About game narrative design and stories

I have always loved stories. There is nothing quite like sinking in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. Getting lost in a different world for hours on end, vividly imagining every detail. Losing track of time and being so invested in a character’s story that if something sad happens to them, you cry. If another character says something funny, you laugh. When the going really gets exciting, you hold on to the edge of the chair and can’t seem to read fast enough, turn the pages fast enough. You might even be holding your breath (happened to me when reading “Fire in the Blood”. Really.) while reading a plot twist you did not anticipate.

Lo and behold, the power of imagination.

I’ve lately been talking with my classmates about some games and especially a conversation about The Order 1886 pops to mind. The game in itself is drop-dead gorgeous – the characters, props, environments, everything. I multitasked with a playthrough by The Rad Brad of it on the other monitor a few weeks back, listening to the game a whole lot while working, and watching it every now and then as well. While I could appreciate the characters and the general feel of the story, the game felt somewhat.. hollow.

Mind you, I loved the story. I adore a good internal conflict and personal growth of characters like I love a good bowl of ice cream.

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Pictured: awesomeness.

 

Galahad’s struggle was a slippery slope down into the delicious kind of misery that wrenches your heart and fills you with profound sadness for someone. There was quite little to counterbalance the tragedy of the latter half of the game, and the ending is a big fat “I’M GOING TO HAVE A SEQUEL WHETHER YOU WANT IT OR NOT” hook. Fair enough. You won this round, The Order 1886. What you didn’t do was leaving ANYTHING for the player to imagine or for them to choose.

Without going into a long rant where I would probably end up paraphrasing most of this article about narrative design for games, I’ll have you ponder the following:

Converting character development into personal development is the key to truly immersive storytelling.

This is, in my opinion, at the very core of what makes some games merely cinematic experiences to be watched, and others masterpieces to be fully immersed in. In order for this kind of development to take place, the player needs to be at ease with (and relate to) the main character. Games like Skyrim are perfect for this: you can create your own avatar, so you’re already more “invested” in whether this character survives their ordeals or not. You choose which quests to do. You choose which faction to side with. You choose whether you spend your days antagonizing local poultry or sneaking your way up the hierarchy of the local guild of mages. I know I did both and had a blast ignoring the main plot until my character (a Bosmer archer who was great at stealth-killing everything in dungeons) had 3 mansions and a husband.

One could argue there is quite little personal development going on in Skyrim, but I digress.

The fact that I’m actually talking about narrative right now is, well, turns out I really like writing. Besides blogging, and talking about the doing-art-thing-that-I’m-doing, I actually have written short stories before. I only ever published snippets here and there, mostly on diverse role-playing game fora. Inspired by NWN (ah, the possibilities of a good ol’ D&D game) and WoW, I’ve written my share of what could be called fan fiction (if fan fiction of my own characters counts as fan fiction). My future husband is attempting to make me write more, besides. When time allows, I’ll try to put up a page with my existing story snippets. Because narrative design and stories are cool.

And because I’m resisting the urge to blather on and on about wedding preparations.

Since this is the last actual week with lessons before the end of the block, some stress can likely be detected for the next few weeks. If you hear unidentifiable banging from the distance, it’s probably just me – banging my head into a wall, or a desk, trying to understand NURBS.

On artistic envy and dealing with it

I like to keep my blog a bit more upbeat, but I’ve been kind of down the last few days and I’ll be telling you why. Not just because I need to get it off my chest but to kind of open the discussion on a bit more negative sides of being an artist… and this is certainly one of those!

As hard as I’m working on my assignments, as much time as I’m putting in on trying to learn new things, some things have not quite been working out (at all!). Whenever I’m not sleeping, eating, traveling to or from school, or planning our wedding, I’ve been working on assignments for IGAD. This in combination with a particularly nasty set of stress and general lack of motivation added to tiny artistic self-esteem (and the tendency of comparing myself to others) is slowly squeezing me into a ball of NOPE. And I’m not even touching the subject of not getting the grades I was expecting from some subjects, which is a massive bummer in itself.

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Photo from Unsplash

Sometimes you’re just there, at the rock bottom, and have to climb out again somehow. A lot of people give up, but if you want to keep doing the things you love, you have got to somehow get a boost and crawl out of that dark place. That’s why I’ve started giving myself some breathing space and trying to lower my expectations of myself a little and avoid collapsing in on myself while finding things that motivate me.

