Monday, 29 December 2008

What happened

Amateur anime in the 80s

Amateur anime now:

The first film was shot frame by frame with an 8mm camera by three animation students, made for a scifi convention in Osaka. They would go on to found studio Gainax [Evangelion, FLCL, Gunbuster, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, etc ect]. One of them was Hideaki Anno, one of those anime directors where when you see one of his films, you can recognise anything else he's done, because his own style is so heavily imposed on it. Everything is hand drawn and its all pretty crude but its still exciting to watch. In Daicon IV [the film with ELO music] the animation staff increased to 9 or 10, all of them future Gainax animators [including Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, recently did illustrations/concept art for Rebuild of Eva], still as an amateur studio you can see how good the production values are. Some of the effects just put modern animation to shame. Unfortunately, this was the best quality video I could show you. Apparently it could never be commercially released because they never got permission to use the song Twilight or the Playboy bunny outfit, ha. Do you see all the references to Star Trek, Star Wars and American comics? There's also a load of old anime characters in the crowd at the end, I see Kamen Rider and possibly Char from Gundam, as well as Spock in a tux. I've written too much about it, but I love these! Its so interesting to see the first works of this studio.

The second thing I linked to is another piece of fan-made anime which was released yesterday at the 75th Winter Comiket . It's based on a series of shooter games called The Touhou Project created as an amateur work by a guy called ZUN, although he's nothing to do with this animation. The fanbase for this game is so huge [over 1300 artists circles selling fan-made manga at C75] Maikaze got professional voice actors to appear in the anime, so I was a little excited to see it, although I wasn't expecting much. I won't link to the whole unsubtitled 20 minute episode, but the animation shown in the trailer is pretty much the extent of what was on offer. The background art is nice, but actual 2d animation is really scarce, and I won't go into what I was expecting from the story/theme. I know I'm being quite mean to criticise such an amateur production, but Maikaze had unlimited time to make this, along with modern technology which is supposed to speed up the animation process; this looks like it was outsourced to Korea. They also had their love for Touhou to fire their blood! Its just so poorly crafted compared to what was being made all those years ago. I don't think I'm being to harsh to feel disappointed.

I'm sorry, I think I talk about my hobbies too much. But if you're at all interested in anime, anything by studio Gainax is worth watching. Even if you hate anime and are beginning to regret following my blog, I guarantee you there are great things amidst a vast ocean of shit. Even things which aren't about magical little girls.
Weekly tasks coming soon...Really...

Saturday, 27 December 2008


Good opinion/rant piece about Tokyopop 'manga pilot'

Anyone interested in the comic book industry, or had considered using this as a gateway route might be interested in reading. Its pretty funny and shocking. This is fairly old news, I know, but I thought I’d link it here in case anyone hadn’t heard of this yet.

I can’t say I’m surprised. When I first saw the advertisements for this competition it really did raise my suspicious that TP were out to exploit artists. They just come off as incredibly patronising, I mean just read that terms/conditions contract. I’ve never seriously considered entering before I read this as more than a passing fancy, and [quite arrogantly] I thought, would I really want to be published with a company which has a whole branch of ‘American manga’ and spreads misconceptions. I know that having any kind of publication is an achievement, and perhaps this sounds like I’m just jealous of some of those decent artists and bitter of the idea that the precious manga style isn’t tainted by filthy westerners, but it’s not like that. I think that when you are passionately interested in something, enough to be inspired to do something creative because of it, you should make the effort to understand the context and history of that thing. Don’t the two come together? It seems not. If it did, more people would know that manga refers to comics made in Japan/by people brought up in Japan. Its manga because they have that whole history and process in their work. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on this part, because of course it’s still a grey area, but I do believe that comic books that go through Japanese publication and have been made by someone who has absorbed that culture [its that more than a race thing, but how many white people are born and brought up in Japan? It’s easier to refer to race] should be the only comics we refer to with a Japanese word, just like manhwa refers to Korean comics. It’s just logical, isn’t it?

I like comic books from any country. Even if I come across as fanatical [please don’t agree with this] I don’t worship glorious Nippon [like any country, there are of course repulsive things about it as well as interesting]. But I don’t see why these Western comics should be marketed as manga just because they have a few googly eyes and effeminate men in there. It just comes across as shallow to me. No matter how well the style is emulated [what is ‘the style’? Manga is any kind of narrative art coming out of Japan, we only see like, a tiny tiny percentage of what publishers think would appeal to consumers over here. There is no definitive style, it’s like saying all American comics feature big, steroidy muscular men in tight pants], it’s still a comic. It’s like those people don’t acknowledge their own influences outside of manga at all, and selling stuff as Amerimanga just shows the publisher’s ignorance [or they’re underestimating their audience?].

