Games and Interaction design

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Originality in Concept design

I've just finished watching Originality In Design, the first in a series of tutorial DVDs produced by Nick Pugh for The Gnomon Workshop. I've seen a number of gnomon dvds before, primarily from the Digital series for instructional purposes when learning Maya, but not seen much from their Analog series. Its fascinating watching, as you get to see a great concept artist at work, in fast forward, as he runs through the creation of five (IIRC) different pieces, narrating all the while. Its a process I've never see before, and considerably different to how I would imagine a concept artist would work. While the main thrust of the DVD is to break out of a creative rut that you may be in, or to steer your designs into new territory, its noticable how utterly free his creative process is. There's no mood boards, no reference material, barely any tools except a pencil. Starting off by letting his hand roam free over around 150 big sheets of paper drawing whatever his mind and hands suggest to him, Nick finds that he starts to break loose from the cliched imagery that clings to his minds eye like steak and cheese in the colon of an overweight truck driver. Colonic irrigation for the creative mind perhaps? After a while, the free sketches start to take interesting and original new forms. At the end of the process of producing hundreds of 10 second sketches, Nick reviews them in a group, selecting those with the most potential, and looks to render them into more definite forms. This for me was the really intriguing part of the process, as it seems almost like divining.... at the start of the rendering the shape is very vague, and he has little or no idea what each element is going to be or look like, but things present themselves at every stage in the rendering, so the form of the item literally comes from nothing... no premeditation on the details. This goes significantly against my preconception of the process of the work of a concept artist, which I had thought would involve an almost completely filled in image in the mind that was effectively photocopied from mind to paper. The lack of reference material was also startling.

While there are some breathtaking examples of great concept design in games (I'm a huge fan of the Oddworld, Katamari and Sly Cooper universes and anything by Tim Schafer ), browsing the shelves in Game would suggest that the games industry is in some sort of rut, with such a glut of "urban" titles and fantasy titles still cribbing off Tolkein. While this is of course no different in the film industry, and may also be a symptom of the conservativity of games publishers in the current climate, it would be great to see a chance for such great concept artists to help lead the games industry as it evolves into a more accepted creative medium.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Some guys get all the fun

I wish I was a researcher at university with a cool name like Jefferson Y. Han, and people threw money and amazing components at me to bake them a cake of new forms interaction. (if anyone is listening and needs such a cake, do let me know). Anyway, I'm not, but fortunately someone else is, and they've been researching touch-screen technology with multi-point input. One of the main draw-backs with current touchscreen technology is that you can only click one thing at a time. Not a big deal if you are using a stylus to click things, but if you need to perform more complex actions (such as stretching, bending, painting while rotating etc) then you'll need a bit more interaction bandwidth. Han's system provides that bandwidth, as the demonstration videos gracefully illustrate. This is definitely going to become big in the future in creative industries, as it makes some actions so much easier if you can peform different actions with different hands, let alone different fingers (theres a nice demo video of a prototype maya using two pucks on a giant wacom tablet to rotate and sculpt at the same time). Applications for games are most certainly true there. Imagine a catapult game, one hand moves the catapult, the other stretches it back, or perhaps geometry wars?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Shadow of the telecoms colossus

Unable to deal with the shame of my filthy, scratched, slow, barely functioning old phone, I went shopping at the weekend to try and get something to replace it. I'd previously had the Nokia 6600, which was fine, but started going mad recently, so it was time to put it to sleep gently (well take it to the cellular knackers yard anyway). I'd been waiting to have a look at the P990 but grew impatient, and when out on Friday saw something that I was not aware was even available yet. A friend of a friend had a Windows Mobile 2003 phone, running Skype for pocket PC, and was using it for all his telephony. He was only using the phone company for GPRS. I had no idea that Skype now offer both in and out services for connection to regular phone networks, and at a reasonable price, too (20 quid a year for line-in, and low call charges for out). Combined with this, if you have a Wifi connection in your phone, theres no need to use the phone company at all, and if you know other people using skype, you dont even need line in and out. The Skype client integrates seamlessly with your address book, so you can just dial with Skype instead of a standard mobile call. As a result, I've picked up the rather tasty Orange M500, and a cheapo wifi card for it. Its one of the few PDA phones around that doesnt make you look like some some sort of cyber-businessman dickhead.

I've always greatly resented telecoms companies and the exortionate prices they charge for connections, so hopefully this will force them to drop their prices and create a new model for charging. Especially combined with developments over at Fon, a company that has just got 12 million euros from google and skype to set up their global wifi sharing network, a network that will allow you, once you set up sharing on your own wifi connection, to roam around the globe and get free access all over the place from other members of the network. Things are definitely changing. Theres no need to guess why Skype want to finance the operation.... Fon, if successful, will effectively build a free global VoIP network for Skype users.