Monday, February 22, 2010

The story unfolds...

So I haven't mentioned story AT ALL so far. And that was because, up until recently, the story I had in mind really sucked. If you're gonna make a war game, you want it to be EPIC. Because wars are huge and destructive and violent and (when simulated for gameplay purposes) fun! =P

I knew I wanted this squad of marines to battling some kind of 'Alien' enemy - something that was foreign and unusual and scary. Also I wanted to go with a pretty natural setting, rather than on board spaceships or dark industrial planets. In my opinion, one of the best things about designing a landscape would be to create something that was beautiful and totally awe inspiring., the original plot I had went a little something like this:
An alien species has landed on earth in the near future. It doesn't seem to be hostile and although the creatures show signs of great intelligence, they appear to be timid and all attempts at communication so far have failed. Gradually though, the aliens are multiplying and building homes (in the form of some kind of large impenetrable hive/cocoon). They are consuming our resources and covering great portions of land from one central point outwards. Eventually a decision has to be made between the united nations as to what we are going to do. They decide to send in the military (of course) to enter the 'hive' and try to somehow either reason with the creatures or destroy them. And that would be the hook of the game, that the enemies aren't really hostile unless attacked and upon encountering them or certain areas, the player would be presented with multiple options which either resulted in you bypassing the aliens, restraining them or killing them (which wouldn't be as easy as it sounds).

Now the Japanesey angle, somehow changed my whole perspective of this story. Suddenly, I imagined the world to be quiet and serene, misty like silent hill and I saw the enemies as having stronger individual characters. Maybe we are on a planet that resembles earth yet isn't? And what if the enemies are HUGE so that you really do have take advantage of this team dynamic to bring them down.

So now...
Humans have arrived on a new planet which has an ecosystem very similar to Earths. It is widely populated by various 'animals' but there doesn't appear to be any intelligent life (picture Earth how it might be if we had never existed and nature had run rampant)... shortly after we land however, and humans have just begun to settle in, these huge "colossal" (guess the inspiration) creatures start appearing and tearing down our factories and destroying our diggers. Once again we choose to send in the military and that's where the player takes over.

One thing that really struck me about Shadow of the Colossus was the moral ambiguity of killing these creatures that are apparently doing no harm to anyone. It would be made clear in this game that although the creatures are causing a bit of a scuffle, they are yet to actually harm any person. So I thought about SotC and how you were forced to kill the 'bad guys' to complete the game but what if you didn't? As in my initial story idea, I thought it would be great if there was the possibility of simply subduing each of the creatures rather than murdering them. You are after all, part of the military and have access to top technologies. It might be interesting if it wasn't made initially obvious that this was even a possibility. Then it would really test the players morality, willingness to explore and perhaps even their ideas of this genre of game.

Like SotC, each creature would be a huge puzzle in and of itself. First you would have to figure out a way of getting close to it - perhaps you might drive to its feet and then climb it's legs, land a helicopter on it's back or even parachute down onto it from the sky. Once aboard, a member of your squad could be sent to 'analyse' it in order to determine it's strengths/weaknesses etc. and then you would be presented with a variety of suggested options to either kill it, subdue it, or simply guide it away/convince it to leave you alone. A few ideas I have included collecting plants to create a serum which could be injected into/fed to the creature to put it to sleep or make it docile (like tranquilizers?), tying it down snow-speeder style using harpoons from vehicles, or identifying weaknesses and planting explosives to systematically bring to the ground. The rifle could be upgraded to fire ammunition that can penetrate certain kinds of skin/armour or converted into a harpoon gun in order to aid in climbing the creature.

This idea has set me on the path for a very clear set of enemy concepts, which will have to convey the way each one might work as a game mechanic. Additionally, I can start basing weapon/vehicle/armour designs accordingly.

Below are a couple of unfinished sketches/ideas I've been tossing around as I've been formulating the idea.

