Thursday, 23 February 2012

Task 10: Elements of game design, part three: character

Characters are a massive part of the video games we play. While the NPCs and characters we interact with help to fill the world it is the main character, us, that really link us to the game. The way our avatar looks, feels, acts, sounds and moves is all a huge part in how we react and ultimately enjoy the game. Everything must be considered in order to make your character fun and believable within the environment.

Alot of games these days that focus on story telling or atmosphere that involve your character have you play in 3rd person. This allows for a greater sense of individuality and personality to the character you play, letting you see how they look and move. While 1st person tends to be used for more action based shooter games, where your avatar doesn't need a sense of character and is more just a shell that you fill with little real interaction with the environment or NPCs.

There aren't many games from the past that I can recall having particularly memorable main characters, possibly due to the design of the character you play only becoming considered more important in recent years. Games seem to approach character design and importance in different ways, for in instance games like Call of Duty or Battlefield your character doesn't have a personality or design because you never see them, they are merely shells that you fill. In games such as these character, personality and interaction come from the other people who play with you online, and not from the NPCs in the single player campaign which often feels empty and underdeveloped. In my opinion games that are designed toward online play often have this issue and this leaves the single player disappointing and less enjoyable.

The games that really nail character design are the story driven 3rd person action/adventure games. The games that revolve around your character and how they interact and respond to the world. You aren't just sitting in a shell shooting at stuff you are following a characters story and living through it with them. Fantastic character design is a link that lets you really feel part of the game's world. There are many games that do this well and one I personally enjoyed was Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. All 3 Uncharted games have amazing character design and there is a real sense of personality, interaction and history between the main characters. The way they banter and relate to each other increases the sense of believability and enjoyment you get from the game and it makes the experience thoroughly enjoyable. The interaction, humour and believability of the main characters is easily what I enjoyed most about the 3rd game (the rest of it is awesome as well, making it one of my favourite games of all time!). Another stunning part of Uncharted 3's character design was the way you moved as Drake. Depending on where he was and what was going on he would move and react believably. No more endless running from people that never tire! No, if Drake would run too long he would get tired and have to catch his breath looking abit sluggish and slower. One of my favourite examples of this is where Drake must make his way through a desert after surviving a plane crash, during which he often collapses and he must stagger back up with you pushing him onwards as he becomes ever more exhausted. The realism and sensations you get throughout Drake's movement within the game world is staggering and something that will have been carefully considered throughout his design process.

Perhaps the thing that comes to mind most however when thinking about character design is the appearance of the characters. This is obviously an important part of design and is something we will immediately relate to as players. The way characters stand and move, the colour or quality of the clothes they wear and the purpose of them. Is the character a stuck up rich prince or a dependable army grunt? If the characters look or feel out of place or wrong within the environment we will pick this out and dislike it, whether we know it or not. So characters, whether the main character or an unimportant extra need to look and feel believable.

While most genres of games or films will need characters to be as realistic as possible there are many cases where heavy stylisation or characterisation is used to fantastic effect. Examples of this include the game Team Fortress 2, which has 9 unique characters, each designed and styled to be instantly recognisable and interesting. The animation company Pixar uses heavily stylised characters that while often unrealistic are always believable and enjoyable. The fantastic use of exaggerated facial expressions or characteristics allow you to instantly understand what is being portrayed and its always thoroughly enjoyable!

I often wrongly assume character design to simply be how the character looks, a series of awesome concepts that explore the different clothes, faces or stances characters can have but I now understand it to be much more. Character design is just that, the design of a real character with depth. Something that is believable and fun to play, some one you can connect to and experience. Some one with an appearance, attitude, sense of humour, stance, motive, emotion, drive and even a way of moving. True character design isn't easy or simple, people are complicated things and the art of character design is creating someone  well enough ,that we actually believe they exist.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Elements of game design, part two: art direction for games

What is an Art Director?
The art director is a person who supervises the creative process of a design. The term 'art director' is a blanket title for a variety of similar job functions in advertising, marketing, publishing, film and television, the Internet, and video games.

