Sunday, 10 January 2010


Creativity is not a monthly magazine covering all things creative in advertising and design. Creative is not a song by Leon Jackson and is not a book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi whoever the hell that is. So what the hell is creativity?

Unlike many phenomena in Science, there is no single, authroitative perspective or definition of creativity and no standardized way to measure it. I think it more important to consider our own interpretations of creativity and decide for oursleves, and perhaps using our own creativeness begin to unwrap and more importantly discover. I feel by loosening and broadening our views we can begin to develop our own ideas, and perhaps only by discovering our own creativity can we really concieve meaningful ideas and answers.

So what does creativity mean to me? Firstly i believe that we are all, or can be, creative to a lesser or greater degree if we are given the opportunity. I believe that creativity is the freedom to develop new and imaginative ideas, the freedom to question, to discover and to explore. Creativity must have a purpose, i believe it is a process of bringing these ideas into being, into reality, it requires passion and commitment. It requires courage, we all have ideas but to not act upon them leaves us only imaginative, and it requires risk, we should not be afraid to be wrong or make mistakes, mistakes are only the process of creation.

"Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction". - Pablo Picasso

So where does creativity manifest itself within the world of video games? Who has creativity? The art director? The artist? Programmers?

As i have said i firmly believe that we all as individuals have the capabilities to be creative, but it the games industry as a whole which is either loosing its creativity or possibly just turning a blind eye to the whole creative process. I say this because even as we move forward at a lightning speed within the games industry i feel we are still being held back by some generic pattern that even some of the biggest selling games follow. This problem i believe can be seen not only in the games industry but in any industry. The problem is control, or to put it a better way the lack of it. Like any, the games industry is no longer so much of a passion, it is a business, a business just like any other, not controlled by those who work within the business but by those who dont, and in the end it all comes down to the vast sums of money pumped through it each and every day. Games are no longer made by the individual to be creative, to be bold and unique but to be scrutinized and criticised, to only give the people what they want, nano-machine warriors with gigantic guns, and to make shit loads of money, as, at the end of the day we will still go to the shops and spend upwards of 40quid for FPS after FPS after FPS after driving game after driving game after driving game after FIFA after FIFA after FIFA. And those who own, who run the businesses, the money makers must be rolling with laughter s sure of it, to nobody's surprise the money keeps rolling in.

Now as i have said this isn't the truth with all, and recently we have seen some truly creative games, Little Big Planet for me defines creativity, but playing some of my favourite games, including game of the year Uncharted 2; Among Thieves i cant help but feel that underneath, these games are almost exactly the same as all the other games i've played over the last decade with a mask pulled over, just new characters, new storylines, new settings, new vehicles, new tracks etc is all that set them apart, still the same.

It is perhaps through the miracle of the internet i feel we can be saved and through the ever growing capabilities of our games consoles with interent connectivity, downloadable games through Xbox Live and Playstation Network. Being the owner of a PS3 i have been fortunate enough to have been able to download some truly inspirational games including PAIN, THE LAST GUY and FLOWER, some much lower budget games from much smaller individual development teams which i feel scream excitement and passion and most importantly true originality, creativity! It is from games like these and from the smaller developers that we can put a halt to the games industry from perhaps turning into this corporate 'we dont give a fuck about the outcome as long as it equals money' business that dosn't care about the people just like amny others out there. We have a chance to say "Fuck you!" back and to turn in a new direction, give back to the individual, to truly show love and passion in what is being created like i know myself and my peers show with our own work, especially when money isn't concerened, when we create what we want to show our capabilities, our beliefs, to demonstrate new ideas, originality and to truly discover creativity.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Elements of game design - Gameplay

I believe gameplay can be broken down into two fundamentals which should describe how a game functions and what it delivers. Experience and Interaction. A video game is, and should be designed so that the audience has some degree of INPUT, ie through a game pad or camera, allowing the gamer to 'interact', and from this interraction will recieve OUTPUT from the 'experience' which the game delivers.

So, what do the words game and play actually mean independantly? and does this have any relevance to words when together?
GAME = An activity providing entertainment or amusement.
PLAY = To occupy oneself in amusement, spot or other recreation.
To me this proves my theory, 'an activity PROVIDING entertainment' describes something or an experience being delivered, and 'to OCCUPY oneself' describes an interaction with the chosen activity.