This simply shows a couple of soldiers doing a good old bit of recon while squad transports fly overhead.
Here I was attempting to convey the scope of the enemies. (ignore the 1st person pistol bit - twas just an idea =P ) As the player(s) stand on the edge of a giant cliff in a deep jungle, a group of military fighters are attacking a huge Cat-Like creature in the distance...
For some reason, this pic kinda reminded me of Cloverfield. Maybe this guy has surfaced from a dark mountain valley and troops are 'boarding' him for surveillance.


Okay! So here's the finished concept for the playable soldiers. This guy is mean, he's dressed all in black, sporting a blood-red visor and the awesome customisable rifle shown in my last post - all in all, I was pretty happy with him. And then Halo came to bite me in the ass once more. I swear, while I've been doing these drawings, that I haven't been playing and/or thinking about Halo!
...but that guy I just 'designed' - he's pretty much just an ODST isn't he?
In a feverish panic I went online and grabbed a tonne of reference images to make some comparisons (yes, that should have been the first thing I did on this project but I've only just got internet back so forgive me!). In terms of ego, it's definitely never a good idea to place your work side by side with that of the pro's, but in this case, I'm looking at style and subject rather than skill. As you can see, my design could easily be a concept for a soldier in Halo. Saying that, it could probably quite easily be a concept for a soldier in Killzone. At a push, it could be a grunt in GOW (if I bulked him up a little). But I wouldn't consider any of the three games mentioned to be carbon copies of one another. Each one has something stylistic which makes it stand out from the pack. I'm worried my design is just incredibly generic - that it could fit into any slot, definitely aint a good thing!
Thinking about this then, I figured I need an angle. A source of inspiration which I can use as the main focus of research.
So without really thinking, I blasted out the above image as a sketch and all of a sudden, ancient Japan swooped into my brain and took over. I changed the brush I was using on PS (haha - but it does make a difference!), altered the colour palette slightly and grabbed a background from online.
This guy looks different right? I mean there's obviously more work to be done, but I think I've found a better direction. What if all the military hardware is based upon or has connotations with ancient Japanese culture. Samurai's and Ninjas ALWAYS look cool =P And it something different for me. A new area which may help me to improve as an artist while hopefully creating something which is more original and unique.'s hoping anyway!...
Finally, this is the (unfinished) concept for one of the vehicles I've been working on, sourced from the early drafts I did in Jan. I'm pretty happy with the shape and form so as soon as I've settled on the texture and colour, I think it will be the first thing I will properly build in Maya. It has no real moving parts so in order to animate it, alls I need do is have it move from one side of the screen to the other. Can't be too difficult?...


Some further conceptual developments. Still moving in the same direction, I was aiming to flesh out some of the designs I had produced earlier.

As mentioned in previous posts, I really wanted to spend some time looking at the helmets. I remember seeing an interview with some of the guys at Bungie who said that the silhouettes of both Master Chiefs Helmet and battle rifle were two elements that became incredibly important in forming a unique identity for the Halo franchise. They set it apart form all the other sci-fi shooters out there. Once again, there are bits I like, and bits which just look horrible...
Here, I was experimenting with different ideas for webbing and the placement of it on the soldiers body. Additionally, I sketched in some of the rough weapon designs and where they too might be carried on the person.
For the first time, I mocked up how some of the outfits might look plus helmets. A couple of them I worry, look more like space-men than soldiers...
Sketch illustrating the 'on-screen' feedback that the soldier and possibly also the player will use to see important information about the environment and their own health/ammo/crosshair/missions etc.
A final design for the rifle, showing the shoulder support and side-loading magazine. I plan to create a diagrammatic drawing explaining all it's functions as a multi-purpose weapon and how it can be customised in game.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A bit about Maya...

Well I have started learning how to use Maya and bring my boring old 2D drawings into the realm of the real. Now all Kaile's late night rants from last semester are starting to make a funny kind of sense. It really is a completely different way of thinking and one that I still haven't quite got used to. Luckily Josh's Friday afternoon tutorials are bringing me on quicker than I ever thought I would learn and by all accounts, us newcomers are doing quite well (so far!).

Due to technological difficulties (= Maya 8.5 being a dick), I'd been having trouble transporting my work from Uni to home meaning that everytime I started something, I couldn't then continue it. Annoyingly, this has meant that I haven't managed to do as much as I perhaps would have liked to. The head you see above is probably the best looking model I've made. It was simply a sphere and I manipulated the UV's to create the shape and then used one cylindrical map to texture it. I did the eyes closed when Steph pointed out that eyeballs are usually created as separate objects so that they can be moved about within the head. When I first created it, I wasn't quite savvy enough to start making individual objects. Now however, Josh has taught me about parenting and more recently, creating a skeleton for you models with which to animate them (though I am yet to try out this daunting procedure!).

With regard to the 'Tin Toy' project, mine has been on a bit of a hiatus after a made a model I was quite happy with and mapped it out only to find that the file wouldn't open once I brought it home. I do plan on building a new one from scratch at home, that I'll hopefully get rendered and in a presentable state within the next week or so.

I should probably point out here that through discussing the concepts I've painted with Josh, we have decided on a way for me to incorporate 3D in my main work this semester. Being that I'm a a Maya n00b, he suggested I try to build a set of low poly models representative of those seen in DS/PSP games. I intend to make a soldier (which I can duplicate to create a squad), at least one vehicle and an enemy or two plus some very basic terrain that I can then render as 'screenshots' and if possible display them on a PSP screen as a slideshow in April. If was to go the whole hog, I could attempt also to animate them and create short video clips too - Josh has shown us how to do so and it didn't look THAT difficult, though it is all dependant on time!

The conceptual designs are just about coming to a stage where I am happy with them and I have attempted to make a low poly 'man', although the joints will need to be adjusted before he can be animated. My next few posts will summarise the next stages of development...

First Concepts

So here I tried to refine my designs - pick out the best features of each of the sketches and develop them a little better.

The Enemy - originally, I was thinking about some kind of cyborg animal design. I wanted it to look ferocious, especially from the front so that if one of them was running at you as the player, you would be messing your pants. Here, the designs show them wearing armour similar to the soldiers - a choice that I have since scrapped. Looking back, it was totally Halo worming it's way into my subconscious. No other game features animal-like enemies wearing coloured armour. Hmmmm, was this going to become a problem?
The Soldiers (the player!) - I was quite pleased with how these designs turned out. I was thinking a full military issue armoured suit that could provide defence against any and all environment types, gun-fire, debris etc. Each design is pretty different and there are definitely elements I would like to take from each one to create a final image. At this phase I omitted the helmets, thinking that they often become the focal point of a soldier and something that is symbolic of the game as a whole, I wanted to spend more time on their design. Hopefully they don't look too 'Master Chief'? It was only on reflection that I started to think about how many games now feature similar ideas - Halo, GOW, Section8, Haze, Fracture, Red Faction, Killzone, Mass Effect ......oh my God the list is huge.

This has prompted me to the realisation that your designs have to be REALLY unique and original if they are to be recognisable amongst the heaps of others out there at the moment. Especially in a genre such as this one...
Weapons - My aim is to create something that lies in the realm just between cutting edge modern day technology and the sci-fi ideas of games like Halo and Mass Effect. There will be no lazers in my game!! - but what kind of weapons will the military be using in 10-20 years? (Lazers probably, haha!) Although it's not obvious on this drawing, I'm playing with the idea of a standard issue rifle template that is actually grafted onto the chest/shoulder area of the marines armour via a hinge. This way, the weapon could be raised and fired with only the right hand while the left is free to do other things. It could have 'suspension' in the stock that reduces recoil and would obviously not be lost of the soldier let go of it. In game, rather than building up a huge cache of different weapons, you could simply find pieces which could be mounted on to the original weapon to alter its effects.
I'm quite happy with the design but I hate the drawings =P ...
Vehicles - I have since decided that each of the soldiers would own a single individual land based vehicle with which to explore and battle. These concepts are for a (I hate the word space-ship) plane (?) for either combat or transport. I was basically just looking at shape and colour. The top/middle one is probably my favourite as the most original. Each painting probably took 15-20 mins, if that, and I have found it to be a really quick and effective way of communicating a design idea whilst experimenting at the same time. They're not of a great standard by any means but I do hope to do more like this in the future.
The final drawing is simply one of the ship designs that I spent far too long on and yet again it looks just like one of the one's from (you guessed it!) Halo (and of course Avatar, which totally ripped it off, hehe). Damn Halo and all it's greatness - I'm starting to think it's consumed my thought process and clouds any shred of creativity within me.