Just today I found a forum thread on ConceptArt.org from a user called MindCandyMan about his artistic journey. As I browsed it, I saw just from what level this person started and how he’s gotten so far! Instead of the streak of jealousy I would get from seeing his final paintings, I saw the first sketches and studies and thought back to the beginning of my own artistic journey. Yeah, it had been that rough for me too. Of course! I drew things that didn’t look like anything that I wanted them to look like. Everyone, at the starter level, struggles with even the most primitive basics but it’s all an improvement from there. To prove this, I am going to be brave and find the oldest drawing/sketch I have on my computer.

*cringe*

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Orc warrior, inspired by World of Warcraft. 2008.

There we go. Didn’t hurt one bit. Almost like ripping off a bandaid in one sweep.

If I look at this, and compare it to the things I’ve been doing lately, I still see a big improvement. I haven’t been branching out to a lot of different stuff though – all of it has been fantasy or elf chicks, pretty much. Because pointy ears are awesome.

But I can choose what I learn from now. I can choose to challenge myself and while I draw because I think drawing is fun, my goal is to be able to make something like this….

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or this….

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Well, to be honest, the list goes on and on and on. I have dedicated whole Pinterest boards to things that inspire me, art wise. Almost none of them are from “the old masters of art” but all of the paintings have a special life and light to them.

Looking at forum threads like the one from MindCandyMan reminds me that learning to draw and to paint is a marathon, not a sprint. I can drive myself insane demanding perfection from the get-go, or I can be more forgiving and keep up my motivation by just drawing and improving one bit at a time.

There’s still the matter of being envious of others, but jealousy just makes it harder to concentrate on your own work. For me, anyway. If we put it into perspective: there’s always someone better than you that you look up to, but you’re also better than someone else, and they’re looking up to you – even if you don’t know it. It’s a never ending rat race – you might or might not get to the top, but at least you’re having fun doing it if it’s your passion.

While I’m not wholly convinced I’m out of the demotivation trap just yet, just looking back helps me to realize I’ve come a long way – even if I still have a longer way to go, this’ll help me to keep going again. :)

If any of you aspiring artists need more sources of inspiration, feel free to drop a comment or an email and I’ll toss some motivational links your way.

Open day: nutshell’d

Ehmagehrd folks! It’s been a great ride! (See the official open day photos here!)

Photo from Unsplash.

Photo from Unsplash.

Open Day is just over, and I’m only barely standing  – as I did much, much, MUCH more standing than I usually do – and with a bit of a sore throat from all the talking I did. And in addition to talking I also did funny voices and more than one set of “MY PRECIOUS” hissed under my breath when someone reached for my sketchbook. It’s not like I’m way too self conscious about all those life drawing sketches from the past 2 weeks or anything. Cough.

What really made me feel warm and fuzzy inside were the people coming up to me and chatting me up because they read my blog! So flattered, folks, so flattered. Thanks for taking your time to come say hi! *shy wave*

I spent the first half of the day roaming the main lounge and I think I managed to help a few people out with their choices. I’m always more than happy to help and chat about my day-to-day life as a VA slave student, so I think I might have overwhelmed some folks with with what I personally consider good information to have. Many students-to-be had very good questions and made me really ponder about the whole picture. Is IGAD a good study? Which specialization would be the best if you like doing X, Y and Z? How is the atmosphere – competitive or cooperative? What are the job prospects in the future?

One particular question about whether “there were a lot of nerds” kind of struck a nerve though – the person in question described their mental image of a nerd as antisocial (what a Dutch word to use!), and left it at that. To be honest, I couldn’t help but laugh – you need to be a kind of a nerd (using the traditional association of the word meaning someone who is very dedicated to something, especially outside mainstream culture) to want to make video games in the first place! I mean, just like everywhere, there are “antisocial” and “hypersocial” folks, while the general populace falls between these two extremes. From what I have experienced, IGAD is an even tougher place to people who isolate themselves from their peers. For most, IGAD is a kind of a mingling place, especially due to the nature of the group projects, and added emphasis of the project based learning system we will be using as of next year (I hope?).

As I’d taken my sketchbook with me, I also let people browse through it during the latter half of the day.

This is what the drawing room felt sometimes.

This is what the drawing room felt sometimes.

That right there took all the courage I had, as I’m quite protective of those sketches. There are a lot of pretty good ones, but also REALLY BAD ONES (in my opinion then, eh!) in between.  It’s really my adventuring ground, and letting the general public see what I consider my innermost treasure was quite intimidating. It did make me happy that people were getting inspired by the sketches, especially the still life drawings as well as intake assignments.

All in all, the open day was a great success experience for me! I’m definitely doing this again…. just next time I need to choose a better timing with assignment workload, I think ;)

Speaking of workload, I’m work-work-working on that exploded view and making heaps of progress!

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My perspective grid is finished and I’ve been finalizing my composition, and even managed to “sort of finish” some parts. What I REALLY need to manage are drawing the car and then finishing by putting it all together – and shading, of course.

Now to continue some more on NURBS (secondary surfaces) and catch up on Art Theory by making a bunch more models and/or drawings!. :)

Creative solutions to creative problems

I’ve been struggling to juggle between my responsibilities lately, so my brain has switched from must work hard to must work smart mode. I ended up re-making my NURBS car primary surfaces once now (not too bad, but still) and I think I have a better idea of what needs to be done.

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It’s not going to win the beauty pageant just yet, but I’m slowly getting there. I have another 2,5 weeks. No panic. TOTALLY PANIC.

And in the following corner I have my ah-so-beloved exploded view assignment. Here’s my initial composition idea – made on a totally fake perspective grid I whipped up with Photoshop.

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While I like the arrangement – a lot – I don’t think my grid will quite support this. I’ve also been trying to figure out how to get this correct size-wise. Well, what do you know, my brain came up with an idea of roughly gauging how much space the different part I want to draw would take.

Is this cheating? It’s totally not cheating.

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I would call it creative problem solving.

While the picture is not truly orthographic because I just can’t do that with my lens, this is a really good starting point to making sure my intended composition works. I’ve taken more pictures to see the height better, and now I should be able to put down a correctly-proportioned model car.

And then there’s other things, like SPACESHIPS. So many spaceships. Final concepts, in-progress concepts and random brain-fartery about. Fun, but stressful. Mostly fun, though.

As a final note to whomever wants to say hi during the open day: In the first half of the day I will be in the Question & Answer room answering… well, any of your questions. I’ll rock at that. I mean, meaning of life? 42, obviously. Best teacher? I might be bribed, with candies, to skew in a certain direction…. ;)

The second half of the day I will be roaming the drawing room on the bottom floor. Now to figure out what I want to bring with me. I suppose I could bring my sketchbook as it has 2 of my 4 intake assignments in it. Since I have access to our car (as my better half will be spending the weekend at the Geneva Motor Show), I will also drag along my drawing tablet and laptop.

If you’re planning on coming to the open day, do come say hi if you have the time! I’m super curious to see how many folks reading my blog are planning on applying to IGAD, and if there’s anything I can do to help. :)

I’ll be at the IGAD open day on March 14th!

For the ones who have been reading my blog because they are interested in applying to IGAD AND are planning on visiting the upcoming IGAD Open Day on the 14th of March, you can now officially pop by – in person – to ask questions!  No matter what kind of questions, I’ll be trying to answer them to the best of my ability and hopefully get to show you the place a little. IGAD is a great place to check out if you think making games would be something for you, and most of us students won’t bite much.

I will try to bring my laptop and show some of the stuff I’m working on for this block if you’re interested, as well. I’ll probably bring my drawing tablet, so much drawing fun can be had by all.

To make recognizing me easier, I’ll be walking around in an open day T-shirt and be about two heads shorter than most people in the building.

Besides planning on helping with IGAD open day and planning my wedding, I’m also actually kind of swamped with school stuff. Masochistically so. It’s getting to be a routine for me!

Drawing Skills is turning more and more into a fun thing. As part of the exercise of concepting, we were given a bunch of random objects and were told to combine them to make a spaceship. My favorite bits were a small stanley knife type thing with a retractable blade (pointy!), a paperclip and a rubber band. So I went ahead and concepted a bunch with them! Here’s a sneak peek on the studies for my spaceship. Sorry for the bad lighting, evenings are bad for taking pictures in my creative cave with the mood lighting of mine.. :)

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Nothing quite beats having this much wall/hanging space. I’m almost reconsidering my idea of swapping this monstrous drafting table into something smaller as soon as I’m done, you know, being swamped by EVERYTHING.

I will also have to clean this place. It’s a big chaos right now, with paper piles of various sizes, pens, rulers, notebooks, chargers, drinking glasses, headphones, hand lotions, nail polish bottles and a variety of other things laying about in places they shouldn’t be. Luckily I’ve turned my back to most of it… ehm. *clears throat*

Now here’s a digitized version of a few sketches to remove that mental image of clutter from our minds!

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Now.. back to working on those assignments. :)

New level of creativity: engage!

Wishes do come true!

Finances came around around and I went ahead with one of the dreams I’ve had for quite a while now.

