Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Syd Mead

Whilst growing as an artist these past months on the Game Art degree at De Montfort I have come across many new interests considering the games and film industries. One of my biggest discoveries is an artist called Syd Mead. Though I was familiar with his work such as designs on the film Blade Runner and Aliens by Ridley Scott I didn’t pick up on the sheer talent this person has. I admire him most because unlike modern concept artists who work on digital software, all of Syd’s work is done on a canvas with Gouache paint; this means no ctrl + Z or any other help digital artists take for advantage today. He seems to also be focused primarily on the element of Design, using artistic ability to communicate his ideas; this consistent progression of science fiction design has coined him the title a ‘Visual Futurist’. 

Syd Mead began his journey as a vehicle designer in the 1960’s; personally I love the industrial design field which I briefly mentioned in my introduction on this blog, so anything involving clean lines, technological significance and vibrant designs are all components I really want to explore in my own work. His work is very unique and I think his stylisation is very attractive as he focuses highly on reflective surfaces, some may argue this element sub-consciously registers a futuristic environment. Observing his designs are like windows to another world, as he pushes his settings as far into reality as possible. I really want to do this myself because realism can bring greater identity to designs, it also enables to possibility of real functionality.    

Age 78 he still works for major companies today. His generation of artists are very different to mine because for one, they were taught HOW to draw, methods, techniques, the do’s and dont’s were very clear to these guys and this is what we miss today. In today’s academic system we are not taught HOW, it’s a ‘do it your own way’ type of teaching which can lead many people astray for years until they themselves get it, if they ever do that is. This is why things like perspective or autographic drawing seem to come across as some sort of evil method to do nothing but frustrate students!! I myself struggle with perspective and without getting it right, it’s hard to take any design seriously so this is why I admire those who absorbed it instinctively and of course, it’s very present in their work.

I think for anyone who is studying design, it’s a must to dissect from Syd’s work and try understanding his thought process. He has become somewhat of an icon in the conceptual design field because a lot of his work has withstood the test of time; I personally have purchased his book ‘Senutry II’ which is his latest release of collective artwork. Personally I don’t think it’s ever just a case of being at the right place at the right time to achieve success like this person has, a strong passion and constantly inspired state of mind must be achieved first. Otherwise everything becomes more ‘work’ and less ‘fun’ and for someone who has been working in the field of design for over four decades Syd is a perfect example. 

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Game Review #1 - Assassins Creed II

Assassin’s Creed 2 – Released November 20th 2009 – Action-adventure, Open world, Stealth.

              Although I haven’t played the prequel ‘Assassin’s Creed’ this certainly was not one of those games where you HAD to play the first one to understand what is going on. It really is a well rounded game with stunning visuals, engaging environments and a stable combat system that provides endless fun killing people. I particularly enjoyed the setting as it has great historical reference to the renaissance, so I can see now as I have had a little taste of modelling and designing myself, this would be a very tough challenge for Ubisoft’s art team. The game begins with a character called Desmond Miles explaining his ‘story’, the introduction also hints at the first game so there is some quick cinematic backtracking to the prequel. It is a very well thought out game as you go through two characters and worlds; Desmond becomes ‘Ezio Auditore da Firenze’ through some technology called an Animus, allowing Desmond to playback through Ezio’s memories.

As you begin playing you find yourself in 1476. Fiorentina, Italy. One thing to note about this game is the brilliant attention that has been put into the combat and acrobatic systems. You can pretty much run or jump across the whole city, climbing towers, houses, and other assets with ease.  Personally I really enjoy Action-adventure games where the combat system is NOT turned based, so you can combine moves in real time as your opponent does the same, purely because it adds great realism. This is one of those beginning, middle and end style games so there are no cliff hangers or frustrating unknown holes in the narrative. It is a very original game that combines puzzles with assassinations, conspiracy and betrayal. The Acrobatics and Stealth systems are unique, used frequently to complete the quests, or you can just go on a killing spree and still remain alive. In many games this is the case where you can run around, kill everyone and complete the game by rushing everything, but in Assassin’s Creed 2 there are frequently quests given where you must not be discovered or you will fail; much like Metal Gear Solid at times.

Ezio seems to begin as a normal, family person who can’t seem to stay out of trouble so you are not pushed into a conspiracy driven game where you are forced information, instead the character finds himself progressing as an Assassin due to conflicts and corruptions he experiences which works in great favour for the game. I think the main factor that made my experience really unique was the environment itself, its primary locations involve four large Italian cities modelled in great scale to embody Florence, Venice, Forli, Monteriggioni and Tuscany (small home town) although I don’t recall them perfectly as I played it almost a year ago now I think there may be a hint of Roma as well. I must say the architecture is breathtaking as you not only experiencing it from streets looking up but also from on top of the structures. The central focal point of the narrative is corruption within the high ranks of religion and politics, the game progresses to reveal that the ones with power want to dominate the population using some sort of sacred or esoteric items, and all is explained as you go through taking down these corrupt rulers.   

Overall it is a VERY good game, although the prequel didn’t get as great reviews as this one I think the whole series of ‘Assassin’s Creed’ is very unique and it is also not one of those gamer heavy games where you can only play it if you are some hardcore everyday 24/7 gaming machine. There seems to be something for everyone in terms of storyline, setting, character’s, gameplay, infact I think it’s fair to say most people would enjoy this game. I don’t think hardcore nuts could complain that it’s too short or too easy but at the same time new gamers can’t be put off by saying it’s too difficult or it drags on. I also really like the guest appearance of Leonardo Da Vinci in the game as a designer or weapons provider for Ezio, I think this was a must reference paying homage to one of the biggest names of the time period. Though I don’t get to play many games at the moment nor am I a solid gamer I may have to buy the sequels in the summer when I get some time off and may even get to review those too.  

The Machinist & L.A. Confidential

After our critical studies lecture we tend to have a film showing, it’s never specific to a genre or style but the films always have some sort of depth that creates an engaging atmosphere and environment, much like most good games. In other word’s I don’t think our tutor would show something like ‘White chicks’ or ‘American Pie’ simply because the only thing these films have going for them is... ‘It’s funny, because it’s stupid’. Anyway, I have been lacking on blogging about these and I can’t say I have attended every showing (I had good reasons, promise!) but its time I backtracked and watch/review all this stuff for my own good, as games create great escaping environments and I don’t think films are far behind.

The Machinist

So the first film we saw was The Machinist, I had seen it before so it refreshed my memory. I think the whole film is interweaved around the self destructive mentally that we humans can face after hurting someone else or disrupting the status quo in someone else’s life. Christian Bale aka Trevor Resnick is a factory worker who hasn’t slept for significant amount of time, both paranoid and unhappy he lurks around looking like some sort of zombie. He knows his life was not like this before but it’s as if he does not recall why he is now the way he is. The film is unique because unlike your average flick where you see many sides of a story but the actors only know one, and you find yourself shouting at the screen because you know something the main character doesn’t. The Machinist only shows you the perspective from the first person so as the film progresses through Trevor’s thought processes and actions you understand more and more what is actually going on. I believe people do live in their own little worlds so there viewpoint is a skewed, distorted perception of reality and this film really does play on this a great deal.

Trevor’s memory seems to have taken a few hits due to his lack of sleep so he finds himself every night at a coffee shop at the airport, trying to achieve some sort of friendship with the waitress. A worker at the factory looses an arm due to an accident and Trevor is the one all fingers point to. His paranoia eats at him to over think everything but he never gets any real answer until the film unravels itself right at the end. Though Bale is a huge actor his intense almost anorexic weight somewhat over shadows the depth of this film, or I guess some could argue it compliments it. I think overall it is a very strong piece at is exaggerates a emotional state we all can find ourselves in, but in a way where we can still relate to the character, in the end of course you see Trevor find peace with himself as he gets what he always wanted, the narrative also explains itself as to why the character is in such a self destructive state, this keeps audiences involved throughout the whole film. It also reminded me of the film ‘Fight Club’ which I may watch once again in my personal time to do a review.

L.A. Confidential

This film takes place in the 1950’s where corruption, drug deals, police brutality, organised gun crime and prostitution is an everyday thing. Here you have three completely different characters that are set on the same task; each one is like the perfect contrast to the other. Russell Crowe aka ‘Wendell White’ stars in this as the aggressive, high in testosterone officer who especially hates women beaters. Then you have Kevin Spacey aka ‘Jack Vincennes’ who loves the limelight and attention, finally the younger more truthful and ‘by the book’ detective Guy Pearce aka ‘Edmund J’. Exley. Straight away I was thinking of the game L.A. Noire as they greatly share the same setting and it may be that the game owes some debt to the film. The film represents Los Angeles facade of glitz and glamour quite well alongside a dark, cynic atmosphere where the good guys can be bad, but the bad guys are worse.      

Overall I thought it was a pretty decent film as it displayed corruption throughout the higher levels of officials in the police business, it creates a almost heroic atmosphere when the underdogs or in this case detectives had to take down the ‘big guy’ but don’t have evidence or any witnesses to prove their accusations. It reminds of the player verses final boss thinking where you can only defeat the final boss when you have equipped yourself with the best gear in the game after going through all the lower levels first. I enjoyed it although I wouldn’t consider it my faverouite film it was a great detective story with a pretty strong narrative that kept me watching till the end. It has a very interesting way of ending itself as the underdogs do win and the ‘final boss’ type character has to go down however because the main bad guy is such a high official in the police ranks its apparent that the characters which discovered his corruption now face the whole police department as their reputation is at risk, this keeps it realistic.

New Game Journalism

I remember when I was a kid maybe around twelve or thirteen years old, I would only hear about “good” games through word of mouth from my social circle, and besides that the only way I would see if there were any new games I liked was by renting them from Blockbuster. I soon discovered the magazine world, which then followed by having access to the internet. Although I must say with this mass multimedia library of reviewing content, it’s confusing for anyone to decide whether the game that has a 5 star rating is actually something they would personally like, it also addresses the questions of bias because at the end of the day, websites and magazines are there to make money.  

However, let’s look at it from a journalists perspective, they are always deemed flawed, corrupt and stupid. Do they have time to review each game under a magnifying glass to produce perfect and precise results for your need to know what games are like? I wouldn’t count on it. Clearly there are thousands of games on so many platforms coming through the market each year from next gen consoles, handhelds, pc, mobile, online games, and these even branch off into genre, prequels/sequels, and film/series/cartoon based; it’s difficult to evaluate all this content with immense precision for demographics’ that could also be categorised and divided. Not the mention the whole time you are looking at reviews it is through someone else’s eye, so you will never get a firsthand experience simply from reading a review or looking at ratings.

However because of this, we should not cancel out the advantage or insight these websites and magazines provide us, seeing someone’s analysis can paint a very informative image of any content and screenshots or footage on websites also are a huge bonus, especially if the game is not yet released. Negative reviews on any content is very off putting for consumers and I think I also fit into that category, if I were reading a magazine or a website review and negative assumptions or opinions were apparent in terms of words or ratings, it would strongly put me off the content. There is a significant chance this is the same for others concluding that the power of reviews can be very effective on its audience. Should it be this way? One could argue that the ‘money men’ are feeding us chosen content that they think will sell, and not putting forward content that they think won’t sell, much like watching TV. This isn’t the case as much in this topic though because if reviewers are not close to honest then the audience can quickly pick up on it. 

One thing the ‘money men’ are greatly worried about however, is selling the magazines in the first place, after all, why would you buy a magazine for £6 (UK) if you could easily find a review of what you’re looking for on the internet sitting at home. Also if you looking for something specific which gamers tend to do then why hope it’s been covered in the console magazines when it will be on something like or Now, magazines are not all bad, they do show superiority in some areas. For one, it is a collection of new information across many platforms so instead of searching for everything one by one, the magazine provides it all in one place. Another bonus is the credibility; if you are looking into various websites then certain reviews could be by some fan boy who is opinionated and subjective towards the content. However a publication can provide objective writing from people with the intent to inform as much as possible.

Personally I believe New Game Journalism in its self is a very powerful method that can enlighten those who wish to understand the content at a greater detail before consideration of a purchase. But I think I first person experience is a lot more influential as words can manipulate and confuse but in game experience is far more truthful. I think YouTube and your everyday gamers play a great role here because when I want to purchase a game the first thing I do is go onto YouTube and watch people play and sometimes commentary is given, it’s as simple as that. Now this is far more effective because instead of cut scenes from trailers or small screen shots you’re watching a real person with no marketing agenda experience the content. The only flaw here I guess is release dates; if what you want to buy a game that is not on the market yet then websites or magazines could your best bet, but even then videos of beta’s or pre orders that arrived early are around.   

Vehicle Design Porject

During the Christmas break we were given a few weeks to produce a vehicle design of our choice, its use (sea/land or air) was also up to us as long as this vehicle housed 2 or more people. I personally really like vehicles in any form and I have had a big interest in cars from a very young age so I was quite excited to begin. I straight away went for the speed factor (typical, I know) and I decided to make it off road. Now knowing a little about off road racing such as the Dakar rally I know it is an extreme challenge racing these vehicles because the terrain is not forgiving. I developed a few mood board to help me focus onto something specific, it also gave me something to fall back on if I was to ever get lost throughout the designing process. I found it important to also get grounding from nature, as I believe many of the first and even today’s designs involving any hard surface subject firstly is derived from nature; I also believe some of the most perfect designs are Mother Nature’s. 

