Friday, 22 April 2011

Personal Review Of The First Year

One of the first things I would like to see more of is the staff. 
I realise that it has been an extremely difficult year for them, this time around. 
Lots of tumultuous incidents and unfortunate events. 

I really sympathise, but it is necessary to have more interaction, so we can improve and gain more confidence. 
Mainly though, we are interested in what you have to say "oh wise ones!" :D 

I've gained a lot of insight from the critical studies lessons. I enjoyed the method of presentation and it made it easy to absorb. 
It also teaches us how to use artistic judgement more constructively. And how to perceive the choices others have made, artistically and with relevance.

(This is just for an example - Although I have drawn in a vaguely similar style in the past, I do not like Anthro art!) 

I can't put this persons name on here, it just wouldn't be right. 

They obviously have skill. But it creeps me out when I look at it!

Urgh! Here is an actually Anthro Fox.
I feel like my eyes are dirty!
This is all kinds of wrong.
I would never presume to think that I am more knowledgeable than any one else, I am a little older than most on the course, yet I'm still learning, always will be. 

All I know is, I want to know a lot more! :)
So I can make the right decisions with my art.

Feed your Braaains!
I've had some sleepless nights tackling 3Dsmax. But despite that fact, I have enjoyed it! 
(I've also loathed and detested it ;p) 
But I'm a lot happier with my progress now. I've just come to accept that when I do a 3D project, random sh*t will happen. 
Thank you for your patience Heather :)

I think that I've demonstrated good progress with the software, especially in the last project - Weapon of Choice
Weapon of Choice  - Murasame Blade

For once it was smooth sailing! Not one problem :D 
When I look back at the first few weeks of the year, I can't believe that I could produce something like this so soon. 
I'm quite proud of how it turned out. 

The Vehicle project really taxed my abilities at that time. 
I really wanted it to be precise when I submitted it. 
It was the best I could do at that point in the semester. But overall, I'm pleased with the end result. 
It looks like a van! (A very tiny van)

Also my Gurus Project looked quite tidy. 
I learned why a Poly budget is advised! I had none left for his zip :( 
When it came to laying out my textures, I had no clue.

When I start the second year I hope to have mastered laying out an efficient texture template. 
I still look at UVW's and think "where do I start?"

I really need to make a few different character models to experiment with varying body types. 

Even though I've always made an effort to understand anatomy when drawing, it wasn't entirely accomplished with my Gladiator Model -


I'm beginning to like my visual design work again. 

I started off the year very confident and lost that somewhere along the way. 

I sat for hours sketching this :)

I think it was just the gaps in my knowledge using traditional media. Yes, I can draw. But paint?

I couldn't remember how to use a brush, it had been so long! I knew that I would never be any good, especially in my own eyes, if I didn't start with the basics all over again. 

Acrylics - I tried to emulate the lividity of my skin.
If you look at my wrist you can only just see two large blueish veins.

I tried to emulate a Water-Colour style in Photoshop.
It's good progress. I'm getting better.

I played around with custom brush settings for this image.
It helped especially with the foliage as each plant is so different.

I'm getting a lot more confident again. 
I need to think about my points of interest in my images in the future. Some aspects of the subject matter can be changed or removed to improve the composition. 

Overall I feel there is still so much to learn. I need to relax more when I work too. 

Here is an image I drew in Painter just before we started the course - 

It isn't great. It's not even finished! But I was totally relaxed when I worked on it. 

I feel I stressed myself out in the middle of the first semester and couldn't concentrate properly.
I was operating like it was a race to the finish. Subsequently I did very little prep work and just threw myself into final pieces. 
Well, I realise I won't learn anything with that approach. If only I'd realised sooner :)

Luckily Chris was continually supportive throughout the whole period.

 I think it would be good to observe Chris producing some work alongside us. So we can see how to apply this artistic judgement we are developing. :)

Maybe if we all sat and painted the same subject? 
I know a lot of the work is self directed study but I really enjoyed the moments when everyone was in the same room working. It just felt good! 

I think that is why some people fell behind. If we're all grouped together there is always someone  to ask for advice or opinion on their own work. 

The workshop that Mike Pickton and Tristan put together at the end of semester two was a great idea. It was very positive and constructive. I think it should be a regular occurrence. 