A Wacom Cintiq 27HD.

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Before splurging on one, I tried one out (specifically, the 24HD) and fell in love with the feel of it. I could already see the difference working on a Cintiq would make compared to my Intuos 3. It feels much more natural, for me, to be “working on” what I’m seeing rather than rely on staring at a screen while my hand works elsewhere.

The sheer size of it did introduce a new problem for me, as I’m used to having my left hand on a keyboard and the right holds the pen. Well, as you can see in the picture, for this version they included a little “remote” that can be snapped (it has a magnet in the back) to the side of the monitor and moved around, or taken off the tablet and placed on the table or your lap, as you wish. This remote holds programmable buttons that will make life easier when painting.

CintiqRemote

 

I’ve been doodling, drawing, painting and trying to figure out the best position to work in. I’m grateful I also invested in the ergonomic stand for this model, as I can move it around as I wish. Previously I thought an Ergotron arm could prove a solution, but in the store where I bought this Cintiq I was told those things tend to be wobbly. Which, seeing the massive size and knowing just how heavy this screen is, doesn’t surprise me. Props to the good service of tablet4u.nl! I really recommend popping by their showroom in Doetinchem if you’re looking to purchase any Wacom model, because they pretty much have it all for you to try out, not only the more expensive models but also Bamboos and Intuoses (Intuos’? Intuoses? Uhh. I have no idea.).

There are no words to describe how excited I am to be working on my spaceship designs now. Digitally, straight on screen – call me hooked!

Block C proceeds onwards like an oncoming train. The workload combined with my wedding preparations is a bit of a challenge, but I’m enjoying both, so it’ll all work out somehow. Now to get me a cup of tea and continue on my assignments! :)

On concepting and near future plans

We’re having a week of carnaval vacation, which in IGAD slang translates to “workation”. Granted, I was a little behind in my planning, so a chance to catch up and even play games for a tiny bit in between is much appreciated.

For the second course on Art Theory we have been tasked with the creation of a cool spaceship. Broad term as that is, the point of this exercise was to create a spaceship that didn’t look like standard, stereotypical spaceships. Bit of a vague description, but hey, sometimes clients are like that, like I know from the web design industry. Make it pop, they say. Well, pop you shall have, because my chosen themes for my spaceship are flowers, crystals and (floating) castles. I put together a moodboard for these:

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While not really a fan of sci-fi, it’s very refreshing to do something new. We even had to come up with a backstory for our shinies. Ready for it?

Not all wars are fought with weapons.

In an age where the humans joined the intergalactic community after achieving the means of long-distance space travel, they brought the age-old art of intrigue and court politics with them. To facilitate this, a single family, rich beyond measure – from illegal trade of goods, the jealous claimed – started building a great palace-like spaceship. The spaceship was designed to show off the wealth of the family as well as act as a memento for the humans who were far away from home. Surrounded at all times by an armada of heavily armed guard ships, the palace did not need a set of weaponry of its own. It was nevertheless built to withstand attacks for a longer amount of time, much like the sieges in the long-forgotten past of the humans.

Named Sissadora’s Pride, the ship would host balls, courts, duels, legal and illegal trade agreements and be the center stage of more than a few assassination plots. Being invited aboard was a great – and of course, costly – privilege and sneaking in was considered the ultimate challenge. For the ones wishing to partake in the great play, this palace is certainly the place to be seen.

I might tweak this story a little – especially the name of the ship, as it’s not very palace-y. It’s all still a bit vague but the main idea is there: castle-like palace being propelled through space filled with court drama and the occasional space murder. What’s not to like?

Turns out I love this assignment to bits.

There’s just something about combining stories with visuals, and this is where, I think, my abilities rise and shine. I’ve done a bunch of sketches to visualize what I have in mind, but so far nothing’s really amazing me yet. It was even the time for pulling out my new coloring pencils because I just couldn’t stop myself.

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Onwards to doing 50 iterations on this!

On a non-school related note, me and the better half have now begun the preparations for our wedding as the finances are coming around. As it stands we’ll be marrying either in July or August at the town hall with the closest family present, taking them to dinner afterwards and then heading out for at least 2-week trip to Japan.

I am BEYOND EXCITED.

Visiting Japan has been a dream of mine for the longest time, and we’re planning on enjoying every moment. I’m looking forward to visiting the bustling cities, beautiful temples and amazing modern public transportation. And enjoying authentic Japanese food is also part of the experience!

