Wednesday, 5 December 2012


Proper documentation is absolutely crucial to ensure a project is handled efficiently and production is fixed to a schedule. Every part of the project must be outlined in detail; from the games software specifications, to the voice actors and their scripts. Everything must be documented, approved then set into motion.

In order to understand the workings of proper game documentation I shall attempt a dry run of a project brief myself. In it I will include my personal aims and objectives, platform, genre, audience, technology and software. Along with this I shall supply technical specifications for a lead character, a non-playable character, a vehicle, an environment, and any extra props or scenery objects.

Project outline: My primary objective for this particular project will be to produce a piece of game documentation to a standard to which it may be used towards an actual project. The main learning outcomes would be the knowledge I would have obtained along with the organizational skills I hope to attain in creating efficient documentation.

My platform of choice would be the current generation line-up of consoles including the PS3, Xbox360 and the Wii U. All three of these consoles have similar specifications and graphical capabilities which should allow for graphics of a fairly high standard. I also would like the game to marketed as a downloadable arcade game, since the nature of the finished product will be akin to the arcade experience.

The genre will be a variation of survival horror, in which the main focus of the game would be to escape and effectively hide from your pursuer or stalker. The main character will have a Panic metre which will fill depending on how much damage they take and how close a stalker gets to them. Once filled the character will go into a state of PANIC which will cause the player to lose control of their character. Being attacked during panic will result in death. The level is successfully completed once the character reaches a SAFE POINT or an EXIT.

The game will also include puzzle elements such traversing the environments and finding keys for doors. The game will be set across a series of levels resembling a forest-like area surrounded by tall trees and other derelict structures as well as some city-scenes. Assets may be reused and combined with others in order to save on memory and time.

Films that will be of influence are “The Amityville Horror” and “Panic Room” since both involve evading a dangerous pursuer and attempting to hide from them.


Other games that have had a similar concept are “Haunting Ground” and “Clock Tower 3”. Both took advantage of stalking enemies and a panic system. (Both games are property of Capcom)

The desired audience would be fans of the above mentioned games as well as the Resident Evil series (also by Capcom) and survival horror in general. Puzzler enthusiasts may also take interest in the game. Capcom would be the preferred publisher for said game if lucky enough to be published.

Technology and software I would utilize are:

-3DS Max: for its intricate modelling capabilities

-Photoshop: to produce diffuse, normal and specular maps

-Crazybump: to render said normal and specular maps

-UDK: an ideal engine to import the assets and build the environments within.

Note: these also happen to be the only software I know how to use… So they’ll do!

Technical Specifications:

Lead Character
Young female character, approximately 16. Her appearance will need to appear very innocent and fragile in order to make the contrast between her and the stalker that much more apparent.

-Triangle count: 3’500 triangles

-1x1024 diffuse texture sheet

-1x1024 normal map

-1x1024 specular map

Reference imagery:

Fiona Belli - Haunting Ground
Mayu Amakura -  Fatal Frame 2

Non-Playable Character

A middle-aged man, approximately 45. Grotesque in appearance, with a menacing demeanour and a manipulative personality. Attacks will be calculated yet aggressive and his stalking methods will stealth-like with bursts of chase.

-Triangle count: 3’500 triangles

-1x1024 diffuse texture sheet

-1x1024 normal map

-1x1024 specular map

Reference imagery:

Dark Man - Clock Tower 3
Debilitas - Haunting Ground

An old fashioned motorbike in bad condition; may be used to cross large areas before running out of petrol.

-Triangle count: 1’500 triangles

-1x512 diffuse texture sheet

-1x512 normal map

-1x512 specular map

Reference imagery:
Vintage Motorcycle


Reference imagery:
City backstreet at night
Forest level from 'Slender Man'
Belli Castle - Haunting Ground

Several different assets such as small buildings, trees and other structures. On set can resemble city buildings, another a forest of trees with log cabins and a final scene might be a castle courtyard.

-Technical specifications may vary slightly but each level should be within 10’000 triangles

-each asset will utilize its own 1x256 diffuse, normal and specular map

-All assets will be placed and arranged into UDK

Props and Scenery Objects

Evasion Weapons such gun powder or nail bombs may be thrown at a stalker to either distract them or injure them; effectively hindering their perusal temporarily.

