onsdag 14. desember 2011

Käthe Kollwitz

The other day I grabbed a friend of mine and we went to see the german expressionism-exhibition in the New Walk museum. We took a look at the contemporary art and the picasso cheramics as well, but we were there for the expressionist-paintings. I am incredibly excited to have friends who actually want to go look at art exhibitions with me and can do so without going "well I could've done this myself, this is stupid," but I digress. 

The exhibtion was much smaller than I expected, and badly lit. It featured both Jawlensky and Kandinsky, but I was the most excited to see the Käthe Kollwitz-drawings. 

Her drawings depict haunting grotesqueness and fear, but also tenderness and love, a mix I find fascinating and painful. Her strong use of value contrast is something to study as well. 

This one was my favourite at the exhibition:

mandag 5. desember 2011

Personal gaming history

My earliest memories of playing any sort of video game, is playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on my cousin’s Sega Genesis, and Rayman on our home computer. Both were incredibly mesmerising. There was a feeling of adventure and the potential of unexplored worlds that playing in the woods by our house just didn’t provide. 

My parents were (and they still are) sceptical of video games, so my video game experiences from then on were mostly playing games at my friend’s place on days with bad weather (of which there are many where I come from). We took turns playing Spyro the Dragon. Then we would go outside when the weather was nice and pretend we were Spyro the Dragon. 

 After nagging my parents about a GameCube for a long time, my parents, unaware of the difference, bought my brother and me an Xbox for Christmas when I was around 12. It wasn’t the right console, but it didn’t bother me at the time, and in retrospect I am very happy about this. It allowed me to experience others games than just Nintendo-franchises. 

The first game I played on the Xbox was Munch’s Odyssey, and I absolutely loved it. The sometimes quite frightening world and storyline and the occasional very grim settings were balanced nicely with more colourful levels, quirky, somewhat gross characters, slapstick humour and fart jokes. It was just the right amount of serious for me at the time. The game paints a harsh caricature of capitalists that I find very funny now, though the 12 year old me did not understand that back then.

Another memorable game for me is Anachronox, a turn-based science fiction RPG with cyberpunk and film-noir-elements. At points it seemed almost like a parody game. The playable characters include a miniature planet, an impudent robot and a depressed superhero. The story opens with private detective Sylvester ”Sly Boots” venturing into the slums of the planet Anachronox to find work, and the story rapidly evolves from there and takes us to several diverse alien planets as Sylvester uncovers something that threatens the entire universe. The game is quite massive, and was supposed to be split into two parts. Unfortunately the developer (Ion Storm) was shut down a month after Anachronox released, the game ended with a major cliffhanger and we’ll never know how it ends. This game is pretty terrible. It has horrible graphics and the gameplay isn’t particularly good, and at points it is confusing and exasperating to find your way around, but for some reason I absolutely love this piece of junk. 

I can’t talk about my personal gaming history without mentioning Beyond Good and Evil. This game features fun gameplay alternatives to your usual action-adventure. You play as photo journalist Jade, hired to uncover a conspiracy. The game takes an unexpected turn as the bad guys kidnap Jade’s uncle P.J (I doubt they are genetically related as he is an anthropomorphic pig), who before that point has served as a travelling companion and you’re given plenty of time to become fond of the character. Suddenly the conflict becomes personal, which makes the story a whole lot more engaging. Beyond Good and Evil is the first game that moved me emotionally and where I actually cared about what happened to the characters. I almost cried at three different points in the game. 
You also get to drive around in a hovercraft and a space-ship, which is super-awesome. 

Though I am not sure how fashionable I find green lipstick to be.

Bioshock is one of my absolute favourite games on the current gen consoles. Before Bioshock I had never really played any first person shooter games at all, and I am still a bigger fan of third person games with a defined main character than a faceless character for the player to project himself into. I understand the point of this is to make the game more immersive, but I feel that a defined character opens for a more character-driven plot. 
But I digress. 
What I love about Bioshock is the setting. I absolutely adore art deco, and a derelict underwater art deco city might just be the best thing I’ve seen ever, but the storyline is what makes Bioshock so engaging. I found Bioshock very hard to put down because I wanted to know what would happen next. 

Last, but not least, I must mention Pshychonauts because it’s my absolute favourite game ever. This game features a psychic circus-boy, and allows the player to explore the surreal mindscapes of several different characters, helping them with their ”mental problems” by solving puzzles and defeating nightmares. What I love the most about Psychonauts, however, it the extremely stylized art. The game is open-ended and lets you go back and forth between the levels and just enjoy the game and explore, which is great fun because there are lots of secrets to discover. The plot is very character-driven and each NPC is unique, with a well-developed personality.

I feel there are certain similarities between the games I enjoy the most. I enjoy games that feature a good story, I enjoy games with an unique look, I like surreal fantasy themes and a dash of (stupid) humour. In the future I would like to see more games that feature engaging, emotionally moving stories. I have touched on this earlier, but I believe games can be a very good medium for storytelling. 

søndag 4. desember 2011

A history of computer games: 2000s

The game development industry is currently facing a  suffocating problem, as games have become incredibly expensive to make. The cost of games, as well as the time and number of people it takes to develop them have increased exponentially over the years. Furthermore, the consoles have become more powerful and therefore more demanding. Before, one person could make a game in a few months, by using a computer. Now, developing an AAA title takes several years and  a large team consisting of all sorts of artists, designers, animators and programmers, not to mention the support and marketing teams. Because games have become so expensive to make, the truth is that most games lose more money than they make.

Smaller development studios cannot afford this, and the result is that the big publishers who are able to do so, buy the small developers. The big companies also claim a certain amount of control over the production, which causes a conflict between money and creativity. Whereas small companies might develop games with a genuine love for games and original content, the big publishers are first and foremost interested in the financial return of the game. Thus, new, original and atypical concepts are often culled, because they have less potential to make money than sequels and licensed properties. 
Screenshot from beautiful, quirky Psychonauts. This level in particular was inspired by red velvet paintings; an interesting idea for a game environment for sure. 

In order to increase their potential customer base, publishers push developers to release titles on multiple platforms. This is not a new strategy, but, previously, a game would not be transferred to a different console, if it had not been successful on the console it was originally designed for. Now, a developer is expected to release a game on all the important platforms at the same time, as to maximise the revenue from one title. 

Tasks such as art, music and level design have become a larger portion of the cost of developing games, and these elements can be reused between platforms and the cost of porting thus comes down to programming only. But even so, it is expensive and time-consuming and leaves little time to optimise games to one platform in particular. In addition, console developers have not made an effort to make it easier for game developers. Quite the opposite, they have continuously increased the complexity of their hardware. 

‘Moore’s Law’ dictates that computer speed is doubled every eighteen months. However, instead of computers actually becoming more powerful, consoles have been build that consist of several processing elements which can share tasks to speed up computing. This has made programming games more complex, because to utilise this to the max would have been less complex if the console had only one powerful processing element. 

The complexity of the consoles is as much a matter of marketing as it is of technology. Current consoles are built differently to make porting games from one platform to the other difficult. This is a shrewd marketing strategy to make developers stick to the console instead of porting, a move that makes it more difficult for developers to engage in the current multi-platform trend. 

The downfall of the Sega console was caused by complexity. The Sega Saturn that dominated the market at its time was difficult to program for. It had two CPUs, and only one was normally in use, because of the complexity of multiple-CPU programming. When Sony introduced the PlayStation, which had only one CPU and a 3D graphics processor (which made programming 3D games simple), developers wavering between platforms were grabbed by Sony and Sega lost ground. Though Sega reverted to a much simpler model with the Dreamcast, they never managed to get back on top, and big developers signed the death warrant of Sega’s consoles when they announced they would not support the Dreamcast. 

Sony had now obtained the dominant position on the market. They no longer felt the need to attract the developers, but wanted to consolidate that position and keep upstarts from disrupting their hegemony. Although the Playstation 2 was much more complicated to develop for, there were not really any other options on the market – with Sega out of the way. This made it very difficult for developers to move away from that platform. 

At this point, both Nintendo and Microsoft saw an opportunity to disturb Sony’s dominance – like Sony itself had done with Sega. Yet, they could not really compete with the PS2, which was too established as the dominant console at the time. However, Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo’s Game Cube did well enough to allow both companies a new round in the console war. 

When Sony released their Playstation 3, they thought their position was so dominant that nobody could really challenge it. For that reason, Sony increased the complexity of the console’s architecture, in an attempt to lock developers to that console by making it hard to port to other consoles.

 Although this was not really the case, Microsoft thought they had damaged Sony’s dominant position in the market and were confident enough to launch a more complicated Xbox 360 ahead of the Playstation 3. The Xbox 360 did, however, come with development kits that were meant to make game development for the platform easier. Nintendo, on the other hand, stuck to a simpler, less powerful platform with the Wii. Instead, they focused on innovative technology like motion control to maintain their place and uniqueness in the market. 
The Wii is not really a competitor in the console war, because it is a very different console. It runs its own race, and it is not uncommon for gamers to own a Wii in addition to either a 360 or a Ps3. It caters to a niche in the market that Sony and Microsoft have neglected to a large degree; the young, the casual players and the families. The biggest advantages of the Wii are the flagship series exclusive to Nintendo-consoles; Mario, Zelda, Pokémon, Metroid, Donkey Kong and several others. There are few children in the Western world that do not know these series. Thus, although  Microsoft may have surpassed the Wii’s motion control with their Kinect-technology, they cannot compete with Nintendo’s exclusive series. Furthermore, the Wii is sociable. While games on the 360 or Ps3 are usually developed for a single player, Wii-games often have a multiplayer-focus and are great fun playing with friends and family.  
We will be welcoming new consoles in the near future. It will be exciting to see how this affects the market and the developers, though I am afraid the costs of developing for newer and more complicated consoles might be bad news for the small developers. 
Nevertheless, although the increasing costs of developing games are a big problem, we are entering a very interesting chapter in the history of games now. Developers have always sought to improve the looks of games, and today they can achieve amazing graphics. Perhaps, we will reach a graphical peak soon, as it is now already fairly difficult to tell an in-game screen shot apart from reality. 

Games have achieved such amazing imagery, which makes one wonder how we can improve them even more? Games have the potential to tell a good story, move us emotionally, deliver a message, let us explore worlds and concepts that do not and cannot exist, etc. If I had a game development studio, these are the paths of improvement I would explore. 

Thanks to my friend Dieter for proof-reading and editing my text and making it 110% better. ;_;

torsdag 17. november 2011

The year so far

I just had my first assessment meeting with the tutors yesterday. I was so nervous about this meeting, I could barely get any sleep the night before.  

I got some useful feedback, but basically the message is ”work more in general” so that’s what I’m going to do from now on. I know I have been slacking off a bit.

My 3D modelling is apparently ”good”. My texturing is ”okay.” I know the textures on my last model were a bit odd and I need to figure out what  I mixed up there… Also I need to work regularly with 3Ds Max to keep getting better at the program, needless to say. 

In visual design I need to work more in general, and also spend more time on my rendering of the images. I’ve spent quite a bit of time wrapping my head round the 3D software and I have sort of neglected the drawing part of the course, which is not good.

My blogging is a bit behind, which I was aware of. I didn’t really realise I could and should use this blog for more than just the mandatory tasks though, so from now on I’m going to expand a bit to include whatever game-, art- and class-related stuff I feel like writing about. I am not a stranger to keeping blogs; I still post regularly in my sketchblog which I’ve had for about three years now, albeit I only really post pictures in it… So writing regularly will be a bit of a challenge.

Over all, adapting to uni life and living in England has not been a problem for me. I’ve made good friends and I enjoy the course very much.

We had a guest lecture last week as well, which was very exciting. I understand how a concept artist in the industry actually works much better now, and a lot of it was very surprising to me. I don’t have much to show from it; I fell off when we started working in 3Ds Max, which was very frustrating, but I guess I am still a wee grasshopper and the 3Ds Max fluency will come with time. I got the gist of it, though. 

Language-wise, I am getting used to being constantly surrounded by a foreign language, and I understand other’s spoken English well, but sometimes my English fails and I say weird things such as ”your door hinges need to be lubed.” 

 At least my English is better than Petter Solberg’s. 

