Leaking bubbles

Leaking bubbles

New design. New Banner.
Yes I know, she has no eyebrows.

Oh god… what is coloring? What is shadows? What is goddamn bubbles?!

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Rolling With The Ball

Chris Avellone  is a team player. As he said in my interview, that he normally brainstorms with a group, quick firing ideas around. He has mentioned that discussion within  a group is beneficial as it refines an idea and adds to parts that you wouldn’t initially think of. Of course, you can’t always work with a load of voices shooting ideas across the room, so when an idea is somewhat stable, Chris will then go through details and analyze in his solitude, just to get his thoughts into order.
Often times to start the ball rolling, one person is given the possession of ideas and concept along with specifications to start drafting ideas. This can be in many forms like brainstorms or art concepts. Then it is put for critique and reviewed by everyone, and if it seems to going in the right direction, everyone moves onto the next stages to actualize it and prototype. If the pitched idea had a lot of problems and such, then there would be a meeting for further discussions to see what can be improved.
Avellone actually keeps a log of hundreds of  ideas from character names to cool lines on his computer to run through whenever he gets time, and when lucky, can find old ideas that can be of use for his current project.

When met with a creative block, Avellone  has a list of solutions to overcome:

– Caffeine.

– Switching mental gears (going for a walk and getting away from the screen, or looking or reading a magazine you would not normally read).

– Reviewing your old brainstorming file for old ideas.

– Playing the game you’re working on.

– Going into the editor and fixing bugs or reviewing work you’ve done.”

Apart from caffeine, which makes me vomit my insides out, these methods are quite useful. I can relate to going through ideas, as i have always saved snips of ideas on my phone or wrote them down on a diary, they always prove to be helpful, even generating an idea from that idea, and really helps getting you out of the mental block ditch.

Working within a group, with many opinions and suggestions to go around can have its downfalls. When there is dispute among designers during a particular process, it is sorted out with hierarchy. Involvement and title for certain areas will always play on the leads side, though Avellone says that situations as such rarely happen as everyone understands the totem poles of designers.

When it comes to research, Avellone will go to basics, watching movies  that relate to his work, literature, and even looking at what other companies have done that are similar to their work, giving him a base and see commonalities from where he can work from. He also plays games about once a week (for leisure reasons too i presume) and as he plays, he makes note of features that can be applied to his own work, looking at things that work out and do not, critiquing all the time.
It reminds me of when I had done media studies at school. Once I was taught of all the symbolism of colours and imagery, signification, terminology and more, I was almost scarred by it. I could never look at advertisement in the same way without analyzing the actual method used to serve its purpose.
When I am doing my own research, or just thinking of ideas as a mental exercise, I tend to get a lot of inspiration from music. Not only the beats and flows of the tune, which drive me and get my wheels turning, but the lyrics themselves can be poetic and interpreted in a different way, giving me stories I can play around with.

The Power of Audio

Chris Avellone is all about the audio. “Finding the characters voice.” I’ve learnt in my research that Avellone regards audio very highly and likes to stress on its importance.
On his blog he is asked a question:
“As an author full of ideas, what would you do to make us laugh like fools or cry like little girls? Would you work especially on the narration ? Interaction ? Visuals ?” 

His response to humor is to not over do it, and also references Aliens for how the characters reactions are empathized with how the audience would think, echoing our thoughts and solutions.
But the best part of his answer is when he begins talking about audio and explaining it:

“The tone of a voice actor and the background music will do more to create mood than any visual or interaction sequence can strive for. As an example, in Alpha Protocol, Michael Thorton can develop a romance or a hatred with a contact, Madison, in the game… and when you interact with Madison, the music and the voice acting is what drives the emotion of the scene. When you have a hatred going, the music is tense, dangerous, and everything about Madison’s tone tells you how much she despises you. On the counterbalance, the voices and music (softer, slower) is what drives home the romance at the other end of the spectrum.”

I absolutely agree with this, and have always felt this way, personally, about games too. Music is such a manipulative effect, it can make us feel all sorts of emotions, coming straight from the heart of musicians, pure instrumental music, they are unspoken words, words without letters but still with meaning, it persuades our emotions to feel the way it wants us to feel. And what better way to make us feel hyped up in a chase scene than to use fast pace music!? The slow and dragging notes to make our hearts sink as someone dies. The frustrating tumbles of instruments to scare us.
Not just music, but like Avellone mentions, voice acting, is important. If a character sounds half-arsed when declaring his love for someone, well, no one is convinced, and the receiving end of this confession will only look like an idiot if they accept their half-arsed love. One great example of poor voice acting is House of The Dead 2, people almost sound patronizing and condescending when thanking their saviors and asking them to help their friends or telling them where to go. Just a second ago they were screaming for help (well they didn’t sound too scared) and then their tone completely changes, skipping relief and speaking to the player as though nothing of what is happening around them is affecting them.  The horror game instantly turns into a joke, and you feel nothing for the victims and only make fun of them.
So yes, I am 100% behind on Avellones views on audio. Audio is important. Audio is our friend.

 

Fundamentals

Avellone’s response to the question of fundamentals really stuck with me. Especially with my given situation for my other project, where I have to work with a partner and design a game with certain requirements, e.g action/adventure, must have companion, set in 1939-1945, it really made me think. When discussing with my partner of concepts and ideas, we’d stray from the main point. Focusing on little details and “mini-games”, consumed by ideas of events and scenes but with no ground for it to stand on, with no basic story.
We wanted to add a load of elements that would be “cool” or “fun”, to stand out and be different. Which is fair enough, but we weren’t thinking it out well, especially when it was just supposed to be a concept. So when I read about Avellone’s fundamentals, it taught me to focus on things that would interest the player, and not to add things (no matter how awesome) that wouldn’t be of a big use to the game.

His Roles and How He Got Started

Avellone is Creative Director/ Chief Creative Officer for Obsidian, and is also co-owner and co-founder of the company. He has many roles including, reviewing existing design content and giving advice on best practices and design approaches. He attends meetings, and always partakes in game design processes where he looks at design documents and critiques them, and also attends level reviews and plays the builds, reviews scripts and supports with feedback. As part of his title, he’s also involved in hiring and testing designers and sets expectations for designers of different levels.
Sometimes his roles will change, depending on the project, as he does quite a bit for narratives, he’ll contribute to content such as creating region designs, plot arcs for DLC’s and character concepts.
Concerning characters, his main area is dialogue, though he also designs personalities and names for NPC’s. And in certain terms, suggests one  or a general amount of characters to other designers. Avellone has said that he likes making back stories for inventory and magic items.

His hobby of gamemastering pen-and-paper adventures are what lead him into the game industry. He had published quite a few but the money he was getting from it wasn’t enough to pay the bills. So he asked his editor for any good jobs offering steady pay, and based on the editors work experience and had enjoying working with Avellone, he gave him a good recommendation for Interplay Entertainment and thus got hired. From there he worked his way up until he got to the role of Creative Director, though he’ll sometimes stand in other positions for certain projects, such as Senior Designer, Level Designer, Creative Lead or Lead Designer. From being hired, it took Avellone over 10 years to get his title, and he has been working since.

Stalking a Developer

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For my project, I will be researching the game designer Chris Avellone. So over the next few days, I will be posting about Avellone, including topics such as: His background, his research methodologies and working practices, his gaming fundamentals, and games that he has worked on with any commonalities between them.

Here are a list of a few games he is credited for:

  • Fallout 2
  • Planescape: Torment
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
  • Alpha Protocol
  • Fallout New Vegas
  • Wasteland 2
  • Project Eternity (which is currently being worked on)