Wednesday, 30 December 2009


As a child I was very imaginative, in the playground my classmates would gather round as I invented something new and fun to play. I’d whisk us off to a magical world where we were powerful fairies or demons, or we’d play our own take on Cops ‘n’ Robbers… vampires and princesses ( I had unusually large canines as a child so naturally I was always a vampire.)
Because of my imagination I was gifted with artistic skill, I could spend ours doodling new shapes and colours but one thing always frustrated me.

I could never put across just exactly what I was picturing. My head would be filled with mythical beasts and creatures but I could never draw them how I was imaging them, so alas I had to rely on my descriptive capabilities which also made me and good at English. Huzzah!

I’ve always struggled with drawing thins from fantasy until quite recently, when I realised that using the world around me could help me get across my vision.

Take last year’s organic creature project for example. I knew vaguely that I wanted to create a creepy two-legged creature but by studying the shapes of eggs I had created myself a body and by looking at the branches of ivy I had created the legs.

I was amazed at how everyday objects could be used creatively to make something new. I have also learned to approach projects with a clear mind and to never-ever go with my first idea. Instead, I take that idea and hybrid it with something I find interesting. For example I was challenged with designing a vehicle, I wanted to make a helicopter but to define it as my own I studied the shapes and colouring of wasps to create an original vehicle concept. However taking into affecting my new understandings I abandoned the helicopter idea, worked and reworked my design until I had a wasp/submarine hybrid that I was proud to call my own.

From all of this I have learnt that using examples from life and studying the world around us is invaluable. Though we may all have our own designs and ideas, using realistic examples creatively will result in a much more professional and original outcome.

However the only drawback from all this is that I am now a hybrid designing monster :)

An Epic Battle is on it's way, choose your side

Realism versus fantasy, an epic battle of which gamers everywhere take up their AK’s and Magic Staffs and fight to the death in an epic battle that will last centuries.

Well not quite, but I do wish that someone somewhere in the world of gaming would turn around and be like “ hey let’s not try to make this soldier as real looking as we can, why not make an awesome looking yeti?”

Yet again, this is my one woman rant on realism.

I have tried on numerous occasions to approach realism with open arms only to be cast aside as I realise that realistic games are god-awful and dull to play. I just don’t understand who on earth turned around to their production team an said “don’t worry guys, we don’t have a storyline and we’ve only programmes the X button but it’s fine the graphics will make the game.”

Nothing makes me more angry than when an awesome looking game is just that. No gamelay, no originality, nothing. Which begs the question is there anything creative left in reality?

Obviously I approach this question from a Game Artist point of view as the world around us is undoubtedly creative to artists, architects etc. but how many nice-looking trees can be modelled before they just become objects gamers completely overlook?

Take children ,for example. Even though today’s youths are exposed to a world of war, violence and death, the majority of them can be found in their back gardens playing in a make-believe world of fairies, magic and pokemon.

Deep, deep down in all of us it is innate, we all secretly prefer a world of fantasy and magic, we all wish we could fly or cast fire.

Which is probably why films such as Avatar and Lord of the Rings have do so well because we all like to escape from realism so why don’t games do the same?

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Take me to a world far far away

I want to be Na'vi...

'nuff said.

They call me the Christmas Critic

It’s Christmas time and without fail me and my brother will receive a nice little collection of games between us. I am not in the slightest way saying this is a bad thing as my Mum always seems to get games we really enjoy.
But alas, since my eyes have been opened to the bitter world of anatomy, colour theory and bump maps I can’t help but pass judgement on every game I play.

His face isn’t right, her arms are too long, why is that tree purple?

But then, I think back to older games such as Tomb Raider or Croc. Oh my word, there is endless amounts to pick at in those games yet we don’t. we pass it off as being old. Much like how an elderly relative can get away with saying the most filthiest things but everyone overlooks it because there old.

But this just pondered me further. In a very competitive industry can we get away with ‘old’, or should we z-brush the oblivion out of everything we do? Is it more creative to use more polys or more texture space? In which case, are the ps3’s games more creative than the DS’s.
Of course not, but I can’t help but think we’re being pushed that way. There’s seems to be an underlying tone amongst colleagues that it’s better to work for Naughty Dog than Sega, or Sony than Nintendo but I fail to see why.
I believe that a 5,000 tri character executed with perfect topology is far more impressive than a 80,000 tri Z-brush sculpt but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more creative.

Creativity is personal and individualised. No two people like the same painting for the same reasons and the same applies to games. What my brother will find amazing I will find fault in for I am the Christmas Critic.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Because Dinosaurs live under the Great Wall of China

During my increasingly busy schedule of sleeping, drawing and eating I somehow found the time to raid my boyfriend’s PlayStation games and play Tomb Raider 2. I remember playing the pixelated game as a kid but I felt that a bit of reminiscing was in order.

