Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Character design

Project Fun

After long thinking and trying several sketches, coming up with idea’s I decided to get rid of the old idea’s and start a new project. Reason for this was that it felt it wasn’t just quite working out character ,story and game play wise. So being back at start I’ve started to develop New idea’s  writing down small words of parts of sentences I came up with linking them together as I went. It happens often in the industry that idea’s get scrapped, genre’s change and/or whole projects get stopped. One of the most recent examples I have heard was with Skylanders. Which is a resurrected IP of Activision. Activision gave Toys for Bob the opportunity to resurrect one of their old IP’s and release it and they chose Spyro.

At first they wanted to make the game more mature by adding blood and violence but as they went they figured out it wasn’t quite working for the older fan base that was still used to the more adventurous Spyro games.

The reason for bringing this up is I’ve had a complete overhaul of thoughts ( Old idea can still be read but will not be updated.

New project fun !!

After long and careful preparation I came up with some sort of story driven game. The player will make a lot of choices through the game ( either by actions or by dialogue ) that affect the rest of the game.  Reason for this is that it has become very popular to do so in games and I personally am a big fan of the freedom and characterisation it gives. However the plan is to end with a guided ending but have several differences depending on decisions made ( and about 10 times better than the mass effect 3 ending ) The genre would be hard to define but probably closest to adventure/survival horror/action. However not action as in a Street fighter or call of duty kind of way but more subtle. For example killing someone will raise direct or indirect alarm ( like in real life this would get noticed too.. ) and get the player noticed a lot faster than when making “an accident happen” or simply avoiding confrontation.

The game will be set in about 75 years in the future, there’s small differences like communicating through a small device in glasses or Bluetooth rather than phone, More populated cities etc but NO space ships or too sci-fi gadgets. It would have a day and night cycle that has influence on mood, events and play style. It would also be a semi sandbox game much like GTA where the player has the freedom to explore yet is limited to a big area till later on in the game. Because I would like the game to stay as much away from a no brain action game it would have no health bar but rather 1 shot = possibility of death. That or wounded which needs to be taken care of and is expensive. This would force the player to think his actions through and make the player more aware of action and reaction.
* Has been changed to an undetermined time in the near future

I haven’t completely though the story through yet and know this wasn’t the assignment neither however it would start by the player waking up being all confused wondering where he is. Knowing his name and who he is but not where he is ( and no communication devices ) the first part would mostly be about how he got there and why and how come the authorities are after him ( possibility of gang/mafia type of organisation too ) Early in the game a giant riot breaks out putting the city in chaos and making moving around for the player a lot more difficult. In the story I would stay away from Cliché as much as possible ( I know waking up confused is one... ) and make it as good as possible. There for I’ve chosen to stop here and start making some sketches I might develop the story in the future.

One requirement for this project was to come up with a few rules for the environment.
these would be:

The environment should be

- A big urban area with either natural or explainable borders ( I hate invisible walls) that could be passed by as the game progresses ( blockade could be moved, or a closed bridge could open for example)

- It should be able to support a day and night cycle ( Street lights for night and such )
- The city should have several areas . Some crowded some less crowded and depending on the area the type of people change too.
- The player should always know what the next place to visit is preferably through smart level design but environment art could do a good job as well.  This is very important due to the semi sandbox nature of the game.
- The city should feel alive. The player should get the feeling people live in this city rather than have a few models of building and running past them as fast as possible.
- Random events this might not be so much an environment thing though indirect related to where it happens events happen.
- The game is in about 75 years from now so a little bit of sci fi is ok but not TOO abstract.
- There’s a lot of buildings close to each other
- the player has the ability to enter certain buildings so skyline and overview are important.
- The environment could be quite big but it’s important for the storyline not to spend too long travelling from point a to b.


As a platform I would prefer to ship it on PS3 with the possibility to port it to Xbox360. Reason for this is that Playstation has always been a favourite of mine. If there would be a demand ( Which is something that would be researched during the development) it could be released on Xbox but the main aim would stay with Sony.

Style of the game:

The style of the game would be aimed at photorealism. I hope to achieve this through clever use of texturing ( i.e. Normal maps, Pre baked shadows/reflection. Ambient occlusion etc) The game would be moody and sinister to keep the player on the edge and wondering what could happen next.

While I was sketching I noticed how I kept on sticking to a more near future style. I ended up decided to keep the time undetermined to give me a little bit of space yet have something to work towards too. Low poly modelling is very important due to the size of the environment. Prioritizing meshes needs to be done carefully there for the texturing is going to have to make up for this.

Moodboard style:

Here are the sketches of a few characters.
Main character:
Riot police:

Rioter 1:

Rioter 2:

And here is a small glimpse of how the game would look like:

Moodboard for game

This became the moodboard for the game. 

