New Game Trailer: Introducing the Templar

I’ve been very sick lately – in a couple of bouts.

I got very ill a while ago and after coming out of it had a number of pressing deadlines to catch up on – including the trailer below for Titirangi’s Grinding Gear Games. I then got sick again and am just on the road to recovery now – hence the drop-off in online upkeep…

Anyway, here it is, the trailer introducing the new Templar class to Grinding’s Online Action RPG Path of Exile. We’re happy with it and the fan reaction on the forums seems to be pretty good so far too!

More news and views coming soon!

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Abundance Mentality talk at MDS Part I

A little while back Frances Valintine, the CEO of Media Design School, asked me to speak at the Soul Food II evening which was ultimately held last night.

Soul Food evenings at Media Design School are social events featuring prominent speakers in the area of Maori and Pacific Design.

This event is an informal gathering of people interested in finding out more on up-and-coming contemporary designers, design influences and opportunities to bring Maori and Pacific art and design to a global audience. The Soul Food speakers for June are Nathan Suniula, Janet Lilo and Damien Caine.

I couldn’t stay as long as I wanted to thanks to urgent work at hand (which means I missed the valuable networking aspect – please contact me below if you were there and want to chat!) but it was easy to see the value of this excellent event and I had a great time there. Definitely planning to head along to the next one just to check things out if possible!

Amongst other things I showed our Danger Balls Trailer as an example of collaboration and the abundance mentality at work (more to come in Part II about the abundance mentality). This game was made with the support of Mukpuddy Animation (specifically Tim Evans for the art, Ryan Cooper for the voices, Alex for encouraging words : ) and Thinkt Studios (Damian and Josh for the sound fx)!:

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Thanks also to Wojciech Kilar for the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” and Ill Bill & Max Cavalera for War is my Destiny!


Catchup Post

Wow it’s been a week since I last posted…

I’ve been busy with planning a new music video amongst other things. This music video project has an interesting angle that convinced me to take it on; I’ve had a number of meetings from development to pre-production with the Producer, Richard Glover, and I’m pretty excited about the potential for it. If things go well we’ll be filming the biggest crowd for a hip hop video that I’ve had a chance to be involved in so that should be a spot of fun… We’re looking at shooting the video in early July with final release in early August.

I’ve also been working on the constitution for the next iteration of the PlayMaker Game Developers Association. We’re looking to establish the Association and take things to the next level with the support of other members of the wider community. We’re very lucky that David McLaughlin has provided great legal advice, support and input from day one and at this week’s Auckland Game Works Meetup he’ll be speaking and answering any issues raised by the community as we nail down the final details around the structure of the Association. There’s some more exciting news about this but I can’t say much til it happens!

I collaborated with Director Ashley Pitman on the last video I edited for The Hypnotics and after our final edit session we stayed up into the wee hours watching our favourite music videos and comparing notes. Ashley’s got a great eye and has been Facebooking me a bunch of video links that I aim to post over the next while with some thoughts. For now, I found this video and shared it with Ashley recently – it was shot on a 7D, a great little camera, and we both loved the ‘story’ and rich green colour.



Hypocrite Central

I saw our music video on the news again tonight – usually a cause for celebration but the circumstances weren’t so great.

Plenty can be said about the wrongs of celebrities but what I find most frustrating is the self-righteousness of the public. Celebrities do the same things the rest of us do – some more so than others, of course, but they’re imperfect beings like every single one of us. Acknowledging that doesn’t justify what they do, and certainly, some “flaws” may be considered less socially acceptable than others, but we seem to think that celebs should be possessed of some superhuman capacity for perfection.

Where does the sense of self-righteousness come from? Morality as society has known it came originally from simple words of wisdom like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and yet from the same book we discover what I find to be a compelling truth – that there are no degrees of “wrong” – there’s right and there’s wrong. I can hear the accusations of fundamentalism already but my make-up isn’t baked that way. I just agree with the sentiment of letting “him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

This reflection was brought about when I saw the aforementioned article and recalled a Facebook post from a few years back where some woman had been caught molesting children in a daycare – a horrible crime, but what scared me at the time was the mass of comments from Facebookers saying things like: “she should be tied to a chair and beaten and left to burn. I’ll light the match” and, “if you see this woman in the street spit in her face and pull her hair out”. Things to that effect. What further shocked me was the varying demographics of the virtual lynch mob – an elderly woman had left some equally vicious comments.

What a bunch of perfect, self-righteous hypocrites we are!

Warning: black comedy (with a sarcastically valid message) alert – if you’re sensitive, do not watch

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Additional: a friend pointed out that I should probably explain the context of the embedded video to avoid any misinterpretation. My reading of the video is that it’s a sarcastic comment intending the opposite message than that stated at the end of the video i.e. there is no excuse. I thought the patent absurdity of the situation was made clear (that level of reaction to… that?) If you’ve seen much in the way of scottish and irish humour you’d likely be used to its sometimes dark nature. I included the video in case someone reading this post thought I condoned or excused domestic violence in associates or friends. I do not. I just don’t think I have any right to judge them.

Can’t Control myself…

One thing I find annoying of late is the misuse of traditional “joystick” type controls in iOS games – that is, a less-than-ideal implementation of the virtual joystick on the left side of the screen with buttons on the right – or any variation thereof. NB: After posting the first draft of this article I had to repost to acknowledge games I’ve played where the virtual joystick did work ok – that’s what I get for rushing a post out just to meet a deadline xD. But what does stand out to me is the feeling that the virtual joystick seems like a retreat to traditional methods for convenience. I won’t go so far as to claim a lack of originality but it seems like the new interface paradigm of touch and tilt calls for a completely new approach.

The dual virtual joysticks of games like Minigore work relatively well for me – and I played through Lego Harry Potter with only minimal frustration. However, I stand by my original post in that I haven’t yet seen a stand out implementation that definitively validates the combination of the touch platform with the joystick control scheme.

The video below shows an RPG for iOS that I really like and would play a lot more if I could but the control scheme is waaaaay too frustrating. The joystick control is small and fiddly and so are the buttons. Maneuvering through menus is an extremely annoying affair involving much backtracking and careful presses. I know I’ve got fat fingers but this is ridiculous!

I’ve got the first two games in this series so far but have only played a little way through the first. I see the third game is out now but I can’t bring myself to purchase it when the control scheme for the first two isn’t manageable. The game is great fun, as far as I’m able to play it, but the control scheme is too annoying to continue. I know I’m not alone in this – it’s been mentioned in a few reviews and by many a player in various forums and feedback spots. Without being too derogatory of the effort Gamevil have put into every other aspect of the game – the excellent graphics, reasonably engaging story, world design, and RPG fan-friendly game mechanics – I’m convinced the virtual joystick method could’ve been implemented far better than it is here, and the design of the menus seems, frankly, to be ill-conceived in its fall back to a standard approach.

So are there any “traditional” RPGs out there for iOS with a decent control scheme?

Developers, PLAY your own game! Um… well, actually, in this video they are, so… yeah… but note how he keeps lifting his thumb/finger off to change direction – you should be able to roll it for true ease of use! <– so say I

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Editing a music video – the balancing act

One of the interesting things about editing a music video, I find, is that there’s a real balancing act to manage the expectations of the artist(s) against those of the technical crew. This is even more apparent when working on relatively low budget productions.

The artist, of course, wants to look their best – and ideally that’s everyone’s goal for the video, as a music video’s primary purpose is to promote the artist and their music. The technical crew want their work to look the best – the shots they’ve taken, the way they’ve lit the set and every aspect of production that showcases their abilities. Their needs are also important as they are usually (at least in New Zealand) contributing their time and effort for a greatly reduced rate based on the understanding that they will use the resultant product as a calling card for their services.

The DP (Director of Photography) wants you, as an editor, to use only the shots with the best photography – the best lighting on the subject, the most interesting angle and ‘how’d they do that’ camera move. The artist wants only the shots that show their good side; those that catch their most natural moments of showmanship, not the ones where they’ve pulled a strange look to camera or performed an awkward move during the discomfort of trying to get “in the moment” at a public location with a crowded set and a tinny ghetto blaster providing playback(!). These issues may well be mitigated by larger budgets but with the scope of productions in New Zealand we are forced to deal with them on a regular basis.

The obvious issue that arises is when the needs of the two parties clash – the perfect shot that shows the DPs best-lit work contains a less-than-flattering angle of the artist, or the artist’s most natural looking moment of rock-star-cool happens as they pull back from their mark and go slightly soft focus… And when you’ve had to cram a three day shoot into one day there aren’t a lot of options.

Speaking of conflict between actor and crew, here’s the famous Klaus Kinski in one his many tirades at a crew member. The balancing act of managing volatile temperaments under pressure conditions is a whooole other post for another time…

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There’s no easy answer for this. My personal choice 95% of the time is to go with the best look for the artist over any technical issues – but I’ve also made the call at the 11th hour to completely reedit a significant chunk of a video because the DP was really unhappy with the shots used. In that case, the artist had made his own stipulations around any changes made to the cut he’d seen (i.e. we weren’t allowed to make any!) but thankfully, when it came down to it, he didn’t mind – I think mostly because he was unavailable at the time we had to make the edit and he only saw it much later so time had probably dulled his memory somewhat. I made the choice to edit, even so late in the piece, because my relationship with the DP was important to me and the shots used were important to him.

I don’t know if anyone else outside of NZ faces these issues but I know it’s something you have to get used to, working here. It keeps the tension high and makes for a significant personal win when everyone is pleased with the results! (fingers crossed for the current project!)

Voice Acting in Games

We’ve begun the process of casting a voice actor for the next game trailer we’re working on.

It always strikes me that there’s often an overly theatrical approach to voice acting in games, in general. I think we accept it only because we’re used to it.┬áMany an article on voice acting makes a point of the fact that voice acting is a different beast entirely from screen acting. I think that’s obviously true in the process taken – but I find it hard to accept that the end result should be as different as it often is.

Theater acting is different from film in that there is a distance between the audience and the actor requiring projection and exaggeration. Voice acting for a radio show is a different discipline from either as there is no accompanying visual to assist in telling the story. With games, however, there is an accompanying visual and I feel the performance could go either way – if there are no close-ups and / or other filmic devices then perhaps a more theatrical approach is warranted (e.g. if the game maintains a top down view, not allowing the camera to go in close to see the characters – or if the characters are limited to reduced animations). The other situation is one in which you do have filmic syntax (close-ups, characters animated in sync with the story e.g. mocap) and that is the kind where I feel the standard approach to voice acting (being enclosed in a tiny booth without any of the environment or other characters to react to) is perhaps a less effective one.

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Games like Uncharted are getting closer to the best tactic, in my opinion, where the actors are being mocapped and delivering the dialogue at the same time. They are acting out the moves of the character while talking and responding to the other characters in the space.

I’ve often wondered whether a better approach might be similar to that taken when “looping”. One could get the actors into some kind of space and film a sequence using a standard video camera. Then, in the studio at a later time, essentially carry out a standard looping session – having the actor read back their lines as they watch themselves perform the scene on video. The purpose of this is to allow the actor to holistically embrace the emotion of the scene and to have them feed off the other players (if there are any) in the space. Budget-wise it wouldn’t have to cost too much extra – unless you wanted to dress the actors and the set, of course. I’ll be trying this on a future project and will do a write-up on its effectiveness!

Speaking of overly theatrical, the embedded video shows a behind the scenes look at the Dawn of War 2 voice actors. I mean in no way to cast aspersions on the approach taken for Dawn of War – if anything, they support my assertion that the theatrical approach may be warranted in places where cinematic devices are limited. The voice acting in DoW2 usually accompanies talking heads and topdown viewed characters so it makes sense that emotion and inflection is left for the voice to convey.┬áThere’s a lot of talent and ability on display here!

Oi! Besides providing the deep tones of Captain Davian Thule, Fred Tatasciore has been in almost everything else – from games to cartoons – including the voice of The Hulk in Ultimate Avengers and Hulk Vs, Damon Baird in Gears of War 3 and Saren from Mass Effect!

Editing another game trailer

I’m currently working on the next trailer for Path of Exile, the Online Action RPG by Auckland’s Grinding Gear Games.

I love the process of editing a trailer. You get to put together a tight little package of exciting content to convey a quick, simple message and generate questions and interest in the viewer’s mind.

I’m aiming to have the draft put together by tonight, ready for tomorrow where I’ll put in a full day onsite at Grinding Gear’s Titirangi office polishing and tweaking.

The first part of the process involves a lot of listening to the music tracks available to use. The very talented Mr. Adgio Hutchings of Texas has composed some wonderfully anthemic and epic tracks for Path of Exile so I’m not starved for choice. The trick is to find the best piece for the relevant section of the trailer and to be able to segue into the next piece in a way that makes sense logically, musically and emotionally.

The guys at GGG are after a tense, horror theme for the first section of the trailer so I’m looking for pieces that generate tension and grate ever so slightly on the hackles… (can one’s hackles even BE grated…?)

It’s great fun! More to come…

Matt Meikle – the future of cinematography

I’ve made a couple of music videos with Matt Meikle as the DP (Director of Photography) and he’s been a legend – showing me the ropes, taking the time to explain things patiently and giving me the floor as Director to make the necessary calls.

The Big Idea has an article / interview with Matt called “The Future Of Cinematography” and Matt gives some interesting insight into his own experience throughout his career.

“Matt Meikle… reveals a mature and considered approach to growing a career…”

Check the article out on The Big Idea.

The view from my office

Well I’m trying out the new iPhone 4 and playing with the camera so I can at least get rid of that horrible header… (new pic installed soon now!)

So here’s the view from my home office. Ten points (for those who don’t know me : P) if you can work out my exact location from it…

And here’s a clearer view – you can make out Vector Arena there in the background:

It’s a nice spot to work from but it’s going to be just as cool working from the new offices for the music media company I’m joining up with soon! Looking at doing one or two days a week there with the boys (and girls) and a few days here at home slogging away at whatever edit or digital media work is currently going down.

More news on the new endeavours soon…