For me it isn't a question of wether or not gameplay is important, i believe that gameplay is a part of all video games, but that the levels of I and E delivered by video games differe massivley, and it is a gamers choice of what level of interaction he/she is hoping for and what experience he/she requires of what level of I and E a game developer choses to include in their game in the first place depending on their target audience.

I do feel that in the past gameplay has followed a generic pattern but recently we have seen a shift in how gameplay is being delivered. We have seen a new genre flourish and even new consoles desinged around giving the gamer a higher level of 'interactive experince' such as the Nintendo Wii's and PS3's motion controllers, the Nintendo DS's touch screen and the PS3's Playstation Eye.

Elements of game design - Story and Character

I believe that a good, strong character is an integral part to any good story. A strong character is needed in order to move a story foward and to develop connections between the audience and the story itself.

I feel that character has never been more important than with today's video games, as we begin to see storytelling being taken to new levels beyond books and films. Moving into the future we are beginning to see video game characters being toned down a little from bulky, muscular, impressive macho men to ordinary, believable heroes with real personalities and distinctive qualities, as well as the introduction of more female characters and even new fantasy characters such as Sackboy and updated Mario increasing the interaction of the audience and believability of the characters themselves.

Personally i feel that recently, a lot of films have been released were i have felt no connection with the characters at all, which has severely handicapped the experience i hoped for from watching that particular film in the first place. A good example of this would be Paranormal Activity. At the end of the film one of the main characters is brutaly murdered by his girlfriend which should have been quite horrific, but, the characters had no history, no motives and no connection with the viewer which left the outcome of the film more laughable that an emotional shunt.
Books on the other hand have rarley, if ever let me down. This is perhaps due to the fact that an author has no restrictions to timing where as a film should always keep to 1hour30 to 2hour30 long usually, this allows authours to transfer more emotions to the audience that mabye we dont experience during a film. Things such as thoughts, feelings, history, dreams and secrets can be transferred easier in a book which can give the characters far more depth, and i feel that a lot of these techniques are being transferred, quite successfully, to todays video games, allowing the audience to respond and connect with video game characters on a much deeper level.

One advantage video games have over any other media is 'control'. I feel this factor alone can really drive the video game market further and in new directions and possibly allow video games to replace books and films as the publics chosen media to experience a powerful story. The ability to control your character within a video game creates a far deeper connection with the audience and in turn a greater response. I really think that this is something that game developers need to take advantage of and push further than control of just movement, i mean control over vision, actions, re-actions, thoughts and feelings that would allow plots to move in constantly changning directions. The player controlling the character and the character controlling the player.

As i have mentioned i love reading books, and i find horro stories irresistable, and am therefore a huge Stephen King fan, i am currently reading Kings' Dark Tower series. I strongly believe that there is a huge gap in the video game market for actual horror games, and i dont mean 'survival horror', there is a difference. All horror video games require the player to survive physically when i feel that most things that scare us are actually in the mind. As i have said, video game developers have the opportunity here to control our thoughts and feelings and our emotions on a much deeper level. I believe horror is more of a battle to survive metnally, and i strongly believe that in the future we will begin to see games take advantage of 'emotion control' throughout the different genres, leaving us with epic title built to knock the likes of Stephen Kings, The Stand and George Lucas', Star Wars off the top shelf.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Game Technology

Anything and everything has come far and this couldn't be more true than with technology. Something that just 'does the job' is now unheard of and were we have seen powerful technology, easy to use technology, great looking technology and interactive technology, today we see the grouping of all these plus more.

Game consoles have also come far and with sleek new designs and some of the most powerful technology readily and cheaply available on the market today, for many game consoles have replaced television sets and stereo systems as room centre pieces.

Like anything, we didn't just arrive here overnight and there has been some difficult times and some epic failures. Games design for entertainment purposes took a long time to come to our homes with most initial computer games running on university mainframe computers, and even when they did they were more of a headache to set up before actually playing them. It really wasn't till the 80's that we began to see the introduction of new bold and unique games thanks to a push from the home computing market, and society began to appreciate gaming for what it was and it started to become part of a lifestyle along side films, books and music.

