Monday, 30 April 2012

Personal Review Of The 2nd Year

I have to say that I started the second year with real enthusiasm and determination to make the most out of the forthcoming projects. I wanted to see progress in my work. To be a better artist by the end of the year. 

Colour Theory - Bradgate Park
Ink Experiments - Great Central Railway
Rendering Dinosaur Bones
Great Central Railway

On reflection it hasn't really gone to plan. 
I have improved somewhat in my art but not nearly as much as I'd hoped. 
My modelling has gotten better but marginally compared to the first year. 
I can produce work a lot faster than I ever could before. For which I am proud but I aspired to be better. 

Under the advisement of industry professionals I was in particular interest to master some Zbrush modelling, seeing as it is an essential tool set of a Game Artist these days.  
Unfortunately this is not really taught on our course. And it is not the most friendly piece of software to manage. 
I don't mind searching the internet for tutorials but it does seem a bit of a waste of time when I'm already at a place of learning. We had one 10 minute introduction after we had finished the Character Self Portrait. 
So that was during the Group Project when we were learning UDK. 
If it were up to me I'd swap the Trash Project with the Gladiator Project from the first year. 
So students begin the second year initially modelling the Treasure Chest then go on to building a Low Poly Character and then straight after that build a High Poly Character. 
Modelling organic subjects is the most challenging task for Game Production, so the skills learned should flow from one brief to the next.

At the start of the year I was on top of the Blog tasks but I noticed I quickly fell behind when we began the Group Project. With hindsight I would rather of used that lesson time to focus on the Blog Tasks, despite the Group Project.
I really benefited from having an introduction lesson on each topic within the Critical Studies lesson. It was a 'springboard' for my ideas on how to write about each task. On top of that it was really interesting. After each lesson I felt that I had learnt something valuable.

The strange thing is that throughout the Group Project I felt focused, I always seemed to be working through most of the day (and a fair few evenings) there was always something to do. 
I generally felt involved with the project and the team, we had a goal in sight. 
When it comes to my own work it all seems a bit muddled. 

Despite all this I am really pleased with our groups final level. I could not have predicted this outcome from the start but after a few weeks it really shaped into something that defied my expectations. 
So maybe if I had divided my concentration, the final level might have looked worse for it. 

I tried to reign in some of the chaos of my Visual Design in the second semester. It certainly looks a lot neater now but the content suffered heavily during our Group Project. I would have liked to produce more work to support my ideas but to be honest I found it difficult to see the relevance of some of the projects we were set. They really didn't harmonize with Game Production or Critical Studies, which complimented each other successfully. So Visual Design for me, felt disorganised and almost made up on the spot. Considering how important our second year is this was of great concern to me. I was hoping to learn a lot more key skills.

Cultural Walk Project - 'Walk-Ade'
Interactive Walkway
Cultural Walk Project - 'Walk-Ade' 
Interactive Walkway
The self directed study kind of fell on its face for me, especially regarding Visual Design. 
Maybe you can tell someone to go and be a better artist? 
Practice makes perfect after all.
For me I learn quicker from observation and instruction. Otherwise I make the same mistakes over and over again. After all if my artistic judgement is off then I won't get a job.
I just need to refine my technique with some solid fundamentals and I'll feel a whole lot more confident. 

The Viking Project was a good bit of fun. I produced a nice final painting. I regret not doing more prep work though. I had a few more ideas that I wanted to explore but again I didn't have the time during the Group Project. I might revisit this brief over the summer as practice. 
Viking Final Painting

The session we had with Mitch Small was extremely informative and I hope there are a lot more to follow in the remaining time I have left at University. I would say that the advice he gave us and to me personally helped my workflow immensely and without it I would have continued to make the same silly mistakes.

Creative Writing Project - George Mann's 'Ghosts Of Manhattan'
Creative Writing Project - George Mann's 'Ghosts Of Manhattan' 
The Ghost's Flechette Gun
Creative Writing Project - George Mann's 'Ghosts Of Manhattan'
A scene based on a passage from the book

I also received a lot of insight this year from these awesome books -

James Gurney is an amazingly prolific artist and I would encourage any artist, at whatever stage of their development, to purchase these books and pour over them daily. 
They give so many answers and are just a joy to read. 

