Feature

So... You Want to Make Video Games? Part 5: Assets

Finding all the pieces that your new game is made of

So... You Want to Make Video Games? Part 5: Assets

During our exclusive serialisation of the ebook, So... You Want to Make Video Games?, game designer Nick Pendriis has given us the lowdown on a variety of topics to help experienced creatives and newcomers alike to get started on a brand new game.

In this chapter we're taking a look the individual items that make up the building blocks of a game, its assets. This includes graphics, sounds and any story or text you might need to bring your concept to life.

Check out the earlier sections if you haven't already, and the list below shows you what's left to come in our exclusive serialisatoni of So... You Want to Make Video Games?:

  1. CONCEPT: Find a strong idea.
  2. DESIGN: Make test versions and create a blueprint.
  3. PLAN: Organise the project carefully.
  4. BUILD: Create the computer code.
  5. ASSETS: Create visuals, audio and words.
  6. TEST, FIX & PUBLISH: Look for problems, resolve them, release the game to the public.
  7. PROMOTE and SUPPORT: Announce the game and respond to feedback.

Here's Nick Pendriis to give you a bit more about what's in phase five.


Of course, there’s more to a game than just lines of code. There are visuals, sound effects, music and text. The other stuff. These additional contents are called “assets”.

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

- Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist.

A player doesn’t see the program code, or even know what it’s doing. It’s invisible. The player only interacts with the assets. That’s how a player experiences the game world, through their real senses. To players, assets make up the entire game and directly allow their imaginations to roam within it. Assets are just as important as the hidden code that controls them.

We can boil the assets down into three broad categories: visuals, audio and words. They are created in tandem with the code.


Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Visuals

    Games require an awful lot of artwork. This comes in two general flavours, 2D and 3D. Of course, a display screen is completely flat, therefore two dimensional. It’s not a cube, like a digital fish tank with objects floating around inside it.

    All images on a screen are technically 2D and just give the illusion of depth. When referring to 2D and 3D computer graphics, the terms describe the way in which the images are actually constructed.

    An artist uses any available medium to create.

    Two dimensional artwork

    2D artists work on flat images, like traditional artists working on paper or canvas. They are responsible for creating concept sketches, interface elements and various other graphics and textures.

    There are two sub-varieties of 2D art, bitmap and vector.

    Bitmap images

    A computer screen is a grid, made from millions of tiny squares called “pixels” (short for “picture elements”).

    These square elements can be “off” (dark) or “on” (light). Each pixel has three coloured light cells in it, one red, one green and one blue. By varying the electrical charge to these lights, different colours can be produced. A bitmap is an exact map of those pixel colours.

    The size or “resolution” of these maps is their main weakness. A bitmap stores information about every single pixel in the imageand is created to be a specific size. Not only does this consume a lot of space but worse, stretching the map to different sizes causes blurring and corruption to the image. Bitmap graphics are not easy to change or update.

    Vector graphics

    Instead of mapping every pixel for the whole image, vector graphics store the information required to drawthe shapes. For instance, a circle is a centre point, a radius size and a colour.

    Example of 2D bitmap image.

    That’s just three pieces of information. The computer then draws smooth shapes using this information, which makes vector images extremely economical but the computer needs to perform more calculations to draw them. The results, however, are smooth lines on any size of screen. They offer much more flexibility and can be reused easily. This is extremely valuable when it comes to updating an old game for a new screen size.

    Example of 2D vector image, using Inkscape.

    Three dimensional artwork

    With 3D graphics, the computer uses mathematics to simulate three dimensional space, rather than displaying “flat” images directly on the screen.

    3D artists are modern sculptors, creating models in this simulated space, which can be anything from characters, weaponry andvehicles to landscapes, buildings and even galaxies.

    3D model construction.

  • 2 Animation

    There are also animators, who make the models move. This is painstaking work and without it, games would be weird and clunky. Just like the good old days!

    Nowadays it’s common to use motion capture data in games, where real life movement is recorded as data and applied to computer models, to make them move in a realistic way. It’s not always necessary to create your own motion capture data, as there are stockists on the web with movements for sale.

    Poser

    For aspiring digital artists, Poser is an excellent learning tool. Although it’s not free,I recommend playing with it if you can. As the name implies, it provides users with a virtual stage, onto which they can place various ready-made 3D models and pose them freely. This is really helpful for understanding how 3D models work, without learning the complexities of a program like Blender, Maya or 3DS Max. Poser allows for some fairly advanced model customisation.

    Rwby is an animated series with an anime style, created using Poser.

    Tools of choice

    Paid:

    Free

    "Keep it simple, polish the hell out of it – advice I still try to follow myself."

    - Andy Gibson, video game artist and founder, Team Pesky.

  • 3 Audio

    For many years, sound was often added to games as an afterthought at the end of a project, with little time or money being spent on it. A few spot sounds and a noodling piece of chip music was enough.

    During the early nineteen-eighties, Japanese composers like Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros.) and Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) led the way in creating iconic, memorable and stirring theme tunes for games. Early pioneers appeared in the West too, including Rob Hubbard, Jeroen Tel and Martin Galway. Among hard-core players, these guys and their contemporaries were all heroes and they composed music for a prodigious number of games.

    Now sound is seen as a far more integral part of gaming, with increased audio budgets and the use of licensed music from big name artists being perfectly normal.

    The audio elements in games fall into four categories:

    Atmosphere

    Background sound and ambience. This ranges from the shrill whistle of a mountain wind, constant urban noise in a city or a steady spatter of raindrops, to the clamouring chorus of alien frogs on a hostile swamp planet.

    Sound effects

    The noises triggered by game events. Often referred to as “SFX”.Sound designers need to understand the use of multi-speaker and surround sound environments.

    Dialogue

    Spoken lines by voice actors. Some actors have become synonymous with the characters they play, like Charles Martinet, who plays the voice of Mario.

    Music

    The musical score or background track.Sometimes known as “BGM” (BackGroundMusic).Video game musicians need to be adaptable and well-versed in music theory and composition, in a variety of styles.

    Many games make interesting use of audio. Some allow players to perform or create music, while others have “generative music”, which the game composes during play.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generative_music

    Tools of choice

    Paid:

    Free:

    Paul Weir’s audio work can be found in titles such as Discworld Noir,Thief, Deus Ex: The Fall, Lego Harry Potterand Lego Batman.

    "If there's one suggestion I'd give to composers wanting to work in games, it's to find a balance between sounding distinctive and composing with character, whilst at the same time (almost paradoxically) being able to compose in a wide range of styles.

    "Don't be bland. You're never going to be able to please everyone all of the time and that's a good thing."

    - Paul Weir, composer and sound designer.

  • 4 Words

    Only a few decades ago, all games were made entirely out of text. There were no graphics. Games like Hunt the Wumpus (1972) and Colossal Cave Adventure (1976) were the very first interactive adventure games, in which players typed their commands using the keyboard.

    Gaming has changed since then but every game still needs text in it somewhere. For your first small game, you may not have much in the way of story or text. Maybe “Tap to start”, “Lives”, “Score” and “Game over” are enough. Maybe the story is obvious immediately and doesn’t require scrolling text and a well-known actor’s voice.

    However, there comes a time when writing is necessary. On closer inspection, there’s more text in a game than you might first realise. It falls into various categories, including:

    • Plot and Narrative.
    • Character dialogue.
    • Interface and instructions.

  • 5 Interaction

    Writing for books, movies, comics and television is a skill in itself but when writing for games, there’s an added complication: player interaction. The story is not simply linear, remaining the same from start to finish, every time it’s played. In games, the player is in direct control and decides what happens at any given moment.

    The game camera follows the player and every single one of the player’s actions tells the story. The plot changes based on choices and actions. So game writing requires extra thought.

    When creating an overall plot, a main story arc and individual episodes, the writer must give lots of room for player choice. How does the narrative change with player interaction? What steps are needed to keep the plot coherent, regardless of the player’s choices? A “plot tree” or “story tree” is needed, with branches forking off for each point where the plot can change.

    Equally, dialogue must be scripted to fit each player’s own version of the story. Game characters cannot refer to events that never happened, at least for the current player.

    Example:

    The player is given a choice of routes, between trekking over a mountain and traversing a marshy river valley. This player chooses to travel by river. Finally they arrive at a settlement and a character walks up and starts talking.

    “Welcome traveller. You must be exhausted after climbing over that mountain! It’s much easier travelling by river!”

    Now the player is confused and the story is broken. Clearly that’s something the writer missed or failed to take into account.

    A game must always seem like a smooth, fluid experience, no matter which course the player takes through it.

    Fortunately, there is software available that helps to keep track of such convoluted scripts.


  • 6 Translation vs. localisation

    Games are global, played in most countries around the world, by all manner of different people, each speaking their own language.

    If you want to sell your game to the world market, no matter how many words appear in a game, they all need to be translated and feel like they’ve been written by a professional native speaker. If the text and dialogue read naturally, players are more engaged with the game.

    There are a number of free, automatic translation services online, of varying quality, but it’s important to have a human translator. Although translation websites are useful and clever, they don’t provide a natural result. Sometimes they just come up with gibberish or severely mangled results. No professional would use these results in a game.

    Thankfully, there are lots of human-based translation companies on the web but they do charge for their services. Of course! A bi-lingual human will personally translate the game text. They may also highlight cultural differences that may cause problems. Which is where translation ends and “localisation” begins.

    “Localising” a game is far more than translating the words. It means looking at each culture and adapting the game for them. Some themes are fine in one country but upsetting for a different country. People who are upset won’t buy the games that offend them. It’s very good business sense to care about customers.

    Tools of choice

    Paid:

    Free:

    Once the code is functioning and the game contains text, visuals and audio, it’s almost done. At this point it needs careful checking for any problems or mistakes. The next section explains quality assurance.

    Next: Phase Six - Test & Fix


Yes. Spanner's his real name. And, yes, he's heard that joke before.

Comments

No comments
View options
  • Order by latest to oldest
  • Order by oldest to latest
  • Show all replies