So, my family is pretty working class and we’re from a decent rural pocket of a rough area. Kids slapped teachers at my middle school and all that sort of thing; my school experiences were most likely no better or no worse than anyone else’s to be honest. Just think how absorbed you are into British and American culture, even if you’re not aware of it. Everyone has had some great memorable experiences in their lives. I don’t see why all those things shouldn’t influence you when writing/drawing a story. I don’t know how anyone could feel comfortable writing a story about a Japanese high school with Japanese characters in a completely foreign place where all the character’s relationships are idealised. That’s pretty much what most of the RSoM entries are about. There’s nothing wrong at all with doing it as a personal escapist thing. But I think....People should consider if anyone would want to purchase and read their escapist fantasies in print.

I once played a fan-made visual novel game which I thought was pretty cool. The scenarios were put together pretty well. Then I read the artist’s bio in which she described herself as a Spanish girl who didn’t identify with the Spanish culture at all, and only typed in English or Japanese. It made me think, how can you not ‘identify’ with your own country? You are a product of your country’s culture whether you like it or not, you can’t just ignore something so fundamental. After that, I played the game again and found myself to be highly critical of it. I don’t know whether I was just angry at the artist for saying those things in her bio, but second time through I found the characters and dialogue to be very unrealistic and full of bad melodrama. It’s probably a bad thing that I let the artist’s personality and views influence my judgement. But I still have this negative disposition to people who call their work manga when there’s no reason for it. It’s a bad habit. A lot of the RSoM entries are very good, the 2006 winner June Kim
has some really awesome illustrations on her site [please look at it!], and the comic 12 Days was great – it didn’t even feel like manga, which its not supposed to, but the publisher says differently.

So, I don’t like Tokyopop so much, the only comics about Japanese highschool I want to read are from people who have been through Japanese highschool. Please Amerimanga artists, read some good western comics and write something about your own experience, I would very much like to read it!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Sackcloth and Ashes

Hello, dear readers.
If, like me, you're into imagery such as boys, flowers and animals, I just discovered the Sackcloth and Ashes blog after seeing the artist's fanart images floating around for a few years. The Alice in Wonderland illustrations in the memo are really nice if you scroll back a few pages. Makes me wish my own Alice illustration book [Must photograph that properly one day] was a bit...freer. I really should have developed that more. Also, this, this and this are really nice to say they're made with the online equivalent of MSpaint. Actually, just look at the gallery.

Unfortunately, most of her oils on the site have been taken down because of online distribution and people actually printing and selling her work without permission, and obviously you can't claim copyright to fanart. Discovering her original illustration recently was quite refreshing, even if [like me] you find yourself incrediby jaded by manga, yet can never stop yourself from looking for it. Its just fascinating to see simple line drawings by an artist who you've only seen do fully-rendered paints.

Ironically I only knew about this artist by unauthorised distribution in the first place, but its definately not the first time I've seen whole galleries removed due to people saving and reposting images elsewhere. It's a shame, because even with notices saying not to repost, when you publish something on the internet, there's nothing you can really do to stop people distributing it without your permission, especially when those people speak a different language [though this incident was caused by Japanese-speakers]; so I think you should be emotionally prepared for that to happen as soon as you publish your work online.

Also, can anyone read the kanji for the artist's name? I can't even find it.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Week 9 - Ergonomics

As we can tell just by looking at the world around us, technology has been going down the route of ‘smaller and sleeker’ for a while now. Game consoles of today seem to be experiencing some regression in this aspect, but companies like Nintendo are still conforming to the trend. Consoles do seem to be an exception to this rule, as the thicker they are, the more powerful they seem to be.

