Friday, 26 December 2008

Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse…just my rumble-pack controller!

The earliest memory I have of a games console is the Sega Mega drive (which I still use to this day). I would spend many a days of my childhood sitting on my Dad’s lap playing Desert Strike (he would let me fire the missiles) but I also used to play with him on Golden Axe II. Bearing in mind I was about 5 years old at the time, it answers the question of how easy it was to use. A simple 4 way D-pad allowed me to manoeuvre my warrior along a 2D scrolling environment. It was a simple yet effective set-up that provided hours of fun.

However the Sega Megadrive isn’t the oldest console in my household. We still have a working ZX spectrum Sinclair. It’s great to have such a range of working consoles but my word, the Sinclair is fussy. It reads games off of tapes and the slightest nudge would obliterate hours of loading time. We mostly use a keyboard for the spectrum games but with no games manuals it soon became frustrating to use as I would continuously forget the controls. My parents tell me that they did use a joystick for the arcade-style games but that broke a while ago now.

Because my parents chose the path of Sega and Sonic the Hedgehog, I never got to play on any old Nintendo systems until quite recently. The N64 has some amazing games that I have enjoyed playing but I absolutely loath the controllers. The awkward 3 handle design made it impossible for me to know which way I was holding it and, in my mind, ruined the whole experience for me.
To me, the Playstation 2 Dual Shock controllers are the best game pads. The analog (analogue?…Americans tsk) sticks are excellent to use for most genres of games. The increased number of buttons meant games could include more controllable actions, which increased the overall game-play experience.

I was therefore pleased to know that the PS3 had kept much of the original design and thank the lord for the new wireless feature, no longer do I have to sit 2 metres from the console, I can now lounge to my heart’s content on the couch at a more reasonable distance. However, I’m not keen on how controllers are trying to incorporate trigger buttons. It may fell more realistic but those horrid marshmallow triggers on the PS3 controllers are just awful to use.

The future of game controllers is uncertain. Games and consoles are heading in the direction of including the user more. Interaction is now an important feature and the Wii remote is a good example of that. The Wii-mote allows the user to play with more precision and to get more involved (though at times the sensitivity really infuriates me). But what about futuristic capabilities such as virtual helmets, would we really need controllers as well?

Personally I feel that the Playstation 2 controllers, as well as the console, are quite a successful design. There is enough buttons for the user to feel in control and the design is quite comfortable to hold for hours on end.

But for efficient game-play give me a keyboard and mouse any day.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

You say it best when you say nothing at all

Storylines…loveable, debateable, necessary? Oh, and lets chuck some mutes in there too.

In may opinion, a game needs a good storyline to keep me interested. I mean, my favourite games of all time, the fantastic Jak and Daxter trilogy, (yes I know I go on about them too much) have an amazing storyline that links all three games together. There are twists and turns in the plot, two-faced characters and villainous enemies, it kept me in suspense.

But then in all fairness some of my other favourite games such as Left 4 Dead, Guitar Hero 3 and Super Smash Bros have no storyline to speak of what-so-ever. However these games are only fun when played with friends. When I play Super Smash Bros by myself I lose interest very quickly (but then I tend to also with friends, but that’s only because I get beaten a lot and I really don’t like to lose), which brings me back to why storylines are good.

A good storyline adds another level to the gaming experience. Not only are you carrying out the physical game-play but you’re motivated to do so by the story.

A great narrative allows the player to identify with the playable character more. By understanding the history and motives of your character you become more emotionally involved and interact with the game on both a physical and mental level.

However, for me personally there is always one aspect that truly separates you from a character…the dialogue. No matter how much you know about the playable character, their dialogue always creates a barrier that prevents you from fully getting involved as it constantly reminds you that you are not them. However does this apply if you’re character is mute?

The most famous and successful example I can think of would be Gordon Freeman from Half-life but there are many others such as the playable character in GTA III. You never really find out much about that character, but I have the feeling that becoming emotionally attached to a homicidal maniac that enjoys running over prostitutes is not a good idea. There is also Jak from the first Jak and Daxter games but he magically regains his voice in the 2nd game after being horribly tortured but more about that later.

