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Thursday, 24 March 2011

Elements of game design: Characters

Characters in games are, of course, extremely important. The character you play as is the conduit for which you experience the game itself. You play as that character, you tend to believe that you are them; you therefore take on their roles and motives throughout the game.

For games to be immersive, for them to have the ability to draw the player in and give them a unique experience, they must have forms of emotional attachment to the character they play or other characters that they encounter. If you have sympathetic feelings towards the character, if you can relate to their emotions and motives, you start to believe in the character. They become more real.

Game designers try to make the character you play believable and also relative to you by many different tactics. As you play, they make you feel what the characters feel. They try to get you to feel as confused as they are. Their emotions, by seeing a terrible tragedy happen, or experience some form of betrayal, are meant to be understood by you, the player. You can sympathise with their fear, anger, happiness, and as you get more attached to them, you start to become them. You want the character to succeed, and generally you want to help them to achieve a happy ending.
If the developers can get it so that you always want to see what happens next, like you want to see the characters’ story unfold, then it will be an immersive experience.
The acting and script are important too. There has to be an interesting story, to set the game up, so that you can clearly see the characters goals and motives. What the character says, and how they react to certain situations defines their nature.

To give characters more depth, and make them seem more real, they need to be given interesting histories. Back stories of their past gives us more information about them.
I don’t think the characters have to be necessarily good. Sometimes if the characters have bad ass attitudes, we love them more for it. A lot of games nowadays go for the badass anti hero type of character, possibly because they are more interesting characters than just perfectly good natured characters. Also, their appearance can be important as well. I wouldn’t agree that the character has to be visually appealing, like handsome or pretty, or necessarily cute. Sometimes the characters can be ugly, inhuman, demonised, odd etc and yet that does not reduce the emotional attachment, as long as the story has been carefully set up so that we still are sympathetic towards them.

One common thing in recent games is the near death scenario near the start of the game. For example in Red Dead Redemption, Bulletstorm, Darksiders, Infamous, Prototype, Assassins Creed, Just Cause and many others. This is a common way of starting the story off, and introducing the character to us. Allowing us to play as them for a bit, then suddenly getting killed, or almost killed, it is a way of getting us to want revenge, and understand why the character wants it, because we experienced it along with them. It’s a common starting point for the story line in a lot of games.

I also believe that the voice acting for the characters is very important as well. If they are voiced by good actors, it helps us to understand their attitude and emotions. We can hear tones when they talk with others, or talk to them selves. This makes them seem more real as well.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Art Direction

An art director is the person who is in charge of the overall look of the game. They have the vision of the whole games atmosphere. They work closely with the game designer in bringing the vision of the game to life. The look of the world is very important; therefore the Art director’s role is a very big responsibility. They must work with a diverse team of other artists, overseeing their work and communicating closely with them so that the game may be developed in the atmosphere the game is to be set.

Art direction for games is an extremely crucial part of their development. Everything from the environment to the characters must be thought and planned out; they must be designed to fit in with the game in specific ways, to enhance the world and atmosphere in general. Certain levels have to have certain moods, and these can be created by carefully deciding on things like colours, lighting, sounds, textures etc. Will it be a scary moment in the game? What can we do to make the player feel scared? Make it dark; make odd shapes and colours stand out in specific ways to lead their attention. Everything must be thought of and carefully tweaked to get the desired effect.

Art direction in games and films are quite similar. For example, the environments can be designed for a specific purpose, for enhancing the story or setting the stage for a particular event. One difference though is the amount of control the art directors have on the audience/gamers point of view. In films, you can control everything, if you want them to look at a certain building, and make the building look important by changing the camera angle, you can do this in a film. You lead the audience where ever you want, and they have only to watch. Also, there is technically less thinking involved when watching a film. In games however, the art director has to think about how the world is viewed from almost every angle. Of course, some games can have fixed camera angles; let’s not forget Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark! They were very much like films, fixing the camera in clever ways that make rooms look bigger, and corridors more imposing.  But the main difference is that the player has a little more freedom to see what they want to see. Therefore, the art director has to make sure that the mood and settings within the world stay the same no matter where the viewer is looking. Obviously in different areas, it can change for effect.

To be an art director, I think the key skills are communication, leadership, organisational skills. Also, the ability to evaluate others’ work, and give constructive criticism. I think they would be important since as the art director, you will be leading the other artists, communicating and collaborating with them to achieve the overall goal. I think you would have to have these skills, and have a strong team like approach to the project, respecting each of those on the team, and working together in an organised manner. For me, I think my communication skills may need to be developed a little further. I do have good organisational skills, and I think I would be confident in setting up goals for each person and organising things that way.

Game Design!

Starting from scratch, where on earth do games come from? To most people, they just seem to pop out of no where and land on shop shelves. They don’t realise that originally this game was a thought, a small inspirational idea, or some scribbled notes on some paper.

Games start somewhere, but not all from the same place. Also, their design process, from the initial ideas, all through the production to the completed sale ready game, can be different as well between games. Sometimes it can be just one persons idea or dream. They may write out all the fundamentals of the game, how it works, the story (if there is one), how they want it to look etc. And then depending on the person and their game, they may make it themselves. But of course, they may also be in a group, or in collaboration with others to make this game. There’s small teams from only 2 to 5 people, and then larger ones from anything above 30 and anything in between. It all depends on the company and their success so far.

When I think of “game design”, I immediately think of the look of the game and the story. Of course, not all games have stories, which goes to show that the designing of a game has to be pretty different depending on the type and genre. And yet, it has to have some similarities. The process is heading for the same goal, to produce a playable game. But now, there are the other goals too, such as achieving a specific look to the game, to match the vision the main developer and or including the art director has for the game.

A design document it a good idea, once the initial idea for the game has been pitched. This is a summary of the process of making the game. Setting out the goals, what must be done, what must be achieved, and how.

Last week when we discussed how games are designed, we talked about how the initial ideas come about. Someone mentioned about the game project they are doing in collaboration with programmers, and one of the first points for the game was for it to be “not Spyro”! This is an interesting approach to deciding what the game should be, rather than saying “lets create a game that’s like this” “it can look similar to how this game works…” Instead, saying “we don’t want it to look like this and that game”, rules things out. I immediately crosses off the themes and elements that are not desirable in the game to be produced. By comparing it to other games, and crossing off what you don’t approve of, it helps to focus down to where the game is heading.
Then after that its making specifications and also refining so that its simple. That way, there isn’t countless ideas that each person has, and then a pile of wasted work that wont go into the game. Setting goals, deadlines, etc will keep everything focused.

Gameplay: This refers to the player’s experience of everything in the game. From the basic way you control the game, to the way you progress or achieve goals, and also the visuals and story, and how they affect the player’s overall experience. It refers to the look of the game, its genre and play style. When I play a game, I think the setting of the story and world is quite important. Also the goals and reasons for achieving things is a key element. If the story, characters, and environments drag you in to the game, its generally a great experience overall.

Is games like FEAR any different to PacMan?  With the general idea of running around, collecting items, being chased by baddies and killing them? Well yes, it is different. While some of those basic key aspects may be in most games, there are differences that make games nowadays more unique. Like the environment for instance. Environments are much more diverse, and intriguing. You can explore more, and also relate to more things. The capabilities of graphics are pretty stunning, and therefore its easier to set a mood for the gaming experience. Also, storylines are important, especially if they make you sympathetic to the character you play. If you can relate to them, you are more emotionally in tuned with the game. Another thing in games recently is the vast amount of freedom of choice that the player has. You can now play how you want to play, you can do anything moral or unmoral, and experience different outcomes and consequences of your decisions. And also, the very length of games are also important. A lot of games range in their total play time from about 6 hours even to 20.

So therefore, the design process for games does vary a little between different games. But it also has to have constraints so that the game is created how it should be, efficiently and in good time.