I recently played a Board Game (of sorts) called Identik by Asmodee

It really encourages artistic judgement and conveying visual information efficiently to the other players. 
And it was fun
 (I should have just said visual communication! Fail!)

What decides the winner is not necessarily artistic ability but also the ability to interpret the key elements that make up the whole picture. 

Read the description below - 

The drawing game where drawing talent is optional!

Each round, one player (the Portrayer) describes an image, while the other players (artists) draw the image using a list of hidden criteria. The more details the Artists get right, the higher their score.


-Innovative drawing game
-No ''down-time''- all players play every round
-Guaranteed laughs
-Great for parties

(£23 on

Someone may discover they have the latent abilities of an Art Director waiting to blossom.
Maybe we could invest in a copy? Or just simulate the rules? 

It's the process I'm interested in exploring with the class.


We could all benefit from combining all our resources as well. 
Between us we have a wealth of tutorials and videos that some have yet to discover. 
And the library, although it has a vast selection, is missing some vital sources. 

We also need to discover some new locations to study for visual design. 
Although I would love to help get our current options reopened, I just don't believe they will ever get enough funding to maintain them and that is very sad. 
Meanwhile we're missing out on visiting stimulating places. We need to feed our brains!
(With the exception of Bradgate Park, which is awesome)


I did find an alternative Pumping Station in Nottingham. :)
It would require the hiring of a mini-bus though.
The Beam Engines inside are lovingly cared for by the staff. 
You can walk right up to them too! No barriers!


The situation needs a lot more dedication and support than we can provide. It's really the public's waning interest that is the cause, something we have little control over. 

Maybe if they set up a themed bar in the museums? 

I joke
But that is probably the most successful route they could take. Especially in Leicester.

I think it is just the state of things at this point in time, our government has almost turned it's back on the arts. 
So let's not rely on them. 

One thing the course needs is recognition. Especially if we are competing to gain the next batch of students paying £9, 000 a year.
Maybe this year we can have more presence at Game City. (Or other conventions)
A stall informing potential students what we do. 
With some of the best examples of student artwork. 

There are a lot of key figures trying to push for a more computer literate educational system.

If we can spread awareness of our course and the industry it is geared towards we can only benefit from the attention. :) 

Maybe an article in about the course? 

At this stage, I can't think of a practical solution but I hope what I have said can be of use.

Self Portrait - Acrylic on Canvas
Inspired by Eward Hopper

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Elements of Game Design Part 4: Environment

I recently played 'Splinter Cell: Conviction' by Ubisoft
The first level is set in Malta, in the city of 'Valletta' to be exact. 

(1:45 onwards)

Watch these videos and study the architecture around Sam.

Actually when I first noticed this environment, I wasn't playing. It was Inez.
I was on my PC, writing. It was only when I looked over to the TV and noticed the buildings and the streets, that I realised it was Malta because I have been there, once, on a college trip. 

Me - "Holy sh*t! Is this level in Malta or something?" 

Inez - "Yeah, that's right" 

Me - "Whereabouts in Malta? Is it Valletta?" 

Inez - "Yep" "How did you know that" 

Me - "I've been to Valletta, Is there a Port or a Harbour behind you?" 

Inez - "There is!" 

Me - "Wow, that is freaky" "Someone's done their homework" 

It was something like that, I may have cursed more. I realised that I was going to be completely distracted now because of this discovery. There was only one sensible course of action. 

I had to turn off my PC and take notice of this game. 

This is the Level Design for The Marketplace in Valletta
It is a very short stage, basically a corridor design. 
What disguises you from this are the obstacles placed before you and the clever use of low lighting (Only a few areas are lit up).

In this instance you are compelled to go forth. Being channelled forwards by the story line and the construction of the level. 

In other games, such as 'Borderlands' and 'Fallout 3', you roam wherever you choose. (As long as you are equipped to handle it) ;D
We know this as an 'Open World' game environment.

These games differ from Splinter Cell because you are not playing an established character, you are playing as an empty vessel. You determine what kind of player you want to be. 

In Sam Fisher's case, he has to find out the truth about his daughter. Each stage is constructed to direct the plot forwards. 


When you look at the image below doesn't it just direct your attention straight ahead? 
The placement of the tables and chairs on your right, present an obstacle to avoid. 
The presence of a wall on your left gives you no alternative route, plus it's littered with people. 
Even the road markings and the buildings themselves creates lines of direction. 
This is an essential technique for Level Design

When you find yourself here -
Look at the people on your right, sitting at the tables.
Some of them are staff from Ubisoft Dev Team :)
The designer has to consider any dynamic action in the level that could cause the player to become disorientated and confused. If there are too many things in the environment, the player will become frustrated. Everything must be composed to maximise the gameplay and the atmosphere of the setting.


As with most games you acquire devices (or skills) to help you navigate through approaching perils and obstacles. 
In Sam Fisher's case he gains EMP Grenades, C4 Explosives , Sticky Cameras and a Snake Camera. In the first level he improvises a mirror in the absence of his Snake Cam

Each following stage makes use of these new additions to his arsenal. 
Alternatively you can usually approach the level from a different route to the same end. 

This is important in designing the challenge curve of a level. It should never be catered to one style of play. No one plays the same. 

One unique addition to this game is the projected 'objective text' upon the environment 

This helps maintain the 'flow' of the game so your never unsure what you should be doing and where you should be heading.

One thing I love about video games is that if you see a 'Red Barrel' you can guarantee that puppies going to blow up! It is a consistency that speaks to the player subconsciously. 
A common element helps tie-in the gameplay for the player.

This probably annoyed Inez immensely when I watched her play through a 'Flash Back' level set in Diwaniya, Iraq. 

Me - "You know.....those red barrels will probably explode if you shoot them" 
Me - "You can kill those guys with just one shot" 
Inez - {-_-} "Really" 

Me - "Its red" "Red barrels always go Boom!"

Inez - "Ooh! That was cool!"
Me - "There is another red barrel there!" "And there!" "On the roof!" "Shoot! Shoot!" \{*u*}/
Inez - 'sigh' "Ok, shut up!" \{>-<}/

(I'm trying to dig out my photos of the trip, but I've grabbed these images from
Just to give you a taste of what Maltese architecture looks like

Valletta, the capital city of Malta is a strange place to visit. Essentially it was designed as a fortification for Knights. 
The size of the stairs and streets were specifically designed to accommodate Knights in heavy armour.

Aerial View of St.Julians with Portomaso
St Julians - I believe I stayed in the right hand side
of this image, one of those big square hotels.

Auberge de Castille, Valletta, Malta 2010
Auberge de Castille - Valletta
These were the Inns for the Knights of St John in the 16th Century

Okay, this image of Auberge de Castille illustrates Ubisoft's attention to detail. 
Notice the design of the windows and that every window has green blinds. If you have watched the videos above like I asked, then track the second vid to 3:58. 

Half of the windows you see in Valletta have blinds, green blinds. 
A majority of the doors are green too. (It may be some association with the Knights of The Green, I'm not sure)

In the 16th century Globigerina Limestone was used as the main construction material in Malta. That is what gives Valletta this sandy colour. Unfortunately it doesn't fare well against the sea breeze. 
It can corrode. 
skyline, Valletta, Malta 2010
Baroque style of architecture

Here we go - you can see these details within the first 10 seconds of this video.
Globigerina Limestone, green blinds and another detail I noticed on my stay there, lots of bin bags! They had streets lined with bin bags, very strange.

In my opinion, for this particular level the realism was high. 
Malta has a slight dusty feel it. And you can see this around the floor as you venture through the stage.

A typical Valletta street

Although it is a relatively short stage in the game, it brought back memories of my trip instantly. 

My memories of Malta are seeing lots of cranes and lots of cats. Everywhere.
I remember we were all walking down to the Harbour, taking in the sights, rounded a corner and it was like west side story of the cat world. 
We had obviously entered into a cat only zone. Honestly. It was a cul-de-sac of cats. 

I tried to play it cool and sit on the nearest wall, amongst the felines, ignoring the hissing and moans. 
No sooner had my cheeks touched the wall when the whole thing toppled over. 
Me and the cats went tumbling into the bushes. Good solid construction!

Needless to say we tore ass out of there!

After longer exploration of the game, it is not my favourite level but it invoked an emotional response that I couldn't deny. 
It piqued my curiosity. 