Right back to the Half-life games. A very popular series of games due to an exceptional storyline that successfully incorporates puzzles, combat and a narrative. However I don’t think it would have been as popular if Gordon wasn’t a mute. Not only does the first person perspective make you feel like you Gordon himself but you don’t have the dialogue barrier. Gordon doesn’t answer for you and therefore you don’t detach yourself from the character, resulting in a much more involved game-play.

However to pull off having a mute character, you have to have a pretty exceptional storyline, otherwise the player will feel uninvolved and bored.

In my opinion, I feel that muted characters are more successful at involving a player, as characters with dialogue is like watching a film. Yes you feel like your there in the moment sometimes but you’re always aware that you are watching a film and can never quite fully appreciate the game.

Hmmmm i seem to have gone off on a this space...

Oh! I forgot about Zelda, another hugely successful game series in which the main character, Link, never talks.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

All I want for christmas is ... a remote controlled rat !?!

Yes you heard me right. The other day I watched a lovely little documentary that explored the connection between the human brain and computers. I found the program very interesting and debatable but what disturbed me was the experiments they carried out on rats, monkeys and bulls.

I was horrified to see a poor little rat with electrodes wedged into it’s brain. As if that wasn’t upsetting enough, the electrodes allowed you to move the rat left and right. I’m against animal testing to begin with, so I was already disgusted that all of this was in the name of science!
But it made me think, at what point does this get out of control?

In 5 years time the best selling Christmas present could be a remote controlled rat. In 7 years it could be a horse! This may even affect the games industry. If the general public can gain control of real living creatures, why would they want to play simulated games?

It doesn’t have to stop there. Brain control could even extend to humans, creating soldiers that are controlled from behind the front lines. This could then be applied for leisure. Popular characters such as the Spartans from Halo could be created using remote controlled humans, allowing people to play live action games.

But enough of that…

Friday, 21 November 2008

The only way is up?

You’ve done it. You’re excited. It’s your first job in the games industry and what are you doing?…

Modelling rocks.

You turn to look over at the Art Director, rolling in influence and money.
But we all have to start somewhere.

Today’s entry is all about the Art Director.

Thanks to some handy little links and some of my own reading, I have found that being an Art Director could be quite fun.

Although they might not do the drawing and sketching directly, Art Directors are responsible for overseeing every object of the game. They work closely with Creative Directors to set artistic goals and define the style of the game. Not only that but their ‘visions’ have to be achievable and within budget. Art Directors also have the job of selected a skilled art team in which to communicate their vision.

Art Directors may not ever lift a pencil but the overall outcome of the game art is initially based on their ideas. It would take years of experience and practice in the industry to achieve the status of an Art Director. They are indirectly responsible for every object in the game and it would take a lot of hard work and skill to make that happen.

However for me, I would find it hard to have an idea or vision for a game and not be able to physically draw it myself. Even though my artists will be talented (or just hardworking) they will not necessarily draw the same image that you have in your head.
On the other hand, years of experience could change that. The challenge of overseeing a team of people, communicating with them and defining the artistic style of the game could make my life very interesting.

Watch this space…

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Great parties but no art

The title of this post is slightly irrelevant but I just really liked the quote. Taken from ‘The Art of Computer Game Design’ by Chris Crawford.

When reading the preface of the article, what jumped out at me were the comments on how game art can be compared to such masterpieces by Da Vinci or Picasso.

Quite easily.

Well at least to me they can be. What we have to understand is that this article was originally published in the early 1980s. Back then games were still in their early stages. Consisting of pixels and restricted colours, of course game art wasn’t vital. Early games were left in the hands of programmers and so artists took a back seat.

However in today’s society, Game Art is just as vital as any other aspect of game production to achieve the all important Game play.

I’ll admit I was originally confused by the phrase ‘Game Play’. What exactly did it mean and to what extent? A board game plays differently to a card game, which in turn is different to a computer game.

After reading through some intriguing web pages, I have come to interpret ‘Game Play’ as an experience.
Game play is the level of interaction determined by in game aspects such as environment, the rules and the goals. In turn, these aspects of a game enhance the overall experience of the game. I partly arrived at this interpretation due to my own expectations when playing a game.