As can be seen on these pictures the game will be played in 3rd person

By now i had also decided i wanted to make the game for the ps vita due to the nature of the game.The reason for choosing the ps vita over PS3 was the fact it's a handheld and can be played everywhere. I also like the way the ps vita can be controlled ( touchpad on the back motion sensors etc) and considering the ps vita has a huge upgrade from the old ps the technical specs aren't too bad neither.

PS Vita spec's:

  • CPU: ARM(R) Cortex(TM)-A9 core (4 core)
  • GPU: SGX543MP4+
  • External Dimensions: Approx. 182.0 x 18.6 x 83.5mm (width x height x depth) (tentative, excludes largest projection)
  • Screen: 5 inches (16:9), 960 x 544, Approx. 16 million colors, OLED (Touch screen) Multi touch screen (capacitive type)
  • Main memory: 512MB
  • VRAM: 128MB
  • wireless / Bluetooth 
As i was walking home from doing some shopping i was looking at people and got inspired by 2 guys walking in front of me unfortunately i didn't had my camera along . One of the guys was really skinny with a jacket on and the other was quite big and tall wearing a hoody and cap busy with his bluetooth headset. The idea got stuck and i really liked the idea of changing them around into main characters so i started looking around seeing how they could fit in getting myself inspired by characters like:

Up here are: Abe from abes odysey. I really like the originality of the characters they have created in abe and would like to somehow make mine as original.  Jack and daxter, seemed like a good choice for a duo main character example and the simplicity and timon and pumba as they seem to fit really well together and the style of humor they have.  Combining these characters with the original idea i had i started sketching.

Project fun

Project fun

The purpose of this project is to make concept art for a game of choice. Genre, console and style are completely open. So I started thinking of what I would like to do and why and somehow my thoughts got stuck on a platform game. For some reason they seemed the most fun and achievable as a platform I was in doubt between the psp and ps3. I'm a big fan of Sony's consoles / gaming market and would like to stick with this when possible. and so the brainstorming started about - Gameplay ,psp or ps3,viewpoint and style.

To make the environment we would need a few rules. Points that environment artists and level designers should keep in mind.  a few of those would be:

- A game worth exploring due to small hidden pick-ups, jokes and/or hints on how to progress
   this keeps the player sharp and makes it fun to stop for a minute and look around and makes replay      ability more likely

- Multiple paths towards the same point rather than 1.  Constantly following 1 line to go from a to b is pretty boring so i would like to give the player at least a few paths to give the player more control over how it wants to progress. Though the game would have certain checkpoints to for example show cinematics, have boss fights, pick up/hand in quests or complete the level.

- Environment guides the player. Even though there will be multiple paths there is nothing more annoying than getting lost in a level and/or not being able to see how to progress. Even though i wouldn't want it to be too obvious.

- It should be for all ages. speaks for itself.
- the environment and props should match each other.  I would really like the environment and enemy characters to match each other. So even though the setting might change at least things look consistent and in place.
the environment should match different themes. though for this project i will make only one environment the game will contain several. in this case it will be "futuristic / urban"

the Props shouldn't be in the way of game play or be a visual distraction. 

Having set these rules i started to make the moodboard

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Characters in games

Character design in games is another point that can make or break a game. An un interesting character that doesn't look appealing can ruin a good game.  Ofcourse Character design is subjective to the individual player ( This doesn't only have to be the protagonist by the way but could also be NPC'S and or the antagonist.). Good game design however promotes earlier emersion and more realism/believability.

Here you find some bad character design

* Would you really go into combat like this ? Beside making a fool of yourself it's also way too easy to stab yourself and/or to fall over because of the high heels.

* I admit i havent played the game ( Zelda apparently) but it makes me wonder what i'm looking at... ?

An example of WAAYYYYYY too much details making it looks cluttery

Stereotypes are also beside overdone a way too easy excuse for originality

*Panics*What is this thing called good character design then ????

Right here goes, good character design is:

- A character that goes with the story
- A character that blends in with the environment

- One that can tell you a story of it's own rather than depends on text ( It's often the small things that do it)
- Talking about small things.  Adding a ton of details won make your character design a lot better, infact it makes it look messy and "hard to read" 
-  An original character. Noone is looking for another character based on Mario, Gordon freeman or an overly ( and exagerated) bulky marine... Oh wait.. kids can't have enough of those these days ( * cough* gears of war * cough* )
- And a last personal one.... static characters. If there's anything i hate more it's static character's that have no emotion or anything to it. Animate your character different, texture him different or if you have to remove an arm and add a second head but anything to prevent it from looking like the other characters. ( To me it often becomes a blur and i start confusing names and such)

Here are some examples of good character design. It's based on my opinion and therefor can be argued. However i will explain why they are good character designs in my opinion.

