The Pixel Crush

-------------------------------------------|Digital Animation & Game Criticism|-------------------------------------------

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Grey Matters

Too Dark
What with Kernel and a 10,000 word dissertation to write I thought I wouldn't have enough on my plate (sarcasm), so I took up Adam Warne's offer to produce a small amount of animation for a documentary he's making on the subject of the brain's capacity for creativity. Most of the documentary will consist of interviews, but for the bit where new neural pathways are forged during the conception of an idea is described a visual explanation was required to augment the crazy science.

Too Pink
I believe the shot will play out with a slow shot roving over the undulations of the brain's exterior before diving between the folds to a shot of the camera squeezing its flash-lit way deeper into the brain. Much like the stomach cam effect seen down a patient's throat, often used for surgery. Then the camera will dive further in, at this point down to a very high level of magnification, and here will be the neural pathways being forged.
Neural Pathways
This is the visual reference I need to aim for. I'm not entirely sure how to depict this yet, if all I have to show is the currents pulsing up and down a modelled set of neural pathways that shouldn't be a problem, but if the pathways have to be shown connecting I'll have to try something new. This is all subject to collaboration and revision at this point but its definitely an exciting challenge.

Mmm, Drained Brain.
I made an exceedingly basic model in Maya comprising of about 6 polygons. I jest, of course it wasn't a cube but very simple none-the-less. Then I took this into Mudbox after UV unwrapping it and subdivided it about 7 times.
Sculpt 0.75
 Here it is at about 75% completion, I often forgot to mirror the brush strokes in order to save sculpting both hemispheres separately which meant there is a certain amount of organic asymmetry in the sculpt but also some dodgy bits where the brush was mirrored even though the geometry wasn't symmetrical. I then went through the usual ordeal of exporting the thing to a displacement map and setting up the correct nodes (why does this never work quite the same way every time?).
Then I decided to start tweaking the shader with the texture applied only as a bump map in order to generate quicker test renders.
 Too much sub surface scattering so I turned that down, a lot.
 Better but still too soft, don't you just love these work in progress comparisons? Yeah, me too.
Then I turned the displacement on, and realised it looked nothing like the final sculpt in Mudbox, and I can't quite remember what I did to solve this but I think its because I hadn't exported the base level mesh from Mudbox to displace in Maya, and was instead using the original model. Therefore the alterations the high level sculpt had made to the low level mesh weren't there.
Here are better specular qualities to the shader more accurately representing the spotlight flesh aesthetic I was going for.
Here is the correct base mesh for the displacement and all the bulges are now in the correct place.
Slimy and Inflamed
 The detail of the folds of the brain in this render was starting to get closer to the look that I wanted but due to the fact that its only really the sub surface scattering powering the shader at this point its quite dark and the redness makes the brain look kind of sore and inflamed.
Squidgy and Creamy
So with a pastelly flesh tone and some indirect lighting its starting to look much healthier but until I have a proper diffuse texture I won't be able to quite replicate the look I want which is something closer to this:
Real Brain
So veins will be a key feature which I think I can just bump map on, gloriously revolting aren't they?
and I need to figure out a way to create that gooey caramel type stuff between folds in the shader or texture. So there you have it, a nice visually stimulating post for those of us who are as sick of the words as I am from dissertationing. Pretties abound!

Some of you may have noticed how sneaky this project is as I can just reuse this sculpt in Kernel for the bulb brains, yeah, cunning. All it'll need is a simple texture replacement.

No propaganda this time but for Loz's astute response to my gamification piece.

Also, happy one hundred posts to The Pixel Crush, I think I planned to make a big deal out of it but
then forgot :/

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Hate The Player, Not The Game

Perhaps time for a rambly, ranty, vent to counteract my dissertation work (which is coming along poetically by the way), let us begin.

Why I Hate Gamification:

Gamification is the use of game-like techniques used to incentivise activities in everyday life. For example- nectar points, or any other card/point system like this (air miles etc). My problem with this is the same problem I have with it in game design. The points provided as an incentive are often false incentives. In a game where the player is required to perform a task, that task should be engaging and interesting enough to warrant the investment of your time without needing to pat the player on the back with an explosion of points, xp, or whatever currency the game deals in. If there is a point system in place even when the tasks are compelling then this just works to undermine the focus of the gameplay by moving the focal point to the acquisition of points.

