Monday, 16 August 2010

Just in case you're missing me

I'm working as a freelance illustrator and going around the country drawing portraits to promote Dragon Quest 9 at the moment! Pretty cool, huh?

It's interesting how the new game being on the DS has finally spurred Sqare-Enix into promoting the Dragon Quest series. It's pretty much always outsold Final Fantasy in Japan. The new game is a LOT easier than previous DQ games, which have always been draconian (heh, pun) when it comes to difficulty. It's pretty fun. It has a veeeery old-skool feeling to it, so if you miss how jrpgs were when you were a kid, you'll enjoy it a lot. Me, I like the more experimental and inventive Final Fantasy series best, but I still think if you have a DS, DQ9 is worth a look. The multiplayer function is pretty cool, and the only time I've ever seen a JRPG with a decent multiplayer system!

Friday, 19 February 2010


I'm going to call this one done. It's not the greatest model ever, but it's by far the best I've made yet. Making it better, I feel, would involve going back and tweaking the mesh and the UV layouts and stuff, and if I'm doing that, I may as well be starting over really.
There. I have made, unwrapped, textured, rigged and posed a model without any help. That's not bad going!
I guess I need to learn all this Z-brush milarkey now. Every time I say that, people jump up and say 'but normals are overrated/often overused/show them you can low poly well first!' Be that as it may, it doesn't change the fact that a lot of the job adverts want z-brush experience, and I want a job.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to say. I was down in London at the weekend at the Japanese Embassy because I was a winner in a National Manga competition called the 'Manga Jiman', as was fellow design MA grad Louise Ho, from the Illustration course. She won 4th and I was 9th.
The winning entries are up on display in the Japanese Embassy for a few months, and I'll be having this one printed in an anthology book later this year too.
...Uh, so yeah, I'm still not sure if I'm going to be in Games or Comics. I get the feeling I will work in both at some point during my career! Hahaha!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

This is my current work on a 3D model. I'm definitely getting better at this stuff. The textures are all painted from scratch here. The face is probably my favourite part. That and the collar. The model is below 2000 trivs and isn't quite finished, still tweaking it, then need to rig her up to get a nice posed render.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Check it out! I did some artwork for a freeware RPG called 'Vacant Sky' designing the album cover.
I've been working on my digital painting lately.

Monday, 1 February 2010

What Games Can Learn From Comics

The ramble about games and comics in the last post was leading up to something!
Stuff Games can learn from Comics:

1. Get rid of the padding.
If it's not doing anything, cut it! CUT IT!!! Some fanboys seem to think that the play time of a game is the most important thing. I would disagree strongly. Some of the best games I've played have been relatively short. Just look at Portal! It's four hours long the first time usually. Or Chrono Trigger, half the length of most other JRPGs, but so good because every area is lovingly crafted, the animations are fluid and the plot moves along at a rollicking pace. One of the worst things in RPGs and adventure/action adventure games is artificial lengthening of the game through grinding, back-tracking, and needless fetch quests. Especially if it all takes place in boring stock dungeons. I would rather see Final Fantasy X, where the areas are short, but each one looks absolutely great and has real significance, than XII, with its miles and miles of bland scenery and dungeons and endless grinding in order to get on with the plot. Focus your energy where it's needed.

2. Show, don't tell.
Or actually, more accurately, "DO, don't show". In a bad comic, you will often have a character with an 'informed ability', other characters are constantly describing them as a badass, but they are never seen doing anything badass. The game equivalent of this, is having the character do awesome stuff in cutscenes, but not letting the player do them. I'm not talking about quick time events here. EW. NO. Quick time events are horrible! But you should try to allow the player to get the chance to do the fun stuff the character does. Use minigames, or give them a cool finishing move they can use at the end of a battle, rather than just showing the cool finisher in an FMV.

3. Make it snappy.
In a good comic, every page serves a purpose. This is particularly the case in webcomics, where you put pages up one at a time, so they need to be able to stand alone as well as in a sequence. In a good game, in the hour or so I play between two save points, I want something to happen. Something interesting or funny or cool. Whether it's gameplay or story, I don't mind.
The same goes for dialogue. Dialogue in a game should be neat and efficient. If I would criticise Planescape:Torment on one thing, it's the thing even it's creator, Chris Avellone criticises it for. It is just too verbose. I ended up skim reading chunks of dialogue because there was just so much to take in. Compare to Knights of the Old Republic 2. Same creator, sake kind of depth, but shorter chunks of dialogue with voice acting. It was neater and much easier to get into. KotR 2 had a much better balance of plot to gameplay, and dialogue to physical action.

