Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Game Technology

OK before i start this blog i need to apologise to anyone thats been reading my blogs, i seem to have been subconciously typing in MSN talk in some parts of them. Not good. Anyhooo........

Well one look at the timeline of game consoles and its easy to suggest that consoles in the modern world arent too far from hairdressers, they are just as bothered about their looks as they are their performance. But which one will win the beauty pagent? Well it depends on which target audience you are, because i think in the next gen race console are being designed relative to their game line ups and to be pleasing to the kind of person that plays it. Take the Nintendo Wii for example, its small, dinky and to some extent cuter than its rivals...not exactly the alpha male of the bunch. But when its audience now having the likes of mam and dad playing Wii Fit on its side this is the kind of look that is appealing to a more overall and family market. Plus its line up of games doesnt really include the gritty kind of gore feautured in Gears of War or the Halo series. Compared to the PS3 which bares a more 'sleeker' and manly design as it were and a host of a range of games that nearly all involve someone being creatively dismembered with a firearm.

But ashtetic looks aside peformance in next gen has become a bit of a hastle. I agree that
the gaming industry is a tad more focused on fancy user interfaces that simply 'did the job'. I think of myself as quite intellegent but with abseloutely no common sense. So the new interfaces on PS3 and Xbox 360 had me done for a bit. Even though my male instinct of ' i dont need intsructions, ill just play about pressing things till i figure it all out' helped me in the end its still beyond the point when you cant find what you want. No XP gained for Sony or Microsoft here.

I do agree that a joystick in terms of an interactive, performance controller has been long 6 feet under, But the design of the joystick isnt so much dead, its more passed on the torch. I mean what do you think an analog controller is? A joystick miniturised and placed into a more confortable controller format. But this change to controllers i believe was the final nail in the coffin for joysticks as it was made to keep up with the advancing technology of gaming. 2 analog sticks wer soon made neccessary along with an additional 6 or 7 buttons in order to keep up with what could be accomplished in modern games. And with modern day gaming involving 2-3 button combos to peform even simple actions such as aim and shoot the simplistic days of 2 buttons and a joystick have long but perished. But the essence of it hasnt been lost completely as those 2 analog sticks present on our controllers today still show us where we came from.

But as this out with the old in with the new trend keeps on happening in gaming i beg to differ than the controller is following the same path....yet. Yes we have made the next step as Wii has so proudly shown us but personally i dont think its a trend thats goin to stick. More a fad that will die with the Wii. I mean yes its a new step forward but its still flawed. Let us again look at the world of Star Wars and the game The Force Unleashed. For Xbox & PS3 the lightsaber is directly controlled by the analog stick, whereas the Wii you use the remote as if it were a real saber, not that this isnt super cool but it has its downfalls. To peform lightsabre combos you have to move the analog stick in certain ways (up, down, up down, left, right etc.) Now for a controller this is easy. But try accurately doing all that in the space of a few seconds with your Wii remote and your in for some trouble. It just cant handle it and leaves your jedi flailing his saber about like an idiot. More like button bashing than a cool lightsaber combo. So i although we do have our advances in controller technology i dont think its a major enough step forward. So lucky us weve still got a bit of a way to go before a controller has a R.I.P sign across it.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Storytelling in Games

Personally i love deep storylines in games. Theres nothing better than having a character you can relate to as you dive into a juicy narrative keeping you up till 4AM to see how they saves the world....or whatever. But it doesnt mean plotless games like Guitar Hero dont have their charms.

Storylines dont neccesseraly make a game, or even make it better but it sure can help a hell of a lot. The game mind you has to be good in the first place, as a shit game with a good narrative is overshadowed by poor quality and can be spoilt in the process. Same as a game that has amazing effects but with a rather linear plot can be just as bland. Although im personally a strong fan of a good plot with twists, turns and a fair share of back stabbings i can see how designers have to get the balance of story and gameplay right.

When it comes to who rules who, the story happening to you or you making the story happen im still a bit tomayto tomarto on. To be blunt, both. There are games you can make the story happen pyhscially by certain choices made during a game, where certain actions relates to changes in the story. Silent Hill is an example of this where for every action you take has an equivalent reaction in the plot, resulting in such story complications as NCP's living or dying. It all boils down to your actions either amounting to a good or bad ending. The good ending hosting your typical fight the last boss and save the world style finale whereas the bad ending has a more ironic world is in flames while you battle your own possessed daughter ending.

But this deosnt mean the story is merely there so the protagonist has somethng to carry out during the game. It can still be something you get engrossed in and relate to, as if it were happening to you. Some games like guitar hero are blessed with not needing a storyline to keep the game rolling, but for those that do there are tricks of the trade to get you involved in the game both pysically and through your mind. The character is one of the mains assests of a game and is the tool for getting you into involved, good games use techniques to get you to identify with the character you play, afterall most emotions are portrayed through this person, what they feel and endure can depict the plot, so you join them through this to unfold and play out the story. Its like the game is the room you want to be in and the player is the door. You get into it through the protagonist and the storyline. Personally this is how games are best played

But all games dont have to have a story though. Call of Duty, the well known WW2 FPS doesnt really involve more than kind of following the path of particular soldiers throughout the war as they leave a trail of bloody nazi corpses behind them. But this doesnt make it a bad game. Its true that CoD isnt properlly a story as such because of no real narative, but does show the journey of a person. More a loose outline of transpiring events more than a thick juicy narrative. This can still work because the story isnt the end all of a game, its merely an aspect of the gameplay experience and even in small quantities can still be blended into the game to create a balanced and harmonic gameplay that still works...i think

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Art Direction

Art Directors...the top o' the food chain.

An Art Director is basically the mother goose of a projects ideas and thought processes. Although they dont pyhsically influence every single aspect of the game they oversee it. Indirectly making sure it falls into place and meets their vision of the games style and look. Although the artists are the ones making the work, if a game is stylised in such a way as Team Fortress 2, its because they want it that way.

But this isnt just no guts and all glory. Its also their task to assemble a skilled team and create the production pipeline. The team has to be kept as a tight knit unit and work in a harmony with each other to ensure things run smoothly, on scheduele and also accurate to his vision. If it doesnt the directors is in big trouble. Because of this it takes years of skill and experience in the industry to be worthy of such a highly ranked place. Even though they might be pencil pushing everything that is made needs the thumbs up from them, meaning they are responsible for all apsects of the game. This needs the ability to communicate fluently with the team as the director must be kept up to scratch with the knows and hows that might hinder or help production. Most of all, it
takes a great deal of leadership. Afterall you dont want the man leading the way to be a completely doochebag.

I personally think this is quite a creative post. As previously said, although they arent getting their hands dirty in the world of 3DS Max their instead having people dive into their mind and pick their brains. Afterall it is their vision that is being transformed onto the screen. Which can be quite a tricky task. I like the idea of a team listening to your imagination and turning it into something you can see. But this It involves a lot of thought into how the game should look and why it should look that way, as your imaginative ideas must have meaning. If something isnt meeting their vision, they have to point out what details arent up to scratch and how it needs to be corrected. This kind of role means the ability to nit pick should be in the job ad aswell.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

An Introduction To Games Design

Gameplay, to put it into a simple answer is the game istelf being played out from start to finish. With the obvious FAQ's coming up during the game. How much of the game can i interact with, what can i do in the game, how does the plot unfold. But gameplay involves more than just reaching those ending credits. Gameplay is the experience the player has as the game unfolds infront of them, becoming engorssed into the storyline and emotions of the characters. Does the atmosphere, music and actions of the character make u feel in the same situation as them? Does the look and feel of the game make you think you could actually be there? This all helps build a realistic and rememberable gameplay experience. So in short gameplay is everything that the game has to offer. And its just like baking a cake, you need to get the recipe right.

All of this makes the gameplay itself important to me when i play a game because the same linear game can become more tedious than enjoyable. I want to be engrossed in the atmosphere, emotions and plot of the game as the it all slowly unfolds inftont of me. I like to get into the game, and even though your on a fantasy planet with weapons and emenies that clearly dont actually exsist, the gameplay makes you think you are there and that its really happening. Although being entertained by the effects of blowing something up is breifly amusing, the same old linear thing being done to death has its limits.

I wouldnt say different games have different design principles. But rather all games of the next gen era are starting (or at least trying) to change the way games are thought and made so that the linear gameplay a lot of games can be brought down with doesnt happen. not so thinking outside the box but rather painting the box bright green then blowing it up. This is beacause a lot of games follow quite a similar design principle when it comes to gameplay. Man get thrown into game, man gets into battle with fast paced music and lots of visual effects, followed by exploration of vast landscapes/areas with, depending of what kind of genre it is, either calm or chilling music. This kind of style has become the normal for most games and has resulted in linear gameplay, which i think designers are now starting to get around in order to create a more upbeat and better quality gameplay experience. This has been shown in a few cases where designers have changed this by taking gameplay aspects which have went unchanged for years and turned them on their head, thus giving them new ways to be played. The Wii remote is one of the most obvious examples of this.

Again despite the fact i hate it, it does actually take something which we have used for years to play games with ( this being a controller) and revolutionised it so that someone can experience a completely different type of gameplay. A recent game which is think is a prime example of this is the Force Unleashed for Wii. This is beacuse the game gives people the chance to do someting that in all honest is completely new in the gaming world...the ability to weild the controller and frantically swing it infront of the TV as if it were a real lightsabre, and even if your not the biggest fan of star wars this added feature still gives the gameplay value an added extra bonus. This in turn beginning to set a new mould for what is much needed in improving what is important to gameplay in the next gen world.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Writing About Games

I must confess that when it comes to games i dont really resort to reveiws to find out if it is good or not, i just usually waste my money buying the game to find that one out. But if someone wants to buy a new game, if they have a loook around first therell be plently of people telling them to go for it and people telling them not to, but who has the right to say a game is good or not?

After reading into it ive learned that on the lovely world of the internet almost any person with half a brain cell can write a reveiw on the internet, including me. But for the most part their just personal opinions on how they thought a game was. But who writes the serious reveiws out there? why? what issues do they face?

Critisicm is a big issure for serious reveiwers as a lot of negative feedback from a bad gaming reveiw can come swinging their way. Which is quite hipocritical as their job is to only point out the games issues, fixing them is the producers job so for the producers to pass comment on reveiwers for noticing the bugs can leave quite a tricky working envirionment. But all of the people cant be pleased all of the time i guess

Another issue is that fact that the in some cases the company who has produced a game is the same company that the reveiwer is receiving a paycheck from, and with the game generally wanting to be sold this tactic can lead to biased reveiws that hype up the game for sales purposes. More advertising the game rather than actually reveiwing its pros and cons. This can lead to the actually qualities of the game being lost in translation over a 'but this game now!' style reveiw. But actually putting the points of a games advantages and downfalls can be tricky work without your own personal opinion being put across. after all can you positively reveiw a game that you didnt actually enjoy?

But i think people pursueing personal opinions on a game can work, because you know its just what someone thought of the game, and your not obliged to follow their opinion. Althought reveiwers opinions arent just blurted out and are usually followed up with good facts and back up to why they dont like the game, it still leaves you able to not take the reveiw to heart. But with the quality of gameplay ranging because of peoples personal tastes and what they want out of a game, how can objective ranking work?

I would say objective ranking isnt actually that neccessary or
feasible for a game as a games quality and experience comes more down to the individuality of the player rather than ticking boxes for what the veiwer apparently wants. Its just like art, one painting is a masterpeice to someone and a plie of crap to the next, u cant tick boxes and say its good beacause they did this this and this to it, and the same applies to games. One person wanting the car explosion to be cool isnt goin to exactly make it awsome to the next person.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The Future

To look into the future of 21st century gaming i first think we need to take a galnce back at where we came from. 30 years ago we were just getting to grips with the basics of gaming, joysticks and 16bit colour. Compared to where we are today with realistic graphics this is a technilogical acheivement, even the jump to games becoming 3D are landmarks in the progress that has been made. But with all these leaps in technology and gaming being made new leaps are growing harder to come by as companies continue to experiment in pushing the bounderies for the next gen gaming experience. So what comes next? what new technoligic landmark is in store for the future of gaming?

With all this in mind developing games for the future faces significant issues. One i think is the financial issue faced when creating a next gen game or console, early days in gaming history had it easy ( or easier) than modern games. Pacman during its reigning days only cost $100,000 to create and with an audience of about 10 million as imagined the game made a handsome profit, but in 2004 halo 2 was created at a cost of $40 million, but with the audience still ranging roughly the same (8 million) the profit made was still quite desirable, but less in comparison to what has been achieved in the past days of low expense production. This issue of games costing more to make and still bringing in the same profit as previous releases could have the potential to lead to a 21st century great video game crash, but has been avoided and even solved in some cases.

The Nintendo Wii (despite how much i hate it) actually gains kudos for being one of the consoles which have saved themselves from this potential financial blackhole. This is because of them appealing to a next gen audience with more than your typical gamer titles. The likes of Wii Fit and Wii Sports, which are more family or excersice based, rather than your average student style blow the head off that zombie game appeals to more than just those 10 million gamers in the UK. Because of this Wii Fit made roughly....(researches nintendo's sales records)...£16.3 million in the UK alone, only Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Halo 3 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Which for an excersice based title aint too shabby. This on top if their usual titles like Mario Kart should help keep Nintendo's bank balance in the black for at least a decent time in the next gen race.

But what else is in store for the future of gaming? With Ninendo covering the aspect of a game being more than a kill the nazis or escape the hordes of undead genre, how are the people who keep these genres strong in the market goin to stay above everything else? Graphics and gaming systems have almost reached their peak with performance, and although the likes of AI still has sum cacthing up to do the possibilities of better graphic capabilities are growing slim with todays currently available technology.

The next step i think could be a controversial one as VR and Mind control devices beacome a reality, making fantasy envioroments and creatures that are only present on TV screens beacome what we see and feel. This will increase a gamers experience but is this step the one that should or can be taken?

Moving swiftly on to my personal gaming history the next chapter would have been Mortal Kombat for the Sega. With its competetive button bashing, it was destined to bring out the temper tantrums of any 10 year old who just lost to their big brother, but thats what made it so fun! I remember playing this game with abseloutly everyone. Although we had a rule that Johny Cage was not allowed to be used because his shadow kick was too easy to win with and was classed as cheating. But that aside, the classic phrases like Scorpions 'get over here!' will be something that i surely wont be forgetting anytime soon.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Middle Ages

In 1973, 11 years after the production of SpaceWar! the classic Pong was was created. It was the first commercially available video game. Pong was first at home in markets, fun fairs and entertainment venues, the same enviroinment that would later spawn and host such games as Space Invaders.

But these games still had their limitations, for the most part, the game was single player, and involved basic assessts such as lives (typically 3) and high scores along with levels got expectidly got harder as you progressed.
But one of the issues with gaming for this era was that they were for the most part single player games in which winning wasn't the aspect of the game, this was infact close to impossible, simply reaching the high score screen was the more mundane accomplishment of the games of this time.

Although the realm of multiplayer gaming was present it wasnt as popular as it is in nowadays with the likes of CoD, This was quite the case for almost 20 years (1977 to 1993 approximately) That is until the 1993 game Doom took the less popular multigaming market and gave it a much needed boost. Doom gave the players the experience to fight each other in the same game world as several PC's could be hooked up to one another, giving the gamer even more intercation than the usual grab the joystick and kill the aliens style experience that Spacewar! and Space Invaders had left them with.

In combination with what had occured 2 decades previously, the release of The Oddyssey, the first comercial video game console, had opened up a new market and gave gamers a chance of something never really experienced before.This being the ability to play with freinds in multiplayer games on a home console.
Because of all this the end of this age compared to the begginning showed many more qualities that could lead the world of gaming into new areas and limitations with players being able to battle multiple people at once. Gaming had been revolutionised for more fun and recreational purposes instead of the competitive highscore screen of it predecesors, not to say that these changes stopped games from being competitive of course.

Moving swiftly onwards to my personal gaming history,the next chapter in my gaming history would move me onto when i got my hands first on a sega megradrive, with lineups such as golden axe and streets of rage dominating my childhood. I remember quite vividly my time playing streets of rage as me and my brother wasted most of our early years sprawled out infront of the television button bashing thugs to a bloody pulp, completing it again and again untill we could pretty much do it blindfold (which for a 9 year old is a damn good acievement!) And in answer to the question what made me keep playing all this time, i think i can answer this by keeping on topic and discussing street of rage 2! Another early game i have more than an imaginable memory about, which as you can guess, yeah, had me and my brother out infront of that television again warping our fragile little minds with uneccessary violence and button bashing. I think one of the reasons i kept playing was for this factor of sequels and how if you get addicted to a game then the release of a title with the number 2 in it becomes something that keeps you coming back for more, but enough of this for now

Toodles for now people

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Computer Games Began When?