Although we have seen this huge development in the sophistication of our consoles and games it is only really in the past decade we have seen the actual aesthetics and ergonomics of our consoles play far more important roles. Even if we look back the the first Playstation, considering its huge success being one of the first to introduce us to real 3D graphics, CD's instead of cartidges and obvcourse that iconic controller, the console itself still looks like a very old fashioned, tacky, bulky grey box.

But just look at where we have come! The Playstation 3, in my opinion the best package ever. I am very fond of the best technology, it is something i just have to have and the PS3 i feel is the best example of why i have written this blog and where we are going in the future. The Playstation 3 is less of a console and more of a mind blowing media hub, combining all of the latest and greatest technology available today, in one completley user friendly package. Not only is it an extremley powerful gaming machine but it allows users to watch high definition movies using its blu-ray player, listen to their music using its massive hard drive, browse the internet, view their photographs in stunning slide shows, with the latest wireless technologies including wi-fi and bluetooth, touvh sensitive buttons, built in power supply, a fantastic looking and easy to use menu system the Xross Media Bar with customisable themes just like a home computer and even cure diseases using the Folding@Home software plus so much more, all in one shiny chrome and gloss black package with sleek curves not much bigger than a shoe box, plus arguably the best ergonomically designed controllers, which are wireless as well as motion sensitive, plus the playstation eye for an even more interactive experience its nice to feel we're heading in the right direction!

And it is in this direction that i feel we are heading, no longer will we have individual aplliances, individual pieces of technology designed to perfrom individual tasks, and we may no longer even see video game consoles. One main system for all our entertainment needs is all we shall need, instant access to any film, song or game from anywhere in the world (such as the interaction between the PSP and PS3), no longer shelf upon shelf upon shelf of blu-ray discs, DVD's, CD's and even books, no need to back-up due to complete reliability and no longer will we have coffee tables crowded with remotes and controllers for TV, game, DVD and our surround sound, one universal control, mabye control using our voices, mabye control using our minds! One can dream!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Storytelling in Games

In my opinion, storytelling is one of mankinds greatest assets and probably one of the oldest. I love stories and from a young age I have always wanted to construct my own stories, listen to others stories, watch films and above all else i have loved to read. I believe that for a very long time now people have been extremley lucky in that we can access an almost infinite amount of stories through the miracle of books. I find books so amazing and i believe that they have and always will be among some of mankinds most cherished items. I find books so much more immersive than any film, and a book dosn't restrict us visualy unlike a film and we are allowed to let our imaginations run wild! I will put my rant about 'the miracle of books' asside for another day (or blog) though and focus more on storytelling in games.

Before i move on i just want to talk about what i feel makes a good story and, just as important what i feel makes us good storytellers. I feel that most importantly a good story must involve its auidience even if its just within thier imagination, it should move the audience. A good story for me should also have direction and purpose. These next two i feel have the most strong connection with a game, and they are that a good story should always have a strong character or characters and a good story should always create vivid imagery which couldn't be more true than with a video game!

So what makes us good storytellers? Well obviously the human brain is quite a marvelous thing, and is the engine, the power behind our 'imagination'. "The faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses." What saddens me though is that as we grow older, i feel that we are forced out of our storytelling abilities and that we have to struggle to keep our minds as open as they are when we are young. I feel that as we grow older our minds close and we begin to find it harder to look beyond 'the real', but i feel that we should cherish our vivid imaginations, it is a great gift to have!

So finally, does storytelling make a good game? Well obvcourse it does. To me the whole point of a video game is to immerse the audience in an interactive experience. I think video games (some atleast) have taken storytelling to a whole new level, they have proven the point of how valuable a strong character is, and through control, the ever growing vividness of the imagery, and the immense interaction provided, like I have said, video games have taken storytelling to a whole new level and i feel, like i have mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that they may one day replace films as the more common medium to experience and immersive and vivid story.

Oh and by the way, a good story should always leave an imprint, make us remember it and leave us wanting more!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Why the Art Director is so important?

Video game art directors are responsible for the quality of art incorporated in the video games produced under their supervision, a games visual style, and is the driving force behind the whole visual development of a game. They need to have a background in fine arts, so that they are knowledgeable about the technical aspects of drawing, texturing, and colouring. They need to have a good amount of creativity, as they are often required to visualize how a particular section of a game would look once it is finished, a video game art director must also have good knowledge of computer operation and also of software used in graphic designing.

