Depth of Field, rendered in camera...just because I can
After what felt like a slow first week, followed by FMX, it feels like the term is only just getting started, but in fact we're swiftly approaching June and its accompanying deadlines. The Last Trophy has now been handed in by the third years in its most advanced state of completion yet, I'm hoping work will continue on it as their team are so far in and what is finished is very pretty.

Spot the odd texture, actually the whole gun is missing a texture...
Some of the jungle scenes were getting so heavy towards the end that Nelson was struggling to render them out at all making lighting somewhat problematic, the RAM would fill half way and then Maya would crash. There was only so much I could light, though there seamed to be lots of animation reaching a polished stage, every shot had a missing texture, a floating prop, eyes that gazed into the back of the character's head. A quick once-over these shots and they'd be ready to go. Here's a clip I lit and composited, I also worked on the shaders on the blimp:

The negotiated brief seems to have caught up with me to the extent that even my new scaled down brief feels overly ambitious, so I aimed to have the head done by last Thursday, it wasn't. The tutorial was very helpful though, I went over the character design and what I'd done so far with Georg and we figured out what was accurate and what I needed to do to more faithfully re-create my design in three dimensions.

Mmmmm, waxy sub surface scattering.

I know, its hideous. My hands aren't the most obedient of tools
Since then I've made tweaks to the jaw, cheeks, nose (I will never stop changing his nostrils) and I've added ears. Its still in a symmetrical stage but it shouldn't take long to add some of the asymmetrical quirks to give the face some personality, and match Noel to his 2D counterpart. I made this basic clay sculpture to get a feel for the proportions of the skull and prominent facial features, it was a useful exercise for sure, but nothing I can use for reference.

Its time to move on whether I want to or not for the sake of reaching the production milestones I wrote down hastily a week ago. I think it will be very hard to get a convincing likeness without the beard and eyebrows, these details (the beard especially) make an important part of the character's silhouette so it should come together when I add these things. This is Noel's current visage:

Click for sweet, sweet HD largeness.
Looking at this now I've just realised his eyes aren't nearly close enough together...

Now I know you're thinking the ratio of images to words in this blog post is way off, so here is my second literature review.

A Literature Review of Chapter 4: Fiction
From Jesper Juul's Half Real. (2005, The MIT Press)

The entire premise of Juul's book is on the liminal state of the videogame and the way in which it straddles the border between perceived and imagined realities. In the fourth chapter he goes into greater depth about the fictions that games create, how they work (or don't work) with the game's mechanics, and whether games can even be narratives at all. He derives his definition of fiction from analytical philosophy lending his words greater context.

He starts by stating that the player is largely responsible for imagining the fictional world themselves. I feel this has become less true as videogame technology has developed in recent years leaving less space for interpretation of the visual representations on screen, though just as much for concepts and systems within the world, because as Juul points out: “All fictional worlds are incomplete” (Juul, 2005: 122). Videogames are unique in the way they they demand player skill in order to progress, and Juul hypothesises that this is what leads to rumour and speculation as to unseen fictional elements among players, which expands the fiction in itself in ways the designer can't possible control or predict.

One thing Juul does really well is identify different ways in which fiction is represented in videogames, he makes good use of bullet pointed lists in between lengthy explanations in order to clarify and emphasize the key aspects of his argument. His terminology for the different variants of fiction in videogames are logical and work well to summarise their unique properties. The most prevalent appears to be the “incoherent world” (2005: 132) which appears in videogames that use popular conventions like extra lives and levels, but then also attempt to wrap the gameplay in a fictional premise. This premise can be explained to another, but not without explaining the game rules too.

According to Juul videogames can be further distinguished at a lower level, “from abstract and representational” (2005: 130), though he does not state that the same videogame could potentially be either, depending on its fictional sophistication. Tetris, he says, is an abstract game, bearing no relation to any fiction to explain the mechanics. But Brenda Brathwaite's Train is a re-working of Tetris in non digital form and with a coherent fictional world that puts the gameplay in the context of a Nazi general, attempting pack train carriages as efficiently as possible. This fiction gives the game a dark theme that often alters the way players approach the game once they understand the context in which they are playing.
Brenda Brathwaite's Train

There are many ways of expanding the fiction for the player and Juul makes good use of his listing again giving a comprehensive look at different methods to do this. He makes a point about the non-interactive nature of cut-scenes that borrow conventions almost entirely from film, and makes no attempt to hide his less-than-glowing opinion of them. This leads Juul into a section on the correlation between fictional time and play time, where some videogames break the link in order to serve gameplay (speeding up time in The Sims (Maxis, 2000)) while others try very hard to preserve it (pauses while loading in Half Life (Valve, 1998) or the lack of any pause button at all in Demon Souls (From Software, 2009).

While Juul poses an argument against the value of narrative in games, stating that tragedy is perhaps the hardest to portray, he does say that the “emphasis on fictional worlds worlds may be the strongest innovation of the videogame.” (2005: 162)

 Pixel Propaganda

Here Frictional Game's (Penumbra, Amnesia: The Dark Descent) designer Thomas Grip talks about the space between author and audience where imagination and interpretation takes place. It's a speculative look at where game's should make that space and how they can use it to create more personal experiences.

I found this guy through a game that I found on a website that was linked to a publication that was discussed on a blog that I found on a weekly round up of the weeks best videogame blogging. Its like a nerdy paper trail. This talk as a brilliant insight into the potential of games as research, pushing the boundaries of what a player will tolerate, derive meaning from, or enjoy. One of their experiments in particular is an interesting experiment into how little gameplay a player needs to still enjoy a game, I recommend anyone with a copy of half life 2 tries it out for free (you need that version of the source SDK as its a mod).

GLS #5: Doing Development-Led Research in Games from itucph on Vimeo.