In a good game I look for suspenseful storyline and intriguing characters, but I also like pretty environments that make good use of the graphics. However, these expectations apply more to single player games, which implies that different games require different priorities during game play. Single-player games need good storylines to keep the player interested, whereas multiplayer games need a bizarre concept that will enhance the experience. A racing game will need different level designs to a horror-survival game.

Overall, the ‘Game Play’ a production company tries to achieve will always vary from the players ‘Game Play’ as everyone has their own preferences and experiences.

Watch this space…

The only place Success comes before Work is in the dictionary

Quite relevant i thought after wednesday's discussion. It really made me think as i was briefly listed as gifted and talented (for art), but the whole concept of the club activities was absurd. There were about 20 of us each from different subject backgrounds and all we ever did was sit at a computer for an hour.

I always argue that everyone can draw. To me there is no such thing as not being able to draw or do art. The more you draw, the better you will get. Probably not as black and white as that but after wednesday it really made me think that hard work is going to be the key to the next 3 years.

Monday, 17 November 2008

A good book makes a crap film...

Hollywood…I really enjoy watching films but sometimes I feel that it’s quality rather then quantity.

In this day and age there is a phenomenal amount of films being produced and most of them aren’t any good. This reminds me of the crash in the games industry in the 80s as the quality of games was suffering due to the quantity of games being made.

A very wise man once told me that a good book makes a bad film. After thinking long and hard about the subject, I find the statement to be true.

A major example is Lord of the Rings. I was never really a fan of the books but they are well written and paved the way to many other great fantasy treasures. However the films are just awful. I don’t care what anyone says but three 3 hour films of pretty orc fights could easily have been squeezed into 1 action packed film that held my attention longer than 5 minutes. Also the films don’t stay true to the books, which just annoys me.

This links gets my point across quite nicely :

This blog was inspired by an advert for a Max Payne film. It made me wonder, if a good book makes a bad film, what about a good game?
I’m not so hopeful. I mean the Tomb Raider films were just awful. I mean absolutely terrible. The resident evil films are watchable but only because they’re not anything like the games.

It’s just a shame that it seems to be more about making money. When a game does well they flog it and make more pointless sequels (except for awesome trilogies where the storyline applies, Jax and Daxer anyone?) then turn it into a film. When a film does well it’s flogged even more and rarely are the sequels any better. Oh and it annoys me even more when classic films are resurrected for a quick buck! The main culprit being George Lucas. Just leave Star Wars and Indiana Jones alone, they are timeless classics and I would like them to stay that way.

Watch this space…

Friday, 31 October 2008

The Art of Games Writing

Before buying a game, I always read reviews on-line beforehand. I do this because I find it very useful, sometimes you get the occasional moron who just sits there and repeatedly types 'This game is shit! Do Not Buy!' but the more you read on the more you realise that the author in question is an incompetent fool who doesn't know the first thing about games writing.

But then neither do I.

Today's post has opened up my eyes towards the concept. After reading many examples of games writing, I now have a better understanding on how challenging it must be.

On-line games writing, I find, is quite subjective. The articles in question consist mainly of very strong opinions and interpretations, however, they always succeed in backing up their argument. Sure, I may not agree but at least what is being said has some truth to it rather than 'This game is shit!Do Not Buy!' purely because the guy got stuck on the first level but didn't tell us why.

Also, the articles come across in such a way that you don't feel that you have to agree. So what if they didn't like the way a car was obliterated after it crashed, to some players that is what they seek out in a game.

Subjective reviews may not seem the best way to review a game as it is mainly down to the preferences of the player, but can objective rankings ever really work?

Some games have percentage scores sprawled across their cover but when playing it yourself you may not find it to your taste. But then what factors of a game make it scoreable? 'This game has a big gun (+2 points) but then this game has a red tree (-5 points). It's like giving the Mona Lisa a score out of ten, everyone's score is going to be different.