After pratting around on the assault course and repeatedly locking my butler in the fridge, I passed the controller over to my loved one, so that he could fight the scary T-Rex’s and tigers and face the horrifying timed jumps in which Lara decides to start knitting instead of doing what-you-are-telling-her-to!!!

But as I watched him play, I no longer saw the same game I feared as a child, no, this time I watched it through the eyes of the horrid critical monster I had become. But as I giggled at the 500 tri cave and the various shades of grey squares that made up it’s walls, I had an epiphany.

I wish I was born ten years earlier.

If only I had grown up in an era where games were made up of simple meshes and no-one had even heard of a specular or bump map. How nice it must have been to open up photoshop and draw an orange rectangle as a brick or a grey square for a stone.

Gone would have been the days where I sit frustratingly tweaking the warp tool just so that my bricks don’t tile repetitively.
Vanquished would have been the weeks of me tweaking 9,000 verts and polys and how welcoming it would have been to watch the industry grow from the beginning, to be able to improve my skills along with it, instead of being chucked head-first into a violent sea of countless polys, terrifying tri-counts and ambient occlusion nightmares.

Oh-wait , hold it there, a T-Rex has just appeared in Tomb Raider. Yes Lara, because dinosaurs do indeed live under the Great Wall of China… or maybe they do and that is indeed why the great wall was really built. Someone should really tell the Mongolians to stop stealing stones from it for their farms or they are going to be in for one nasty surprise.

But I digress.

Just as I am sitting here wishing I could make a hugely successful pixelated mess, I bet the artists back then wish they had worked on pong.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Masters of the Arts

Right, now that I finally have five minutes to myself (major bickering over who gets internet access that night) I can at last have an hour or so to jot down my inner most thoughts for you all to read with your cup of tea, and today children is all about my inspiration.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked which master of art I like. Quite tricky, I thought, as I have researched and transcribed so many over the past few years ( H.R.Giger was quite interesting I might add) but I didn’t want to pick someone who had only inspired me recently, I wanted to go way way back, back to my childhood.

We are always arguing whether or not we are born creative or we acquire it, whether it’s innate or we develop it as a skill. Either way I figured that the art I have seen as a child would deep down have influenced me more than I know.

So sat in my rented, poorly decorated room I envisioned my family home.

For as long as I can remember I have stared at an African sunset that takes pride in our living room but that was a mass produced print so that wouldn’t do ( though it may explain my love for warm places :P)

Okay, think Rachel, think. My dad’s decoupage, no. A giant fading tiger print, no. Paint by numbers, no. but then, right there in front of me were two tiny paintings at the top of the stairs. Thick heavy brushstrokes depicting two poppy fields in a French landscape.

Emotional, beautiful, Renoir.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a French impressionist who developed his early artistic skills in a porcelain factory and his abilities to capture a social working-class gathering or the waters of the seine have inspired me all my life.

His paintings dance and sparkle with colour and tone, whether it be finely detailed like ‘Girls at the Piano 1892’ or expressive as seen in ‘Coast Near Wargemont1880’. his use of colour is almost daring in some landscapes, using pinks and purples to communicate texture and depth.

Just by replicating a few of his paintings I have developed new skills in which I can finally add my own personal touch into my digital paints, and this is why Renoir is my Master.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Realism Gone Mad

As the game industry grasps it’s claws onto new technology I can’t help but question in which direction games will advance. I’ve already dipped my toe into the overwhelming game future that is Realism but a recent game I played made my mind boggle over whether realism is what we what or need.

In between my many hours of getting to grips with max ( quite successfully I might add) there comes a point where you really, really need a break, so off I trundled into my flatmates room and loaded up our copy of Sims3. I wasn’t really sure why I chose to play that game during my break because surely playing other people’s lives whilst taking a break from your own isn’t really a break blah, blah, blah it’s too complicated and perplexing but nonetheless I digress.

As a laugh and out of curiosity we all gather round and decided to replicate our flat and ourselves. So after some tweaking and lots of immature giggles as we increase our anatomical proportions wildly we finally end up with our little gang. We moved built our flat and moved them in, got them jobs and skills etc and then left it on freewill for a bit.

And this is when it dawned on me

As I watched my Rachel sim sit in her room playing on the computer, my Yogi sim sitting in his room playing his computer, my Matt sim cooking in the kitchen etc. I couldn’t help but feel a chill down my spine as walked around our flat and found everyone behaving exactly as their sims did.

