Thursday, 28 April 2011

That Inconvenient Timey-Wimey Thing - An Academic Review of the Year

So, a year has passed - at least, an academic one has (Am I the only one who hates how short academic years are?) - and a review of my education is on the cards.

I’ll be honest right now, with everyone: I’ve not been the greatest student this year, if anything I’ve been the nightmare student that all teachers dread. I can do the work, I’m capable, I could even learn to love 3D, but the motivation this year has been severely lacking. It’s not even been something that I could help, or change.

My formative assessment wasn’t the best, to say the least (Understatement of the century). It was quite possibly the most devastating news I’ve ever heard, and hearing Mike ask if it was because of a problem I had with the course made my head spin.

I’ve got no problems with the course - I may have grouched and ranted at first, but I’m putting that down to sheer culture shock. I’d been away from the British Educational System for three years, and it was difficult trying to get to grips with teaching methods over here again.

Personally, I think the course is the best in England - I hunted high and low (literally from Dundee to New Port) and only DMU seemed to offer a fair knowledgeable balance of 3D and 2D. The others were all under funded, under staffed, or focused solely on 3D (I’d have died - it’s one of my biggest nightmares, come to life).

3D is a nightmare for me, always has been. I’m just not good with computers, they con-fuddle and confound me (I even hate Facebook, Twitter and have a general disdain for msn), so I tend to need a bit more help with this class than I usually like to admit. I’m a proud person, and asking for help doesn’t come easily to me at all. Maybe if I’d asked earlier I wouldn’t be having the trouble I am now?

I tried to research and looked at several tutorials online, but I still found myself lost. It felt as though Heather was speaking a different language, and I was the only person in the room who didn’t understand it. I finally got the hang of modelling in low poly towards the end of the year (read: now-ish), but I still find texturing unbelievably hard - it makes my head spin. I’m not the best painter to begin, but having to flatten things and then give them texture? No chance. The silly thing is, I can plan out what I want it to look like in my head, but the moment I try to paint it I end up with a pixelated flat mess.

I haven’t given up, and I’m still working on it, timidly. But every time I get near Photoshop with a texture file, I get the sudden impulsive urge to run for my life.

As I’m so bad at this class, I think any suggestions on my part would be a bit of a joke, to be honest. Though I did think the flow of projects was a bit strange. Instead of going from relatively easy to hard, I though the projects jumped all over the place - going from making and texturing a wheelie bin, to a house, and then down to a tree? Seemed a bit odd, and stressful.

Oh, and maybe remedial classes? Is the hopeful look not helping? Dang…

I’ll admit I found the semester of 2D a little boring, from the technical aspect, but I understand the need to get every one on a level footing in regards perspective, composition and other equally important tools of the trade. But Chris made the lessons engaging and fun with the continual outings, being outside, and drawing things from life like that, really helped me to develop an eye for figuring out perspective, as well as how to compose a natural looking scene.

The second semester of 2D was my favourite class. Ever. Nothing can ever top life drawing, no matter how many times I curse ‘bad drawing days’, nothing will kill my love of it. I’m a firm believer that life drawing is one of the most important lessons an artist can take. Everything in our world is ergonomically design, with humans in mind, how better to understand that than to study the human for itself?

I adored the character projects as well. I might not be the best, technically to create a character (I’ve been told a couple of times that my back grounds are better?) But I just love the entire process of bringing something to life.

The one thing that I’d have liked to have seen along side the life drawing and character projects would have been anatomy studies. I’m generally quite a technical person (until you give me a computer, then I fail), and I know that I’m not the only one in the class. Having an understand of how things are put together - skeleton, muscle structure - would have helped me to create the over all form, especially when designing characters without an immediate reference.

As for Critical Studies, for all I procrastinate on my blog posts, this is actually my favourite class, after life drawing. I love learning about the inner workings of the Games Industry, and just how each person adds to the whole of the production pipeline.

