Video Games as Art, My Argument:

19 04 2010

Roger Ebert recently wrote a blog in which he re-emphasized his thought that video games can never be art. (http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/04/video_games_can_never_be_art.html)   The following is my comment in response:

Mr. Ebert,
I think the first issue many have with your piece is that the speech you are writing in response to does not properly make the arguments for games as art.  First, she attempts to show three games as art, but only with screen shots and descriptions.  This would be the equivalent to describing the Mona Lisa by saying its an image of a brunette in-front of some distant fields and a cloudy sky.  The thing that makes games like all other art is that a game must be experienced fully to understand it. I think this is why many gamers are going to the “old-timer”, “out-of-touch” cliche.  They, I THINK, are trying to say that unless you have actually played, and experienced some of the games that show the power of games as art, than you cannot be expected to see any games as such.

This is much in the same way that if someone had only seen “Dude Where’s My Car”, heard “Hit Me Baby One More Time”, and read the Inquirer, they could not be expected to see movies, music, or writing as art.  After seeing those, its to be expected that someone would say “THAT’S what all the fuss is about? dear god, WHY?”  Talk to people who have fully played through games like Mass Effect, Heavy Rain, inFamous, Uncharted 2, or Flower, and ask them if they think they are as much a form of art as movies are.  They involve very different story telling methods, but all have something very unique to say.

And yes, most games have points, and objectives, but those are ways to steer the player in the direction that will drive the story forward.  In my eyes, Games should be seen like a play that is being put on for an individual.  However, the individual is acting as the lead role.  As the lead actor has never seen the play before, they need some tips/motivation to get the story moving forward in the way it should.  Would Macbeth not be mind-blowing art if you, having never seen it before, were suddenly thrust into the lead role with a rough script to give you some basic guidance?  Or would you find it far MORE amazing due to the fact that you were the one living the life, not just watching it in-front of you?

“Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.” -You
I would argue that the set storyline of music, painting, books art a by product of the medium’s limitations, not a requirement of art.  Art can be far more gripping if the story told unfolds directly because of decisions you made, with the same lessons learned, but in new ways.  In Mass Effect 2, I am struggling to fight an alien race bent on destroying all life in the galaxy.  I am funded by a group of humanists, who hate all other life in the galaxy, and want us to be supreme in the end.  I make choices throughout the game to either help them pursue their goal of domination, or to help all life in the galaxy, without any special credence for humans.  I will not just see characters acting out these choices, but I am forced to make these choices myself, knowing that every choice could lead to either good or bad for me in the long run.  Do I want to save a warmongering race who is being pillaged by genocide, in the hopes that they might turn a new leaf with their second chance? Or do I make the decision to complete the slow genocide myself and wipe an entire race off the face of the universe so they can never harm anyone again?  This is the POWER of games as art, not the downfall, as this is where conventional art forms just tell you that if the character saves the race, then X happens.  With games, You are forced to struggle with the decision, make the choice and see what happens.  You can then go back to play it again, but choose another option, and see Y instead of X.  Each one of these story lines is still carefully crafted, but the fact that you are choosing the path to take gives it all the more impact.

I would urge you to take the time, play through Heavy Rain, and tell me than if you think games can be art.  Whether you think its GOOD art is another question, but it is hard for me to see a game like Heavy Rain as LESS of a work of art than a movie like Momento.

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Fresh Start on Rendering Techniques

2 04 2010

Last summer I started blogging tutorials on my new rendering methods in the hopes that it would A) help people looking to do Photoshop plan renderings a starting point to work from, B) cultivate some conversation on other people’s techniques, C) show how much work goes into any given rendering.  This was (I hope) successful on at least the first and last count.  However, the conversation I was looking for never really started… except in my own head.  As I finished my Master’s thesis at the end of 2009, I had to render some additional views of my 3D Studio Max model, and realized how unhappy I was with the textures I had used previously.  Colors were over-saturated, tiling artifacts were fairly obvious, and everything just looked off to me.

That lead to some experimenting with different methods of doing things.  I had started to play around with using images for my textures some while still writing my original tutorial series.  I had mixed the photo with color overlays to soften the image and give it more of the tonal quality I had been looking for:

While this solved SOME of the problems with my original method, it still relied heavily on my own eye for color selection. I know this is not my strongest skill when it comes to trying to think of something like: what color is grass, overall, REALLY.  I can describe it perfectly well, but when it comes to picking the right color in Photoshop, I just seem to get lost in the sea of options sometimes.  It also does not solve the problem of repeating texture tiles.

My latest iteration involves not just an image with a color overlay, but two images tiled at different scales and a clipping layer (which deletes portions of the upper layer) with a pattern that tiles on yet a different scale.  This creates a photo-realistic texture that is accurate in color, and is virtually tile free.

(Note: Please pay attention to the turf areas- I never re-textured the other areas )

This method is what I will focus on for my next set of tutorials.  I also am going to set these tutorials up in a slightly different way.  I have a residential project that I worked on in school that was made completely in model- no plans whatsoever.  I always wanted to go back and create a rendering for the project as I was very happy with both my design and my model.  So, as part of my impending website redesign I am going to go back and, from model photos and the original site survey, create a plan for the design, that I will then render in photoshop.  The stages of this rendering will become the different tutorials- Turf, Gravel, Slate, Water, Native Grasses, Shrubs, Roofing, Woods, Cars, and Dirt.  Some things will be made by scratch, some will be textures.

So, once I have the base drawn and start getting to work on this rendering, you will be the first to know- by way of NEW TUTORIALS!