Game realism is going too far

If something as fun as the sims can get my sims living a better life than myself (she’s a well paid rockstar :P) what on earth is going to happen to games in 5 years time or even 2 years???

I don’t want to go to philosophical on the whole topic as this is meant to be just a quick blog whilst waiting for flatmates to return so I can go food shopping and hopefully not starve to death, so I will just leave you with some funny anecdotes of my sims.

Within an hour of my flatmate joeSim moving in he had already developed gay tendencies towards mattSim (cue lots of immature laughter as we try to get them to make-out with each other)

YogiSim got his girlfriend sim pregnant twice and is now vice-president

JoeSim was electrocuted by the TV and died; this was quickly followed by lots of panicked screams (from real flatmates) as everything that day on the sims3 had come true so far. Needless to say we quit without saving and brought his sim back to life.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Is realism really what we want?

The Summer, a time to sober up, catch up on sleep and gorge myself on mum’s cooking.

For me it’s also a time to get my teeth back into gaming.

With the luxury of a huge TV and my brother’s ps3, I couldn’t resist starting a game of Saint’s Row 2.

Now I have always been a fan of Grand Theft Auto but I was bitterly disappointed by GTA4. Sure the graphics were nice and it was fairly entertaining to see a balding Russian fly through a windscreen every time I nudged a car or tree. But where was all the ridiculous gang warfare and jetpacks that kept me entertained for hours on San Andreas?

Well unfortunately for me, this is the sad world of realism.

With the fast development and improvement of game engines and graphics, the race to achieve a realistic game has started. But does that necessarily mean we want to play realistic games?

Playing as Nice in GTA4 was dull, I didn’t want to watch a character watch TV or buy a drink, no matter how ‘pretty’ or ‘awesome’ it looked, which brings me back to Saints Row 2.
Saints Row 2 is the direction GTA should have gone in. its gives you so much freedom within a sandbox environment. Random side missions include streaking, holding car passengers for ransom and impersonating cops. Homies can be customised to dress as ninjas and pimps. Not to mention the character customisation. ( mine is a 6ft female bondage punk with a giant purple Mohawk if you’re interested.)

Although the game does have an element of realism (buildings, cars etc) which are beautifully modelled and textured, it doesn’t make you play realism. I can still lose myself in an absurd environment for a good few hours, which I hope games stick to in the future.

Sure realism is nice to look at and compare to our own but that doesn’t mean we want to live it through on our consoles.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Give yourself a pat on the back!

Huzzarh!!! Not to sound too enthusiastic about my first year finishing but what a whirlwind adventure it’s been.

I came here wanting to be a character artist and I’m ending my first year contemplating a life in 3D modelling. I came here all fresh-faced and na├»ve and now I’m an individual that can look after myself.

I’ve really enjoyed my first year as a Game Art student and its turned out to be better than I expected. Yes, okay, 12 weeks without labs or 3D tutoring was a huge disappointment but the projects we have been given and to see how much I have already improved has made up for that.

The biggest surprise for me was the visual design. I was expecting something far more digital but I am enjoying the tasks we have been set far more. I think the biggest highlight has been the life-drawing. Any excuse to get covered head-to-toe in charcoal (I will certainly miss my war stripes!)

But more seriously I think the traditional art side of this course has for exceeded my expectations. It has helped me develop my skills and understand how to improve and flourish as an artist.

Rumours of a more digital-art orientation has saddened me. Sure a few Photoshop tutorials will help but I have learnt far more whilst left to my own devices. I think the traditional side of things is far more important as it can be applied to just about anything. I think lectures on the technical side of games would help as I still don’t have a clue what game engines do exactly and I cant even name half of the key game developers out there.

The film lectures, although unexpected, have actually been really helpful. They have widened my artistic knowledge and increased my repertoire of genres and styles. The blog writing keeps me literacy skills in ship-shape too. A discussion after the film would prove effective as it will help me reflect what we have gained from watching the film.

My only major complaint would be about the class sizes. It’s been worse than being in school. There is so many of us that I feel we rarely get feedback or just even time to get to know the tutors and other students.

I would also love the chance to critique games. In a similar style to the film sessions, I would jump at the chance to test out a game and then discuss its strengths and flaws as it will improve our knowledge of overall gameplay.

Looking back I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first year, I’ve grown as an artist and as a person and cant wait to get my teeth stuck into the second year.

To make you want to watch and films you want to play

To be entirely honest I didn’t know much about the GDC and was kinda looking forward to finding something to write about in a kinda of rabbit-in-headlights way.

