Games and Interaction design

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A few good books

Heres a few books I've picked up over the last couple of weeks. All are highly recommended:

Deep Simplicity

Great book covering complexity/chaos theory, both in terms of the history of its invention/discovery as well as a very accessible explanation of the maths and concepts involved. This is something I missed out on at school/uni, so its good to get a proper understanding. Main reasons for buying it were to think about possible applications for AI and procedural art.

Pictures and Words

With a lot of recent dicussions circulating the web discussing the problems involved with striving for photorealism, and the lack of adventure being demonstrated in looking at alternative game aesthetics (such abstraction and symbolic representation), this book does provide a variety of examples of alternatives. Mainly geared towards artists using comic art/illustration to make a point, it provides a number of entertaining examples, including David Shrigley, Mr Clement and more.

Illustration Now!

A much more comprehensive selection of illustrators and styles, this book effectively acts as a catalogue, showcasing a huge amount of talent (and providing contact details for all those on show). Great for picking up and flicking through, looking for inspiration.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Rapid prototyping

The guys from the Experimental Gameplay Project have a write up of their experiences at gamasutra here. Part of a course at Carnegie Mellon University, the challenge they were set (or set themselves?) was for each of them (there were 4 in total) to create a brand new game every week, including all art/sound/coding. Often based around a single theme (such as vegetation, gravity), they found that the restrictions they set themselves fueled their creativity.

Theres some cracking games there, and much of their philosophy echoes that of IDEO's approach to prototyping (read about it in their book "The Art of Innovation"), particularly the importance of embracing failure and being able to let go of things that you've worked on rather than try to force them to completion. Also interesting was their mention of how their collaboration methods, formation of ideas and the value of brainstorms.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Videogame aesthetics

I've just finished reading the online article "Videogame Aesthetics : We're all going to Die!" by David Hayward, and highly recommend taking a look. Its an excellent examination of the space of visual representation of games, making a direct reference to Scott McCloud's picture plane system of dividing visual representation into a triangle with three poles: abstraction, iconography, and photo-realism. Hayward highlights the industry's struggle and obsession with photo-realism, but points out the huge opportunities there are for those willing to explore the undiscovered country towards abstraction and iconography. Perhaps the reward may not be commercial success immediately, but for those with the time, and inclination, there is a vast creative landscape to be conquered. Citing references such as Shadow of the Colussus, obviously Rez, Killer 7, Darwinia, and Okami, he points out the number of developers that are willing to brave it into these areas, Columbus style, while also making the observation that this may be the only way some developers will survive, given the vast costs involved in making near-photo-realistic art assets.

On a side note, I've been playing Sly 3 : Honor among thieves, and absolutely loving it. I have such a soft spot for the Sly games, in terms of personality, dialogue, game structure/variety and environment design. While playing through, it really struck me how close they've got visually to true cartoon aesthetic. The level of detail, the texturing, the voice acting, dialogue, and especially the animation have really got it right. It did get me wondering what could be improved on the next generation of hardware? Theres some obvious things, such as curves are still relatively angular, and perhaps the environments and characters could have a little bit more detail, but in general adding too much more detail would detract from the aesthetic. Could this mean that art asset generation for cartoon games has peaked? Again, this could be the way forward for companies that don't want to go down the megastudio route. Anyway, play Sly 3, its fantastic.