I do like my PS3, but if the PS2 is a brick, this thing is a cement block. It looks good, until you see it IRL. I know that for a home console, they should be a relevant size for their environment, and since we have the PSP transport isn’t as necessary, but I just find it too heavy. I am not looking forward to carrying it home tomorrow for Christmas [even though the thing is out of commission right now due to Assassin’s Creed error]. This seems really trivial, but the fact that people, especially University students, part of its target audience travel far more frequently than they used to and want to bring their beloved beast of a console with them is something that should be more doable. Maybe I’m being picky since the PS3 is a MAN’S console and I lack the required manly strength to carry it without living in constant fear of dropping and breaking its precious inside-bits. Perhaps the pure manliness of the PS3 is what attracted me to it. Aside from this, I do think the PS3 looks the best out of the next-gen consoles. I think the X360 looks a bit like a toy. The Wii looks pretty cool but I don’t like white so much. What I did like about the PS3 controller was the similarity to the PS2, and the wireless feature is really nice. Also, I do like the consistency which Sony is giving us, as the user interface of the PS3 is based off the PSP which came before it. The PSP works just like holding a PS controller in your hands with a screen in the middle, and I really love it! I find it much more appealing than the dual-screens or interactive screen and so on. It reminds me of the original design of the GBA, which I also really liked for the symmetry of it.

Menu interfaces on the other hand; I was disappointed at first to find my PS3 rather confusing to use. Small examples such as the fact that when you insert a flash drive, you have to select the ‘see all’ option after the interface tells you there are no files on the drive. And that option is not visually obvious, it took me way too long to figure it out even after going through the menu several times and considering trading in my console with the complaint that it couldn’t read USB flash memory. I am not a natural with computers, at all, but I’m learning to understand these things after many years of persistence. Should I really have to do that? I also find the online network capability ridiculously over-complicated to set up. Again, after reading the manuals, and considering myself a person of average intelligence, I am non the wiser about how to do this. It’s gotten to the point where I’m asking the person who built my computer to come and do it for me, and he doesn’t know anything about consoles. So, why so complicated? How can manuals say so little? Somehow I doubt I would have any less trouble with xbox live. I’m putting it down to my own lack of computer-related intuition/common sense unless anyone agrees with me. I’d estimate that I use around 10% of what my PS3 boasts it can do, and that's not that good, is it?

When will ergonomics go too far? When functionality and accessibility is compromised. My complaints above are more related to basic graphic design than ergonomics, aside from the size/weight issue. But I don’t have that much of a problem with it, if I could use all the features with no trouble then I wouldn’t mind at all.

The joystick is only really useful in things like flight simulators, or the sort of thing used in military training. It lacks the physically interactive features to match the needs of next-gen games, or even games that were made years ago. The ergonomics of the joystick is already incorporated into the analogue sticks present on most other controllers, so it has become quite redundant a while ago. After removing the nostalgia goggles I can remember the joystick being quite awkward and frustrating to use with PC games, but perhaps I was using it for the wrong kind of games? I don’t remember that clearly. Although I don’t think peripherals aside from the standard controller are really necessary, they do look kind of cool, and using a light gun, even if it didn’t work at all, made you feel pretty awesome. Nintendo has always made some weird peripherals such as the Powerglove and the Virtualboy, and its interesting to still see strange unnecessary things like fishing rods come out for the Wii, which they will most likely continue to make for sheer novelty value. Which isn't entirely a bad thing.

[pst, why are these 'thumbnails' blogger gives you always so massive?]

Week 8 – Storytelling and Games

I agree with the opening quotations that storytelling and listening to stories is fundamental to our natures and desires. The power of myth is often underestimated, but over a long enough period of time, stories can even be transformed into what is established by common belief as fact. A lot of the stories we consume we do so without realising, which can lead to the idea that they aren’t important; which we’ve seen so in games of the past where plots seem like they’re thrown together at the last minute or are full of deus ex machina. Depending on the genre/tone of the game, story doesn’t have to be a fully fleshed out and developed plot, I think even simple thematical narrative can be sufficient if the emotional impact is communicated.

Does story make a better game? Usually, I think, yes, but of course there are varying degrees to what extent ‘story’ is necessary. The primary purposes of story in games are to give the characters [and players] motivations for their actions, to lay out a beginning, middle and end, and to make the player become emotionally connected to the game. I think this aspect in particular is easily overlooked. It is the difference between a game you enjoyed playing that is fun, and something that stays with you in the same way a novel or film does, and games have perfect capability to do that to the same extent. They have the same tools as film – image, sound, and voice. But they also have the extra dimension of interactivity. Depending on the genre, the depth of the story is of arguable importance. For instance, in a puzzle game, an interesting premise/theme is enough, and usually a narrative is a nice bonus that I think should be included more often and usually works well, for example in the Puyo Pop series, the puzzle battles are connected by a simple but appealing narrative that corresponds with the light-hearted style. On the other hand, in games that deal with human killing and other weighty issues, I think they require a heavier level of depth to justify those kinds of themes without appearing arbitrary and shallow.