Next stage plan: Scrap anything that looks like Halo!!!

Early sketches...

The Concept:

Last semester, my design idea was kind of super-natural. It was this spooky, ghost story played from the perspective of a little kid with an evolved set of physical abilities. Gameplay wise, I looked at the RPG elements of Oblivion and Fable and the action elements of Assassins Creed and Prince of Persia. I purposefully steered clear of guns because they just didn't really fit the setting or feel of the game (except for one small chapter =P ). Therefore, this semester I figured I'd go all out and design some kind of military shooter. Much to the dismay of my family, I have after all, been drawing guns and soldiers since I could first wield a pen! So as a starting point I looked at obvious favourites, Halo and Modern Warfare (and I will come back to Halo in later posts...). Although I wasn't really certain about a story to begin with, I knew I wanted certain features:

Near future setting

Group based dynamic

(Probably) Third Person

Include Vehicles

...if I'm forgetting any other features, I'm sure I'll come to them later on.

Since it wasn't my main focus to look at story, I decided to overlook it for the time being and push on with some drawing to see where it would take me.

Notably at this point I had spoken to Josh about concept work and he had explained that in order to be a really strong concept artist, you should be able to create imagery from a brief that will then go on to inform the design process as it develops. Like a back and forth dynamic between designer and artist. This was something I have tried to bear in mind right through as I set myself a brief and tried to react to new ideas that came through in the drawings.

I began the preliminary work that any artist starts with - loose sketches for the four main subject matters - armour, weapons, vehicles and enemies. I then went on to pick out the 'shapes' that looked strongest and create slightly more detailed designs.

I'm back! =P

Wahey - I finally have internet sorted out at home.

Thusly I can now continue my reflective diary, and there's a fair bit to catch up on! I'll try to keep it fairly brief and in some kind of attempt to make it more 'reader friendly' , I'm going to break it down into separate posts through the various stages of development.

First off, here's my project out-line for this semester as sent to Jim in week one:

My main ambition since embarking on this course has been to attain both the necessary relevant skills and an accomplished body of work of a high enough standard that I may break into professional Games Design. More specifically, I would love to work on the visual side of the design process as both an artist and design consultant - my dream to eventually become a chief art director for a high profile games development studio.

As a means of achieving this goal through my course work, I have decided to set myself a project which emulates the professional practice of a concept artist. This way, I hope to experience a 'taster' of the process involved in order to hone my skills in this more specific area. I will be aiming to produce a large amount of developmental artwork which will both improve my drawing/modelling skills and additionally allow for me to build up a strong portfolio of work to show to future employers. An important part of this will be regular meetings with tutors in order to attain feedback and constructive criticism about the work as it develops.

The outline of the project will see me responding to an as of yet undecided number of game 'concepts'. I will produce ideas and artwork to build-up the visual style and aesthetics of the game including characters, enemies, npc's, items, weapons, locations etc. Through critical evaluation from both tutors and peers, I hope to refine the ideas with the goal of producing a body of work which reflects a solid and cohesive game world.

Along side my main work, I am going to begin to model some of my drawings into 3D using Maya in order to take the design process through to the next stage.