Hi there, Gamers and Game Makers!
This week, I'm going to go over the basics of how I come up with and develop on my game ideas. This is by no means a pipeline for developing ideas that will work for everyone as the creative process differs from person to person but, I hope it can help those of you with a basic idea figure out how to develop and expand upon it.
Ok, let's get started. So, you've got an idea for a game and you think it's a pretty great idea. I hate to break it to you but odds are it's not.
If you're anything like me, you'll get multiple ideas throughout any given day that at the time feel like really cool ideas but the reality of it is they're probably not great. At least not yet. As I work on a project, I'll have ideas for future games I'd like to make. So in my case what I like to do is keep a notebook of the ideas I get and that way I can come back to them.
When I get a new idea that I want to develop, I have a little rule I like to follow which I think helps a great deal. The first idea you have is pretty much the idea anyone can come up with. So, when you get your first thought, throw it away and approach it again. I tend to throw away the first three versions on an idea that I have until I'm left with something that feels more unique as a game and also to me.
You'll find that when you throw away the first thoughts that come to you, you'll start to think in a different way. You'll creatively start to push yourself to think outside the box and soon enough you'll get that lightbulb moment when an idea develops into something more in your head.
Once you get to this stage, it's time to start expanding on the idea. I personally like to visualize my ideas on paper. I'll use my notebook to keep track of the ideas and story content but I also like to keep track of things using post-its or memo cards.
I'll write the core idea on a post-it and stick it on the wall then using more post-its, I'll stick branching ideas and gameplay mechanic ideas and story beats around the core idea. This way I can stand back and look at a clear visual representation of my game idea as it develops and I can swap notes in and out as I go.
By this point, I tend to have a visual style of the game in my head. So, what I like to do now is research the visual style by looking up reference images that will help give me a better understanding of the setting my game is going to take place in and looks for characters.
Once I have a good reference base made up, I'll jump straight into concepting some rough art ideas that will help me discover the visual identity of my game.
It's important to note that once I have a good core idea and rough art style for the game that I make prototypes of the gameplay very early on in the idea phase. It's important to find out if the idea you're developing actually translates well into a fun immersive game.
Once you've gotten to this point and after prototyping the game, if it's fun then I think it's safe to say you're on to a good idea!
This is just a pretty basic outline of how I develop on my ideas and it's by no means a set way of developing ideas. Everyone is different in how they create but hopefully it'll help you take what could be a good idea and develop it into something great.
So all that's left for you now is to think of your idea and develop on it!
Rare footage of me coming up with an idea
Hey there, Gamers and Game Makers!
So, this weeks blog post is going to be a little different. Over the weekend, I attended Animation Dingle for the second time. It's a truly fantastic event that not just celebrates animation but, creativity in general. So, I want to talk a little about my time at the event and the experience.
One of the first things you'll notice about Dingle is its striking beauty. It's no wonder the event is held here every year. The scenic backdrop is such a huge part of what makes the event so special. You could spend hours just admiring the beauty of the surrounding area.
While the landscape may be beautiful, there's still so much more going on over the two days. Some of the most talented people from all over the world involved in the industry come to Dingle to speak and share advice while doing their best to help people grow and improve. The great thing about meeting people at Animation Dingle is just how informal the whole thing is. There's no sense of rankings or "I'm better than you" attitude during the event. Everyone is there to help and offer advice to everyone and if you see a certain twice Oscar nominated director and want to have a chat, you can do just that.
This year, the very talented writer and director, Dean DeBlois gave a fantastic Keynote at the event that gave an insight into his career and the path he took to get where he is today. It was such an inspiring talk that left me feeling a new sense of determination to keep pushing myself and to try new things. He was such a down to earth person who was very happy to speak with people and offer advice.
We were also very lucky to get a look at some footage from Cartoon Saloons new feature, "The Breadwinner" The panel spoke about some of the process of the movies art pipeline and seeing the dedication to the art process and voice actors direction was simply amazing. It's clear to see these are people driven by a passion to create something amazing that fans will not only love but also tells a real story with depth.
This year also saw the introduction of a new format called "The Big Pitcher" where students shortlisted had the opportunity to pitch their project to a panel of industry professionals. The winner of the process would get an internship at Jam Media. I'm thrilled that the winner of this years pitch went to the very talented Chris Craig. You can check out Chris and his work over on his Twitter and Instagram.