While there are a lot of things I want to see or do (seeing Kinkakuji, feeding the deer at Nara, going to Akihabara, visiting Tokyo Sky Tree, totally losing it at the owl cafe, sleeping at a ryokan, admiring Mt. Fuji, eating REAL ramen, dipping in an authentic onsen), I’m still open for suggestions. If you’ve visited Japan and think you know a place in the vicinity of Tokyo (or even further away) you’d like to recommend, drop a comment!

Hurray for recognition! And please save me from NURBs.

Sorry for the recently sporadic updates. Block C has taken a chokehold on me and has proceeded to squeezing every bit of self control out of me. And the workload is as high as I ever remember it being. Whee!

You know, I thought we landed a pretty good grade with Chameleon Cancellation. We guesstimated among ourselves. Maybe an 8, because we had been told that getting higher scores would mean that the piece of work in question needed to be award-winning quality. Passing GL1 was certain though, so one less worry on our minds at that point.

And then we landed 3 awards at the game release party.

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I didn’t personally attend, because deadlines. Without knowing what the “game release party” was about, I also figured I’d better focus on other things.

Team lead sends in a WhatsApp:

We won best art, best design and best game award!

Cue appropriate, amazed “whoa“s from all corners of District 18-dom. Team lead continues:

I hear from a teacher that we got a 10!

Well, my day could not get better. To be honest, I was floating somewhere between island of disbelief and paradise of bliss at that point. Not that grades are everything, mind you, but it feels good that something I liked working on got so much appreciation!

I am going to frame these babies and put them on my wall.

Fast forward to week 2 of block C.

One of the bigger project in this block is what we’re told is one of the hardest projects in all of IGAD for visual artists.

The NURBS car.

It was recommended that we pick a vehicle we have physical access to, so I picked my darling, the Kia Picanto. It turns out that finding accurate blueprints for this
 is a pain in the backside, so I’ve spent 2 days trying to line up different views, compositing several different blueprint sources into one view, scaling, tweaking and cursing at my monitor.

This is my progress thus far.

Tapemodel Kia Picanto

Several hours of frustration and head-desking have been poured into this. Maybe you can tell?

Next time I’ll try to post a bit about my favorite project for this block. :)

Finished, not perfect.

Wait, what?

Wasn’t it just Christmas?

Jeez.

It’s funny how time seems to go very fast indeed these days. Not fast enough for me to get my hands on a copy of The Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf, but fast at any rate.

Lately I’ve been wandering YouTube a fair bit in search of artistic inspiration. I bumped into this video from Jake Parker, where he shares a new favorite quote of mine.

Finished, not perfect.

In the video he also talks about how important it is for artists to finish what they start, and also other advice for people thinking of doing art school or for those thinking of applying to one. I’d say the wisdom this guy pours out is worth a lot of praise, and definitely worth the time if you’re thinking of applying to IGAD.

Finished, not perfect.

We artists tend to be perfectionistic. That leads to kind of paralyzation, I think. We tend to move on from a piece that is not turning out as we wanted it to, or spending way too much time fussing about with tiny details when we could learn so much more from something else.

Inspired by this video of his, I finished the painting of my Dragon Age Inquisition character, Toene Lavellan!

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Finished, but certainly not perfect. I freely admit that! But hey, it’s finished, and that’s what matters for now. Perfection.. I’ll get there someday.

Finished, not perfect.

Block B: finished!

I am grateful I had no retakes from previous block. So, SO grateful (well, I only have myself to thank for that I suppose..).

Anyway, block B brough on animation, texturing, Python/MEL scripting as well as graphics theory fundamentals. For 3 of those 4 I had major deadlines last week and managed to come away with things worth being proud of.

Animation

There is something magical about discovering why animations work as they do, and learning the basic principles of it. Animation comes as a close second to texturing as a favorite subject for me, so we’ll see if I can do something else with it! :)

Here are the assignments I did for animation, compressed in one video for your convenience!

Texturing

It’s really cool when you get to delve into what make games so fascinating. This course revealed a lot of tips and tricks to the look and feel of the games I love, and I’m looking forward to texturing more in future projects.

Here are a few renders of my texture work.

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As I’m still learning, I see things that could be improved, but have to move on to other things. I might want to revisit a few of these, or experiment with the rigs we received for AN1 whenever I have the time just to practice. Fun times!

And that is pretty much it for the things I can show. I did create a few scripts for modeling workflow purposes during the AN2 (scripting) course, but that’s not really showcasing material. :)

I have this week fully off, finally. Planning on visiting a spa and spending a weekend in the middle of the forest with my darling and my camera. Who knows, there might be something worth uploading there…

Onwards to block C!