First semester was a bit wearing. I didn’t know what to write, how to write it, how to not sound like a douche. I don’t think I succeeded on that last one. Oh, and I hope I never have to write another introductory post again… Ever. I think I’d end up killing someone out of sheer frustration (maybe the person who invented 3D art applications, and geared them towards programmers). Finding out about the history of games though was interesting, I’d had no idea that it started so early, and thanks to that little detour to the past - and a helpful roommate - I discovered a love of adventure games and walk through novels.

Doing the latest blogs on game design, however, have made me take a step back and look at my own work flow through different eyes. I think they’ve also helped me decide on what I’d like to set as my final goal in life. I remember in my first post I wanted to do concept art, or design characters, but that was more an immediate after university want. It’s kind of grown into something else, and I find I quite like the idea of managing other people, making sure a vision works the way it should (And guys, I promise I’d be way more motivated in this, Easter Break = Soul Searching, though why it couldn‘t have happened sooner I‘ll never know).

Looking back on the year, I wish I’d worked harder. I wish I’d been able to pour everything that I am into the course, instead of sitting here with regrets. But life goes on, and one way or another, I’m not going to give up, pass or fail.

I’ve got a dream that I intend to see through, and two capable hands to make it happen.

Blinded by Anthropology - Environmental Design in Games

A game is nothing without an environment - heck, even Pacman has one, no matter how basic. After all, with out an environment, where would you play? You can’t have a game dependant only on character and story. It’s like literary science.

Unfortunately, every one takes it for granted. Half the time a player will waltz through area after area never really looking at it, or appreciating the amount of effort that went into it (unless you’re a game art student, and then you stop to examine every texture and mesh). But the fact of the matter is that Environment design is often times more difficult and far more involving than designing a character, but the processes and tricks remain the same.

At the end of the day, a game is simply an interactive narrative. This means that everything within it has to tell a story, and the Environment is no different. Unlike the Character, who has to show signs of a personal, individual journey, the World of the game has to tell a story unique to the whole populace - it has to have a history of years or hours, it has to have the scars of time.

Outside, our own streets suffer the same fate - you can walk through Birmingham and see architecture new and old, decaying and well cared for. There are the remnants of parks, and new city apartment blocks, along side old gothic buildings and classical churches.

Detroit is filled with sky scrapers and metal buildings, and the rolling stone scroll work of turn of the century architecture eventually giving way to wood and brick houses, with paint flaking on the walls and unkempt gardens. It used to light up at night, looking like a living wall of stars.

Now, its practically a ruin, after the mass abandonment that followed the economic crash. Some of its most iconic buildings lie dying, degrading into nothing. Detroit tells a story of settlers, change, prosperity, and despair, and I don’t have to see, or meet a single person from there in order to read all that.

Its that kind of realism that environment artists strive to achieve in their designs, that level of detail. They have to create a world the immerses the player, because, as they walk and look around, it seems as though this world, this fictional creation of pixels, has always been there, and always will.

In terms of game play, and level design, there still has to be that sense of realism. If you’re going to use lighting to guide the player down a corridor, it has to come from somewhere logical - a swinging lamp perhaps, or a sky light? If they’re going to find items and weapons and clues strewn about, they should be in logical places, instead of just random littered about. After all, who really keeps an AK-47 in a child’s bedroom?

Close enough, I suppose.

Look ma! I'm a Real Boy! - Character Design in Video Games (Written)

In my last post I ranted on the lack of diversity in character design in games. I realise it was a rant. I am unashamed of this fact, and if it weren’t for my friends glowering at me through the computer screen, I’m sure I’d start another one right now. However, I am armed with sugar, and a good old cup of tea, so hopefully it’ll still my nerves (They’re still frazzled from that dang Google search). Hopefully.

