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.