Sunday, 6 December 2009

Storytelling in Games

Within the world of computer games, story lines came about after the introduction of home consoles. Before, video games were arcade and could not really introduce a storyline because gamers would be only there for a short while. Now games can have vast, expansive stories full of imaginative characters and twists. But does a strong story line make a better game?

This comes down to the genre, sports and racing games don’t tend to have plot lines, with the exception of games like Need for Speed, a racer with a very vague plot line. These games are much more reminiscent of the arcade classics and do not need a storyline to be entertaining and enjoyable.

Adventure and role playing games are the most likely to hold a good story line because that’s what the whole sales perspective is about, like a film or book, they feature a hero and the story of which you follow till the end. The idea that you are writing the story as you play is what makes games different from other forms of visual entertainment, where as in a film you watch the plot unfold, in a game you act it with consequences. Games now like Mass Effect are starting to incorporate your consequences into the plot line and change the story as you play, ultimately changing the whole story and possible outcome of the game. These kind of games really immerse the player presenting him or her with real questions that could inevitably change the course of the game. Bad responses can cause ‘would be’ friends to now hate you and visa versa.

I would not say all games have a story, but some games with no initial or primary plot line can evolve with the player, and the player finds themselves creating a story based around them. World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplaying Online Role Playing Game where the player creates a hero who rises from the small villages and becomes a mighty warrior. This to imaginative and inventive players will become a story that they act out as they play even though the game its self is not directly informing so. So yes, you could say in a very lose sense, all games have a story, whether it be created in the minds of the player or laid out in a beautiful visual cinematic.

The Art Director

The art director is the main man when it comes to the art side of game development and design. They are responsible for assigning tasks to crew and keeping the budget and schedule on track as well as covering quality control. The art director will answer to the production designer. I think the art directing role is very similar to that of a film role because it is for the same visual aesthetics even though they are made using a completely different process. I would imagine an art director would have to be extremely good at multi tasking and be a very ambitious and self motivated leader. They will be under a lot of pressure dealing with deadlines and budgeting and will have to be good at managing people and processes. This role will be very creative and highly demanding, I would have thought, getting to this position would require a lot of enthusiasm and they will have had to prove themselves in areas of not only team work and leadership but in artistic taste. They will be responsible for most of the visual side so sticking to a stylised and fresh look should be top priority.

An introduction to Game Design

I think games are leaving the original idea as they become more and more advanced. The idea of game play is to make the game fun and addictive as well as being simple to understand but the way in which new games go about it is completely different to the past. Before, when games were arcade style their graphics were simplistic and they offered a drop in yet fun game play. Now games still stick to the basic rues of scores, win and lose conditions and a goal but now with improvements in other fields it can offer a much deeper and rich story and structure. Modern games can take on a more simulative role bringing games closer to reality.

The design process will obviously vary between designers and companies. One way is to start with an initial concept from a previous product they have designed and from this create a game design document. This is to act as a basic outline of game content and plot which will be updated throughout the project. The role of designers may not be down to one person but each person must be able to take on various roles. These can consist of prototyping, level design, and writing. They then develop a pitch to present to publishers, a lot like with a film. The designers now make sure the game sticks to the ‘plan’ and ensures game play remains similar yet diverse.

I find game play to be the most important factor in video games. A game can have the most amazing graphics in the world but if it’s no fun, it’s a waste of time. I find games like space invaders and asteroids fun and addictive even with such little graphic quality. The important things for me when I play games are game play, plot, and visuals in that order. The plot must be gripping and the game play must be immersive and addictive with the graphics pulling it all together to truly make its fantasy world seem real.

New Games Journalism

I’ve always bought review magazines for games. I even bought one for film once but that was a once off. Every holiday or every time there was a new exciting game of interest I’d be there buying the latest copy of X360 or OPSM to keep me occupied and hyped until the games release. I love flipping through the reviews searching for epically hyped games and also the ones that should have never been made. Reading about them getting ripped from page to page about how ‘buggy’ or ‘stupid’ the mechanics where. Reviews like that nearly made me want to be a game journalist.

Now I still buy the odd X360 magazine because I find it honest and extremely entertaining. I am also subscribed to EDGE, a less bias but more punishing magazine that I enjoy for the technical articles about the future of gaming.

I have not as yet come across a NGJ or a New Game Journalism article. After reading an example I was unsure how to respond. The article was written in the form of a story with the reviewer talking about one instance with one fellow gamer. I see this as no way to review. Basing a review around one scenario sure is entertaining and engaging but offers little in specs or quality of the game its self. The fact the story was based on another player’s response was even worse as it in no way points out game play but instead picked at the social problems the multiplayer had to offer.

I really am against this for of writing, it may not be for promoting sales or scores like other styles but I don’t think it goes deep enough into the games structure.

This is why I find EDGE magazine good, because not only does it review every console so as not to be bias, it does so in a structured way, sure it may not be as ripping as X360 and may be more serious and harsh but it supports its reasoning. All magazines and reviewers are going to face some form pressure from games companies and consoles to promote their games but they should try to keep this minimal just to be fair. In the end it is just one persons opinion about a game, and I always trawl the internet even if I have magazine to hand.

Just to be sure.