Reaching a certain point in the game can make the storyline progress by the use of cutscenes, but those are still linear narratives. Some games take the concept of narrative and make progressing through the story the main element of gameplay. The player can be presented with choices at different stages of the plot which lead onto different ‘routes’, and branch off even further to a multitude of outcomes. Even with that type of setup, all the player is really doing is switching from one linear narrative to the next.

After looking at some articles dealing with story in games such as this, and this, while making some interesting points which I will not quote or analyse at the risk of making this entry too long, seem to ignore a genre of game that immediately came to mind after I read the title of this task, Visual Novels. Although classed as ‘games’, examples of this genre are more like interactive fiction, hence the term. All the gameplay consists of is choosing options at decision points; in other words the ‘gameplay’ is completely limited. Does it sound unappealing? Gameplay is usually the thing which we focus on completely. Capcom’s Phoenix Wright series is the best example of a popular visual novel, and I am struggling to think of any more games released in the West which incorporate this style, apart from maybe Atlus’ Persona series as Miles' mentioned or maybe even some parts of Harvest Moon [but even then it’s more of a dating sim, different to a VN as they’re based on statistics where as VNs are based on routes and ‘flags’]. 70% of Japan’s pc game market is made up of visual novels, and not recognised as a genre in the West. The actual narrative content of VNs varies, genres which lend themselves to the medium are typically drama/romance and mystery, character depth is usually the focus. The platform is mostly PC because it’s easier to make the games for, and successful titles are sometimes ported to PS2 or PSP. Some of the most popular manufacturers [I’d link to their home pages, but most people reading this might find the anime artwork rather eye-searing] are currently TYPE-MOON [started as an amateur group, turned professional after Tsukihime, their most popular series is Fate/Stay Night], Key [makes particularly melodramatic titles, but I’m finding Clannad quite enjoyable] and Nitroplus, who have a subsection which makes VNs aimed at women, which unfortunately have not yet been translated into English by fans. [Right now, I’m playing this game on my PSP. The point is to go through the events of the tv series it’s based on as your own character. I’d try to explain the appeal of that, but probably could not do so in so little words without sounding like an odious fangirl, so perhaps another time.] So why aren’t VNs exported to us? Some of them have been , and they haven’t sold because they’ve been marketed the completely wrong way. I won’t go into it today because this entry is already tl;dr.

The fact that there are pretty much no non-linear narratives in video games could suggest that they’re simply inappropriate for the medium, but I somehow doubt that. Game creators are not postmodern novelists, and I just don’t think the majority of the audience would [literally] buy it. However, considering the standard of game writers, I don’t think the narrative aspects should be ‘dumbed down’ into an easy to follow story when they’re capable of producing more complex things. Instead let people be dazzled and set the standard for other games. I wish. Amateur works probably have a better chance of attempting it rather than big producers which have risks and audience targets to reach and so on. Also, related to the topic I found this which I’d read about in an essay on storytelling once, but I can’t get the Java on my browser to work for this site.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Week 7 – The role of the Art director

An Art Director is one of the roles an artist within the company can aspire to. They control and oversee the work of the art team to ensure the deadlines are met, and to monitor the overall visual style of the game. Even though it partly focuses on managerial skills, I still think it is a creative role more concerned with artistic concepts than production. Also, someone who wants this role would likely have a background as an artist directly involved in creating content, who would prefer to take on more responsibility for others, and become less involved in physical production.

I agree that art direction within a game is similar to the role of the same name within a film production. Setting up a shot in terms of lighting, composition, colour and overall style all still apply as much in games as they do in film. They’re the same artistic principles.

The qualities you would need to fit this role I think would be the capability to have a clear artistic vision which you can express to others effectively. Social skills are important, as one of the main focuses is communicating with others, so an Art Director should love to work with people. They should be self confident, as they’re taking responsibilities for others as well as themselves, and be able to work closely with other designers. An assertive but not forceful personality would probably be suited to this job. I’m not sure if this is the kind of role I would like. Having more artistic control does have a certain kind of appeal, as does becoming very involved with everyone else’s work, but I doubt I have the right kind of personality for this job. I’m pretty meek and not forceful with my opinion. More of a ‘yes sir’ kind of person. That’s really bad, isn’t it?

Also, here’s a good place to share something I’m finding very interesting and amusing to play through in game - Toby Gard [creator] and Jason Botta [Crystal Dynamics Creative Director] comment on Tomb Raider Anniversary, Greece level.
I love Director's commentary. Everything should have it.