But then, there on the homepage written in a fairly big but ordinary font read the name ‘Bob Rafei’.

I had no idea he was an advisory board member of the GDC but anyways, my heart skipped a beat at the mere thought of this blog task.

I was going to write about my idol. Not only is he part of the GDC (brownie points there) but it’s a chance for you all to see where it all started for me and how my idol has got me here. But first some background information. Bob Rafei is somewhat a games industry veteran. With 15 years in the industry he is a well respected Art Director that dabs into concept design and animation. He’s famously worked for Naughty Dog inc. working on successful titles such as ‘Crash Bandicoot’ and more recently ‘Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune‘. As the Art Director he is responsible for the iconic style and animation of ‘Crash’ and his character designs are mesmerising.

But, for me, his most awe-inspiring work is his work on the award-winning ‘Jak and Daxter’ series. (yes finally I get to get this all off my chest).

As I’m sure you are all aware the ‘Jak’ games are my absolute favourite games of all time. Not only do they have fantastic gameplay but they incorporate beautiful environments with colourful characters and witty humour. Bob Rafei’s vision and development on these games was a turning point for me. It wasn’t until my Dad brought home a PS2 with ‘Jak and Daxter’ to play on, that I realised what I wanted to do with my life.

But enough about me, this blog is all about worshipping the god that is Bob Rafei. He graduated with a degree in illustration and within a lot of his concept work he primarily uses marker pens that gives ‘Jak’ his iconic style.

Another thing that I admire about him is his illustrative style. Whilst most people prefer realism, I prefer bold, cartoon-y games. The big expressive eyes and stylised ‘elf’ ears is what set Rafei’s characters in ‘Jak and Daxter’ to stand heads above the rest. Not only that but he fuses metallic shapes with organic lines to create some beautiful vehicles and creature designs that really made the world of ‘Jak’ a thrilling experience to explore.

But sadly with the rumours of a fourth game in the series fading fast I have turned my attention to Rafei’s latest venture.

In 2008 he co-founded Big Red Button Entertainment. The aim of this was to have a mission of creating a base of original characters with the intent of (in Rafei’s words himself)
“to make games you want to watch and films you want to play”

I will definatly be watching this space…

When I grow up i want to be a cucumber???

We’ve all been there. Ask a room of 6 year olds what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll get some pretty standard answers.

“A Cowboy”
“An Astronaut”
“A Cucumber”

No the last one isn’t a joke, a kid really did say that to me.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always chirped that I wanted to be an Artist. Little did I realise that the industry of Artists is actually quite varied and specialised. For example when I went to college I was faced with a choice of fine art, graphic art, art and design, the list went on.

But then for a while I didn’t really want to dedicated myself to a particular area. I do remember a phase where I wanted to be a Zookeeper but seeing as I wouldn’t go anywhere near my guinea pigs’ hutch, I decided to leave that fantasy behind and moved on to ponder a career in science. Unlike some unfortunate people I was never really forced down path in my education. I was an all-rounded student, encouraged to do well in every area but Art was always my true calling.

I have been playing games for as long as I can remember but strangely most of the time I was more interested in the art-work in the instruction booklet than in the actual game itself. It wasn’t until I played ‘Jak and Daxter’ in about 2005 when I realised that I wanted to work within games. I was truly inspired by Bob Rafei’s work and after some helpful research, I discovered that my dream could come true. Game Artists existed and better yet, I could study it at university.

But now I’m here, I have to ponder the next stage in my life, what do I want after university?

Well to aim high, for starters, being an Art Director would be the ultimate achievement of all my hard work. But to be a tad more realistic I’ll have to start lower down.

When I first started I wanted to be a character artist but that’s all changed now. Weeks of drawing landscapes and buildings have made me appreciate environment artists more as I like creating and capturing both a vision and atmosphere in an image. I have yet to find the passion to become a 3D artist. I mean I love texturing and watching Ben Mathis really inspired and awed me, but first I need to click with the actual model building. But I have a feeling that 3D art is a serious possibility for me and I had never even considered that before coming here.

So when I consider what I want out of university, I’m going to approach it the same way I approached school and college, instead of forcing myself down a specific path, I’ll embrace and strive to do my best in every aspect of this course and when I ‘click’ with a certain module or find a hidden passion for modelling, then I will grab the opportunity with both hands and enjoy the ride.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Thinking outside the box or just playing inside it?

In a previous post about creativity, I got very philosophic about defining creativity but after watching a video of Ken Robinson, I have been inspired to tackle the issue from a different angle.

A point made in his speech was that we don’t grow into creativity but we grow out of it and I feel that this is a very justified argument.