Before I saw this level, I was going get around to playing this game over the summer, to see what Sam Fisher was up to. You see, I've only played the original Splinter Cell
But as soon as I realised the connection I had to the stage that Inez's was playing, I just had to see more of this game.

And it's good. It's a very tidy game. I have no idea why people don't enjoy it. 
A game can not stick to the same format when the main character has evolved (except Pok√©mon) it just wouldn't make sense! 

This guy is mad as hell and wants some answers. Of course he's going break down some doors! 
He can do stealth. But he can't always afford to wait in shadows. 
This gives the game a good balance in my opinion. And it adds to Sam's character development.

My photos are gone. An unfortunate victim to water damage, a real shame :(

Reminders of British rule
Evidence of the British Empire


Who do we have to thank for this great attention to detail? 

Well, these two guys list in their Linkedin profiles that they were the Level Designers for SC: Conviction

Here are the Developers describing elements of Level Design, Gameplay, Lighting, etc to

Monday, 18 April 2011

Elements of Game Design Part 3: Character

My preferred character-type is the 'fish out of water'. 

A protagonists tasked with a seemingly impossible quest that takes him on a journey of epic proportions. 

Usually the main character has some abilities that set him/her apart from others, but I enjoy the role more when you are quite vulnerable and inexperienced to begin with. 
It makes the transition from 'zero to hero' more remarkable. 

Like a glass half full, you fill in what is missing. 

Zero to Hero in just 3 films

Marty McFly - Micheal J. Fox
Back To The Future II 1989
Marty McFly takes his destiny in his own hands and steers it towards success. In more than one occasion.


Think about the first episode of 'LOST' - wasn't it compelling? 

A man wakes in a forest, having just survived a plane crash. He stumbles around trying to comprehend the devastation and chaos around him, until his training as a Doctor kicks in and he comes to everyone's rescue. 

Matthew Fox as Jack Shephard

Bad engine!

Having survived a day of emergency he takes a moment to rest in the fading light of day when,  suddenly, a terrifying roar tears through the jungle surrounding the survivors. 

End of episode one. 

"Now what!"
I saw the first episode in a hotel room, in Bath, that I had to share with my brother.
At first we almost turned over, thinking it was an episode of some token American drama, then as soon as Jack makes it onto the beach, the site of the crash, we were like "what the fook!"

The clinch was when a poor unsuspecting passenger gets sucked into the remaining jet engine. 
You just don't expect that sort of thing from a TV show. 

The great thing about that first episode is that it would make a great introduction to a game.

Usually the steps taken to define a video game character is to establish what their job or role in life is. 

Dr. Jack Shephard

Here we have Dr. Jack Shephard - Spinal Surgeon. 
Noble and Self-sacrificing. 
He quickly becomes the leader of the survivors and makes it his mission to get them all saved.

I just wish the show had retained my interest. Sorry Lost fans! 
It really lost steam after seasons 1 - 2.

Bad, bad joke. :p

I felt equally disappointed with the second season of 'TWIN PEAKS'. 
A lot of David Lynch and Mark Frost's ambitions, regarding the plot, were squashed by increasing pressure from the ABC network. 

But what I do love about this show are the characters

Michael Ontkean and Kyle Maclachlan

Agent Dale Cooper played by Kyle Maclachlan

The cast (except Leland Palmer, strange!?)

Every single one of them is extremely eccentric, even when portrayed as mundane. 
The characters all have two aspects to themselves. One secret and the other ordinary. 

Leland Palmer played by Ray Wise
The 'Log Lady' played by Catherine Coulson
Laura Palmer played by Sheryl Lee
Laura Palmer played by Sheryl Lee

The show itself runs half in a dream-like world and the other, a small town America. 
Each 'plane of existence' is foreboding and intriguing due to the amazing theme score by Angelo Badalamenti

Just watch the scene of the traffic light. A simple everyday object takes on a very sinister meaning.

"All these crimes took place at night..."
One important part of Lynch's approach to the series and how the story/script played out was to leave in a lot of happy accidents, unscripted moments.

In the first episode when Agent Cooper is examining the body of Laura Palmer he asks the attendant to leave but the actor mishears the line, responding with his own name. "Jim!"

