Tuesday, 12 March 2013

From generalist to specialist

I've always been told that having a huge interest in everything is a good thing. Wanting to learn every bit of random information is besides fun also expanding a lot of your knowledge and maybe even skills.
It could come in handy in projects for research or approach. Then I went to Dublin got taught Coding, Game-design and to some frustration of others game-art. And I didn't particularly enjoy coding i've managed through things and got told/taught that it's good to have an understanding of all the roles in game development. Regardless of whether I will ever use it again it makes understanding and especially communicating with someone else ( a coder for example) A hell of a lot easier.  It helps out understanding how engines work, the possible downfalls of certain approaches and even helps with solutions. Then I moved to England and started this course at DMU ( Game-Art and design for those that don't know)  Here i've first heard the term of being able to have knowledge in a T-shape.

Now I hear people thinking a T shape ? Yes... a T shape. It means knowing a bit of everything and specialize in one thing, Game-Art in my case. It is also the reason why we're being told to update a blog and research certain area's within the games development.  It's not always as fun but helps us understand the industry a lot better.

Now talking about the industry a lot of publishers like for example Activision have studio's to make their games. Those studio's are often specialized in what they do but..... what if their not ? What if a deadline approaches and there's still plenty of assets to be made. What if there's certain functions and the programmers don't have the knowledge or specialisation in solving it.  A studio can often then decide to outsource some of the work to other smaller and specialized companies.  These companies often only do small bits and pieces and make sure their good at what they do and what they do they do best.

An example i found would be: Blackbow Which is a small company in China that has worked on several AAA titles making assets and/or characters for example: Age of empires III making hundreds of characters or Golden compas by making characters / lods and several props.

they can be found here : http://www.blackbowsoft.com/

Or 3pointstudios which has had a good thing going with Bethesda softworks by making the weapons.
they can be found here :  http://www.3pointstudios.com

Unfortunately outsourcing can also be used for the wrong reasons when for example it's being done for cheaper labour. People could easily lose jobs or control over their own product. a very good read on this can be found here:


where the writer: Freek vermeulen writes about how IBM tried to outsource everything only to put a stamp on it and by accident created a powerfull alliance between Intel and Windows.
So outsourcing has it's good and it's bad sides.

Re discovering Ink !

In the last 2 live drawing sessions I've caught the attention of the ink pen brush. So I decided to buy and try it and absolutely fell in love with it again.  The idea of making permanent marks without being able to easily adjust it but also the quickness and differences in lines have been really enjoyable.
I started looking around to see other artists that use ink a lot and kind of ended up with 2 very inspirational artists. One I found thanks through Daniel Hill Is Yoshitaka Amano who is well known from the early concept art of Final Fantasy and vampire hunter D. and can be seen:


And Yoji Shinkawa, well known from the concept art of metal gear solid:


and just looking at these video's give me a burst of motivation to get my Ink pen brushes out and start smacking some ink around till I manage to reach a standard much like them !

here's some of my of the pieces I really like:

and Yoshitaka Amano

Unfortunately i don't have neither of their art books ( yet) so i haven't been able to see everything but i can't wait to get my hands on them !

Elements of game technology, part three: interaction design

A very important aspect of playing games is often the controls. Are they clunky, easy to use, would your intuition tell you what button do what or would you need a tutorial for this ? Also HOW are you controlling it ? the keyboard, the mouse or controller ? maybe the upcoming leap motion ?

Though for some reason the little leap motion box isn't visible on the image this is suposedly what using the leap motion would be like. 

In this post I'd like to talk a bit about these things. Back in the days... the early days of the gaming industry things we're a lot more simpler. They had to be because there we're huge limitations and and a lot of creativity was needed to try and get around some of these limitations.  Based on these limitations came controllers / controls.  giving us the simple controllers such as the one from the Atari or Nintendo

Then as time went on, technology improved, and limitations got less and less for some reason game-play and controllers followed this trend.  First Super Nintendo, Sega then playstation and now even Xbox...

it went from a few simple buttons ( 4 to 11 digital buttons, 2 analog triggers, 2 analog sticks and a digital d pad) to complete chaos.  Older people often get scared by just looking people use them cause they have no clue what's going on, but even though there's more buttons a lot of people don't seem to mind and easily get along with it. Why ?

Especially these days however it's been going on for quite a while a lot of buttons are being used for roughly the same thing. So will for example the analog sticks steer your character, the triggers usually have a vital function and in xbox's case the middle button go back to the xbox overlay but with sony the start / select button can be found in the middle.

The same can be said with PC games. where it started off with just a few simple keys these days ( especially in mmo's) players often use ALL the keys on the keyboard for macro's. Especially in Player versus Player skirmishes. Very cleverly the game hardware provider Razor heard of this and brought out the razor Naga ( and has now many variations ) which features 12 buttons on the side of the mouse to allow the user to easier access a variety of skills.

Here an example of Arma2 keyboard controlls ( yes it's not an mmo) almost the full keyboard is being used for functions.

Other things that have companies have done for PC gamers is for example Logitech which brought out a specialized gamers keyboard the " g series"  Taking the G15 as example which had 16 macro's on the left of the keyboard. A small display for vital information or quick view in your Itunes ( Very important while playing games !! ) It had led displays making it easier to see your keyboard in the dark and best of all a button to disable the utmost annoying/irritating windows key on the keyboard.

Both Logitech and Razor now also bring out Headsets specialized for gaming giving a better quality for voice chat/sound and immersion into games .

However getting back to consoles as well.  Controllers have tried to immerse players as well with for example the rumble feature which starts vibrating when a player performs a certain action or get's hit. Or the wii that decided to go on motion detection trying to get people to exersize more.  In this and upcoming year there will be a whole new console generation and a lot of exiting new improvements will take place it will be fun to see what sort of new things they will release. As for PC gamers things will improve and change all the time.

Playstation 4: https://us.playstation.com/ps4/
Razor naga: http://www.razerzone.com/gb-en/gaming-mice/razer-naga
Logitech g series: http://www.logitech.com/en-roeu/promotions/7295

Game engines

So this time I will talk a little bit about game engines. The use and differences of some of them. Unfortunately there's too many to go into all of them but I will keep it about a few big ones.
So what is a game engine ? The game engine much like the name suggest is the engine behind the game.
It puts all the little pieces together and directs them to the final outcome. The place where assets, sound, Coding, effects like particles and game-play blend into the game it's supposed to be.

So it's safe to say that game engines themselves do not make good games but simply provide the tools to create master pieces. Often when getting an engine the developers ( of the engine) have already set-up some tools that they think will commonly used by the user however here also comes a big difference.

Some game engines will have a component based architecture. This means that certain elements can be replaced by other components like Havoc for physics  or Blink for video's which could potentially make a game stand out a lot better on certain area's. However not all engines allow this. Some game companies have decided to make their own engine a few of those are ( Valve,Crytech,Square, ID) and others prefer to use the already existing engines such as for example Bioware, Trion and NCSoft.

So what would be some of the differences of the engines then ?

basically different engines work in a different way. For the current project i'm working on I had to do some research into UDK and Crytech to decide what would be best suited for the goal we're trying to achieve. This was a pretty difficult task because there's a lot of shallow discussions going on by people that use the standard assets rather than the functionality and pro's and cons of using the engine itself.

A good discussion I found on this topic was:

Where most people say UDK and Cry engine are fairly the same. Apparently the license for the Cryengine is a lot more expensive than the UDK and obviously UDK has been around a lot longer so there's a lot more documentation/help to find for UDK. However Cry engine is a lot easier to use. A lot easier to use at the cost of less customisation though. So trying to read this all and figure out a solution i noticed how every single tutorial for Cry engine was for exterior levels rather than interior like we we're trying. This kind of pulled me over to one side and made me choose UDK ( and in the end we all agreed on this) Where UDK would be more made for " corridor" shooters Cry engine is more made for outdoor shooters. This doesn't mean you won't be able to do the other with it but it would be a lot more effort and struggle to achieve the same thing. Another few good engines that I'm definitely interested in would be the Luminus Square engine from Square enix or the Hammer engine from Valve.
Unfortunately I haven't had the time to look at either yet but I'm looking forward to the summer holidays to spend some time messing around with both.

The last engine i would like to mention is Unity.  Visually this might be the weakest engine of the ones mentioned before however the freedom and customization far surpasses the others and has a cheaper license too. The con could be that coding is a lot more important in this engine than the others as there's no real basic gameplay/set-up for this engine however because of this and the freedom to use different coding languages it's easier to make quick and visual changed to the gameplay style/shaders and add effects in.

Official website for UDK - http://www.unrealengine.com/udk/
Official website for Cryengine - http://www.crytek.com/
Official website for unity - http://unity3d.com/

-- edit -- i just read that square enix will not release the luminus engine to the public :(.
Source:  Luminus not open for public..