They usually manage a team composed of both amateur and experienced designers, and as such, having management skills is always advantageous. They are often required to work closely with people having different skill levels, so being able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the different artists on the team and assign the right task to the right people is a key role. Video game art directors also need to be open towards suggestions from other team members. In a large team, every member is likely to have a unique opinion regarding how a particular level should be designed, or how a texture should be incorporated in the game environment. It is the job of the art director to take all these suggestions into account, select the best one, and develop it further with personal inputs. Obviously in industry it is highly important to value the opinions of your co-workers no matter what their position.

The Art Director will work with the illustrators, modellers, textures and animators to achieve the objectives set forth by the Game Director in a timely and thorough manner. The Art Director will report to the Game Director. He or she will also have to keep track of outstanding tasks, make sure stuff gets turned in on time, watch out for kinks in the production pipeline, and resolve any problems that come up.

In the initial stages of a games design the art director will also help to budget and schedule the art production; for example one task would be to weigh the pros and cons of using expensive art resources that are very good or cheap ones that are not as reliable.

Clearly a high level of skill is needed in the technical aspects of drawing as well as knowledge of materials and a broad knowledge of artistic styles; I also feel that even some non-artistic fields focusing in the art direction may be required such as project management. Most importantly I feel that passion is the key quality in this line of work.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Game Design

Focusing on video games, a game can be designed in a number of different ways. In modern day terms a game is usually designed via a document, often called a games design document, which describes the games design for use during development. This is more effective today, as games studios often have fairly large development teams were as with early video games the programmer was often also the designer and designs were much more constrained by technology. A good design document would typically cover ideas such as story, setting, level and character designs etc but due to the whole outline of the idea being theorized on paper unforeseen issues often do arise which need to be dealt with through a modification of the paper design, so even a design document can easily undergo some kind of change during the development of a game.

Design documents need to be clear, concise and well ordered. A well managed document should give other members of the design team (artists, animators, level designers etc) useful information on how the game should look, feel and play but mustn’t be too fussy and overly controlling on all details as often the artists and animators etc should be able to break down the information given to them and translate this better than the designer can. So, primarily, design documents are reference materials or instruction manuals for the other team members, and like any instruction manual, if it cannot be easily read the reader is often going to give up or make things up.

Games consistently involve activities in which the game player engages and these activities usually define the genre of the game i.e. racing, shooting, action/adventure etc. As we now have this set of ‘defined’ genres on which to base a game, the design of a game can often become quite general and this can affect the final outcome of the game from the very begging at the design document. Some games that spring to mind here are Gears of War, although it looks amazing and plays amazing the actual story behind the game seems pretty lacklustre to be honest and the characters pretty stereotypical. Halo also, although the games have been highly successful and even expanded into novels why bother? The game just seems like a mask pulled over the same generic bullshit that we see time and time again with a few minor details changed. Halo is a ‘first person shooter‘, ‘set in the future’, where you ‘fight aliens’ to ‘complete objectives’ in control of a ‘cybernetic -enhanced human super-soldier’........sweet Jesus you get the point!

Basically what I am saying is that originality is an extremely important factor in the design of a video game for me. I believe that as we head into the future we are already starting to see some fantastic games that completely take things to a whole new level in terms of originality as well as some games defining whole new genres for themselves. Great examples of this would be Little Big Planet for the Playstation 3, which really was a genre defining game. I also see interactivity becoming a major factor in the design of new video games, already we see amazing examples such as guitar hero and eye pet which take interactivity and the whole ‘experience’ to a new level. Finally I see more games reaching for that movie standard storyline, through its narrative, levels and characters. Great examples of this would be Uncharted 2, were playing the game really gives you a feeling of being immersed within this whole ‘Hollywood movie’ experience and in the future, games such as Heavy Rain, I feel may even surpass movie standard storytelling, leaving a gamer to not just witness but to actually believe heavily in viewpoints and make moral choices.

Overall I see a major shift in gameplay in the future, new rules that will change the interactive aspects of a game, and distinguish games and set them apart from non-interactive mediums such as films and books and for many people may even replace them as a more satisfying experience.