Which brings me onto my own writing. I feel that I write subjectively, but that is because I do. I read a page of facts and opinions and I break them down into my interpretations. For example 'New Games Journalism', I love it! Others would read it and see it as a page long rant about a random game, but to me I see it as an amusing article about certain aspects of a game that pissed this particular player off. I may not necessarily agree with them but I will still acknowledge what they say and then maybe undermine them later on my blog.

Speaking of subjective games reviews I will give you a link:
to quite possibly the greatest game reviewer that shall walk this Earth.

Watch this space...

Thursday, 30 October 2008

From Pong to Pacman continued...

This lovely chunk of text will look at the present games 'history' and how the needs and desires to create hyper-realism is affecting the games industry.

The most significant change in the games industry is the technology available. In the 80s we were playing text-based adventures on 16bit colour screens, or getting to grips with joysticks and game pads. However, today, we have consoles that experiment with realistic graphics, we have wireless controllers that offer a different interactive experience and we even have devices that fit into our pockets.

The industry has also changed economically, there are thousands of games, covering a wide range of genres that appeal to teenagers' disposable income. Games are also used as advertisement and teasers, with many movie-based games released before the film itself.

The amount of time and money invested in producing games has also dramatically changed. Back in the days of Pong and Pacman, a single programmer could easily make a game in a matter of months on what seems a feeble budget.

Nowadays, game production teams consist of hundreds of people, costing millions of pounds as they try to achieve realistic movement and textures.

In my opinion, I feel that computer games are at a point where the graphics and engines aren't going to be dramatically improved. I feel that games will head in the direction of the Nintendo Wii, where a different interactive approach to games will offer us a different experience such as virtual environments and mind control.

And now for my personal installment yet again.

For many years my family was happily content playing on the PC,with games such as the Sims and Age of Empires we would argue for hours over who's turn it was.

However, we never had any more consoles. I used to play on my friends PS1 but we never had anything like that ourselves...until, that is, my parents suddenly decided they would come home with a PS2 one day. I treated that machine as if it were my child. The first game I played on it was 'Jak and Daxter' and I remember thinking it was the best thing I'd ever seen. I play it now (though still an all time awesome game) I feel myself reaching for the ps3 controller instead as I have lost the ability to appreciate games that don't have mind blowing graphics.

And now for the bit in which every game artist will want to hit me for. I think the future of games lies in the experience and not the graphics. Yes I know I have a PS3 on a huge HDTV and yes I know it is awesome but I'd much rather have a laugh on the Wii or Guitar Hero as I prefer interactive games that keep me interested for hours, rather than just pressing the A button every now and then.

I just feel that some games brought out now focus more on the graphics than the actual game play and that is what lead to the crash in the games industry in the first place!

Watch this space...

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

From Pong to Pac-man...continued

In this next instalment of the brief history of games we move onto what is known as the ‘middle’ history of games. To me the ‘middle’ history of games links quite closely to our Middle Age history in that it was slightly dull.

In the 1980s the availability of personal computers meant that multiplayer arcade games were being replaced with more interactive single player games. The most popular genre of the time was text-based adventure games. These games allowed players to type in commands and interact with the environment in a world of dungeons and dragons, heavily inspired by the fictional literature at that time.

However as technology advanced, games aimed to become more of a graphical experience. Machines such as the Sinclair ZX spectrum and Commodore 64 led to an increase in the production of games and new genres. Game producers also began to explore with more colours to offer a more visual experience.
However the machines came at a high price and so many companies went bankrupt in the industry crash of 1983. The crash shaped the face of the games industry as it brought attention to the poor quality of the games, that ultimately led to the fatal incident and so it made people think twice about the quality of their games.

And so the crash gave way to the birth of game icons such as the NES and the Sega system. Classic characters that we all know and love were created and video games were graphically improved. An interesting fact I came across was that the NES was the more popular console in America and Japan, whereas the Sega was more frequent in Europe and Australia, (you might not have found this interesting but I had always wondered why I had been brought up playing Sonic and not Mario).

This new generation of consoles had also changed the interaction with the games available as players could now use gamepads and joysticks for a more exciting game play.
Now for my personal instalment, as said (or typed rather) previously, my earliest memories of games was of the Sega Megadrive.

However my earliest memory of a computer game was probably playing Lemmings on this bulk of a laptop that my Dad had from work. But my more vivid memories were playing floppy disc games such as Prince of Persia and those godawful pixel perfect jumps. I wasn’t 9 until we bought a pc that would play CD-rom games and the only reason we bought it was so we could play a game that we won in a tombola called Populas : The Beginning, which til this day remains as one of my favourite games :P

Watch this space…

Monday, 13 October 2008

From Pong to Pac-man...a brief history of computer games

I will now shock and appal many of you, I thought Atari’s 'Asteroids' was the first computer game. Apparently I was half right though, it was the first commercial video game but after some research I was surprised to discover that computer games actually date back to the 1950s.

In 1952 an early version of tic-tac-toe was created by a PhD professor, however the first game made for computer use was Spacewar!. Created in 1962 by Steve Russel, Spacewar! was played on nearly every early research computer. It was a basic game that consisted of two ships firing proton torpedoes at each other.

Most early computer games (generally before the late 1970s) were multiplayer games. This is a cultural reflection as the early computers were large in size and very, very expensive so multiple people used them. I say 'people' but they were generally scientists and professors as most computer games were originally developed on computers used for military and research purposes.

So this brings me as to who I think decided that computers should be used for recreational purposes. My answer, scientists. I feel that games were conceived out of curiosity. Programming the first games would have been an experiment, a challenge, a new way to test the capability of the computers. It also brings a phrase to mind ‘work hard, play hard’, as most early game creators such as A.S Douglas (tic-tac-toe), William Higginbotham (Tennis for Two) and Steve Russel (Spacewar!) were all researchers or professors at universities.

I feel that the science based background of games is significant as it shows that games have changed and developed with the technology available at the time. In the early days, computer games were basic programs and pixels as they were results of the basic technology available then. However, now, games are more conceptual, testing the skills of both artists and the boundaries of the graphics available.

This will nicely lead into my personal games history timeline, which I will slowly update with each post. I have been playing games for as long as I can remember, my parents are both keen gamers and we still have a working ZX spectrum Sinclair. My earliest memory of playing a game will be Golden Axe2 for the Sega Mega Drive. I would spend many an afternoon playing adventure mode with my Dad, when I was just 4 or 5 years old but there are photographs of me playing when I was younger!!!

I am vastly exceeding my word limit so watch this space…

Friday, 3 October 2008

An Introduction to the ramblings of KwazySheep

On a dreary Wednesday morning in late September, I was informed that I would have to keep a weekly blog. The purpose of this blog, I was told, was to replace strenuous essay writing and that we would discuss weekly tasks set for us.

Well at first, to be completely honest, I was a bit ticked off. I had just recently spent 2 years studying the wonderful English language. Week after week I was writing lengthy essays and I was good at it! I was so proud of myself in thinking I had acquired a valuable life skill. Writing in a coherent structure would surely benefit me for the rest of my life, so needless to say, when I was told that I would be writing a ‘blog’ I was fairly annoyed.

It was only until later that night, when I was sat in bar intoxicated with Bacardi and lemonades (no ice = more drink ;P) I began to realise that blogs are actually accurate reflections of our digitally orientated lifestyles. Our society is rapidly changing and I was going to have to discard aspects of my ‘old skool’ education and keep up with it.

With my recent revelation still in mind I sat down to create my blog. I was amused by the choice of backgrounds and names (I opted for my hotmail alias KwazySheep... a very long story) but part of me really didn’t want random internet users to know all the details of my life. To me a blog was an online diary, a concept I found very disturbing. So to put my mind at rest I browsed some existing bloggers. I was surprised by the wide range of styles and personas, blogs didn’t have to be about our personal lives, they could be about whatever the blogger desired.

With that in mind I decided (well I didn’t have any choice really, it was part of my task) that my blog would be an entertaining read of my opinions and interpretations, hopefully written in such a way, that my charming personality would shine through :P teehee.

However I am still determined to get my disciplined writing skills in there, so my blogs will also be pristine and coherent, well hopefully they will.

And on that note I will end my first ever post there.

Watch this space...