Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tails the Fox

Artwork by FireRai

When people think video game side kick, the first thing when tends to pop into people’s minds is Luigi.
However, I think Luigi isn’t that great.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no beef with Luigi, I like him more than Mario (as Mario has zero personality), but I think he is just a gloried re-colouring with Mario not just in terms of visuals but also mechanics and story.
They’re brothers, so they basically look the same and thus practically play the same and really are the same.

But Tails, now Tails is a proper side kick.
Miles “Tails” Prower is the side kick of Sonic, but you already knew that.
So what’s so special about Tails? Well in that era of gaming, side kicks or second-player characters tended to either be a literal or glorified carbon-copy of the protagonist.
On the base functioning level, Tails is more advanced than Sonic. He can’t run as fast (although he can get pretty close as he’s always behind), but he can fly.
Tails being able to fly almost alone justifies his existence, being able to sick up and move Sonic around the level, to greater heights or to save him from falling to the bottom of the screen, his flight makes him different and gives the two of them an instant dynamic.
His flight doesn’t just end at his own personal two-tail’d ability, he also has a plane which serves the narrative throughout the entire franchise.

Personality wise, Sonic and Tails also have a dynamic which I don’t think has been topped by any other video game duo.
The 2003 Sonic anime got super-dark towards the end.

While I dig Master Chief and Cortana/Arbiter, it can feel a little bit wooden at times.
But the connection between Sonic and Tails just fits so well.
They’re not blood-brothers (clearly not, they’re two entirely different species), but the relationship between them often is pitched more as one of brotherhood than just simply best friends.
Tails feeds off Sonic's confidence and Sonic feeds off Tails intellect. Tails is taken from his pathetic wimpy form to one with self-confidence thanks to Sonic.  Sonic is humbled and is allowed to feel emotions when he is with Tails. While not seen in the game mechanics, story wise Sonic can’t swim (because someone at SEGA Japan thought Hedgehogs couldn't swim and didn't bother to research into it), but Tails can.

Sonic is often shown as either cool, cynical or even at times rather cold when it comes to how he deals with other characters, good or evil, but rarely has he ever seen to get angry or frustrated at Tails, even when Tails screwed up (like in Adventure when he basically gave Eggman a chaos emerald by accident).

There is a deeper sense of care and love between the two, even when Sonic games are at their most awful (and they can be awful *cough* Rise of Lyric *cough*), the writing of those two stays about the same.
The comics of course take a lot deeper, but I am not here to talk about comics as it would take forever (although they’re awesome).
When game characters so often have the chemistry of a dusty wooden spoon, it’s always nice to know, that a fox and a hedgehog will always remain true.

Oh and he's super cute.

Maya sizzle

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Story in Games: Thomas Was Alone

We are living in an age where story creators have never had more tools at their disposal to make stories in games, then how come most of them fall flat despite motion-capture photo-realism.

For me the classic example of a game not needing all this, is the 2012 indie title Thomas Was Alone.
The entire graphics of the game is simple shapes and colours, with the story being told by narration accompanying the gameplay.
When explaining to someone who’s never played or heard of the game, it to them often sounds like the most pretentious and ridiculous statement to make that Thomas Was Alone profoundly moves many who play it.

Despite the references and the often light hearted humour, it manages to create a bond between you and the characters.

Each coloured block is a character, the title character of Thomas is the red rectangle, he is joined by Christopher (orange), John (yellow), Claire (blue), Laura (pink), James (green) and Sarah (purple).
There’s also other characters along the way and the in DLC, but I am going to focus on the main ones.

Each character is a different gameplay mechanic, Thomas can jump and is the average character. John can jump really high and far. Clare is slow and can’t jump well, but she is able to float across water and take others with her (each of the other characters dies as soon as they touch water), Sarah can double jump, Laura acts as a jump pad, James plays like Thomas, only he is upside down. Chris, well he’s small and doesn't do much.

First and foremost, Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle-platforming game where you need to get the characters in the level to a slot, once every character is in their corresponding slot, the game progresses to the next level.
As the game goes on and gets more complicated, you’re required to constantly swap between characters in order to use them together to solve the puzzles.

An example of a level from the game.

These won’t be the most challenging game you've ever played, in fact I feel confident in saying that if you’re used to 2D platforming games, that you’ll won’t be stuck too long on any particular puzzle.
That’s not to say there’s no challenge, there certainly is, just a manageable level.
(Excluding the DLC which is stupidly hard and could very easily make one rage.)

But the puzzles are not why Thomas Was Alone is acclaimed, it’s not even its mechanics or its stellar soundtrack.
It’s the narrative and how it weaves itself into every aspect of the game, the one word I would use to describe Thomas Was Alone is polish.
Polish from start to finish, but I am talking a bunch about vague descriptors here, let me try to get a bit more detailed.

The voice over narrative is voiced by Danny Wallace and is triggered at specific points during a level, often in reaction to something you've done or something you’re about to do.
Otherwise it’s talking about the characters, their thoughts, their past, their emotions and how they related and interact with each other.
For example at the start of the game John sees himself as some kind athletic superstar (due to his long and far jump), he concludes that the other characters are there merely to observe his skill and to enhance his reach, however as the game progresses he becomes more humble along the way as he sees the skills of other characters (particularly Sarah’s) and how he can’t get to specific places without the aid of others.

Each characters own personal story works to create the overarching narrative of friendship, sacrifice and ultimately the meaning of life.
Of course there’s also a villain of sorts, commentary about humans creating AI, the nature of AI and free will.
This is where I am being deliberately vague as to avoid the all-important spoilers.

But to bring it back around to my original contention, I find it rather interesting that a game made by one man is able to move me and take me on a journey which the large budget studios could not.
All the writing teams, all the massive orchestras, all the motion-capture in the world often doesn’t seem to have an effect.
Maybe Thomas Was Alone’s inherent impression of simplicity aids it, maybe it’s lack of grand ambition makes it excel, it’s a simple game in many respects and I think that’s it’s greatest success.

The creator of the game is now working on a new game called Volume, but now with a studio and backing of Sony, I truly wonder if it’s larger scope will allow it to capture the same profound effect Thomas Was Alone did, it keeps elements such as Danny Wallace, but who knows.

Not even Kevin Spacey could make me interested in the story of Call of Duty.

But one thing is clear, you don't need gilts or glamour to tell a compelling story and to move players.
Ever since I found out about the game from a review on ABC's Good Game, I had to go out and buy it and I never regretted the $10 I spent.

Thomas Was Alone was created by Mike Bithell, more info at http://www.mikebithellgames.com/thomaswasalone/

Game is on PC, Xbox One and other platforms.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Design Document for concept game

I was challenged with designing a game which included these elements “Conquer”, “Race” and “Gambling”.

Racing and Gambling together make an easy combination.
It could be an E-Sports like game where there’s those who play the game and those who are watching, those who watch can make bets on the players.

The players race in the game, for the sake of fairness it needs to be as balanced as possible, a car racing like game would make sense but with fake cars, not quite a kart racer, but something in-between.
The results of the race directly link to the bets placed by the watchers, this can be done through a dedicated online account system.

To entice players it can be a free to download and free to sign up system, the matches can be streamed online via the client or website with a constant update of bets and placements online and with a companion app.

The player who wins will conquer and will get a cut of the bets.

I drew up some basic concepts of how a website, client and app could look like. You may have to open the image in a new tab in order to see some of the smaller text which I wrote.

It might not be the most ethically great thing in the world (gambling), but ultimately I think with the growing world of E-Sports, sooner or later I expect a game like this to come.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

My User Interface

The UI in games is very important ,as I covered on a previous post in more detail I said there's many ways to do it and it often depends on genres, it can make or break some games.

So I gave it a shot for the 2D game prototype I have been working over the last couple weeks.

Firstly health.
For health I just made a bar filled with red to indicate full health, simple but effective. Creating an unnecessarily elaborate health bar could mean the player needs to think about what they're looking at, the best UI is one where the player doesn't have to think about it but knows right away what it means and the current data being displayed.
Next to the bar is a heart, this is the classic symbol for lives, instead of putting up a heart per-live, I decided it would be better to put a number within the heart as it takes up less screen space and is easy to read and understand quickly.

Next is stars, this meant to be a pick-up throughout the game, an optional extra which isn't required to finish the level, but can unlock things. There are certain players who love to be a completionist and collect all the times, so having a the star icon with the two different numbers next to it I deem effective.
The first number is how many of the pick up the player currently has, the second number is the total amount of pick-ups that are currently within the level the player is playing.