Its a great scene. Even the bad lighting, caused by a faulty fluorescent tube was left unaltered.

This scene from the prequel film 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me', really freaked me out. 
The camera cuts in so close you have no escape. And it all happens so fast. Very unnerving. 
 Looking at this frame now is giving me shivers. 

:'( ...........sob!


The Prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me 1992

Your introduction to Agent Cooper is a humorous one. 
He talks constantly into a dicta-phone leaving messages to an individual called 'Diane'. 
Every aspect of his journey is documented and analysed with boyish wonder. 

He's quirky but capable. Efficient in his work but captivated by his new surroundings.

This is a great method of warming the viewer to the protagonist. You can tell he's the good guy. 
The same can be said of Sheriff Truman, he's a straight arrow. Instantly likeable.

I think what has attracted me to these two shows, in particular, has been the mystery that needs to be solved. 

Everyone loves a good mystery. We all love trying to solve it in between the episodes. 
A great topic of conversation that we can share, even with total strangers.

And the more attached you become to the characters the more we will watch/play. 

(I'm instantly reminded of Aerith's Death in Final Fantasy VII, which really shocked me)
(A very clever use of our emotional investment in the characters. We were all fond of Aerith)

I urge everyone to watch Twin Peaks. It has permeated our Popular Culture and influenced many more talented individuals. 

I'm sure I played 'Alan Wake' with an expression of half scared and half amusement (which must have looked scary in itself). 
But it was a pleasant reminder of what watching Twin Peaks was like.

And as I mentioned before, you have to rebuild Alan's character to be able to survive. 
He truly is a glass half full. He has no recollection of what is going on.


When it comes to the appearance speaking for a character, for example, the 'tough guy'. 
He needs to effuse a feeling of strength, respect and attitude. 

Clint Eastwood - "Don't F***K with me, punk!"

He should be able to walk into a room full of bad-asses and everyone of them simultaneously craps themselves.

Clint Eastwood - The Outlaw Josey Wales 1976

Making them look grim and a little rough around the edges helps too.

Concept Sam Fisher - Splinter Cell

Sam Fisher - Splinter Cell
Sam can dish out serious beatings as a form of interrogation
check out this video by Ubisoft -

This can just as easily be applied to the opposite sex - 
Rubi Malone - WET
Rubi Malone voiced by Eliza Dushku

Lara Croft - Tomb Raider

The New Lara, well, the genesis of Lara

Nariko - Heavenly Sword - voiced by Anna Torv
I only just played Heavenly Sword, so I was surprised to hear Actress Anna Torv as the main character 'Nariko'
She has made a name for herself in the awesome TV show 'FRINGE', playing FBI Agent Olivia Dunham. 

The game revolves around the character Nariko and the choices she must make to save her clan from an invading army led by Andy Serkis's character 'King Bohan'

Andy Serkis - King Bohan

The game begins by presenting Nariko as having a flawed personality. 
Having made a bad decision. She pleads out her case to us, the viewer. 

Obviously we are compelled to find out exactly what she has done to bring her so low. 
We need to step into her shoes to solve this mystery. 

I won't go into too much detail, it may spoil the story for others, it is a very rich game in terms of character performance. I'm not describing the gameplay, I mean actual acting. 

The whole cast of this game are pretty well respected actors. And they really spice up the game. 
It is a visually spectacular product to say the least. 
But the cast have really ramped up my appreciation of the whole project. 

I particularly enjoyed Steven Berkoff's portrayal of 'General Flying Fox

Concept Designs for Flying Fox
Just in case you were curious to who Steven Berkoff is, his creative work has reached our very doorstep -

other people may remember him for this role - 

Lt. Col. Podovsky - Rambo: FB Pt.II

Not the best way to get a shave.
He's damn versatile! :)

Kai and Nariko

All the characters have a degree of depth that I have only seen glimpses of before in past titles. 
You either really want to hate them or are driven to save them.

My main observation on Heavenly Sword is that you are compelled to somehow avert this tragedy, that in some way you must find the answer that will change the course of events. 

You wonder when playing "will it turn out the same?" "Do your actions affect the script?" 

Andy Serkis - King Bohan
I guess you'll have to find out..............................................