Sunday, 12 May 2013

"Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn." -Gore Vidal

For the past couple of months, I've been trying to find something I've wanted to work with throughout my MA. I've struggled to come up with ideas that I liked and enjoyed. I've chosen to create and design 3D characters and present them as 3D printed figurines, but I've yet decide on what type of characters I'd like to design or focus on. In the wake of my most recent contextual studies essay, I've decided to focus on styles (but that doesn't mean I'm going to exclude realism entirely) when it comes to designing my characters. I've pretty much just spent this entire practise looking into what styles and what types of characters I'd like to experiment with.

The next big step is to pick a bunch of those styles and play around with them properly, design a character, or series of characters, and translate those characters into 3D while maintaining their style.

When it came to picking what styles and genres I'd like to mess around with, I wanted to pick stuff that would be fun to do, and maybe stuff that hasn't been seen that often in games, or push myself and try one or two styles outside of my comfort zone.

For the first set of characters I'm going to work on, I took a look back at some of the work I did during my third year. I liked the ideas and characters I had for a GDD (game design document) I wrote during my third year about a supernatural detective in the 1940s, it was . The style was very much based on film noir comic strips, Sin City, to be specific. I'd like to take that, redesign it, and translate it into 3D.

The Devil of my Colt .45, a noir supernatural detective game I pitched in my third year.

Sin City (1991) created by Frank MILLER

I liked the heavy use of lighting and two tone black and white, using minimal colour to make it stand out. However, only one game comes to mind that specifically using this two-tone comic book method, MadWorld.

MadWorld (2009) directed by Shigenori NISHIKAWA

Having the two tone colour is great for creating painted lighting on a static piece, like this Batman: Black and White statue done by Mike Mignola:

Batman: Black and White statue designed by Mike Mignola.

I thought about doing two sets of textures for these noir characters. One set of two tone figures, used exclusively for the printed models, and another would be models designed for "in game" use. For these "in game" models, I had the idea of making their textures look like the Sin City movie adaptation done by Robert Rodriguez. In was basically a black and white film but added spots of colour for important characters. It also used some cool cinema techniques to emulate certain comic book effects, like Marv's white plasters being completely visible in darkness. This is a common thing in comic books where the whites of a character's eyes, their teeth, or blood is perfectly visible even in darkness. In theory, this can be achieved experimenting with glow maps.

Sin City (2005) directed by Robert RODRIGUEZ

Still looking into revamping this noir GDD from third year, I had a look at visual styles. The games Dishonored and BioShock: Infinite caught my eye. Both of these games use distinctly human characters, with realistic textures, but they don't look quite realistic. Their human characters are stylised, almost caricatured or cartoony.

Dishonored (2012) developed by Arkane Studios

BioShock: Infinite (2013) developed by Irrational Games

For revamping this noir style game, I'd like to combine the caricatured style of Dishonored and BioShock: Infinite with the artistic style of the Sin City film to create characters for a visually distinctive set of characters. In addition to learning how to properly rig, learning how to use Mudbox and making my first 3D prototype, this is what I will be working on over the next few months.

Mid-Core Gaming and Character Driven Narrative

While researching my second contextual studies essay, I checked out some of the DICE 2013 video presentations that talked about an apparent new market in the games industry: mid-core gamers. The DICE 2013 presentation talked about a few topics that I found interesting:

> The call for more story in video games to be written by writers from the creator of Heavy Rain;
David Cage's DICE 2013 Keynote "The Peter Pan Syndrome: The Industry that Refused To Grow Up"

> Choice in video games from the creator of Borderlands;
Randy Pitchford's DICE 2013 Keynote "Video Games Are Magic"

> The mid-core idea, and games about human interaction not player empowerment from Epic Mickey's Warren Spector;
Warren Spector's DICE 2013 Keynote "Hey, You Kids! Get Outta My Yard! or The Graying of Gaming"

> The future of RPGs from Ray Muzyka;
Ray Muzyka's DICE 2013 Keynote "A Conversation About The Future of The RPG Genre"

> A look at episodic gaming and character driven narrative from the creator of The Walking Dead game;
Dan Connors' DICE 2013 "Episodic Gaming: How Telltale's Episodic Model Is Changing The Way People Play"

The overall point of these DICE 2013 presentations is to put focus on making engaging story telling in games with interactive narratives and choice. They talk about games that focus on telling interactive stories based around things that affect people, and based around how people interact on more realistic level. How peoples' actions and choices are reflected on by NPCs and having player actions determine narrative. These multiple choices add to a game's re-playability.

It forms the basis for this idea of "mid-core gaming." Games that focus on story telling and character interaction that is easy to pick up and play for the casual gamer and allow them to enjoy the experience, but have a depth that hardcore gamers can get into. A game that can be comfortably played and completed within a short period of time, but provides additional rewards for players who seek out additional content within the game.

Personally, I love the idea of character interaction within games, making choices, and seeing how my choices affect the narrative. That's not to say I don't enjoy the more fantastical aspects of gaming. I love having a deep game full of interesting characters and choices, but I don't think these elements should be limited to "mature" games. I think having character interaction in games is perfectly possible in games aimed for children, providing those characters are interesting and engaging enough.

Since the DICE keynotes, other opinions of the idea of "mid-core" have cropped up. Kevin Glimer's article on Gamasutra makes an interesting counterpoint. He basically goes on to say that the idea of casual, mid-core and hardcore is flawed, and that people jump back and forth between these demographics within a single day. That the type of game a person plays depends as much on location and time restraints as personal preference.

Having looked into this idea of character driven narrative and character interaction forming the basis of this idea of mid-core gaming, as I design characters, I should look into character interaction. Overall, I thought these were interesting points to look into.

The Uncanny Valley

While doing some research for my contextual studies essay, I had a look into how aesthetic can affect immersion in game and stumbled across this video:

The uncanny valley is the idea that if you give clearly non-human characters human characteristics, they're seen as charming or endearing. However, if it is given too many human characteristics, it is seen as a twisted copy of a human being that is unsettling or ugly. This unsettling version of a non-human trying to appear human, is the uncanny valley. Clearly non-human characters with human characteristics make those human qualities stand out whereas simulating an imperfect human makes their non-human characteristics stand out.

The two sides of the valley are style and photo-realism. Unfortunately, in games, we've yet to achieve true photo-realism and this makes the flaws much more glaring. Having stylised games opens the game up to more artistic variety but still has some pitfalls. The video explains it much better.

How might this affect my MA? I much prefer exploring styles in games but that's not to say I don't like photo-realistic games. I find it much more fun and appealing exploring styles and themes artistically. After coming to the conclusion that aesthetics alone don't affect immersion in games, I think it'd be beneficial for me to focus on style exploration.

Translating Style Between 2D and 3D (Work from March 2013)

In February, I decided to look at what my inspirations were, as well as decided what the ultimate goal for my MA would be. Having decided what I'd like to do, for now, I took a couple of characters I had designed in my spare time during the first semester and decided to model them. Starting in March, I began to model a couple of the characters, starting with the monkey.

Initial Concept

Body renders
Head renders
Basic body texture
Basic head texture
Basic eye texture

After creating a low poly mesh for this character, UV mapping, and applying a very basic texture, it was at this stage that I began looking into turning this character into a printable 3D figure. I began editing this model above, making sure it had no holes in the mesh. I also began to look into properly rigging this character for posing, and taking it into Mudbox to increase it's poly count and make the model smoother without affecting the desired silhouette. Unfortunately, I've yet to finish adjusting this model for print as I got distracted by writing the contextual studies essay.

The next thing I'm going to do with this model is continue making those adjustments, rigging and smoothing the model in Mudbox, as I start moving on to the next set of models. Getting a prototype 3D print of this character will inform the basis of the next series of models to come.

In addition, I began 3D modelling a second character, based on one of the cartoon Mass Effect characters that I did but, again, researching and writing the contextual studies essay eventually became priority. This time, I attempted to do a high poly mesh in Maya but that proved to be very time consuming.

Mass Effect character turnaround