Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Ken Recommends: Kick-Ass

Release: 26/03/10
Running Time: 117 mins.
Studio: Marv Films
Genre: Action/Adventure
Rating: 15+
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer: Jane Goldman, Mark Millar
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chole Mortez and Nicolas Cage

Why hasn't anyone tried being a superhero before? Because, they'd be dead in like a day! That's just the tip of the insanely epic iceberg that is Kick-Ass!

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is an ordinary teenager, he's not the funny one, he's not even the geeky one, like most kids that age he just exists. Being a fan of comics Dave begins to speculate why no-one has ever tried to be superhero before and so donning a wet suit and calling himself "Kick-ass" Dave begins to patrol the city. Soon his heroics are caught on camera and posted all over the internet becomming an overnight sensation, not long after other costumed crime fighters begin to appear and intervine with a New York Mafia's Drug enterprise, enraging their boss Frank D'amico (Mark Strong) who believes it's Kick-ass who has been knocking off all his subordonates. Dave soon finds out that being a superhero really can get you killed and find allies in the form of Hit-Girl (Clohe Mortez) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) two don't-hold-back crime fighters which makes Dave think that possibly he's in way over his head.

Based off the 2008 comic by Scottish writer Mark Millar and american artist John Romita Jr. The movie stays surprisingly true to the tone and feel of the 8 issue series and in it's truest sense is a super hero movie but it's one that's going to stick out more than any other. A film is the perfect warm up to hollywood blockbusters as it presents a range of likeable characters,
this film is ultra violent, full of black humour and amazing action scenes. There are many memorable scenes that will keep you talking about it days after you've seen it and the characters are down right awesome, audiences will find an immediate favourite in Chloes Mortez as Hit-girl with her brash language and hard knocking fighting skills. Nic Cage's portrayal of Big Daddy is a mix of the Nolan Bros. Batman and the old Adam West Batman giving a cool yet quirky character. Of course Dave is a great character to get behind, a kind of new age Peter Parker who isn't as smart or strong or even responsible this makes for some great veiwing.

With stunning action scenes and over the top attitude this films is a must for fans of actions films as this film will blow you away with it's outrageous presentation of violence that'll leave you cringing in your seat in a good way. The acting is top notch and the sound track makes action scenes all the more intense, this is going to be a superhero film of a generation. Cutting in just at the end of March, Kick-Ass is the best film of the month, it left me giddy, excited and wanting to buy the DVD already to find out every little thing about it in the special features. In short Kick-Ass simply is an epic superhero movie full of ultre-violence just the way you want it, black comedy and even a little romance, I can't even begin to describe how much I enjoyed this film but it's definetly going to be one of the most memorable films of 2010.

3D Entertainment, is it the next step?

When it comes to entertainment over the last decade we've made some pretty impressive leaps and bounds to get to where we are today. With the revival of 3D technology in movies influencing other medias such as Video games and Television to follow, with High Definition becoming the norm for media it's clear that Developers are trying to find some way to get off the plateau and find a new to present entertainment and it seems that 3D is the route they're choosing like it or not it's going to happen but is it going to be the norm in five years? Or will it just be a side show attraction until the next big thing?

Firstly I must make my stand in that at the moment I don't think 3D technology is anywhere near Developed as it should be to create a lasting impact. In my experience of 3D movies of late I've found they add no more to the acctual experience except the slight illusion of depth and this only comes around by wearing the 3D glasses that some have complained to be uncomfortable. My main vice is that it doesn't add much to the existing experience but in retrospect neither did HD and it still become the next step for media standards.

One of the biggest news of Late is that game Publisher Nintendo are getting the jump on their competition by developing a new handheld console that will feature 3D visuals without the need for the glasses, now this is the really interesting thing, if 3D images can be created without the need for any other devices is truly interesting. For more info click here. For an example of how 3D might look on the DS see the video below.

Last year I went to the Eurogamer Convention where they showed off a variety of games and new technologies, one such was an edition of the hit game "Batman: Arkham Asylum" presented in 3D on the PC, now this doesn't seem as polished as I had to constantly lift the glasses to check I was hitting the right keys on the keyboard. This was the wrong way to do 3D visuals in gaming.

There are many technological advances in terms of entertainment that will give us that new, fresh taste I feel that 3D will become the next step as we've come to far down the line and that there isn't an opposite format. Whilst it seems gimicky and full of teething problems 3D visuals will become the norm in a few years and soon we'll have 3D printed advertisments, the 3D video advertisements. Like it or not 3D is going to be around for a lot longer that you want it to be.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Game Art & Design: Wrapping Things Up

When it came to this project I was quite excited to take on the challenge of not just creating one character but four. The process of creating them was quite new too as I was working within a team so I was constantly asking for opinions on my designs and how I could improve them. This was a good dynamic as I felt it helped me create designs much better than if it was just myself working on it, in essence it felt like a professional environment making the experience much more valuable. When it came to creating textures I had to have a huge learning curve but in the end after much perseverance I managed to create some high quality ones using photos.

