Monday, August 25

Day 42


Well I haven't posted for a whole two weeks and I wish I had more to show for it but I don't.

In the last week I've spent a lot of my available time watching a series of dvd's from The Gnomon Worshop; professional artists sharing the techniques of their craft. I've also been active on forums like, getting advice and feedback and studying expert's designs and w.i.p.

My forms and figure drawing have been fairly good but now I'm addressing colour, light and depth. It's an important yet daunting step and I've been struggling with it. Also my 3D models are all but lost at this point and whether I go back and redo them is yet to be seen.

So whilst I've been practically out of action for a while I'm reinvigorated and eager to try a swathe of new techniques for realising my conceptual work. Furthermore my friend Luke recently had some of his own work compiled and bound so I'll get some tips from him on time and cost. My final piece could then be presented on a plinth as a finished piece to have and to hold.

I'm done watching westerns. The forum is providing some great work to relate to in terms of conceptual direction and The Gnomon Workshop is feeding me skills to practice. Time to get down to producing finialised concepts.

Now for something topical:

Commander Shepard
"why Mass Effect is everything Halo could have been"

ie. Awesome.

I've said it before, Halo is a game set within a fascinating story that the game fails to tell. Furthermore the pivotal characters in the story are heavily one-dimensional; Cortana is sassy, Sarge' is a hardass, the Prophet is mad and The Master Chief is a wise-cracking helmet (the kind that fits easily onto the heads of pre-pubescent boys).

Okay, I'll admit Halo is all about the multiplayer, the grand scale and the obscene action but at it's heart lies a hastily yet interestingly developed narrative space just lying dormant. We shouldn't have to buy the comics to get the rewards of that. I'll also admit that at the end of the day there doesn't seem to be a limit to the amount of online massacre I can imbibe via what is perhaps the best implementation of XBox Live. But if Two Face (or The Green Goblin) held out Halo 3 in one hand and Mass Effect in the other and cried 'Choose' before dropping them into a pit of deadly something, I'd dive for Mass Effect without a second thought.

Oh I'll tell you why.

The main reason, and I remember it clearly, that I never picked up Mass Effect when it hit the new release section (there's an interesting story here about EB and the new store 'Game' that I'll tell later) was that the cover illustrated it to be a game with space and aliens and guns where you play as what looks to be another iteration of the omni-dimensional action-hero I like to call 'Captain Douchebag'. I'm sick of playing the same lead character (or even watching him) over and over again. Cptn. Douchebag is a gruff, tough man among men who spares little words and expresses himself through action instead of emotion. If he has a sense of humor, it just flat out sucks and he will stop at nothing to 'get the job done' for the sole reason that 'someone's gotta do it' and he is in 'the right place at the wrong time'. At the end he'll get the girl because she decided in the first 30 seconds she wanted to be abused by this obvious shit-cart and you'll still be surprised because in not one single shot does he ever even acknowledge that she is in fact a woman (and not a just whining liability). The fact that you spend most of your time in his skull twiddling joysticks is often blamed for C.D.'s lack of true identity ('Douchebag' is a not an identity) but it shouldn't! Games Designers (and script writers) must eat it and admit that they alone are responsible for eternally casting the notorious Captain of fail. Because if they had done their job right, they would have made Mass Effect. But if that wasn't enough to turn me off at a glance, there's the name 'Mass Effect'. It really means nothing to me at all and is in no way mono-syllabic, it's not even one word (or two words that make sense). Penny Arcade: On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness is an intentionally bad name because it's funny to make fun of things (which you'd know about if you read Penny Arcade). Even still when I talk about it it's usually 'The Penny Arcade Game' or 'On the something slick something of somewhere or other...' because then people will know what I mean. If someone tells me to play Mass Effect, Canister Hop or Aircraft Blancmange then I will immediate forget those incoherent utterings. Battlefield Heroes is a simple enough name, it makes sense in laymen terms and I already know what the game is about. There.

Alright, most people might not have got all that from a cover but the more games you play the more sensitive you become to these things (ask any film critic, then smack them for being a film critic) and the more titles you put back on the shelf based on their wrappings. The game case could not be more important! Unless you're game has had the unpleasant pleasure of being over-hyped then this in the handshake/wink/brooding-look that gets you into the bedroom. After that the performance is rigorously tested, but who wants a huge package when you're ugly as sin? Ultimately you only know if a game is worth playing after you've played it, so this courting process should never be taken lightly.