Finally is time, I had considered maybe an overall score, but for the game I am thinking of the score wouldn't be some extra number but instead just the time with the rest being covered up pick-ups.
The top number (Time), is the players current time, this is constantly being updated per millisecond.
It goes Minute. Second. Millisecond, I haven't considered what if the player goes over an hour, it could be that the level ends with a a time-out.
The second number is Par, which is considered the best time to finish the level, either an average or something I decided. This will allow the player to compare themselves to the average.
The third and final number (Best) is connected to an online leader-board where it displays the fastest time it look someone to beat the level.
It's possible that an option could be changed in a menu where this could either be the best of your friends, best in world, best local or the best of the players own time.

I have put these elements into the example game which I have been working on, this is what it could look like within the game.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sprite Sheet

This is my journey on my attempt to make a Sprite sheet, so I started off with a rough drawing of how the character could look.

After the rough design, I went onto further concept the character with a colour drawing with more detail.

 Using the computer I drew the character in line art form, spacing out all the parts in order to be able to do the basic animation for the Sprite sheet.

The next step was to colour in the character and clean up some of the edges of the line art (such as the hair).
Once saved as a TGA, it's imported into Maya and using 'planes' with binn, then the images were imported. Using the UV Texture feature, the parts were lined up with correct planes.

Then the animation could begin by moving the different body parts.

There is a render feature, once in the render I could export them into a file (I chose PNG) and then using an image program you can place them together to show how the animation could look in game.

I can then place the character into my scene which I previous made and see how it looks in a hypothetical game.


Hey I have a website!
Come check it out ^_^

Artist Influences

Where did it begin? What was the game which caused me to wonder about the opportunities, to let me explore another world?
The game which sparked the fuse was the PC version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, published by EA and developed by KnowWonder, it was this game which as a young boy left a profound impact on me.

While if looking at it now from an critical point of view as an adult it would be very easy to scoff at such a game. However to the child me it fully immersed me in the world.
Due to the mechanics of the game, I was more than happy to spend hours casting spells at walls, hoping to find a secret passageway, the thrill of actually finding them was incredible, the developers rewarded the player for searching every inch of the Hogwarts they developed.
Despite being a tie-in game, they nailed giving the world its own spin, with the lighting and music adding a whole new magical and mysterious feel to the world which even the movies failed to capture.
From early on the in the game Harry randomly says out-loud, “Wow, look at the stars”, if the player looks up they're greeted with a bountiful night sky which I am sure most players didn't bother to see.

The sense of atmosphere and exploration from that game still inspire me today.

However of course as I have grown, I have fallen in love with many other games.
The one thing I am drawn to above all else is atmosphere, it's one of the key reasons why I personally hold Morrowind as the best of the Elder Scrolls series, from the distant moans of the walkers, the mushroom trees, abstract architecture, strange NPCs, hauntingly calming soundtrack and original beasts, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind captured a sense of wondering a strange land perfectly. While I have a soft spot for Oblivion and I enjoy Skyrim, I always felt that those two played it too safe when it comes to fantasy, it all has a sense of 'been there, done that'.

While there's many complaints to be had about World of Warcraft, the one thing I can ever criticise it for is the world itself. While there's stuff you've seen before, it has an unmistakable sense of charm to it.
Sure the forest in the human starting area is the same as a million other forests in gaming, but the soft light through the tress along with that iconic music gives it a sense which other forests lack.
If there's one thing Blizzard nailed, it's giving their zones a feeling of wonder (which makes me annoyed that the view-distance in the game is quite low in my opinion).
The character Li Li Stormstout described a sense of 'Wanderlust' with exploring Azeroth and I get where she's coming from, even with the repetive nature of the game, the environment are so interesting I almost don't even care sometimes.

But it's not just fantasy which can nail this, the cyberpunk MMO The Matrix Online, which was based on the Matrix films had captured a beautiful depression. The city is grim, it's often dark, it's gritty, yet it feels so inviting. Once again music plays a massive role in this, however the game was seeping with personality, to this day it remains my favourite MMO.

However when it comes to an original world, very few can beat Asheron's Call, an MMO which is 15 years old. It's dated both visually and mechanically, however it has aged gracefully for the most part, like a fine wine.
It isn't easy to play due to it being one of the earliest 3D online games, however once you get over the clunky controls, you'll witness what was at the time the largest open world in gaming. Even to this very day Asheron's Call boasts a world larger than most, where you can run from one side to the other without a loading screen (it uses progressive loading, something Vanguard: Saga of Heroes tried and used), you can walk into every building and dungeon without needing to load up a new instance, the windows are real windows, not just a texture.
It's quest system demands your attention, there's no mindless questing in this game.
It's a world which even with it's blocky graphics, you can truly get immersed in.
Interesting enough the game doesn't have any real music in the game, this was apparently a technical r, however it does have sound effects from taverns of laughing, crickets chirping, water flowing and the like.
With the only sounds being that of the ambiance, it gives a sense of loneliness which I think further enhances the world and gives a pure experience of adventure.

But to move in an entirely different direction, Halo is to me the quintessential FPS, the golden standard of which all else will be judged.
Everything is interesting, from the campaign missions to the mutiplayer maps, everything is full of love and care.
I used to just load up a custom game with just myself and slowly walk around the level looking at all the rocks, rivers, tress, buildings and the world beyond the boundaries. There's something peaceful about just standing still on Highground looking out towards the lake, satellite in the distance.

Sonic has always been a series which has interested me, even the terrible games I find some kind of pleasure from the world design.
Colour beyond measure, is SEGA's greatest pleasure.
Despite what could be easily ignored, the interaction between characters also helps build a sense that Mobius really is a living place, not just a stitched together video game land.
The brother like relationship between Sonic and Tails has endured through Sonic's many iterations, styles, genres and even mediums.
I take it as a fantastic example of how to correctly create a bond between characters, one which is believable and heart-warming. In an age where characters have as much emotion as a cardboard cut-out, having the uneasy alliance of Knuckles, one-sided love of Amy, tyrannical madness of Eggman and genuinecare of Tails all helps build Sonic up as a protagonist who feels like he really is fighting for something.

Artwork by Rowseroopa

Tetris, simple, yet addictive. Basic, yet compelling.
Tetris proves that you don't have to have amazing graphics, story, world or character in order to make a beloved game.
It's all about it's mechanics, the quest to make a line. While the iconic tune helps, fact is Tetris is fun even on mute.
I think there's something importance to be leant from Tetris, that at the end of the day, mechanics can easily trump all the aesthetics in the world.

Thomas Was Alone, a game about cubes. The game has less textures than Tetris, yet it's one the emotionally invested journeys I had ever been on in a game.
Thanks to the bed-side story like narration from Danny Wallace and excellent score by David Housden, it's game where you swap between different coloured cubes (with a mechanic unique to them), in order to complete puzzles and progress in the game.
They're AI, who are travelling a mainframe and who desires only basic human wants.
Friendship, Knowledge, Love. The fact that coloured cubes are able to become legitimately more interesting characters than characters with thousands of polygons I think proves that a masterful story can really thrive over big-budget gloss anyday.
If you haven't played Thomas Was Alone, I highly recommend it.

These are just some of the many games which influence how I view and think about video games as an art form.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Camera perspective is very important for games, as it's the view of which you play the game.
Different styles can be found.

Today I will talk about 2D, 3D, Isometric, Top Down.

2D games are often seen from an side-on, such as the classic Mario or Sonic view.
2D games can be layered but as the camera is on the side, it all seems as one, this can be found in UbiArt games like Valiant Hearts: The Great War.

Isometric is different to top down as it is on a more diagonal angle rather than a straight angle.
The classic isometric view can be found in Diablo, however it can be found in other games like Bastion.

3D games can be from the first person or the third, Halo is a first person game, Alice: Madness Returns is a third person game.

Top down views can be seen in classic JPRG overworld sections like Pokemon games and shooters like Galaxian.

Different perspectives are often considered better for some genres than otheres, for example making a side-scrolling RTS isn't as effective as the isometric style.
Or Skyrim as an isometric game wouldn't be the same as it is in its current 3D form.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Modular Hallway

I have never used Maya before in my life or any real kind of 3D software (I opened up Blender once and got overwhelmed), however it's something which is important to know, so I gave a crack at creating a modular hallway.

Firstly a wall texture, using PhotoShop I got a concrete base and added pink to it to make a wall, here's what it looks like.

So I figured I needed a plan, so using trusty pen and paper I planned out what I needed to create.

So then using Maya I started creating, I made cubes and using the face tool I cut out faces.
Placing textures on took a bit of work trying to figure out, however thanks to online tutorials I managed to place the textures and adjust them to fit perfectly.

This was my progress.

I never did around to making stairs, however I think the process is making a ramp then making cuts in the ramp or something to that effect.