Instead I wanted to bitc-I mean discuss written and ‘acted’ characterisation - what makes an interesting three dimensional character. In truth, it’s a very hard question to answer, solely because there are so many integral facets of great character design that it’s hard to specify the most necessary. But I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

1. Compelling Motive

“I’m off to save the world!”


“… For the lols?”

Admittedly, even the above scenario could work if you played it right, though I doubt it, if that’s the sole motivation you’re going for. A compelling motive is realistic, identifiable, and, most importantly, in keeping with the over all personality of the character.

For instance, if your character is an asshole, they’re not going to save the world, and if they do it’s probably only because they want to get rich off the royalties of being a hero and retire. Or possibly just because it’ll be a chance to kick the crap out of someone and not go to gaol?

Even boredom can be an interesting motive if you play it right.

Conversely, if your character is a hero, chances are they’re not the most self sacrificing person in the world who has to do everything right all the time, without a motive. If they are, turn around and go back to the planning stages, because I think you just made a Mary-sue/Gary-stu. However, if they’re compensating for something - perhaps a case of self image issues, or guilt? - or maybe doing it to protect a family member, then it instantly becomes a little more understandable as a course of action.

As far as motives go, the simpler the better is usually a good rule to live by. This is your characters ambition, the thing they want or need to do most in the world, and at the of the day the player has to believe in it just as much as the character.

2. Interaction

Where would Dr Mcoy be without his dry sarcasm? Buffy without her cheesy one-liners? Deadpool without the internet?

A character who doesn’t interact is boring. Heck, even Link interacts! How does the character speak? What inflections do they put on words, do they gesticulate with their hands? Body language and the inflections of speech are inherently unique to everyone on the planet, it’s pure science. The things we experience day to day, coupled with the way we were bought up, the way we see ourselves and our genetics, alter the way we present ourselves to the world.

Your character is no exception to this.

An outspoken laid back person born and raised in New Orleans, but coming from a well off family, will probably speak with a light southern drawl, though their words would be clipped, and arraigned in formal sentences. Sparse amounts of slang would make their way into that person’s speech. They’d also hold themselves with a slightly slouched - shoulder mildly slacked, and feet an easy distance apart. But their chin would be held high, and spine comfortably straight with confidence. Most probably they’d use their entire body to enunciate, and have a fairly expressive face.

In juxtaposition, someone from Birmingham, England, with the same financial background, would naturally have a straight, more closed posture, and probably use only their hands and expression to enunciate their words.

However, it’s not just this personal, general view of interaction that needs to be taken into account. How does the character treat those around them? How do they speak with their closest friends and family? How do they treat their enemies?

A group of characters who play off of each others insecurities and emotional weaknesses are going to be more interesting than a cast who simply agree on everything and practically act like clones. Heck that’s the reason house does as well at it does. Conflict is interesting: Fact.

Balthier in Final Fantasy XII treats every one with general, sarcastic disdain and arrogance, coupled with ingrained imperialism, with a rebellious streak a mile wide. All apart from his partner, Fran, with whom he seems to have a quiet accord coupled with intermittent humour (up to and including a discreet knuckle bump at one point in the game).

Whereas, Penello from the same game is generally good natured and determined. Though she as she’s fairly quiet through the game she comes off a little shy around stranger, apart from the few moments she’s teasing/berating Vaan (the games ‘Main’ character), or skilfully playing games of politeness with a soon to be Emperor.

3. Personality

A character without personality is like a stone that bleeds. It just shouldn’t happen. Ever.

I’m not even sure it’s possible to define persona-

Personality (noun; n): per-son-alley-ti

The complex of all the attributes--behavioural, temperamental, emotional and mental--that characterize a unique individual.

-…. Thank you Google.

Match Stick Men - Character Design in Video Games (Visual)

Designing characters is one of the most prestigious positions that you can get in a gaming company. It’s the job every one wants, and isn’t without it’s merit, after all, the characters are the thing most players take to heart.

But it’s not an easy job by any means.

