Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Wave of the future

So this will be my (hopefully) final instalment of gaming history, this time we’re not just looking at the past, but at the future of gaming, and its implications. Towards the end of the Nineties, the first 6th Generation console, the Dreamcast was released. After the Dreamcast was discontinued in 2001, Sega announced they would stop producing video game consoles after their last two had been commercial failures, and went into game development instead. In 2000, the Playstation 2 was released, which sold incredibly well. In the same year, Microsoft released their own console- The Xbox, which although was expected to struggle, did incredibly well, which is mainly attributed to its launch title, Halo. A year after this, Nintendo released their 6th gen console, the Gamecube, which didn’t sell as well as the range of games for it were incredibly limited and it got labelled as a “kids” console, falling into 3rd place behind the PS2 and Xbox. Along with the home consoles released, Nintendo launched the Game Boy Advance, as a replacement for the Game Boy Colour.

As well as improving on the 3D graphics of 5th Gen Consoles, many 6th Gen consoles included built in features like DVD players and hard drives, a jump from the memory cards required for older consoles. The Xbox made use of intent play, which was first used by the Dreamcast, creating the Xbox Live system, which was launched in 2002 a year after the release of the console. Xbox Live was a massive success as it allowed gamers to connect with each other and download game content. Up until 2005, Nintendo dominated the handheld market, and released the dual screened Nintendo DS, which also featured a touchscreen. A year later, Sony released the Playstation Portable, the first real contender to Nintendo.

So some games were released, and they were lovely, BUT THEN the next generation of consoles came along! In 2005, Microsoft started off the 7th generation of consoles with the Xbox 360, which was followed quickly by the Wii and Playstation 3 a year later. This time, the platforms featured wireless controllers, HD ready graphics, and media centres, along with online services. The Wii used an innovative controller which implemented motion sensitivity, and the PS3 created tilt-sensitive controllers (though I’m not actually sure how these improved the gaming experience in any way, shape or form to be honest). Of each console in the 7th generation, the Wii outsold the Xbox 360 and expensively priced PS3, despite the focus on family friendly and casual games causing “hardcore” games to reject it.

Along with many, many console, this decade has brought many new things to gaming. The popularity of MMORPGs, which first began in the 90s, has exploded, and the genre of rhythm games has become incredibly popular thanks to games like Guitar Hero and Rockband. Although the number of “mature” games has risen considerably, so have the amount of “casual” games, so much so that the average gamer is more likely to be a 34 year old woman, rather than commonly assumed teenage boy, holed up in a dark room fraggin n00bz on Halo.

Currently the future of games seems to be focused on motion based play in games, with the release of the Kinect and Playstation Move. The Kinect, which has recently been released, and has been heralded as the “next step in the gaming experience”. So, will it live up to the hype? It’s difficult to tell what the outcome of the Kinect will be, it may actually be the next step, revolutionising games everywhere, but more likely it will be revealed as a fad, and will fade into video game obscurity forever. For now, I think I’ll stick to regular controller games, after all, how exactly are you meant to play games in your living room where you do a LOT of running?

I’m playing Fallout!

Another Big Idea for games is the use of 3D which is being applied to Nintendo’s newest handheld console, the Nintendo 3DS, which is due to be released around March 2011, and will use 3D graphics without the need for 3D glasses. Sony is also developing 3D technology to be used in alongside Sony’s 3D TV with 3D glasses.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Dropping The Controller: My Gaming Journey

So, I’ve written a little bit about my own history of gaming and how I got started as a kid, but I’ll go more in depth today, as I need a break from raking through gaming history. As a gamer, I’m not very competitive, or even very good. For me, gaming has never been something that I am very aggressive about. For some, the most important thing playing games is being the best and beating everyone else, but for me it’s more about relaxing and letting go for a few hours than getting the highest score.

When I was younger I tended to go for games that were more about simulation and relaxation, something not to be taken too seriously. Mostly as a kid, I stuck to games like Creatures 2 and The Sims, and spent the rest of my time watching my sisters play Tomb Raider and Super Mario World, mostly because I just wasn’t good enough to play myself. Eventually once my sisters had grown up a bit and stopped gaming, I decided to try the more “serious” games, moving on from Spyro onto greener pastures. This went pretty well, apart from the times I would freak out, pause the game and run off, but I eventually got good enough to start appreciating games properly.

My most memorable game is probably Creatures 2. When I look back on it now, it looks pretty terrible, but at the time I loved it. Since I played it when I was so young, I tended to kill my creatures a LOT, but being able to explore this imaginative world and get into the environment and story was really exciting. I don’t even remember progressing that far into the game, but I remember it blowing my tiny tiny mind.

The other game I remember playing obsessively as a kid was the Walking with Dinosaurs game online[]. It wasn’t even that good, but I played it because being a dinosaur is AWESOME.

In the future, I’d love to see games culture and the games industry open up and become much more inclusive and diverse. Right now gaming in general is very much a “boys zone” and you can find a LOT of sexism and racism in games and the gaming environment. A recent example is the gender of the main character in The Last Guardian, developed by Team Ico. That they chose a male lead, while disappointing, isn't unsurprising, but what makes it incredibly insulting was that they were going to have a female lead but decided that a young female child would have less grip strength than a young male child, and perverts might try to look up her skirt, so a female character wouldn't be worth having.

What? That must be the weakest excuse I’ve ever heard. If they had wanted to create a female character, they would have done it, instead of giving up after some half assed attempt, and dishing out some piss poor excuses. Worried about perverts? DON’T MAKE HER WEAR A SKIRT. You can even put her in clothing that makes it impossible to take a look at her underpants. Do Nintendo worry about perverts buying their games endlessly searching for that perfect upskirt shot of Link? No, because they gave him some damn leggings.

That’s the ticket.

Right now I'm looking forward to playing Beyond Good and Evil 2 and Fable 3. I haven’t really had time to be playing games at all, but I’m hoping in the future that I manage to get some time with BGAE2. I missed out on playing the first one, so I am excited about being able to (hopefully) get to play the sequel. A strong female lead character who isn’t there to be some campy piece of eye candy? HELLS YES.

I’m sure the gaming world has a lot in store in the future. Technology has now advanced to the point where gameplay can be achieved without a controller, freeing up the player and immersing them in the gameplay. As for whether the games using this technology will be any good, only time will tell, but the future is looking pretty bright. My own ideas for the future of gameplay? Just plug me into the matrix baby.

These textures... they’re so realistic!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Long Slog

Writing about videogames between the 50’s and the 70’s is a relatively easy thing to do- after all, progress was pretty slow and there tended to be gaps between various games being created. The 80’s however, were where things really started to heat up. For the gaming industry, the 80s really were the golden age of gaming, as technology started improving and publishing houses such as EA started to crop up. During the 80s, many genre defining games began to appear, creating genres such as, survival horror, beat ‘em ups, platformers, racing games, adventure games, RPGs games and monster games.

Mmmm, failure.
During the early 80’s, the market was pretty saturated with various games and games consoles and knock offs of games and consoles, but the main competitors that emerged were the ZX spectrum, Amstrad CPC and the Commodore 64. During ‘83, there was a massive crash in the US, which almost destroyed the video game industry, leaving many start up companies bankrupt, and many doubting the long term viability of video games. During this time, computers took over from the console market, as they offered equal gaming ability, and flourished. After the crash, Nintendo brought out the Famicom, which was the first family computer released in Japan, which helped to revive the industry in the US, and mainly dominated the market alongside the NES.

This time was also a jumping off point for many characters that became mascots for their companies. In 1981, Nintendo released Donkey Kong, which featured the main character Jumpman, a carpenter who must rescue his kidnapped girlfriend. Jumpman made reappearance in the sequel a year later, but this time his name was changed to Mario, and in 1983, he featured in his own arcade game, Mario Bros. Over the years, Mario became the face of Nintendo and was immensely popular as their flagship character. As a response to Mario, Sega created Sonic the hedgehog, their own mascot to rival Nintendo’s in 1991, although Sonic has never reached level of recognition or popularity as Mario, who has become a pop culture icon.

Towards the late 80s, Nintendo released the Game Boy, which caused handheld game consoles to become more popular. As rechargeable battery technology hadn’t matured yet, it was important that a handheld console used as little energy as possible, which is why the Game Boy was so popular. Consoles with backlit colour screens, like the Sega Gamegear burned through batteries incredibly quickly, and required 6 AA batteries to work (which my parents were never too pleased about), whereas the Gameboy with its monochrome graphics only required 2.

As technology continued to improve, 3D graphics became the norm, moving on from games like 3d Monster Maze to Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Towards the end of the 90s, 3D was not just being used in first person shooters and racing games, but was beginning to branch out into different genres, such as Super Mario 64, and Sonic Adventure. Up until this point, the most popular consoles had been the SNES and the Megadrive, but during the 90s, a new generation of games consoles were released, such as the Nintendo 64 and the Playstation, to handle the 3D graphics in games, starting off a console war between Nintendo and Sony, which goes on today.


This is just a small post before the long slog through old gaming history, my computer's been busted so it’s a bit late. I can’t say I know that much about technology. It’s interesting to hear from various experts on artificial intelligence and robots on their predictions about what the future will be like, but they’re just that- predictions. I think a lot of people are too naive and optimistic about what developing technology will achieve for us in the future. It’s bit like listening to Peter Molyneux, everyone seems to have a lot of ideas that sound nice, but that won’t really work. They’re nice ideas, but will they be possible? Will companies see these things as commercially viable? If technology does turn out the way they’ve predicted, it most likely won’t be this wonderful robot-human utopian paradise some envision, but the technology will end up being exploited in immoral ways, because that’s what has always happened and will continue to happen forever. Think your shirt is monitoring you to protect your health? Not really, it’s monitoring you for thoughtcrime, looking for any sign of rebellion against the state.
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a cyborg boot stamping on a human face— forever.
The one thing that didn’t turn me into a cynical jerk though, was the electrode used to combat depression. I know that Chris was interested in hearing people thoughts about it, but I think most people weren’t really that fussed. The treatment means a lot to me because even though it’s a little scary that someone’s mood can be changed so drastically through a very small piece of technology, it would help so many people. I have a sister who is bipolar and it’s awful to see her miserable and not being able to function because of her brain chemistry. If something so small and simple could take all that away, I fully support it. Even if it does bring about the robot uprising.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Ancient History!

Compared to other types, gaming is a relatively young form of media. The concept of gaming was created by Ralph Baer, an engineer who, when asked to build the best television set in the world in 1951, thought that a good television should allow you to play games. Although his boss refused the suggestion, Ralph continued his idea and started building the first video game prototypes around 1966.

The roots of games lie back in the 1950s, and the first game created was by Alexander S. Douglas in 1952. Douglas made Tic Tac Toe game that used both AI and a graphics interface, where the player went up against AI making logical decisions based on a set of algorithms to win whenever possible, although it was not available to the general public.  Later, in 1958, William Higinbotham created ‘Tennis for Two’ while working at Brookhaven National Laboratories. Tennis for Two was a basic game using an oscilloscope in which two players would bat a ball back and forth over a “net”.
Paving the way for one of the best N64 games of all time
The first game that was closer to the idea of what a game is by today’s standards was Spacewar! which was created in 1972 at MIT. The game ran on a computer about the size of a car, and the graphics were pretty simple, as was the premise- two players each control a spaceship circling a sun, and try to hit the other player by shooting at them, before they got hit themselves. 11 years after Spacewar! Atari release the first commercial arcade video game, Pong, and around 1974, video game systems in the home started to gain in popularity.

Thinking about the divide you find in gaming between “hardcore” and “casual games” is a bit bizarre really, when you look back at how games started. The very first games were pretty much the definition of what a casual game is; they’re easy, simple to play and appeal to a wide audience. It’s strange to see how complex the definition of a traditional video game has become and the mania over what a “real game” is in gaming culture, when its origin was so simple.

