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.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

UDK and Other Engines

Ideally this article was supposed to be written before the group projects started, let alone finished but I'll go ahead and talk about Unreal Developer Kit anyway. Firstly what is an engine. An engine is a platform that allows user created assets to populate a world within certain parameters. Essentially anything you have ever played in run "in engine", an engine controls lighting and interfacing and is necessary to create functioning worlds. The engine is where you bring together all of the separate elements you’ve designed on paper and constructed in 3D Studio Max and give them life, animation, dynamic behaviour and interactivity.

UDK is currently in its third iteration of development as a platform to which games are developed and is about to be envisioned in yet another stage later in 2012. You can watch a representative here, although running in the latest version on unreal engine 3 it is supposed to be reprehensive of future capabilities, it was currently "running on a custom-built system using off-the-shelf PC parts, Epic said, including three Nvidia GTX 580 graphics cards, which cost about $500 each"

File:Unreal Engine Comparison.jpg 
Above shows just the development since 1998.

Unreal has done a brilliant job of getting big name licensee's to use their engine, and it has become a mainstay in desirable skills for game artists alike. The features are easy to use and to learn. It supports flash and DirectX and has wonderfully simple in-house scripting, allowing games to be produce on a standard version of UDK with multiple levels of functionality and controllability. Epic (the makers of UDK) have used this version of the engine for there in house games;Unreal Tournament 3, Gears of War, Bulletstorm, Mortal Kombat IX, and an improved version for Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 3. Due to aggressive licensing, this current iteration has gathered a great deal of support from several big licensees, including 2K Games, 3DRealms, Activision, Atari, Capcom, Disney, ElectronicArts, Koei, Konami,Microsoft for Kinect, Midway Games, Sega, Sony, Square Enix, THQ, Ubisoft, and more. This support show the obvious success of the engine in producing AAA rated games and attracting big name developers.

Games engines quite often are in house systems that are specifically designed for developers needs and as such other good quality engines are often kept to developers in order to produce the best quality games for themselves. One notable exception that is also very popular, is the Cry engine and is a direct competitor with UDK, however like UDK they do only provide a more basic engine for free use, preferring to keep key features In house. A list of games engines can be found here.

I will now talk about Unreal's key features from firsthand experience. There is Kismet, Materials, Textures, Lightmass, Matinee and particle effects to name just a few. Unreal has the ability to import .FBX and .ASE files which can be happily made in 3d creation packages such as 3dsMax. Once imported there are a variety of setting that can dictate how the object will behave, these can include static meshes and skeletal meshes. The difference between these is that a static mesh is what it says, it doesn't move or stretch. There are also skeletal meshes which can include rigged meshes such as characters. Unreal has so many features that i could quite happily talk about each and one, but it would take eons. Basically unreal allows you to choose unwrap coordinates, create fracture meshes, collisions and add gravity weights to objects.

The next stage is usual creating a material, texture samples are imported as .TGA files in standard denominations. Unreal can handle a variety of complex maps and shaders and has the ability to create and manage its own. Once basic texture have been imported, the user can plug various maps into slots that create a finished texture, Much how you would in 3ds Max.  You can also add various other maps to create different effects. Doing this can create very quickly, complex maps that produce different visual effects closer to the end result you wanted.
Light mass is a key feature of UDK, currently engines can only handle so much dynamic lighting, light mass allows hard and soft bounce shadows to be baked onto materials and objects, saving memory. It does this by using unwrap maps called light maps, it uses this texture space information to bake diffuse and light information directly onto an object. This allows more realistic final shadows at a much lower price.

Kismet and Matinee are tools that allow the development of dynamic situations and scripting. Kismet can control switches and events, from the switch of a light bulb to full on cinematic experience. Matinee is essentially used for animation. It allows the player to direct paths and animations in engine or allow for the importing of already made animations. These key feature allow levels to be fully immersive and allow the game to be essentially playable. They give meaning to anything you can use and define its parameters and uses. Unreal once understood is an extremely easy, useful and veritile platform to use and showcase work you produce. It is also a very effective engine to use for full games as it allows complete control in an easy to use package.

Games Industry Tax Break in UK

£50million pound tax relief for video games industry.

Something for game artists to look forward in a budget for once, considering that I'm on a path to hopefully gain a job in the games industry I couldn't be more thrilled. For too many years talented artists, programmers and developers have been forced from the UK for better job prospects abroad and to be honest I felt like is should be one of them. Thank god that the government has finally realised just how profitable the games industry is and it's only going to get better. Games are the staple diet of interactive media for all first world countries and its only going to gain more support and popularity.
European market.jpg
This demographic shows the European market for around 2008 for interactive media sales and clearly shows that the UK is quite happy to continue to spend, statistically, more money on video games than any other country barring the USA.