 Team fortress

Team fortress is a good example as each character has it's unique silhouette and are therefor easily recognizeable.. The style is nice and suits the environment, the fact that each character has a small rim light makes it easier to see the characters in dark environment and therefor makes hiding a lot harder and the game more dynamic ( Solving gameplay issues in character design ! )

Gordon freeman / Halo
Gordon Freeman just like halo are 2 "faceless heroes" there are more examples than just these two but having a faceless hero in a game is another way of emerging players. Due to the lack of personality the player has an easier time identifying itself with the character. I.E Gordon Freeman never talks and you never get to see him. There's a picture of him in the half-life main menu and somewhere a small photo ( VERY pixelated) but beside these things you wont see or hear him. He doesn't make decisions for him so the only way the player get's identified is when NPC'S actually talk to you however this enhencing the story elements and there for been a good decision. It's the same for Halo except for this time your a marine and wear a mask and who is under the mask is unknown ( as far as I know)

* Gordon Freeman being a badass ! And master chief both heroes without a face 

This character was chosen for a specific reason. Shell is not a faceless hero. In portal 1&2 you CAN see shell due to the portal mechanism but the way she has been designed really blends in with the environment.  Considering in portal you sometimes have to make long jumps and am a "test subject" she wears a suit that can't get in the way during acrobatic stuns and has 2 sort of jump pads attached to her boots to enhance her ability to jump/fall. Valve has clearly thought this through and i can appreciate that.

When i said a character doesn't have to be overly complicated i think this would be the best way to show it. One of the most simplest character designs. An Italian plumber that became world famous in no time.

Mass effect
I chose sheppard from mass effect not so much for the character itself as this is customizable and changes through the game but for the gear. When designing a character it's important to think what environment it would be in/going through and what actions it would need to perform.  Mass effect has an efficient yet elegant armor design that suits it's purposed well and i think is there for a good example.

Sex sells !??!

This has been a discussion on facebook a while ago and i think applies to character design.
Does it make good characters ? No.. however as a character designer your often paid to design certain characters and if the target group demands or has a large interest in overly big breasts and poor armor design ( cause after all going into battle in your lingerie would make sense wouldn't it ? ) you're going to have to life with it.  Even though it has its charms there's plenty of other ways to make people look attractive female. Here are some examples of how it could also be done.

Meet the art director

So who is an art director and what does he do !?

An art director  is generally an artist that has been with his/her game company for a longer period of time ( generally 3 / 4 years) and has proven it's worth. That artist that then becomes the Art director get's the leading role in the development of art within the game.

 this means that every asset need's to go past this guy and needs to be approved as it's his job to ensure consistency in the style. Together with the lead director and sometimes animators the art director decides on a style and makes sure all the artists stick with this. Another important thing the Art director does is setting time limits for each asset, poly/texture limits. These are very important things as the end product needs to run smooth and blend in with each other where other elements might have to jump out a little.

Everything fit's together in the heavy stylized ( and awesome) game Alice Madness returns.

I think to be an Art director you need to be creative. Beside the fact you need to know what you're talking about you should know the industry, look around in different area's ( movies, comics, paintings etc) and be able to come up with different styles before anything is set in stone. This is all important as you have a leading role over artist that do happen to know what they're talking about, so in order to correct or help them you should be at least 2 steps ahead if not more.

No such thing as too much information !!! 

The art direction in Games is almost the same as that in other medium except for the fact your now stuck with tri and texture budgets. Also the fact that the player can often move freely and is less on a "rail" than when it comes to movies could make it a bit more demanding. But overall the idea is still the same due to both directors making sure the scene's look consistent with the original idea's within a timed work environment.

What is required of an art director ?

An art director needs several qualities. He needs to be able and fill a manager role. Set reasonable deadlines that are achievable for the artist but at the same time keep them sharp while making sure the assets get delivered on time. He needs a good artistic judgment considering every asset needs to pass him before being put in the game, he needs to be able and motivate and/ or inspire the artists while at other times put them to work and tell them off and then the last one probably the most important be able and communicate with the team. If he can't spread his idea's or isn't able to tell why these models are too high poly etc artist might swim in the deep and start getting idea's of their own slowing the production down costing a company a lot of money.

The art director is a very important part of production and should be chosen carefully.
A few games where i found the art style were really good are:

Prince of Persia

I'm a big fan of cell shading though it's easily overdone. I think in Prince of persia they have done a GREAT job with this.

Final fantasy 9

Final fantasy 9 has a really nice art style when it comes to urban environment. I like it in general but the details make it really feel cozy and come to life.


The original way of using a "cell shading'effect ( game play reasons as well)


I really liked the bright contrast in this very very dark game. Though the game, the originality and fantasy has gone way beyond any other game I have seen so far.

City of the lost children

The city of the lost children, directed by Marc Caro and Jean Pierre Jeunet is a true piece of art. I've seen the movie a short while ago and really enjoyed it. It was released in 1995 and has relative low visual effects. Yet the artistic scene's and characters were really nice to see. It wouldn't be a surprise if the developers of bioshock took their inspiration from this film as they they have many similarities, but sticking with the movie.

It has original, weird yet interesting characters which was inspirational. Like the scientist that can't sleep. their uncle who is a brain in an aquarium with 2 speakers and ofcourse Ron Perlman a whale hunter that is trying to get his younger brother back.

I definatelly recommand people that are interested in art to watch this movie it's inspirational and a fun movie to watch.

Here you can find the trailer 

The importance of game design

In this post I will talk about Game design. Now the first thing we need to do is understand: What is game-design ? Game designs are the rules of play. Imagine being in an empty world, Game design would be every wall you encounter. Game design is making the Game play. Setting the goal, the winning and losing condition, the difficulty the guidance and punishments, the way a character progresses and such.
It's there for a key element in games, some say even more so than the art.

How has game design evolved

Most genre's have evolved in their own way so i will give a few examples to give a short description on how certain things have changed. To start off What would be the difference between pacman and a game such as Fear?  Old games such as pacman were a lot less forgiving. The game was designed to punish and to give players a challenge and there for in my opinion reward the player by advancing to the next level if they became better each time. While a game such as fear which is mostly story driven has things like health so your able to be hit several times without having to redo the whole thing. Something they have in common is the "maze" aspect. Both games play in a maze and you run around collecting stuff/finding your way to the exit. In case of fear this would be covered in graphics but the idea stays the same have a look at the following 2 images.

On the left is a map from pacman and on the right a map from america's army.
So to sum things up a few things these games have a like:

- They play in a "maze"
- Enemies will chase you when "Spotted"
- The losing condition is when dead

the difference between the two games would be:
- The winning condition is to collect all the orbs in pacman and with fear it's to travel from point a to point b
-   The losing condition, even though when dead is something they have a like pacman is a lot less forgiving in this perspective.
- Fear has a safe button
- Fear has ranged attacks where pacman needs to pic-up certain items in order to beat the antagonist
- Where pacman would be considered a top-down game fear is first person.

The characters are almost as scary !!!!! Yet in fear their less dangerous than in pacman !

To go a bit more in examples I'd like to take the final fantasy series created by square enix ( square soft before). One of the reasons for this is because it's all the same series and has existed for 25 years now and has changed a lot .If you compare the first few final fantasies and not take the graphics in account you'll see that their turn based, where the series later on added timed elements to speed things up and with the latest few almost completely taken out the turn based fighting system.  These changes were made to suit their current target market.  Another example of big game companies that make gameplay changes to suit their market would be Blizzard with Diablo 3 and World of Warcraft. Both games have been toned down severally over time. Where world of warcraft has become easier each expansion Diablo 3 's gameplay is still getting big overhaul's each patch. These things are being done to suit a more casual market rather than just the hardcore audience. Unfortunately for them but at the same time it does broaden their sales and allows more people to see end content. Because in the end of the day Game design is also about guiding the players through your game. On the topic of guiding I think the best example would be Left 4 Death. Left 4 Death made by Valve is a Survival FPS with a lot of chaos elements. It's a dark game and one can get lost easily. To prevent this Valve has put in several game design decision, a few of these were if other players are behind a wall you get to see their outlines. This way you can't lose the group since teamwork is very important. But this doesn't guide you through the levels yet so they implemented lights on key points as a subtle pointer for the players. From my own experience you'll often run to these points without thinking.  Sadly these days the big game design companies don't allow much space for innovate game design. It costs them too much money and is considered too much of a risk. EA's mirror edge is a good example. It has original gameplay and was actually brand new to the industry but after it's success while making mirror's edge 2 it got canceled for another battlefield.  So most innovate game design comes from the Indy market these days ( Minecraft for example) luckily there's also bigger companies that do allow creative/new gameplay. Valve again.. is one of those with portal ( original Narbacular drop  created by a team of students ).

* mirror's edge


Game design evolves all the time, but due to big companies holding innovative game design down things haven't changed for the last few years. Luckily Indy game developers and a few bigger companies such as valve are still bringing original idea's out in the world. It's important to a game as it sets the rules and makes or breaks the game, there for most gameplay will be adjusted to suit the audience.