Platform Evalutation – Character Modelling

For the purposes of creating a character within 3DS max, I first began by watching the tutorial video series that another group member found on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbHNaRgSWoo&list=WLFAB6CCD5BFE114D9). This allowed me to create a simple humanoid model without too much difficulty; & also showed my how to perform a few new actions within 3DS Max that I had not previously been using, such as extruding.

After having created a humanoid form, I then exported the model into mudbox, which is useful in that it allows the user to ‘sculpt’ onto the model in much the same way as one would work with a clay model in reality. For the most part I mainly learned within Mudbox via experimentation & by playing around with the controls & settings. After messing around with the various tools & controls, I was eventually able to begin modelling the basic humanoid model in order to add details such as (basic) muscle definition & simple clothing over the model.

One thing I did have trouble with was adding extremely fine detail on to the model, but as the nature of this piece requires on a simple animated character, I didn’t feel the necessity of going to extreme lengths in regards to detail, as this could take time away from other more important tasks, and is an area I can look at improving upon at a later date when not on a deadline.

Once the model was completed to a rough degree I then exported it back into 3DS Max to attempt to create a skeletal structure for it, & begin with the models animation…

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Group concept

For assignment two; I have joined up with another three students within the class in order to (attempt to) create a level using a variety of different programs (most notably 3DS Max & UDK). The level that we will be creating is an environment, in a fantasy/medieval setting. The area will consist of a small village, surrounded by walls; with mountains viewable in the distance.

The village will feature several small buildings which can not be entered, as well as a main keep, which the player can walk into & wander around. there will be several NPCs in the area (though these will be very basic & won’t likely move around, as this is only a very basic piece) as well as other random items such as vases, barrels, torches, etc. outside there will be rain in terms of weather effects, the idea being that there is a storm going on, & it will be dark as the idea is for it to be late at night.

The level will use a third person fixed camera; & there will be kismet functions in terms of being able to pick up a key in order to use it on a locked door, openable chests, etc. The player character will be a simple character appropriate to the medieval/fantasy setting, with a weapon that will also be fixed with kismet so that the player can swing it around & make attacks with it.

 

Within the group, my job will be creating the player character model, & creating a few simple weapons, one of which will be the one the player uses. I will also be trying to work out how to create the skeleton for motion, & some simple animations for actions such as walking around, & using the weapon; as well as trying to paint or texture the character model.

The other three group members will create the terrain, the man-made structures & items, as well as their material mapping, & the kismet functions. The idea will be that we all try to follow each others work so that we all learn how each piece of the work has been done & all come away with the same knowledge & skill sets at the end…

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Platform Evaluation

With the new semester beginning, the work we’ve been given for platform evaluation (Our second year 3D module) is to create a (basic) level within UDK, using other programs like 3DS Max & Mudbox. The level should be using kismet to facilitate some degree of interactivity (i.e. pushing buttons & switches, picking up & using items & so on). The level needs to be created from scratch, & we have been given the option of doing it within a group, therefore dividing the work up between us. We will be required to follow each others work though, ensuring that we all learn the skills needed to complete the work.

First of all however we all have to come up with an independent concept for a level. It may be that one of these is the level we do in a group, or it may be a completely different level, but we will all create our own individual concept.

For my concept I’m thinking of proposing a futuristic styled level, which will be set on board a massive spaceship; with lots of corridors, open hangars, control rooms & such. The main issue for this will be that the level will require little-to-no landscaping within UDK, as it will all be solid ‘manufactured’ surfaces such as walls & bulkheads. If that is a problem though; then it will simply be a case of my level concept not being the one that is pursued as a group when work starts for the second part of the assessment.

The idea behind the ship is a colony ship sent out into deep space in search of planets to colonize. the level will look very sleek & high tech, with lots of dynamic, smooth patterns & designs, & lots of clean surfaces. The idea is that the ship has however been attacked by pirate forces, & therefore much of the area will be much more battered than usual, with fires, exposed wiring & circuitry shorting out, flickering lights, & so on.