So there you are, in the shopping centre, one product offering more points than another, its not necessarily a better product, it might even be inferior, but the customer buys it because the points lure them to that option with the promise of (quite meagre) rewards later.

Here is an incredible talk about the ramifications of gamification, its really worth watching even if you don't give a hoot about videogames, because its relevant to our consumerism and lifestyles too. Though I'm guessing if you bothered reading this far you give at least a small hoot:


I believe Ian Bogost has also written extensively on gamification.
He says it is 'bullshit'. He titled it 'exploitationware'.


All this comes as a response to a question from Loz who is now writing uber interesting type things on his fancy new blog over at Gamasutra, that's like professional, and stuff. We've also been collaborating on a podcast with Alan, Hugh, Dan, and Nigel. Its all at a very formative stage at this point but hopefully when we've got something stable up and running people can download it from iTunes etc the page on The Pixel Crush titled podcasts has some broken links due to renaming of the podcast and other changes.

I just wrote a ton on Splinter Cell: Conviction but then realised all my screenshots aren't on my laptop so I'll pretty that up and post it when I get back to Nelson in Falmouth.

Back to the dissertation now, oh and that Brain post is coming, soon...

Thursday, 8 December 2011


I haven't written a post in just under a month which is pretty appalling considering how much care I've put into prettifying and creating content for The Pixel Crush (which, by the way, you might have noticed has its very own fancy domain name now which I paid a whole $7 for! Money well wasted.)
Official Website
Things to cover in order to bring everyone properly up to speed: lots.
And don't worry, the shiny pictures are further down.

Kernel got chosen as one of the remaining projects to go through into fully fledged production, so after we all return to Falmouth after a decidedly dissertation flavoured break it'll be pedal to the metal, as I keep telling people. And it will be, I thought I'd had no time to blog this term, it can only get harder.

There were various provisos and conditions for the directors to meet for some of the projects to get the green light of approval, and Kernel was by no means an exception to that. What was heartening about the whole thing was that, once again, people were able to crawl through the mire of ideas, designs, and emotions that make up Kernel and find something of worth. The industry professional from Cornish animation studio Spidereye gave all the feedback to the tutors (which was a slight shame as I would've liked to hear what he had to say) and with regards to Kernel he got the gist of things but was confused by most of the references to back story and context. This is by no means a reflection on his mental capacity but in fact that is the kind of feedback that the Kernel animatic (moving storyboard) got across the board, with a few exceptions where people got the whole thing with no problem, or people thought Leonard's greenhouse was a tortoise sitting on a know who you are ;)
Spidereye Animation
Luckily the tutors fought (I like to think tooth and nail) to justify Kernel's value as an animated short to Mr Spidereye and it got chosen to go through, providing I be removed from story development temporarily. That hurt a little. I've long wanted to have a vessel to see whether I could actually tell a story and the animatic phase of an animation is very much like the equivalent editing for film, something I believed myself to be reasonably accomplished in. But with the rapid change of idea early on, the brutal 3 minute run time restriction, and an acute inability to draw anything that involved perspective, I must've lost the plot somewhere as the story didn't read like it should've done and almost all the context, back story, and history that surrounds and forms the world that Kernel takes place in, what makes it interesting, was lost on the audience. Until I forcefully explained what was obviously going on anyway.

Fixed UV's showing Leonard's new squint pose ready for rigging.
So something that was collaborative to an extent anyway has now become more collaborative, while I feel attachment to certain aspects of Kernel its far from being 'my baby'. Hugh is at this very moment working on a scintillating re-write that includes, live and death risk taking, Big Friendly Giant style dream thoughts, radical seed dispersal, and bad-ass back story embellishments. Once that's underway Charlie will commence the re-storyboarding (of which, judging from the re-write, there is quite a bit to do). Its great to have their contributions as they both understand the message and the world enough to extrapolate new ideas that still feel coherent, the kind of thing Leonard would agree with.
Speaking of Leonard. Dan has been doing some fancy rigging which is always fun as we get to see the first hints of animation actually happen as the character is brought to life one twitching vivacious muscle at a time.

