the year I have felt constantly tired with no motivation to ‘get up’ and do some work, it has been frustrating that when I’ve tried to do work my mind won’t stay focused, and it won’t seem to function properly, it’s an extremely odd feeling to describe, but it’s just as though my brain wont ‘work’. I have good ideas on the direction I want my work to take but executing those ideas is where I seem to keep hitting walls, and this hasn’t helped with my attitude towards completing the work.
Despite these issues I’d like to think I am a fairly comprehensive artist and that my artistic skills and ability is at a good level in which to complete my work, and this I feel/ hope has been demonstrated by the work I have produced this year both in Game Production and Visual Design. On the other hand I have felt that due to time restrictions I am going to improve as an artist at a slower rate than I perhaps would because my focus is being taken away for long periods of time and this has made me feel demotivated. I am also extremely disappointed with how I have engaged with Critical Studies this year; again, to some extent my blog writing started well but as time has progressed towards the final stages of the year my state of mind has made it more and more difficult to demonstrate the thought processes for writing. My last few blog entries in particular I feel have been poor, they have been short and brief and the language use again I feel is unsatisfactory, and I can only put this down to my state of mind at the end of the year. As I have sat at my computer ready to write a blog my own mind just seems unwilling to respond, my mind seems to be both blank and unable to string a half decent sentence together never mind a comprehensive blog post. This has not only frustrated me but has upset me too, I have always been positive and confident in my writing skills and I have never found such a thing so difficult to do.

A look at the positive side of things and I can say that I am quite pleased with the work I have produced this year, my final pieces have been of a decent quality but I still need to improve upon my digital painting skills in relation to my traditional based skills. I must say I have been surprised by the large amount of projects and work that have been set this year, I'm not sure whether each year gets set the same amount of work or if this year is just hard working but I know myself I have posted 176 pictures to my visual design folder on Facebook which seems about average for most of the rest of my year were as if I look back over previous years 'first year' folders the number dramatically drops to under half that amount of work even for some of the top third years. Im not entirely sure what to make of this, possibly my year is weaker overall and therefore has needed to produce more work in order to achieve the level needed or simply that more work has been set this year than previous years.

There are also a lot of positive areas within my Game Production work this year, the actual quality of the work I have produced I am extremely happy with. My understanding of the 3DS Max program has increased at a good a level and has enabled me to produce some good 3D work. I am also pleased with the quality of the textures for the assets I have produced, particularly in the techniques I have developed for the construction of my normal and specular maps, I feel that they dramatically improve the quality of my models and help them to stand out.

One other area within the visual aspect of things is how I have presented my work this year. Earlier in the year some suggestions from third year students prompted me to develop a more consistent presentation style, especially with my 3D work. What resulted was what you call call a logo to sit with my work and a consistent colour and background scheme that has really lent itself to any final renders of work I have produced. This also means that my work is more presentable within a portfolio which I have set up using the deviant art web portfolio service. The site is still 'under construction'. A small quantity of work has been uploaded which sits great within the site but it is yet to reach a stage where one could use it to spread my work, although it would only take a small amount of time to get to that stage, one day tops. This, I hope will be done in the very near future and the site address will be uploaded to this blog as soon as that happens, I may even look at registering my own domain name depending on the cost. In line with that site I am also hoping to update the layout and presentation of this blog to coincide with it.

Finally, to look at the course itself and to conclude my year. I really can give nothing but praise to the course and those that run it. The tutors have always been extremely understanding of the difficulties I have faced over the last few years and have given nothing but the utmost support. The course also boasts some impressive guest lectures each year and this year has been no exception. I myself have particularly enjoyed the guest lectures provided by Codemasters earlier in the year, considering that this is a company that I'd be more than happy to work for the possibility to make connections with the company in any small way is a huge leap over what any other courses could offer a student.

I would also like to mention the fantastic level of support and help from second and third year students and even a small number who have since left the course and are now working in industry. The help they provide is invaluable in terms of progression through the course of the first year and I hope it is something I am able to do for any new comers next year.

Its really difficult to find any negative areas within the course without being nit-picky. As I have mentioned I feel that there has been a surprisingly high amount of work load set this year which seems to me to be inconsistent with previous years. A few students have pointed out that some of the course structure that is outlined on the DMU Blackboard is slightly out of date and if this were to be corrected may go some way in bringing consistency to the projects being set each year.

To conclude, thank god the year is over! Not to say that I havn't thoroughly enjoyed the year but I might now go and sleep for the next five months to replenish my energy for next year! Seriously though, I am certainly looking forward to the summer break. The heartache of the previous few years should go some way to resolving itself and hopefully my stress levels will decrease as will my tiredness and my energy levels and enthusiasm should reach its peak once again and I can continue to produce the work I know I am capable of. I have already got some good ideas for the set summer projects and as soon as everything settles down more at home I am ready to get stuck in. I have also got some other ideas for smaller things to do over the summer but I feel its important just to continue to develop myself without wearing myself out any more!

I finally want to say thank you to my tutors for the support they have given me this year, its always nice to know that people have faith in you're abilities. I would also like to thank my peers, the new faces I have met this year. It has been hard to adjust after making such wonderful friends the first time round who have always been there and given so much love and support to myself and my partner but I have also met some wonderful new people this year who have also shown support, so thank you.

Here's to never giving up!

Thursday, 19 April 2012


Hmmmm, a tricky one for the game artist and possibly the biggest part of any game studio is the team who works on a games environment. Games have reached a point now where environments can be ultra-realistic, an exact re-creation of anywhere or any place on the planet, whether it be a race track in Gran Turismo or Paris in Call Of Duty, realism seems to be a big demand from the gaming community.

I think we should start by looking at what constitutes environment design with the game world, the environment is what is more commonly known as a 'level' in the gaming world. Everything a gamer can see within the location is the environment, the environment could be a city or it could be an open, featureless desert, but it is the location within the game which the player needs to move through in order to progress through the game. But if a person were to paint an environment, it could just be made to look pretty, that person would not have to take into account the function of the environment or the practicality, were as an environment artist working on a video game environment needs to consider how the player will move through the environment, how they will interact with the environment both in game and visually. I suppose the most difficult job for the artist is to create the illusion of freedom within the game world whilst still directing a player towards the objective, without feeling forced and whilst continually ensuring the player's interest and attention is kept, from anything like the placement of a building to a rock or piece of rust on a wall.

I think some might argue that somewhere along the line, or at least gradually, our creativity is being driven out by the demand for realism, but I just don't think this is the case. If we look at games like Dead Space or Uncharted, these games are not re-creations of anywhere in the world, nobody could actually go to these places, but everything appears real, the environments aren't fantasy, the aren't real p[laces, but they consist of real things, buildings, trees, the property's of the materials appear real, and even though these places don't exist they make the experience feel more real.

I have a very keen interest in becoming an environment artist, I feel the role provides much more freedom than a character artist in that the role isn't just focused on one aspect, even items, weapons, assets, vehicles become part of the environment they are in and need to be consistent within the style of the game.

Monday, 16 April 2012


We make connections everyday of our lives with inanimate objects, they should be meaningless encounters with discardable items. It can be a phone, maybe a car, but we do this because we believe these objects have 'character'. Possibly due to the human condition it is a necessity to make this association in order for us to make a connection and this gives a big clue into what is truly important in character.

Character design in games has come a long way, but so has the technology behind the games so that's probably why, but one thing that will always remain the same is how we will respond and make our connections with characters and its all about the story, the narrative. A story being told through visual elements, Pac-Man is no different to Crash Bandicoot, he is the happy-go-lucky hero of the game and any person can automatically and instantly recognize that, which is the vital initial connection which needs to be made.

Im a fan of both films and reading books and have always felt that books have had an edge over films in conveying character. I find films introducing new characters have a hard time in getting the viewer to make a connection within the restricted amount of time (2hours approx) and can quite often leave the viewer with an inadequate experience. Books on the other hand more often than not do a better job, one series of books in particular I'm a fan of are Stephen Kings The Dark Tower which span over nearly 4000 pages. The vastness of the story means that deep connections are made with certain characters of the books, we learn their histories, their motives and aspirations and their thoughts and feelings are constantly portrayed.