The player will control a soldier on board the ship, acting in its defence against the attackers, & will we using high-tech looking armour & weapons, much like the design of the ship itself. The camera will be set to a third person mode, so that the camera follows behind the player character, as opposed to being set to first person (as is default within UDK).

I will also want to have several points where the player can look outside the ship, into space where they will see stars, nebulae & other stellar phenomenon, intending to help them feel some sense of scale; & perhaps some greener areas (ships gardens & communal areas for the colonists for instance), so that the player is not constantly assaulted with endless corridors & metal.

Another idea I like as well is the idea of zero gravity areas, where players would be floating in an open area, having to move from surface to surface using inertia; and low gravity areas, where they move more slowly, but can jump much higher. Hopefully these features would contribute to the feeling of being in space.

A prime source of inspiration for this has definitely been the game Vanquish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanquish_%28video_game%29), both for visual style & gameplay ideas; though I will of course be looking at other sources, both within gaming as well as without.

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A quick look at a few games that people criticize for having heavy stereotypes…

Looking at a few games in my collection, I’ve been thinking that quite a few of them get quite a bit of undeserved negative press. Often this comes from some of the ‘stereotypes’ shown within the games, & often this can be disproved with just a little open-mindedness.

Take Gears of War. The series has received some serious negative feedback in the past for being the way it is, with people complaining that it’s all over-the-top testosterone, and violence; with huge overly macho soldiers chainsawing their way through horrible ugly monsters. Characters like Augustus Cole get bad rep for being too stereotypical and one-dimensional as well. Yet the truth is that this all falls apart if you actually look into the world and its (& the characters) back story.

The story actually focuses heavily on the ties of brotherhood and family forged under duress; with people who have completely different personalities, backgrounds and motivations being forced to join and work with people they may not even be able to stand normally, and still managing to forge bonds of such strength that they would die for each other. Gears 3 for instance (Spoiler Alert for those who haven’t played it) showed the players a horrible gut wrenching moment where Dom dies saving Marcus and the rest of the squad, showing the players an extremely vulnerable and tragic side of the characters. Something which would not be looked at if the game was as ‘overly macho’ as critics would say.

The character of Cole also, as fans of the series will know, not only came about from extensive character research and development, but was largely inspired by his voice actor Lester Speight. The character is actually revealed to be an extremely kind-hearted & gentle character who still writes letters to his long-dead mother. Not exactly what people would expect based on what some have said in the past.

Another game which receives a lot of negative criticism as a series are the Dead or Alive games. mainly criticized for the largely female cast; many of whom admittedly are all presented to be extremely attractive no doubt to attract players. But again, fans and those who give the games a chance will realize that the same characters are strong individuals who are just as valid and powerful as the often-overlooked, but no-less impressive male cast.

in fact, what many people should note is that in a fighting game where people play to win; the fact that most players choose to play as the female characters over the male ones could even go to show that they believe the female characters to be superior fighters, which again, hardly conforms to the negative stereotype the game is regularaly labelled with.

Overall just some food for thought that when someone complains about stereotypical characters, settings, backstory or whatever; that it’s often worth having a closer look into the issue. As often the only one who ends up with anything justifiably bad to say about them is the critic who complains about something they haven’t even bothered to try and understand …

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Essay Research Source: Media Smarts, Canada’s Centre for Media & Digital Literacy

An article done by Canada’s CMDL looks at problems which may arise from gender & racial stereotypes which may arise within video games & the impact they may have upon those who are subjected to them. The main point addressed is video games & their capabilities to create & confirm stereotypes.

“Video games can also confirm gender stereotypes. A 2007 study showed that male characters were significantly more likely to be portrayed as aggressive (83 per cent of males versus 62 per cent of female characters) while female characters were much more likely to be portrayed in a sexualized way (60 per cent of females versus just 1 per cent of male characters.)”

The article also addresses changes & improvements to stereotypes through certain figures within videogames, Such as Samus Aran from the Metroid series, a female character given a lead role as a strong & independent character in spite of her gender.

Another point brought up is the tendency of most video games to focus on white characters, with extremely low percentages of characters from other racial backgrounds, & often being restricted to lesser roles or villains. Fewer than 3 per cent of characters seen within videogames come from Hispanic backgrounds (some excenptions being characters such as Ashley Williams in the Mass Effect series. Another good example of a strong female character) & no characters from aboriginal backgrounds.

The article makes several interesting points about the dangers of video games being potential mediums for powerful negative messages concerning stereotypes & is worth paying attention to, despite being brief.

http://mediasmarts.ca/video-games/concerns-about-video-games

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Essay Research Source: Gender & Racial Stereotypes in Popular Video Games (authors, Yi Mou & Wei Peng)

The main focus of the essay which will be written will be on the gender & racial stereotypes often portrayed & encountered within video games. With video games being an ever expanding area of modern entertainment, more & more people seek to use them as an easy target for placing blame for problems in the world such as violence & many other forms of anti-social behaviour. Therefore there are many reports and research studies being conducted upon games to see what effect they have upon those that play them.

A main point of many areas of interest are therefore the types of gender & racial stereotypes that the games both present & support. Within the piece there are many examples of other studies conducted within the same areas of stereotyping within games, which helps give a broader level of research; followed by an analysis of trailers, introduction sequences & cover pieces for several popular games, which helps highlight the impressions & perceptions that the games can impose onto those that play & see them.

Although the research done is from games of several years ago, the work conducted still helps to show (when compared) what stereotypes games tend to favour in regards to the roles, behaviours & appearances of different genders & races.

The piece also looks at a few stereotypes which have come from games themselves, such as the ‘Lara Phenomenon’ referred to as ‘The appearance of a tough & competent female character in a dominant position’, as well as some other character stereotypes which have been brought into existence through games themselves.

https://www.msu.edu/~pengwei/Mou%20Peng.pdf

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Essay Research source: Visible Signs (author, David Crow)

As mentioned previously, stereotyping not only occurs in regards to how people perceive other people from different nationalities, appearances interests, etc.; but also in how people perceive almost anything, including in particular things such as imagery and visual stimuli.

Although not focusing on stereotypes in particular, Crow does mention how certain types of imagery can invoke stereotypical attitudes, and how certain aspects such as colouring & patterns can move the viewer in a certain psychological direction.

Indeed, many forms of media & entertainment (again, including video games obviously) deliberately utilise stereotypes in this way in order to move the viewer in a certain direction (figuratively speaking). Visual forms are used with the idea of deliberately fitting to a particular stereotype as it helps to keep the viewer interested & helps them understand what is going on, as well as setting moods and tones for environments & situations (such as using dark & muted colours & shadows for areas which are supposed to be scary or at least put the viewers on edge; or using things such as images in the environment such as posters & paintings to give the idea of what the world is like that is being shown, even though ordinarily it would be advised that such images & visuals should in fact not be used to form such a generalised opinion.

This obviously applied to characters as well, (If a character is meant to be ‘heroic’ or ‘evil’, their appearance will often be created to grant this impression to the player.) & games developers will often create characters to deliberately conform to a particular stereotype so that players will find their behaviour ‘acceptable’ for the character.

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Essay Research source: Stereotypes, Cognition and Culture (author, Perry R. Hinton)

Stereotyping occurs without question on a daily basis virtually everywhere around the world. People make generalisations on people due to their age, gender, sex, ethnicity, hair colour & more. Generalisations are made on places based on a glance, & objects (such as cars for instance) based solely on who they are made, what they look like, or other simple details which often give no real indication of what the object in question is like individually. This form of stereotyping accounts for peoples views on everything from people  & objects, to places, animals, ideas, roles, classes, & practically everything imaginable, even to affairs such as weather (The general opinion that all rain is bad; when arid locations will undoubtedly disagree).

These stereotypes obviously extend even into all areas of media & entertainment, such as computer & video games; and this is where the focus of this research will lead. However, in order to understand the deeper psychological root of stereotyping, research must still be taken into the most basic forms of stereotyping, not to mention understanding the root of what, in psychological terms, a stereotype actually is.

According to Perry R. Hinton, a stereotype generally possesses three primary components to it.

Firstly the focus (in this case a group of people for instance), such as a nationality, a religious group, age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, hair colour, or eye colour to name just a few. People then become identified by a single characteristic; i.e. that all people of a certain gender like football, all people with a certain occupation like the same programs on television, all people from a certain ethnicity have similar lifestyle choices, or all people of a certain nationality possess similar tastes in food & drink.

This form of identification separates a previously undefined group of people from everybody else. For instance, by referring to Irish people, we are separating them from the English, Chinese, Americans & other nationalities. Talking about ‘blondes’ rules out people with brown, black red or grey or ginger hair.

Secondly a series of characteristics are attributed to the group as a whole. The Irish for therefore then viewed as drunks, and the blondes seen as airheaded, even though a blonde Irishman may be a highly intelligent professor who doesn’t even drink alcohol. The main feature of the stereotype that is formed though is that people then view that characteristic as applying to every member of that group by default.

Thirdly, when a person is discovered to possess one of these characteristics, the resulting characteristics become immediately applied to them. On meeting a blonde woman it is immediately assumed she must be an airhead or a ‘bimbo’, when it may actually be that she is an astronaut or military commander.

The key points put forwards by psychologists such as Walter Lippmann are that stereotypes are basically simplified ‘pictures in our heads’ which are created by our minds as our brains cannot cope with the complexity of the ‘real’ world which is far too big & complex for us to handle.

Overall stereotypes are usually considered false and incorrect; and that the truth very rarely matches up with the stereotype; at least in the ‘real’ world. The point here is that within entertainment & media (& particularly video games), stereotypes tend to be used extensively & often lived up to much more than would be likely in reality.

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Stereotypes in videogames

The issue of stereotypes is one that admittedly, I usually try & avoid, as I find it can often be a sticky subject that someone almost always finds something to take offence with. But sometimes that not enough of a reason to stay away so here goes…

The idea of stereotypes is hardly a new one. People have always held opinions on what certain things should be, often without any real knowledge to back it up. One example from the past being the idea that women were (or should be) ditzy airheads with minimal IQs who were happy to spend the day cooking & cleaning for ‘their man’ & gossiping with the neighbours. Now, although there has been very little evidence against the latter part of that particular stereotype, we’ve long since learned that women are not stupid or happy to become housewives-by-default. Another example culturally within modern society is the perception of the French, often referred to by the English as ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ which is … well, maybe that’s not the best example of a false stereotype. Better move on…

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that stereotypes are present everywhere. Even in (if you didn’t see the topic heading this way, be ashamed) videogames. One of the biggest examples of this that comes to mind is the Legend of Zelda series. Generally viewed as a ‘hero-out-to-save-the-helpless-princess’ type of game, few people that don’t play the games themselves seem to notice that Zelda seems actually pretty good at taking care of herself in virtually all of them.

Generally stereotypes can be seen in most characters; main heroes are usually men who are either brimming with far too much testosterone, & heroines are usually either a walking pair of breasts and/or something you have to save so the game can reward you with a romance scene. Thankfully though, this seems to be happening less & less these days.

Many people who complain about these stereotypes also tend to use bad examples unfortunately. People often accuse Gears of War for being very stereotypical in its content; saying it’s all about a group of overly hormone jocks, grunting & shooting their way through monsters with lots of guns & explosions. However, these same people don’t pay attention to the fact that many of the main characters are a lot more complex & emotionally involved than people seem to realize, in a story that’s more about brotherhood & camaraderie than blood & gunfights. It should also be pointed out that perhaps the two most gung ho & aggressive characters in the Gears series are Bernie, who’s a 60 year old woman & a crack sniper, & Sam, who’s a woman who likes to kick the crap out of men just to prove she can. So not exactly princesses in need of rescuing.

Most issues regarding stereotypes, & particularly those that raise complaints, within games tend to be about women though. Admittedly it’s rare to find heroines & major other major female characters that aren’t beautiful & buxom, but in most of the cases out there now, most of those women can kick the crap out of the men, so I personally don’t see the fuss.

One big thing that gets to me & to virtually everyone I asked on the GameFAQs forums (at least those who weren’t being idiots when they answered my questions & took it seriously), is that without adhering to at least some of these stereotypes, these games would have none of the success they enjoy. People want to play heroic men & beautiful women, because the games are not reality. That’s generally the point! People don’t want dull or unappealing characters in the games they play, & the games that do have such characters; well you usually find they’re the character that always gets left out of the party.

The issue I personally think needs to be addressed overall is not whether  stereotypes exist, because they obviously do; & it’s not whether they’re  a problem, because usually (although admittedly not always) they aren’t. The issue should be how they are used. In the right circumstance stereotypes are fantastic guidelines onto what people want. People who play Zelda want to be play the hero; people who play Dead or Alive want to play as the kickass-hot-chick (On that point actually, I don’t get the issue people have with that either. Sure the women in DoA are all gorgeous, but they also tend to kick the crap out of all the guys too, so why do people complain about it being  sexist?); & people who play Knights of the Old Republic want to be able to have a Lightsaber.

At the end of the day, stereotypes are not the things of evil many people ascribe them to be. Some are; but only a few. Many are in fact guidelines to what customers want in their entertainment; & it is that which many designers use in order to create their games. Stereotypes help designers plan their games to a degree that by the time they start doing market research, they already know what direction they’re aiming in.

All in all I think stereotypes are important things, especially to those of us that want to design games, & we should give them the respect & attention they deserve; provided we’re smart enough to use our judgement on which ones to follow or not.

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Avatars within Computer Games

The concept of avatars within computer gaming has existed for as long as computer games themselves, as the avatar is the character the player controls whilst playing; the manifestation of their will within the game as they play. Within computer games in the past few decades this was hardly a noteworthy thing. In Pong for example, the players avatar was simply a ‘bat’ that could only move up & down; or games like Pac-Man where the players avatar was simply a yellow circle with a mouth that traversed a simple maze. Within the past decade or so however, the avatars players have been given to control & enforce their will upon the games environment has grown immeasurably; not only in the detail of the avatar itself, but in terms of the amount of action & interactivity the player has with the surrounding environment through their avatar.

Even so, some particular games offer significantly more advanced avatars in the forms of customization, advancement & development. One of the genres best known for the depth in which players can create & develop their own avatars is the genre of role-playing-games (RPG’s). The majority of true RPG’s (i.e. the Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, World of Warcraft, Baldurs Gate, etc) allow characters to personalize nearly every aspect of the character & go about playing the game in the manner they see fit; be it how they follow quests & storylines, how they develop their avatars abilities, & how they interact with other characters & players within the game world.

One of the most well-known, & certainly easily one of the most successful games which allows players to create & customize a unique & personalized avatars to explore the game is Blizzards MMO-(Massively Multiplayer)-RPG World of Warcraft. Within the World of Warcraft (Often referred to as WoW), the very first action the player must take upon starting the game is to choose which faction, class, race & gender their character will be; & upon deciding on this they must then decide upon their characters skin tone, facial design, hairstyle & colour, as well as any facial hair of other decorations which they would like to have, before choosing a unique name for their character & entering the world. The player is effectively given a blank slate & allowed to create almost any character they like to their own specifications.

When presented with character creation the player is allowed to choose from eleven different classes & fifteen different races varying from typical well-known fantasy classes, such as warriors, hunters & mages, & more abstract classes such as the Death Knight class, the races include both typical fantasy races such as humans, orcs, dwarves & elves, but also known but rarely playable races such as undead & werewolves; & even a few original races such as the alien-esque Draenei. In regards to factions players are allowed to either join the alliance, a collection of ‘civilized’ races joined together in friendship & trust for the sake of prosperity & expansion; or the Horde, a group mostlycomposed of ‘savage’ races joined together in an uneasy partnership borne from a struggle for survival.

Once the player has crafted their character & begun playing, they can pursue quests as they like, they can brave dungeons & raids alongside groups of other players & their own avatars, or they can war against other players in arenas or even in open combat against them within the main world map itself. Players can choose to completely ignore any quest lines which they don’t like, or can choose to entirely forgo the multiplayer aspect of the game, never doing any dungeon, raid, or PvP activity. However they make their way through the world within their avatar is entirely up to them.

To further customize & personalize their avatar; players can acquire special & sometimes unique gear & equipment to equip their character with, & they can acquire titles to add to their characters names. Titles in particular are particularly popular, as they show at a glance some of a players achievements & glories, as the titles are often earned for defeating certain powerful bosses or other players.

Within the game players who seek even more of an in-depth experience may join a Role-Playing (RP) server where another level is added to the game in terms of how players interact through their avatars. Within the RP realm, players act as if they were their avatar, speaking as their character would speak, & acting as their character would act within a situation. Some players have been known to take this level of involvement a bit too far & have characters married in-game (one example) which would seem to push the limits of how involved people should get with a fictional character & setting; but regardless, it is done.

People who were asked on the Blizzard community servers what their reasons were for playing not only the game, but their particular server type, faction, race, gender & class, mostly came up with different responses (again, showing the value of such a large degree of avatar personalization). Players who favoured the PvP servers (where combat between players is much more frequent) said they chose the server because they preferred competitive gameplay rather than co-operative , & would rather create characters to battle & dominate other peoples avatars. People who focused on the RP servers on the other hand tended to state that they liked the idea of creating a character concept & making a history & backstory for their character, giving them their own identity before travelling the world & interacting with others; both in a friendly or a hostile manner, as if they were that character.

In regards to races, classes & factions, many people, in the usual stunning display of the average  human beings level of capacity for deep-thought stated that they chose their race because ‘they’re the coolest one’ or their faction ‘kicked ass’. These statements usually ended up leading to some kind of argument between community members regarding whose race, class, &/or faction was the best & why. It should be noted that these arguments were never what one might consider ‘insightful’ or ‘educational’.

Some players though did manage to give interesting answers in regards to their choices though. One person responded that they preferred the Hordes as they felt like the ‘Outcasts who refused to conform to the tyranny of the Alliance’. On the other hand, many people said that they preferred the Alliance as they were the most civilized & organized faction, with bonds born of friendship & trust, rather than being ‘a collection of monsters & savages like half the Horde’. These two comments in particular were quite interesting as it shows how each side often views the other.

Another game which allows characters to create a unique & personalized avatar, & to affect the world around the player is Biowares Dragon Age: Origins; where the character creates a character based from a variety of different races, classes & social groups, & then plays through a unique backstory depending on the character they created before being placed into the main game storyline.

Players can create for example, a Dwarven noble, who must face a backstory of political intrigue, a struggle for the throne, & a familial betrayal before embarking upon the main storyline, whereas an Elven character borne in the city has to endure a life of poverty within the slums of a city, an attack upon themselves & their loved ones at their own wedding, & an ensuing battle for revenge, followed by an escape from a corrupted judicial system.

Once the player has completed their backstory & enters the primary storyline, there are certain encounters & events which must be completed in order advance, & certain goals which must be achieved. How the players avatar goes about these actions though is up to them. They may choose to intimidate, threaten & fight their way past obstacles, to take advantage of the weak & innocent, & act as a tyrant, treating their allies with disdain & callousness (& even killing or abandoning many of them). On the other hand they may become a true paragon of virtue, helping everyone they can, seeking diplomatic or positive solutions, & protecting everyone they can; & work towards earning the trust & friendship of their companions. The player can also of course choose to pursue a mixed path, reacting differently to different situations & people.

Upon completing the game, players are shown scenes & information informing them of the consequences of their many actions. Did the king they placed upon the Dwarven throne rule justly or was he a petty tyrant? Did granting the Dalish (forest elves) their own land lead to conflict with the neighbouring humans, or did it bring peace & stability? Players are shown that every one of their actions has for better or for worse helped to shape the world they have travelled in, all depending on the decisions their avatar made throughout the course of their adventure.

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