Sunday, 30 September 2012

Turok (2008) Machinima Elements.

I have chosen to do a brief study of the ending sequence from the game 'Turok', released in 2008. I managed to find a video of the PC version:

The video includes lots of gameplay footage, so I will give the times when relevant events take place. The cutscenes here run in realtime using the game engine. This means that there is no varying in the graphics like you would expect moving from gameplay to pre-rendered animations. This seems to be an effective way of keeping the player in the moment. Often when you are taken from a pre-rendered cinematic and thrown straight back into the gameplay, there can be a sense of disorientation and discourse. This is likely why many games opt to run cutscenes on the same graphics as the gameplay itself. The whole experience of immersion is achieved better this way, as both the gameplay and cinematic elements flow almost seamlessly. The two elements seem to merge, sometimes as if the gameplay is expanding on the cutscenes, the player becoming the director and puppeteering the protagonist. 

Another way in which Turok does this so effectively is with the use of quicktime events. A prime example of this is with the knife fight between the hero and the antagonist at 2:30 in the video. The player is required to tap buttons to defeat the antagonist, keeping the player active during the sequence. This means that the player is not simply looking on as the cinematic runs, but interacting with it, maintaining a level of immersion. Another example of this merging of both cinematic and gameplay elements is at 3:40, when the player climbs on the T.rex's head and sticks a grenade in the dinosaur's eye. This cinematic event is triggered by the press of a button whilst the player is holding his knife, meaning that the cutscene isn't too far distinguished from actual gameplay, as an action by the player has determined the outcome. 

Although form a gaming point of view, Turok is simply a generic first person shooter, it works well as a piece of narrative, combing gameplay elements and realtime events effectively. Many games adopt this style of storytelling. I am reminded of the 'Mass Effect' series, where the player is given the ability to choose the dialogue the protagonist uses. This can ultimately determine the player's karma, reputation, and unlock special dialogue options. There are also realtime paragon and renegade (good and evil) events which can be triggered by the player during cutscenes. On top of this, dialogue often takes place while the player is undertaking a mission. Squad mates will often make observations when navigating a level, giving background information on either the characters themselves or the location. There are very few moments throughout the games where the character isn't in the moment. There are almost always dialogue options to be selected or paragon/renegade events to be triggered throughout all of the cutscenes.

In conclusion, I feel that an effective piece of machinima should have some level of interaction from the player. They could simply have the ability to navigate their character within a limited space, a method used in the 'Assassin's Creed' series. Ultimately, it seems machinima is an effective tool for immersion, replacing pre rendered cinematics which were used so frequently in earlier games.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Developing Skills For Game Art (What I Did Over The Summer)

Over the course of my second year studying Digital Films, Games and Animation, I aim to expand on my interest in concept art for games. The summer break gave me time to practice using my Wacom graphics tablet, and improve on my photoshop abilities.

One of the goals I hope to achieve this year is to improve on some of the drawing fundamentals, one of the main targets being human anatomy. I did a rough study of the male form working directly in photoshop with my Wacom tablet. I have motivated myself to try and work digitally as it is a much more fast and efficient way of producing drawings, which can then be painted digitally without going through the process of scanning and adjusting pencil line-art (a method I used during the first year of study). At first I found the process of drawing directly in photoshop difficult as I discovered I did not have the same delicate feel accomplished with a pencil and paper. However after some practice, I began to adjust. Some of the advantages of sketching digitally are that when producing the initial drawing in photoshop, mistakes are easily tweaked and corrected. If say a character's arm is slightly out of scale or position, it can easily be manipulated using the transform tools without rubbing out the lines and starting again. If lines are required to be rubbed out, they can be completely and easily erased, whereas markings can accumulated on paper and make it difficult to achieve further crisp lines. Bellow are my experiments:

I am more pleased with the full scale body test seen in lower centre of the image in comparison to some of the character anatomy I achieved in my first year of study. I am aware that a tall strong built male is around eight heads high, a rule I tried to stay true to with this particular drawing. I am also aware that the shoulders should be able to bare another 3 heads (2 and a half on each side). One thing I would like to brush up on is the muscle structure of a person. Although my focus here was generally on scale, I would like to be able to flesh out my characters more accurately. As you can also see, with the character above I attempted to express how the fabric of the shirt folds and creases around the body. Another goal I have considered is to study more materials and fabrics both in a drawing sense and when painting digitally. Much of my work is based around the human form itself, whereas finer details are sometimes overlooked.