Friday, 6 November 2009


The 1990’s filtered out all the unsuccessful and weak console manufacturers and set way for the top performers we still know today. In 1994 Sony released the Playstation, a state of the art home console that redefined gaming. For the first time this console used disks to play and was much more efficient for storage. The Playstation was an instant hit and new releases were flying off shelves. In 1996 Nintendo, an already well established company as of 1989 released its rival console to Sonys creation, the N64 was popular but no where near the sales figures of the PSX. Remember that the N64 still used cartridge based games. Sega, having been out of the competition for some time decided to release their 90’s console in 1998, the console surpassed all before it but was short lived as game veterans Sony were ready to release another console onto the market. The Playstation 2 was released in 2000 and was the start of Generation 2 consoles, by this point graphics and technology were really exploding. The PS2 wiped out Dreamcast competition with its completely new design, the console could play network games, DVDs and all the other PS1 titles making it an instant success with most PS1 fans converting straight away. In 2001 companies released the Nintendo Gamecube and the Microsoft XBOX. (This was Microsoft’s first attempt at a console but they already had years of experience with computer games for PC. By this point companies were beginning to get followers who would stay loyal to their consoles, so innovation had to be strong enough to win over fans. Even though XBOX entered on 2nd Generation level it still did very well in the gaming market due to Mirosofts knowledge of games and hardware.

Now the leading companies and consoles are Sonys Playstation, Nintendo Wii and Microsofts XBOX. Each have now entered the 3rd generation, initiating in 2005 with the release of the XBOX 360 and the start of HD gaming. XBOX 360 and PS3 competed for sales over the last few years and there have been problems with each as part of the struggle. XBOX tried to beat the competition with a quicker release and practically threw the 360 together meaning it was hardly tested and full of hardware issues and cooling problems. The unit was filled with holes just to keep air circulating and encountered the ‘ring of death issue’ where by a computer error causes the console to crash leading to possible permanent damage. On the other side of it, Playstation tried to get ahead of the game by introducing new high definition Blu-ray video technology, but this ground breaking hardware was costing Sony more than the PS3 was retailed for. Both are now stable and are heading for the next generation.

The hand held was released by Nintendo in the form of Gameboy in the 90’s and was an instant hit, to this day many have rivaled Nintendos success but have all seemed to be lacking in one form or another. The latest battle of handhelds was between the Playstation Portable and the Nintendo DS. The PSP attempted to bring a handheld for serious gamers onto the market, and did so in a successful manner but the DS kept its quirky and simple pick up and play qualities, ideal for a handheld and inevitably outselling the PSP by the millions.

(Playstation have developed a habbit of milking consoles for all they are worth, each generation they released had a alternate ‘slim’ version that was available later on to boost sales figures on the same platform.)

Thursday, 5 November 2009


Computer games were, by this point becoming more and more commercial and the industry began to explode into a vast collection of publishing houses, some of these would stand strong through the next 20 years ( Atari, Sega and Electronic Arts). Some of the earliest 80’s games were spin-offs and clones of earlier titles but with the dawn of personal consoles came a new genre of computer game.

Adventure games and storylines could be introduced to home consoles as the player could return to the game and continue to play, this made the target audience grow rapidly with people now being able to follow a character through a story like you would a film. Portopia Renzoku Satsuiin Jiken was released in 1983 and was the first visual novel and one of the earliest ‘graphic novel games’. The game is played in first person, one of the first of its kind, paving the way for more and eventually FPS(first person shooter)’s.

The racing title Pole Position pioneered the rear view racer format where the players view was from the outside of the car, this style still remains today even after 3D graphics became standard. Another important point of the 1980s was that it was the dawn of the point and click interface thanks to LucasArts building the SCUMM system.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The History of Computer Games.

It all began when Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann found inspiration from radar displays in 1947. The system was extremely simple and used a cathode ray tube along with clunky analog circuitry. Graphics could not be inserted so simple overlays where used.

Shortly after the first ever form of computer entertainment (1950) Claude Shannon devised a chess playing program, one of, if not the first form of computer game A.I.

In 1952 A.S. Douglas created the first graphical computer game. The game again was presented on a type of cathode ray tube display and was a simple game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Ten years later in 1962 the first ever true computer game created for computer use was born, Steve Russell invented Space War!. The game was full of advanced features for its time including gravity simulation and accurate graphics of the night sky which slowly scrolled in the background. The game was based on two space ships that attempted to shoot each other whilst being pulled into a center star. The ships had limited fuel and ammo supply.

After the entertainment success of Space War! Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney created the first arcade game. Computer Space was based on Space War! and was created in 1971 shortly followed by Pong in 1972. Nolan and Ted went on to create Atari Computers that same year and released Pong in 1975 as a home video game.

My History

I remember going round to my friends and playing Space Invaders on the Sega Megadrive in his attic. I can’t remember how old I was but it was close to the release of the PS1. This must have been the first computer game I ever played. I remember my Dad having games like ‘Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Eye of the Beholder’ and exclaiming I’d never be able to do it, he was right, I remember running in circles down endless halls being scared to turn round. The first console we, as a family purchased was the PSX by Playstation and I remember getting it a long time after its release but had played it at other peoples houses for forever. It came with Gran Turismo and I remember thinking there was no way graphics could get better than this. From that moment I became totally engrossed in computer games, getting up before my parents and sneaking down late at night so I could fit in some more play time. I stayed true to Playstation until the release of PS3 which at the time I had no chance of affording so quickly converted to XBOX 360. The last game I played was Tomb Raider Underworld, I’ve always had a thing for the Tomb Raider games even though they are inevitably loosing their touch. I like the environmental puzzle game play as apposed to other genres. Although this was the last game played, the last game completed was Bioshock which I had been holding back on since the massive hype and now can’t wait till the second.

My addiction to having to play games has long worn off and I now hunt for graphic and game play quality. I love getting immersed in the environments and am constantly amazed with the detail in the physics and environment. I suppose that’s what kept me gaming, the evolution of the visual quality ever since seeing Gran Turismo 1 and I really look forward to how it will develop in the future.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Welcome to my blog.