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12:04 PM on 03.10.2012

Let's Take a Look: Pixels as Impressionism

Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso; these old dead guys have lead me to a better understanding of Videogames. These famous artists have reached me from beyond the grave, and taught me their secrets, in only the way an artist can- through their works. While painters have studied these great men for ages in order to grasp the nature of the canvas ever firmer, what can we, game enthusiasts and designers, learn from them? Videogames didnít even exist when they were around, what could those dusty fossils possibly have to teach us? Through keen observation, extrapolation, and simple guestimation, what can we learn? Well, letís take a look.

Letís Take a Look: Pixels as Impressionism

Vincent Van Gogh's famous Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh was known as a Post-Impressionist painter. His most famous painting, Starry Night, (pictured above) contains all of the key elements to the impressionist style. The goal of Impressionism was to create paintings that were focused on the image, and not the details, similar to a memory or an impression of an event. In order to accomplish this, combinations of fractured brushstrokes are utilized to create one complete image. Colors arenít mixed in each stroke, but are arranged so that the varying shades naturally blend themselves to the eye when viewed. The realism of the picture normally varies on the distance it is looked from, from a few feet away it may look like a perfect picture, from a foot a away it may look like a modern piece of abstract art.

The arcade classic- Metal Slug

Now letís look at Metal Slug! The above picture has a rough and tumble guy shooting things in the face! Yet, doesnít it look familiar? The above screen shot actually closely resembles Van Goghís Starry Night. No, no, wait, Iím not crazy. Letís take a look at the impressionistic elements that make the above pixels similar. Tiny brushstrokes: Individual pixels- check. No mixing of colors: Differing shades of pixels making color blend- check. Chaotic up close: Blocky up close- check! Thus, all early video game artists have obviously been emulating the impressionistic style right? Well, actually, no. While the styles and concepts may be similar, we must think about the beginnings of both, and what purpose they serve.

Valkyria Chronicles, a beautiful, innovative, an amazing TBS-RPG-TPS.

The Impressionistic art style came from the need for stylization. Up until that point, most paintings sought to emulate reality, focusing on ever increasing realism and detail, thus when the first camera was released, paintings were seen as a dying art. Impressionism arose shortly before this, and was highly criticized for its style. However when realistic paintings started to fall from grace, many painters looked to Impressionism in order to express their art in a distinct way separate from reality. This is where delineation between the two must be made. Pixel art on the other hand came out of technical limitations, pixels in gamingís early days were used in order to try and make game visuals as realistic as possible. These days pixels, and their 3D brethren voxels, are used primarily in order to remind us of the earlier days of gaming instead of trying to replicate a technological version of impressionism. Better examples of modern Impressionistic games lie in Valkyria Chronicles and Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, both utilizing the standard brush stroke rules in order to recreate memories in the former and give a feeling of lighthearted fantasy in the latter.

Team Fortress 2's wonderful aesthetic brings personality to each of the brilliantly designed characters.

The switch from realism to more stylized art like Impressionism, surrealism, and cubism after the invention of the camera does remain important to games though. Weíre rapidly approaching the graphics plateau in gaming, the point in which any extra addition of realism into graphics starts to provide little to no actual improvement. This closely parallels the dilemma of realistic art becoming obsolete with the invention of the camera. If games are to take a cue from history, then pure realism will start to cease being an interesting or novel visual style. If Videogames wish to adapt as a proper art, they will have to start to adapt to this new dilemma, a dilemma solved over one-hundred years ago by a bunch of painters. While the approach of the graphics plateau is not as potentially medium killing as the invention of the camera, designers must still be willing to face this puzzle with bold, daring, and innovative ideas. The adoption of new artistic styles can have a profound effect on how we interact with Videogames. Both Borderlands and Team Fortress 2 started out with a realistic design at first, before adopting their trademark visual styles, visual styles that convey massive amounts of identity and personality to each game. A potential ďaesthetic revolutionĒ within the industry would only accomplish to further diversify our games, and enrich our experiences.

Borderlands manages to be gritty, yet playful due to it's visual aesthetic.

In the end, what have the Impressionists, painters in a many centuries old medium, have taught Videogames, a barely thirty year old medium? While the beginning of our medium mimicked the tropes of Impressionism, have we actually learned anything from them? Yes, I believe we have. Weíve learned how sets of criteria and rules applied to any art can create a distinct style, such as how limiting blending and brushstrokes gave Impressionism its signature look. Weíve learned that depending on your medium and the use of the style, aesthetics can alter the how audiences view our work, as Valkyria Chronicles emulates dreamy memories just as Impressionism did. Weíve learned that games, just as any art, should explore new ways to engage players from an artistic standpoint, explaining the great personality and humor that is evoked by Team Fortressís visual style. These are just a few ways in which Videogames can look to older mediums to grow. The power of observation can give us endless examples of older art forms that could be re-purposed to better engage our players, and this observation in its self teaches us one of the most important things; itís always possible, to take a closer look.

If you have anything you wish to contribute, personal observations, arguments, or other examples, feel free to contribute in the comments! Observation is always better in groups.   read

3:48 PM on 03.09.2012

A Belated Introduction-

Hello Dtoid C-blogs! While Iíve already posted a blog here, and hope to post one tomorrow, Iíve been informed that making an introduction post would be wise. Curious as to the contents of an introduction blog, I was told that it should contain, an introduction; preferably an awkward one, so letís try this again!

UmmÖ Hi Dtoid C-blogÖ I guessÖ Ellipses make me sound awkwardÖ

Anyways, my nameís Thomas Williams and Iím an aspiring game producer/designer. My studies lead me to interesting points ofÖ well, interest, within game design that will drive each of my ďLetís Take a LookĒ blogs. I donít have much formal education in game design, so most of my discussion will come from personal experiences, observations, and struggle that comes from building small games firsthand. I find deconstruction much more fun than standard Industry talk (DLC, Publisher problems, whining), but should my observations take me there, I may engage in some more off the beaten path writings about the Industry. I donít know how consistently Iíll be able to keep my blog up, as school and whatnot keeps me busy, but Iíll try my best to serve the Dtoid c-blogs community!

If youíre masochistic and want to know a bit about me besides my writing, I also run Itís where Iíll be hosting my finished Unity game projects, and where Iíll also be posting my future writings, as well as non-game related essays I may get done. Well, I guess that wasnít really about me. Anyways, Iím currently 15, but Iím a senior in highschool and also have gone to a community college since I was 12. I enjoy jazz, indie music, and ofcourse, videogames.

But yeah, thatís enough about me. I hope that was awkward enough! Hmm. Maybe I couldíve spared a few more ummís and ellipsesÖ Oh well! Thanks for having me guys, I hope I can provide some great articles to the Dtoid c-blogs!   read

10:23 AM on 03.03.2012

Let's Take a Look: Camera Perspective

The camera remains one of the most integral parts of game infrastructure. We all know how bad camera controls can interfere with the enjoyment of even the funnest game. Yet, one of the most important aspects of the camera is one that we hardly think about, the camera perspective. The camera perspective can directly have an effect on how you perceive a game and it's world, with first person, third person, and even second person cameras providing alternate viewpoints on the same world. Still, why does the purpose and power of perspective get looked over so often? Skill-based multiplayer shooters are normally first person, RPG's are normally third person, and pretentious arthouse games attempt experimental second person camera projects, this is the way the world works, but... why? Why do we use certain camera perspectives for certain types of games? Through a combined effort of research, observation, and scientific wild ass guesses, I will attempt to answer this question, as we take a closer look at camera perspective in games.

