søndag 23. desember 2012

Game Engines

So I don't really know what I am talking about in this post buuut here goes.

I’ve been trying to explain the concept of game engines to my parents. It’s pretty hard for me to explain to them the differences between, for example, 3D software and a level editor, so I thought I’d have a go at explaining this in as simple terms as possible in this blog.

This is my parent/grandparent guide to what is this shit:

A 3D package, like 3Ds Max, is a piece of software that functions sort of like the construction site where you make all the visual elements and pieces and objects and people that go in the game.

Then you export all those things to the game engine and put them together to construct a world where it is possible to run around and shoot things. In fact you can test-play your scene while constructing it. (Or at least you can in Unreal)

You put in simple, invisible geometric objects beneath your 3D assets, for example in a wall, and these function as the borders to where the player can go and are the reason you can’t run trough walls or fall trough the ground because unlike in the physical world these borders have to be manually established in a digital one.

You also put in lights and things that sway and move and things that are interactive and other effects in your scene and make it look pretty and playable.

I am not sure that’s very helpful.

Some companies write their own in house engines. I am not sure this works out cheaper than using prebuilt engines like CryEngine, UDK since you’d probably need loads of programmers and stuff to do that, but it probably allows for more customisation and tailoring towards the game’s needs. CryEngine and UDK costs a ton of money to licence for commercial use (but luckily it is free for us wee students to play with). There is a third option of growing popularity called Unity. Unity is open source, but apparently not as powerful as CryEngine and UDK.

The two engines that are most frequently used on our course are UDK and CryEngine so they would be the relevant choices for me when choosing which engine to use for my FMP, I guess. They have some core differences in their art tools that would influence my choice.

UDK has to be installed on your computer to work, but functions offline. It has a complex material editor that allows for a high level of customisation. Lightning has to be built, which might allow for more complex-looking light than CryEngine, which lights in real time. UDK does not allow overhangs such as caves when you build terrain, which I think is a bit of a deal breaker.

The triple-A first person shooter Bioshock (above) used the Unreal Engine. So did the indie third person puzzle game Unmechanical (below). I think that demonstrates the versatility of this engine pretty well.

CryEngine can be launched from a USB-stick, but you have to be online to use it. The materials are simpler, but limited in customisation possibilites. The lightning is realtime, but that sacrifices the quality of UDK. CryEngine does allow overhangs and caves in terrain, and apparently features stronger terrain painting tools than UDK. I think these last two might be a good reason for me to choose CryEngine over UDK but like with any art tool, it probably mostly comes down to your knowledge of the basics and how you use it, I guess.

Looking at lists of games built in CryEngine I honestly couldn't find any games I've actually played or ever felt like playing but I am sure that's not CryEngine's fault.

These are from Crysis 2 anyway (I think)

søndag 16. desember 2012

Winter project update

I've had some rather intense past few days and I'm still a bit jet-lagged, I didn't get any sleep at all from Thursday to Friday because of travelling and I learned that I don't function at all without sleep. By the end of Friday I felt like I was drunk and had a really bad flu at the same time. I couldn't walk straight and I couldn't speak clearly and my body felt like lead. I definitely don't want to do that again. 

So the natural thing to do to recuperate was help out at my seven year old sister's birthday party the day after. I am still pretty knackered but it is very nice to be back in Norway. I took this while eating breakfast this morning, the light at this time of the year is amazing, makes up for the 22 hour a day-darkness.

Today I made some progress on my christmas project. I did a paint over of a 3D render just to sort out colours and see if there were any more elements I'd like to put in there. I definitely like these flowers. I want to get a source of warm light into the scene as well. 

My technical goals for this project is to get some good practice in making alphas that look nice, figure out how self-illumination that actually works, paint all the textures in photoshop instead of using photos, and make nice renders of my final scene in 3Ds Max. I want to attempt lighting it as a late evening scene. I don't think my laptop will be able to run UDK so that'd have to wait until I return to Leicester. 

Here are some bioluminiscent mushrooms as well. I thought it would be neat if they looked like jellyfish, they are also bioluminiscent so maybe it would maybe seem more realistic. It might be interesting to give them a really slimy, wet surface. I donno I'm just playing around. 

Here's some nice music I want to share too, sharing is caring. 

mandag 10. desember 2012

I just wanted to share some music that I like. Probably you won't understand the words, but I don't think they matter much? The last two and a half minutes are the best minutes. 