This process was new and fun especially when it came to mapping the face of a real person to that of the digital avatar's. By the end I felt I had learned quite alot of the process that designs take from beginning to end picking up many new skills along the way ranging from team based ones to that with photoshop. My only regret is that I never go the chance to create the concepts I made for the monsters, but luckily Mark who worked on the set design created an amazing rendition of the large monster in the corner of the level.

I realised how much I had learned when I created the revolver for the Dyer character and how fairly painless and quick it was for me to reach a finished state of a fairly reasonable quality. Overall this was a fun and fairly stress free project as there was much communication between me and my group and the workload was shared quite evenly, what's much better is that the end result was of a higher quality that I did not expect Second Life could present. If I could go back and change anything it would be to find a way to create my monster designs in a 3d environment and manybe even create a cutscene to use the characters and set made to the best of their potential. I've throughly enjoyed this project along with the aspects of texturing, I feel my time spent on this project has been used productively and that I walk away with many new skills and knwoledge of how to tackle the basic tasks of game design and development.

Game Art & Design: Dyer Final

Now for the final aspect of the William Dyer Character, creating the hair. I knew this would be a challenge as the character design has a very unique style of hair my frist attempt was creating just using a template that would be used over the default hair that would come out of the appearance editor in Second Life. Unfortunately the default hair was not manageable and nor did it look particularly good, so another option was to create a hair piece made up of prims. The basic theory is that by creating lots of little prims and adding some flexi-effects to some of the pieces, in the end this proved to be quite difficult as I couldn't get an accurate depictation of what I had designed I then decided to take a pre-created and edit it until it matched my design, this process was much quicker and easy to handle due to my skills with handeling primitives.

(The Hair in development)

With the hair complete that makes the end of my development and contribution to the project. I feel that the Dyer characters looks great considering it was my first time working with textures, it has been an interesting experience that has challenged my skills along the way resulting in learning a lot of new techniques and methods when it comes to game art and design. Below is the an image of the final version of William Dyer in his game Level.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Game Art & Design: Accessories

Considering that the William Dyer character only needs some hair I decided to make with an accessorie to fight off the hordes of enemies he could face. Keeping in style with the brief I started to look at revolvers from around 1930. From there I started to construct the accessorie from primitives at a larger scale, this took some time as I was checking the shape whilst constantly adjusting sizes and positioning.

From there I imported the photo of the revolver I was referencing into photoshop to cut out some textures to apply to my virtual rendition. The trick was getting the textures to repeat in a regular way to mimic the 3-d object as best as it can, Whilst the handle was tricky the bullet chamber looks superb. It wouldn't be too much of a matter of detail though as the Revolver would be shrunk down to fit into the hand of William Dyer. Overall to say it was knocked up in an afternoon I'm rather proud of how it turned out, once Dyer has some hair the project will be finished!
Check out the making of images below!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Game Art & Design: Willian Dyer Update IV

Today I focused only on polishing the William Dyer character for the Sunken Temple level. I fixed the the stubble around the chin and the eye lash problem, I then adjusted the the colour of the skin on the neck of the body to match the one on the head. I also fixed up the seams on the head to appear less prominent, this was a fairly simple task and really only require some time and the clone stamp tool.

From there I started to work on the coat, just adjusting minor issues adding a layer of fabric to just to give the coat a little more flair. Since I had used Mark's face for the Character I decided to uses his hands for symmetry's sake, again this was a fairly simple task aswell. Finally today I finished up the coat giving it a larger tail as illustrated in the final concept art. This was done by applying a texture to a skirt layer and using the alpha channel.

With this done the only thing left to do is create the hair, by which I have two options, try using the template, which seems overly complex or use primatives and add a texture afterwards. Hopefully I'll have time to add an accessory such as a revolver or a flaming torch. Within this last week I've learned a lot about texturing videogame characters (at least the principles) and I've successfully managed to map a person's face onto a videogame avatar which I'm particularly proud of. This has been a great challenge for me and I'm glad it's coming to the end soon but I'm proud I've managed to create a high quality avatar that will fit within Mark's level design.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Final Fantasy XIII: First Impressions, The Characters (Part II)

So I'm back again, lets round up where we were last time as I finish analysing the main players of Final Fantasy XIII. Check out part I here.

We're first introduced to hope around the same time as Snow, during the rebellion of Cocoon. A tragedy soon befalls the young boy, blaming the overly confident Snow he sets out to first confront him. Setting out to try find Snow, Hope soon gets caught up in the same mess as the rest of the group and branded a traitor to Cocoon. Hope starts off as your traditional hero type, nervous and unsure be he begins to get more confident as the story progresses, it's quite nice to see that the generic hero is featured in this game but doesn't take the dominant role. Hope's design seems slightly lacking as it's a fair generic design oddly enough making him stand out in the group with their more detailed costume designs. Hope's weapon is a folding Boomerang which resembles a toy more than anything else, representing his inexperience in battle. It's also clear that his youth and looks represent this too.