Show an in-game rendered image on the cover:
Low budget much? Commission something nice you tight a-holes.
Feature NO in-game footage:
The savage burn is not worth any risk. This is a game, show me THE GAME.
Summarise the plot:
I'm about to play this game, don't tell me what happens. Most likely you'll make it sound lame anyway.
Lie in any way:
Seriously! This doesn't happen very often but EB have a seven day no questions asked return policy so this is one hunk of junk you can't fool me into owning.
Talk about the graphics or the physics or any of your boring programming jumbo:
I can see the graphics for myself, and as I've said in the past that talking up your AI engine just makes me wonder how boring your game must be that you have to hype the code.
Tiptoe around the genre:
If it's an FPS then it's not Combat Evolved you dicks it's an FPS, there's no harm in accurately describing your product and it may just help inform my buying decision.
Call your game something shit:
Well this one might be hard to avoid (and we all love the Wii now) so remember that it doesn't have to be cool or catchy but if you are going to call your game The Quantum of Solace then you better use your blurb space to explain what that is.

Include some kind of lavished cover art that expresses the user experience:
This is difficult and important, not necessarily what the game is about but how it makes players feel. This is what artists are for!
Show as much in-game footage as you can:
Cut scenes offer zero information, you need to show your game in action and it's never too 'dumb' to explain what it happening.
Talk about gameplay not story:
We trust (expect) there will be a compelling tale and we can't wait to experience it first hand, we don't trust your gameplay so sell it or die.
Make the name big enough that it isn't hidden under one of EB's countless stickers:
If I don't know what the game is I can't link it to the great review that guy gave (unless the cover is absolutely obvious), this is doubly important if the title is a made-up word.
Maybe not on the box, but compare it to other games instead of boasting uniqueness (because no game is unique):
Tell us about the genre we love and the improvements you've made, Bioshock was marketed as 'System Shock: Again' and that's just fine. I wanted to play it again.
Get to the point (and bury your PR guy alive):
Gamers are intelligent, ruthless and short of attention. PR spin does not work on us. BS does not work on us. If you lie we will know. If you bluff we will call it. Respect is everything. You can peddle you trinkets to the dullards if you want but you'll never break in; even Microsoft had to earn it's name. Accept this, suck it up and move forward.

So that's why I didn't initially pay attention to Mass Effect. What was I actually talking about again?

Fortunately my Brother, who I greatly respect, insisted I give it a try (going so far as to leave a copy in front of my machine) and it was fucking excellent. The whole time I kept thinking about how much better than Halo it is and that is what I want to talk to you about.
Master Chief vs. Commander Shepard

Master Chief has no proper name, just a rank and no face whatsoever, just armour. He has a voice and it's how every nerd wishes he sounded (Steve Downes doing his best David Hayter impersonation) and beyond a few sarcastic quips there's just nothing there. Some argue this is good because it allows the player to insert themselves into the main character's shoes, but why not allow the player to actually insert themselves into the story? Mass Effect does (and not in a half assed Tony-Hawk way) and does it well. I should probably point out that the two universes are very, very similar so the comparisons I'm making are after that fact. The more I play Mass Effect the more I lose track of the huge amount of effort that had to go into giving the player choices and options but it really pays off. I'm not just talking about their advanced modelling system that is sort of an uber version of the Wii-Me Creator but also the modular backstory and the entirety of the recorded dialogue (text cop outs here) for both male and female models including hours of alternate conversations. I try to think about the volume of material required to create this excellent experience where you can look and act how you want and it just leaves me with a great deal of respect. For posterity I point out that I did not make myself but rather a hardcore survivor of a woman, cross between Angelina Jolie, Julianne Moore and Bianca Bauchamp with a penchant for violence and alien women. I am so impressed that when I say that, the game gives me the supreme flexibility to mean it. Thus it is impossible for me to get bored playing this game, even if all I'm doing is admiring the lead I have created. In Halo 3 character development finally begins (during the ending clip) but I just don't care. No I haven't read the books and so feel what I call "Hancock Syndrome" (something the writers think is emotionally charged is happening but in spite of the dramatic music and slow motion film I have missed the point completely and am probably bored).

Beyond that, Mass Effect delivers a story that can be almost as shallow as Halo if you want to just charge and shoot but also affords the option for huge depth. Even too much for me (I gave up reading all of the planets geological profiles after about the 30th). It's 3rd person instead of FPS style, but it still has complex combat in a wide range of situations. All the guns are there along with grenades, melee attacks and vehicles. But you get to command a small squad of competent and overly able characters (choosing 2 from 6) with the right level of control. Then there's telekinetic powers, technological skills, first aid, hacking, armour and weapon customisation. Everything I want to do, I can do. Super.

Whilst writing this I've come to understand that people know and love Mass Effect, which is as expected really. But I suppose my point is that more games could be as good as Mass Effect (or close) but aren't because there is a market for crap and the Developers don't feel the need to rise about that. I'm not just bashing Halo here as the multiplayer and the action is rock solid. It's the campaign I loathe. I saw that hope remains for the beleagured Halo movie... good luck with that.

One of the main reasons I want to work in the industry is that I love the craft. Screw Gates, if you're doing it at all then It's worth doing right. You have to love it, or lie yourself to sleep.

No comments: