Saturday, 21 February 2009

Dreams, art, me me me

This morning I had a dream about going to sleep with some kind of rotten meat next to me. No idea why I didn’t just get rid of the meat before sleeping, but I didn’t and when I woke up the next morning there were all these flies and bugs on the walls, including some weird coloured ones but I couldn’t bear to look at them too closely, or my imagination didn’t want to stretch to thinking about insects as I really hate the look of them. Anyway, dream-me knew the meat must be really gross but I didn’t smell or see it [can you imagine smells in your sleep? I don’t think so..] but still knew it was there. So, my Mum happened to be upstairs [we were in some house I didn’t know that resembled a hotel, but my room was the same as here] and I asked her to get rid of it all. Kept saying I can’t do it, I can’t look at it etc and she didn’t really say anything but I knew she’d fix it for me anyway. So, when I woke up for real I did so unpleasantly, looking for something rotten.

So, fortunately I don’t have anything rotten here, apart from maybe the drain which needs a good bleaching, but I was thinking about the dream for a while. Maybe something to do with the massive guilt I had when I broke the hard drive my parents got me, and I knew they’d still pay for it to be fixed/buy a knew one even though it was my fault for always being clumsy and careless. But I think...It’s more to do with that feeling you have when you ignore something for a while, until the point where it’s unbearable and you go crying to someone else to fix it. I don’t think I’m too guilty of that, though everyone must experience that sort of thing to some extent...Usually I don’t think dreams have meanings or anything, but it’s been a while since I felt so emotional over a dream so it must be quite important. I guess the thing I’m guilty over...Is neglecting 3d. Its said that you can do anything if you try hard enough, and generally that’s applied to me, in everything but driving [cannot get my head around it, it’s like I’m mentally disabled or something], and I’m scared it’ll be the same thing with 3d, that I have no hope in hell of ever being good at it. But I doubt it. With some help, I really liked the tree I made, even if it’s just a small accomplishment. I suppose I’m the type of person that expects to be able to do everything art-related straight away, and it’s really not the case. What an irresponsible attitude...

A-Anyway, dreams are a silly topic, so I’ll put something relevant here before posting week 18! It was nice to see Chris’ work on Wednesday, I expected just figurative sculpture for some reason, but seeing the installation work and larger-scale things was very enjoyable...It’s been a while since I looked at fine art at all, last year I was really into it so it was really good to see work which had that emotional quality to it, a nice break from purely commercial stuff. I’ve always said I liked commercial/low-brow art more, but Chris’ stuff reminded me of what the fine art students last year were doing, well more like how they were thinking, basing an idea on something really small and developing it to the point where it’s only traceable back to that point if you’re able to see the whole process.

I think, that’s why a lot of fine art is hard to ‘understand’; either because people go in to a gallery expecting a visual treat or some kind of intellectual explanation, when more of it is based on quite a small idea or feeling, it’s the expression of it which gives it value, and at some point down the line the tools of traditional craftsmanship become unnecessary when it’s abstracted. The artist may still be a good craftsman, but their work might not need those skills to express the idea. For instance, in the fine art group at Leeds last year, for their first project they had to make a collection of every day objects that were interesting in some way, and draw, film, and record them. My friend in that group chose soap, and did things like drawing with them, looking at the textures, and making a kind of shell of the soap out of tracing paper and thread. Recording the sound of soap was pushing it. A lot of those people were pretty good painters and sculptors, but the ones who weren’t did things like video and performance. A lot of people in my graphics group thought it was a load of crap, but I liked all of it! The fine art exhibition was the one of the most interesting at the end of year show. Well, all the groups had good exhibitions, but that one had the most story to it. My first graphics project was making a hundred variations of a backwards letter ‘n’. God knows what Mike and Chris thought that was all about. I didn’t think my portfolio showed enough actual skill, so I stuck a few digital paintings in at the end while my Leeds tutors weren’t looking. But now I understand the projects that we did now, and even though I took Graphics and not Fine Art they share the same processes in the end. That’s why I think it’s good to look at galleries and contemporary art even if you think its crap, because there will be some things that you find interesting and impressive!

Also, I’ll post some of my character work here. Why not?
The descriptions/explanations are all on Facebook so I don’t re-iterate myself here.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Week 18 - Sound and music

Sound and music is as important in games now as it is in any other form of media. Like film, the sound of games has evolved from virtually silent to multiple channel orchestration. Old console games of the 70s and 80s had to keep sound and music to a minimum, the Atari 2600 only capable of generating two notes at a time. Sound effects were very basic and often the background music had to stop so the effect could be heard. Into the 80s, music became more of a specialisation and famous video game themes and composers emerged, such as Koji Kondo [Super Mario, Legend of Zelda] and Koichi Sugiyama [Dragon Quest], and of course Nobuo Uematsu. The short opening theme to Super Mario 64 is one of the most nostalgic pieces of music for me, despite never actually owning an N64. It was always something my friend’s brother would play and I’d sit and watch and long to own it myself, so I always feel vaguely excited and optimistic when I hear it, partly because I got a Playstation instead!