During the event, there are a number of workshops to attend. One of which was the very informative Toon Boom workshop. I later had the chance to talk with Toon Boom's very own Daniel Santos about future plans for the studio and its tools and I'm looking forward to following up with Daniel in the near future.
If all that isn't enough for you, Dingle is also home to some of the most amazing food and of course, Fungi, the dolphin.
The event may be over for another year but, it's left me with a recharged sense of motivation and some new ideas for projects that I'm excited to start. I got to catch up with some very talented friends and made some new ones. I'm already counting down the days to next years Animation Dingle and if you're a creative person, then I highly recommend you check it out.
Anyway, I'm going to go make use of this new motivation. Until next time!
Hey there, Gamers and Game Makers!
This week, I want to talk a little about something that a lot of game developers still overlook when creating game worlds. The world as a character. So, what do I mean when I say the world is a character? Well, pretty much just that. The world your game is set in is as much a character in the game as the player or any other character.
Just like any character paramount to the games story, the game world should feel like it's a real living place and not just some place holder to facilitate the players actions and story. The world needs to feel like it has a past, a future and that your actions affect it and the people in it. Making the world feel real and how it portrays narrative elements effectively is down to good level design.
A great example of narrative design and level design working together is in "The Last of Us" Naughty Dog are masters at creating stories and building worlds that feel real. In The Last of Us" there's so many little moments in a scene where the games world is telling you elements of a story without the use of an NPC or a cutscene. This is called environmental storytelling.
Environmental storytelling is a key tool in creating a world that feels like it's been lived in and gives you the impression that it's affected by more than just your actions. Environmental storytelling is also a great tool for teaching the player basic gameplay without the need of a cutscene or needless or out of place dialogue. Let's take a look at "Dead Space" When you arrive in the nightmare that has fallen upon the space station, you have no idea what you're up against or how to defeat it. However, people have already been there and know what these monsters are and how to kill them. The game makes use of environmental storytelling by literally telling the player how to kill the monsters. In the image below we see a very grim message wrote on the wall in blood.
Now while this is a very simple piece of environmental storytelling, it is very effective on two fronts. First, it makes the player tell a story in their head as to what might have happened here. We could think something along the lines of a survivor found out through a fatal encounter with one of the monsters how to kill them and wrote it on the wall in blood as to help anyone that should follow. It also on a gameplay level teaches the player how to approach combat. Rather than going for body shots, we now know that the best way to defeat them is to cut off their limbs. We learn all this simply through good environmental storytelling and level design and the game never breaks the sense of fear and immersion while doing so.
When designing a level, it's important to keep in mind what information you want to convey to the player and what the best method of doing that is. If it's to teach the player a key gameplay component like in the example above, then it's important to relay that information to the player sooner rather than later and in a very clear way that doesn't confuse them but still feels natural to the levels design.
If you're trying to tell small stories through set pieces in a scene, then think of the story you want to tell the player and focus on how you can best tell that story through environmental storytelling. The key is to use clear symbolism and as few words as possible. The best environmental storytelling will be clear enough that it makes sense but also alows the player the freedom to form that story in their head in their own way.
Some games that are great for this are the "Bioshock" games and "Portal". Each one conveys the story it's trying to tell through it's level design but allows the player to put the pieces together in their head,
A studio who I feel doesn't get enough credit for how well they handle environmental storytelling is Bethesda. Just look at the likes of Skyrim and Fallout. To craft good environmental storytelling in a linear game is one thing but, to take an open world game and add detailed storytelling through set pieces is very hard. Next time you're playing Fallout 4 just stop for a moment a take a look at the scene and I bet you'll see some very interesting environmental storytelling going on.
Ok, folks, that about does it for this week's blog post. When you're thinking of how you want to tell stories in your games, think about all the ways you can tell it through good level design and environmental storytelling. I only touched on the basics with this post and I'll probably write a more detailed post in future covering the process of level design and narrative storytelling in games.
In the meantime, if anyone has any questions or suggestions, feel free to get in touch. Until next time, folks!
Hey there Gamers and Game Makers!