This light headed young girl was in the large group of refugees along with Hope. Vanille ends up tagging along with Hope and thinks innocently of him, urging to confront Snow, as the story progresses it Vanille begins to hint at a weaker side to herself that is hidden behind the care free front. This is quite nice as the character could have just been presented as a bit of an air head but they decided to give her a little depth and it was done tastefully. Eventually she kind of becomes the jam of the group almost keeping people together and their hopes up. Her design looks like an influence of ethnic clothing with an injection of sexiness but this falls short as Vanille's voice and figure don't really put her into that category. This kind of makes her fall short as a character as she comes of as annoying more than charming. Her weapon is a mix of a fishing rod and a staff, this is a new combination that I haven't seen before and is quite interesting to watch in battle. Overall Vanille feels like the weakest cast member who will only be memorable for her pitch fluxuating voice.

Theres a 6th character who hasn't been releaved yet in the first 5 hours of the game so I can't really comment on them yet. Overall this seems like a well rounded cast with some interesting characters who should hopefully develop well over the course of the story, whilst some of the aspects of their designs are clearly taken from previous installments but there are some unique and interesting characters that should intrigue the player and want to keep them playing to find out more of these character's histories and how they will over come the challenges ahead. With the extra graphic power of current consoles it also makes watching cutscenes a gleeful experience, Give it some time but, I feel that these characters may become as loved as Cloud or Squall.

What's you opinion on Final Fantasy XIII's Characters?

Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition, worth it's weight?

Last Friday saw the release of Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition, whilst this is more of a re-release for those who might not of have the chance to play it before it has a little extra something included.

In recent trend of downloadable content (DLC for short) and big budget games, it's becoming more common to see two releases of the same game, one at it's first release date and a second about a year on with some or all of the DLC. Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition is the latter but the question is, can a year old game albeit with new content be re-released and put on sale at full price? Lets take a look at the X-Box 360 version, you get a brand new cover and layout to show you this isn't the same game as the one from last year, even presenting characters from the DLC and a small image that lists whats new in the box unfortunately that's all it really is, a repackaging.

First of all what do you get in your Gold Edition? The blockbuster title Resident Evil 5, online versus mode, The Mercenaries Reunion, 4 new costumes, extra figures to collect in game and of course the two downloadable level packs "Lost in Nightmares" and "Desperate Escape". Let's cut to the chase, we all know Resident Evil 5 is a great game so lets look at these new features, the online versus mode is essentially 4 player Mercenaries mode with the exception that other players can attack you, at the end the team with the most points wins, simple enough. Versus mode is quite fun but fustrating if you're a new player as most other players seem more seasoned but you should be able to pick up fairly quickly. The Mercenaries Reunion is the mercenaries mode found on the disc but with new costumes and characters including Barry Burton and Rebecca Chambers, these should keep fans of the game occupied for some time as it adds much more longevity to the game than previously.

(Chris and Jill face familar challenges)

The "Lost in Nightmares" level gives players a chance to experience the prelude to Resident Evil 5. Set in a Mansion similar to the one from Resident Evil Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine have been searching for Albert Wesker to arrest him for his crime against humanity, this level is more like a trip down memory lane with a format more a kin to the series's origin, for those who miss Resident Evil's Survival Horror roots this is the level for you. Unfortunately it's quite short and the puzzles arn't too challenging, it will leave you wanting more but for add-on content it's pretty decent at providing good entertainment and missing pieces of the story from Resi 5. "Desperate Escape" fills in the gaps of how Jill Valentine and Josh Stone escape from the Tri-Cell Facility and meet up with Chris and Sheva. This level is pure action and really provides quite a challenge even on normal mode, lasting around 1 hour this is a level you have to keep your wits about you as it can get really hectic! It'll definitely keep fans coming back for more.

(Josh and Jill are prepared, but are you?)

Whilst overall the price of £30 isn't bad considering all the extras you're getting the main problem is the disc is exactly the same as the one that comes with the first edition of Resi 5 and oddly, Capcom have chosen to include all the DLC via a download code featured on the back of the game manual. This seems like poor planning as you're getting the same package just with a download code bumping the price from £20 for the greatest hits edition to £30, an extra £10 for a single code to get digital material. Whilst this probably made sinse in planning what if the consumer didn't have an Internet connection? What if their Hard drive gets damaged or corrupt? Will there be a way to redeem the extra content? With the Playstation version of Gold Edition including all this content on the disc it's odd that it's not on the 360 version, if it couldn't fit on one disc why didn't they include an extra disc will all the features to install onto the machine? When compared to similar editions of other games it just makes Resident Evil stand out in a bad way.

(The only cereal I need)

For fans who have yet to experience Resident Evil 5 this is the perfect package containing the the game and all it's extras but for those who have already played it it may be best to give this one a miss, in the end it's down to your own opinion, If you want all the DLC go for it! Just be prepared for the content to not be on the disc of the 360 version.

