Monday, 28 November 2011

Entering the 3D world

So I've spent the last few days absorbed into the wonderfully confusing world of 3Ds Max!
I find 3D abit of a hit and miss subject. I find getting into it very difficult, often putting off opening the program and getting started. But once I do I spend days sitting at the screen working on it till the wee hours of the morning when I can no longer comprehend what I'm seeing.

I was looking forward to the building project, I thought it would give me the chance to explore abit more of 3Ds max and really get to grips with some fundamentals. I put alot of thought into the building I was going to do as I didn't want to spend alot of time trying to make a boring building look interesting. Thankfully I'm originally from Derbyshire which has a wealth of interesting old buildings that I knew about. So I spent a day driving around from village to village seeking out that special building that was going to inspire me to spend hours trying to recreate it.

I ended up in Tutbury, one of the most haunted places in Europe and home to the pub ' Ye Olde Dog & Partridge'. The pub has a rich history and is part of the frequent 'ghost walks' that takes place in Tutbury due to its resident ghosts! I found the building's slightly quirky layout really interesting and thought it would be different to what everyone else was doing. It does have some modern extensions but in order to keep the project manageable and within theme I decided to just do the main part of the pub.

I didn't find modelling the basic geometry very difficult but spend quite a bit of time deciding what to include and making it look accurate.

Once happy with the structure I began the lengthy process of UV unwrapping and texturing. Having not done a project of this size before I didn't realise just how long it was going to take to make some sense out of the unwrap! I spent hours trying to sort the ID groups and UVs into something I personally found manageable. Texturing followed shortly after which was another very lengthy process of trying to carefully make a unique texture sheet and several tileable textures.

To try capture some realism I added bump maps to give height and texture to the bricks, windows and other details. I'm happy with my building and think it reflects the amount of time and effort I put into it. It could still be improved however with specular maps and some lighting effects.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Retail Market, Piracy and Digital Downloads

High street outlet

The retail market for video games has changed massively in recent years. The audience for games is much wider than it ever has been before but the way in which we buy and sell games has also become very different.

High street shops have become (in my opinion) extremely overpriced, but their prices probably haven't changed all that much since I was younger, what has changed is the growing competition and cheaper places to buy from, making them seem more expensive. Everywhere has gotten into the profitable buiness of selling video games. Even supermarkets have become a large competitor, often underpricing high street game shops buy as much as £15-20 on new releases. Theres probably not many people that will bother buying a new game from the high street for £40+ when you can get it online for more like £30, so how do these companies keep themselves up? Pre-owned games.

Pre-owned games is a relatively new way of buying and selling that has quickly become popular. Most high street game shops now seem to dedicate more floor space to pre-owned games rather than new, as this makes them more money. The difference isn't much to us consumers and in fact most pre-owned games are only slightly cheaper, perhaps £4-8 if that.But the difference to the retailer and in turn the industry is much more pronounced. If you buy a £45 game from the high street some of that will go back to the producers of the game. You then bring it back for a teeny bit of money back and the shop will then remarket it for £38 but when they sell it next time its in their pockets. This makes selling pre-owned games very profitable for them but less so for the
 gaming industry. Sites like Ebay are also 'cutting out the middle man' and sales between people meaning the industry is losing out on potential profits.

This is sad news for the gaming industry loosing out on alot of hard earned money, but even worse than trade-ins, piracy. That problem that just keeps growing as more and more people are getting faster Internet connections. People download everything and in hard times especially, people want to save money on films, games and music and just download it illegally for free. In these situations people tend to stick to a personal state of mind and think its alright for them to do it and save themselves money, but fail to realise or care there are probably hundreds of thousands of other people thinking the same thing. The amount of money the film, music and gaming industry loses every year due to piracy must be ridiculous.

Steam online game activation
One way this has tried to be tackled is with anti-piracy software, CD keys and authentication/registration of games. This does however tend to enrage alot of people (the pirates) who then whine on the Internet. I've always been one to pay for my games, if I want it, I'll buy it. I therefore don't understand where these people are coming from. People have put alot of time, money and effort into what you want, you don't want to pay them for that put you'll then complain when you realise they've actually tried to protect it? You like the games but don't want to help keep the companies making them in business? I can't understand it, its just greed, wanting something for nothing.

So with high streets being out priced by online shops and piracy stealing sales where is the industry's retail heading? In my opinion digital sales. Digital sales really haven't been around long and have, like piracy become more popular as internet connections have improved. I'm personally not a fan of digital distribution for several reasons. The games tend to be overpriced, often matching high street costs, and you have to wait for it to download but the more importantly you don't get a hard copy of the game. You can end up paying more for a digital copy than for a psychical copy of the game with any extra goodies that might come with it, yet digital distribution is thriving. The immediate access to games, downloadable content and online sales often makes purchasing too easy to resist.

Steam's online store
This wave of online content sales is also making it easier for 3rd party companies to get a piece of the marketplace. Without the need for large publishing companies they can get their games seen by hundreds of thousands of people, which is a great chance for smaller companies to get sales. I do buy downloadable games, generally out of convenience but would personally hate to see this become the primary method of retail, I'll always prefer the hard copy over anything else. Its difficult to really know where the future of game retail lies, we might soon invent a new way of distribution. Hopefully the future holds success for the industry, the continued sales of hard copy games and a world with fewer online pirates!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Games in my past, present and future :O

So I'm on a Game Art course, the logical assumption would be that I have a healthy interest in games yes? Yes! Perhaps too healthy and nothing excites me more than a new game coming out, except the prospect of one day making those games!

Like everyone I have a starting point for my life long obsession, a traceable line back to where it all began. For me that would be Hexen, Doom and Realms of the Haunting on PC. I was 3 years old and fondly remember playing these games with my dad while my mum tried to get me to go outdoors. If only she knew how those moments were going to impact my life. I thoroughly enjoyed those games, Hexen especially with the chance to live in a different world as a mage fighting demons and the wandering down scary corridors in Realms of the Haunting standing on rats and hearing them pop! It was all so enthralling for me and graphically looks alot better in memory than it actually does, odd. Other games I have fond memories of include, Zool, Sonic, Cannon fodder and various pinball games.

For a few years I played outside like other kids but continued to play games on and off but my memory is hazy at best. My parents were PC users and wouldn't allow me or my brother consoles, despite our pleading! Sadly I never really got to experience the true beginning of video games through consoles, apart from playing my friend's consoles were ever possible. I was however, given my own PC around the age of 9. I didn't have much use for it but played games like Starcraft, Monkey Island, Tomb Raider and Warcraft.
Monkey Island
The next big leap for me was the indescribably exciting moment when my parents finally got us a Dreamcast for X-mas. That was my first console and I absolutely loved it! Soul Reaver Legacy of Kain was probably one of my favourite games and the action/adventure genre is still my favourite to play on console to date. I later convinced them to let me get (yes LET ME with my own money ¬.¬) a PS2. This being my console (no sharing here!) it really sealed my addiction to video games and I spent many hours playing games like Prince of Persia and God of War! Since then I've really been absorbed in the world of video games and the machines they run on. I've spent far to many hours (mostly the ones between 12:00am and 7:00am) playing Counterstrike: Source on my PC rather than sleeping in preparation for school a few hours later. I later spent far far more hours, basically 2 solid years playing World of Warcraft, I wouldn't touch it with a barge poll now. Blizzard have nailed that game to the point that its necessary for life to the gamers that play them. That is the longest I have ever played a game and I find it difficult to even say why that is, they managed to make that game addictive.
World of Warcraft - Raid interface
I've continued to follow trends since then, keeping my PC up to date and getting all the new consoles. I will try most games and enjoy most genres of games (apart from racing and sports games) with my favourite genre differing depending on format. I prefer to play action/adventure games on PS3 and first person shooters and real time strategy on PC. I think those preferences are largely down to the way the games play on each format.

Looking back I've played too many games to remember and a lot that I had completely forgot about. If I had to peg an ultimate favourite I would probably say God of war. I've played all 3 and its step into the big new world of next gen gaming was a stunning performance! I'm a fan of pretty games, I love them and God of War is a damn pretty game. I think God of War just ticks all the boxes for me, it plays well, it looks good, it has a strong story line, isn't too long or too short, it has atmosphere, intrigue, a strong grounding in well known history and lore, a kick ass character and good combat. I find myself comparing alot of games to each other because I've played so many and God of War is something I always compare other games to, "yeah its good, but God of War did it better". The latest game makes full use of what the PS3 is capable of and I can't recall a nicer looking game and I find I can appreciate all the time and effort that made that game so beautiful now that I realise what really goes into the artistic creation of games.  

God of War 3

PS3 Sharp Shooter Gun
So were are games heading now? What is their future? Both very tough questions. There is already such a massive variety of games. As gamers we've had the chance to experience everything from space combat to fighting dinosaurs and demons. It takes real creativity to come up with something that hasn't already been done, something that will interest and excite people, something to amaze and entertain people for years to come.

I think what might be the most interesting aspect of the future is how we'll play future games. New ways of experiencing games and getting involved with them. We've already moved into motion control and how that affects the way we play. With peripherals like the Killzone 3 Sharpshooter gun for Playstation Move and 3D TV how far away from that truly realistic game play are we? Could we get to the point were games and real-life are indistinguishable, and should we even do it? Are we even that far off?

Real Life - Crysis 2 comparison

I personally think we have to stop somewhere. I'm all for getting that game to look stunning but I'm not in a rush to plug myself in and start living Battlefield 3 or GTA.  People get addicted to games already, if we ever did get to the point where you could live inside a game, I worry how the world would be. Why live in this world when you could live in a better, nicer world, that you could feel, smell and enjoy? But more importantly a world you can control and do what you like.

Ok bit of a tangent there, perhaps better put as a separate blog. Its a deep subject and quite a worrying idea for the future. Maybe games should just stay how they are now. Controller played, fun and pretty!

You can go now :O

Working Hard..or Hardly Working?

Well half of us have just had our week 7 review and the other half are probably really not looking forward to theirs. The stark realisation that we just aren't working hard enough is the result of our assessments.

So the question I ask myself is am I working hard, or hardly working?
Up till now I thought I was working hard, but it clearly isn't enough. I'm doing OK in 3D but not so much in Visual Design and Critical studies so I want to take this opportunity to review myself and self-assess why that is.

I've enjoyed 3D right from the first day and we made our Church, I found 3ds Max a new and interesting challenge with endless possibilities. I was daunted by the Dalek project but threw myself into it and felt I did a good job and learnt alot along the way. Our first project with texturing, the wheelie bin, also went well. I made 2 bin models as I wasn't happy with the first and spend several hours unwrapping trying to find different more affective ways of doing...stubbornly refusing to watch tutorials ¬.¬ I found making the textures relatively easy once I had the UV mapped out and was pleased with the overall outcome.
My Finished Wheelie Bin
 For the future - I need to be more careful with naming assets as its a basic procedure that is required for importing assets into a game engine, and something I should ingrain into myself at this early stage. I also need to accept my status as a n00b and just watch some damn tutorials! Despite the bin going well future projects are going to be more complex and I need to make sure I can unwrap a UV efficiently or I know I'm going to struggle down the line.

Visual Design
Despite not passing visual design in the assessment I feel I've personally made some improvements since I started. Visual Design is easily my weakest subject area and I don't have as much experience in it as I'd like. I've got quite frustrated by drawing over the last 6 weeks but think my approach and drawing technique has already changed. I'm pleased we haven't been using lots of different mediums and colours yet because I've enjoyed the opportunity to progress with pencil, a good foundation for later progression.
First week final

I think the problem I've had is time. It takes time and effort to improve and despite feeling I have put alot of time into my drawing so far but it just isn't enough. I can say 'I've been out drawing all day' but actual time spent with pencil to paper is less than I realise. I probably could say "I've done the 76 hours required" *smug face* but its not true. I've been outside all day several times with the good intention of spending it drawing, but then not really drawing for most of it, and that's just wasted time.

 Anyway 12 hours, 12 thumbnails and 1 final a week is minimum....who ever gets where they want to in life by doing the bare minimum. I'm not here to just about scrape by, I'm here to learn, improve and get where I want to be. Doing the minimum isn't going to be enough, so I'm going to have to increase those numbers to personal goals and then stick to them. So far I havent been dedicated enough to my work...the release of several big title games recently really hasnt helped...but playing games isnt going to make me better at making them. So I'm going to have to release Ive entered a new stage in my life, I can't just sit around and play games doing the minimum and expected to get by and magicily improve. If I ever want to be in the industry I have to manage myself better and accept that work needs to become what I do first thing in the morning and last thing at night...hopefully with an hour or two of games in there somewhere.

Critical Studies

Critical Studies and blog writing is something I thought I'd do OK in. I don't find writing a particularly difficult thing to do and when in the right mood quite enjoy it. But I was foiled again by thinking the bare minimum was ever going to be good enough. I play games, I watch films and then like most people I discuss it with other people, we review it with each other, comparing and analysing.
I just need to be writing it down and posting it up! I'm doing it everyday anyway but writing about it and posting is showing the active interest I have.
I don't have an excuse not to, I don't find it hard and it doesn't take too long.
So I just need to remember to do it...oh and add pictures heh...not everyone likes big blocks of writing.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A history of computer games, part three: 2000s

Halo from Bungie and Microsoft
And so we reach the 2000s and the sixth and seventh generation of video game consoles. The first release of the generation was the Dreamcast which had limited success and was quickly superseded by the hugely anticipated Playstation 2. Nintendo followed a year later with the GameCube, their first disc based console. While the GameCube did well it was hindered by its lack of third-part games and reputation for being a 'kids console' lacking the mature games the market wanted. 2002 saw the release of the Xbox and Microsoft's entry into the console market. In order to get a hold on the market Microsoft sold the console at a loss and concentrated drawing profit from game development and publishing. Shortly after it's release Halo was launched on the Xbox, instantly becoming its driving point and later becoming one of the most successful console shooter series's of all time.

Throughout the early 2000s console gaming largely continued the established trend towards increasingly complex and adult orientated game play. Most of the successful games of the time were aimed towards more mature players, including many now classic gaming franchises like Halo and Resident Evil. Even Nintendo, which had mainly been aimed at a younger audience, began publishing more mature games, with Capcom's Resident Evil 4 being a good example.

Other noteworthy changes in the industry during the early 2000s was the rise of online and mobile gaming. As affordable broadband spread many game publishers turned to online gaming as a way of advancing. Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) featured mainly on the PC and included hugely successful games such as; World of Warcraft (which I've spent far to many hours of my life on ¬.¬), Everquest and Ultima Online. Every console since the Dreamcast has had the ability to support an Internet connection or has had the option available as an add-on. Microsoft's Xbox also had its own online gaming service called Xbox Live which has been and still is a huge success today. With huge advancements in Mobile phone technology, mobile gaming had been able to develop quickly and has a massive market with game apps making up more than half of sales through Apple's app store!

Mobile Gaming on the Iphone

And now we reach the big 3....The consoles most of us will own, play and love and the moment right now, the PS3, 360 and Wii.
The console war

Microsoft were first to enter the shinny new seventh generation of consoles with the Xbox 360 in 2005. Sony followed in 2007 with their black monster, the Playstation 3! The launch of the consoles brought a whole new standard of technology and stunning graphics. Both consoles featured high definition graphics, large hard disc storage, integrated networking and an online gameplay and sales platform. At launch the new consoles were the first of their kind to challenge PCs in power, but for a significantly lower price tag.
Nintendo released their next console, the Wii, shortly after the PS3 and it put Nintendo back into the console race. While the Wii had a lower technical spec than its competitors it was cheaper and was based around a new and novel gaming experience using motion control to play. Many gamers, publishers, and analysts initially dismissed the Wii as an underpowered curiosity, but were surprised as the console sold out through the 2006 Christmas season, and remained so through the next 18 months, becoming the fastest selling game console in most of the world's gaming markets.

Wii's take on motion control gaming, at first shunned by many gamers, suddenly changed the way we interact with games and was later picked up by both Microsoft and Sony who later made Kinect and Playstation Move. This forever impacted the way games can be played and allows players to become much more involved with games., leading to a rise in sports/fitness games.
With technology standards rising the quality of games went with it and expectations for visuals within games rocketed. Our games were becoming increasingly complicated and visually stunning but all this meant development costs for developers increased massively.  While many game studios saw their Xbox 360 projects pay off, the unexpected weakness of PS3 sales resulted in heavy losses for some developers, and many publishers broke previously arranged PS3 exclusivity arrangements or cancelled PS3 game projects entirely in order to cut losses. Game development on a seventh generation console needs a budget of around $10 million or more and it was estimated in 2005 that around only 80 games a year make a profit.

What does this mean? Huge losses for companies in the gaming industry. Even big companies like Sony and THQ are losing money by the bucket load because it just costs too much to develop games and too many don't do as well as they should. This isn't great news for us budding game artists, the companies we might one day hope to work for and steadily going down the drain, unless something changes. The industry has reached somewhat of a stalemate. It has constantly been changing and improving for decades, but it has reached a point where it can't afford to go any further and is on the cusp of becoming completely unsustainable. Improvement is no longer on the menu,so what is?
Despite hardships most companies are still in the mood for hiring people,thankfully, and maybe, just maybe the gaming industry will still be here in a few years when we're all going to be looking for a job in it.
Companies are going to want the best of us, because they won't be able to afford just anyone.
They won't employ just anyone.
I won't become just anyone.
The industry and games really excite me and I'm going to make sure that if its hiring when I finish my degree I'm going to get my place in it.