Personal Goals and Schedule

There are a number of skills I would like to work on this year. I already wrote a post about what companies look for in an fx artist, but there are a number of other skills that I wish to work on so that I don’t narrow myself down too much. As well as the already stated effects, lighting and scripting, I wish to work on my rigging and drawing skills. I want to work on rigging as I would still quite like to go into this field, and drawing as I feel my skills have dropped slightly due to the large amount of technical work I have been undertaking. As I have quite a lot to do this year if I want to meet all my goals, I’ve decided to schedule things out.


9-10 – Drawing, Sketching, Concept Practice

10-5 – Research, Reading and Writing

5-7 – Misc work, catch up


9- 10 – Drawing, Sketching, Concept Practice

10 – 5 – Effects Work


9- 10 – Drawing, Sketching, Concept Practice

10-5 – Scripting

5-7 – Misc work, catch up


9 -10 – Drawing, Sketching, Concept Practice

10-3 – Effects Work

3-5 – Class

5-6 – Misc Work, catch up


9- 10 – Drawing, Sketching, Concept Practice

10 – 1- Research, Reading and Writing

1-2 – Lecture

2-5 – Research, Reading and Writing

5-7 – Misc work, catch up


9-5 – Rigging and Portfolio Work


Free! Working everyday is a sure way to end up burning out…


Aesthetics, Feel and Traditional Art Principles in Relation to Video Game Design

One of the aims I laid out in my last post was to look into how feel is expressed though game aesthetics. This links very nicely into examples of how this can be driven by traditional art principles and practices. This is a combination of some of last week’s research and some things I have found out today so this could be a long post!

How Does Emotion Work in Video Games?

Grant Tavinor, a games theorist, proposes that emotion in games is very important.

“The role of emotion in the arts has long been known and theorized about, and indeed this emotional involvement is one of the principle reasons why the arts hold the important place in our lives…our emotions connect us to the fictional worlds presented in artworks.”

These emotions can be split into two distinct categories: Higher Cognition Emotions, and Automatic Appraisal Mechanisms. At a base level, higher cognition emotions are an imagined emotional reaction to an event taking place in an imaginary world that the player puts themselves in, whereas automatic appraisal mechanisms are real gut reactions to what the game is doing to the player as a real person.

Notable examples would be:

HCE – Final Fantasy 7 – Sadness and mourning at Aeris’ death, then heightening the final boss battle as you take revenge on Sephiroth.


AAM – Frustration at multiple deaths in Dark Souls leading to a heightened boss battle as you take revenge on the game itself.


AAM emotions can be created by effects fairly easily. An example noted by Tavinor was System Shock 2.

“things have a habit of exploding when approached, startling the player…all I could do was panic…overwhelming feelings are those of fear and apprehension”


“In this case it is not the fictive content that drives the response, but the sheer visual and acoustic unexpectedness that the prop creates. ”

The sudden explosion gives the player a real world shock, as it is unexpected. They might jump out of their seat when playing. On the other hand, HCE emotions are created by the player imagining that they are a part of the game world, being immersed in the experience, and interacting with objects in the world as if they are real.

“Video games involve us, guided by digital props…the perceptual properties of these props and our make believes about what is fictional are emotionally affecting.”

“emotion arises quite naturally out of an imagined engagement in a hypothetical scenario because of the naturalness of the connection between imagination and emotion.”

These props could be any part of the game – the idea is the belief in them, not what they do. This could be a good way to bring fx into the emotional landscape of a game. These fx would have to somehow tie into emotional symbols that represent what the player should be feeling. (More on that later in the post…)

Jenova Chen, designer of Flow, Flower and Journey, feels that there are not enough games that explore the HCE type of emotions on the market.

” We realized that there are actually a whole spectrum of feeling that games are capable of creating, but not a lot of them are on the market…we want to be a company to extend the depth and width of the emotional spectrum that games can communicate.”


The games that are most readily available tend to explore the more reactive, AAM type emotions.

“Right now there are a lot of action games, there are a lot of horror games, sports games…but where are the dramas? Where are the documentaries? The romance?”