Video games have the advantage that they are able to convey character  in both of these ways, clearly the main attraction is the visual element and the gamers response to the imagery being presented and that's where a game artist comes in. But as technology continues to move at an alarming pace I fear sometimes we can lose track of what is truly important. Game characters dont need to be tens-of-thousands of poly's for us to truly appreciate their characterizations.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Storytelling in Games

In my opinion, storytelling is one of mankinds greatest assets and probably one of the oldest. I love stories and from a young age I have always wanted to construct my own stories, listen to others stories, watch films and above all else i have loved to read. I believe that for a very long time now people have been extremley lucky in that we can access an almost infinite amount of stories through the miracle of books. I find books so amazing and i believe that they have and always will be among some of mankinds most cherished items. I find books so much more immersive than any film, and a book dosn't restrict us visualy unlike a film and we are allowed to let our imaginations run wild! I will put my rant about 'the miracle of books' asside for another day (or blog) though and focus more on storytelling in games.

Before i move on i just want to talk about what i feel makes a good story and, just as important what i feel makes us good storytellers. I feel that most importantly a good story must involve its auidience even if its just within thier imagination, it should move the audience. A good story for me should also have direction and purpose. These next two i feel have the most strong connection with a game, and they are that a good story should always have a strong character or characters and a good story should always create vivid imagery which couldn't be more true than with a video game! 

So what makes us good storytellers? Well obviously the human brain is quite a marvelous thing, and is the engine, the power behind our 'imagination'. "The faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses." What saddens me though is that as we grow older, i feel that we are forced out of our storytelling abilities and that we have to struggle to keep our minds as open as they are when we are young. I feel that as we grow older our minds close and we begin to find it harder to look beyond 'the real', but i feel that we should cherish our vivid imaginations, it is a great gift to have!

So finally, does storytelling make a good game? Well obvcourse it does. To me the whole point of a video game is to immerse the audience in an interactive experience. I think video games (some atleast) have taken storytelling to a whole new level, they have proven the point of how valuable a strong character is, and through control, the ever growing vividness of the imagery, and the immense interaction provided, like I have said, video games have taken storytelling to a whole new level and i feel, like i have mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that they may one day replace films as the more common medium to experience and immersive and vivid story.

Oh and by the way, a good story should always leave an imprint, make us remember it and leave us wanting more!

Art Direction for games

The director of a film is always one of the highest roles during the film production and is perhaps only second to the producer. The same applies to the role of direction within game development and is therefore equally important.

Within the art studio the art director is in control and responsible for the visual style and quality of art in a game. The main clue is in the name f the job role, and so, the art director is responsible for defining the visual 'direction' of a game, this will include everything a player can see in the game as well as colour, mood, tone, texture details, and will cover all aspects of the game, character, environment, assets etc. The art director works closely with the games designer and carries the burden of communicating the vision of the game to the art team and therefore one of the most important aspects of any directors job is to pre-visualise the end product to ensure there is a consistency of style throughout the project.

Art direction is an extremely important role, particularly now when games companies are under huge amounts of pressure to deliver first class game titles with virtually no margin for error and project budgets reaching into multiple millions of pounds.

The art director should work closely with the lead artists of a project team to ensure that the game designers vision and the artistic vision for the game are carried out and achieved in the final product. Also, with an art director and lead artist working closely together they can take on certain jobs together meaning aspects of the project are completed more efficiently and again retains, or should retain consistency within the game's final visual outcome. 

It is the job of the art director to have an open line of communication with all of the team. Again this will ensure that consistency throughout the project is achieved, but will also ensure that the game designer's vision is achieved within the final product.

From watching the special features of 'Black Hawk Down' I made a few notes on important aspects within the art direction of the film that I think can be applied to art direction in any field;
-To gather as much reference material as you can, they referred  to this as 'pin-ups'.
-Photograph own stuff (scouting).
-Storyboard, this is to ensure exploration before doing something final and includes information within sketches and drawings
-A response to the visual imagery.
-To pre-visualise the end product.

Its all about the art!