About Me

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Leicester, United Kingdom
Studying BA (Hons) Game Art Design at De Montfort University. It continues to be challenging as much as rewarding. Primary outcomes include 2D and 3D projects and 2am coffees.

Monday, 31 October 2011

21st century: when everything changes....

A fair amount of change has occurred in the last decade, again in line with developments of both computer hardware and software. The Game Boy has evolved into the Game Boy Advance all the way to the Nintendo DSi, and then there's the Playstation Portable which, as its name suggests, is literally a miniature portable Sony PS3. Whilst there has been the rivalry between the Sony Playstation and the Microsoft Xbox, other platforms are still available, for example the Nintendo Wii, which  takes video game interaction up a notch, since it requires more than sitting down and pushing buttons and actually gets you off your backside every now and then! The platforms available have stabilised to include handheld devices e.g. Nintendo 3DS, consoles e.g. PS3 and finally the PC/laptop.

Another key change over the last decade is the enabling use of the internet to allow users to access games either individually or in teams, and from geographically different locations.
However, as of 2000, the development of the games we play currently is not all as positive as it appears. We all know that video games today take a lot of time and effort to produce. Starting as a simple idea, creating concept art for environments and characters, to rendering and animating it on the screens, it requires the skills and efforts of the staff to make it what the consumers hope it to be. But the cost has also increased since the days of arcade games. Take the following comparisons into consideration.

1982: Pac Man - a beloved classic which was created by one man over several months at a development cost of $100k

2004: Halo 2 - part of a highly successful ongoing series which had a design and development team of 190 people at a development cost $40m.

These two examples can give an idea of how much can change for game manufacturers in the space of 20 years. A while ago, I personally thought that such early games would have taken longer to develop due to the creators being limited by the technology of their time. So we, in terms of time and money, can only assume that the game development cycle will continue to increase as time goes on, in order to keep them to the expectations of the consumers and staff. However, technology shifts may help to minimise these increases.

One major factor that has caught my eye in current games is that of repetition of gameplay and, depending on its place in the game, it can be either good or bad (annoying). But in the video game industry, history has shown us that is has proven to be a hit. Super Mario Brothers have been around for over three decades now, and whilst the evolution of technology has allowed their creators to improve the quality to match the present console, the gameplay has hardly changed. From the arcade machines to the Nintendo DS and Wii, it still involves:

·         Jumping on enemies

·        Collecting coins

·         Travelling through green pipes

·         Throwing Koopa shells

·         Getting power ups via mushrooms

·         And saving the helpless Princess Peach from Bowser and son!

 Left: 1985 Super Mario Bros. Right: 2006 New Super Mario Bros. Deja vu

And yet it’s still awesome as you work your way through all the levels, doing the same old thing but it’s fun nonetheless! Game series tend follow a continuous cycle trying to re-use plots etc with a certain amount of predictability. Assassins Creed – you gather information about your targets and then assassinate them; God of War - fight your way through endless waves of mobs acquiring new powers/weapons as you go. And so on.....

Currently, many publishers are looking towards making sequels of games or a series for one-off games rather than creating new games. I can fully understand this decision as it can be a challenge making a new, fresh game without being heavily influencing by an existing game already out there. Next to this they also want to buy the licences from other forms of media to produce games - this includes comics and films. Batman for example; one of the most renowned superheroes we know, made his debut in the comics at the start of WW2 and look how far the franchise has come!

From the point of view of students like us who are looking into entering this industry in the near future, it is likely that any new game ideas we pitch may end up being disregarded in terms of the bigger picture - which is fairly understandable. I mean today, almost every action/adventure film has become a game, and when you walk into a GAME store, practically every game has come from another form of fiction or media!

So a major challenge for the game industry is how to develop games that are fresh and new, while harnessing the capabilities that exciting new computer hardware and software technologies will offer. And at the right price...

Sunday, 30 October 2011

1980's-1990's: The Middle ages

As the golden age of video games emerged in the 80’s, the game cartridges that were released at the time introduced and defined the numerous genres that we know today. Ranging from action to motor racing, and from strategy to adventure, this large variety allowed consumers to decide and pursue which types of games were to their liking. This was supported in this period by huge advances in computer hardware and software developments – and the people who worked with them.

Furthermore, at the beginning of the 80's, the first versions of handheld consoles were released, Among them were Microvision and Game and Watch, the latter having a similar look and feel as the Nintendo DS, which played edited versions of arcade games. Microvision’s time on the market however, did not last as long as hoped with several reasons for this demise: they only produced a very limited range of games for it and also several years later the Video Game crash of '83 occurred. This Crash not only put the gaming industry on standby, but it also bankrupted several Northern American companies. Atari 2600 was believed to be the cause since they produced poorly designed games during this period, and ended up manufacturing more than were being sold. They were thought to have even gone as far as burying unsold games cartridges in a New Mexico Landfill.....

The start of something big

Then in 1985, Nintendo was back in the fray when they released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and one of the first games to come with the console was Super Mario Bros. which became a great success in both Japan and the West. The NES was the most significant console in the third generation of consoles and used joysticks and keypads as well as having more than two action buttons available for use. In addition, this generation of consoles brought about a change in game-play. Prior to this many games involved flip screen graphics, but were now replaced by scrolling graphics which was seen as a great development.

At the beginning of the 90's, the arcade games began to steadily decline and become less popular as they had been. This was due to 3D graphics taking over the market, and had been made possible by the increase in computer power (processor and storage) and the decreasing costs to produce them. It also paved the way for first person shooter (FPS) and real-time strategy (RTS) games, which were introduced several years later.

RTS games not only harnessed the capabilities of the PC, but also brought about a new perspective in gameplay, controlling units and constructs using gathered in-game resources. Major gameplay plots generally involved settlement building and construction and management simulations, followed by defending your new creations from incoming attacks or maintaining their stability. It was here that the MMORGP World of Warcraft settled its roots with the launch of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. Along with Command and Conquer and Starcraft, these RTS allowed players control over military and economic aspects in game from a birds eye view of the area combined with selection menus.

This was also the time when the rivalry between Nintendo and SEGA began. It was in 1991 that Sonic the Hedgehog was released and its namesake became the mascot for SEGA as Mario had become that for Nintendo.

FPS was introduced in 1992 by Wolfenstien 3D, which was a huge success and set the foundations for the genre; the same pace and quick reflexes required from arcade games to fight off waves of enemies. However FPS was redefined with the release of Doom, which included additional textures and lighting to make it one of the most important FPS games of all time. This is also due to the fact that it introduced multiplayer gaming as a feature.

As the 90's drew to a close, the Nintendo team who had produced the Game and Watch produced the GameBoy, which succeeded where the earlier Microvsion had failed. Whilst other companies released their own versions of hand held consoles such as the Atari Lynx and the SEGA Super Gear, the GameBoy remained at the top of the revenue earners. In 1998 the GameBoy Colour was released and gave players an upgrade path, allowing them to still play their original GameBoy games. This strategy gave Nintendo an edge at the time and was an example to the game industry of the importance of compatibility.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Video Game Flashback: 50's-70's

Before sitting down in Critical studies last week I assumed the earliest form of video games dated back to Pong and other arcade games from the 70’s, but learning that it dates back to the mid-19th century? Woah!

As we moved through the timeline, it became a question of which device was considered the first video game. This was probably when they eventually begun to resemble the consoles which we use today- features such as screens and the ability to control and navigate the game. It’s no surprise that the earliest models were so large and chunky due to the huge amount of data that the device had to store. Over the years this data issue has been resolved with data being compressed down into the slick small devices we carry around with us today. This trend is likely to continue into the future as hardware and software evolves.

Throughout the late 20th century there have been notable creations which have become the foundations to many genres of games that exist today. An example would be Simulation (commonly flight) which is used in the game development, as well as in the military. These can prepare people for the real thing and gives them a general idea of what is in store for them. Examples include flight simulators, used for leisure, the Air Force, space travel, and fairground rides etc.