As children we are ALL very imaginative, using our minds to create pretend situations that only we can see. Children have the ability to turn a cardboard box into a realm of spells and dragons. We’ve all been there. Everyone can turn around and proudly say that one Christmas they spent longer sat in the box the present came in than playing with the present itself. Surely this ability to dream up scenarios is a defining aspect of creativity. Everyone can or has done it meaning that everyone is creative, it is something we are born with.

It’s just our journey through life that causes some people to lose touch with their creative thinking.

Within the industry creativity is a must. The ability and requirements needed to develop a unique and interesting game requires the creative flair or artists and designers as they have been encouraged to continue grasping onto their creativity throughout their education.

Which brings me onto a comment made to me this week.

What if we weren’t bound by the paths of education? What if we were all allowed to be creative and live life doing what we enjoy?

Well for starters we wouldn’t have much of a life to live as we all slowly descend into anarchy and chaos. Can you really imagine a conference room of dancers heading the Tesco corporation or the Houses of Parliament filled with expressionist painters. Sure it would be nice and everyone would be happy, but sometimes the job needs doing. Why else do people work in jobs they don’t like. It’s so they can earn money to do the things that they do enjoy in life.

But luckily for me I am doing something that I enjoy and I get to be creative as a result of it.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Life Changing or Career Building?

Picture yourself as an Art Director. You’ve been given a major new game title to work on and you’re trawling through hundreds of applicants trying to build you’re perfect team.
You pause.
Do you judge them by their art or their qualifications? Is a degree in Game Art more desirable than a portfolio?

Well for my sake I hope they consider both.

University is a stepping stone, a bridge between our compulsory education and a hard working life. The majority of people go to university for it’s career prospects. After all, we are constantly promised and tempted with the prospects of a good life and a well paid job if we sit tight and behave through school, if we pour thousands of pounds into the governments pockets to achieve a degree that no longer carries the pride and recognition they once did.

From a sociological view, education and university aren’t just about focusing on a career. They help us build key life skills such s interaction and communication. Going to university is the branch beyond the nest, a chance to ruffle our feathers, puff out our chests before leaping into the world beyond. Outside lecture hours we learn how to look after ourselves, how to cook and clean and manage finances, how to balance a social life with a working one.
No longer do we clutch our laundry staring daunted at the strange contraption in front of us, wondering how our mothers’ manage it. No longer do we open the cupboards and fridge and find them magically restocked by our loving fathers.

Now I’m an odd case. I came to university because I enjoy having an education. I enjoy learning new things and expanding my knowledge. So what if I never use the Pythagoras theorem, given the choice I would probably have wanted to learn it anyways. But in saying all that, I was a lucky one. Never in my compulsory education have I been forced down a path I didn’t want to go down. I was encouraged to do well in all my subjects and when I decided to pursue an artistic career I was supported by both teachers and parents.

So came round the end of my college years and I was faced with the choice of staying home or venturing off to university. It had never been an option for me not to go to university, both my parents went and I’d been brought up listening to their tales. I wanted to go to university because it would be the next stage of my life. I wanted the lifestyle and individuality, I wanted the knowledge and skills, but most of all I wanted a specified career.

I’ve always been under the assumption that going to university would get me further in life, I had the grades and the attitude and I wanted to push myself further.

So here I am.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

If music be the food of games then play on.

Hmmm, sound in games is tricky as I tend to play most games muted with my own music blaring in the background. I do this for a variety of reasons -
1. The music is repetitive and boring
2. The music is distracting
3. I just plain don’t like it
But more often than not I mute it because it scares me less.

This is usually the case within fps games, I like playing them but they scare the shit out of me. There is nothing worse than creepy music and the sounds of some monster chasing you down a corridor. So if I mute the game there is no creepy music or sounds of monsters chasing me down corridors.
But then I guess it means that the music is effective as the purpose of it is to create suspense and make the game more thrilling.

However I tend to enjoy the music more in strategy games and RPG’s.
Games such as Age of Empires II was quite possibly the defining game music of my childhood. I adored it. Unfortunately the poor specs of my pc back then meant I yet again had to mute the music and was just left with the sounds of my humble villagers.

Going back earlier, my first game music memories come from the Sega and Sinclair. Manic Miner on the Spectrum Sinclair had the most repetitive loop of music ever that was fun to begin with but the monophonic-nursery rhyme eventually drove me insane and it couldn’t be muted as it blared out from a very ancient cassette player.

The Sega Megadrive, however, had some of the best game music ever, so good, that in most cases I didn’t mute it. Micro-machines, Golden Axe and Mega-lo-mania had awesome music that was well sited to the game and improved the overall gaming experience.
But the best game music of my life so far easily has to Sonic the Hedgehog. The music and sounds to the original sonic have become infamous themselves, a defining sound that is instantly recognised by all. Let’s put it this way, I have never muted a game of Sonic … ever!

The level of importance of music in a game depends on it’s genre. Sound in needed in fps games to pinpoint enemies, RPG’s need atmospheric music and dialogue. Some series of games need to keep to a loved style such as Final Fantasy games.

Music is important as it sets the scene and creates suspense. A definitive piece of game music can make a break the popularity of a game. Classic, unforgettable games such as Tetris, Super Mario and Sonic have epic, memorable theme music that will be with us always.

But then some games rely on pre-released music such as GTA, Saints Row, Motorstorm etc. within games such as Grand Theft Auto, the player can cycle through radio stations of popular music, most racing games also include this feature. So not all memorable games have their own composed music as I will always associated Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ with GTA San Andreas.

Whether we notice it or not music is a key aspect of games. We may mute it or love it but it’s what makes up our individual gaming experience.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Hmmmm....Game Engines

I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed and so when it comes to how things work I usually turn a blind eye. So actually looking into how games work is proving quite a challenge.

I’ve heard of game engines, don’t get me wrong. I would regularly be playing games with my friends and whilst I was easily amused by the colour of my characters shoes, my friends would be in an in-depth discussion about the game engine and it’s physics. Now by this point I would have groaned, rolled my eyes and pleaded with them to stop being geeky and get back to playing the game. But just recently I’ve realised how important the game engine is.

Being an artist I’ve only ever focused on the concept work and the graphics. But without the game engine there would be no game. A game engine is the software system used to create a game. It programs key factors such as AI animation, lighting, shaders and physics.

There are many game engines been used but the major ones that most people have heard of include Cryengine, Source and Unreal. Now when looking at their own websites and specs most of them brag about dynamic lighting and real-time editing but what advantages do these big name engines have over the smaller companies.

Now most fps games tend to use the same game engines, which is good news for the bigger companies, but sadly not so good for the smaller developers.
Many of the smaller game developers are struggling to produce new big title games as they can’t afford to buy the game engine technology that many other games share.

However to develop their own game engine is too complex and expensive which causes the smaller companies to struggle within the industry. This then means that the bigger companies are gaining control of the market which may lead to a decline in the quality of games as there is less competition.

But for the companies that are able to develop their own game engine technology, it gives them a chance to put a unique edge to their games, increasing the popularity, desirability and sales.

So with the hype of the next-gen games, we could possibly see two major outcomes within the industry. Either a decline in the quality of games or an increase in the experimental approach to the gameplay and physics.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Ph34r my l33t sp34k....

Gaming is often associated with geeks and nerds that lock themselves in their room, browsing forums and usually being quite ‘pro’ online. Now a lot of you would argue that this is generally not the case as lots of people play games from Mums and Dads on the Wii to students on the Xbox but I disagree.

Playing games and gaming are entirely different aspects.

Playing games in general can be quite casual and is more associated with consoles. Get a few mates round and have an evening in, socialising and mocking each others abilities on Gears of War.
Online gaming, however, is completely different. Ranked matches, kill/death ratios and impressive achievements makes online gaming an entirely different experience. It’s not about socialising or having fun, it’s competitive and all about how much better you are compared to all the other ‘noobs’.

All over the world, national LAN parties are held so gamers can compete against one another, testing their skills. For online gamers, this is all part of their culture. But this varies from the casual gamers culture of meeting up and having fun.

For me it is a bit of both. I would consider myself part of two major gaming cultures.

First off there is the casual side of my own culture. I will regularly sit in a flat with a handful of my close friends and play a variety of Xbox games from Rockband to Halo 3. This is fairly social as I am interacting with people and holding conversations, which makes for an enjoyable and entertaining evening.

But then once a week, there is the LAN side of my culture in which me and the same handful of mates go to a small gamers society.
It’s scary how, by changing the setting, culture and games we adopt different attitudes and goals. We no longer socialise or interact as we take our seats at individual computers. We become extremely competitive, hell-bent on taking each other out in the most humiliating ways.

It’s no longer about having fun, it’s about who’s the best! (and it’s very rarely me)

Overall I would say games occupy a considerable amount of my life but then it’s not because I want to be the best ( thought that would be nice). It’s because I enjoy watching how it affects our behaviour and attitudes towards others, whether it be within casual games or online.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

And so the shit hits the fan

One of the major concerns facing the games industry at the moment is the economic recession. Many other loved companies and industries have fallen hard in these difficult times but so far the games industry has been seen as ‘recession-proof’.

Could this be a result of Nintendo’s recent record breaking success and mass-marketing strategy? Whilst other consoles have been appealing to traditional gamers, Nintendo have expanded beyond that boundary and appealed to more casual gamers. It’s been a success so far but are casual gamers more likely to cut back due to the recession than ‘hardcore’ gamers?
Surveys and interviews have shown that many gamers don’t intend to cut back on their spending. But is this really due to the recession?

Most gamers are children and teenagers that have no responsibilities such as paying bills or the mortgage. Their disposable income is free to be spent on entertainment luxuries such as games. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the games industry is still ‘recession-proof’.

The fear of spending money will mean that more hardcore gamers will expect more for their money. No longer will £40 for a mediocre game be acceptable and so many games and companies may potentially be hit hard by the recession.

The challenge that will then face the industry is the quality of the games being produced. Not only does the gameplay and graphics need to be breathtaking but it has to be done on a significantly less investment as the gamers’ budget will be limited.

As for the future, we may see an increase in the quality of games being produced yet the quantity may lack somewhat and so many companies might find it hard to survive.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

It came from the mist...

It’s very rarely that I watch a film with my hands held up to my face, transfixed on the screen through the tiny gaps between my fingers in some miserable attempt to shield myself from becoming too involved in the film.

However, today’s film ‘The Mist’ did just that.

I’ll admit that I did sit through the initial appalling acting and forced dialogue with a criticised look across my face but when the mist rolled over the store I felt as if I was there with the rest of the cast.

No doubt my cries and whimpers uttered feebly throughout the rest of the film confirmed to my surrounding colleagues just how involved I’d become. The last time that had happened to me with a film was with ‘Cloverfield’.

It would seem that thrillers where nothing really happens, hit me the most. You view the film through the eyes of the people there. I love it when all you can hear is the odd inhuman sound, yet you never really see what is happening beyond the confined crowd of people. I suppose what really interests me is the reaction of the people. How everyone is actually shit-scared and behave in abnormal ways, whether it be fixating on rescuing someone or turning to religion.

It’s also nice to watch a film that hasn’t been utterly Americanised. By that I mean the plot remains intellectual and unexplained, not blatantly spelt out with colourful magic-markers. I also particularly enjoyed how the film darkly ended, no rounded up summary or explanation, just an abrupt end. A sad end nonetheless but all the more realistic and horrifying.

But then ‘The Mist’ seems to be a contradiction to everything I thought to be important. A major part of my blogs is the discussion of gameplay and the importance of storyline. The film, however, didn’t seem to have that strong of a storyline, yet it is one of the most captivating films I have seen.

However the film was all about the ‘shock’ factor. Could the film ever be seen again with the same, thrilling, reaction?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Can we all think outside the box?

What is creativity? Who can be creative? What does it mean to possess creativity? Is it an acquired skill or are we born with it?

Although creativity is a widely used term within many industries, it doesn’t seem to particularly define anything. As an artist, I associate creativity with art and most likely so do the general population, I believe that creativity or being creative is an expression of oneself, that usually results in something productive such as an artistic creation.

However, does being creative just limit to areas of art? A few of my close friends are currently studying Engineering and Electronics and they would strongly argue that the production of circuit boards is an art. So does that mean they are creative?
Or does it mean that the term ‘art’ can be as widely diverse as term ‘creativity’? But then, and this is even more thought provoking, is being creative limited to just art and that art is more widely applied?
Fans and supporters may argue that a game of football is an art.
Surgeons and doctors may argue that a medical procedure is an art.
Can bricklaying be considered an art? Or even the process of cooking and mixing ingredients?

But that still leaves ‘creativity’ feeling a bit vague. Some would argue that being creative is resulting in something new and original, which I believe to be true. Making the same t-shirt a couple of times isn’t as creative as designing a new one. Dancing the Macarena isn’t as creative as dancing your own dance. But this implies that anyone can be creative - dissolving the popular illusion that it is only limited to artists.

From a scientific point of view, creativity is considered to be the process of the right side of the brain, so this would argue that anyone can be creative. But then different social backgrounds and cognitive development can have an effect on how creative a person is.

A good example of this is children. At some point in our childhoods we have all had imaginary friends or played pretend games with imaginary worlds and characters. This would support that we are all born with creative traits and that it is not an acquired skill. A persons level of creativity from then on is determined by the paths we choose in life. Some children are encouraged to become better at maths, some at sports or in my case, art.
So although creativity is a natural ability it can be developed and encouraged by various social processes from an early age.

But are we constantly creative? Many artists are moved by inspiration and muses ( I know I am!), we need motivation, a starting point in which to be creative with and express ourselves. But then that would mean that life in general is being creative, every choice we make, every conversation we have is being creative as it is original and new to us and it is expressing ourselves as human beings.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

To play game or to game play, that is the question?

Where better to start but with a dictionary definition of gameplay?

Gameplay - not found
Game-play - not found
Game play - not found

Well that was a helpful start. In that case I will start with what I believe gameplay to be.

To me, gameplay is about the experience and enjoyment a player receives from a game. It may sound vague but everyone looks for different gameplay experiences. I personally hate getting my ass kicked and dying over and over again so the gameplay of online fps games doesn’t appeal to me at all.
However my friend may not like driving repeatedly in laps and so the gameplay of driving games wouldn’t appeal to him greatly.

The term gameplay may not be so easily defined as it’s too wide of a topic. There are many different styles and genres of games that appeal to the many personalities and lifestyles of the general public.
However gameplay is an important aspect, we may not know what it is but we know it’s important.

If gameplay can be defined as an overall gaming experience then surely that is an important aspect of all games, a good gaming experience means good sales, as more people will enjoy playing it.

But how do you compare the gaming experience of CoD4 to the gaming experience of Mario-kart or Final Fantasy?

One article I looked at even suggested that gameplay excludes graphics and sound but I think that’s absurd! Without graphics or sound you’re just staring at a blank screen and that isn’t very good gameplay at all!

I’ll admit that sometimes I play games muted or with my own music on but that’s because the in-game music is either repetitive, boring or just plain annoying, which would imply that it afects the overall gameplay as I am not enjoying an aspect of the game.

This blog is more ranty and more personal than my others but that is because I can’t really talk about other people’s gameplay experiences because the whole point of them is that they are personal experiences.

Which sadly brings us no closer to defining what exactly gameplay is. The wider definition could be that gameplay is the overall gaming experience that is achieved through all in-game aspects such as sound, style, handling, level design, characters etc. but the more personal definition of gameplay is how we experience and interpret the games as individuals.

Whether this is achieved through sheer coincidence or clever production planning, either way I can’t wait to find out for myself.

The Beginning, The Middle and The End

A good book can keep me immersed for weeks, a good TV show can keep me watching for days, a good film can keep me entertained for hours and a good game can keep me occupied for months. Well at least they used too.

When it comes to books, films and TV shows there are very strict aspects that need to be addressed. They all need a beginning, a middle and an end ( well not in most TV shows today such as Heroes and Lost), they all need an exciting conclusion to an epic storyline and they all need characters.

However games also need an interactive environment and storyline, which separates it’s characteristics from other media such as book, films etc.

In my opinion, good games are those that draw influence from characters and storylines that would typically appear in books. I much prefer reading a book to watching TV as a book allows readers to immerse themselves into the storyline. Twisting plots and vivid descriptions allows the reader to create their own images of what the environment and characters would look like. This obviously isn’t replicated in games as they have their own visual representations but games that have climaxes and useful, energetic plots can keep players interested for days.

However for all games, the key playable character is the most important aspect to get right. The main character of a game is the interactive connection between the player and the game environment, without it we would merely be a spectator watching a film and as far as films go, they can only maintain our attention for a few hours.

Films strive to be visually exciting, to dazzle and impress the audience with stunning scenery and breathtaking visual effects. Although, should you ever find yourself in Disney World, they have a shed-load of 3D films in an attempt to ‘involve’ the audience but they just tend to scare the hell out of me. Anyhow, films tend to capture an audience visually rather than through the story, which can sometimes be rather disappointing. But then a book has hundreds of pages to let a story unfold and a film has a meagre two hours.

To me, I find that action or comedy films are the most appealing as comic scenes and visual gags rely on facial expressions, which struggle to get across in books, and watching a fast car chase is more interesting than reading about one. But then vice versa. I find books about mystery or sci-fi more appealing as you can let your mind run riot with the descriptive passages and you can pick up on the little details that aid the flow of the plot.

My all times favourite book, that I can read over and over is written by the fabulous Dan Brown. ‘Angels and Demons’ is an amazing book that consists of dramatic twists and short suspenseful chapters that make it practical to read. I also adore the charismatic lead character an the plausible historical depictions are intriguing. It is much like the ‘Da Vinci Code’, yet another brilliant book. It sadly received a mixed review but if morons read it and get offended because they think its is real then what on earth are they doing reading books in the first place. Dan Brown clearly states that his book is fiction!

However, that doesn’t mean a can’t go to Paris and run all over pretending I’m on a quest to find the Holy Grail as a little dream of mine.