Edinburgh was a lovely place to visit. Extremely lovely in all ways - lovely people, lovely places, lovely architechture, lovely dramatic mountainous vistas. It's something I've not really done before - gone out to a place by myself. You look at holidays these days and they seem so catered for the couple; the luckless loner doesn't even get much of a look-in. Still, it was another eye-opener in that I can do more independant stuff like that without too much bother. My first act to total independance was leaving home to live by myself down in Wales - don't get me wrong, I cried for a little while when I settled down in the semi-crumbling bedroom I slept in for four-and-a-half years. It seemed plain wrong just to disconnect myself like that, but it was truly something important and I recommend anyone to do it - although I was more motivated by finding one of Mum's many cats pissing and shitting all over my clothes after being trapped in the tumble dryer.
So it was my first time in Scotland and it was just nice to be there. The train journey wasn't that big a deal, really - one-and-a-half hours later and I was there - and the way Edinburgh is laid out, it's a very tourist-friendly place. I spent the first two days there doing the whole tourist thing - I went on ghost tours, underground town tours, visited the castle (which was pretty special for many reasons), bought souvenirs and took many photographs which you can oggle on my facebook (when the thing can actually load up so I can post a link...). There was a weird feel to the place - like a really low light which was doing some weird things to some of my photos. Good things, mind you.
So get this - in Edinburgh Castle, there's a tour which tells you the story of the Honours of Scotland - or the Scottish Crown Jewels. You can go through a twisted, linear corridor full of education, mannequins dressed in period gear and Cromwell trying to steal the Honours as they were hidden away. Now the crazy thing is that the penultimate thing you see are replicas of the Honours - touchable versions of the crown, sceptre and sword. Around the corner? The actual Honours guarded and surrounded by a glass case - how crazy is that? You get the tourist speil and then the real thing. I liked the Castle for it had a lot of things to see and do including the One O'Clock gun which fires across Edinburgh every day except Sundays. There are more things I needed to see as a tourist, but I'm definitely going again this year for my birthday, so I'm very much looking forward to it!
I also met up with a bunch of Midwayians on the weekend - the Saturday was a pub crawl, although some of the pubs seemed to be quite dead and lifeless. We had some Polish pubs, some old man pubs and finally ending with a visit to a rather terrible nightclub called The Citrus Club which also featured one of the worst toilets known to man. You don't want to know. To be fair, the thing started well in The Guildford Arms - one of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh, and one which has some beautiful exterior and interior ornate detailing. We were celebrating not only the closure of Wheelman, but also celebrating the depature of a veteran of Midway Newcastle. I was sad to see him go this week, but he sounds like he has his life nicely planned - something involving holing up in an exotic part of the world where living is cheap and mortgages are laughed at.
Oh, and Wannaburger. Such a lovely discovery on my trip - they do killer burgers and some very lush milk shakes. Recommended!
The next project is currently in a state of pre-production flux. I've come off the few tasks of Wheelman left; one of which I was particularly pissed off about, but kind of understandable considering we were working like trojans. I've taken up running again in a determined mission to lose some weight. It's been rough, though - taking any break in regular exercise, it's difficult to get back into it. I managed 3 kilometers on Sunday, but I'm sure with practice I'll be back to my svelt self. I have many shirts and jeans which no longer fit me, and that saddens me. I feel a lot healthier too - the trap of falling into the whole takeaway food thing when working late nights meant I had quite a few health issues which have thankfully taken a back seat. There's talk that we won't be crunching like crazy people for over a year.
The Ubisoft thing is an interesting prospect - it's being called a "strategic alliance" by the PR teams, and although the naysayers are spitting predictions that this is a death knell, it's not. Check out who makes movies these days - there's many studios getting together for creating movies and pooling their resources. The economic climate these days ain't good as we are constantly reminded by the news, so this is more a shrewd decision than an act of desperation. There's some definite positives to the deal - Ubisoft can put their marketing clout behind the game and give it an audience it deserves. It does sadden me that there's people out there who want to get the game now "It's an Ubisoft game" rather than "It's a Midway game". Yep, this is what we're up against. I don't read comments these days, though when I mistakenly read them, it's deflates the soul ever so slightly.
Don't read the comments, kids.
The "PS3 Is An Ass To Develop For" story which was picked up by Kotaku after a podcast interview with our executive producer didn't make for easy reading for me either. I'm not sure how I feel really about that. Maybe it was a planned move to get more publicity by invoking the rage of both 360 and PS3 fanboys in a single swoop (over 30,000 views of this story already), but I'm hoping there's no real lasting damage to this. As part of the development team, we're always told about keeping confidential over many things - the Ubisoft deal being one of them. I had prods and pokes from some ex-workmates from old companies, and I had to be all mysterious and sage-like. I also know that Midway PR do scope out this blog and I've been positive about Wheelman - not because it's the "done" thing in the eyes of the company, but because I believe it's a genuinely exciting title. It just saddens me when detrimental stuff happens which shouldn't ever happen in our position at this moment in time. We need to be winning back the hearts and minds of the gaming public, not turning them away.
Shaun also appears in the latest Major Nelson podcast! I listen to the show regularly, and although Larry Hyrb seemed rather enthused by it (and a bit surprised, grr), his co-host "e", wasn't that keen. I will have to bother him with Xbox Live messages until he sees sense.
I've been getting on with my own thing at work for "Project 2" - essentially a lot of research and development. We've got a lot of planning already done and I'm really stoked by some of the concept art and character art which has been created already. I've been grabbing recent showreels of motion graphics studios and the like to get a bead of what's fresh and new in the world of graphic design - they invoke inspirational bubbles which turn into concept sketches and ideas. I really want to do something special with the front end of Project 2 because I wasn't that enthused by how the front end for Wheelman turned out - you'll see in the demo. There was a recent presentation of Project 2 along with a pretty incredible mood video which was put together by a lot of different art disciplines. I've only just started to get back into the swing of mock-up design and have a good idea how the front end can progress... but that mood video. Ohmy. You could have put that on gametrailers.com and it wouldn't have looked shabby all.
Speaking of which..... new Wheelman gameplay footage!
There's also some 3D screenshots knocking about - my particular favourite being the bike chase for the way the sunlight glints off stuff. Please check out this stuff and download the demo on Xbox Live and PSN when it becomes available sometime this month.
The fact I now have extra time on my hands means I can now concentrate on some side-project stuff including The Cult of Karl video. I'm currently working over the animatic with some finished artwork and realising that the video should be in the sexy form of 16:9 whereas it's been produced in 4:3 - big mistake. I've had to re-position all kinds of transitions and the like, though I feel great working on it again - it's been in cold storage for too long. The strange thing is that when I work on animated stuff, I feel like I belong in that discipline. This brings me nicely onto one of the things I wanted to share since I visited rllmukforum.com for a brief visit (and they are these days, although I hear that the mods have since cleaned up the acts of the arseholes who frequent there) and one of my PMs was a question regarding...
"How did you get into the games industry?"
Well, it's been a bit of a strange journey - I've been passionate about videogaming for some time since the days of the Atari VCS. Yep, that makes me feel rather ancient, but I'm glad that I spent my time exploring virtual worlds. I also enjoyed the interfaces of later games on newer systems - I think I had a thing for pixel art and I practiced that on an ancient Spectrum game creation tool called the Skateboard Construction Kit. I know, a weird thing to indulge in, but it got me into tiling stuff together and learning more about pixel art. I think I appreciated loading screens too and how artists could be more creative with restrictions. At this point, I also hooked up with a school friend called Andrew Nibbs, and we would spend time in his basement after school working on videogames. I'd do the graphics, he'd do the code. It was quite a pleasant set-up as I fondly remember the huge toasted doorsteps graced with butter accompanied by generous mugs of tea that his mother would bring us. I guess that was the first development house I worked for..!
I then did the whole education thing - I still believe perhaps I should have cut down a bit on the education, but it did mean that I was trained up in that work ethic of 9-5. I did a graphic design course followed by an BA(Hons) Animation course. I think this is why I feel the way I do working on The Cult of Karl video - I had the mindset that I would be an animator when I left that course. I remember when we were took on an outing to Annecy in 1997 to check out the animation festival they had there. It was quite enlightening in that we had many companies like Dreamworks, Pixar and the like who were extremely eager for talent. Sadly we were in our first year of animation, so we were definitely not prepared for it. The sun shone with optimism and we were all happy to think to the future where we'd be in Annecy again with portfolios and hopes... it wasn't meant to be though.
When we arrived back in Annecy in 1999 with our portfolios and a lot more animation knowledge (although we could have had more considering the place I was taught wasn't that much cop), we discovered that no-one was hiring at that time. Omniously, the rain clouds hung about during our visit and our portfolios became handy make-shift umbrellas as we trudged through the puddles. Thunder cracked above our heads and our hearts were full of dread. Thankfully my big break for the industry came when I was given a phone number by one of the computer teachers who worked at College. It was a phone number with the name "Gavin Morgan" which I ended up phoning in semi-desperation and demanded to know if there were any vacances for me. The company I phoned up turned out to be Jester Interactive, and the guy who picked up the phone thankfully wasn't Gavin Morgan - so I got a job there as a Trainee Artist working on a game for the Dreamcast called Hellgate.
The crazy thing is that I soon ended up jumping from the position of Trainee Artist to Lead Artist. Now this is quite crazy because I kind of protested this as a bad thing - the leap from the bottom of the rung to the upper rungs of the hierarchy of art-related jobs in the games industry was stellar at best, but ill-advised at worst. I felt I was pretty inexperienced and realised that being a Lead Artist meant I had a lot more admin in my life, and a lot less actual artwork. I did have my hand in a lot of disciplines though - I animated cut scenes, helped out with world creation, singularly created the front end for the game and generally got on with any other minor jobs there. At that point I wasn't too good with communication with other artists which soon lead to me being demoted back to Artist - a move which I didn't feel that angry about because it felt like a good thing to do.
I worked at Jester for some time on several projects - some of which were canned to the depths of the unknown when the company had a bit of an identity crisis. I also worked on Music 3000 - which was a time where we had a lot of fun creating content for the title. I did all of the front end interface design including some of the "skins" which were used to decorate the interface with. I think that was a happy studio at that point - the studio stereo was cranked up with sweet tunes and we got on with it. The last major game I worked on there was TT Superbikes, where I had become a Lead Environment Artist responsible for a lot of the architectural detailing of the track. This was quite a rewarding job as it was a challenge to recreate reality with polygon limits (the game was on PlayStation 2), although when the game was done, I resigned. I think one of the reasons for the resignation was the management's distrust in us as a workforce - there was suspicions and the place didn't feel like a good atmosphere to work for. So I left.
Next up, I worked with Tim Wright (aka CoLD SToRAGE) - the ex-creative director of Jester - for a company he started up called Checkmate Solutions where I'd work on the interfaces (graphical and UI design) of some eJay products - music creation software. The office was a full and energetic place on my first day, but this was all a bit of a lie - half the office was there just to hoodwink some grant agency to give Tim some money. Did this surprise me? Nope. This was the wonderful world of games development, and little tricks like that didn't really shock me. "Ah, business as usual, then". It was pretty hard work in that payment wasn't that regular - we'd have milestones to achieve and if we achieve those milestones, the company got paid. I probably got paid half of what I should have been paid due to all this, so I ended up having to become freelance for a year to supplement my meagre wages.
When all the eJay stuff was done and work had kind of dried up, Tim let me go and I concentrated on the freelancing - although I was actively seeking full-time work. From there, I got some lucky breaks doing tutorials for magazines as well as learning about how important it was to network and communicate with people - a guy I sent an e-mail to regarding how much I loved his work called Derek Yu, actually hooked me up with an LA company called Say Design, where I would be working with them on Flash animation, graphics and mock-ups for web-based games. While this was going on, I would be going to interviews to various development houses for work as an Interface Artist and after some interview failures, eventually Midway Newcastle took me under their wing in 2006 for which I was extremely grateful for. So far I've worked on Rush on the PSP as a GUI Artist and Wheelman on 360/PS3/PC, where I evolved into a Senior UI Artist. I've learnt a great deal about different disciplines - working in a larger studio means that there's more departments and more communication to take part in.
So anyone who wants to work in the games industry - I'll give you some handy pointers. Play videogames. Play them as often as you can and get passionate about the games you are playing. Make mental notes about what impresses you about those games you play. Also get onto videogame news websites and sites like gametrailers.com, where you'll get the latest info on games. Soak it in. The passion is an important thing which will help you greatly. This has been a very videogame-orientated post; I think I've managed to get a lot off my chest - hopefully more when I start losing all this weight...
Oh, and I am quite tempted to get a PS3 now I have experienced the lovelyness of Killzone 2. Maybe it's time to forgive and forget Sony for their moments of insanity. Maybe.