Broken UV's around Leonard's new eyes.
 I've been working on Leonard's model to create teeth, gums and a tongue for his head so facial rigging can commence but the rest of the credit must go to Sebastian for creating the model in the first place, bar the head and hands. Making better facial geometry at this late stage turned out to be a massive pain when it came to UV's as I had to re-unwrap with the additional geometry and this misaligned everything from the high resolution sculpt displacement map to the textures, so fun was had straightening that mess out, luckily I did a beautiful bodge job. I've also been hard at work sculpting a brain which is partly for the bulbs that feature quite prominently in Kernel but that's not the model's only purpose, I shall explain properly in a subsequent blog post.
...Brain Teaser...
While we're talking about modelling and how good I've got at delegating work to other people so I can focus on being opinionated and bossy I should point out both environment/prop modellers Jake and Ryan have also be creating some great work despite the lack of designs.
Ryan's Greenhouse, Jake's Shed.
Now I'm home for Christmas and settling down for a quiet panic about the prospect of an 8-10,0000 word dissertation first draft deadline. The Pixel Crush is hopefully going to be a nice antidote to the straight jacket essay writing style I'll have to adopt to attain good marks so expect more wit, whimsy, and words that ever before. Or maybe I'll just pickle my thoughts on ludo-narrative dissonance in mulled wine. Yes, I like that idea.

Pixel Propaganda

An Indie game I stumbled across has this fantastic art/rendering style that comes the closest I've seen to a very colourful stop motion animation, nothing revolutionary in terms of gameplay but very pretty. I recently purchased the Humble Indie Bundle 4 and have at last come to terms with the fact that I can no longer stand Indie games that insist on using a charmless pixel art style and game mechanics that are 20 years old. Thats not independant, thats OBSOLETE. Please, innovate, you can afford to.

The Autodesk Area posted a great article with insight and interviews into the asset creation workflow at Naughty Dog on Uncharted 3.

Someone let an idiot loose on the Edge magazine website who wrote the dumbest article about videogames inablility to tell a story whilst contradicting himseld at every turn by citing some of the smartest narrative games this generation. Luckily this blogger set him right by pulling his article apart piece by piece.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Animatic

The animatic has gone through four and a half iterations before it achieved the perfection it is now.

There's so much wrong with that sentence but I'll start by defining what an animatic is. The animatic is the script in the form of drawings, drawings which are taken usually from the storyboards and put into a loose edit to ascertain the timings for each scene, shot, movement, and get a feel for the pacing and structure required throughout the film. So with that intention I turned my months of storyboarding into an animatic in a single day, it was such a relief to be done with drawing. So I thought. Then there were the numerous edits, tweaks, and revisions from all sides.

If you only have time to watch one, watch the last one.

Animatic 1.5 features the most extended version of the original cut with the inhaler scene and other bits and pieces, things that added to Leonard as a character but didn't enhance the plot. They had to go. Also a foley scratch track from Jon Bernhardt that really grounds the visuals.

Then off the back of lots of feedback I added a scene which made Leonard's exodus more imperative by having his winch sabotaged, making him directly effected.

Then more cuts and shuffling happened, and I added more appropriate music plus foley cobbled from Jon's sound effects.

I'd love it to be double the length to allow the story to play out at a more naturalistic pace with its bits and pieces that flesh out Leonard as a character but as it is I might even make a brutal 2 minute animatic after all this in order to prioritise shots and ascertain what is completely necessary in order for us to have a complete film to hand in, as opposed to a complete story.

That was a horrible blog post. Short and functional. I shall return soon with pretty brain renders, flowery language, and hopefully some videogame prose as I have coursemates and podcasts to plug. Until then:

Pixel Propaganda

A touching and comical piece of anecdotal game criticism on Skyrim and its characters, one in particular.

An article that recognises the importance of what certain games are doing with narrative. .

A great series of tutorials on linear work flow in Maya and Mental Ray and lighting.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Firstly a sickeningly self-congratulatory pat on the back for the Pixel Crush on reaching 20,000 views in total. Something a big internet site might do in less than a day, but still feels like an accomplishment for me.