One of the most popular games for having the name of the 'beginning' of computer games is that infamous game from the 70's, pong. But was this really how the world of xbox and playstation got spinning? After some much needed research its weird to find that there's more to it than that white little ball bouncing back and forth between the paddles....a lot more
lets go back in time 50 years

Tic -Tac-Toe, the earliest computer game was made in 1952, its creator A.S. Douglas, a PhD professor at University of Cambridge created this as a result of his studies on human-computer interaction. The game itself wasn't actually intended for use on a computer, instead a
EDSAC vaccuum-tube computer was used, and unlike modern day consoles, it was played on using a cathode ray tube display. This was followed by Steve Russel, producer of the first game created with the intention of being played on a computer, and his game SpaceWar! His game was designed around a MIT PDP-1 mainframe computer

And this leads to the questions of who actually created computers for fun over their more conventional purposes? The obvious answer in terms of background is scientists, but i believe that they weren't just scientists, more people using the skills they have to think 'outside the box' and create machines that no one else would have conceived. They were pioneers, with their experiments testing early computers to their limit of capability and as a result produced what was the beginning of an entire franchise.

I think this stirkes me as significant as again not just their background, but also their mindset towards making these games again shows the early signs of what people in the modern gaming industry still have. The way they were trying to test out the current technology to its limit and produce what others havent yet. It deosnt matter if its 1952 with an
EDSAC vaccuum-tube computer or 2008 with an xbox 360, this is still the way designers think! Althought the technology has come a long way since the days of SpaceWar! the ideas of pushing the boundaries to a new level on consoles hasen't. Because of this their first experiments are still much like the gaming industry of today, and i beleive this is what is significant about the people that created these games, their ideas and thought processes are still pursued and used today.

And this brings me onto my personal gaming history,which undoubtedly will grow as this course goes on.
I was a keen gamer from an early age and despite that fact im not lucky enough to still possess any working old school consoles i still have fond memories of playing them. The earliest games i can recall playing go back to that of my Amiga, with games like James Pond and Lemmings, that back in the good ol' days fitted nicely onto a floppy disk. Although back then my young brain hadnt the capacity to figure out how the darn lemmings got successfully from the start to the finish in one piece, I still found it entertaining to play as i watched them come to a gruesome but yet strangely cute death. This i think was followed by the golden era of Sega Megadrive and the likes of streets of rage and shinobi, but more about all that later on i guess...

Toodles for now people

Monday, 27 October 2008

First Blog Entry

So yeah, first year of university and we've been told that instead of writing pages upon pages of degrading essays instead we have this, a magical little thing called a blog. My first reaction to this was honestly a bit woah! I was both uneasy about essay style writing and curious about it being a magical thing called a blog instead. See the 'academic' side of education like English literature was something I personally despised. The thought of having to write 2000 words about how Shakespeare did this and that in his plays to create this and that kind of dramatic tension was something i wasn't keen on. It wasn't learning, more about getting facts drilled into your head for you to later regurgitate at a desk with an exam paper sat staring at you, it wasn't creative. It was'nt me

Because of this it took me a while for my curiosity to suddenly it creep up on me and think yeah, blogs may be a good thing (*cough cough* forgive me if I'm wrong people) I started to realize these aren't no essays, more a diary of your collective thoughts and opinions on a subject, and just like most men, when drunk at a bar discussing pointless issues, my opinion on a matter is something i can put down quite well. Simple, yet effective :D

To continue this i had to ask myself the question 'do you feel comfortable writing for an invisible audience?' This gave me some food for thought, and i don't mean the family sized trifle on munching down on all to myself right now. This is because you wouldn't want some drunk American jock at a house party running into your room and reading your diary. And in the case of a blog, this is just that...i think. So i would say i should feel uncomfortable about it but to be honest i don't, because if i write something where i slobber on for ages, much like I'm doing now, I wont have some guy come up and punch me in the face for it. It's more of an audience where you can comfortably write to them expressing your opinions and matters, probably because their invisible lol. and the feedback after going through other blogs is creative and supportive, or criticised constructively, not some bloke goin LOL! you suck. so in answer to it yeah i do feel comfortable writing to an invisble audience because of these reasons.

And on that note i think I'll leave it at that for my first blog entry, toodles for now people