For anyone who knows me or has played most of my games will know that I'm a huge fan of horror, especially horror in games. Horror games have changed a lot over the years and take on many forms. What exactly makes a horror game and what exactly makes a horror game good or bad? These are things that have changed over the years but there are some key elements that I feel reside in every great horror game. So, this week, I'm going to talk about what I think makes for a great horror game.
For me growing up, my first experiences with horror games was with the very first Resident Evil and Silent Hill games. Silent Hill in particular had a strong effect on me because unlike Resident Evil where you faced off against zombies created from a virus, Silent Hill saw you face off not just monsters but also made you face the parts of yourself that you didn't want to face. Silent Hill 2 is by far the best game at doing this. Nothing is more terrifying than having to take a look at ourselves and admit the dark parts we all have deep down are real.
So what exactly makes a good horror game? Well, depending on exactly what type of horror you're trying to create, that can vary. For now, I'm going to talk through some of the points I feel work well for creating a sense of horror in a game.
The problem with a lot of horror games is you as the player can find it hard to relate to your character. Take a game I love, Resident Evil for example. That game scared the crap out of me as a kid and is in its own right a great horror game. However, the problem you encounter is you play as a highly trained member of S.T.A.R.S. You're basically a badass special forces agent who can take on anything.
That's super cool to play as but the problem is odds are you're not going to be able to relate to a character like that. Unless your day job is far more exciting than most. So how can we craft a better horror with that information? We create characters that feel more real. Characters who have the same boring everyday tasks that we do. In a setting that is familiar to us. By doing this, we relate more to the character we're playing and can become that bit more immersed into the games world. After doing this, we can introduce elements of unease that make the everyday normal feel abnormal.
Forbidden Siren was a great game at putting normal characters into a horror setting.
Using The Uncanny:
It's easy to create a monster that's terrifying to look at and gives the player that sense of terror when they see it. That's a very obvious "oh, there's the danger" element that we know is horror. However, if you make good use of the uncanny, you'll leave the player very unsettled and afraid without having to even show them much. The uncanny is when we see something that we may see everyday but you just know something is wrong. As CGI gets more realistic it's impressive to see but there's still that part of you that can't accept it because you know that's not a real person.
A good example from recently is the CGI representation of the late Carrie Fisher in Rogue One.While it's an incredibly impressive recreation, there's still that part of me that feels uneasy when I look at it. It's because it looks so convincing but at the same time there's just something off about it and that makes me uneasy. The same can be said for settings. The typical flickering light in horror games is used not just because it makes a good visual aid to direct the player but also because we're unsettled by a flickering light. In the back of our minds we know it shouldn't be there, that the light should be better maintained and we question why it's wrong and as a result question what else might be wrong in the setting.
It's good to keep this in mind next time you want to create a ruined mansion or such. Think of the everyday normal settings your used to and think about what slight changes you could make that would make you uneasy in them.
A lot of horror games of the last number of years (some of mine included) make far to much use of the likes of jumpscares or a constant threat of danger to employ horror in the game. Sometimes as a game developer, you can feel like your robbing the player if you don't provide them with enough elements of horror in a horror game. But the thing is, we can provide elements of horror in far more ways than constantly jumping out and shouting "Boo!" every five minutes.
The more you try to scare the player, the more normal it becomes to them thus losing any sense of horror. We need to space out moments of terror more and build them all slowly up to one big moment at the end which becomes the real pay off. The best horror games leave you terrified only to realize afterwards that in the moments you were afraid, nothing actually happened. Think back on some of your favorite horror games and I'm willing to bet that half the time you were scared, nothing actually happened. Most of this can be achieved through good level design and world building. In horror games, audio is so very important. Sometimes the lack of it can be more important than having a creepy background track. Sometimes, just the sound of your footsteps as you walk down a long dark hallway is all you need.
Survival horror like Resident Evil and Silent Hill are great but one thing they don't do is create a sense of defenselessness. They allow the player to fight back, to kill the monster hunting them. For me, a horror game is at it's best when it removes that ability to defend yourself or to fight back. It's hard to panic at a monster coming towards you if you have a 12 gauge shotgun in your hand and you know it can be killed.
When a horror game removes your ability to fight back suddenly when you see that monster coming, a real sense of panic sets in as you try to run away and figure out where to hide before it catches you. You now find yourself moving slower through the world as you don't want to be detected and those moments of hiding are all the more tense because you know if your found, there's nothing you can do.
There are some exceptions. Forbidden Siren gave you a very limited option to fight back. Most of the time through melee combat and rarely guns with very limited ammo. The difference was that in Forbidden Siren, the shibito were always stronger than you and even if you did manage to kill one, it wasn't really dead but only put down for a very short period of time and as soon as it got back up it came hunting you with an unending rage. So, while Forbidden Siren gave you an option for combat, odds were you avoided it at all costs by sneaking around and hiding. Another good thing to note about Forbidden Siren was even hiding wasn't a safe bet as the shibito would also check hiding spots meaning you couldn't stay put for long.
The best horror leaves with that sense of lingering horror. That sense of unease even after they've finished playing the game. Some of the best horror games do this by tapping into the one thing we all probably fear the most, ourselves. A game that makes you think about the darker places in your mind is something very powerful and very few can do this. Silent Hill 2 is a great example of using the characters inner most dark thoughts to shape the world around him. The characters and monsters all form some representation of his sexual frustration. Silent Hill 2 has a lot going on that is told without a single word of dialogue.
A horror game that can leave you questioning yourself and the thoughts you have is something that reflects a very true sense of psychological horror very rarely seen in games. Games that give us very real choices that truly change the outcome and impact on characters in the world also achieve this when done correctly.
Well, that does it for this week. There's a lot more points that I could go into and expand upon and I'll probably do so in another blog post down the line. As for now, I hope this was useful to some of you out there getting started on your first horror game. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to get in touch.
Until next time!
Hey there Gamers and Game Makers!
This week, I'm going to take a look at the age old question in games that is, "Do graphics matter?" I get asked this sometimes from folks starting out on their first game, wondering if they should spend most of their time focusing on the graphical fidelity of the game.
It's a question that is constantly being asked, discussed and argued over. It's a question that has no easy answer as it varies from game to game. When faced with the question "Do graphics matter?" my answer is always "Yes, but, not in the way you think."
Ok,bear with me on this one. When I say graphics matter, I'm not talking about the high level of graphical fidelity and level of photorealism that can be achieved in some games. When I talk about why graphics matter, I'm talking about the overall aesthetic of the visual art style and how it works to create a cohesive and immersive world that helps suspend your disbelief for the time you are playing. This isn't an easy task to achieve but, there are a few simple rules to follow.
First off, it's important to keep in mind that regardless of your graphical/artistic prowess, if your gameplay is bad then your games is going to be bad no matter how good it looks.
To give you an example of what I mean when I talk about the visual aesthetic, let's take a look at some games. Take the classic Super Mario Bros. While this game had a very simple art style, it's still considered a great game. That's due to obviously great simple gameplay but also because the art style while simple, is designed very well. The colors are chosen carefully to work with each other. The simple art style also suits the type of game that it is.
Let's look at a couple of other games that have taken huge leaps forward in graphical power and how they maintained the overall feel that made them such a hit in the first place.
Take the Fallout series. Before Bethesda acquired the rights to develop the IP further, we remember the classic Fallout as a much loved 2D game. We obviously see a huge change in how the game develops from this classic 2D game to a 3D first person shooter in a huge open world. So aside from the gameplay, why does the world of Fallout still feel like, well, Fallout? Simply because the artist and world builders focused on maintaining a visual aesthetic that was true to the world of Fallout. When you compare Fallout 1, 3 and 4, you can see a distinctive style has been developed for each game that complements the locations they're set in as well as how carefully the color palettes are picked. In the case of Fallout 1, we see a lot of browns and greys. In Fallout 3, we see alot of green hues that emphasize the high levels of radiation in the DC area. Fallout 4 makes use of a much wider color palette and varies it from area but blends it very naturally. The result in each case is that along with great gameplay, the visual style is very cohesive and nothing visually feels out of place.
So, when going forward in developing your own games, keep the overall visual aesthetic in mind. When you are designing your art, be it 3D or 2D, make sure you follow a theme. An example of bad visual aesthetic would be if you were creating a very realistic game and suddenly had a toon style character as the player or drastically different model designs throughout the game that don't fit into the theme.
As always, I hope this was of help to some of you and if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch!