Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pixar for Games

I always wanted to be Pixar for games. But I think Valve already has that crown. The character design of this robot duo for Portal 2 is just fantastic.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Meet Buck

Meet Buck from TeamCerf on Vimeo.

Always a fan of stylized visuals. Had to share this beautiful short.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Irvin Kershner - Thank you to one of the greats

 Like many people of my generation, Empire Strikes Back was the movie that taught me that in life and art, the good guys do not always win and the world can be a dark place.  That was a very profound lesson for an 8 year old, particularly after the escapist fun of the first movie.

Empire had it all, presenting spiritual philosophy from Yoda that as I got older, came to embody real wisdom wrapped up in the Force mythology.  This movie like no other, shaped my passion for storytelling that deals in the moral grays and ambiguities of the authentic human condition.

It also has one of the best plot reversals in movie history, and one of the best lines, that was improvised by Harrison Ford as he was being dipped in carbon.

The director of that movie was Irvin Kershner, who passed away today.  I, and many others, owe him an immeasurable debt for giving such a creative gift.  I cannot overstate the importance of witnessing such a dark epic at such a young age.  Star Wars taught the value of fantasy, Empire showed reality and the intersection of the two.

Irvin, the force will live on..always...

Tribute movie by Roger Nygard, from documentary The Nature of Existence.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Le Royaume - beautiful animated short

Le Royaume from S├ębastien Hary on Vimeo.

This beautiful short is from one of my favorite Animation Schools, Gobelins, based in Paris, France.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What Makes a Good Designer

This video over on Escapist gives a fantastic primer for those interested in the field of Game Design, on what skills you need.

Much of it resonated with me, particularly the importance of good communication, not being precious about the value of your ideas and the need to have a breadth of life experience outside of our immediate pop culture from which to draw from.

If you are interested in being a designer and Star Wars is a hugely influential movie in your upbringing for example, then you owe it to yourself to see The Hidden Fortress, and to read Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In response to the above video, my good friend Tadhg Kelly has posted an insightful article on Gamasutra that I also love.  In it, he disputes the myth that ideas are cheap.  The debate of the power of Great Ideas vs Great Execution is one that is often waged in game design circles (and is going on right now in Tadhg's comment thread.).

For myself, I don't think it's an either or debate.  You need both.  Anyone can have a great idea, but it takes a good creative to recognize the value of that idea and be able to retain it within, while working through various iterations (execution) to bring that good idea to life.

I always say the only bad idea is the one that you keep inside and never share.  Particularly when brainstorming with a group, never be afraid of what may come from spouting out what you think may be a bad idea.  'Bad' ideas naturally expire when they outlive their usefulness, but in giving them some life, they may laterally bring us to another great idea otherwise undiscovered.

So really, there truly are no such thing as bad ideas!

However, being able to sift through ideas to find the nugget of greatness and having the further curiosity to explore, iterate and execute on that idea is definitely the sign of a great designer.

As is the ability to discard an idea when it has outlived it's usefulness.

Finally, a good friend of mine called Dave Filoni, gave some of the best advice for creatives I ever heard, and I've adopted it as kind of a maxim.  It was something he was told by George Lucas, while creating Season 1 of the Clone Wars.

At every step, they were in uncharted waters trying to achieve something technically and visually on a scale that had never been achieved in TV animation and they would hit a wall they would think was impossible to get over.

So I'll leave these words for anyone who wants to be a game designer but may feel intimidated, or for the experienced designer that has a great idea but is unsure if it will work.

"Don't be afraid!" 

VGA Awards - my 2 cents

So Spike TV announced their nominations for this years VGA awards.

The VGA Awards are growing in pop culture prominence and its great to see a televised event that gives recognition to the people who create videogames.  I think that the VGA's can play an important role in helping promote our medium as an important and valuable cultural force.

But I find the categories a bit of a mixed bag. 

Should we really be creating awards categories according to a game genre or a platform?  Why do we give an award for a game that isn't even out yet? (most anticipated game) and do we really need multiple categories for people doing voice over for games? 

I believe the VGA's could do a better job of calibrating the categories to recognize artistic merit, creativity and innovation, as well as give props to individual contributors in the fields of art, design and engineering.

Here are some awards categories that I would love to see in future VGA's.

Best Art Direction

Replace 'graphics' category with this one.  Graphics is such a generic term that to me is a holdover from the days when technology advances were the primary factor in determining the artistic merits of a game. 

We should reward artistic merit based on artistic vision.  For example, if I was voting I would give the award to Limbo this year, for creating such a uniquely beautiful, atmospheric and stylistic visual game.

Innovation In Design
It would be great to see an award that recognized the risk taking inherent in pioneering a new gameplay mechanic or mode that truly helped push the medium of games forward. 

An example for me would be last years game Demon's Soul, with it's implementation of the ability to see other player's footprints and messages when playing single player.

Technical Achievement Award
An award to a Technical Director, engineering team or programmer that created something groundbreaking or supremely well executed in engineering. 

As someone that is technically challenged at the best of times, I don't feel suitably qualified to reference a specific game here!, but I'd say that Kinect is a truly innovative piece of hardware that offers a (flawed but groundbreaking) glimpse of the future.

Most Engaging Narrative
It's disappointing there is not even a writing category in the VGA's, but as well as writing, I think an award for narrative would be a worthy category.  Because of our unique interactive nature, games engage the player in an emotional journey by co-opting and unleashing our own internal narratives. 

Well crafted games tap into our own imagination and allow us to expand and create our own dialogs about the experience we are having.  Last year, my experience playing Far Cry 2 took me on an internal journey into the Heart of Africa, that had me thinking about the political and social history of that continent, whereas playing Costume Quest this year connected me with the imagination and sense of wonder that a child has and reminded me of my own child fantasies and self-constructed mythologies from my youth.  Both experiences engaged me at a deep level.

These are just a few categories that could help the VGA awards reward true accomplishments in our field.  I'm sure there are many others.  What would you add?