Reading up on how much the games industry makes is astronomical, with such a deep seated recession in the works it was only inevitable that a tax break is in order. The worldwide revenue for games was $48.9 in 2011 and predicted $68 billion in 2012 comparing this to other entertainment industries;

·         Music Industry- $10.4 billion (US 2008) and $30 to $40 billion globally.
·         Movie Industry- $9.5 billion (US 2008) and $27 billion globally.
·         Book Industry- $35.69 billion (US 2007) and roughly $68 billion globally (2002) (Euromonitor Intl)
·         DVD Industry- £23 billion (US 2008) (buying $16billion, renting $7billion)

Why try to hinder something that was obviously successful even 10 or 20 years ago, many other countries have thrived from allowing tax incentives for developers and have seen successful realises of some of the world's best franchises. We seem to be only following suit with what other countries had done 10 years ago. The UK is supposed to be the cultural and entertainment capital of the world. Let's evolve as a new hub for games development and leading industry professionals. We have the resources at our deposal to be world leaders in yet another field and its clearly not going to be an economical mistake by any means. Generations have grown up with games and will continue to use them as a new era of fans develop through subsequent generations. This will only continue to increase the global market. By 2015, analysts predict the global video games industry will reach $91 billion. Drawing in foreign investment and allow new companies to flourish will benefit our economy and the games industry as a whole. As well as allowing long standing companies to survive bad market conditions and save and secure thousands of jobs. Including my future jobs prospects, this can only be a good thing financially, with more sales my future income will increase and I couldn't be happier.


My harddrive is fooked, basically i dropped it and im trying to get it recovered, so what update i would have done today is basically out of the window. Hopefully i haven't lost much of my visual design, but essentially its about 20hours of work probably gone, not to mention loads of reference and photos. :/ keep you posted and hopefully i can update soon enough.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Mock FMP

This task is to write a mock FMP outline, although the ideas themselves I have not decided whole heartily upon. I will produce technical specifications for a current generation (Xbox 360/PS3) The ideas themselves are based upon different games scenarios but would represent similar texture and polygon budgets to what I would be producing in the industry.

I have done some quick research of polygon counts for current generation titles and previous generations and these can be found in the links below;

For instance a character for GTA IV (2008)

Story Characters – 8-10,000 polygons with multiple 256×256/512×512 diffuse, specular and normal maps

NPCs – 3-4,000 polygons with multiple textures

Gran Turismo 5: Prologue (2007)

Cars - 200,000 polygons (interior + exterior)

This link shows how Forza Motorsport 4 (2011) has current polygon counts of 400,000-1,000,000

These links surprised me a little with just how massive some of the polygon counts are for just vehicles, obviously these are current generation racing games and being the focal point, more care and attention will be speared. I would say that reasonable triangle counts for most other games titles would be between 8-12k for un-interact able meshes and between 20-100k for other racing titles. Adding polygons can only show so much so it would be better for a portfolio to show a lower end of this scale as it is easier to add than take away. As for texture sheets it seems it’s entirely dependent on the title you would be working on. For instance a racing game would probably contain large and multiple 1024 texture sheets as for, non-playable vehicles they would quite often share texture space between multiple vehicles.

This link shows how current fps style weapons are modelled about 10,000 tris but obviously have LOD for pickups etc.

Another thing that surprised me a little was actually how small the textures used in the industry are. Smaller textures are less expensive and are often tiled to save memory. Polygon counts are not limitless but Unreal and Cry engine can quite happily handle several million polygons at a time and texture sheets and vertex counts are what slow the engines down. For instance the levels already in UDK are very triangle heavy and run completely fine. I will probably pay particular care to vertex counts on my modelling as this is what will set me apart from others in my modelling knowledge.