Various artists may create or develop specific parts of an art piece or scene; but it is the charge of a sole art director to unify the vision. In particular, the art director is in charge of the overall visual appearance and how it communicates visually, stimulates moods, contrasts features, and psychologically appeals to a target audience. The art director makes decisions about visual elements used, what artistic style to use, and when to use motion. One of the most difficult problems that art directors face is to translate desired moods, messages, concepts, and underdeveloped ideas into imagery.

In film
An art director works directly below the production designer, a large part of their duties include the administrative aspects of the art department. They are responsible for assigning tasks to people and keeping track of the art department budget and scheduling as well as overall quality control. They are often also a liaison to other departments; especially Construction, Special FX, Property, Transportation (graphics), and Locations Departments. The Art Director also attends all production meetings and tech scouts in order to provide information to the set designers in preparation for all departments to have a visual floor plan of each location visited.

In Video games
The Creative Director is responsible for the overall look and feel of a computer game, overseeing any high level decisions that affect how the game plays, looks or sounds. The position is a relatively new one within the games industry and has evolved out of the producer's role as this has shifted towards managing the process of completing a game on time and on budget.
The Creative Director's focus is ensuring the quality and style of the gameplay, artwork, music and audio assets that make up the final product. In many cases, the Creative Director is also the creator of the original game concept and characters, and so acts as the visionary who makes sure the finished game fulfils the initial goals.

 V. Matt Carofano the Art Director on Skyrim
At the start of a project, the Creative Director works with a small core team defining the framework of the game, with special attention placed on the artistic styling and any technical obstacles that will need to be overcome. As the game's development continues and more staff are added, the Creative Director works closely with the lead programmers, artists and designers to ensure all the code and art assets produced, as well as playable versions of the game, meet the initial vision and are of a sufficiently high quality. The Creative Director deals with issues arising such as new features and any major redesigning of characters and scenarios. Outside of the development team, the Creative Director acts as the game's advocate promoting it to executives who are not directly involved in production, such as the sales and marketing departments.

Becoming a Creative Director
There is no set route to becoming a Creative Director, but it is not an entry-level role. Creative Directors usually have over five years experience in a senior game development position, and have shipped commercially successful titles.
Many Creative Directors have previously worked as a lead artist or lead designer, while others come from a production background. They will have demonstrated exceptional abilities in terms of understanding how the different components of a game combine together to create the finished product.

Essential knowledge and skills
The most important skill for a Creative Director is to be able to inspire artists, programmers, producers, marketing staff, and others involved in the development process to make the highest quality product possible. In this respect, the Creative Director acts as the game's visionary during its development.
They also require the ability to make tough decisions that affect the game's schedule and budget as well as the look and feel of the final product.
Creative Directors should have a good understanding of the bigger picture of game development, including the impact of their decisions with respect to financial and managerial outcomes.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Transit

So 11:00pm the night before the Transit van project is due and yay its finished. Not sure that should be a yay as much as it should be a 'phew'. When I last blog the model was complete and I just had the dreading unwrapping and texturing to go. Unwrapping has by far been the longest part about making things in 3D, so that's what I expected again, not so. I found unwrapping delightfully quick and easy, with the van being a slightly more complex box it wasn't too hard. I did however, drastically underestimate the amount of time the texture would take to create.

External texture sheet

Texturing thus far hasn't really taken that long but the Transit van took soooooo damn long. The first problem I had was my own fault, rubbish reference photos for textures. I had to spend alot of time altering images to make them use able and more accurate. I also had to go out and find another Transit to take more images and use what ever else I could find to get it done.

I found I became very attentive to details and tried to line everything up, often having to alter the model itself and the UV unwrap to do so, constantly altered bits of everything trying to get it right. This took alot longer than anything else I've done, despite it being a complex box -.-"
I did however get it finished, as was the point of this blog to show the finished product off.

So a final note and what have I learnt from the product?
Well not much. Due to poor time management (damn you Xmas for making me lazy ( yes I'm still blaming it)), I just didn't do as much with the van as I would of liked. I could of put alot more detail into it, done more than one texture or do more than one van. It really didn't take 4 weeks to make, but it took me 3 to get my head out my ass and just do it. So what have I learnt? Do the damn project, you'll probably learn more!