I got to see this band live this summer in Trondheim, and I was all the way in front with my best friend, we sang and shouted until we were hoarse and we were black and blue after, and it was the best thing.

I really enjoy the visual style of this band as well. It's very over the top and doesn't take itself too seriously. They wear smart suits while performing and one of the guys plays the pump organ while wearing a gas mask, which has kind of become their trademark.

The pump organ is sometimes adorned with a taxidermy crow and always an ugly lamp or two. The stage is veiled with heavy smoke and lit with sharp lights. The whole thing has a very industrial, tattered feel. They are also known for using oil barrels and other pieces of scrap metal as percussion.


So that's cool.

onsdag 5. desember 2012

Level design

Level design is the siamese twin of environment design. What a great analogy I just wrote there it’s a good thing I’m never planning on surviving on my writing.

Anyway the two overlap and interweave in a lot of ways, but while environment design’s primary goal is to inform the player of the story of the world and enrichen the game experience, level design is a careful, technical process where the goal is to pace and direct the player’s progress trough the level from a starting point to the goal. Even in open world- and open end-games like Skyrim, there are, to a varying degree of obvious-ness, paths leading to points of interest for the player. Open world games are different from regular games in that the player can simply choose to ignore these paths and still the game will progress, as opposed to games where the path must be followed to progress the story of the game.

I could follow that path there, or I could slide down the side of the mountain on my bum. 

Level design is super complex and it’s something I’d be very interested to learn more about. What elements your level design needs might be altered by what genre it is you are producing, but no matter what you’re doing, a game level will have these two things: Static and non-static elements.

As you can imagine playing a game where you constantly bump into invisible boundaries and you don’t see which path to take would be absolutely no fun at all. Non-static meshes represent these visible boundaries, obstacles and pathways to the player. These elements can be hills, buildings, rooms, fences, holes in the ground, anything really.

Not being able to get past little fences always annoy me though because I always feel like I should be able to vault, or at least climb, over them. So if there is to be a boundary, then I feel like it should be a boundary that doesn’t make me think “could have gotten across that.” While a fence in the real world is a psycological boundary I wouldn't cross even if it was physically possible, a video game is not the real world and in a video game I really want to jump over fences.

Fuck you you can't come into this cornfield, it's protected by a knee high fence.

It’s not really fun to run around in an enviroment you can’t do anything with. If you can’t interact with the game then it’s more of a digital exhibition than a game really. A layer of interactivity is added with non-static elements like doors, buttons, things to pick up and use, non-playable characters to interact with, even being able to shoot a weapon and leaving a mark in the world. When I put my building-project into UDK I had way too much fun running around zapping the surfaces of my model and watching the gun leave black decals everwhere.

It used to be levels were paced with increasing difficulty to get trough a game, gameplay wise. Like in the original Rayman platformer game, where the initial levels were nice and simple and then by the end you’d be crying blood. It is not so much the case anymore in more recent games, maybe because it’s SUPER FRUSTRATING. Recent games often focus on guiding you trough a story or a puzzle rather than a set of difficult, frustrating navigational challenges. That's interesting.

Winter project

Heather gave us a professional practice brief to keep busy over the winter. I only really looked at it today as I kind of spent the last week hibernating.
So it's not very interesting yet. I'm gonna put in glowing mushrooms spilling out of the toppled cart, like they've been mining not rocks, but mushrooms. Seriously, glowing mushrooms, they got to have some sort of value. 

Glowing mushrooms kind of show up everywhere in all sorts of fiction, especially fantasy, but I never really grow tired of them and I just think they are awesome every time I see them in any game. They aren't entirely fantasy, though. Bioluminescent mushrooms exist, but mostly in Brazil apparently. The brightest one are apparently so bright you can use their light to read in in a dark room. I'd go to Brazil just to look at bioluminescent mushrooms if I had the money. (but we don't even have money to keep the heating on in the house to keep my fingers from freezing off so yeah STUDENT LIFE. Sometimes I stick my hands in the fridge to heat them up a bit.)

tirsdag 4. desember 2012

Visual composition

For visual artists, there are loads of tricks we can employ to manipulate the emotional response a viewer has to an image. We can use colour, point of view, lightning, repetition, framing, flow… composition, in short.

To me, colour has always been one of the most interesting tools in the arsenal, but I’ve been doing some comic work recently, which has made me much more aware of the flow of images. For a comic artist it is important to lead the eye of the reader trough the path they want them to, so that the reader reads images in the correct order and doesn’t skip out on inportant information. So I’m gonna talk about flow a little.