Character design encompasses many things. The artist has to be able to convey a personality, way of life, style of fighting, just through the way a person’s face is built, or the what kind of jeans they wear. The build of the character has to reflect how fast or strong they are, the set of their eyes should show the little nuances of their personality.

It’s an easy thing to get wrong on so many levels, but when it’s right it’s spectacular, and you have a character that people are going to remember for generations.

Unfortunately, I’m of the view that the game industry has started to stagnate on this front. Franchises have stuck with certain character types for so long that they’ve just become a cliché, and the moment that something new and interesting is made, it get’s done to death within a matter of months.

For instance, I’d like to see a military first person shooter where your main character isn’t a butch, seasoned officer, but maybe a nervous, green around the ears private? A Sci-fi game where the hero isn’t clad in armour made of plastic futuristic blobs that possibly glow? Or maybe a fantasy RPG where your main character isn’t a noble knight or a simple stable boy?

I understand a lot of this is to with the way games are written as well as the character design, but I do believe that there are interesting new ways to spin old stock characters that just aren’t being looked into. Why? Because the current tropes are ‘safe’.

I’ve also noticed that we seem stuck in this belief that all games have to look photo realistic. Personally, I think that’s a bit boring - this might because I come from an animation background, but I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one. Some of the most interesting design’s I’ve ever seen have come from stylised games - Psychonauts and Grim Fandango, for instance.

I think a horror game with Tim Burton-esque stylisation would be spectacular., or a serious fantasy game, with Disney based designs. It doesn’t all have to be grim dark, guys. Even Lara Croft started off as a cartoon.

I think that if you do go down the realism route though, it shouldn’t be some sort of idealised state of it. For instance, take Faith from ‘Mirrors Edge’, she looks like the ethnicity she is, instead of an over sexualised version. She also has a limited colour palette that adds to the impact her character has, looks wise, which when combined with her hair and clothes makes for a very striking character.

And… Unfortunately I’m actually having trouble finding other interesting characters from the realm of realistic games. This is worrying. So far everything I’ve looked at is all much of a much-ness, and has effectively killed my enthusiasm for this. Depressing considering character design is one of my favourite things. Come on guys, even Korean music videos put in more effort than this!

Okay - I’ve come back to the computer after looking at Disney movies and feel I can carry on.

Maybe I’m being too cynical here, but it seems to be a problem that we face even in Japanese RPG’s, where the default seems to be ‘just how much can we pile on this character?’ (Or, if you’re Tetsuya Nomura: ‘How many belts/zippers can I put on this character before they fall over or the world implodes?’).

As such, there are few games where I can really say I find the characters compelling and visually interesting., let alone unique.

Fable, in theory, should have one of these. The character concepts, on paper, are fantastic! Each face and body shape tells a story, while they’re all tied in together by clothing style and colour palette. However, the personality of those characters got lost somewhere in translation, leaving the final 3D product a little flat, visually.

I adored the look of Team Fortress 2, enough said. It was quirky, funny and design wise just about brilliant. Each character conveyed a distinct personality just through the way they held themselves, let alone the differences in their appearance.

Unfortunately, from most other games in the world, I’d just be picking out random characters here and there.

And that’s just for those who are visually interesting. There are even fewer who I would count as three dimensional enough to be involving as far as written characterisation is involved. It’s a fact that as far as character is concerned, games fall flat. It’s is also a fact, that in order for the games industry to grow, and keep raking in revenue and fans, this is going to have to change.


... Just to prove a point.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Please Select a Party Leader - Art Direction in Games

There are so many components of art in a game that sometimes its hard to keep track - everything starts to go in circles, and if the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing…well, you could end up with Ninja Golf (Not that anything really could have saved that game - ninjas? Golf? I think my mind just imploded). So how do the great games keep everything straight? How do they keep it all unified and smooth?

Easy - they hire an art director.