Final Fantasy XIII: First Impressions, The Characters (Part I)

When it comes to the Final Fantasy franchise one of the main aspects that keeps people coming back for are it's memorable Characters such as Cloud Strife (FFVII) , Cecil Harvey (FFIV) , Squall Leonhart (FFVIII) and Balthier the Sky Pirate (FFXII). It's important for the player to control and be presented to interesting characters whilst playing games with time spans such as any Final Fantasy as it can lead to the player losing interest in the game and story if the characters arn't polished enough. Since 1997's Final Fantasy VII, main character design has rested solely upon the shoulders of Tetsuya Nomura (with the exceptions of XI, XI and XII) whom is also famous for establishing the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Five hours in is a point where you should know you characters well and want to keep playing but does Final Fantasy XIII have interesting characters with enough depth to keep a player involved in their world for 60+ hours?

Lightning is the first character that is introduced to us, presented as a stern but strong individual. It's clear she is meant to be considered as the main character but so far the story has suggested that the group is equal in importance. An ex-soldier who is trying to rescue her sister from the Fal'cie, as the game progresses a little more is shown of her past presenting a more kind hearted person than the one we first meet. It's clear she has been written to be similar to Cloud from FFVII but to be slightly more talk active but the point of reference is still there. Lightning's design again is reminiscent of Cloud's from the hair style to the shoulder pad, whilst she is a female character it's quite good to see that wasn't exploited as with her personality and image there seems to be little thought in trying to present as a sexy and attractive woman, this works to the characters benefit, making her fit right in with other Final Fantasy heroes. Her weapon is clearly a reference to the gunblade, featured in FFVIII but with a more butterfly knife asthetic, it is quite cool to watch the weapon unfold as Lightning prepares for battle.

Introduced to us along with Lightning, Sazh is a more down to earth character who seems to have gotten mixed up in all the calamity just by sticking around, having had plenty of times to walk away he stuck by Lightning. Clearly meant to be a side kick and comic relief Sazh actually comes of as one of the most rational and likeable characters, whilst not much is known about his past so far he definetly plays a kind of wisdom role in the group (being the oldest). With was based of Lionel Richie and a fairly sensible dress sense in comparison to other characters for a western audience Sazh hits the demographic and then some. Again clearly another reference to FFVII with the secondary character being of African origin in design but Sazh comes more interesting than his VII counter part Barret (who was in essence B.A. Baracus). It's also good to see more various races in a Final Fantasy game as oddly for a Japanese game almost all the characters have been presented as Caucasian. Sazh's weapons are dual pistols, and when he uses them in battles he pulls of some impressive poses which makes it a delight to have him in your team, oh and he has a baby Chocobo in his Afro!

When we're first presented Snow he's fighting in the resistance against Cocoon, clearly a strong individual who is strong headed and possibly overconfident (always refering to himself as a hero) but this is also his weakness as it's clear he's not much of a thinker and is a bit of a daydreamer. Before getting caught up in the calamity Snow was set on rescuing his bride to be from the Fal'cie, in the group Snow plays the part of the kind hearted protector. With his long white trench coat and blonde hair his design is very similar to that of Seifer from FFVIII but it differs enough to not be a kind of cookie cut of him. Snow's weapon is acctually just his fists but gains additional power from seals on the back of his coat, a nice little touch is that when you change the type of seal Snow was equipped when you're next in battle you'll see that the design has changed. It's clear Snow was designed to fill the parts of a hero that Lightning doesn't fill, kind of making the player choose between two characters for their main hero, this sin't a bad thing mind you as you can't have one all encompassing character.

Find Part II here

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Game Art & Design: William Dyer Upate III

As mentioned before when it came to the William Dyer face I would try using a photograph of a persons face and then map it onto the avatar. For the face of William Dyer I decided to use our very own Mark as he fits the description of the character much better than anyone else that I know. I took photos of both the front and side profile of Mark, then importing them into photoshop I speard it across the template using the liquify tool and add the skin texture with the clone stamp. This took some time to adjust the face to match up with the template but overall the results are very promising. This is definetly going to be the face that I use for the character. I just have to touch up aspects of the overall character but after seeing what I can achieve I'm very excited about finalising my side of the project! Below is a the image thats applied to model unwrapped, I think I finally have a hang of this!!!

Game Art & Design: Large Creature Development

Today I've mostly been working on creating the primitives for the large tentacle monster. The idea is that it will be crawling out of various crawl spaces and from the water in the game level. This is proving to be a new and interesting challenge as I can't create one long tentacle so I have to resort to creating one shape with a taper at the top and attach it to other prims' to create the shape desired (see right). With the tapered tips I added fexi-effects to make them seem more life-like and similar to concept art. It would be nice to get some animation on these but as they stand they're still looking pretty good, although it's not perfect this is something I'm just going to have to live with due to second life's limitations.

When it comes to the texture I'm going to try use this great lizard skin texture I found in second life's own texture library and combine it with the design from my concept art. With the setting pretty much complete these finishing touches should make it look even more impressive. Below it a look at the level so far with the added tentacles.

Game Art & Design: William Dyer Update II

Since my last attempt at creating a skin for faces I've looked more closer at mid 90s graphics and how people were represented in games such as Medal of Honor. Taking this I then tried to apply it to my own avatar, whilst the result was something better it was still cartoony and in reality not that much beteer than my first attempt but it was clear that I had learned from my past attempt and applied it to this one.