4. Introductions with a BANG!
When I make a comic and I have a cast to introduce, there's one technique that works every time. When you introduce a character, have them do or say something which absolutely epitomises that character. This leaves a lasting impression on the reader. When you're doing a short comic, and you only have say 8 pages to tell a story, every panel counts. In a game, similarly, your dialogue and character actions are very important. Of course, if you're deliberately trying to mislead the player or reader, then you should have the character do something that epitomises what they want the protagonist to think about them. Example, a princess joins the party, but she's incognito as a street urchin (cliche, I know, but for the sake of example) now, you can either play this so that she's obviously not a street urchin and is terrible at acting the part:
"Oh! Pardon me, I'm being chased by thieves. You couldn't help me, could you?"
Or you can have her absolutely vanish into the role so well that it's a genuine shock when you get to the big reveal and she switches into 'Princess Mode':
"Oi, mate! Giz a hand! These bastards won't leave me alone!"

If a character is always sarcastic, then introduce them saying something sarcastic, if they're always joking, have them introduced doing that. If you don't, it becomes very hard to change the player's mind about them based on that first impression. This does lead to problems when you introduce somebody in the middle of an alien attack and they're scared out of their wits so that their normal, laid back personality doesn't come through, so it's a good idea to try to work out how you can establish that person's character and cement it in the mind of the player.

5. Metaphor and symbolism:
Now, I'm not saying here you should whack your player over the head with symbolism here. Especially not overused stuff like crucifixion imagery, floating feathers etc. But sometimes a good visual or verbal motif can work wonders. Try giving characters a colour association, or a personal musical theme. Throw in arc words or phrases. If you've read the comic and not just watched the film of 'Watchmen' (and if you have only seen the movie, you're missing out) you can notice that the imagery on the chapter covers is subtly repeated throughout those chapters (for example, in the first chapter, it's a blotch on a face or circle repeated from the splot of blood on the Comedian's smiley badge). Also there are adverts for things like 'Nostalgia' perfume permeating the backgrounds, and repeated images and words in graffiti, incomplete snatches of "Who Watches the Watchmen?" and the image of the shadowy embrace.
If, for example, you have a heroine called, say, 'Violet', and she's been kidnapped, and the hero is thinking about her, you don't have to have him narrate "I am thinking about violet", when you could subtly hint at it by showing a patch of violets growing by the path and him stopping to look at them pensively, maybe throw in a snatch of her personal theme tune. You'd be surprised what people will pick up on. The Japanese do this a lot more than western developers. For example, mentioning Final Fantasy X again, did you know that Yuuna (Yuna) is an Okinawan word for 'Moon'? And that the flowers decorating the character's hakama are a type of flower which blooms in moonlight and represents the moon? Notice how the colours of the character design reflect the colours of a white moon in an indigo sky too, and how her romantic scene takes place at night, under a full moon.
You can even work this into gameplay. For example, a character from your party has died, and they has a special ability that benefited the party. That ability suddenly winking out of existence can say an awful lot.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Games and Comics

So, games and comics, my two biggest passions in life. I guess that may seem funny coming from somebody with a degree in Literature, but honestly I don't feel that games or comics should rank below the novel or plays as a literary medium. They just haven't been around as long. In Shakespeare's day, many groups got very riled up about plays being a bad influence, encouraging violence, sexual perversion and bad language... and a couple of hundred years later that these new-fangled 'novels' caused young people to get a lack of sunlight and exercise and to become socially maladjusted...hang on, that sounds a bit familiar... ¬_¬; Comics and games are coming into their own now. There have been a few stand-out 'literary' titles in comics, or rather, Graphic Novels, things like 'Maus', 'Akira' and 'Watchmen'. Games are a little younger, but have had a similar upbringing. Comics started out as little gag strips, just a little humorous picture or strip long before they got narratives, and games similarly started out as just a fun little time-passer, a whimsy made by somebody who realised you could program the computer to simulate ping-pong or whatever. Planescape Torment was as thought provoking, eloquent and well-concieved as I'd expect from a good novel or play. I would definitely consider it Literature. Now that's impressive. From ping-pong to literature in what, 30 years?

This is what excites me about games. No matter how you try to make a post-modern Novel, it's practically impossible. Have you ever READ a postmodern novel? They're barely readable, and you could argue that they're not really even post-modern because there is still a narrative structure. You can't read the pages all in a different order, you can't upset the linearity because language is inherently linear. Novels are limited. If you take away their linearity, they stop having any meaning. Films are another Modernist medium. Not that there's anything wrong with modernism, but you can't do that much new with it. It has to have a beginning, middle and end.
Now comics, comics are not limited by language. They use visual metaphors, they make words into images and images into words, they make rules about visual language and then break them all. They use symbolism and they twist symbolism. Comics are simultaneously a very new medium and a truly ancient one. Cave Paintings were pictures depicting a narrative. Elegant, rich, exciting and fun. Not chained to language, yet able to use it to enhance the narrative.
Games are, again, something very new with ancient roots. Chess is a depiction of armies marching into battle, mix that with oral storytelling and you get the roots of Dungeons and Dragons, mix that with the novel and some technological wizardry and you've got yourself Planescape: Torment. Games can use the linear structure of a novel or a film, but can also break it. They can allow for choice and improvisation to a degree.
Games and Comics are an area in which I feel we can still make great new discoveries, and do things that are absolutely novel, something which, ironically, is a lot harder in the medium of the Novel! These are truly Post-Modern media, and for me, the wild frontier of Literature.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Play my dissertation!