I began coming up with thumbnails using a basic marker and ballpoint pen, coming up with basic forms of very large wheeled trucks, as these designs went on I added vents, intakes and curves to give the idea some uniqueness, suggesting aggression and speed. I added a sense of scale on all of my thumbnail pages so I would always have an idea of how large my designs are, scale should be an important factor from the beginning of any design process. A few of my favourite designers/artists are people who specialise in vehicles such as Daniel Simon and Scott Robertson, and in one of Scott’s Books “Lift Off” he actually explored his left hand ability’s; so I chose to do the same for my project because I have not trained my left hand to any specific rhythm considering drawing it is very free and this I found to be a very interesting experiment. 


I eventually finalised my thumbnails using grey markers to get a strong outcome of where I wanted to take the design, there were many different problems that occurred during this part of the project because I used influence form F1 as they are one of the fastest vehicles in racing. Large vents would cause a problem off road as dirt would attack the area very quickly, I also was attracted to the idea of an open cockpit but once again, off road terrain could put the drivers at risk. Knowing this I still pushed forward the design seeing how I could modify it without taking away the aggressive appearance. I started evolving the design into a 3D perspective to obtain a better viewing angle, I did these drawings many times on scrap paper to understand the method to a decent degree before putting it into proper practise because I wanted the quality of this project to be as strong as I could make it. After deciphering drawings from Daniel Simon’s book “Cosmic Motors” I began to educate myself on drawing symmetrical objects in 3D. 

I followed this up with segregating parts of vehicle such as the front vents, side intakes, rear exhaust system, an engine study and wheels/tyres. I did this to get my head around each part of the vehicle equally so when it came to finalising I could go back to these drawings and mix and match anything I liked. This part of the design process was kind of therapeutic because I had a strong backing of what I wanted, so this was only a bonus to do. Due to this I had no stress or worry and I could almost go into auto pilot mode when doing these drawings. I also hinted on the interior, this was important to me as an open cockpit vehicle would also show some interior, plus exposing your brain to the inside of a design just allows you to be more confident when finalising in my opinion. The engine study was done because at this point I wanted a semi exposed rear engine to convey large amounts of power, I did it really quickly as I knew there was a chance it may not even make the final cut but was simply exploration of “what if”.

After this I decided to work into colour, racing vehicles are always covered in sponsors and signs on top of their multi coloured paint jobs so this seemed like a important step. Using traditional media gave me a very messy, blending outcome which is exactly what I was looking for. There was no point adding in vehicle details or wheels or anything as this was simply a colour experiment, I really think the paint job of any racing vehicle is very important considering aesthetics so I gave myself strong variations to play with. 

Right, now I was finally satisfied with what I had and it was time to finalise the design to obtain somewhat of a functional outcome. For these finals I still added some open cockpit designs just for variety but focused more on the close cockpit, buggy like designs as these for me were the most appropriate for off road racing. Suggesting drivers inside the design was also essential in order to understand scale. I treated this like I was presenting it to a client, giving at least 12 finalised and different designs for the client to think about. They are not polished or perfect drawings but there is enough information for someone to make a decision on, plus mixing and matching can still be done at this stage which I also believe is important. 

Well, I finalised something I thought was strong enough to exist in a functional environment, so the cockpit had to be closed, the huge vents needed metallic mud flaps, a large wing was significant to convey speed; wheels needed to be bulky to reflect durability, and strong exposed suspension bars indicated functionality in any environment. I was satisfied with the outcome but there are always improvements, I didn’t get a chance to finish the final digital paint up of the final design but it wasn’t all bad as I got it to a toned level with clean line work so I can go back anytime to polish up the paint job.

A project this broad is annoying because you never know where to begin as the horizon in which you must act is too vast, I believe that if our tutors want us to be able to “concept” unique designs, they must give us limitations considering the brief for example, ‘a vehicle that has to be land and cannot be 4 wheels, also it cannot utilise a combustion engine’. Something specific like this would give us a “problem solving” state of mind where things that wouldn’t normally be used in vehicle design could be combined and a unique outcome could be produced. I still learned a lot and have decided to do more vehicle designs throughout the summer break which I look forward to.