I discussed Journey earlier, talking about how the sea like shifting sands make the player feel small. This is exactly what they were going for – to “feel small and to wonder”. This is a lot more abstract that the shock of an explosion. These sorts of feelings are created in Journey though shape, composition and colour, which I will discuss later.

Game Aesthetics

When referring to game design, aesthetics encompasses a number of different aspects of the game that are more abstract than the mechanics or the emergent gameplay that arises from these mechanics. This is a part of the MDA or Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics approach. In order to promote emotion in games, Robin Hunicke, producer on Journey, uses the formula backwards, starting with aesthetics.

“Think of the aesthetics first…think of the feelings you want to bring to players. I believe that if you start with the aesthetics and move backwards towards the mechanics though the dynamics, you can create successful games.”


Visual art is a large part of a game’s aesthetic, so perhaps when designing these an emotion should be used as a frame of reference.

“Visuals are one of the elements that are very useful to help communicate an arc of emotion.”

Traditional Art Principles

“Video games rely on the same design principals – perspective, form, value etc – which classical artists employed to create the illusion that the television or canvas is a window to an imagined world. These design techniques also serve a second purple equally applicable to games design, which is their aesthetic value, and application in visual narratives.”

Classic art relied heavily on visual psychology to create meaning within their works that everyone could share. This was especially true within religious painting.

Shape and Composition

Shape association plays a huge part in our understanding and perception of visual arts.

“because reality is so visually complex, professional artists conceptually reduce objects to simple lines, shapes and volumes, to simply the task of rendering reality.”

General associations are normally:

Circle – Innocence, Youth, Energy and Femininity

Square – Maturity, Stability, Balance, Stubbornness

Triangle – Aggression, Masculinity, Force


These come about as reactions to our environment and lessons learned as babies that explore the world though touch. A pyramid’s sharp corners suggest that touching it would hurt, the cube does not move when tipped and the circle will move and will not hurt us.

These shapes can be simplified further, brought down to curved, straight and angular lines. These lines are often seen in design and can quickly communicate the purpose or message of a product or brand.


Curved lines are safe and dynamic, straight lines are sophisticated and stable and angular lines are edgy and violent. These associations can be seen in the brands, designs and products that they are used in. This “shape spectrum of emotion” can be used to evaluate and understand artwork as it is a “timeless feature of art”, this then helps us “find relationships between seemingly disparate artworks and better understand the aesthetics of video games.”

An example of this in classical composition would be Diana and Her Companions by Vermeer, in contrast with Massacare of the Innocents by Rubens.


Diana is calm, showing a soft continuous motion. This is created though the use of a circular composition.


Massacre is violent, turbulent, full of energy, created though an angular and sharp composition. This fits well with the shocking, violent theme of the piece.

“the type of composition an artist designs…should reinforce the emotional message of the artwork”

Solarski asks his reader to imagine the composition styles swapped – it really would ruin the messages of each piece.

This idea can also be applied to non-representation artwork, which is useful to note as effects animation aligns more with the abstract.


When talking about Black and Violet, Kandinsky said that the “content of a work of art finds its expression in the composition…in the sum of the tensions inwardly organised for the work”.

“throughout history, basic shapes and composition have been a primary artistic tool used to organize a work of art and shape the aesthetic quality of the images.”

Solasrski talks about how these shapes relate to level layout and character design, but those topics are starting to stray a bit too far from my project aim. I was interested however, in how shapes can integrate a prop into an environment and how arcs in animation can compliment the mood of a game.

He compared the jumping animation in Journey to the composition of Diana and Her Companions, noting the smooth and soft arc of the animation. This could be taken further by animations changing based on the mood of the game event.

“Video games being such a dynamics medium, there’s no reason why we can’t design experiences that take advantage of the whole range of possible animations to communicate more complex narratives.”

This was focused on character animation, but I think it could actually be better applied to effects, as they are more likely to be bespoke for different parts of a game.


An example of this could be a game similar to Journey, that has temples and religion as part of the plot. If you were a circle person, in the circle temple you might see torches where the fire is soft, containing circle motifs. This would suggest that this is a light to guide you. In the triangle temple however, the torches would contain angular fire, fire that is jagged and contains triangle motifs. This would suggest danger, would make you feel like the fire could burn you, or lead you into danger.