In 1947, Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. co-invented a machine which simulated the firing of projectiles at flying targets. It was referred to as ‘cathode ray tube amusement device’ and game play was achieved by pressing a number of buttons and turning knobs. So from my perspective this was the point of creation for a handheld console. In the late 50’s, students at MIT created graphic programs such as virtual Tic-Tac-Toe and Mouse in the Maze. Eventually in 1961 they created Spacewar!, which is recognised as the first influential computer game. I have to agree. The idea of pitting two people against each other through interaction on a screen is a brilliant idea. I mean multiplayer is a hell of a lot of fun, competing against each other to see who’s better and all that. Also I believe it was this that initiated or at least gave ideas about possibilities of science fiction as a genre, which has become a very popular theme in film, television and of course games.

From here, a major turning point arose within the industry. The arrival of distribution for public purchase changed everything. In 1966 Ralph Baer and Bill Harrison worked together to create the first game to be displayed on standard television sets. Along the way they also created the light gun, which continues to be used today in the classic arcade games that we see at the bowling alley and arcades. After working on this project for three years, the first games console was ready to present to manufacturers and as the 70’s approached, the first generation of games consoles were released for public sale. Baer and Harrisons project was licensed by Magnavox in 1972 and the Magnavox Odyssey was unveiled. Nevertheless, this console was quickly overshadowed by the release of Pong, which proved very successful despite its primitive simple layout. However, Pong was so successful that the number of clones that were created soon became overwhelming and this caused a video game crash in '77, resulting in very few companies surviving. Despite this disaster, Space Invaders was launched and became a huge success and marked the start of what was called 'the Golden Age of arcade games'.

Looking back on these classic games, it occurred to me that back then these games didn’t have a definite ending to them. Playing the game was like a test of endurance to see how long you could last. With no obvious ending and increasing difficulty, the only sense of accomplishment that was felt was when you got your name against the high scores.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Well everything in life requires an intro....

Hey there, I'm Dom. Before coming to De Montfort I lived in Cheltenham, and prior to that- Australia, Oman, Colombia and France, to name but a few places. So yes, I have seen a fair amount of the world. Whilst doing Art in Sixth Form, I always wanted to do something graphic or illustrative in the future, but while searching through UCAS and finding Game Art Design, I thought it was too good to be true. My experience as a gamer began when I received my GameBoy + Pokemon Blue for Xmas when I was 7 and since then, I have moved through the ever evolving Nintendo and Sony consoles and games of my favourite genres (and to this day, I still collect the Pokemon games, and I'm not afraid to admit it!).

Outside of gaming and now study, I do enjoy cycling and swimming. Prior to coming to De Montfort, I joined my dad in the Yorkshire National Park to keep him company on the Three Peaks Challenge trek – 25 miles! At home in Cheltenham, we occasionally do stretches of the Cotswold Way, so I’d add hill walking to the list as well.

After looking into the course itself, I was fully aware that it wasn't just about gaming, there's always a catch! Following some consideration I took a year out to do Art Foundation which proved very beneficial for me since I tried out things I wouldn't have normally done and the life drawing was very useful as it was the essence of GAD and in several cases it made my work easier to compose. However, as much as I spend most of my spare time in front of a computer, I never really used software to edit or enhance my work. The reasons for this were twofold; I never really understood most of it, and I wanted to keep my work authentic. These are the main reasons why I expressed interest in the course. Ideally I want to improve my 3D software skills so that they match my skill level in life drawing by the end of year one, so for the remainder of the course my confidence will have been boosted. There are times when my creativity is challenged, when I lack that 'spark', so when tasks I receive involve such things I hope to be able to produce ideas sooner. I also want to improve my writing skills and look forward to interesting tasks and challenges linked to GAD which will test me.

In terms of possibilities beyond GAD I have yet to decide which path I might follow. Having only been introduced to the world of game design, I am enjoying all of the aspects of it. From what I have read in game art related job applications, it feels like a self assessment, asking you to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses and so forth. My impressions of the course from a first years point of view is that I shouldn't choose to specialise in 2D or 3D just yet, but to try everything out in balance and leave such choices for the second year. After my first week, I feel that I've understood the basics of 3ds Max, yet there is much more I want to learn from it so in future I don't get stuck once too often. I have always been used to drawing from pictures in the past and yet from drawing from life has proven far more beneficial.

So yeah, having been bombarded with information and other people’s views, I'd got the idea- this course will be as fun as it is demanding. So bring it on!