Taking my study of anatomy further, I tried applying what I already knew about the human structure and accentuated features to create strange creature concepts. Moving away from the tall well-built male anatomy, I tried to produce a short sagging creature:
I am satisfied with the dropping surly feel of this paritcular creature. All of it's features seem to be working towards the ground creating drowsey connotations. Also considering colour psycology, the skin colour is slightly low saturated creating a tired and washed out look.

Bellow is another creature concept I created:

This particular character design takes on even bizarre floutings of the human form. I set out to create a humanoid almost conventional looking alien. I knew I wanted a large bulging head sitting on a small slender body. To add a unique twist I incorporated huge gorillia-like arms acting as supports the creatures out-of-scale head. Replacing the creatures legs are pincer like limbs which could used to fend of enemies. As the gorilla-like arms are used for walking, the creature also has additional human sized arms to accomplish tasks such as perhaps operating an aircraft. I can imagine this alien sitting at a two-tiered control panel, pulling on levers with it's humanoid hands whilst punching on keys with it's pincer-like leg limbs. I really wanted to express the strength of the alien's huge trunk-like arms, which allowed me to consider muscle structure. particularly in the forearms, many fine highlights create the illusion that the creature has muscles rippling down to the base of the hands. I feel that I was able to really consider shadow and highlights with this particular concept.

I was also inspired by some speed painting videos found on youtube:

Launching straight in to it, I tried to produce a kind of Sci-fi lab located in an isolated in a canyon setting. I initially struggled selecting the colours to create a convincing depth of field:

This lead me to research colour theory when producing landscapes. From a website named Area 56 I followed a tutorial link which explained values. When producing a landscape painting, a good method of understanding values is to work in greyscale. The sky should be a mid tone, meaning that both shadows and highlights can be seen against it. Objects in the distance should have less contrast with the sky. As objects move towards the foreground, they should have greater contrast when considering shadow and highlights. Here is a quick greyscale test I produced:

To apply this theory, I produced a greyscale desert landscape, and then tried bringing in colour:

I then aimed to expand on this desert concept. Because I was considering a bright setting, I didn't want greys coming through my painting. This prompted me to work straight in colour. Another tip I picked through my tutorial research was how to apply highlights. When showing sunlights, objects usually have more saturated colour, apart form metallic objects, which give white sharp specular highlights. To apply these Ideas, I added a large metallic zeppelin style craft to my environment.

Note how the sun creates saturated highlights on the rocks in the foreground, while the highlights on the aircraft become less saturated. Also notice how the mountains in the background have little contrast with the sky, whereas the rocks in the image grow stronger in contrast as they move towards the foreground.

One issue I am trying to tackle when it comes to digital painting is working in layers. With my character designs I was able to apply very efficient layers for each strength of highlight moving up from the flat colours. The idea of digital painting is to imagine you are painting in reality, constantly experimenting on top of the image. I opted to ignore the use of layers in an attempt to not get bogged down with images on different tiers. I faced problems when I wanted to make simple level and colour adjustments to certain components in the painting. I found I was tediously highlighting with the quick-mask tool each time I wanted to tweak a rock in the foreground. The only problem with trying to assign every small object to a layer is that one could potentially loose the sense of flow when navigating between countless layers. In more detailed and intricate paintings, layers could quite possibly grow out of hand. Perhaps a simple background, mid and foreground layer, as well as a potential focal point layers (in this case the zeppelin) would have made isolating components much easier. However, perhaps it would be difficult to divide a more detailed painting in to just three or four layers.

Through my experimentation during the summer, I feel I have more of an understanding of colour values, as well as seeing a general improvement in observation and drawing skills. I am aware at this stage that there is massive room for improvement. It is important that I continue to build on my visual vocabulary. This includes the anatomy of both the human male and female, as well as the the anatomy of other animals to produce a wider range of character and creature concepts. I also must continue to expand on my understanding of digital painting and working directly in photoshop with a Wacom tablet. These are all skills which I believe are crucial towards creating conceptual art within the film and game industry.