To integrate an environment, characters and props together, they must share the same shapes. Echoing the motif creates a sense of harmony and belonging, where as contrasting them creates dissonance.


A circular character in a triangular environment will make the character seem threatened, whereas a triangular character in a circular environment will make the character seem threatening. This can be seen in both film and games, as in the Lord of the Rings films, the hobbit’s appearance and home contain circular motifs and are generally soft and round, whereas Mordor and Sauron share angular lines and triangular motifs.


In Super Mario Galaxy, the player must control circular Mario and rid his circular world of triangular enemies.


Solarski created a game called MORF to demonstrate this principle. It aims to explore the emotional links between character and environment shapes. Generally players “bumped their way around the round level without concern” but “spent an inordinate amount of time carefully avoiding sharp objects” in the angular level.


I had a similar experience when playing. I kept trying to go near the round red blobs, as I associated them with the character I was playing with. These actually bounce you back and should be avoided. When they were spikes however, I avoided them. I wonder how this could be applied to a first person game where you never see the character – where would the shapes come from? How could the familiar vs the unfamiliar be played on to create certain feelings?

Symbolism (or Iconography)

Symbolic association is a more sophisticated version of shape association, in that we as viewers or players associate certain objects, motifs or sounds to characters, feelings or events. (It is simpler to refer to this as iconography, as symbolism also refers to an artistic movement.) David Freeman discusses this in his Creating Emotion In Games, with regard to Ico.


“the boy you play obtains a magical sword that crackles with a kind of spiritual electricity. This is a symbol of the boy’s condition or change in condition. It symbolizes that he’s attained a new level of power. The demonic creatures that used to attach him now flee him and the sword. And it also symbolises that he now belongs with the girl, for the spiritual energy the sword exudes looks exactly like the mystical energy that the girl can wield when she needs to, and that has the same magical abilities. So the sword symbolises two conditions: the boy’s attainment of power and his attunement to the girl’s soul. Because the boy uses the sword to accomplish his final tasks, this is a usable symbol, serving double duty: working to deepen the emotion experience but also playing a role in the gameplay.”

images (1)

Its really interesting to see an effects example. Iconography uses both shape and colour to create recognizable designs. In Ico’s case, the magical symbols and the light, semi transparent colour. I will admit that I did not actually enjoy Ico that much when I played it, and there are plenty of games that do the artistic angle better in my opinion, but I understand Freeman’s ideas.


Icons are incredibly common in traditional art, especially in religious or purposefully symbolic works. An example of a purposefully symbolic work would be a vanitas painting. I wrote about these for our Digital Media Context module in second year, comparing the painting to forms of interactive media.

Each object in one of these paintings is imbued with religious or symbolic significance, overt to the viewer of the time through the use of emblem books. These books contained symbolic pictures with accompanying text that explained their meaning and significance and were very popular in the 16th-18th centuries. They also, along with the vanitas paintings themselves, promoted a particular life ethic. A well-known scholar of art history states that emblem books,
“…together with other forms of popular literature and prints, encompassed the prevailing ethic in words and pictures. The stern Calvinist sensibility is exemplified by such homilies as “A fool and his money are soon parted” [Janson, 1997]
This shows that vanitas painters clearly attempted to promote an ideal to their viewers, and though requiring these viewers to read emblem books, encouraged them to actively find these meanings by interacting with the piece. This is very similar to modern forms of interaction, particularly video games, as players must progress though the game in order to
learn the story.


Colours were used in Journey to help communicate to the player which stage of life and the hero’s journey they were currently experiencing. These feelings can also be seen though colour in traditional paintings. JMW Turner uses colour in his expressionist works to promote feelings and the idea of landscapes, without being too representational. Olifur Elison did a project based on Turner’s works, where he extracted the colours. I saw this at whilst in London and though this was a really accessible entry point to Turner’s palettes.

Peaceful and Calm, Safe, Early Years/Just Setting Out – Yellow, Overcast, Low Contrast.

(c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation



Same Desert but More Exiting, Experimenting, Wonder, Risks – Same Yellow but More Contrast, Dramatic Lighting




Lost, Cold, Unsure – Cool Colours, Blues, Greens, Underwater Feel – Far from Home

Seascape with a Squall Coming Up circa 1803-4 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851



Lifeless, No Energy – White, Drained, Low Contrast (Colours in Journey and Turner don’t match here, but do have similar moods)




Freedom, Liberation – Sky Blues, Streams, High Contrast Again – Similar palette between dark and light moods but saturation level changes it.




Most of the games and paintings cited here were the examples used by the writers of the books and articles I got the information from, going forward, I would like to investigate these principals in the pieces that I use for inspiration in my own work.


The Art of Video Games – Grant Tavinor

Various Turner Paintings

History of Art – Janson

Meeting With Lynn and Next Steps

This is a bit of a late entry, since I am just back from Eurogamer, but last week I had a meeting with Lynn to discuss where I am at with my ideas and if I am on the right track. I was concerned about weather or not I should be doing practical work, the contents of my blog and where I should go next with research. The good news is that last week I was much more on track than I thought I was! I was given a lot of useful advice on where to go next and some ideas I can explore.

When I was in London, I got a lot of really useful advice and inspiration from Tate Britain, The National Galleries, games in the Leftfield Collection and from some professionals that I spoke to.

After the meeting and my week away, I decided that my next steps are:


– Look at trends concerning aesthetics in games, particularly those where traditional art influences are involved.

– Look at reviews and consumer reception for art games and non-games.

– Conduct interviews with practitioners in the field of games fx and art games.

– Research feel in games and how aesthetics ties into this.


– Find out how the lack of effects in games changes the feel by photoshopping out effects from games that use them prominently.

– Design effects for a game that currently lacks effects.

– Define my skills gaps and work on these.

– Pick out shapes, motifs and colours from traditional and contemporary art pieces and investigate how these can be worked into effects that are normally seen as generic. (e.g – how could a muzzle flash be made more interesting by using shapes from David Bomberg’s Mud Bath?)

– Start studying python properly and see how scripting can be used to support the fx pipeline

Art Nouveau and Video Games

Right now this is just an idea that popped into my head, nothing researched or substantial, but I wanted to write it down in my blog so that I wouldn’t forget about it.

I wrote on my jellyfish map – “how can we use art movments in game art?” – but I thought of this as an environment art thing and left it alone. It could be really useful in fx though. Pattern and motif from traditional art could be used in very interesting ways.

A comparison I made this morning was between art nouveau and ribbon trails. The ribbon trails often seen in games to denote power ups or goals are comparable to the flowing, plant inspired shapes in art nouveau pieces. The colour schemes between these two are similar as well.


The Japonism seen in art neuavou works can also be seen in games. Here, Charles Fredrich Worth’s textile piece, influenced by the reopening of Japan in 1854, contains the same simplified cloud motif as the Wind Waker, though as it is a Japanese game, it is likely that it is directly influenced by Sumio-e.


This reminds me of the breakdown of shapes in the environments for Disney’s Cinderella, but I can’t seem to find any images of it online. I know it’s in the Art of Tangled, so once I get my hands on that I can write about it.



Wind Waker
Charles Fredrick Worth

Textures and Stylisation

As an experiment into stylisation, I decided to take the fire effect I made earlier and change the textures to see how this would change the look and feel of the effect. It also gave me the chance to create my own subUV texture.

I started off by taking the smoke Pmask and the fire subUV and applying photoshop filters to them. I wanted to test how much it would change before I spent time on creating textures.


One had a crystalise texture, to give a low poly look, and the other had a mezzotint to make it appear like something seen in an 8-bit game. While looking for a picture of an 8-bit fireball to post here as comparison, I realised that a lot of older games actually had really nice fx, as the had to work within a small budget, so they used stylisation to make the most of what they had. There are different concerns between 2D and 3D fx of course, but it is still very interesting.

This then lead me to the New Super Marios Bros games. I will admit that Mario has never really appealed to me and therefore I had never seen the fx in this game. They are really nice. The way that the roundness of the fx matches the roundness of the shapes in the world really brings it all together.

I’ve really gone off on a tangent here – will need to do some proper research into these games later! Back to my stylised effects.

