Thursday, 28 August 2014

Staffs Uni Animations - The Insider Info [Insights]

My first year of University over, and I had two animated works complete, and was ready for the next year when I would start the Animation course proper. Both were well within the guidelines of the projects, and both were completed frame-by-frame in Photoshop. Not the best, but it served my needs, and while the works were animated, both were to show off the art in the animation rather than the animation itself.
Christmas holdiays had come and gone, and the research fully completed. The project was now underway for more practical events. That being the construction of the animation itself. I'd already got some idea as to what the first animation would be. Having completed a walk through Hanley Park [which aptly became the title for the animation] before Christmas with notes and videos taken as per project guidelines, I planned to record in animated form the feelings of that walk. This would have been done through the use of colour. Also to include would have been how the lighting made me feel. So when the sun came out and struck the water of the pool, for example, the exact same would have been recorded with the character of the animation reacting how I had.
What I didn't count on, though, was how long it would take to make each 'scene' for the animation. Using a 16-bit pixel style was a fundemental piece to the thinking of the project. Videogames are a journey. And each scene was designed with that aspect in mind. Taking inspiration from the Sonic the Hedgehog Mega Drive games, I planned to keep background and foreground the same. Only the middle would change. But even so, it still took a while for the six scenes that I would be testing with complete.

The plan was to acurately try to recreate Hanley Park, as fully as possible. The plans I had drawn up included the whole of Hanley Park, from the southern entrance off College Road all the way to the College Road-Cleveland Road connection entrance. The same route I had walked at the beginning of the project. All six testing scenes cover only the southern area surrounding the pool. But it was those scenes I had to stick with. The time left until the exhibition started was drawing near, and apart from the scenes and a test run, nothing else had been completed. Deciding that I could at least get some more of the scenes complete, I stuck to it until I knew it couldn't be done. Knowing that time was of the essence, I chose to work on only those parts that were recognisable as parts of the park. These remained unfinished, as I put more work toward a character. Any hope of now adding in extra things was slim. The lighting effects wouldn't be able to be put in. The emotion with colour was never going to happen. It had gone from showing the impact of the walk to... just a walk. But the main point of the animation still remained - A Videogame is a Journey. The retro feel helped to show that greatly, and when it was shown off at the exhibition, the comments I recieved about it mostly said it felt very retro, or the fact that it could be recognised as Hanley Park.
In effect, it was a success. But there were still things wrong that I felt I could improve on. For one, it was running only at ten frames per second. The jaggedness showed. The next thing was the walk itself. Since I had no character to test the walk on the first, I made a placeholder with a placeholder walking animation. That placeholder had to stay in, and as such, the legs moved stiff and the walk didn't look like a walk. These were really the only two parts that I felt had a massive impact on the animation itself. Well, apat from the fact that I never succeeded in doing what I wanted. And that is where the second animation comes into it.

With the Final Major Project, we set the rules of our project. I had recently got into the work of David Hockney and his self-named Joiners. Therefore, I wanted to go the route of making an animation based on angles. This was originally going to be a stop-motion animation with multiple viewpoints creating one scene. The planning, what I had done for it, was a fiasco. After talks with the tutor, he guided me to a more suitable route. That was, having liked what I had produced before, to continue with roughly the same thing. He knew I wanted to go down the animation route, and suggested that by keeping to the same style, it would create a comparison of the two and what improvements have been made.
I knew the one singular improvement I wanted to make straight away. And that was to increase the frame rate from ten to something that would create smoother movement. I kept that in mind when planning for the future project I now had set in mind. I also decided to keep to the gaming theme. It had helped me before, and so it could do so now. Instead of just sticking with the one game, I went through multiple genres. I started at Pokemon. A sprite-filled overworld would help cement one connected world, but if exploring various angles, I needed more. Advance Wars used the same sprite-filled overworld, but swapped from a top down perspective to a more realistic side-on view. By combining the two, I felt I had created a perfect formula. And then the one game that fully showed what was possible found its way to me. The Legend of Zelda II. Having sat on my 3DS' memory since it was first given out, it was never touched. Through playing it, I saw all I needed to. Even if I didn't manage to get anywhere in the game itself.
It was less possible to create angles in sprite form, and so I turned instead to an art style I hadn't used since high school. Basic cartoon visuals helped create the 2D segments, as I called them, while the overworld would be created in sprite form through the use of tiles. A basic map was created as soon as I had enough of the tiles, though one animatic was created using just road and building tiles only along the route the character would walk. This time, a lot more work was put in to complete all that needed to be done. The basic map complete, I felt it would be a lot more better if the map moved under the character to create the illusion of movement instead of a static zoomed out map. All the tiles were recreated to be bigger, and numerous more were added. A lot more of the map was fleshed out with roads and buildings, and a quarter of the map was dedicated to a cameo appearance from the road I lived at. At least four 2D segments were planned - only two of which managed to get into the final production. These angles were ground level-up, bird's-eye-view, 2.5D, and forty-five degree camera rotation. A possible fifth would have been a typical 3D videogame camera view - that being over the character's head. The city acted as ground level-up, with the forest being the 2.5D section. Walking up the hill would have been the bird's-eye-view with walking past a row of houses the forty-five degree camera rotation. The 3D videogame perspective was more a bonus if everything else was complete, and as such I hadn't thought of anywhere to put it.
The overworld was animated as one singular walk. Each of the 2D segments was worked on seperately. And it was these that took most of the corner-cutting. A second animatic will show the character walking halfway across the scene and looking up at a tall building before the camera shifts to the ground looking up. In the final product though, that was changed to almost as soon as the character walked on scene. The buildings themselves also didn't match what would have been seen from that angle, with supposed indented entrances not even showing their roof-lines. It was, again, reaching the time where the finished product was to be finished ready for exhibition. As a placeholder, I used the first draft, which had the full overworld walk and the first two 2D segments. That placeholder was used during testing. Working through the last few days left, it became clear that, despite having the last two 2D segments finished, the animation on them wouldn't be completed. As such, that first draft became the final product.
This one was less a success in terms of what I'd set out to do, but the tutor was right. By continuing what I'd already started with the first animation, there were clear comparisons that could be made.

-By increasing the frame rate, it allowed a smoother flow of movement
-My designing skills stayed roughly the same during the two animations, but the smaller details are more apparent in the second
-Though not apparent in the videos themselves, by planning more thoroughly, it allows for quicker actions to be carried out

Those are just three comparisons. I could list more, but this post isn't about making connections between the video, rather giving a detailed insight as to the process of thought and design.
As this picture shows.

This is one of the original designs for the first animation. Not a single inch of 16-bit graphics within it. I admit that I was drawn more to the cartoon style at first, but I was struggling for a reason to continue with it. It surely looks better, but without purpose, it serves nothing. I was looking for something other than a walk, something to tie it all together. When I arrived at the thought of videogames being a journey, it set off a number of thoughts about how I could continue from that point, not just with that project, but many more in the future. Although, I will admit, unless it serves a purpose, I wouldn't be returning to the 16-bit style in the future, even if the idea of videogames and animation still carries me on.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Star Wars Battlefront - Radical DICE Sparks [Thoughts]