During the lecture on composition, Mike mentioned he prefers images of a right hand turn to a left hand turn, without entirely being able to explain why. The reason is very simple, though. This is some knowledge I picked up from books on creating comics.

In western languages, text is read from left to right. We are accustomed to this, so it’s natural for us to also read an image from left to right. So when the subject matter depicted, (in this case I’ve chosen to illustrate this with an image of a super cute pony with tiny stubby feet), prances across the field from left to right, it feels like a faster subject matter than when the image is flipped.

However, for a person from a culture where they read text from right to left, the opposite holds true.

This probably has a bigger impact in comics, where the image is often accompanied by text, so when the reading direction of the image collides with the flow of the reading direction provided by the text, the above effect becomes much more noticeable. This is probably something that is very subconscious and is perhaps not very useful, but I think it's nice to be aware of it.

I took some photos this summer. Most were shit but I thought some, at least, came out decent. I thought I'd collect some of the ones I thought came out interesting and write about them a little.

This one I think might have been one of my favourites. It has a very clear focal pint in the flower; all the lines lead toward it and it is placed roughly in one of the spots where the third-lines cross each other. The wooden structure provide a repeating element, and I like the contrast where the organic flower meets with the geometric shapes of the wood.

This next one is a photo of Nidarosdomen, the dome church of Norway. I think the low angle makes it look very majestic, and the cold, bright colours give it a divine, pure look. It doesn't feel imposing, but if it was darker, perhaps it would have.

This next photo feels spooky to me. The strongest effect here is probably the weird angle the horizon line is placed at. I thought it made the photo look a bit disturbing and unsettling, as if something was out of place. The looming dark cloud really adds to that. I also like the colour contrasts between the red roof and the blue sky.

This photo was just really lucky, that the sheep lined up like that. The strongest compositional element here is repetition in that the sheep heads lining up create a natural pattern of sorts.

This is a photo of some weird preacher's chair in a cathedral in Belgium. What I like about this photo is the very strong contrast in values, with the bright background and dark foreground.  

There is something about derelict stuff that is very visually interesting to me. The reflections in the water and stuff is cool. The composition is very centered, which I think worked well because it feels more like actually standing on the broken down quay than, say, if the quay was on the side of the image.

This photo, I think, is cool because it does have a natural divide at the golden ratio, but it is the little stick things in the water and not in the horizon line, as is more usual. I also like the very strong darks of the foreground and background, while the sky is very bright in comparison. 

This picture is very busy! I think it catches a lot of the atmosphere of this street, while still remaining serene. The restaurants are just opening up and getting ready for diners. It has loads of vertically repeating lines, and the lamp hanging against the overcast sky is really nice for breaking up that empty space. 

tirsdag 20. november 2012

War of the worlds

The war of the worlds-project's been really fun. I absolutely didn't want to do something mechanical this time after that vehicle project, and went down a more organic route this time.

I drew my aliens first, I looked at mexican devil masks for inspiration for their looks.

The tripods had to kind of match their looks, I figured, so my tripods are long and gangly and they've spiky bits all over.

This is my work in progress of my final painting. 

mandag 5. november 2012

I am so pleased with the normals for this stupid tree I've made. Celebrate the little things I guess. 

søndag 4. november 2012

Le Cafe de L'Enfer

This quirky building, "the Hell Cafe," was situated in Pigalle, the red light district of Paris, and National Geographic believes it might have been the world's first themed cafe. It operated from the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. I haven't been able to track down more excact details on years of operation and such on this elusive establishment. The waiters were dressed like devils, and when you entered to be seated the doorman screamed damnation at you. Today nothing but old postcards remain, which is a bit sad because I would've gone there to eat in a heartbeat.

Luckily salvation wasn't far away as Le Ciel ("Heaven") was just next door.

The interior looks a bit cramped if you ask me.

fredag 2. november 2012

Building project update

I've pretty much finished modelling my building for the blitz-environment now; I am leaving myself lots of time to texture it. I feel like I've become really quick at modelling by now and that my control over 3Ds Max is quite good. It looks satisfyingly like my original sketches. I am going to do a couple of paintovers of this scene now to settle on colours and spend the weekend texturing. I know I am really slow at texturing so I've left out a load of details like the table and stuff for later, if I've time. I am going to try hand-painting my assets with Zbrush this time to see if that is more intuitive for me than working with unwraps in photoshop.