Project outline

I will produce an environment scene for a current generation game based on the Xbox 360/ PS3. I will aim to focus on environment work so that I can gain a better understanding of how to produce high quality, industry standard work. I will produce realistic assets and will allow myself generous triangle counts of 150-250k for the entire scene based on the fact that currently titles exceed this for most scenes but I will limit myself to using small texture sheets and maximise efficiency but using mask and multi-sub objects, to use the most of texture sheets. I will aim to try and control my total vertex count (the vertex count is dependent on triangle count, uvw space and smoothing groups). I will focus on producing efficient low-medium density modelling, as well as trying different shader and lighting setups. I am to better my knowledge for future projects and consider this both a portfolio test and personal test. I will use the unreal 3 engine (UDK), as well as 3dsMax, Photoshop, Crazy Bump, Z-brush, Mudbox and other plugins that might help me. I am to have a completed scene that is entirely playable at the end of the project schedule. I will produce concept work and white boxing, as well as trying to gain a online support on Polycount for critique. I will make tillable textures and try to maximise the reusable assets that I produce. I either want to produce a ship scene at sea/or docked as environment piece and try to stay away from character modelling. Or try and focus on hard surface modelling, of weapons and assets.

Based on this brief I would allow the following triangle counts for various models(the list is short and consist of just a few assets) ;

Ship Scene;
Lead Character-(Shipmaster) 10k 1x1024 2x256 (alpha)
NPC-(parrot)                     1.5k 1x512 (alpha)
Vehicle-(small ship)             5k 2x512
Environment-(large ship)      80k 5x512 2x256
Props-(crew sleeping bag)   500 1x256 (alpha)
        -(barrel)                             300 1x256
        -(cannon)                 1.5k 1x512

FPS scene;
Lead Character-(Player)       12k 2x1024
NPC-(enemy)                     1.5k 1x1024
Vehicle-(APC)                     20k 2x1024
Environment-(City Street)     80k 6x512 4x256 (alpha)
Props-(rubbish)                  300 1x512 (alpha)
        -(Tree)                     6k 2x256
        -(weapon(fps))                   10k 1x1024

Level Design

Nearing the end of the group project has probably help me understand level design a little more than what I had at the beginning of the project. Although the queens building already existed we had to plan which spaces best showed our abilities and what we planned to produce. There are many factors that come into play when designing paths and areas for level design that drift away from the normal considerations of visual and spatial elements, these include but are not limited to dynamic behaviours, navigations, interactivity and playability. Designers must remember that although it important to make everything pretty, it is also important that whilst playing, you have a fundamental design that can help you navigate. It must show what you want the player to see and where you want them to go, without making a room full of corridors.

Visual style is important for level design as it decides what the player focuses on, this is done by visual elements and architecture and by having a strong colour pallet. Genuinely designers make sure that lighting and props draw the attention of the level and define the playable areas in which the character can play through, depicting direction of movement and funnelling points for more intense gameplay. This works in well with spatial elements; designers, such as Valve quite often have a blank block out called a white box. This allows play testing of areas without the visual noise of colour. It means they can focus of interesting arrangement of features and make sure designs that they have actually transfer to a 3d environment that is playable. It also is done very quickly which allows many ideas to be play tested in a very short amount of time.

Dynamic behaviours are important to a levels design as they allow a more natural feeling and approach to gameplay. They include things such as flickering lights, moveable objects and destructible environments and props. They add interesting events and break up repetitive behaviours that are quite easily produced in games. Navigations are plausible routes and paths that the player can get to an object. No matter what sort of game you produce there always has to be a location or end point that the player is trying to reach. When designing gameplay and the environment it is important to make this as understandable as possible. For instance visual clues leading to a doorway, lighting, roads, signs and other stimuli can all lead the player in the direction you want and can keep them moving through weaker areas and towards key areas and events. Navigation is important to the speed of gameplay and how this translates into an enjoyable or probably more relevant, tantalising environment level.

Interactivity are events that remind you that you are playing (hopefully) in an immersive environment that keeps you interested and makes you focused on what you are playing, rather than other distractions. If you played through a level that couldn’t respond to your input it would soon get very repetitive. Currently companies are trying to produce new ways to keep players responsive and focused. This can be done with anything that requires player input to progress or even to produce unrelated actions. Players thrive of finding ways to progress and watching their effort or work unfold before them. Climbing, pushing, pressing, shooting, crawling, swimming, connecting are all verbs and all describe an action. By completing these actions an interactive aspect would happen such as a path becomes useable, a valve turns or something explodes. By using interactive actions and direct interactivity with the player and weapons another stage of realism and playability is added, a world becomes more playable and environment design has been implemented more successfully. 

All of the factors above result in the playability of a level, a designer should take in consideration where the players meet, where actions occur and what is the overall function of the level, whether it is linear or multiplayer and whether there are enough things to improve the longevity of the playability. By making sure each step is taking a level can quickly evolve from initial sketches, to a fully-fledged interactive map that should keep players interested for the maximum amount of time and show off visual art to the best of the levels ability.