In a way, I’ve always been around games. Although I didn’t realise it until recently, I've been enjoying video/computer games since I was very small. When I was a kid, I loved playing the original Sims, and the Catz and Dogz games released in the early 90s, as well as Mario on the SNES, and various games on the PS1. When I wasn’t playing games, I loved watching my sister play (although it drove her nuts), and even now I’m as happy watching someone game as I am playing the damn game myself. I guess it never really felt like I got into gaming properly until a few years ago, because gaming was more of a hobby than a passion, and I didn’t really feel a part of the gaming community.

I’d say the first game that really got me into gaming would be Final Fantasy XII. It gets a lot of crap (and some rightfully so, I mean just look at some of the ridiculous character designs), but I think it was the first game to make me go “Wow” and really appreciate the art and beauty you can find in games. I could travel across the world killing these gorgeous monsters, getting rich and strong, and go from one beautiful place to another doing whatever I felt like. There was something about the colour and diversity in the game, being able to run through these snowy mountains or exploring creepy jungles, or flying around in massive airships that really spoke to me, and I think the game had a lot of soul and imagination put into it. I loved it so much, I ended up buying an Xbox in preparation for FFXIII (which ended up being a huge let down, as it turned out to be pretty stale and soulless), but Final Fantasy was led me into the gaming world.
Wow. Let's hope they don't aim for your abs dude.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


Hi! My name is Ellen Imlah, though I’m mostly known as Red. I come from Guildford which has quite a few big game studios, like Lionhead and Media Molecule, which made Little Big Planet, and a few little ones too. The reason I chose Game Art Design is because I love gaming, whether it’s “casual” or “hardcore” games, and I love making art, and combining two of my favourite things is something I find really exciting. Originally I started off with an interest in animation, but I found myself more and more interested in the process of making games and the hard work behind the final product. I was pretty excited to find a Game Art course, because I thought I would have to take Illustration and try to break my way in from there.

This year, I’d love gain at least a basic grasp of 3DS Max, and be able to make good models. Right now it’s pretty intimidating because I’ve never touched 3D software before, but I’m going to improve my skills there, as well as improving my landscape drawing, and digital painting. All I want to do in the next three years is improve. I want to work hard and put the hours in and be able to look back and feel proud of my work, and feel like I’ve achieved something. In the future I want to have professional level skills and get into the industry; I don’t care about fame or glory or being well known, as long as I can help make games and contribute whatever I can, and maybe even occasionally make art for myself (also, getting paid) I’d be happy, even I’m virtually a nobody working at a company nobody has ever heard of.

Apart from games, I love reading, and will tear through books pretty quickly, and like everyone else, I really enjoy watching movies, my favourites being stuff by Studio Ghibli and Guillermo Del Toro.  As a Game Art student, I love looking at the art behind the game, as well as the art of Pixar and Ghibli films. I come from a pretty traditional 2D art background, so I’m mostly into expressionist and fauve artists, as well as more modern game artists.

I guess right now, my dream job would be doing more 2D art, although I don’t want to restrict myself, as over the next three years I’ll improve a lot in 3D modelling and might even grow to prefer doing 3D. My dream job would be helping to make games for people who don’t tend to feel very welcome in current gaming culture (e.g. anyone who isn’t a white straight dude), but I’ll take pretty much anything I’m given.

To work in Concept art, or 3D Modelling and Texture Art, according to job vacancies, I would have to be getting my skills up to professional level in traditional art as well as modelling and Photoshop. I need to be quick and precise with my work, and have a very good grasp of drawing and modelling pretty much everything and being able to handle composition and colour. Not only is it important to know the basics, but being able to replicate different styles (say, for the next Spongebob Squarepants game) is really important. Right now I know I am nowhere near the level I need to be and I need to work really hard over the next few years to improve on all fronts, and  though I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp of life drawing, though there’s always room for improvement. I know that the next few years are going to be a hard slog, and there’s going to be a lot of crap that I don’t enjoy, but I’m ready to really apply myself and work as hard as I can.