Now, if you look up Art Director in the jobs section of Gamasutra, you’ll be hard pushed to try and find one that doesn’t request a list of skills a mile long. Things like ‘Team player’ and ‘Excellent in all areas of art’ seem to come up a lot, along with ‘Must have the patience of a Saint’ and ‘Exceedingly good with small children’, not that I can blame them, really.

Truth is, the Art Director is the one who keeps everything unified, the person who guides the overall vision until its as close to perfect as they’re going to get. Every piece of art, and every 3D model passes over their desk for inspection before being fine tuned and inserted into the final product.

But they’re not just a glorified manager or supervisor, no, they’re job is far more important than that. Art Directors are the visionaries of the studio. To most people Visual Communication is just a word to throw around when nothing else fits, to the Art Director it’s a very real language, and one they have to know fluently in their line of work.

The most accurate comparison that I can give, for visual communication, is that it’s a subtle kind of mind control. You take a scene, a setting, a character a kind of lighting and set of lines and action, and visually bend them to psychologically appeal to the player, to trick them into thinking and feeling a certain way. Something as small as tilting the camera thirty degrees can make a viewer feel uneasy, unsettled, and is the usual lead into a dramatic, villainous or disturbing section of plot. See that forced perspective, looking up at the villain? Yeah, it’s used to make you feel intimidated and inferior. Extreme close up? Totally trying to make you uncomfortable.

However, this is a far harder task in games than it would be in movies. In film, you can plan out every camera angle, and finely control what the viewer is subjected to. In games, its an unfortunate fact that the player is going to go everywhere they can - they’re going to crawl through every hole, find every glitch and just wait for you to trip up so that they can film it, post it to YouTube, and laugh about it for days. Hey, if you’re lucky, it might go viral.

The answer? Try as hard as you can to control where the player goes, through a subtle use of lighting and visual cues, use consistent colour palettes to its full effect, and just try as hard as you can to make everything as interesting and dramatic and believable as possible. Even down to the style and the way things move - how enemies catch the eye, and just what the user interface looks like - have to be carefully calculated an applied so as not to disturb the players experience of the game. Not to mention making sure every body else understands this vision too.

If you think that sounds hard, well… that’s because it is.

It takes skill to be an art director - of the ninja kind (oh, see, back to ninjas). Skill, patience, and plenty of hair to pull out.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Road to Shamballa - The Game Design Process

Game design. It’s kind of like that big pink elephant standing in the corner of the room, winking at you every so often with a coy little smile on its face. You kind of skirt around it now and again, giving a little, mildly frightened, and highly bemused nod to it as you pass by - but you never really ask.

Truth is, I never really wanted to either. I’d adopted a nice, cosy little picture of tiny imagination elves stealing the dreams of gamers every where, and hammering them out into the mythical final product with grins, elbow grease and maybe a jaunty little song or two.

The reality couldn’t be more different - well, apart from the elbow grease, and maybe the songs. Actually, I have to say, I was surprised at how different it is - at least, to my naive, preconceived notion.

Coming from an animation background, I had a fairly well rounded view on how movies, in general, were created, right from the initial idea, up to the final edit. I should have done, the class projects I’d been put through strictly followed that process.

I guess that’s why I went into doing Game Art thinking that the production pipeline would be the same. In some ways, it is, I suppose, but mostly, it’s not.

Game design has to be as structured as it is fluid, it has to think of everything, and leave enough room for change and adaptations. Nothing is set in stone, and that was a strange concept for me to grasp. In movies, everything is laid out plain and clear - you have a script, your storyboards, your acting, animation and sound. There’s a clear structure to follow, that works.

The game’s industry doesn’t really have that. You’ve a basic outline of what you have to do, the process you need to go through, but because you’re dealing with an interactive media - not to mention one that’s forever adapting, changing and becoming more advanced - you aren’t given the luxuries of certainty.

So many aspects have to be taken into account; the story, the game play, the emotion that the creator wants the game to evoke. There’s so much to think about that it kind of makes my head spin.

But there’s no denying that without that process, games just wouldn’t be what they are.

Earlier games like Pong and Pacman, when compared to games of the day are so vastly different, and yet so very the same. Your classic RPG, adventure game and first person shooter are all built around the same basic dynamic - play through a level, gather what you need, and possibly kill things along the way.

But when it comes to the emotion and involvement that they evoke from the player, they couldn’t be more different from those early 8-bits.

It’s the away the game’s been designed that gives them this distinction. It’s the attention to the story, characterisation, game play - every little thing down to how the levels are lit and what the music sound like. Actually if you ask me, music is one of the most important things in a game, next to art and story, for sheer amount of emotion it evokes. Take the video’s below for instance, while a simple example, illustrate this quite well. The original, while still creepy, is no where near as unsettling as the second. That’s because of the way it’s been cut, and the music that’s been added.

Who thought cat’s could be so creepy, huh?

It’s the same with art, you can take a normal room, and when lit one way it can be totally unthreatening, but with the right lighting, or the addition of certain minor features, or changing even just the way the walls curve can make it off putting, unsettling and scary. Colour palette is highly effective as well when trying to influence mood.

This process doesn’t just stop with environment’s though. Characters can be put through the same design process, to just as great an effect, continuing on into animation. A characters motions and body language are often far more telling than their speech.

It’s that attention to detail that can make or break a game. The player has to feel as involved as possible, especially in game’s where the story is a major aspect. Anything that can ruin that submersion into the game should be avoided at all costs.

For instance, Heavy Rain by all accounts was expected to be a great game, but with the constant character switching many people found it hard to follow as it forced them out of the story. Where as Legend of Zelda, a series that’s known for inducing déjà vu with it’s repeating plot line, constantly changes it’s world, but within parameters that are believable for the Zelda Universe.

Gaming is all about suspension of disbelief, about escapism on an interactive level, and at the root of all great game design is a single rule: ‘don’t screw up’.

When Toei Met Nomura - A kingdom Hearts II Review

Back in 2001, two great companies aligned for the project of a life time. Something so epic, so heart felt, and so action packed, that it would make Star Wars look like a contrived children’s show. It’s good for Lucas that they fell short of the mark - but only slightly.

Together Disney Interactive and Square Enix gave birth to ‘The Kingdom Hearts Project’. A game series that followed the world travelling exploits of Sora, a plucky young hero gifted with Square’s signature gravity defying hair, and Disney’s a-typical none threatening weapon. He was followed around by Donald Duck and Goofy, and taken under the tender wing of Mickey Mouse.

Super Villain in the making, AKA:
A young Kamiki Ryounosuke

If you ask me, the kid is doomed to be the next psycho serial killer, but what do I know?
Along the way he would run into classic Disney characters, and fight alongside some of Square’s greatest (read: Emo) heroes, all the while searching for his lost friends, and inadvertently saving the worlds from cute little black things, called Heartless.

All in all, it was action packed, fun and engaging, and full of so many saturated colours that by the end of it you feel like you just sat through a Beetles induced head trip. It was great!
However, I was more than a little cynical when I saw it sitting on the shelf, shiny silver cover glinting in the artificial light of my closest EB Games, like some rejected Pokemon card. It looked so innocuous, so unassuming. That and I’d seen Donald Duck, Goofy and, of all things, Mickey Mouse looking morose on the cover, staring dramatically into the distance, like any battle hardened anime character learns to do by episode 2.

I rose my brow in little more than contempt. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought as I reached out to take it from the shelf for a closer look. Nothing can possibly be that dumb.

It was the beginning of a deep and eternal love. I kid you not.

1. Plot

The game follows on from Kingdom Hearts I, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (the most obnoxiously named game ever), once again revolving around Sora as he attempts to save the multi-verse, and several wayward Disney characters from the threat of total annihilation imposed by the Men in Black. Though it is a more mature plotline than its predecessors, it still retains the same Disney fairytale quality.

Men in Black - Oh, and one compulsory woman ...

Sora jumps from world to world, trying to find clues about strange people in black cloaks as well as find his still missing friends, Riku and King Mickey, master of the Universe (Whoever came up with this idea should be shot, now - it’s creepy, and scary, and he vaguely reminds me of George Bush). We see the return of many of the worlds from the original game, as well as a few new ones, though I will note that the diversity of the worlds is reduced from the first game, making for a more compact plot.

Unfortunately Cloud Strife is still in the game, being as angst ridden as ever, but what can you do? At least he looks vaguely adorable while doing it.

2. Game Play

Square is known best for creating Japanese RPG’s, and, to tell the truth, Kingdom Heart’s fit’s the bill completely. It’s a free-roaming Action/Adventure RPG, with a hack and slash style of combat.

The fight system is based on real time game-play, using abilities learned at every level to produce tactical combo attacks depending on button combination. There’s also the inclusion of ‘Drive Forms’, a state of combat that will temporarily make Sora faster and stronger.
The game, as an RPG, is also party based, allowing the player to fight alongside two CPU’s, whose attacks and tactics can be altered from the main menu. The game also offers Guest party characters, who can used instead of Donald and Goofy on particular worlds.

There is also the option to use ‘reaction commands’ during certain fights, that trigger special attacks or cutscene attacks, dealing more damage to the enemy than usual.

I will note that the controls in this game are far more polished than those in Kingdom Hearts I, and subsequently easier to use, though personally I don’t think that detracts from the challenge of the game.

3. Art Direction

Most people look at the cover of this game and think ‘pshaw - it’s just an anime with Disney characters’, and well… they’d be both right and wrong. The majority of the game revolves around Disney’s style, and even most of characters taken straight from Final Fantasy have under gone a redesign to fit their surroundings far better. In all it makes the game take on a childish yet slightly surreal look. For one I’ve never seen people with feet that big in my life - how do they walk!?

As far as cut scenes go, most play out in the style of a Disney movie and several are made to directly mimic the film they’re based upon. In all, while nothing special they’re easy to watch and in most cases entertaining.

I have had some people say to me that they find this game hard to play just because of the colour palette, and truthfully I can see why. The colours are bright. Not just ‘oh hey, every things happy’ - in some cases they’re bright enough to blind you for life (I’m fairly sure that Hercules glows). While it adds to the childish nature of the game, I do think it’s harsh on the eyes. As for lighting… Well. I’m not sure their design team’s discovered the meaning of that yet.


Mickey, what is that pose?

In all, I’m quite fond of Kingdom Hearts II, I have to be honest. I certainly enjoyed it more than it’s predecessors (The fact they’re supposedly ‘cute’ hero stands there and makes subtly sarcastic comments through parts of the game helps).

I love the game play - it’s probably my favourite aspect of the game, and rivals Zelda in it’s medicinal use for stress relief. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as watching small, adorable, black, chattering bug-things from the beyond fly through the air with pained little squeals as your protagonist yells ‘Take this!’ whilst diving at them with an oversized key.
Unlike most people I’ve encountered who like this game, I also have a love of the ‘Reaction Commands’. Yes I know a lot of people consider them cheating, that they made the game too easy. Personally, I just enjoy watching several Disney villains die in kick-ass cinematic take downs, before everything goes into slow motion.

On the other hand, I found the drive forms mostly useless and a tad defunct considering you can’t use them in half the boss battles that they’d come in handy for. It was fairly awkward to switch between drive forms as well, as you had to search through two menus to select them. Then in order for them to remain effective through out the game, you had to take the time to level up each Drive Form. There were five of them. Six if you count Anti-Form - the only redeeming thing about the drive system, and even then, only because they put way too much thought into it (Seriously, it‘s on a cumulative points system, affected by which forms you use, when, and how often).

