Look at the beautiful sparkle in his eye...

Applying the displacement map of the sculpt to the shader.
Noel is now into phase two of the negotiated brief and I've begun sculpting him in Mudbox. The transition wasn't as smooth as planned with re-scaling, normal reversing, UV unwrapping, and OBJ exporting all necessary steps to undertake before any sculpting can begin. Note to anyone attempting a similar thing: don't bother with Autodesk's cross software format of choice FBX, its a pile of crap that doesn't work properly with Mudbox's brushes, stick with OBJs.

For those not in the know, a displacement map is a texture that physically deforms the original model according to the light and dark values of the texture, this texture is generated by a sculpt you make in a piece of software like Mudbox of Zbrush. This means you can view the low poly model in the viewport but at render time a giant texture's worth of detail is tessellated at render time.

Ok that's slightly misleading. What actually happened when I applied the displacement map to the model was this:

Nice one Mudbox, how would you like it if I did that to your face?
Maya can actually handle a pretty epic amount of polygons in the viewport if you're lucky to have a half way decent graphics card. So this series of renders above this one are 2,830,320 polygons, rendered straight out of Maya. 

Unfortunately with my Wacom out of action I've been switching between dodgy tablets from the media desk, a faulty bamboo or a malfunctioning Intuos 4 when I'm in the studio. But I'm getting used to it, this is what the sculpt looks like in mudbox, I'm really trying to push the crumpled paper style wrinkles of age, so they show up nicely in the render, because some detail is bound to get lost as light is scattered through the head by the SSS shader.
Soulful Noel
I've tried to strike a balance between mirroring my brush strokes to save time, and sculpting asymmetrically to create a more organic looking character.

Pitted and Creased
Meanwhile we have a pitch rehearsal coming up, not as soon as I first thought thankfully. Hopefully I can get the concept pieces done in time and we can get a solid run through so that on the day we can break out the charm and enthusiasm. Seems like we're ditching out more ambitious gimmick which I loved as it involved the audience and therefore the pitch was unique in the same way our product was: it would be interactive. But five minutes isn't adequate time for this so we'll have to revise our strategy and either come up with something new or hope we can put together a very slick presentation.

Baker's Escape

The fourth and final literature review, from Tom Bissell excellent book Extra Lives.

Literature Review IV

Chapter 6: Braided

From Extra Lives

(2010, Pantheon Books)

This chapter features extracts of an interview within prominent independent game designer Jonathan Blow. Using Blow's words, Bissell works to construct an argument for games as an art form on its own terms.

Bissell explores the possibility of a fundamental conflict between narrative and game structure, “Games are about challenge, which frustrates the passing of time and impedes narrative progression.” (Bissell, 2010: 93) While this is a good observation about generic game design, it doesn't include the wider definitions of narrative that both Jesper Jull and Henry Jenkins have acknowledged, it very much refers to the fixed narrative as seen in the film or novel that different genres appear to draw from so much with limited success.

Then Blow raises the question of whether the art or expression in games should really be coming from the storytelling at all when other mediums may incorporate narrative but “the real art is happening else where” (2010: 94). Here the author gives the excellent example of opera, where story takes a back seat to musical performance. Later in the chapter Bissell gives us a hint as to one of the ways games serve as an expression between designer and player “Like a poem, a great platformer does not disguise the fact that it is designed” (2010: 97) but it is through a game's difficulty that Blow chooses to use as one of his methods of communication with the player: “It's difficulty is interesting because it is not arbitrarily difficult. It is meaningfully difficult, because, again, it forces you to think about what subverting time really means and does” (2010: 101). Through this back and forth between designer and author, the successes and failures of, Jonathan Blow's game Braid (2008), can be very directly evaluated, though in a mostly subjective manner.

Bissell acknowledges that Blow relates “the videogame's umbilical attachment to story to the influence of film” (2010: 94). When a medium draws so heavily from its predecessor of moving image, perhaps developers find it hard to escape this heritage, when dealing with subjects that are more representations of reality than abstractions of it. Perhaps Bissell could explore this rift between the failures of representational games and the successes of abstract games, and relating it to Juul's writing on abstraction in games.

Games often have very defined gameplay conventions, and the author does well to recognise these whilst identifying the fact that there is a difference between what some critics might refer to as a genre when it is in fact a movement, the movement in question being the 'art game' movement, whose ethos- Bissell infers, primarily follows ludologist design ideals- “They work off a few basic assumptions: games have rules, rules have meaning, and gameplay is the process by which those rules are tested and explored.” (2010: 96) Drawing parallels between artistic movements is something that few authors have done when discussing games. Relating them to established movements in other media, I feel, is a good decision that creates context for the evolution of games and fosters a better understanding of their current state of progression. “Naturalism is not the pinnacle but rather a stage of representation. With Braid, a considered impressionistic subversion of 'reality' has at last arrived” (2010: 99-100).

Overall Bissell's writing is little light on videogame terminology and theory, he makes up for this with his knowledge of literature, fine art, and film theory when discussing the topics raised throughout the chapter. While the subjects are wide ranging, they revolve around the central critique of Braid in order to cohesively hang together, and appear to fit the style of experiential game criticism well.

Pixel Propaganda 

Not much to share this week, I still want to write about LA Noire but with these literature reviews I'm aware the blog posts are verbose enough as it is.

Luckily there are a number of good pieces of LA Noire based criticism to fill that gap for me, the first of which is a hypothetical look at the gameplay enhancements a sequel could make. The second takes a critical look at the breakdown between Cole Phelps, the player, and intentionality.