Pre-production is the stage of a creative project where everything is iterative, fluid, and conceptual. It involves a lot of drawing, quick ideations of every aspect of the project. The props, the environments, the characters, the overall art style/direction, all need designs. Because without drawn designs modelling tends to get sucked into the quicksand of moribundity. The result of all this is that I've had to do a lot more drawing than I'm qualified for. In order to maintain some kind of consistency I made basic style guide that covers mostly form with only a brief mention of colour.

Style Guide

So I present to you a sample of my scribbles, reluctantly contorted from my mind and onto the digital page. Very reluctantly...

This is a cross section of Leonard's greenhouse and shed.

Here is the top down, I have drawn all the different levels going down into the ground too but there's no way of showing that without posting each layer as an individual image.

The symbolic Act plant that ties the structure of the story to nature's growth.

Here we have the Cathexis tree being fed:

Leonard looking like he's in a graphic novel...

...whilst he has a moment of vertigo.

The troubled intellectual. Now you know it's a student film.

Wrinkly and ponderous

Leonard writing in his journal, getting ready to document his legacy and store it in the Cathexis tree.
Today we presented the animatics in front of all the 3rd years and I got a whole 60 minutes or more of feedback and discussion, on the one hand this is worrying as there was a lot of confusion over even some of the basic plot elements. Luckily 75% of this will be cleared up when the whole thing manifests itself in three dimensions, replacing my vague and dodgy drawings. But the rest needs some tweaks and slight re-structuring.

The last bulb, Leonard's bulb. I keep calling them bulbs though now they are technically fruit as they hang from the tree instead of growing in the ground.

The fact I was up there for so long actually was really heartening that people had so much to say about how they interpreted the world of Kernel and that there was something of worth there that needed to be clarified for the audience. I actually went up there feeling terrified as my work attempted to communicate an idea for 4 minutes and as always you get the feeling that 'this is a direct reflection of me and therefore every criticism is of me as a person'.

As Leonard reaches the point of no return he discards the key to his shed.

But in the end it was very reassuring that people are trying to work it out, and care enough to do so. Some got it of the bat, some got the gist, some missed little details which they saw on the second (or third) play through, and I'm sure some missed the point altogether but hopefully still enjoyed the atmosphere and visuals. Even telling the basics of a story is so easy to get wrong. But I'm getting there, and the experience of chopping the idea and story up publicly has even spurred me to get back on the storyboarding to perfect what will (hopefully) be the final animatic. Dear god it better be the final animatic.
The remains of his existence as he sets out on a new adventure.
In case you were worried where the shinies were he is Leonard looking more gorgeous that ever:
Here is Leonard looking as wrinkly as a tortoise

I've just realised I have no Pixel Propaganda this time. How did that happen? I haven't been reading any less game analysis. Alas, I shall attempt to compensate for it soon, there are podcasts and collaborations to discuss after all...

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Choosing An Opiate

A piece I wrote some months ago...

On Religion, Drugs, and Videogames.

There are many different ways which humans have developed to help them deal with, and escape from, the perceived pressures of our existence. The primary one being religion for many people, not as much in our predominantly secular English society any more, but in other countries and cultures. Religion as far as I understand it, involves study of your chosen faith’s religious texts, devotion to a specific god or gods, and ritualistic hymn singing and prayer. All these activities are undertaken within a close community of other believers who share the same faith as you, and its that sharing which I think forms a lot of religion’s appeal. If circumstances are right and your train of thought arrives at stations as strange as mine, then you’re probably considering how many parallels there are between the practices of a religious person and an avid gamer… no?

I recently saw Marcus Brigstocke talk about his new book God Collar, and in it he explores his own atheism, faith- why people need it, and the pro’s and con’s of religious doctrine. Many of the values he posited as beneficial, were values I held about videogames: the community, the shared experience, systems to exist within. Now I imagine this comes across as a statement that trivialises faith to a criminal degree, and I’m not trying to draw direct comparison and then claim they are equivalent but there are certainly similarities worth discussing.
In a sense religion is sublime example of gamification itself: gamification being the abhorrent application of game design techniques implemented in real world systems. So videogames are interactive systems governed by rules, as a religion is a set of commandments that believers must abide by in order to ‘succeed’ at their faith of choice. At the end of their life they are judged on their performance and decisions and either proceed to the next level or face game-over.
Following this line of thinking would lead me to classify Christianity as a kind of vertical platformer where the player ascends by adhering to the game’s strict moral system and making the correct story based choices. While Buddhism is a kind of recursive RPG with a unique levelling up mechanic in the form of reincarnation, that rewards players with better status and equipment each time they reach the end of the level having helped others and performed good deeds.

The third element to this discussion is the use of drugs, not medical drugs, recreational drugs: something I have no personal experience of and therefore all that I’ll say on the subject is based on observation, anecdote, and research. Again, there’s something shared in the taking of recreational drugs, its something you experience with other people, as an escape, to help you understand or cope with something, to enjoy an illusory experience outside of reality. The common themes being community, escape, and ritual. If you supplant faith with addiction (whether chemical or psychological) for both drugs and videogames then you have the complete set: three different methods of escape that serve the same function as both a coping mechanism and and a source of reassurance or joy in a person’s life.

When Marx said “It is the opium of the people” in reference to religion, he also said it was “the heart of a heartless world”. He was hardly condoning religious activity as an alternative to authentic human experience, but he observed the importance of the part of a person that needs to explore bigger questions, or merely escape, in an environment that is safe and predictable. While you (or I) could argue that drugs are neither safe nor predictable, videogames certainly foster exploration and experimentation in a way other media are not able to offer. Different genres beget different methods of exploration, often this boils down to simple geographical navigation but in videogames like The Sims the experimentation is of a behavioural nature, or in The Witcher 2, where it can be of a moral or political nature.
The only place I’ve read about a correlation between videogame and drug addiction is in Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives, in which he talks about his cocaine addiction which went hand in hand with copious amounts of Grand Theft Auto IV. I don’t know what to make of the way the two appear to go hand in hand but it certainly speaks of a videogames ‘just one more’ nature. Videogames are designed to have a gameplay hook, they are intrinsically addicting in that the designer wants the player to experience as much of their game as possible. So when you hear about statistics where only 40% of players finished Assassins Creed II, or 39% completed Half Life 2: Episode I, you can (almost) understand why the developer might start employing devious techniques to lure the player into the experience. A weak story not resonating with the player? Hell, lets appeal to their OCD side and throw in some collectibles, some trophies, and a levelling up system to goad the player into progressing to the next cut scene. I’m not cynical. I am however, sarcastic.
These are all things that I’ve been trying to weave together into some kind of thought out and cogent paragraph that I can call a conclusion. But at this point it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. I suppose I am trying to equate the community I feel a part of to other socially identifiable groups. I feel a devotion to certain developers. I study the seminal games of various genres. I have affecting experiences with those games. I discuss my experiences with members of the community. I am a believer.
People of a more traditional and atheistic nature may prefer to experiment in- and explore the real world itself, but you know, when was the last time they saved the universe, swayed a medieval court, or survived a revolution in an underwater city?

Olly Skillman-Wilson is a digital animator/student/writer who worships at the alter of narrative gaming, and prays his faith will remain strong for many years to come.


Since the pitch progress has been jumping backwards and forwards. I swore I'd never draw another storyboard frame again, but here I am, after draft four of the script and its time to grace the Wacom tablet with my draftsman's touch once again.  So that's what I'm psyching myself up for on monday, Olly vs Narrative, Round IV: Fight!

Until then I've been busying myself with visual distractions in the name of sanity, satisfaction, and R&D. Ironing out all the technological challenges now is going to pay off massively down the road, so I started with a simple one: cheating translucency in leaves.

Front Lit

Back Lit
Hopefully if you enlarge the images you'll get a sense of how the light illuminates the fabric of the leaves whilst not passing through the thicker veins within each leaf. This was achieved using a simple blinn shader with a specific texture plugged into the translucency value to control light transmission through the leaf. I set the translucency focus to 0.750 meaning any shadows that land on the leaf scatter slightly though it giving a softer more organic look.

Front Lit

Back Lit
I'll be replacing this mouldy brown leaf texture (that I found from a photo I took for Art AS years ago) with some nice Ivy leaves I picked on my home from the cinema this evening.

I've also just today started doing some preliminary lighting for Fentil: Another Life today and damn does it feel good to be illuminating things again. I even found a way to calculate ambient occlusion using existing final gather information in a render. This takes mere seconds and is more accurate is some ways, whilst less detailed in others. SUPER EXCITING. Have a shiny:

 I started with the standard mental ray sun and sky, and then used the sky image's incandescence value to create a softer lighting effect, combined with the new final gather ambient occlusion you have a ridiculously efficient, pretty simple lighting setup. As more assets get created I'll hopefully get to tweak shaders and things earning my title as look development, and not just a mere lighting monkey.
 The colour palette here is the closest I could match to the original wow image with its pastel purples pinks and blues. Its tricky striking a balance between crushed and over-saturated colours, and washed out bland colours.
Can't wait to see this stuff when the dynamics guys stick some atmospherics in there ans slap some depth of field on, cinema verite, viola!

Pixel Propaganda

Uncharted 3 is fantastic for what it is. And few have said that what exactly that is better than here.

The best reason to be excited for Skyrim.

More fantastic words coming from the brain of Richard Lemarchand, here he talks about the barrier between emotive games and game developers.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Paused Pixels

Leonard Paisley Character Concept.
The pitch for our final major projects is over and done. All that remains now is to find out which 10 of the 27 is to be chosen, we are waiting, as if paused. The pitches, as everyone has already said, were amazingly consistent in the quality of the presentation and artwork. Looking through the brochure now I wanted to give some of my course mates their due. Miguel's 'Escuridao Decente' had the most phenomenal artwork of all the pitches which blew me away, stunning colour and use of light, I think the term is chiaroscuro. Insa's 'Eighteen Ninety' had a cool premise based around the lack of a platform for female BMX riders to compete, its nice to see an animation with a purpose. Sian's 'H0le' had an iconic visual style and a personal premise that seemed to resonate with both the panelists and the audience, hopefully we'll get to see it realised. Dan's 'Fentil: Another Life' came across well with Dan assuming a fictional persona to raise funding for the project, though the fact his pseudonym can be broken down from Adden Mesa to 'a-dan, me-is-a' I think is hilarious. Another idea that the panelists loved. Alberto's 'Stream' was one of my favourite pitches, the idea was intellectual, well thought out and constructed, exciting in implementation and I hope it gets picked just so I can see whats possible with the techniques he proposed. One of the panelists insisted on belittling it to the status of 'chill-out video' but it seemed much deeper than that.
'Wow' Image
The panelists asked some great questions getting to the heart of each idea and uncovering the detail which couldn't fit into the pitch, but they did seem to have an irritating penchant for simplicity. 'I like the simplicity...' 'Nice and simple...' 'Too complex... 'Keep it simple...'
Don't anyone try anything elaborate or intricate, god forbid we raise the bar for animation as a mature medium for storytelling.

"Congratulations to you all for presenting fantastic pitches on Friday. The panel thought your professionalism and creativity was exemplary. Well done!
The panel have given us their feedback and we are now collating the feedback forms before releasing the information to you about which projects were successful in being put forward to the next stage. There has been some ferocious debates and some hard decisions to make. I'll have this available as soon as possible by the latest tomorrow, and will put the results up here.
We will then be giving each project constructive feedback, and tell you how the next stage commences"
-Andy Wyatt
Thrilling stuff, I'm desperate to find out. Though I've made my peace with not getting chosen I now can't imagine what that will feel like. There may be tears?
Charlie's Concept Piece
For the pitch some bespoke artwork has been created and it looks great for the most part, especially Charlie's concept piece that took a lot of preparation work on his part. He went to great pains to recreate the correct perspective, I then went in and graded the image also adding some lens and grime effects just to create a cohesion between the disparate styles of the pitch imagery.

Also for the pitch I created a head turn around to show the rendering style and even got a question about it! (To which I smugly got to boast my 90 second render time per frame.) I scrambled together a texture using the ambient occlusion, displacement and diffuse maps which looks pretty good but managed to screw the eyes somehow, might have been the giant white sphere I was using for reflections that blows out the specular on the eyes. What's remarkable here is that I actually nailed the hair at long last, the secret here being to turn off final gather for mental ray's volume fur shader, this both removes the blocky artifacts and blown out lighting for the hairs. Observe:

Pixel Propaganda

Batman Arkham City came out last month and some were perturbed by the needless sexism in its language and characterisation. Here is a fantastically well reasoned piece of writing on the subject.
The internet, it turns out, doesn't like to have important cultural issues raised about its favourite new toys. Here is the same authors response piece that starts as a point by point reply and ends with a rousing call to reason.