Story wise, I quite like this game, the plot line is fairly in depth but still easy enough to play without really having to think about it every second. It’s got several compelling characters, and interesting twists to both plot and worlds (Including one world where the entire system is based around songs, of all things). However, even I can admit it’s utterly childish at times, not that that’s a bad thing, though.

Art, bah… Art. Someone should really, and I mean really, tell square feet don’t work that way. Every body has clown feet! Some even have flippers, for crying out loud! I’ll also be the first to say, that in some areas the animation really isn’t great, and that’s understating it, however, in contrast, half of the game has Pixar level animation so…

This isn’t a game for people who want grim dark, no matter how in depth and serious the plot line gets, the over all nature of the characters just wont let it get that bad, even in the games that have followed. It is however a game for people who are Disney fanatics, Final Fantasy fans and all round want a great, easy to play game with ups, downs and bad songs. Oh, and a healthy love of power rangers as a kid would help too.

I’d give this game an 8 out of 10, for sheer audacity and cute factor. That, and one day, Sora will take over the world - and worse, we’ll like it.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Downward Spiral of Cynicism - Journalism and Games

In a world where the video game is one of the most popular forms of entertainment, it was bound to attract it’s own critics, it’s own ilk of reviewers - And they come in all shapes and sizes.

From the smallest review in ‘neo’, to paper exposes in X-BOX Magazine, chances are you wont be able to walk into a WH-Smith’s or seven-eleven without seeing at least ten games related headlines. As for the internet… well, YouTube is packed with people just itching for the chance to shove their views on the latest ‘Resident Evil’ down your throat.

Personally, I can’t take any of them seriously.

I’ve tried reading ‘Gamers’ magazines, and slugged through the tedious ‘5 out of 10 for graphics! But there wasn’t enough blood splatter!’ that cater to the most hardcore fan-boy. I have to say, most of the articles you encounter will be just that - something aimed at making a crap game, with a huge following, look great. Why? Because chances are, the company that made it are paying those poor journalist's wages.

I’ll admit, I’m highly cynical when it comes this, but when IGN labelled ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’ an 8.5 out of 10, can I really be blamed? The game was just a walk through movie from start to finish, and was far too short for the fifty pounds plus I’d just paid for it (I won‘t even mention the same-y game play and unimaginative construction of single player campaigns). I realise, I’m opening myself to a slew of hate here, but really IGN? Really?

And am I the only one who remembers the kafuffle with GameSpot a few years back?

I suppose that’s why I mainly troll through private Blogs for my reviews (if I even want to read them - more often that not I’m inclined to just listen to a friend), but even then I find a startling amount of people will base their opinion’s on the hype, or the ‘coolness factor’ - “Will people think I’m awesome if I like this game!? OMG, what if they hate me for it!” - instead of the games actual merits.

I think one of the worst cases I came across, was a poor fellow who describe Final Fantasy XIII as having ‘innovative and exciting new game play, they likes of which we haven’t seen from Square before.’ Indeed, I’d never played a Final Fantasy game that was impossible to get lost in before. All I had to do was point and go, one straight line from start to finish.

Saying that though, I’ve found a couple of video reviewers I like to watch - mainly for the humour factor. The Spoony Experiment is one I find myself favouring - even though he seems predisposed to hate most things, his video’s take on a certain amount of cheese that just reminds me of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (though nothing can beat that). I like the way he plays out a story along side his reviews. Too many people just look at a camera and talk… and talk… and talk.

Another source I trust is GiantBomb, the result of that kafuffle with GameSpot. It has an editable wiki as part of it’s review system, so the fans (and any other person who can be bothered) are the one’s you’re hearing from, as well as the professionals themselves. Though my favourite section are their endurance runs, who said grown men and women playing games for days on end, until starved, sleep deprived and pixel blinded can’t be funny?

In all I think no review is going to be impartial, but the least you can do is be honest about it.