Friday, 25 February 2011

Relatively Good

BattleField Bad Company 2 for iPhone
“this games actually pretty good”

My flatmate Jamie’s surprised reaction to playing an iPhone game I purchased recently. The game was Battlefield Bad Company 2. The game is based on the popular multiplatform game of the same title, but has been built for mobile platforms. 

As he watched the clunky characters wobble about and wrestled with iPhone’s touch-screen interpretation of first-person shooter controls, I mused that he would scoff at it on any other platform. It got me thinking: has this game received a positive reaction from the player entirely because of relative and not absolute expectations? Is it only good because his expectations on this platform are low?

It makes an interesting comparison, since a game with an identical brief (and title) has been produced for other platforms which allows us to make direct comparisons. The console version has undeniably better graphics, better control, longer gameplay, more dramatic cutscenes, more weapon variety… the list goes on. If the mobile game were ported directly, with no changes made, onto a console platform, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone that gives the game the time of day.

Of course, it seems perfectly natural to scale our expectations to match the platform on which we are playing. However, if our ultimate goal of playing a game is to enjoy it, is our observation of “good” – relative or otherwise – at all relevant anyway? Shouldn’t we be making comments like “this games actually pretty fun”? As soon as we force our observations to meet the criteria of “fun”, we can make relevant relative comparisons across not just platform, but also time: “the new Prince of Persia games haven’t been as fun as Sands of Time”.

The next best thing to having
a magical Ocarina in your pocket
One of the most anticipated titles for Nintendo’s new handheld, the 3DS, is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time. The decision to remake this game for 3DS might have been out of convenience – production costs for remakes are certainly lower. It might have been for the sake of the game's heritage and renown. Or just maybe it was because what was fun 13 years ago will still be fun today?

Minutes later, a different flatmate walked past and said the above iPhone game looked like sh**.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Update 3

It’s been a while since the last Progress Update and for that I can only apologise!

I also rendered this out in a turntable video
Since then I’ve modelled trees, a sniper rifle and a transit van. In each project I’ve been trying to experiment by doing things somewhat unconventionally to see how successful different methods of texturing and modelling can be. They’ve yielded mixed results, but the learning process has developed my skills further. I will, however, need to work faster in future since I took longer than most of my colleagues, and certainly longer than a professional would take.

Trucker character miniature, height ~8 inches

Perhaps I am too close to it, but I feel progress in my visual design has been a little slower and at times I’ve been reluctant to give it the time it deserves. Hopefully this admission will stir me into action! I am pleased with my development in Photoshop, though I still need a lot of practice.   

Life drawing has taken a larger component now and highlights a weakness - my experience at drawing the human figure is limited and its something I should be concentrating on. I’m looking forward to focussing on the face later in the course since right now most of my faces look awful!

A giant mushroom I did for the BGR project
 As far as extracurricular activities go, I’m still plodding along with the mod for Dragon Age. Due to a skills shortage in scripting, I’ve taken up that slack rather than doing much by way of art stuff. I’ve become pretty fluent in scripting for Dragon Age now, though I’m not sure of the value of such a skill. I guess it can’t harm! I have begun to wind down the amount of time I spend in this area, since I’m expecting to need more time toward the end of term…

Illustrations for our project by teammember Tristan Silva
An exciting recent development has been the forming of the Games Society - a collaboration of Game Art and Games Programming students to design and create playable games. We’re really excited about our game and it will be great seeing some of my work in real use! We’re making a “you’re a gingerbread man, escape the bakery” obstacle course adventure. Even if it turns out to be a rubbish game, I’m confident I’ll have a lot of fun working on it… Let’s just hope we can follow through on our plans!


Monday, 7 February 2011

Art Directors

Being, as I am, an aspiring game artist, my interest in the visual style and execution of video games won’t be too surprising. While many games hum the well-rehearsed rhythm of ever-improving photorealistic visuals, others adopt an entirely unique style, or even whistle their own tune for what is expected of photorealism. 

Madworld's very distinctive visual style is not just skin deep:
the musculature of characters and weapons as well as the
environments is all highly stylised, but consistant.

However, when you consider that each game has a single art style, despite a swathe of different independent artists (working in a team), one might wonder how the skills and tastes of this team of artists is unified into a single creative vision… that’s where the Art Director comes in.
It is the Art Director’s responsibility that the visual style is coherent and consistent, and projects the correct feeling onto the player. The Art Director will be responsible for overseeing concepts for the visual elements, requesting refinements and steering the course of all the visual elements’ designs in a single direction. 
While a single artist toils over a handful of assets with utmost care, it is the Art Director’s responsibility that that artist’s body of work fits seamlessly into the game and does not result in a visually inconsistent environment, character or other asset.
The role should not be confused with that of Lead Artist. While the role may, in smaller companies be embodied by the Art Director, it is still a different set of responsibilities.
A Lead Artist would be responsible not as style consultant or visual consistency advisor, but take on a more technical and perhaps even managerial role. The Lead Artist will be concerned with ensuring artists’ work flows through the pipeline with maximum efficiency: their work should be meeting a clear technical brief concerning budget, scale and other factors. They may be responsible for delegating art tasks, and ensuring artists are meeting deadlines.

Not like that, like this!

So while a Lead Artist’s skillset is likely to focus on proficiency as a 3d artist coupled with managerial skills, an Art Director’s requirements differ somewhat. The art director must understand holistically the visual aesthetic required of the game. They must be able to communicate this vision with all artists and must be able to identify when created content does not fit this brief. It will not be enough to simply request changes to each asset which does not fit – the existence of poorly-matched assets represent a communication failure either by the art director in expressing the aesthetic, or the artist in understanding it.

It takes a very special type of artist to become a director – one who is able to step back from a single isolated piece and see the entire body of work, often well before it has been created. Their communication skills must be able to match with every member of the art team. They must be willing and able to be less hands-on with the work since they are unlikely to be able revise every asset themselves.


One might argue that the Art Director has very limited creative freedom – simply steering other artists and often producing little work themselves. However, it is their hand guiding the entire visual design for the game. Much as an conductor lifts baton and not instrument, so too does the Art Director orchestrate the visual performance of the artists, and assist in the composition of the visual score for the game. No easy feat.
So take a bow, Art Directors.