-700 triangles per weapon

-1x256 diffuse texture map per weapon

-1x256 normal map per weapon

-1x256 specular map per weapon

- decals and planes may be used to project particle effects upon weapons rupturing

Reference imagery:

Gun Powder
Nail Bomb

Silent Hill 2 [part 3] - Level Design

For my third and final submission on Silent Hill 2 I will be taking a look at the level design which is arguably the strongest feature of the series. What must be understood about the areas within SH2 is that every area is relevant - whether it’s a cramped hallway or a seemingly, never-ending staircase descending into darkness. Every area has some kind of symbolic reference.

The first area the player (as James) finds themselves is in is inside a grubby public toilet. This area acts as a precursor for the rest of the game as it describes the gritty, explicit nature of the game. One should also note that James begins the game in doors; this wasn’t by chance – it was a conscious decision.

The detailed appearance of this area indicates the mood for the rest of the game. 

The next area you traverse into is literally Silent Hill – most of the world you will be exploring will look similar. Everything looks old and decayed; the layers of dirt over the roads and buildings add to the degraded feel of the ghost town. One might also notice how the town is near the sea, emitting a sense of isolation. And of course, the most noticeable feature: the fog (or ash which is never made apparent in the 2nd game). The fog actually serves a technical purpose – it hides the draw distance and acts as a filter to cover up any textural shortcomings.

The fog filter is not only an aesthetic feature lending to mood of the game but it is also designed to cover up any technical shortcomings. 

Even the placement of certain characters is crucial to the game and its symbolic nature. James first encounters pyramid head behind bars separating a corridor. He only shows up clearly however when the player directly faces PH; this is our first clue into its true identity. Pyramid Head is actually James’ mirror image, and the fact that he is first seen behind bars is crucial. Silent Hill is considered a place where people go to be punished; James’ vision of PH behind bars is how the town reacts to him.

 Your first encounter

Another clue into James’ psyche is when we first encounter Mary’s dress on a mannequin. This tells us that James only ever viewed Mary as an object; something to simply fulfil his sexual desires. The player also finds the torch-light attached to wear Mary’s heart would be, brightening up the dark room around it. This gives us some insight into Mary’s personality – how she brought light into the world.

I"n my restless dreams, I see that town... Silent Hill."
Another area which truly tests the player is on the long, dark, descending stair case. This signifies James’ journey down into hell and is literally a 2 minute journey from the top of the stairs to the bottom. This tests the player in more ways than one; constantly wondering if they should turn back being the most prominent. What makes this interesting is that during this section of the game James’ and the player’s psyches are directly connected; both are experiencing frustration and doubt, as well as a feeling of dread. This wouldn’t have been possible if the staircase hadn’t been so long and time consuming to descend.  

When I reached this part of the game I thought I had encountered a glitch since I didn't appear to progress whilst descending the staircase. The game affected my sanity in this way.

One thing which I believe separated the level designing process for the Silent Hill team as opposed to most other video game producers was that the psychological references took priority, and even determined the design over actual consideration to how they traverse. In a large amount of games, priority seems to be taken on scale and variety in level design. In the Call of Duty games (vulgar) for instance, the priority seems to be on how adaptable to multiplayer gaming they are. The levels most likely started off as a sequence of buildings and shapes in which artistic flair can be adapted and a basic concept can be applied.

In conclusion, I find Silent Hill to be one of the most relevant games to the industry. It truly denotes game design at a deep level, taking psychological as well as artistic significance into consideration. I honestly haven’t come across a game which has evoked so much thought and interactivity from the player. The characters, story and setting are enough to rival any film. If gaming was ever to be considered an art form then Silent Hill 2 would be the Da Vinci of the genre. It’s just unfortunate how the series has declined and lost its intelligent and brilliantly conceived sense of story-telling.      

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Silent Hill 2 [part 2] - Visual Composition

Continuing with my look at Silent Hill 2 as well as elements of game design, I will delve into some of the visual composition methods the game has endorsed within its concept work as well as in its cut-scenes. I will of course also be referencing other sources.

First and foremost in order to understand visual composition it is important to appreciate the fundamentals. These are: line, shape, colour, texture, form and space. Each are as important as one another yet it is difficult to separate them from each other. For instance - line can be used to create shape, texture, form and space. Underneath I’ll look at each in a little more detail:

Line - is possibly the most expressive element of composition. At a basic level it can be used to create shape. To create a sense of depth or perspective two points can begin at either side of a line and connect without forming a perfectly straight line. Line can even be used to express emotion or at a primitive level, a symbol of masculinity or femininity.

These two shapes are known to be mankinds earliest symbollic representations of man and woman. The shapes literally representing an extremely simplified version of each's sex organs.

Shape - can either be as simple as flat circle in the top right hand corner of your drawing depicting the sun or an absence of shape, constructed by what else lies in the picture. Hence shape can either be positive or negative space. Shapes can also signify certain meanings; such as how a circle associated with fertility or organic matter.

Form - really exists within shape, since it is through form that a two dimensional shape can make the transition into 3D. Something as simple as shading the side of an orb in a certain manner is enough to suggest a sense of physical roundness to the object.

The Silent Hill series is known for its take of horror in a sexual manner. In Silent Hill 3 the player will constantly encounter either creatures or areas that are reminiscent of some kind of sexual representation.

That hole doesn't look that way by accident. It was a concious decision to shape it accordingly in order to represent an 'entrance'.

Colour is a powerful tool, capable of provoking emotion, temperature, calm, cleanliness and even memory. In the game “Mirrors Edge” colours were used to represent different paths. The city was a sterile metropolis consisting only of shades of white; areas shaded blue were monitored by the police and anything red (which depicted danger) was the path you (the protagonist) would take being the out-law, hero that you are. In the Silent Hill series the colour palette never ventures outside of greys, browns and dull reds; this being a conscious decision by the artists as they knew the colours are associated with dirtiness, depression and unfriendliness.

A truely unique game in which colour was not only used to create mood, but also an integral part of the gameplay.

Value and Hue are measures of colour. Certain colours are also complimentary to each other; Such as purple and yellow. An aesthetically pleasing composition might feature a yellow vase casting a purple shadow. Also it is virtually impossible to come across the colour black in nature as it is an unnatural colour and considered by some (along with white) to merely be the absence of colour.

The colour palette utilized in Silent Hill 2 is one of the most important features; adding to the murky, grim atmosphere.

Space - is the conscious decision of deciding where everything is placed within your composition. Negative is just as important as positive space; sometimes placing an object (or a character perhaps) within a wide, empty open area can suggest isolation, freedom or significance. It can also help indicate a sense of scale.

Whilst the battle in the skies is obviously the main focus in this composition it is important to note that the characters standing beneath it help to suggest a sense of scale as well as reinforce an indication of habitation within the environment.
When attempting to portray a particular feeling, or ‘mood’ within a piece it is important to consider a few things. The viewers ‘eye-level within a picture can change the way we view either the character or landscape we are perceiving. For instance, looking down upon the character can make them seem vulnerable or child-like even. Where as viewing the character from underneath can make them appear heroic or even menacing.
Notice how heroic that angle make Master Chief look! It also makes him all big and strong too :) How unfortunate he has the charm of a block of lego... notice the way the background is composed; the buildings appear to be getting smaller which denotes their scale - not possible without line.

In contrast to the previous example, notince how Heather is seen from above; this makes her look vulnerable. Not only that but she makes eye-contact, so to speak, with the viewer offering a greater emotional connection to the character than the previous composition exhibited.
When trying to create a connection between the viewer and the character, a close up is often the best way. Even without words one can gain insight simply through a facial expression and how the character is viewed. For instance, James is viewing himself in the mirror - the reflection is dark on purpose. We recognise that there’s a face staring back at him but we can also gather that the reflection is clouded, dark and unclear suggesting he’s concealing something.


A screenshot depicting Angela, another character from Silent Hill 2, contemplating suicide. The composition is carefully considered which makes it so powerful. Her eyes alone give away her sense of emptiness, and its important to note that they are focused on the knife. I personally love this shot of Angela since the viewer can practically sum her up from this composition alone.