When it came to the clothing I decided to attempt a new way of texture. I aquired clothing that matched the character's design and photographed the images to match the templates provided for their soon to be digital counterparts in Second Life. Through Photoshop wizardry I turned them into textures, the hardest part was making sure the colours matches and didn't seem out of place due to the poor lighting I had at the place where the photos were taken. Overall it proved to be an enlightening experience as I plan on going back fixing all these things and adjusting them.

(Maya proved useful for checking the seams)

With pretty much most of my components ready I just need to tweak and and adjust things here and there to make them fit in with Mark's set design. I also need to go back and reconsider the head, for this I'm going to try photographic referance the same as with the clothing. I'm beginning to get really excited as it's all coming together, but this road hasn't been easy it's be very hard and long although things are finally showing promise.

Game Art & Design: Small Creature development

So far I've pretty much covered all the creature designs but there's one we haven't seen much of recently and that is the small creature. For this creature I wanted some thing of a large rodent or insect, for this design I developed a large insect about the size of the average lobster taking inspiration from various insects and crustations. When finalising this design (right) I had to think carefully about some of the limitations of Second Life and my skills, this broke the design into it's basic elements and only little details were sacrificed all things considering the final turn around isn't too dis-similar to the final concept art. When it came to developing the final concept art I had a strong vision of what I wanted but I was constantly asking for Mark's opinion, due to this the design ended up even better than ever! From here I'm going to leave it colour duties to Ben aswell as creating the small creature for use in Second Life as he's finished all his duties on Sound Management. The sound fx he created for the small creature fits perfectly and with the rest of the level coming together it's beginning to become a very exciting time down at the studio.

(The final concept art for the small creature, we've come a long way)

Monday, 15 March 2010

Creative Industries: The Value of Creativity in Society

When it boils down to it humanity's whole existence is built upon creativity and innovation. Without the spark of creation we would be no more advanced than chimpanzees, creativity of ever kind has brought us into the future so the question of "Creativity's Value in Society" is one that is hard to pin point as the many different types that exist have brought us to this very moment, to the point where I am able to deliver this information without ever meeting or knowing you.

The great thing about any creation is it can influence anything else in society, for instance concept art of an object for a film can end up influencing a real product for consumers to buy and vice-versa. Then there are instances that real-life events influencing writers to create narratives for people's entertainment and after that people can be inspired by these stories. Creativity plays a great part in society as imagination is one of humanity's strongest aspects helping us find new ways to solve problems, dream up solutions to bring us into a new higher plane of existence but, all these are not as noble as curing diseases. Humanity has also created some of the most devastating and horrifying creations known in history, but none so much as the atomic bomb. After the bombing of Japan at the end of the second world war Mankind learned that it had created it's ultimatum, seeing the effects of this horror of science Japan surrendered The Emperor issued a statement that would inform the rest of the world.

"Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization."

In society creativity is the gift mankind was given one that if manifested could be seen as a coin, that when any person sets out to create something it is flipped and depending on which side it lands determines it's outcome as good or bad to one person. In the terms of artistic creation often is can be both a blessing and a curse as it can be torture knowing that you can create something but when you can't achieve the vision in your mind it can be torture. Most famously the tragedy of Van Gogh, today known as one of the most skilled and emotional artist but his works were not appreciated within his own life time, Van Gogh also suffered from severe mental health problems which eventually lead to his own demise showing that creativity is a double edged sword.

Society owes everything to the concept of creativity, all it's highs and lows. Whilst the question is an easy one to answer it's hard to define why as there as so many aspects to creativity but simply put, Mankind owes all it's greatest achievements and horrific monstrosities to it's own creation.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Game Art & Design: William Dyer update

When I presented my concept for the William Dyer Character to the group the general consensus was that it was on the right track but lack that adventurer feel, to try address that issue I added a large winter coat. Surprisingly this little addition made all the difference.

Recently I've been trying to get create the face for William Dyer to appear in Second Life, but the process has proven to be quite difficult as I've practically no experience with creating skins. I looked at other example and found it to be extremely difficult to even emulate what I saw. Originally I was just painting the skin in Photoshop but when I applied this to my avatar the result was horrible, I then tried applying the rough layout in Maya using the 3D paint tool and transferring back to photoshop to touch up. This process was a lot easier to work with and this time round I used a much softer brush and paid even closer attention to the methods of other skin textures.

(As you can see, this is frightening.)

I still have to upload the skin into Second Life, but I fell it will look alright, if not it should at least just look better than my first attempt. For the clothing I've decided that I will take photos of the clothing that matches the character design and translate it onto the Second Life templates, this will be a new challenge but I focus I feel it can be pulled off quite well with lasting results. After Seen the amount of work Mark has done with the Level's Setting I really want to create a player that comes close the level of quality Mark has set.

(Getting better)

Due to this hurdle that I face, I've also been looking at professional games and appreciating textures much more than I ever have done, all whilst wondering "Why does it look so good?!"

Game Art & Design: The Idol

When I've been designing my characters I've been constantly looking at my Team Member Mark's concept art of the Game level (image to the right). First of all the level of detail and thought is outstanding and it's really helped me curve my designs to fit the aesthetic of the level. When Mark was creating this we dicussed some kind of objective for the player to aim for, as you can see in the middle Mark has included an artifact of sorts. Using this as a starting pointed I started to build on this and design the idol.

I decided that the idol would be similar to that seen in the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark but with a more Lovecraftian vibe. I imagined a skull encased it a red crystal like substance, from there a I drew up a mock image of how it would look and presented it to Mark. He suggested that I try make it more inhuman so I decided to add a few extra eye sockets and adjust the image to seem less human but no un-human.

To the left is the first design, you can see my notes I made when creating this design. I've started to make more of these to help myself remember things when it would come to the time of creating the objects in Second Life.

From here I started to make a more finalised version to import into Second Life. Using the face template that's used for creating a skin texture for an avatar I painted the design of the idol over the top then imported it into Second Life and applied it to a sphere primitive to create the idol. Mark then took the Idol and applied it to the setting.

This was the first time I've used the templates to create something but I feel I have a good understanding of how the maps fold together around a model, this has given me a good level of understanding to next tackle the skin for the William Dyer character, check out the flattened skin below.

Game Art & Design: Large Monster Designs

So here I am again to share with you some of the designs for the three monsters that I've been working on for the Sunken Temple Video Game Level. As mentioned previously I've settled on creating 3 sizes of monster ranging from small to large. To the left is one of the first completed concepts I had for the large creature, keeping in style with the source of suggested inspiration of Lovecraftian theme designs. Anyone familiar with the writer H.P. Lovecraft will know that most of his creatures are described as indescribable but are often depicted in images as being squid like or reptilian. When it came to ideas for the large monster it just had to be a gigantic squid-like creature. I tried to give it a bit of a spin by adding obscene amounts of mouths and eyes to give a horror influence to the design.

This was a good starting point but I felt it was lacking, it was also around this time I also learned a new technique in Photoshop that I soon put to use in my next piece of concept art for the large monster. This made painting in Photoshop seem a whole lot more natural, I proceeded to refine my design for the large creature, making it more tentacle like and slightly more designer friendly, especially when it comes to creating it in Second Life. It was around this time I starting thinking of textures to apply to the design, it's clearly going to be a kind of wet look I want so I've been looking at fish like textures.

I feel that I'm stepping the right direction with the tentacle design and I'm having trouble as to how to approach creating a turnaround but at least it will be easy to create due to it's simplistic shape. Whilst the small creatures appear around in various places of the set much like insects, and the medium sized creatures will appear from inside the tunnels of the level, my idea for the larger creature is that it stays dormant around the set, looking like a piece of the scenery until an event triggers it to wake. I feel I'm making great strides with this design and that it'll look great once it's created.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Final Fantasy XIII: First Impressions, Battle Mechanics

After a short disappointment of the contents of the "Limited Collector's Edition" it's time to get to the first impressions of the first hour down on the table. Once you start your new game you're greeted to an immense view of the world of Pulse and I have to say it's impressively detailed, once again Square-Enix have proven themselves the leaders in the quality of graphics. The camera pans down on to a train traveling along a lone rail between the fissures of the land, this is very reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII but it gets better, the action kicks of straight away inside the train as our heroine Lightning starts to pull of some amazingly choreographed punches and kicks against the armed soldiers, again the amount of detail in each shot is just unbelievable. All this commotion eventually leads the train into a city where in a full out war seems to be taking place, a giant bird like machine descends and attacks the train, this is your first enemy.

Here the game takes you through the batttle system, the tutorial is quick and imformative, the battle system is a more exciting version of previous systems. You can see the enemies on the screen and once you approach them you can choose to fight them transporting you and your enemy to another "dimension". Starting with your characters facing the enemy you have a bar which represents the time you have once the bar is full you can take action but with this system it's a little different, you only control one character during battle and each action you choose has a value that equates to time on the bar counter so for example; when you start out you have the value of 2 actions on your time bar, a plain attack equates to 1 and Lightning's special attack "Blitz" equates to 2, meaning during a turn you can either choose to attack twice normal or use one special attack. As the battle animations play characters run around the battlefield making it more interesting to look at. This system is pretty much a mix of VII/VIII's and XII's battle mechanics and it works! It's a little fast paced but you soon get used to it.

(The Stagger Bar in the top right, and actions in bottom left)

During battle your enemy also has a guage showing the "Staggering Meter", a new mechanic which once the enemy has taken damage this bar begins to fill up, once the bar is full it enters "Staggering Mode" which means whilst you're attacking you'll inflict more damage, whilst this sounds great you have to keep the barage up as the meter is constantly tick down and once it's in "Staggering Mode" you'll have to weight for that bar to deplet before you can push your enemy into staggering again. This is a nice addition which should make boss fights slight easier especially for new players to the series. Two more features included are replenished health after each battle, again most likely to ease new players into the series and another is a rating system at the end of a battle. You recieve points and a star rating out of 5 depending on how well and quickly you defeated all of your opponents, this is a nice idea but I can't figure out what it's purpose is yet and if it's benefical to get higher scores of not.

(The long bar in the lower middle screen is your active time bar, it gets bigger as you level up)

The layout is also quite pleasing as it it doesn't distact from whats going on in the screen and fits well into the aesthetic of the world of Pulse with it's smooth mechanic design motif. Whilst battles can seem very quick this actually helps to keep the game fast and exciting most likely for the purpose of keeping new player's attentions focused, the system itself flows really well and loading times between screens is barely noticable making in seem more streamlined, this is a well polished and deigned features that welcomes both new and experienced players, the inclusion of replenished health at the end of each battle is a nice feature but at the same time it makes things a little easy (at least at this stage) but perhaps as the game progresses players will thank the developers for this feature.

So far this is turning out to be sleek and exciting addition to the core Final Fantasy franchise, the idea to have a Staggering mechanic is one that has me trying to get that staus from enemies as I play and only having to worry about controling one character during is much easier, that said you should still check on their health during battle. The Active Time Bar makes the turnbased fighting a lot more strategic and has clearly been throughly designed for optimum effectience. Overall there's nothing wrong with this battle system, weither you like it or not will be down to your own presonal preferance.

(It can seem a little full-on at first but you quickly adapt)

Check back as next time I'll be looking at the Characters of Final Fantasy XIII

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Final Fantasy XIII: Limited Collector's Edition, What's In The Box?

It's the Ninth of March, Two-Thousand and Ten and today the next installment of the acclaimed Final Fantasy franchise has been released for X-box 360 and Playstation 3. As with many big titles games being released recently there has been an influx of "Special Editions" to get the consumer to pay an extra £10-£30 (average) more on a title and of course Final Fantasy XIII is no different. First you have the standard edition that gets you just the game, but that doesn't sound exciting at all does it? For and extra £20 on top of the £40 for the standard edition you can get the Limited Collector's Edition, for those how have been enjoying the Final Fantasy series this surely is the edition for you!

So, what do you get for your extra £20? First of all there's the cover which follows the theme of the previous games showing the logo designed by Final Fantasy design veteran Yoshitaka Amano as opposed to the regular one featuring a CG-rendering of the main character taking up most of the image. The contents of the box are all collected within a well designed cardboard box. With some weight to it there's plenty to be had inside such as: The Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack Selection, The World of Final Fantasy XIII hardcover book, Limited Edition prints featuring the characters of the game and a Unique ‘Brand of the l’Cie’ decal. Sound like a good bonus?

Let's take a look at each of the components, the Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack "Selection" is unfortunately just that, only 10 tracks from the games robust library, an insert includes the title tracks and notes by composer Masashi Hamauzu on each of the 10 tracks. This seems a little lackluster for a Special Edition, but the rest of the items include should make up for that right? The limited Edition "Prints" sound very exciting but their really nothing more than double sided postcards featuring the main characters in poses with their summons, with the exception of adding the summons in the background these images have already been seen on every piece of promotional material making them seem less unique or exciting. Next, the Unique ‘Brand of the l’Cie"decal" is nothing more than a sticker that barely takes up the a5 sheet it's been printed on.

(A not-so-Special Edition)

Finally the hardcover book, The World of Final Fantasy XIII. A book that contains Character "Art-work" and CG rendered artwork and Environments from the games production. I have to say this was the main reason why I bought the Special Edition and this was the biggest let down, the Character Art-work that it speaks of is nothing more than those promotional images of the characters again and the CG rendered stuff is nothing more than screen shots.

That's it for the "Limited Collector's Edition", I've seen many games present these editions in so many better ways such as production artwork booklets featuring concept art and it's development, making of documentaries, exclusive content but all Final Fantasy XIII presents are some cheap collectibles that offer no real addition to the experience or insight into how hard people worked on the game. Special editions are meant to be the equivalent of 2-Disc DVDs, if that's the case where's Final Fantasy XIII's Special Features Disc?

For those buying the Playstaion 3 version you're in for a treat though, as with any edition you purchase there is a code included to join the online beta for Final Fantasy XIV: Online (For more info check out If you're looking to buy Final Fantasy XIII: Limited Collector's Edition you are better off saving your extra £20 and getting the regular edition as there is nothing of great value in this box set that offers any extra experience to the fans of the series.

If you're looking to purchase the 4-Disc Soundtrack it's currently only available in Japan, to find out where to import a copy from click Here.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Ken Recommends: Soloman Kane

Soloman Kane
Release: 19/2/10
Running Time: 104 mins.
Studio: Davis-Films
Genre: Adventure/Fantasy
Rating: 15+
Director: Michael J. Bassett
Writer: Michael J. Bassett
Starring: James Purefoy, Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood and Jason Flemyng.

Set in the 1600s, a dark period has over washed the world one were evil goes without being challenged, evil in the shape of witches, Sorcerers and Demons.When Soloman Kane (James Purefoy) a strong and brutal Captain of her royal majesty's navey on a mission in Africa is faced with the Devil's Messenger whom demands the debt of Kane's Soul be payed he realises he must attone for his past sins and walk the path of peace.

Narrowly escaping this encounter Kane escapes back to England, walking the path of a puritan he befriends a like wise minded family but soon this pleasant pause comes to an end after a raid at the family's' campsite forcing Kane to take up the bloody path he walked once again, uncovering a greater conspiracy at the hands of an evil sorcerer by the name Malachi. Soloman will discover many things on his journey that will test him mentally and physically but can his soul be redeemed?

This is a classic swords and fantasy adventure that keeps a modest head but delivers a dark and interesting tale about a character many people are probably not familiar with. Based on the Pulp Magazine character created by Robert E. Howard (most famous for creating Conan The Barbarian) this adaptation shows that film small time Director Michael J. Bassett can deliver an enjoyable storyline with well crafted action scenes which teathers it all together making this a perfect fit into the genre. The atmosphere is one of the main factors that made this film a treat to watch, from the dark brooding castle in Africa to the English Moors on which most of the film takes place on, there's also a lot of rain...really! The costume department did a great job aswell as over all the world that's presented to us is dark and gritty one, combining these two aspects alone the film creates some very well designed and astheticly pleasing scenes that could have be taken straight from those old pulp stories.

Of course all this great work and effort to create a believable and moody backdrop for the characters to exist in can be completely undone if the acting is doesn't match, luckily Soloman Kane suffers from none of this. James Purefoy (previously portraied Mark Antoni in the TV series Rome) makes for a great Soloman Kane with merits for presenting a dark hero that audiences can get behind and root for, which is exactly what the main character in adventure films should do for their viewer. The rest of the cast all help into creating a robust group of characters, but outside of Kane and Meredith Crowthorn, the youngest daughter of the family he befriends (played by Rachel Hurd-Wood) some characters seem forgetful. This doesn't really cause too much of a blemish on the film as it's meant to focus on Soloman Kane.

The direction is spot on as from the moment I was dropped into this dark world I felt submersed which made me pay close attention to the story line. There are some nice moments in between action scenes which help the character progression of Kane and make us empathetic towards him but this is a swords and adventure film! There are plenty of great action scenes which capture that same feel of adventure from previous fantasy films. I walked out of the cinema thouroghly satisfied, even a little giddy too.

Bassett has presented a lesser known character from fiction and given him a great polish, for those looking for something to watch at the cinema and can't decide, go see Soloman Kane. whilst this isn't on the same scale as Lord Of The Rings it would be great to see a series made from this as it's a very modest film that if done by Bassett again could grow into a nice franchise. If you're a fan of Fantasy films this will more than fit the bill, if you're just a genral movie goer Soloman Kane is this months film you might not of known about but should go see, a stable entry into the fantasy genre.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Ken Recommends: Super Mario World

When it comes to video games we currently live in a time where almost any world can be realised using the latest technology to create what the artist has designed. Sometimes it can be easy to look down on previous achievements and merits of yester-years videogames. Today I present to you a game from a series you all know but may not have played, this game is "Super Mario World".

Released originally in Japan on The Super Nintendo Entertainment System almost 20 years ago this 2-D, side scrolling platformer still has many things to offer video game designers when creating thier own IPs. So, let's look atwhat makes this game one of the best in it's own genre. First of all there's the characters: Mario, Luigi, King Koopa/Bowser, Troopa Koopas and Bullet Bills to name just a few. These are all staple characters of the then 5 year old franchise, Mario world takes these great characters and gives you even more than ever before in vibrant 16-bit colour, this is all thanks to the Super Nintendo's extra processing power. Most importantly this game introduces Yoshi the Dinosaur, a large friendly bi-pedal pal who lets mario ride on his back and will eat any enemies in the way. Yoshi will once again be appearing alongside Mario in the soon to be released Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Next, within each of Super Mario World's eight realms there is a host of different levels each with their own unique level design some with hidden exits making for great re-playability. Each vibrant level and realm has a very stylistic approach that soon became the staple of future Mario Games. Another Good point is that theres a very well thought out difficulty curve that starts the player off on average ground and builds from there, taking what the player has learnt from previous levels and applying it to later ones. This game was also the first console Mario game in the series which allowed players to replay levels which makes for choosing a favourite level much easier as you can replay it over and over if you wish. Finally for those who think they can master what the the game can throw at them then theres the secret Star Road Challenge levels which can be just mind boggling if you're not prepared.

(Simple but Vibrant and Memorable.)

The Music which goes with Mario World fits it superbly, everything from overworld themes to tunes played in levels. what's more is that even after years of not playing and returning to play the game you can find yourself humming along with the catchy melodies, truly that's a sign of good composing. Another great thing is it's Controls are very simple consisting of run, jump and hold mechanics making it very accessible to many different players.

For these same reasons "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" did extremely well on the Wii last year. For older gamers this game will be more like a trip of nostagia but for younger gamers who enjoyed "NSMB. Wii" this will be more like an enjoyable history lesson to see where most of the lovable characters we've come to know over the years have came from. Super Mario World is a classic game for all audiences in the truest sense, if you haven't played this game already I highly urge you to as it's one of if not the greatest side scrolling platform ever created.