I am really enjoying this project so far, I enjoy the amount of freedom in it and being able to make my own decisions about what to model and the budget and stuff. 

Finished unwrapping it too.

I realised I didn't include my moodboards when I posted my sketches earlier. Basically I wanted to make something that was a bit bizarre. I knew for sure I wanted a victorian winter garden in my scene, and I looked at other art as well for inspiration. In the end I'll probably end up doing just a weird tree, but if I'd have time to do an interior, I would have wanted to do something similar to the lamp clusters in these moodboards. The lamp clusters are installations made by norwegian artist Rune Guneriussen, you can see more of his bizarre lamp installations here, it's really cool.

I toyed with the idea of having a garden on the roof, but the blitz-assets clearly are meant for being viewed from the street, as if you look at them from above you can clearly see there are visible holes in the meshes. So that wouldn't make much sense really. 

I love corvids. They are very intelligent birds and I love the way they look, not to mention the mythological aspect of these birds. If I have time, I want to model a crow or a magpie and put it in the tree so that it looks at the player, and also animate it to turn its head.

torsdag 25. oktober 2012

Rubbish yes

This is my rubbish that I made for the previous project. When I arranged it I tried to pay attention to repeating the colour yellow and arranging the yellow elements in a triangle. It was a nice and simple project to start off with. 

Our next project is a bit more ambitious but I am really enjoying it so far. I want to make something that is a bit quirky and bizarre, so I'm making a house that has a winter garden that has a tree growing out of it. At first I wanted to make a winter-garden tea-room-observatorium but that's a bit mad. 

I would love to make an interior for this as well, but I am afraid that might be a bit ambitious.  

onsdag 24. oktober 2012

Concepting and planning

When I started the course I really wanted to be a concept artist as a job, and that’s still a position that is very fascinating to me now that my understanding of what a concept artist actually does is more accurate. I am not really sure what I want to specialise in at all but I’ll just keep doing the things I like to do and see what happens I suppose.

So even if I am not a paid concept artist, I should do concepting for my own work and uni work. A concept is an abstract notion or idea, and putting that on paper to visualise for others is what concepting is. Writing out an idea for yourself is well and good, but words can have many different meanings to different people and as such an idea communicated in words will look completely different in different people’s heads. So the clearest way to communicate an idea is with images, and that’s why being able to draw is a valuable tool.

Here are some things I think are important for concepting and planning:

- Always have a brief:
For the coursework there is usually a brief to work towards and requirements to meet, but if a brief is open or I’m setting a project for myself, I should sit down and plan what it is I am going to design and what technical and artistic goals it is I want to meet.

- Do research (but don't go fuckin mad):
I should explore my subject matter, look for references and read up on things. It might let me discover ideas and solutions that I wouldn’t have come up with if I’d just started working from what I know. Collecting good reference is also important because the human brain does not store all the details that I need to visualise something convincingly; the human brain stores visual information in simplified icons and it’ll be those preconceived icons we’ll draw from when we just work from our head.
I find putting together moodboards and printing them out and hanging them around my workspace really works for me. And then I like to decorate my walls with old moodboards. On the other hand I really just need to stop myself from doing research sometimes, or I wouldn't get much work done. 

- Start out quick and small: 
If the composition doesn’t read well as a greyscale sketch the size of a postage stamp it won’t work as an A1 full colour digipaint shiny poster either. Instead of wating time on solutions that won’t really work, I should do all my early concepting and explorations on media that I can work with quickly so that I can discard solutions that are poor and still not loose much time. For a potential employer, my time is their money so the less time I spend on a crappy sketch that won’t lead anywhere, the better.

- Be critical of your work:
As I progress trough a project, I should set aside time to stop and think about what I am doing, and evaluate myself and my work. Maybe ask others to take a look at it and ask what they think, too. I am not very good at evaluating myself, usually that lapses into self-loathing frustration so that's something I need to work on. 

- Build on the foundations:
Artforms have a basic set of foundations of which they are built upon. For drawing, these are the five Ps; Proportion, Placement, Perspective, Planes and Patterns, and the five Cs; Conception, Construction, Contour, Character and Consistency. I’ll need all of these to create a convincing and believeable image. 

So that's nice. 

Oh yeah and also I drew a fairy-princess-dragon-elf with spiky panties for you, she is very saucy