I believe that a good piece of finished concept art should be able to tell a story; and I believe this particular piece does so very well. It depicts James and Maria separated by bars and facing each other. The first thing I notice, judging by the furniture on both sides is that both of them are in a cell. James appears to be permanently trapped with her but at the same time, she is unattainable to him. We know this piece focuses on James since Maria’s face is hidden from the viewer. This powerful narrative depicts James’ inability to remove Maria (or more to the point, Mary) from his mind and is effectively trapped with her.


Sometimes a single picture can convey a thousand words - I think that belief can be applied here.

 Underneath is a particularly helpful webpage I used to reference my work:

Monday, 3 December 2012

Silent Hill 2 [part1] - Planning and concepting

Planning and Concepting are 2 crucial elements of game production; they are separate processes yet they overlap and occasionally coincide with each other. It would be difficult for me to explain both processes as their own entities so instead I will look at a game which I personally love and feel nails these processes: Silent Hill 2.

One misconception a large amount of people, students and video game enthusiasts alike share is that concepting is the top notch digital painting depicting Master Chief in all his glory stood along side his trusty Warthog and miniature, blue-tinted muse. This is not the case; this is merely the end result of the concepting process and really, something which coincides with its respective game in order to promote it and offer as a visual aid.
As the little caption in the top right hand corner suggests, this is a piece of fine art. Although for an already established game such as Halo this may suffice as concept art as there probably aren't many drastic design changes and the company would hardly need to pitch the game for aproval given its status.

Concepting really doesn’t start with any visual aid at all; it begins with an idea. The strength of the end result is always factored by the strength of the initial idea - enter Silent Hill 2. I personally LOVE this game (more so than any of the other games in the series) because the concept behind the game is so strong, everything that follows after it only fleshes out this concept.

The protagonist, James Sunderland has received a letter from his wife, Mary to come meet her at their “special place”, Silent Hill. Only problem is, Mary’s dead - and so entails a psychological mind-f**k which toys with your sanity, emotions and even your patience in such a sophisticated way that it can only be described as art.

This game is famed for f**king with your head.

When beginning the planning process it is integral to have a healthy work ethic, efficient work schedule and a time table of deadlines in which each factor and job must be carried out whilst meeting these constraints. If a company is unable to ship its product on time it risks clashing with the release of competitors’ games, failing to fulfil supply obligations to stores and fundamentally spending more money.

The second part would be to outline the specifications of the game. In SH2’s case it was to be designed to be played on the PS2, as a third-person survival horror, with a focus on melee combat and puzzle solving.

At around the same time the visual team will begin their process of concepting the levels and characters for the game. When producing the concept material for the game, the crew went to similar locations to the ones they had intents of designing and simply took photographic reference material. This suffices perfectly for a start at the designing process and is even suitable for pitching the game. Visual aids are strong but at such an early stage in development even the simplest of references is effective if it is relevant to your idea.

One of the reference photos taken to be used for the bathroom area.

The characters are easily just as important as the scenery in Silent Hill (if not more) and the way in which the designers approached them was most likely to design their psyches and personalities before even attempting to doodle. Unlike countless other video game characters, the Silent Hill characters tend to be deep, ambiguous and psychologically disturbed.


Take our “protagonist”, James. On the surface he seems your very typical video game hero; unexplainably friendly, eager to enlist aid to any passer-by he encounters and most importantly, confused as hell. Instantly someone whom we can project ourselves on to - or so we would like to think.

What we find out towards the end is that James is an unreliable witness. He is in fact responsible for his wife’s death - he murdered her. We also discover that James is sexually oppressed, which is why all of the monsters are twisted, sexual interpretations of James’ lust. Most shockingly of all, we find out the monstrous “Pyramid head” is in fact James’ mirror image; a manifestation of his guilt for killing Mary. The game has tricked us into building an emotional attachment to James, only to find out he’s the bad guy. All of this criteria is in deed apart of the concepting process - the sketching came afterwards.

James Sunderland - Early concept sketch

Another fascinating character was Angela. At first glance she isn’t very much to look at; not particularly attractive, very plainly dressed - subtle, almost purposely boring. She also acts rather peculiarly, as if she’s constantly on edge. What happened here?

Angela Orosco

All of these touches were a conscious design process in creating the character’s appearance. Towards the end of the game the player might have been able to deduce that Angela was a victim of sexual abuse and rape - this explains her clothing which conceals much of her body and her unexplainably hostile attitude towards James (a man and someone she realises was only interested in his wife as a sexual object). What isn’t obvious is the fact that she is actually in her late teens - in game she looks nearly 40.

After this important character synopsis is compiled the character artist will begin to concept her physical appearance.
Early concept sketches of Angela

The final character, and arguably the most iconic out of the game (if not, the entire series) is Maria. Physically, she’s a doppelganger of James’ dead wife, Mary - however, her dress sense and attitude differ greatly. She isn’t a typical video game heroine - her features are imperfect, she has a bit of belly fat which she doesn’t have a problem showing off and it looks as if she bleaches her hair (and not particularly well). This was important in making the character feel more “human” and someone the player would feel more inclined to protect. This was possibly the most important factor of Maria’s physical appearance since for a good part of the game, James has to escort Maria throughout Silent Hill.

What makes her most intriguing is her personality and constant mood swings. At one point she acts seductively towards James, and in an instance can turn to cold and unfeeling. What makes her even more unsettling is that she appears to channel Mary at certain times, constantly forcing the player to re-evaluate who they’re looking at - only for her to reassure you that she is Maria.
Even early sketches of Mary and Maria both show striking similarities in bone structure and features. Its amazing how much personality the artist has managed to fill in these ketches. Also note how facial expressions can alter one face so drasticially that they could be confused for two seperate people.

Characters from the Silent Hill series may lack certain aesthetics when compared to other games; but their appearances are non-the-less, carefully considered and intricately relative to their psyches. This in my opinion is an example of good character design, born from strong concepts and ideas.
"It doesn't matter who I am. I'm here for you, James. See? I'm real."

Underneath are links to a short documentry on the making of Silent Hill 2 that I enjoyed and found relevant:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Abbey Park - Final piece

This marks a milestone for me - my first ever digital painting that is neither a group of random silohuettes or an attempt at authoring my own textures. This has taken me far too long and has frankly put me off wanting to try anything like this again... I clearly didn't know where to obtain these "brushes" I overhear digital painting enthusiats gushing about in class which would undoubtedly have saved me time. I did however manage to fit the public loos into this piece, which is of some saving grace.

I stuck to the "hard edged brush" as I didn't dare venture away from the default selection. The leaf brush that came with the software probably wouldn't have fared particularly well as it appeared to be a Canadian maple tree leaf.
Critiques include: theres no differentiation between the leaves on the tree in the background or the ones closer to the front. The picture has no direct focal point at the end of the path. The front of the picture could use darkenning slightly.

Abbey Park - Artwork

I hate drawing trees. They take such an awful long time to render and even when I'm done my work looks like concept art for "Revenge of the Killer Broccoli. Underneath I did some sketches, but I always feel more comfortable working in ink or acrylics.

About as bad as it looks - I really can't render trees very well.

Trying to draw detailed trees doesn't get me much further...

If you hold this sketch away from you it doesn't look bad

Much happier working with a brush; these seem somewhat more aesthetically pleasing.

Don't normally use watercolours, as I'm more comfortable with acrylics. Kinda shows..
My tree-drawing skills still need alot of work. I found an interesting page which broke down tree-rendering into primitive shapes and layers of detail:

Abbey Park - Photographs I took

We visited Abbey Park for our first visual design project. I don't normally enjoy drawing trees as I've always found them tedious, but I figured I wouldn't have gotten away with drawing the public loos instead...

Underneath a selection of photographs I took whilst visiting which I thought were aesthetically pleasing:

I like the way the light came through the back of these trees. Contradicting popular belief; not everything turns silohuette against sunlight. In fact, objects in nature are hardly ever black since black itself isn't a natural colour.

First tree I found that started the transition between seasons. I found this interesting as I'd never really seen this much of a contrast on a single tree.

I liked the areas of dark between the branches of the leaves.

Chinese garden #1

Chinese garden #2