The DragonQuest games I feel are highly underrated, and totally overshadowed by FF as the long-running JRPG. Thinking of the world map theme in DQVIII has this similar nostalgia for me, because even though the game’s not that old, when I finished it I kind of just put it down and forgot about it. When I think of the music, doing mundane things in the game while having the hyperbolic orchestration in the background and the chirping of the dawn birds made it seem like I was this super important hero. In a way it’s similar to Elder Scrolls IV, it’s easy to loose track of time and wonder around at night thinking you’re awesome, until you’re kicked in the head by an imp or a mudcrab wanders up to you, etc. Anyway, the game has this really charming Japanese take on Western Fantasy and the music fits with that; it has a feel of mid 90’s anime of the same theme such as Slayers and that kind of thing.

Nobuo Uematsu on the other hand, has many fantastic compositions [Zongyi described it the best] of which I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite [okay, it’s Melodies of Life, and it’s also my favourite game because it takes itself the least seriously out of the PS-gen games and has Knights and Rogues and Princesses. Japanese vocal version because this was the only one I could find to download on the internet way back when. I only heard the English version once or something!]. The other games’ music, specifically FFVII themes just don’t have the same nostalgia factor for me anymore, as they’re constantly brought up again and again, and have never been laid to rest in peace without some fanbrat reminding us all that it is the best game ever made. I also used to love praising the game, you know, ten years ago.

Uh, bitterness aside, other MIDI-type music that had a lot of exciting atmosphere were things like the Doom and Wolfenstein 3d themes. I still think they’re some of the scariest games even though the baddies look like lego, because the imitation-heavy metal BGM holds the memories of me and my friends shrieking when shot from behind, then deciding it was way too tense and going to play some Rayman instead. That was probably the last time I played FPS. Around that same time I was really into DDR, which had tons of disposable pop songs that were popular at the time, but also some original Konami classics. If you were lucky, you might find an American import machine and get to listen to some garbled Engrish Jpop or the opening theme from Gundam Wing, which was pretty much pee-in-your-pants level of excitement for me at the time. From there on I was really into rhythm games, and the idea of playing a game based around music rather than music just being there for background and sound effect purposed was a pretty foreign concept. The most recent music-based game I’ve played is Patapon on the PSP, in which you act as a God and make a drum beat to command your cute little tribesmen. It’s really incredibly cute!
Here's a rather old article that goes into the purpose of game music in more detail.

Video game music has a kind of cult status now and has developed into its own culture catalysed by the internet, with many of it’s own artists and events, such as Blipfestival. The actual chips from older games can be emulated and used to make music in a technical approach, or famous pieces of music from games are remixed, sampled and covered by other artists. Amateur game developers also write original compositions, wherein all the actual game content is usually made by one person, sometimes masquerading as a ‘team’. A notable example is horror/murder mystery ‘sound novel’ Higurashi no naku koro ni/When they Cry by 07th Expansion [composed of 3 people]. The atmosphere is created with background music and sound effects, where the player has to collect hints and solve the mystery. The original features some pretty appalling artwork, but it just makes the various bloody scenarios even more disturbing. I wanted to find a translated clip to show, but Youtube only has Japanese. Here’s a good example of the cicada chirping sound effect, which never fails to give me the creeps, as does the psychotic Rena interrogation. Also, that high pitched white noise kind of thing is constantly there. Shudder.

Oh, the Good Times song! I listened to it and didn’t really recognise it immediately...But it’s been used in lots of songs, one of the most sampled pieces of music of all time. This makes it a very important and influential song. Isn’t it in Rapper’s Delight?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Week 17 - Game Engines

A game engine is a piece of software designed to render 2d/3d graphics, sound, animation, AI, and a physics engine [ to simulate Newtonian physics and approximate effects and conditions in a real life or fantasy world], among other features. To economise game production, they are typically used over and over when creating different games, falling into the category of middleware as they provide reusable tools purchasable for different companies, reducing the time and cost of development.

Key technologies include a rendering engine, the mathematical process of creating an image from a 3-dimensional model containing geometry, texture, lighting, shading and viewpoint. The word can be compared to how a traditional artist ‘renders’ an image. Scene graphs in games are used to describe logical and spatial relationships between objects in a scene, and can also be useful in reducing memory budget and increasing speed. Recent trends are favouring accessibility, and engines are being developed more for devices such as mobile phones and web browsers, e.g. Shockwave and Flash.

Additive or subtractive environments describe the process by which objects are created within the engine. An attitive environment exists as an empty void, in which the game world is created and sealed off without the void space leaking into it. The Quake engines, MaxFX, and Half-life are all examples of additive engines.
A subtractive environment is the opposite, as in there is an endless solid instead of a void, and objects are created by removing parts of the solid and the game world is formed from negative space. As additive enviroments are easier to manipulate, a large cube can be removed from a subtractive space and things can be built within it, emulating an additive environment but without the problem of the void leaking in. Some popular engines to use subtractive environments are the Unreal, Dark, and Serious engines.

