Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Looking at the development of games - Part 1

(Due to the amount of content in this topic, I have divided the research in two separate posts. This is Part 1, for Part 2 CLICK .) 

If you do not want to read through the entire post, rather read a brief conclusion regarding this research, GO TO PART 2 and scroll to the bottom of the post.

As an Environment Artist I am interested in working in the gaming industry as well. Understanding where everything started and how it evolve may give me a better picture of how my work relates to games. The requirements are different in this area as compared to the film industry. You have much more limitations, because everything is calculated in real-time by the user's computer, so the rules are different.

I will look back to the very beginning and study what issues arose and how the "key players" back then resolved these. Everything was still new and change was constantly happening. By better understanding the process of the game's industries development, I might be able to understand and better prepare for the upcoming changes that will occur and keep on occurring in the future.

With the birth of computers, the possibility arose as using these machines for entertainment. In 1958 the first tennis like computer game was developed, where a ball was going left to right of the screen. This was more of a test, experiment rather than a full game product.

In 1961 Steve Russell developed a punch-card driven video game, called Spacewar. It was an interactive game with two spaceships at opposing ends of the screen, floating and shooting against each other.
Around 1966 the television made it into almost every Americans' living-room. Ralph Bair, the vice-president of Sanders Associates saw a huge business opportunity in this. He was planning on creating a play-device that would fit on a shelf and could be attached to the TV in order to play. This was the birth of the concept of today's modern console gaming machines: XBox, Playstation etc. The hardware limitations were quite drastic at these times, because computers will still the size of a room. In 1971 he eventually released the gaming device, named Odyssey , which shipped with a tennis game. Two "sticks" hitting a ball left to right.

Will Wright, one of the key figures in games designs. Today, he is known for his popular franchise, The Sims, Sim City etc. In 1986 he was playing a game which had a world editor program built into it. He started experimenting with the world editor and got inspired to create a similar game, in which the focus was one building and management. I feel there is an important note to take here: a huge amount of great discoveries and new concepts were born through experimenting. It is important to look outside your own medium, play around with other things, because inspiration can happen anytime. You can't plan some things. You'r brain conjures up new ideas by looking "outside of the box" and discovering other areas outside of CG.
Of course, in the beginning the Sim City games were very "primitive" (in comparison with today's games), due to hardware and software limitations as well.

With the advancement of technology, games became more and more interactive. Gaming is a visual experience, you interact with them through visual elements. As CG evolved, so did games. A huge milestone on game-player interactivity came with a game in which you used a chopper to save civilians from tanks. After you flew the people back to safety, they started waving at you. In terms of CG they were very undeveloped as these people consisted of only 35 pixels. Even though, with this low pixel amount, the game was able to conjure up emotions within the player. This is an important thing to note, because you need to somehow connect with your user's. In this game, the players felt appreciation for their deeds, self success and emotions similar to these.

Games during the 70's and 80's used drawings for their environments. It was not possible to create a real-time surrounding, so pre-drawing a background was the only way to go. The quality of these backgrounds in terms of realism was very good. With the advancement of technology, game developers were able to build complete 3D, real-time environments. But, with every technological leap, at first there is a bit of a step back in terms of game immersion and experience. One of the drawbacks of real-time environments was quality. Now that these backgrounds had to be calculated continuously by the user's computer, the image-quality had to decrease significantly as compared to the drawings used before. Technology did not allow for great image quality, so this became a drawback at first. But, with cons there are always pros. In the end, real-time scenes paid of, because now the players could interact with the game on a whole new level. Players were able to discover the world much more intimately as before.
Although, sometimes when I think back to games with pre-drawn, static backgrounds, I remember the sheer amount of detail that was built into them. Even after days of looking at them, I've felt, that there is still so much to discover. There were so many objects, items, shades, lighting information, cracks, bumps, shadows etc. built into them, that exploring was so much fun. This amount of detail disappeared with the introduction of 3D environments and it took quite a while until it started to match up with the long gone static images. I still miss those experiences to be honest. Through my work I will definitely thrive to recreate that experience

Pre-drawn environment
The new, 3D environments posed control issues as well. Players had to get used to aiming the character appropriately if they wanted it to walk in the right direction for example. I remember when I first started playing such a game, I kept having frustrations with the controls, because it was a new experience. I had to develop as a player, so it took some time getting used to. As a conclusion I understand that with each new technological leap, there comes a frustration time of accommodation.
A good example would be silent films. Silent films in the beginning did not have to worry about audio, hence the work of the actors only focused on acting itself. With the invention of the microphone, actors had to pay attention to sounds as well. They weren't very good at it at first, avoiding sounds that might ruin a scene had to be taken into consideration which made the process that much harder. In the end, of course, audio paid off and today you could not imagine (except for some cases) a movie without sounds. Sound became a fundamental element of storytelling.

3D  real-time environment

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