I'm going to spend this summer practising my life drawing to help with my character design. I still have a long way to go.With the internship lined up with Lockwood Publishing I hope to improve my 3D. I still have my personal 3D projects to work on during the long break. 
I intend to keep myself very busy improving my skills.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Technical or Soft Skills?

In my opinion it is far easier to teach technical skills than 'soft skills'.

"I think he needs help!"

Technical instruction is simply 'monkey see, monkey do' but teaching is more than just a technical exercise. 
I feel it should be a personal goal of the educator to want to encourage students in the development of broader attributes such as communicating amongst their peers, presentations, group projects and critical feedback. Even just a better world view.

As a by-product of their studies students should acquire new skills through a method of preparation, contribution, and by collectively sharing their insights.
On occasion some subjects need a mixture of technical and 'soft skills' to generate interest from the students, who then in turn gain a broader understanding of what the exercise entails. 

This should not take precedence over the technical instruction but it should factor in the outcome. 

At a University level I would not expect the tutors to 'hold our hands' through the duration of the course but I do believe that at any level of education, the tutor should be compelled by their own volition to engage with their students and ensure they are reaching their true potential. 
(I don't know how someone could ignore another person, clearly struggling with a problem, when they hold the knowledge to help them.)

Unfortunately, as I have witnessed very recently, some students are resistant to aid and guidance from even the most attentive and conscientious of advisers. There is just no getting through to some people.

In their lifetime most people will have a range of jobs. The skills they have learned at University or the workplace could end from one role to the next but the basic 'soft skills' are transferable to any new position or role. 
I have found that when you start a new job you are always 'caught on the back foot' and have to be 'broken in' to your new role. This is common practice amongst employers and is usually accompanied by the phrase - 

"Until you fit in we'll have you over here doing such and such".

Essentially you are bringing your technical expertise up to the standard they require before they hand over the responsibility of a working with a team for example, on their latest big project. 
You are an unknown quantity and it would be great a risk to place such a responsibility on the shoulders of someone who has yet to prove capable of such a venture.

In the interim you are relying on your 'soft skills' to make connections in the workplace, manage your time effectively and efficiently and to keep yourself presentable. 

To sum up there is a choice between teaching only the technical skills needed to get students a job and aiding in the development of their attributes but it is not the responsibility of the institution to make this choice but of the educator. After all they are the ones teaching us and can see first hand what benefits are chances of employment.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Being Creative

For our needs I certainly believe that being able to think of new alternatives and to see things from a different perspective are essential skills to be nurtured. 

There is a belief that our creativity can appear unique simply because of associated memory towards particular words. 

If for example I said 

"Haunted Cow"

And you recall an event from your past with a poor sick cow you might draw this - 

Ghostly Haunted Cow
"Moo!....wait...I mean Boo!"

Whereas I remember being chased by an enormous cow when I was a boy and would be compelled to draw this - 

Possessed Haunted Cow

Tapping into this reservoir of random associated word groups could lead to an extremely interesting body of work. 

Despite the cow metaphor it seems like a fresh approach.


For a studio, creative solutions and a fresh perspective are key strategies to finding their place in the industry. Being innovative with existing development processes and technology is a sure fire way to get your company noticed. 

One of the most useful tools for generating creativity is defined limitations. The sooner these are established the better. 
Having constraints on a project can help you and your team focus. You will know exactly what is required of you which in turn allows you to add more quality to your work.


As an artist your own 'voice' is a mark of creativity. How you interpret different stimuli and the 'world' as we know it is perceptually different from another person. This becomes your 'personal style'. It should be honed and refined as often as possible because this is how you will communicate to the world exactly what you can do.

Notable praise arises when a character is redesigned by another artist. This is simply a re-envisioning of an established, maybe even iconic concept. But it is conceived as being creative still. All art is an imitation so each iteration has it's merits. 
What is interesting is their perception of how the character should look, which traits they bring to the surface. 

This is a re-imagining of the 1980's animated cartoon characters 'He-Man' and 'Skeletor' by Mark Djurdjevic
Original 1980's He-Man
Original 1980's Skeletor

There is such vulnerability in these new concepts as opposed to the 'hulked-out' over powered originals. Gone is his golden skin and voluminous locks. This new 'He-Man' has a grim disposition in contrast to the boyish features of the 80's. Like he's carrying a heavy burden.

I think the new 'Skeletor' has the creep factor turned up to 11. He certainly looks like the ruler of Snake Mountain

One of the needs that is central to our way of living is that in practising creativity we are able to combat boredom.  


Twisted Pixel are certainly creative with their developments. 

As a special move in 'Comic Jumper' you unleash the pounding fist of the whole dev team at your enemies. 
Finished off with CTO Frank Wilson deploying a screen shattering head butt. 
Possibly breaking the 4th wall along with it. 

Frank Wilson - Twisted Pixel's CTO
Turns and nods before delivering his finishing move.

As I was reading through the wikipedia page on creativity I noticed the terms "Little C", "Big C". 

Could this be where Media Molecule sourced the name of their BAFTA award winning game Little Big Planet

Psychologist James C. Kaufman defines these terms as - 

Little C - "Everyday creativity - everyday problem solving and creative expression."

Big C - "Eminent creativity - reserved for those who are considered truly great in their field.

I wonder? 

Media Molecule is now an acquisition of Sony Computer Entertainment and Twisted Pixel in respect has been acquired by Microsoft
Two great investments in my opinion. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

Be Adaptive or Be An Adept

Handing an enormous licensed game to ONE person to design is a bad idea. 
History teaches us so.

The reason we have elements of game design undertaken by specialised teams or individuals is so that this never happens again - 

"Bury me! Bury me DEEP!!"

Whatever your career goals are what you have to ask yourself is

 "am I happy just being an artist?" (insert whatever job you like here)
"am I content just knowing 3ds Max?" (replace with whatever skills you have here)

One day those skills may become obsolete. Or they may not be enough to get you a better job.

I you feel you have more to offer then I suggest you try your hand at a number of different things. 
We've spent the first half of our lives learning new skills, why should that practice stop when we get a 'proper' job? 

Having a broader set of skills is much more useful to a company (and yourself) than specialising in only one area of expertise. 
But by proving yourself indispensable to a team in a key role, your position can shift to a 'specialised' one. 
Being able to facilitate the needs of a group is proof you have immense value. 

A popular practice is to move through a company trying new things, picking up what you can from one area to the next. 
Learning all the best techniques from your colleagues to stream-line your own work flow, etc. 
I've heard that it is better to learn new skills at work than at home. Simply because employers like to see how you used your skills in a job related scenario. 
Whether there is any validity in this I don't know but I can understand their wanting to see relevant work in your portfolio. 

The best course of action is to become competent in a range of related areas. But finely hone your favoured subject. Or to put it another way, be able to use your collective acquisitions to excel in your chosen field of expertise. 

As an investment for the future most companies expect this kind of personal growth and development  through their ranks. Valve certainly encourages this kind of business model. 

Every employer is on equal standing with the next. An individuals worth to the company is evaluated using a 'peer assessment review' and an annual 'stack ranking review'. 

Valve actively employ "T-shaped" people. 

To sum up that is someone who is both a generalist and a specialist.  

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Interaction Design - Bonus Content

I thought I'd mention this interesting device - 

Apparently able to unlock the "7th Sense"

KOR-fx collar developed by Immerz Inc. 

Driven by a novel and proprietary accusto-haptic technology,
KOR-FX® delivers an unparalleled immersive experience to
anyone playing a video game, watching a movie or listening to
music. Compact, portable and platform-independent, KOR-FX uses
the human body itself to unlock its “7th Sense”®, which causes the
listener to feel intensely “there” in an entirely new and powerful
way. Entertainment media of any kind will never be the same
with KOR-FX. 

This could make FPS and ...well, just about any game a different experience. 

My one concern is that if I played Mortal Kombat.....

Would I want to feel this?

Interaction Design

Most gamers are used to a conventional layout for their controls when hopping from one game to the next. 