Hello, everybody. Today I got my results and I've passed my MA with a first. Haha, so there you go. If I can do it, approaching from a completely different direction with a BA in English Lit/Japanese and design experience coming from freelance work as a comic artist, I'm sure you peeps with a BA in Games Design will have no problems! I had a good 3 semesters, and I hope to keep in contact, not least through the continuation of this blog.

You may have noticed that in the foyer of the building my dissertation is playable. It's a bit long (completion time for an experienced gamer is generally a couple of hours), so to experience it properly, you may want to download the full thing.
It's made as a module for the Bioware RPG 'Neverwinter Nights', which is so old now that you can buy the full game with all the add-ons for about £10. It's an RPG based on D&D rules with a fantastic, easy to use toolkit (and a great community to support it). Using the simple scripting and great dialogue tree function, it was easy to formulate the kind of game I wanted to make. The dissertation is a game about narrative and storytelling in Games. It has a fairly light tone, rather than being too dry and academic. It even has monsters to fight! (don't worry, you have unlimited respawns and can rest anywhere. I would recommend playing a fighter or other class that can wield a longsword though.)

To play it, you'll need NWN with the two add-ons (Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark, the 'Diamond' edition is widely available and contains all three, it's also really cheap) and updated to the latest patch. The module itself can be DL'ed here:

It's only 1.6Meg because NWN is awesome like that. This Dissertation got a 75, so if you're stuck for ideas and thinking 'can I do something fun for my dissertation and still get a good mark?' the answer is 'Yes. Go for it!' It did take longer than a written one would have, but it was a lot more satisfying and interesting.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The Snatch

Today I suddenly realised that on graduation I'll no longer have access to the Web CT, and leapt onto it to download all the modelling tutorials! Hahahaha.

Since I didn't have a lot of time for the modelling side in my final semester, focusing more on digital painting , storyboarding and GDD work, I'm making some models now for experience and as portfolio pieces. I'm working to a 2,000 triv limit this time, so double the count of Diz, and roughly what would appear on a character in a PSP game. Low poly modelling seems to be more in demand, and I think it builds good habits too.

By the way, I found this good tutorial on low poly character modelling, it's for 3ds max, but the basic ideas are transferable and it's very clear:

I want to make a nice human model using photos as a proportional reference, then texture and maybe normal map it (I want to learn how to normal map, it makes such a huge difference to low poly models) and take a nice render. That's my new project!

Friday, 15 January 2010

This was a triumph...

So, uh, I guess this is the end of my course...
But I don't want it to be the end of this blog! I need a space to put my games design related rantings and stuff anyway.

I came to a really strange realisation yesterday.
See, I have always considered myself an RPG fan. Some of my favourite games to play are things like Knights of the Old Republic, Final Fantasy, Eldar Scrolls, Chrono Trigger etc. But yesterday I suddenly realised that actually I'm pretty indifferent to the gameplay of RPG games. I don't hate it, but I generally don't look forward to the gameplay parts, rather being interested in the story and characters. I'm not saying that levelling up and finding new items isn't ever fun, sometimes it is, but ultimately it's not the main draw of the genre for me, particularly with JRPGs.

I realised that what actually draws me to RPGs, particularly NWN2, KotR2, Planescape Torment and JRPG games is:
1. Travelling to fantastic locations as you follow the plot.
2. Ensemble casts with interesting group dynamics.

I think a lot of JRPG fans are the same. One big difference between the fandoms is that WRPG fans tend to talk about character builds and stats and their favourite classes and weapons, while JRPG fans tend to talk about which character they like best, what their favourite relationship pairing is, what their favourite part of the plot was.

So...If I'm not actually interested in the RPG mechanics, why not remove them and replace them with something else? Something that's more enjoyable? Kingdom Hearts did this very effectively, though it doesn't have a big ensemble cast, just a 3-man party.
I guess the main obstacle is that RPG mechanics make it a lot easier to manage a big group of characters, being tactical and often turn-based. Making an action game that still allows a bunch of people to run around together and interact and have conversations is a bit of a tricky one, but it must be doable.

So, I guess my dream game would be an RPG that's not an RPG in gameplay terms. My absolute ideal game would probably have the smooth and exciting gameplay of Prince of Persia or Zelda, the fantastic world building, story and party dynamics of Final Fantasy and Planescape Torment, The polished finish and epic set pieces of Kingdom Hearts and the witty dialogue and invention of Psychonauts.

Now all I have to do is convince somebody that it's a good idea... hahaha.

I'm still alive.