Uncharted 3 came out. Uncharted for me, is the one piece of fiction I dive into regardless of any analytical or conceptual reservations I may have and just immerse myself. So here is the review that nearly brought a tear to my eye, and here is the review that made me see reason, and points out how Uncharted falls apart when the player deviates from the script the game has laid out.

The co-lead game designer on Uncharted 3 was Richard Lemarchand, an idol of mine, and he recently gave this enlightening talk at Game City in Nottingham.

Here is a video I found when researching lens effects for my wow image that illustrates just how transformative they can be. Turning a render that doesn't look much better than playblast into this sci-fi cityscape:

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Once Upon A Pixel...

Story time.

Since what was probably nearly a week ago now I've been angsting over the same things I was grappling with in summer. I was supposed to be prepared so this didn't happen, but I failed to base my initial idea on anything more than environmental or political ideas. My Frankenstein of a story I had neglected to give a heart, so when the feedback came that it needed to be cut down, without its complexity it would've been a husk. So me and Loz opted for the backup plan, to develop a second idea in double time. This back up idea was one I had suggested to Loz back when I was having a particularly despairing moment about Specimen Paisley and he reassured me we were onto something and shouldn't change tack (rightly so) and the context I had tacked on was just that- tacked on.

Early, Early Concept Art From Summer.
Coming back to it with no alternative has been an interesting and creatively harrowing experience, to resurrect that concept and try and grow something intriguing, symbolic, and evocative out of its literally fertile imagery and visual metaphor has not been easy. But we know this, all I ever seem to whine about now is my chronic inability to tell a story. Well, I have surfaced triumphant, or to something that creates a thoroughly convincing illusion of triumph. Or maybe its more proof of chronic inability, ultimately its for an audience to decide. I will present this new script with the single caveat that being a dialogue-less animated short the majority of storytelling is visual, therefore a script is not the ideal format for it, so use your imagination and think about it.

Kernel (Working Title) Script

There are a number of people who I owe a debt to for providing feedback and allowing me to bounce ideas of them whilst they tell me theirs, and I encourage you to do the same.

Meanwhile I'm transferring Noel's (now Leonard: cue confusion all round) uber detailed sculpt onto the original low polygon model in readiness for facial rigging. This process also required some better unwrapping than my shoddy job last year so that the displacement map (the texture that creates all the wrinkle and pore detail) was better distributed across the face. Where there was pixelly blotches before, around the nose and ears, there is now a smooth texture creating all the little blemishes I first sculpted. But until I got that point there were the glitch renders, which I love.
Nothing like spending 7 minutes waiting for a constructive preview of your work only to be shown what it looks like when Maya b*tch slaps Mental Ray in the face.
Also when downscaling the fur description from the 10:1 scale Mudbox sculpt Noel's beard went rogue with some spectacular results.
Note the fancy cinemscope aspect ratio.
Here the downscaling also meant I had to tone down the displacement maps alpha gain from 1.00 to 0.10 in order to avoid retarded results: pro tip for anyone experiencing the correct displacement at monstrous values.
Part Brain Coral, Part Clay Beast.
But of course if you press all the buttons for long enough then you eventually find the right one.
I win, at last.
This render breaks my heart a little bit, hopefully if I can inspire some sort of empathetic response in the audience it won't matter what symbolism I'm trying to convey because they'll care regardless.
Now back to storyboarding again, then animatic, then pitch, then production!

Pixel Propaganda

More fascinating stuff on the dynamic character AI in the Bioshock Infinite E3 Demo, this time narrated by Ken Levine and two other important members of the Irrational Games team.

A talk explaining the elaborate and fascinating lighting tech in Crysis 2.

This Extra Credits episode explains why the "it's just a game" argument doesn't hold up anymore, god I hate it when people say that.

Gamasutra interview the narrative designer and writer of Deus Ex: Human Evolution and at last I'm excited for this game a month too late, love me some behind the scenes narrative mechanics. Brilliant. Excuse any typos, it's 3:30am.