2 3 4

Without changing anything but the textures, I managed to make some effects that looked quite different from one another. The simplified style and limited colours of the 8-bit fire were symbolic of fire but not representative of it, whist the crystalised texture’s shape and colours, while different, were closer to the photograph and therefore looked more real.

With this proving that changing the textures could have an impact on their own, I decided to create my own subUV texture. I made it in the classical style of Joseph Gilland, first doing studies out of Elemental Magic, a book I used a lot for my scripting and dynamics coursework last year. This looked at the motion of fire.


I took the original photo texture and traced over the shapes, simplifying them in the process. I’m not sure about the ethics of this – is it like using a photo texture or is it stealing? This is something I will need to find out about. I used a tutorial to help me create the light glow effects, as when I was first doing this things looked very flat and boring. It turned out the trick to this was gradients and outer glow (normally things I would avoid!!)


I was also inspired by the fire in kung fu panda for this, though my fire has less sharp edges. I think film is a really good place to look for inspiration, as it tends to have more outside influence than games. Of course, I should be looking at this outside influence myself.

I had to make a few small tweaks to the smoke material, because with the simplified shapes the alpha wasn’t coming though too well, but beyond that I managed to create something completely different using the same set up in unreal.


This is a comparison between the realistic, 8-bit style and classic style effects. The major differences between the three are the use of colour and shape. The more simple these elements, the more abstract.


Video will be posted as soon as my internet stops being unreliable!


Joseph Gilland – Elemental Magic

Kung Fu Panda – Dreamworks

Digital tutors into to cascade tutorial – project files

Chaos Engine

Super Mario Bros 3

New Super Mario Bros Wii

Second Tutorial Session

The second tutorial session we had to do focused on “The Jellyfish of Questions” which was designed to help identify areas of interest and to help define a research question.


I started with some questions that had been floating around my head. I then grouped them into different areas.These were:


How can a game world be brought to life?

Flower, Bioshock, Journey, Tomb Raider 2013

Can environments have a story?

Can FX support this?

How can fx aid atmosphere and tone?


How does fx lead the player/affect game play decisions?

How are abstract concepts represented in game art?


How do traditional art skills feed into fx creation?

Colour theory, Style, Motifs, lighting, Composition

Can fx be related to art movements?

How does stylisation of fx create a more concise art style?

Replaceing intrusive UI, maps, etc

Do I need to look at real life? – Journey ocean vs realistic tomb raider

How are animation principles applied to fx?


How do lighting and particles interact?

How can scripting support fx?

Which language? – Python, LUA, MAXScript, MEL?

How can I learn about optimisation for various platforms?

Mobile, PC, Consoles

I then took these down to important themes, and defined activities I could do to help answer the questions.


– Study Traditional Techniques

– Study Animation Principles

– Apply this knowledge to fx


– Study lighting and colour relating to tone and atmosphere

– Apply knowledge to fx

– Create small test environments to put fx in

Practical Work – Fire Tutorial

After looking at the fire levels in Tomb Raider, I thought fire in unreal 4 would be a good place to start with my practical work. I’d like to have a showreel of the most common fx needed as quickly as possible. I used a digital tutors tutorial, along with the Unreal 4 documentation to make this. Smoke Material The first task I did was create the material for the smoke. Generally, materials drive the look of an effect, whereas the cascade particle system drives its behavior. I created what is known as a PMask, a .tga texture that uses different images on the red, green and blue channels. I used masking and the cloud rendering filter to create this, as I was going for a realistic look. Textures

The material set up for the primary smoke involved panning two versions of the blue channel over the top of each other, one appearing smaller due to altered texture coordinates. Each variant of the texture was multiplied by a constant number so that one would have greater contrast and therefore stand out more. 5

The secondary smoke was very similar, it was a copy of the first one, but smaller and with less contrast. This makes the smoke look more varied and appear more random. 6

The wisps were multiplied by very small numbers to make them barley visible, and then stretched in V whilst panning to give a ripple type effect.


To combine these elements, I multiplied the primary and secondary smoke, and added the wisps to it. I then interpolated this with a constant (to quickly change intensity if needed) and the opacity set up. The opacity is where the red and green channels come into use. I multiplied them together, then added this to the alpha in the lerp. This created a soft radial gradient with a smoke texture.


Too add more realism to the material, I added depth fading and camera-based depth fading. What this means is that when the camera passes though the smoke it will not pop in and out of the view but fade based on position of the camera. It will also fade out when intersecting with objects. I used the UE4 documentation for this, as the tutorial was for UDK, and the methods are slightly different. I connected a SphereMask to a constant (set to 0 to make the material fully transparent)  and the PixelDepth. The sphere mask draws a sphere around the object, and will mask out when the player is not inside it. As this means that the material is only viewable within the SphereMask, I added a OneMinus to invert it.


The depth fade for intersecting is a lot easier – just one node!


To finish it all off I multiplied the camera based depth fade with depth fade and the alpha of vertex colour (later switched to particle colour to give more control in cascade) which was hooked into the opacity of the material. I then multiplied the smoke with the rgb of vertex colour and then with a constant for quick changes. This was hooked into the emissive colour. The material is an additive type, so this allows it to blend with its surroundings as if using an add function, which is really nice for the nature of smoke.


This is the finished material – it can be seen how important materials are for fx creation here as it looks like smoke already! 14

Smoke Particle Emitters 16

I added some basic values for initial velocity, size, etc, and moved into the curve editor for colour and size over life. This was the first time I have used curves for animation so it was very interesting. I gave the smoke a brown base colour, moving into a white at the top.


I also had it fade out near the top to give the idea that it was rising and dissipating into the air. After that, I made it emit from a cylinder location to give it a  better shape at the bottom, and added rotation and orbit modules to give a free flowing, turbulent look.


I then added a second emitter, a duplicate of the first, which I could modify to become the inner smoke.


The size of these particles was bigger, the emitter was moved to the center of the effect and the velocity, rotation and orbit were taken down, to create a more dense patch of smoke in the middle.


Fire and Ember Particle Emitters

The fire material was created using a subUV (spritesheet) texture from digital tutors. It went though the stages of a flame from its small start to its big middle to its small death. I used a power and multiplied and added it to itself and various constants to get a glow on the typically brightest parts of a fire.


I got rid of the PSA square mode and added a subUV module, so that cascade would recognise the texture type. By letting it know that this is an 8×8 grid, cascade was able to find each image.


This did not need quite as much tweaking as the smoke texture. I used the size by life to start off large and die out small at the end, as a fire does. I also added a rotation rate and orbit to again add some randomness and turbulence to the effect to make it seem more natural.


After this I added the sparks and heat distortion. I used unreal’s default shaders for both of these – I would like to make my own at some point. The sparks were emitted from a cylinder larger than the fire and moved up so that they appeared to be coming from the trail end of the fire. They were given a small orbit.

29 30

The heat distortion effect was largely the same as the sparks, but started lower down. This had to move with the fire in order to give the impression that the heat from the fire is distorting the player’s view of the world.



To make sure that the effect ran smoothly, I used a couple of optimisation techniques. The first was LODs. I set two levels of detail, one being the original effect, when the player is within 1024 unreal units of the effect, and the other being a less intensive version for when they are further away. This was a copy of the original effect, but every emitter has its rate cut in two to lessen the number of particles that the system has to deal with.


The second technique was the bounding. This is generated automatically to keep the particles within a certain boundary. As you can see below, the box was far far too big, so I took this down. Particles outside of it will be killed, again reducing the number that will be drawn.

34 35


This is the final effect. I’m happy with it but if I want to be a professional in this field I need to critique my work heavily so I can get to a good level. I think that the smoke would make a lovely steam effect, but that’s not what I was trying to do!!! It needs to be more opaque, have stronger contrast with areas of white coming though more and have more turbulent, less wispy movement. The embers need to come though more, as they look good up close but can barley be seen from further away. This could be achieved by making them bigger or pushing up the rgb values in the material to make them very emissive.

Next Steps

Look at how this can be integrated into an environment or how changing its style can be achieved, depending on where I want to go with the project. Could possibly do both to help me figure out my direction. I want to learn about creating my own subUV textures, and more about matinee since I had so much trouble getting a decent recording of it. I would like to create my own spark and heat distortion materials. I could possibly compare this with the low poly fire I made for Seek, thinking about how each work within their respective styles.