Monday, 28 May 2012

Year Two's Over Now

The transitional step from trainee to game artist has been reached, next year i will be thrown out in the deep end and will have to fend for myself. I have learnt more than the first year taught me and a lot of it was just down to practice, the Queens Building Project helped me understand what it would be like in a group and that you never know how people you work with might be. It taught me to adapt and not to invest in my work so much at early stages as it will more than likely have to change or be reworked. It helped me understand the main aspects of how games engines worked; my understanding and abilities of traditional and digital painting have excelled. I have started to apply my work in different ways and have learnt a lot of tips and tricks that will allow me to quickly execute ideas. I still have a lot to learn but this major hurdle in my career prospects has been jumped. I now have a good enough understand to achieve almost anything i want and all i have to do now is practice and improve on what i have already developed. I know that i shouldn't take this lightly and i'm going to try to double my investment into the course next year to make sure i have the best FMP that i could possibly have.

This year wasn't without it problems either, i spent around Christmas trying to complete a project that i had not managed well enough and had left far to late. Being a character project i wasn't that interested in it and i kept pushing it further and further back in till i had nothing in the last week of the holidays. It has shown me that i need to properly address my organisational skills but has also shown me what not to do and for it i am better prepared for the final year. The second year was something of a practice year where i could try different techniques and work flows without it having a massive impact on my final grade or job prospects. I had additional problems in that i broke my hard drive the week before Easter and had to complete a semesters worth of work in two weeks.This taught me to backup more often and never take for granted something that is working fine. Because it is more than likely that it will corrupt when you need it most. I also learn't not to rely on other people so heavily. I was let down but the hard drive recovery people at DMU and i never got any of my data back. Although i would have preferred to have the original work it did allow me to re-do some piece in different styles when perhaps i wouldn't have. Practice makes perfect.

This year has allowed me to learn much and to take advantage of any opportunities that are made available to me. Currently working on the Rossyln Chapel Project has allowed me to continue to practice whilst summer continues and has given me something worthwhile to mention to friends and to put on my C.V. It has acted as a final stepping stone to practice the skills i will need for future projects and employment. Overall i feel the course has benefited me and given me the push and focus to work to my fullest potential. I have a much better understanding of what is needed of me and how i can go about it thanks to the tutors and to my fellow peers. My modelling has improved beyond redoubt and my digital paintings have come further than i thought when looking back on it. With this year at an end academically i must try to focus myself and get as much done over summer to benefit myself in the long run. I aim to try and produce a summer project, or at the very least produce some test assets for my FMP or another project. I have a long way to go and a lot to prove, but i am determined to do the best i can and try to graduate with the best degree i can.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Educate me for the Industry

The Games industry has developed educationally recently, there are now industry specific courses sprouting up around the country, to limited success. Having Skillset accreditation does help my courses reputation grow as one of those that has succeeded. Being such a diverse but art orientated industry, does allow a large graduate pool to siphon from. Traditionally this was the case, fine art; graphic design, computer graphics and other creative subjects were the backbone to which staff was hired. Being a relatively new subject to study had allowed graduates to be hired with transferable skills. Now however with specific courses for games developing, companies can hire already trained employees, rather than train from scratch other graduates. This has created a question does overall attributes and “soft skills” win over specific technical skills.

I think it is important to understand that soft skills are skills that can be transferred amongst job industries; these would include basic understandings of colour and light theory.  With these skills it is understood to be easier to learn new art skills because you have already understood the fundamentals. Whereas technical skills have been taught to allow you to perform very specific tasks, with the games industry this would be the mastery of a specific program. In my personal opinion it is obvious that many graduates would have a limited understanding of soft skills and would have related art attributes to be useful in a jobs position. It has already been proven from 30years of doing so, that art graduates can be trained in house to be good a specific features because they already know how the basic work.

What courses need to be aware of is that; although teaching specific skills is very useful and will give you a head start, without proper understanding of how things relate to the real world this will leave you undermined. Professionals want to see overall competence and ability. This is because the games industry is every evolving and learning the specifics of one program are likely to be counterproductive because their lifecycles are generally very short.  If you can teach the basic of game related software whilst teaching and helping students understand how to make things work and why they work. Then they will automatically be able to adjust and self criticise.

This also moves into another point that because the future is always changing it is hard for educational establishments to rewrite the course to fit this. There are an every growing number of programs and techniques to learn and by trying to teach the basics of how things function, for when you move into the industry will give you a massive benefit over other graduates. Producing pretty pictures is great, but it is useless if you don’t know how you created it and wouldn’t be able to create it in different way. Every games company has different techniques, by learning specifics you are limiting you availability and desirability to other companies.

All that courses can do is try to diversify what you learn, give you the most up to date information, programs and techniques. As long as you understand what the limits are currently and as long as you are able to learn new things quickly because of fundamental knowledge. Then as long as you have these, you have the ability to be appealing to the games industry.

Whatever games companies ask for, whether it is raw liberal arts skills or technical prowess. If you can make yourself known to be competent artist, have knowledge of up to date programs and try to make yourself stand out as the best of what you do. If you strive to learn as much as you can whilst practicing and improving your skills. Then you have given yourself the best chance to be noticed and as such employed. By given students the means to achieve their best, no matter how it is achieve, companies will notice this ability and will move than likely approve of the students graduating. A mixture of technical skills and fundamental skills are the best way to learn and to get noticed takes the added enthusiasm from those who are taught and those who teach.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Talent and Creativity is it a Myth?

I actually had this exact discussion with my girlfriend yesterday, she thoroughly believes that people are born talented and I believe the exact opposite. That people develop all skills from birth in a complex series of events and conditions. By developing in a nurturing environment more time is spent learning task and as such this repetition means you learn faster and develop these skills faster. This makes certain individuals seem like they are inherently more talented when in fact they are just ahead with their learning. They have been brought up learning these things from a younger age and been encouraged to continue to learn them. I read somewhere that it takes around 10,000 hours to become truly great at something that is the number of hours practicing before you can consider yourself truly better than the majority. People seem like they are good at creative things because it is likely that they enjoyed doing them when they were a child.

 Creativity is a lot of the time taken away from children as they get older, because their parents want them to focus on other things that they consider more important. By nurturing a Childs interests, encouraging and pushing them to continue to develop their skills they are going to put in more hours of practice and get better. Take the example that most people have a proficient level of literacy by the time they have finished high school, this is usually the level that it stays at unless they purposely practice literacy task in their own time. Some people seem more educated and “smart” because they have realised that it is important to constantly learn and pushed themselves and as such have excelled from the mark that the majority stops at.

Mozart is often seemed as an example of pure innate talent; this is not because he was born with the ability to compose music and play. Babies do not, however you look at it, come from the womb playing scores of music or painting a master piece. They develop their hand eye coordination from a young age and are push to practice. Mozart was born to a father that taught and composed music for a living. He had been practicing for the majority of his life and as such made Mozart practice for a very early age, obsessed with seeing his son succeed. People look at his early work and suggest great ability and talent; although good they were certainly not great symphonies and were likely edited and revised by his more experienced father. By the time he produced his famous work he was a young adult and had put in thousands upon thousands of hours of controlled practice.

It is important to realise that this myth of talent is in fact controlled practice and nurturing and a lot of the time pressure from a young age to succeed. Skilful parents often have so called talented children because they are brought up with their parent’s skills and develop these under a watchful and keen eye. With this in mind talent is a myth, people aren’t born with a keen ability to kick a ball or paint a picture just as much as people aren’t born with a grand understanding of quantum mechanics. They learn. People are responsible for their own abilities, whilst you might think you are not good at something it is because you haven’t practiced it enough. You do not learn something quickly. That is why children seem more extraordinary because they are learning and absorbing so much information at a young age. Whereas adult have more pressure on them to learn quickly and often have other commitments to work and family. Children have none or little of these constraints, as such have more free time and seem to have more raw talent.

When you understand that people limit themselves you can then try to do something about it, by eliminating peoples fear of talent people can then realise that by practicing something and allowing time for their skills to develop they can become just as good as other people. Things are daunting that you haven’t done before; you have to be in the right mindset to understand that once the first hurdle is jumped and the basics have been understood, practice is enjoyable and quick to develop. The only thing that limits your talent is time, people who learn and understand this early have more time to get better and become talented whereas older people will be limited to what they can learn because time is against them.

The same thing can be said about creativity, children have brilliant imaginations because they are learning so much so quickly that they have a wealth of information to harness. Adult would continue to harness this imagination but are nipped in the bud to focus on academics. I am not saying that academics are not important, but people should not be scared of crazy ideas. Creativity lingers on in those who have been allowed to imagine and create and learn and absorb. Inventions and all the great things that have ever been made and said have been from those who are creative. Who have the ability to make new decisions because they have practiced and haven’t been stifled. They have been encouraged to develop and learn from their ideas rather than disregard them. This focuses their attentions on real situations and makes this early imagination more applicable to the real world.

In terms of games, everyone is allowed to be creative and share ideas. They understand through practice what works and what doesn’t, they know what looks good and what doesn’t. Talent and creativity are measured by accuracy, idea generation and ability to convey these ideas clearly and precisely. These ideas are interchangeable and it all comes down to how you have been brought up to learn and practice.

Thoughts on the Games Industry

Seeing as I will be moving into the games industry it is important that I try to understand how the industry is structured, what roles it contains and how I would function within it. The games industry is a multi-million pound media that is (thankfully) growing. From humbled begins of part-time singular bedroom coders to the multi-million pound studios that exists now. The games industry has evolved and contains both small and large studios churning out a varied assortment of games for various consoles and devices. It has almost gone back to its beginnings in some respects with small groups making fortunes with the development of so called “indie games”. However both groups are equally as proficient at making titles suited to their capabilities. The large developers create highly polished titles with big budgets and the small groups create titles that are simple and innovative with relatively low costs. With such a growth in desire for games some developers send of work to “outsourcers” who produce skilled work for a developer when they require either lower costs or a bigger workforce for deadlines.

With the development of the games that are produced, more complex tasks and skills are needed to keep up with the innovation the games industry has seen. As such job roles have developed for specific tasks within the games industry and it is these that I will explore. I have joined the industry at a great time, with recent tax breaks sure to bring in large amounts of revenue. As a game artist my role within games is to produce visual aspects of the game, my job is key in aesthetics, design and style. My job will entail producing visual artwork and physical assets to populate environments and worlds in games. I will have to work with various other designers, planners, writers, artists, producers and engineers. This ability to work with others will help to produce work at a fast pace and keep communication running throughout a project.

Within the field of artist bound positions, there are two main routes you can take. These would either involve 2d art, 3d assets or a culmination of both, I hope to continue to develop my skills in both of these but tend to lead towards the actual production of assets and environments with 3d. Currently I have every ambition to be either an environment artist or try to develop my skillset and become a vehicle artist. Being in the middle of my degree however it is obvious that I can still develop other attributes that could be helpful in breaking into the industry. I would quite like to look at VFX art as this could be a great way to penetrate the jobs market and make myself stand out a little. I have already taken a great step to make myself employable. I am taking a specialist degree and the only game art degree in the country accredited by skillset (composed of industry professionals). The industry is already specialised and so am I to some degree, I am learning specifically to become a game artist and as such have given myself a massive boost to try to conquer this jobs market.

Even with this bonus, I am well aware that I will be starting from the bottom. I will be given little freedom and for the meantime I am perfectly happy with this. It will allow me to develop my skills and get my some hopefully great references for the future. My overall goal is to work my way up the ladder to a lead artist and then hopefully a director of art, although this prospect might seem large at the moment I couldn’t be more dedicated to be the one at the top.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Interactivity in Games.

Interaction in games has always been hindered, whether it was by physical input such as a mouse, joystick or keyboard. Physical output such as screen and sound or physical hardware such as the engine and processers, which the console is running on. Up in till recently it was always obvious there was a bridge to cross with interactivity in games. There were problems with being able to recreate what a person would really do in a situation when they ‘re holding a joystick or controller.

 Games were produced in a chaotic way and as such haven’t really developed from early standings as reengineered radar screens. They were not really thought of from the ground up, so with this they weren’t necessarily designed for ergonomics and ease of use. The joystick was overlooked for many years in the gaming console market, even though It was very popular in arcades. This was because ergonomically, interactivity was not thought of properly.

It wasn’t in till relatively recently that It was implemented and realised as a key part of future of interactivity in games. It gives you multiply areas of control in direction and when presented in a dual format with another analog stick such as modern console controllers are. Gives you a third degree of control, such as what you would find in real life. Even this is limited though, you are still controlling something through a device rather that an extension of your body. This is where future gaming is heading to some degree. I am a keen supporter that hardcore gaming will for the foreseeable future remain controller based and there will always remain a dedicated market for hardcore and pc gamers.

With the invention of the Wii and extensions of the Xbox and Playstation through the Kinect and Move respectively. There is a keen development in games to produce a more realistic interactive input. The dominance of the controller and mouse are receding because they were only implemented because of the limits of previous technology. Previously because of this there was a big push in what the consoles could manage and the internal hardware surged forward and became more advanced and more powerful. Ergonomics was mostly overlooked and users were left with iterations of the same joypad design, d-pad and buttons.

It wasn’t in till about 10years ago that ergonomics and design had a new role to play, user’s craved new ways to play and the technology was now limited by the input of the player. Analog sticks were developed, triggers were implemented and controller shape was formed around the hands. Comfort and style were now prominent aspects of console design. This was also reflected in the design of the consoles themselves, they became smaller and almost less important than the controllers.