"I don't know what you call it in England, but in Norway we call it "air condition!"

tirsdag 15. november 2011

A history of computer games: 1980s - 1990s

The arcade games had their golden age from 1978 with the release of Space Invaders. Classic games everyone know such as Pac-Man and Asteroids came to be in this period, and the arcade games were more accessible than ever. You could even find arcade machines in places such as shopping malls, restaurants and stores.

In the early history of home computer gaming, you could buy computer codes for games in magazines and books, which you then had to type into the machine to ”create” the game yourself. I can imagine this coding process must have been half the fun, though games were also distributed ready-programmed on floppy disks and such early storage devices. 

This led to a sort of indie industry. You had hobbyists writing and selling games in local shops this way, which is pretty cool.Computer games at this time could be developed by small groups of people with relatively small costs. This let developers have the free rains to develop quite strange, unique games without a publishing company breathing down their neck. Though you also had quite a lot of copy cats and plagiarising in this period. 

Because these early games were quite cheap to produce, you got a lot of these unsatisfying, low-quality games and you had all these different consoles, which eventually saturated the market. You also had the home computers which could play games just as well as any console, and all of this led to the 1983 video game crash.

The video game console industry was revived in 1985, much thanks to Nintendo and their successful NES, and most of the unsuccessful consoles were rooted out of the market. The NES dominated American and Japanese markets until the early 1990s, but you also had the Sega, which found its market in Europe. 

The golden age of arcade video games came to an end during the middles of the eighties, but not before having brought with it quite the list of innovative games. The different video game genres also started surfacing, such as adventure games, role-playing games, beat ’em ups,  platformers and so on. 

You also started seeing the handhelds, the first being the Microvision. It worked much like a gameboy, using interchangeable cartridges for games. Though initially successful, the crash put a bit of a damper on their development and the Microvision was discontinued in 1983. Its design was also quite clunky. 

Nintendo became the big success-company when it came to the handhelds. Their Game & Watch-line was the earliest success-product from Nintendo. My nan had a few of these which my mum inherited from her when she died. If I remember this right, my mum told me nan wouldn’t let her play with these when she was young, which witnesses that in their earliest form, games were meant to be grown-up toys. 
Donkey Kong on the Game & Watch. It looks quite a bit like a DS, don't it?

Regardless, this was not the mindset my mum had, and I grew up with these things lying around the house, though they were quite outdated by then. The Game and Watch-consoles contained only one game each so you had to buy a different machine for each game, and in the meantime Nintendo had released their first Game Boy in 1989.

Nintendo's NES was discontinued in 1995, a year after Sony released their Playstation 1 and Sega their Sega Saturn. By that time, Nintendo had already been selling the Super Nintendo for quite a while, and released the Nintendo 64 in 1996. The Nintendo consoles were very successful, in part because of games like Super Mario. 

The Sony Playstation was successful as well. With more mature games like Tekken, they catered to a different group of customers altogether and found their own niche. 

The Sega Saturn became the little brother inbetween, and never took off like the Sony’s and Nintendo’s machines. Sega released the the Dreamcast in 1999. The machine was the first of the sixth gen consoles. Mysteriously, the machine simply fizzled out, leaving a cult following and a market open for Nintendo’s Gamecube, Sony’s Playstation 2, and a new player, Microsoft and their Xbox. 

tirsdag 25. oktober 2011

A history of computer games: 1950s - 1980s

Videogames have roots as far back as the early 1950s. It is difficult to pinpoint excactly when and who started this all.

Technology developed in leaps and bounds. Computers shrunk from taking up entire rooms and into little boxes. The military was a natural driving force of development and research; the cold war and the threat of atomic warfare blanketed the world during this time-period. The chase for the technological upper hand eventually accumulated into the space race. Technology developed so far it was possible to launch things into orbit. Private parties did a great deal of research too. Technology and computing were used for logistics, banking, mathematics… the possibilities and visions were endless. 

Clearly, the best thing to do was to use this new, amazing technology for entertainment purposes

The first geniouses to patent an entertainment system were Thomas Goldsmith, an engineer and professor of physics, and Estle Ray Mann. In 1947 they patented ”Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device.” This was a simple missile shooting game. It didn’t project an image on a screen but instead used a printed overlay on the screen to define the playing field. As such is not a video game, but it is one of the first examples of using technology for pure amusement. Due to production cost it was never released to the general market. 

The earliest graphical computer game known to exist was developed in 1952. A. S. Douglas wrote his PhD on Human-Computer interraction, and developed a Tic-Tac-Toe game to demonstrate his thesis. As such it was not created for pure fun, but I can imagine the students at the University of Cambridge spent many an hour playing this game and stomping their feet in frustration when the computer outsmarted them. 

The first multiplayer-game was developed by William Higinbotham. It was called Tennis for Two, and is exactly what you think it is; an early, sideways version of Pong. Perhaps a bit more advanced than Pong, even, seeing as it featured gravity. It was an interactive exhibit in the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, which visitors could play with. 

Spacewar! was developed in 1961 by three Massachusetts Institute of Technology-students. If you want to play tennis or tic-tac-toe you can do that without fancy technology, but very few of us can easily participate in alien warfare in space. Spacewar was the first game to emulate something which does not actually exist in our physical world, the first game in the video game tradition we know today. 

Spacewar! had features such as gravity and varying luminosity. How realistic!

From 1950-1970, games were developed by scientists or students at universities for research purposes, or by hobbyists. Computer hardware was not available to the common man. However, games became more accessible during the 70’s, trough arcades and home systems. 

During the same year, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney created Computer Space, an arcade version of Spacewar. 1500 Computer Space-machines were produced, making Spacewar the first mass-produced video game, and the first video game offered for commercial sale. Bushnell and Dabney formed Atari in 1972, and then created Pong, which became a commercial arcade success. 

The first home consoles were developed during the 70s too. The Magnavox Odyssey was released in 1972, and came with cartridges allowing it to play several different games (most of which were probably Pong-clones). A landslide of home-consoles and Pong-clones followed, making video games more accessible to everyone. 

Magnavox Odyssey: Available with games like Pong, Pong, Pong and Pong! 

tirsdag 11. oktober 2011


My name is Katarina Aasgaard Strømsvåg and I moved to Leicester on the 17th of September to study at De Montfort University. I’d never been to England before, I had barely even been outside of Norway, and certainly never on my own. English is not my mother tongue, so please bear with me if my language seems clumsy.

I come from Kristiansund, a small town built on a handful of islands on the west coast of Norway. I’ve lived there for the majority of my life. There are about as many people living in Kristiansund as there are students at De Montfort University. 

I have five younger siblings and a dog. My parents are divorced, so I have a large extended family. Before I moved here, mum gave me pots, pans and other useful kitchen things. Dad gave me a kilo of chocolate.

Apart from the obvious interests like video games and drawing, I am interested in music, art and comics. Since coming to Leicester I’ve spent a lot of my evenings cooking with friends and playing Risk (last night I won). I also write a little in my spare time. There isn’t much room for other hobbies, though there are several things I wish I had time for. 

I’ve drawn since I was little and I always knew drawing was what I wanted to do with my life. It’s never really been a decision, it’s just something I’ve known. In upper secondary school, I specialised in art and design-subjects. I’ve wanted to study abroad since I was 16; I felt a need to stretch my wings, I get the bonus of learning the English language better, and it will look good on my CV. I had a look at a lot of UK universities as well as a couple in other countries, but in the end I settled for game art design at De Montfort University, because I wanted to learn 3D modelling as well as developing my drawing abilities. The Skillset accreditation convinced me of the credibility of the course as well. 

My ambitions for this year is to work my ass off to get a good handle on 3Ds Studio Max, and improve my drawings skills by miles. I also aim to become much better at communicating in English, but I think my language skills are something that will develop naturally as I live and study in Leicester. 

In the duration of the course, I want to develop my skills even more, and hopefully become good enough to get a job within the industry. Some dream jobs for me right now would be working as a character artist or even concept artist for one of my favourite developers, such as Valve, Bethseda, Double Fine or Irrational Games. Requirements for current job openings now vary, but they often have these in common:
- Good drawing abilities and knowledge of composition and colour theory. 
- Good knowledge of 3D software. 
- Good communication skills.
- The ability to work in a team. 
- Adaptability. 

Which is why I need to work to improve myself and my abilities in all of these areas, and I think this course will give me a golden opportunity to do so. 

- Kat