This is true of most FPS games - 

Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 

R1 button - Attack

Neutral lstick- Movement

X button- Stand/Jump

C button- Crouch/Prone
L1 button- Aim Down Sights

R3 button- Melee Attack 

T button- Switch Weapons

L3 button- Sprint/Steady Scope 

R2 button- Throw Frag/Throw Back Grenade 

L2 button- Throw Special Grenade 

Neutral dpad- Inventory 

S button- Reload 

S hold- Use 

Neutral dpad- Night Vision Goggles 

Start button- Show Objectives/Scores

Medal of Honor

Directional Pad
Up = Dynamic HUD. Left = Grenade Launcher. Supper Actions (Multiplayer). Right = Select Fire Mode. Support Actions (Multiplayer). Down = Change Vision Goggles.
Left Thumbstick
Right Thumbstick
Click Left Thumbstick
Click Right Thumbstick
A Button
Jump. Switch Seat (Multiplayer).
B Button
Change Stance. Prone (Hold).
X Button
Reload. Context Action.
Y Button
Change Weapon. Equip Pistol (Tap Twice).
Left Bumper
Peek and Lean. Alternative Weapon (Multiplayer).
Right Bumper
Throw Grenade
Left Trigger
Iron Sights
Start Button
Pause Menu
Right Trigger
Fire Weapon
Back Button
Objectives Menu. Scoreboard (Multiplayer).

Most adventure games follow a similar established layout -
God of War III
Directional Button
Switch Weapons
Left Analog Stick
Right Analog Stick
Evade. Target Select.
X Button
Jump. Double Jump (Tap Twice). Icarus Wings (Hold).
Square Button
Normal Attack. Battering Ram (When Holding Certain Items).
Triangle Button
Heavy Attack. Launch and Follow Enemy into Air (Hold).
Circle Button
L1 Button
Block. Parry.
R1 Button
Action. Interact. Drop (From Ledge). Grapple.
R2 Button
Use Magic
Combat Grapple
Use Items
Rage of Sparta
Kick Objects
Hold R1 and press X Button to charge and release.
Rotate Objects
Rapidly Switch Weapon

Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow

So to go from established conventions such as these to this - 

That is quite a radical step. 
Fundamentally it comes down to Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft gaining a broader scope of audience. 

We are a technologically driven society. Even our Grandparents send e-mails. 
Everyone is connected. 
So how do you bring this enclave into the fold? Especially when some have never held a 'Controller' before. 

You simplify the formula. 
Allow interaction using familiar gestures, one button input events, even voice commands. 
Even the most technophobic parent can get involved and not feel like a complete halfwit. 
(see what I did there) 

(oh god.......)

This new model for gaming promoted a very positive experience for players. 
You were no longer slouched back in your chair but 'actively' taking part in a gaming experience.

Suddenly games were focused more on fitness and family activities. 

And soon celebrity endorsements followed, advertisement campaigns spanning Television and the Internet. Nintendo alone spent $200 million through 2006 promoting the wii

Helen Mirren on her wii Balance Board

Toys R Us in New York - 2006

I personally feel this was a great progression for the games industry, as it changed the perception of the video gaming culture for the world. 

Everyone could be a gamer. Not just obese spotty nerds in their bedrooms. 

Pearl the information vampire - Blade (1998)
(sorry in advance to fellow nerds!)

Now the games took place in the living room on the big flat screen TV with every one joining in.

Nintendo's wii re-established it's position in the console wars as the highest selling console from 2006 - 2012. And increased its gaming demographic to suit all ages. It has won awards for innovation and "Breakthrough Technology".

Microsoft's Kinect shipped 18 million units between 2010 - 2012. Averaging 133, 333 units per day
And held the Guiness World Record for the "fastest selling consumer electronics device
(This record is now held by Apple's iPad which sold 311, 666 per day)

A great product for people who have ants in their pants and just love to dance.

Sony released the Playstation Move technology which didn't sell quite as many units (between 2010 - 2011, 8.8 million units) but advanced the motion controller technology to its highest point so far. 
And earned Sony the Popular Science Award 2010 for "Most immersive game controller"

So now that both the xbox 360 and the PS3 have implemented motion controlled technology into their games, it has placed the wii back in it's low-tech moribund state. 

Which would explain the 180 that Nintendo have pulled recently to appeal to 'core' gamers with this device -

 Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata made this curious comment in an interview with 

"I now regret that we didn't tie up with someone outside the company to market the Wii. If we had done that, the fate of the Wii might have been different... Now I am aware that we should not rely too much on ourselves. You will see what I mean by this when we market the 3DS and the Wii in the future.

The growing list of games that feature on the upcoming Nintendo console are more focused on Mature gaming, 'core' gaming.

Which just illustrates how cyclic the industry can be.