Let's Take a Look: Camera Perspective-

The Marc Owen's Avatar Machine

To start this observatory adventure, let us first delve into the third person and it's effects. The avatar machine, shown in the above video, allows ordinary people to see themselves in third person, very similarly to certain Videogames. As we spend all of our lives in a first person perspective, viewing oneself in third person causes a slight disconnect in identity. Marc Owens, the creator of the avatar machine, has observed the behavior of people using the avatar machine compared to their normal behavior and discovered this disconnect. What Marc found was that people in the avatar machine tended to have exaggerated movements and behavior, people would act sillier, braver, or meaner in the avatar machine and felt more like they were in a Videogame than them self. The third person view allowed them a greater sense of freedom in their actions then they were used to.

Saints Row 3 uses third person to it's advantage by being over the top in every way.

While subjects weren't exactly holding up taxi's and then going on joyrides to mow down civilians, the Videogame-like behavior exhibited by subjects gives us insight into the effects of the third person camera and it's use in games. While we don't exactly see games as reality, the third person camera can help further separate our in-game actions from our own. This is why most sandboxes are better enjoyed from a third person perspective, as it allows total freedom. While third person can be used in a game like Saint's Row in order to encourage random acts of unrealistic stupidity, or to give you the feeling of power in Starcraft, it could be used for other more subtle reasons.

In RPGs like Mass Effect or Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magic Obscura, the disconnect given by third person is used not for silly hijinks, but to increase roleplaying. Just as with tabletop roleplay, the player's job in regards to their character is more similar to a puppet master rather than an actor. Good roleplaying games must allow the player freedom of their actions and what type of character they wish to create. This theory raises an interesting question though, what about first person RPGs? Yes, I'm looking at you Elderscrolls and Fallout 3.

Skyrim as played in first person mode, one of the few examples of a first person RPG.

The Elderscrolls series and the newer games in the Fallout series both allow you to switch between first and third person perspectives. Both series maintain the same theme as in any other third person RPG, but in first person the experience changes. To those not necessarily roleplaying inclined, or those that would rather play as their character as opposed to controlling one, the first person perspective allows that option. While the content might be the same, the theme and design of the game changes with each option. Armor becomes only useful for it's stats in first person, whereas it becomes character defining in third person. Battles are more direct and tense in first person then they are in the hack-n-slash-fest of third person. Why do these changes occur? Well let's look at the first person.

As we live our entire lives in first person, this is the perspective that we should understand the most. In order to emulate the feeling of personal weight, of being in another character's shoes, or us being in the game, the first person is the go to option. The sense of in-the moment intimacy it provides makes it a great choice for skill based games such as Counter-strike or Team Fortress, and provides a great way for us to explore wonderful lands such as Skyrim. This same sense of personal investment also serves as a great way to induce vulnerability, which makes it a great choice for survival horror games, such as Amnesia: the Dark Descent.

Amnesia provides one of the best examples of survival horror done right.

This sense of vulnerability that makes Amnesia so bloody scary is what makes survival horror the genre it is. But if first person provides great vulnerability, then why is it not the only perspective used in survival horror? Well, let's take a look at Silent Hill. In Silent Hill, most of the town is covered by a deep fog, only allowing you to see so far ahead of you. The story behind this was that the PS1's graphics could not take the level of detail in the game, and they moved down the render area to make it technically possible, and give it atmosphere. However, what this fog does is provide a sense of limited visibility, and the magical survival horror keyword- vulnerability. This gives us all of the horror of first person, without having us identify with the main character too much, which I cannot go into detail about without spoiling Silent Hill 2.

Example of the second person in a Psychonauts boss fight- Skip to 8:15, possible spoilers.

Last but not least, is the curious second person perspective. If that would even be the proper term of it. To be true, the only example of a second person perspective would come from a certain boss battle in Psychonauts, in which you see out of the eyes of the boss you're fighting. It makes for an interesting way of navigating the map, and the sense of being in a horror film in which the creature is rapidly approaching. New camera perspectives of these types could provide entirely new ways in which we see and interact with games. By learning about the properties of existing cameras, we can better construct game experiences and deeper interaction. Regardless whether designing games is your forte or not, I would love to hear about other ways cameras can be used in games. Feel free to comment with ideas, examples, arguments, agreements, or disagreements. No matter how much you know, it's always possible to simply take, a closer look.   read

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