Wednesday, 17 November 2010

You Spoony Bard (A Personal History of Video Games, aka, Confessions of an FF-aholic)

You know those people who collect songs as defining points in their history? Like, my friend, Cassia - Every romance and break up has a song that she can’t bear to listen to because of the memories.

I guess you could say I’m like that with games. I remember getting my first console - the handheld gem, GAMEboy - with pokemon yellow, and thinking I was the coolest thing ever, because I had a pokemon game. I was ten, and doing my SATs, and I remember putting off studying just to play, and was the first game that I’d completed properly (because playing Ocarina of Time on the N64 at my mates, doesn’t count in the slightest). Unfortunately, Pokemon was a craze that would continue on with me.

I got Pokemon Gold in 2001, and was fearful to open it because it was shiny and I didn’t want to spoil it. It was eventually my cousin who clipped me about the head saying: “What’s the point of having it if you’re not going to play it? Besides, I have silver and want someone to trade with.” I remember being so impressed by the fact that it wasn’t monochromatic - I practically danced. And that your Pokemon actually had a gender!? My gosh, golly, gee whiz! It was awesome - ah the simpler times, when we were all so much easier to please.

The last thing I got for the game boy (which still, to this day, rests in my wardrobe, god bless its weary soul) was Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, later that same year. I played it once, and have been unable to since. I’m not sure why. It could have been something to do with awkward controls. I was never really fond of the game to be honest. But it was a Zelda, and therefore deserved some kind of honorary play through - even if its now serving as a dust collector.

I think I was fourteen (probably younger) when I got my PlayStation 2, my mum had me do a treasure hunt, finding clues around the house to track it down. I loved it. I just didn’t know what to play on it - I hadn’t discovered final fantasy yet - and so my dad ended up using it more than me. Now its rare if you see the controller leave my hands (as I type, I’m playing Kingdom Hearts 2 one handed).

When I was sixteen we moved to Canada, and this is where the fun began. My animation peers took me under their wing, as the youngling of the class, taking it upon themselves to teach me all they knew of everything to do with geek-dom. I, of course, didn’t protest. Within the space of three years, I’d worked my way through three Final Fantasy’s, five Zelda games, a slew of Mario games, All the Kingdom Hearts games (apart from final mixes), and had become a pro in Super Smash Brothers Melee, and powned all as Link in Soul Calibur. I’d also decided, without a doubt, that I wanted to work in games, and gained a PS3.

The best, and first, Final Fantasy that I worked my way through was Final Fantasy XII - Balthier is one of the best characters I have ever encountered in a game, and the story line is fantastic. The only complaint I had was that it wasn’t long enough.

Ah, and I remember trolling up and down Windsor high street, and Devonshire Mall, looking for a copy of Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, only to break my arm before the last boss. Thusly Ganondorf was defeated using only one hand. This is not easy.

GAAAACKT!!!On returning to England, I bought a PSP (purely for Dissidia: Final Fantasy, only to fall in love with Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core), and play it religiously to this day, along with my borrowed DS (I love you mum!).

Which.. Pretty much brings us up to date, as I play through Ookami, one of the best 2D-effect games I have ever played. It’s innovative, involving, and aesthetically beautiful. I’m also playing FFXII for the twenty-fifth time, Kingdom Hearts II, and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. Oh - and mustn’t forget Dragon Age: Origins, a game that I’m giving a second chance to win me over.

And As this post is now over seven hundred words, I’ll take my leave, and bid you adieu, auf wiedersehen, and good night.

The President has Been Kidnapped by Ninjas (aka, A History of Video Games 2000's)

So, after the nineties, we’re stepping into the nought-ies with the next decade of Video Gaming, bringing us bang up to date at the end of it.

This era (one I am very familiar with) was dominated by the console - Sony, Nintendo, and, new to the market, Microsoft, duked it out becoming the big three of gaming. It also saw the rise of the hand held console. The GameBoy, evolved, transforming into the GameBoy Colour, the GameBoy advance, until it reached the DS level. Along side it, we saw the birth of Sony’s PSP.

This decade was also the graphical explosion. Every game was more advanced than the last - they looked better, played better, the technology used in their creation grew at an exponential rate. From the blocky graphics of Spyro, into the fully rendered, and fantastical worlds of Final Fantasy XIII (awful game, but it looked great).

In the year 2000, Sony wowed the market with the PlayStation 2, named the third best video game console by IGN. And, due to several delays (that

I remember well) it couldn’t be found anywhere. People were buying for hundreds of dollars, if it hadn’t tipped into the thousand mark, over the internet, j

ust to be able to own one.

It wasn’t until 2001 that is was more widely available, with a smash hit line up of games, that fended off its competitors of the time; the Nintendo GameCube, and Microsoft’s Xbox.

The Xbox, however, came compatible with online console gaming, utilising the function to make multiplayer games using the internet. It was also the first console to have an inbuilt storage facility for saving games, and downloading from ‘Xbox Live’ - removing the need for memory cards (which I know I lost several times, for my PS2).

Last, but not least, was the GameCube. Released in 2001, it was the third console of Nintendo’s to connect to the internet, through the use of a special adapter

(though very few games were released that made use of this), and the first of its consoles to use CD-ROMs to run its games, instead of cartridges, that had a limited life span.

By now, 3D was standard on console gaming, common among RPG’s and First Person Shooters, and from there, it could only go up. With the console war settled into the three main competitors, the race was no longer about the hardware, but rather the software. This allowed for an exploration into graphics. The look of games became more sophisticated and polished, and that, in turn affected the gaming audience. It became standard for games to look good - the better looking the game, the more interest it garnered from fans.

Similar advancements were made in aspects of game play. User interfaces became more intricate, and there were more options applied to game play. The player could affect more of the surrounding worlds - some games (-cough- Fable -cough-) going so far as to change the look of the world and the people in it, as well as scenarios, depending on the choices the player made.

Unfortunately, this generation of consoles, came to an end, all too soon, as the new seventh generation was born. 2005 gave rise to the Xbox 360, and 2006 ushered in the Wii and PlayStation 3. A new frontier of gaming, so to speak - better hardware, more capabilities, and motion control.

The Wii was the first motion control console, using the wand controller to direct a cursor on screen, and the buttons to execute different commands. It’s graphical capabilities, however, weren’t much higher than the game cubes, but the possibilities for game play were exponential.

On the other hand, the PS3 was more focused on graphics, indeed its first line up of games showcased as much, verging on the closest thing to realism seen on a console. However, most of the line up games had sacrificed on game play, and as such, the Wii had a better launch with its star line up (an Legend of Zelda leading the way, with Mario games to follow, it was a sure hit with nintendites, where as all of Sony’s major titles didn’t hit the shelves for the PS3 until a few months after launch).

However, the 360 was a happy medium of both. With much the same control as before, the graphics and hard drive were both upped, allowing for a better gaming experience, which is possibly why it is becoming one of the more common consoles.

And, zapping right into the last few months, both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 have seen the implementation of motion control with the PS3’s ‘move’ controller (far more sensitive than the Wii controller, and at the moment, slightly more accurate) and the 360’s Kinect (made on the idea of using the full body as a controller), which saw its formal release last week, and instantly sold out.

I can safely say the Kinect saw much use in GameStation the week of its release…

Mostly by the staff.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde (A history of computer games 1980s-1990s)

So kiddies, you may remember my post two weeks ago where I chatted about the early roots of Video Gaming. Well, this week, we take a turn for the modern (whether or not that’s a good thing, I’m not entirely sure), by taking a look at the latter part of last century, where games have gone from the clingy novel little infants, and grown into moody teenagers who bicker and fight at every given opportunity.

In the 70s, with the rise of the personal computer, also came the first home gaming console, in 1972 to be precise. The Odyssey was produced by Magnavox, and came with a total of twelve programmed games. Of course, the fact that they were all the same game, only differing by the plastic sheet you attached to the TV, meant nothing at all. Nope.

Next in line was 1976s Fairchild Video Entertainment system, the first programmable gaming console. It was later renamed Channel F, and used microchip technology to run its games.

Vintage Vectrex

Now, entering the eighties, came the rise of computer games as we know them - worlds on a screen that would be impossible in real life. In 1977, the first text based adventure game was created, named, oh so originally, as Adventure! and worked on a choice system. It’s from that model all other adventure, science fiction and generally spectacular fantasy games are created from. In the eighties, this genre became known as ‘Interactive Fiction’ (And of course, this part interests me, as it’s the birthplace of my favourite gaming genre - long live the Action/Adventure RPG!), and produced games such as ‘The Hobbit’, an adaptation based upon Tolkien’s books. This is also where the nineties computer based ‘point and click’ RPG’s came from.

It was also during the eighties that colour first appeared on screen, mostly within arcades, but, towards the end of the decade, it was rampant on home consoles as well, introduced by ‘Breakout’ Atari’s latest remake of Pong (created by two men who would become the founders of apple - but that’s another story, for another time). I was driven further by games like Galaga (that utilised 8-bit colour). Sound, also started to make an appearance - again, in the arcade, with Taito’s 1980 Stratovox.

Atari System

Now, Who remembers Donkey Kong? I know I do. Platforming game came about in 1981, with a little game called ‘Space Panic!’, where mutant, alien space-apple try to devour your hero as you climb up ladders and run across levels. Of course, this was also the year ‘Pac-Man’ was released. All hail the day! He subsequently gained a Mrs the following year.

By the end of the era, consoles were on their fifth generation, accessible to most, and quite affordable. Arcades had come, and gone, fading into the ether by the mid nineties, overtaken by their more personal comrades, the console, their demise confirmed by the release of the Neo-Geo by SNK - the only console to truly bring home the feel of arcade gaming, since the early home Pong systems. And games themselves had gone from simple, one paddle pixels on a screen, to several pixels, a depth of colour, and ever evolving game play and graphics, with a slew of top titles, each innovative and memorable.

In the mid nineties, the consoles we all know were born - 1995 heralded the PlayStation (And with it, Final Fantasy‘s VII-IX), the major selling console of the time, and Nintendo 64 in 1996 - All Zelda fans, cry for joy - Ocarina of time, oh how I love thee - and with them came fully 3D graphics.

Things were beginning to get rolling.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Magical Folding Canoe (AKA That thing last Wednesday, and life in general)

Ah, Advice - the building block upon which the world was built. Sometimes, I wonder just who gave the first piece of advice - then I realise I don’t really care, I’m just thankful that I get any. And what could be better than advice from the Pros?

Most of it, I’ll admit, was just common sense: Be polite, work hard, get good grades, don’t send in crap-tastic work or foxes in underwear (That, shall forever be burned into my mind… and yes, Craig, I’m looking at you). But there were some serious gems in there.

I’d thought that to be accepted, you pretty much had to excel in 3D - in fact, I was a little scared. I’ll be the first to tell you that my 3D stuff isn’t great, and I struggle with it, but at least now I know that while I should still put the effort into being the best I can at it, I’ll also be judged on my 2D skills. Can anyone say ‘sigh of relief’? I know I can.

Also as we discussed the other jobs available in the art, I was interested to learn about the concept artists. I hadn’t given much thought to the position at all before, but now I think I’m going to look into it more. As I said, I feel my 2D work is my strongest asset, and if I can put that to use, then why not?

I’ve also decided, that even though I’m not in that field anymore, I’m going to keep my animation skills strong. I know it’s a weird thing to say, when they were all ‘Specialize! Specialize!’ but I’ve found myself relying on a lot of the knowledge I gained on that course lately and I feel its best to keep my options open on all accounts for the time being.

Anyway - I’ve started waffling, haven’t I?

The lecture was awesome, the guys were awesome, and the examples of Blitz’s work that they showed had me glowing green with envy. Especially the digital paint stuff. I’ve never been a whiz on Photoshop, and its something I think I’m just going to have to plough through. I’ll have to start doing that ‘speedtacular’ exercise on Facebook, and see if I improve.

All around though, it was an enlightening look into the business - though the amount of work they have to do towards deadlines scares me (just a little). If I’m honest, a lot of the topics they bought up, I’d never considered before, like going out and taking photo’s of real life. I’ve never owned a digital camera (Sure, and old disposable film one, yeah - who hasn’t? But a serious one? Never), and I’m probably the furthest thing from a photographer you will ever meet, but I’d never looked at it that way before. I suppose because even though its amazing, I take the real world for granted: ‘Oh, it’ll still be there when I need it!’ …Any body know where I can get a camera?

On other thoughts, I hate texturing. With a passion.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

It was a Triumph (The History Of Computer Games)

Unfortunately, being the teeny-bopper that I am, I’m too young to remember the very start of gaming (My friends reminiscing of the ‘arcade years’ that somehow seeped into the nineties in Northern America, are the only basis I have for things like: Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Pac Man and the very first run of Street Fighter). I’ve seen vague cave paintings of pixel games and heard the elusive fairytales of ‘Pong’ and ‘Atari’.

Of course I know the facts (What little you can really discern from the inconsistencies of any source on the matter); that gaming as we know it started in the 1950s and grew exponentially, resulting in the console wars of the 1980s, until it became the graphically enhanced retellings of Pacman and Space Invaders we know today.

Space Wars

The first game, that I can find, that’s classed as such, was ‘Tennis for Two’, created in 1958 by William A. Higinbotham (All hail, the almighty gaming god) to play upon an oscilloscope attached to an early analogue computer. It was designed as a means of education, albeit an entertaining one, as the user interacted with the ball’s trajectory on screen.

Of course, as all great inventions of the past, and ever to come, someone just had to go a step further. In 1961 ‘Spacewars!’ was created - hailed by many as the first ‘real’ video game. It took a concept that was impossible in real life, and made it possible on computer. It was a labour of love, born at MIT, to the creators Steve Russel, Wayne Witanen, and J. MartinGraetz.

But it wasn’t really until the late 60s early 70s that computer games, as we envision the term, were truly created. Finally ‘personal’ gaming was available. Admittedly it was still large, clunky and you couldn’t have had it sitting in your living room (unless it was the size of a warehouse.. Perhaps I over exaggerate? Just a smidge?), but it was there, and it would grow.

By the eighties, it was war. On a global scale.

Console after console duked it out, some crashing the moment they were launched, others living for years before fading into obscurity. Lack of trading standards meant that pirated games were every where, each console mimicking, and trying to out do the others, until only the most vicious were left.

I, as I said, am too young to remember the carnage and bad adverts, but I’ve no doubt Mike shall subject us to them. Personally, I didn’t start gaming until I was ten (heck, we didn’t own a TV until I was seven or so), my first console being Nintendo’s hand held flagship the Game-Boy Colour. I, like many mindless minions of Japanese TV, owned several Pok√©mon games. They now sit at the back of my wardrobe, never to be seen again.

After that, it was a PS2 - that I ultimately adored, but lacked any friends who were into gaming, and was subsequently lost - constantly buying ‘bad’ games. It wasn’t until I went to Canada that I started to game in a serious manner. It started with Ocarina of Time, delved into the entire Zelda series, then flitted over to Final Fantasy (I through XIII) taking various meandering roads to things like Mass Effect, Fable - and, of course, Portal.

Remember, it’s in the basement…

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Ah, Introductions...

Alright guys, here it goes. An introduction post - the very bane of my existence. ‘But why?’ I don’t hear you ask, ‘Surely they are the easiest posts in the world to write!?’. Lies, I tell you, all of it. I’m primarily a fiction writer, and would much rather have people pry into the lives of my characters than be forthcoming about my own, boring meander through the world.

If things become a tad droll, you have been warned…

My names Jessica - please, feel free to call me Jess - and I’m currently a first year game art student at De Montfort University. Of course, its been a long hard trek to get there: knee deep in snow, and up hill both ways.

I’ve come armed with a foundation Art and Design diploma, which was preceded by a two year stint studying Animation - both traditional and three dimensional - in Saint Clair College, Canada. There, I gained a fundamental knowledge in 2D skills and basic 3D modelling and animation, as well as the some what strange and distorted sense of humour that you have to develop when dealing with Animators.

My Life pretty much revolves around my love of gaming, movies and cartoons. I can sit in front of a screen for hours, so long as what I’m watching or playing is captivating enough to hold my attention. As far as games go, I must guiltily admit an undying love for RPG’s, fantasy, and anything science-fiction. However, besides my art, I also enjoy writing - both silly little scripts, and short fiction pieces.

I suppose, really, I stumbled my way onto this course - half blind, and confused. I’d known for a while that I wanted to work on games - on bringing them to life, on realising a writers vision through art or movement. But, it wasn’t until I put serious consideration into it as a career choice that I found the multitude of art courses, specifically tailored for games.

Choosing De Montfort really wasn’t hard - it had everything I wanted, would teach me everything I needed, and the most important thing of all, when I met the upper years and the lecturers, I felt comfortable. And of course, that is something I’ll need if I’m ever going to achieve my goals.

My ideal job would be to become a character artist (One day, in the far future, hopefully a lead character artist, or even an art director). It’s something that I’ve been looking into since I started my animation course, four years ago, and I know that in order to achieve that position I’ll have to work hard, developing the skills I’ll need in the industry.

From the research that I’ve done, I know that I’ll have to have in depth understanding of anatomy - both human and otherwise - as well as extensive knowledge in expressions, bone structure, body language, and know how to convey a characters personality simply by the set of their jaw and the stance with which they hold themselves. I’ll also need to develop my colouring skills (a weak point of mine, as it stands) to be able to choose thematic and corresponding colours for the characters that I create.

Many of the job descriptions I’ve looked at ask for excellent concepting, modelling, texturing and lighting skills. It’s the last three that worry me most. I’ve had prior experience with 3D programs, and find it to be one of my weakest abilities. In order to over come it I’ve already planned out several side projects to complete along side my course work, so as to practise the skills that I’ll develop until they’re an ingrained reflex. I also found that the two main programs they ask employees to be fluent in are 3D Studio Max, and Maya, so in turn I shall endeavor to learn both these programs to the best of my capability.

Though it probably sounds excessive, I also wanted to learn scripting for 3D Studio Max, as well as take up a couple of language classes, to make myself a more desirable employee. Hopefully, somewhere while doing all that, I’ll retain (or possibly develop) a personality that will mesh well with the industry, and a sense of humour wouldn’t go amiss, I’m sure.

At the end of the day, this is my future - I’m not just playing games any more.