Using middleware engines can be a big advantage to developers as mentioned previously; it prevents ‘re-inventing the wheel’ – why recreate something that already exists unnecessarily? Engines also are becoming more and more complicated, and creating an original piece of software would be extremely demanding requiring vast amounts of expertise. Also, engines that have been used in successful games are naturally attractive to developers.
However, the licensing of the third-party engine can also be costly, and may require modification to meet the developer’s specific needs. Creating an in-house engine may produce totally unique features for the games using it, with the opportunity to re-use it and sell as middleware in the future. Considering these disadvantages, a safer choice with less risks of failure would be to use pre-existing software, although it would be interesting to see more original engines being developed for specific purposes.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Obvious fakes

...Of the game and console variety. BEHOLD:

Dazzling 3d DRAPHICS, huh?

Remember Metall Slug? Best game ever am I right?



Nintendo 64
Compact Disc



I think I've seen this on a market stall before.

Superior to the Dreamcast

OH GOD POLYSTATION 2, with Goku and Jigglypuff SHIT YES

Help, it won't stop..!

Er, have you played your SexBox 3600円 today?
Costume x1 Igniter [???] x1 Lotion x1
...And those must be the games for it above. Also, Microchinco - chinco - chinko = Japanese word for penis. Okay, I laughed. Unfortunately it's not a real console, but some crazy sex kit in disguise, probably a typical example of what you'd find in Akihabara.

Also, what the fuck, Japan? Are those mini-hamburgers and broccolli on pizza?

The Shrimp and Mayonnaise Roll Winter Double King Pizza from Pizza Hut. This amazing amalgamation is filled with crab, shrimp, beef, scrambled eggs, onion, broccoli, mayo and a demi-glace sauce. And the exterior crust is filled with shrimp filled with mayonnaise.


Friday, 6 February 2009

Week 16 - Gaming Cultures

Gaming culture is so rich and varied because it is just another representation of real life; there are games and communities to suit almost everyone’s tastes. If games themselves are a form of escapism, then the cultural aspects that surround them are the grounding ties back to the real world. They are the thing that makes playing games more integrated with every day life; the friends one makes in an MMO often cross over into becoming ‘real’ friends, not just digital representations of people. Gaming communities are able to give the solitary act of playing games a little more meaning.

In this aspect, I think they’re a good thing, although not quite for me. Games for me remain as a solitary hobby, pure escapism which I’m happy with as being completely separate from my real social life. For one, I’ve never really played the sort of games which favour community in the same way, apart from maybe certain RPGs with large online fanbases; where we discuss everything apart from the actual gameplay. Somehow I don’t think this sort of thing counts, as there’s no competitive aspect, only discussion that could apply to any other medium. Another reason for my game shyness is probably the same reason for my general internet shyness. For about 5 years I was extremely active online and keen on the idea of online interest-based communities and friends. A while ago I found myself becoming less and less active, and quite jaded with the whole thing, I didn’t see it as necessary anymore, and not that fulfilling as there was always a distance between you and these people that limited you to little more than glorified small talk, which you can do in real life anyway. Another thing is when you’re younger, you seem to have the insatiable craving to find others who are similar to you because you feel so isolated all the time; it’s a fairly natural part of teen angst, isn’t it? Now I know there are in fact many thousands of people with similar interests and opinions to me, it all seems a bit redundant. I’m not particularly special or unique, and I’m happy with that, whereas 4 years ago most of the things I did were motivated by the drive to be different from everyone else. So now more than anything, I prefer to be an observer or do things anonymously, and right now that’s fulfilling to me.

I’m sure there are many people with MSN contacts full of people they’ve never met and have very interesting conversations with, but I have 2 or 3 people who I’ve met online and meet up with regularly in RL too. If I meet someone online who I have good conversation with and it’s possible to meet in RL too, I’d definitely want to meet them! I think, with gaming communities, it seems to be more about having many, many friends to have game-related small talk with, and that kind of thing doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Give it a few years and I’ll probably have different attitudes again, but sometimes I just need to crawl away into peace and silence and be content with doing what I want to do and having my friends in RL. Also part of escapism, there’s lots of opportunity to recreate yourself as an avatar in a game as there is on the internet as a whole, and a lot of people do blur the boundaries to lie about things with no repercussions.

As for games being the new literacy, I don’t know if I like the idea of it. If games are part of your culture, then yes its good to play many different games, but also watch films and read old books and books of your time too, I think everyone needs to read more and seek out what they’re interested in! Though I spend most of my time watching children’s cartoons, so it feels wrong to pretend to give advice...!

Here's a pretty cool example of something productive coming from gaming cultures, PSP design club [although I think part of the site is down right now].