Interactivity was finally important in game design. It played a key role in how games would develop from this point on. Games were created around how the controller would allow them to interact with something virtually. However there was still a barrier to cross in that the user and the interactive character were still connected by an intermediately device the controller. With new advances with controller, users can now use their own motion to control what is on screen. There is now a direct correlation between the user and themselves virtually. Controllers are being developed to harness the human body for a number of reasons. Interactivity has been the main contributor.

Xbox Kinect has shone through as the way to go for me, it has developed independently of controllers and sensors now let the user control the game entirely with their body. Although games are currently limited to “party games” there is almost certainly a world to develop with this technology. It is another step closer to a fully interactive game, with voice recognition, 3 dimensional tracking and direct control. the simulator brings this realisation as a close, and although not commercially console viable yet, it has allowed the user to get the most realistic but safe environment yet. With fully immersive game play and full interactivity, it allows the user to walk and feel feedback. Two of the current limitation in home gaming interactivity. Games will almost certainly develop along this path, but split from this will be a need for fully realistic, casual and niche market game play interactivity, that will see the longevity of the controller live on yet.
watch the video below;

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Games and Music

Music is a intricate part of the success of a game, it provides added atmosphere,  rhythm, ambience, tension, navigation clues and resonance to the personality of key objects and characters. It is such a great media to create mood and feeling that its place in games has quickly evolved from early monophonic repetitive thumping's of the original space invaders (1978). The first game to have a continuous background track. Rally-X was the first game that featured background music and was released by Namco (1980). It became obvious at this point that the two media would be interwoven together from then on. Music did have original setbacks, analogue devices were expensive and prone to breakages, and new digital media was complicated and involved programmer writing large forms of code. The early Atari 2600 only had the means of producing two notes at a time, thusly limiting musical capabilities in games.

Early composers of games music included Yuriko Keino and Juventino Rosas a Mexican composer and violinist. Music quickly flourished from the 1980 and the beginning of sampled music and digital recording meant a boost in what could be distinguished and played through games. With this new ability to easily manipulate and reference music, through the establishment of computers, came new and exciting tunes that complimented the new games that were being developed. Music was now being produced for the sole purpose of video games and was equally as anticipated as the games themselves.

The mid to late 80's saw music composed with more people with more musical experience that before. However the need for programming skills postponed the complete intertwining of commercial and video game music and composers. Koji Kondo produced the music for super Mario bros and the legend of Zelda. There was a desire to hire people for the sole purpose of generating music for games and by the late 80's cassettes were being produced with games music, this showed their popularity and saw an increase in the importance of game music worldwide. It was seen as a money generating scheme and this tied in hand and hand with the composers who wanted a share of the profits. This invention of soundtrack albums reinforced games identities and made them more commercially accessible.

It wasn't in till the 1990's that game music became an easily transferrable skill for musical composers in general. With CD's music creation for games became more flexible and allowed common composers to create scores for games. An example is way of the warrior on the 3DO by White Zombie or a more popular example is Trent Reznor composition for Quake. This saw the completed merging of two musical genres and paved the way for composers to hop between games music and popular music easily.

Modern Games have benefitted from the creation of better recording and processing techniques. melodic tunes add to a games profile and identities and scores of music are quite often related to the game they were produced in. Games have benefited all sorts of composers from individual persons working from there bedrooms to masters of musical creation. An example of this is Nile Rodgers and Martin O'Donnell who created the musical scores for the multi-billion pound franchise called Halo. There music is so relatable to the game, that it is just as important as how the game looks and behaves. The music is composed into set pieces, as well as loops that react to what the player is doing and where they are. This music was in fact so popular that it shipped separately as soundtracks.

Music has become so interwoven with the games industry that the production of music is critical to a games financial success. By allowing the user to feel emotions and attachments has made gaming just as emotive as films or television. With the adaption of new technology meaning games will soon be able to select and produce music based on environmental decisions. It is becoming ever more imperative that games continue to harness the power of music. The limitations of the past will soon be gone and musical composers will no longer have to fit between tight constraints on the length and complexity of the music they create.

Personally I feel a deep connection with the ambient tracks of age of empires and SimCity's just because i grew up listening to them, as I got older and my musical tastes developed I have to say i am most keen on the work of Martin O'Donnell. He produces such emotive and powerful tracks that keep you suspended or frightened, empowered or focused. I particularly like the composer Johan Skugge & Jukka Rintamaki who produced the music for battlefield 3.