"If they were to add the Clone Wars, it would almost double the work they would have to do and it would have a negative effect on the game."
Regarding this business that DICE are concentrating only on the Galactic Civil War for the new Star Wars Battlefront, this is one of the most comment quotes I have seen. And I cannot possibly imagine why anyone would even say that.
Development for the original Battlefront started in 2002. There's no exact date, but the fact is roughly two years later, on September 2004, the game itself released. We had both Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War. We had numerous maps, and we had numerous vehicles, both land and air, to use in some of them. The game itself ran smooth as anything. The AI were lacking in substance admittedly, but that alone was the only thing wrong with the original Battlefront.
One year later, Battlefront 2 arrived, with slight control fixes, but a massive amount of content and AI fixes. While Battlefront 1 was content with just Conquest, with Battlefront 2 came Capture the Flag, Hunt, Space Assault, and Heroes vs Villains. We had an upgraded Galactic Conquest mode, a proper campaign, and numerous new maps.
Yes, an entire generation of consoles has come and gone between then and now, with a much improved quality in game engines. And some people might even use that as to why DICE are only concentrating on the Galactc Civil War. But unless they have something different, something within the GCW era that'll amaze, the Clone Wars still needs to make itself known.
And if that is indeed the case, here's a plan.

The focus is upon the Galactic Civil War. There are three movies to focus on. The maps they can use include - Tantive IV, Tatooine, Death Star, Yavin IV, Hoth, Bespin, Endor, Dagobah, and possibly use some of the space battles as well. Have a space battle within the asteroid field of the Anoat sector. Create a battle of Endor above space that simplifies matters a bit. But then, and here's the radical part - use Rebels, the TV Series, to add more onto it. Not much is known about Rebels, but DICE have insider access, and the first season will be out and finished by the time Battlefront DICE comes around.
Next game comes around. Two, maybe three more seasons of Rebels will have come around. Episode VII will have been released with Episode VIII on the way or just released. Maybe one of the spin off films will also have been released. Touch upon them, but not massively. The focus this time should be on Episodes I, II, and III, as well as The Clone Wars TV series. Now, now. Not everything from The Clone Wars needs to be featured. We don't really want material from The Clone Wars out-massing all the other material from Star Wars included within it. As much content as the first game managed to get out of Rebels should be an ideal waypoint for the material from The Clone Wars, maybe a bit more.
Third game comes out, and unless the EA contract for Star Wars games gets renewed, this will be the last. The sequel trilogy will now be fully out. Maybe a number of spin off films will also have been released. For the third game, this new content should be the focus. All previous content will still be around, maybe swapped around a bit to keep things fresh. But this fresh wave of content from the sequel trilogy will bolster what Battlefront already had and make it massive and bulging.

Now, as far as I'm aware, DICE have a history of expansions with Battlefield. Having hardly played the series, having not bought a single game [though I'm having fun in the free week of Battlefield 4 EA have given], I've only ever seen the expansions in brief, with no idea of what they hold.
But this seems a common thing for DICE to do. I wouldn't know. Either way, expansions - if handled poorly - could split the fan base on this game. The Clone Wars needs to be featured, even if, for the vanilla game, they are just programmed into the Instant Action mode as an era to choose on the maps. Maybe not all of them, but it would certainly keep the fans who want the Clone Wars to be in the game happy, and an expansion of the Clone Wars with a new campaign, new Galactic Conquest, new maps, and even new weapons and vehicles. The second expansion could then concentrate on The Clone Wars, giving us those characters, weapons, maps, and vehicles only seen in the TV series. The third expansion then gives us Rebels TV series content. Yes, it means paying up more, but from the plan I outlined above, that means two games in one [even if you are still paying for both].

Either way, I'm waiting on Spring 2015 for more news, which is where Battlefront news is now hanging. But when that news does get shown, I hope a lot of progress has been made so we can actually see some of the game modes in action.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Star Wars and the Canonical Issues [Thoughts]

So first off, let me say that I've seen this subject cropping up everywhere Star Wars related, in various forms, and decided I'd offer my thoughts on it.
I've been invested into the Star Wars Expanded Universe for as long as I've been a fan [it was Star Wars Battlefront 2 that got me being a fan in the first place - that has to mean something], and started out with the opening book to the Republic Commando series, and Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. I loved those two books, and collected many more since. But there was a slight hitch. I was only interested in, and have only ever been interested in, the stories set between the films. Anything before The Phantom Menace and after Return of the Jedi I had no interest in. Oh, I kept myself informed of what was happening in those timelines when I came across something I wanted to check or get more informed on, but I never owned any of the media relating to those eras outside of the films.
Either way, I had a fledging list of books that I owned. Every single Republic Commando novel released, I bought as soon as. Books relating to certain events or characters I bought when I could. And eventually I owned all six tie-in novels to the films, which explained a lot better what happened in the films, I felt, than the films themselves [apart from the few inaccuracies in the original trilogy novels, but they are easily overlooked]. As such, I soon regarded the EU more canon than the films.
With the release of The Clone Wars animated series though, I felt the need for a better explanation of the Star Wars continuity and so found the passage on [which has somehow disappeared] relating all the canon sources and how they fit together. This explained all I wanted to know. And it is this list, despite all that Disney has said, that I still hold to today. To a certain extent.
G-Canon only consists of the films, and to a certain extent, the TV series, though that would be more under T-Canon [why they need that level of canon between films and EU is beyond me, but still]. The thing about G-Canon though, is that it can exist on its own, or with extra content. That is what I feel. The Expanded Universe is all well and good, fitting in near perfect with the films [aside from that which is ret-conned by newer things], but the matter exists that the films can exist without it. Now there is the argument that Star Wars wouldn't be as popular without it, but I'm not drawing anywhere near that card. Instead, I'm saying that the films are the basis for numerous versions of the same universe. The original EU was created so nothing would overlap with something else. If it did overlap, it would be put into another strand off the films. The Infinities line exists for this very reason. The LEGO Star Wars series has two strands dedicated to it - one for the games and one for the TV series.
While this explanation won't suit all - after all, the new official canon is effectively putting all of those strands on a lesser road to make way for its own strands - it does help in some way to organise what comes. The strands in the Disney-canon will be very similar to those of the original canon, if the areas of the start for the Disney-canon mean anything. For the comics, they are dealing with the exact same area the original canon is finishing off with. With the books, they are all dealing with the area between Revenge of the Sith and Empire Strikes Back. And, while not much has been said about the books, they seem to be dealing with areas within that time period that have been explored before.
Many people may regard this as the usual 'decide for yourself what is canon and not' argument, but despite the fact that the listing itself has been removed, that Holocron listing is still in effect. Now Legends might not be being added to any more, but despite what Disney say, all of what they call 'non-canon' is still, I think, recognised by the archives at the Holocron. If someone can prove that wrong, I will gladly take it back, but I haven't read, out of all these articles stating all the previous EU has been abolished, a single word from Leland Chee and the Holocron on the matter.
I'm all for the previous EU to still be considered canon as well, but I think, to some eyes within LucasFilm at least, it still is.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

August Blooms [Cyber Digital Services]

I don't think this update will be quite as big as the other two. Reason why is - there just isn't much to be said for this month.
Yes, I've been pretty lax on the animation front as, while I've had a few ideas, nothing concrete has been planned. This month though, I aim to really start getting on with it. There was something within my high school years that I made but the files were lost. I aim to try and recreate that as best as I can. But I won't just be doing that. I still will aim for those smaller side projects too.
In terms of uploads for this month, I expect to get the usual fan-fic part uploads out roughly every two days. This month will be the one where those two animated university works I mentioned last month will be uploaded. And the teaser for the eBook will also be uploaded this month as well. Mario Kart 8 highlight reels will continue to be uploaded as per normal.
And now, I bring on the last point for this month. I will still be keeping CDS Blogs from Weebly open, but there will be no more uploads to be had there. All uploads will be in here, with the main point of the post bracketed in the title. When I get an upload up tomorrow, talking about something I've seen numerous times - and my opinions on it, I think you'll see why that is happening.
I might also change this blog page up a bit as well. But I'll have to see about that one. For now, just keep looking out for new content.