Week 6 – Game Design

Even as console games progress, with more complex gameplay and improved graphics, the principles of good design should stay the same. Basic principles should be coherently established such as how to graphically represent the game space, how to represent the player, what constraints exist, what obstacles are present and what the goal of the game is. To immerse the player properly, the game should also have a set of rules that become clear to the player over time.

Gameplay I would define as how the game responds to the player and how we interact with it. For the game to be ‘realistic’ despite the themes or setting, the physics of that game need to be consistent for it to be believable, and for the player to learn how to play and progress. If the rules are inconsistent and sloppy, the player will most likely become frustrated and confused, and unlikely to continue, e.g. rules for which part of a platform the character can land on. SM World series is a good example of platforming which is fun, has a learning curve and just the right amount of tricks.

Gameplay in video games is similar to traditional board games in the way that both ‘worlds’ abide by rules, which are easier to manipulate in video games. They also have more complex sets of rules which happen in the background, of which the player isn’t aware. In board games, you are always conscious of what is and isn’t allowed. I suppose a board game is like a microcosm of a video game, which is logical because their roots are in traditional games.

The Art Director is someone who controls the visual design elements and makes sure these things are cohesive with other areas of the design. The role is very important since games are a visual medium. If there is more than 1 designer, which generally there will be, it should be compromised of a small group who are each specialised in different things, so each person can do their job without spending too long debating over specific issues. Although I think that games should stick to some design principles, I don’t think genres need their own set of rules, as not doing so would leave more room for innovation to avoid cliché. As far as art goes, I like lots of variation as long as it sticks to an overall theme. Other things like gameplay and music can add to certain atmosphere; this kind of thing is more likely to make an impression on you.

Week 4/5 - Writing about games

I think that games should be judged alongside other visual media such as film, and not as products. There are many elements to a game that can be ranked on an objective scale, and the task is to decide which factors the readers of the review will want to know. Judging a game within the context of its intended audience and possibly its genre should be important; even the graphics/story should be valued by keeping in mind the question of whether or not these things add to the gameplay. I think that audiences should be divided into ages, and also by the platform of the game, as this is usually suggestive of the demographic; i.e. a game for the Nintendo Wii will often be aimed at families and a PC game aimed at an older demographic. Those things such as graphics and visual elements are all subjective, people have different opinions on what looks nice or what is or isn’t necessary, but I believe that gameplay can always be judged as good or bad. This could be done by assessing how effective the gameplay is at conveying the designer’s intentions and how enjoyable it is for the player. Issues such as how immersive the game is, or if the rules are consistent can contribute to this. Length and re-playabilty should also be considered; though the genre of the game should be taken into account, e.g. an MMO or linear narrative.

I found the examples of New Games Journalism rather interesting, as it does make the exclusive task of reviewing games accessible to any player. I like the fact that the opinions of the reviewers are going to have less bias, but I would personally prefer to read a magazine article which directly deals with the various parts of the game. My own experiences involve reading several different reviews to see what kind of rankings the game of my interest would receive, and generally anything in the 6-10 area I’ve enjoyed, even if my opinions on the specific elements vary.

I stopped reading game reviews in printed media a while ago, mainly due to the price for a small coverage on maybe 1 or 2 games out of the many the magazine would review, most of that information I could find for free on the internet. Professionally published reviews [online or printed] can easily sound like promotions rather than unbiased opinion, and even though all opinions contain some amounts of bias, I think it’s wise to read more rather than less if you’re looking to become informed about a game and make a decision on whether or not its worth buying. To become more engaged with the review, media like video is useful for showing examples of specific features by demonstration rather than description, which I think may become even more popular in the future. With the prices of games, researching before investing is becoming more important than ever.

Not particularly surprising, but I like to look at the stuff on Gametrailers, Gamespot [though less than before since they lost a lot of rep], IGN and pictures on Famitsu.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A few pieces

Here's my final piece for Abbey park, I have a feeling this is going to look really really muted and washed out on pcs, but there were a lot of subtle changes in colour in the scene which I really liked. Bare trees are awesome, I thought a lot of the other views were too samey really...
Still working on the 2pt perspective, etc.

But here's some more character stuff. Some really quick sketches of the kind of poses I wanted to do. I thought I standing pose would be easier to model in clay, all I really want to do is be able to get the proportions right. Also an orthographic view of the pose I chose in the end.

I'll probably do another one using my own photo ref too. About this project...I'm aiming to really develop it next week and end up with something different. Because its a humanoid, I'm not sure where to take it, unless I just come up with something completely new?

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

more anatomy practise

More 30 second drawings. This is so hard!