Blitz game studios

I’ve been trying for a while to work out what the best entry point is for someone looking to work in concept art or the games industry. Most major studios require past experience working in the industry, and while mods and indie games  can help build a strong portfolio they aren’t always enough to get a foot in the door.

Blitz Games is a studio based in Leamington spa.  Although they work mostly on licenced games, they employ over 200 people across multiple divisions and can be considered a relatively successful mid-sized developer with a healthy catalogue of published work. What sets them apart from most studios of their kind is their emphasis on entry level work placements and careers. Unlike freelance work, and most indie studios, the jobs are in house and give a much better idea of the workflow and skillsets needed to be successful in larger development teams.


Futuregazing report

The future of motion controls in gaming

Since the release of the Nintendo Wii in 2006 the games industry has experienced a major shift towards gesture based control systems; both in place of, and to supplement traditional controllers. It’s not clear however how far this trend will carry the industry. With Mircosoft’s release of the motion sensing camera add-on Kinect, and Sony’s new Wii-mote like Playstation move controller, all three console manufacturers have their sights set firmly on motion controls.

“Whereas Mircosoft views Kinect as a rebirth for the Xbox 360, Sony sees Move as more of an add on” (Christopher Dring 10/09/10)

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 currently stands in second place in terms of market share, they’ve slowly been loosing ground to Sony’s PS3 since it’s launch, and have been unable to close the lead held by Nintendo’s Wii. The Xbox’s original demographic of dedicated “core” gamers is split between Sony and Mircosoft and beginning to reach saturation, meanwhile Nintendo’s “casual” gaming audience must (,at the time of kinect’s conception,) have looked like an unlimited source of new customers. It’s understandable that Mircosoft would want to expand into that market. They see kinect as the transformation of the xbox from a console catering for the “core” gaming audience, to a console catering to all audiences.

Sony on the other hand is more willing to rely on their strong lineup of 1st party intellectual properties and don’t seem to be pushing towards motion controls as hard. Few games at present are being designed with the Move as their primary input, it’s instead being used as an optional enhancement.

“I think motion controls are a complete dead end for gaming.” (Ben “Yahtzee” Choshaw  28/02/11)”

Ben Chroshaw argues that without any kind of tactile feedback from gesture controls the entire concept is essentially pointless. Designating functions to specific controller movements or gestures in front of a camera has the same effect as simply pushing a button. Increasing the magnitude of the movements players have to make in order to control their on-screen avatars only adds an unecessary obstacle to gameplay. It removes some of the precision timing and interrupts a game’s flow, in can lead to reducing player immersion rather than building it.

“Sixense technology and the Razer Hydra product are very impressive.” (Christopher Grant 08/01/11)

With all three consoles now equipped with gesture based control options, there has been renewed interest in making the technology viable on the PC as well. Wii-mote hacks, kinect mods, and peripherals which track movement in three dimensions have all been tried before, but usually as short-lived experiments. Razer, a company known on the PC for producing high-end keyboard and mouse set ups designed for gaming, have recently released a new gesture controller modelled on those created for the consoles. The product is high-profile enough to have a tie-in agreement with Valve’s new game Portal 2, with several additional leveled included designed specifically to be tackled with this new controller. It’s a sure sign that for better or for worse motion controls are becoming a mainstream aspect of gaming.

MCV magazine, November 2010 issue, page 21

Valve’s snack bar

This is a short documentary on the refreshments provided for the employees at Valve software. It got me thinking of the extremely casual and informal workspaces many successful creative companies operate. In the video it shows a kitchens stocked entirely with sweets and junk food. I recall seeing similar levels of juvenile excess when glimpsing into the work environments of Pixar, Bungie and Insomniac. It seems the best way to keep talented employees content and productive is with childrens toys and confectionary. It seems odd at first, but so much of the success of an organisation in the creative industries relies on attracting and retaining “talent” that perhaps indulging workers to such a degree is an important part of these companies’ success.

A look at Blizzard’s recruitment criteria

Blizzard entertainment recently started recruiting for a new unannounced MMO project. This got me looking through thier jobs listings for an idea for what sort of level is required to work at an industry juggernaut like Blizzard.

Environment Concept Artist, Props

Next-Gen MMO

Office: Irvine, California, United States

E-mail this job posting to a friend

Blizzard Entertainment is looking for an exceptionally skilled environment concept artist for a team focused on next-generation massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. The ideal candidate has experience developing concepts for a diverse visual range of environment prop assets. An exceptional understanding of industrial design, form, structure, color, and light is essential, as is a creative imagination. The concept artist should have a basic understanding of game art creation (low-poly modeling and texturing) and be well-versed in related tools — Photoshop, Painter, Maya, etc. The ideal candidate works well in an environment of peers who are passionate about making great games.
  • A minimum of 2 years experience in game development as an environmental concept artist
  • Exceptional ability in Photoshop, Painter, etc.
  • A basic understanding of using Maya (or equivalent 3D package)
  • A keen eye towards form, shape, structure, and silhouette in regards to illustration and design
  • Superior eye for light, value, composition, color, staging, and detail in environmental design
  • Understanding of the distinctive Blizzard Entertainment visual style and a passion to push it to the next level
  • Able to carry an idea from the conceptual phase to the finished illustration and an understanding of translating these ideas to real-time game environments
  • Self-motivation, good communications skills, and a great team-player attitude
  • Able to work creatively as part of a large or small group
  • A passion for video games
  • Skill in one or more of the related creation tasks — modeling, texturing, or animation
  • Have shipped AAA PC or console titles as a concept artist
  • Strong foundation in the traditional arts including, but not limited to industrial design, landscape painting, and illustration

 I selected the role for I feel I’d be most suited for closer inspection. Most of the requirements are to be expected: ability to work as a team, strong photoshop knowledge etc.  A knowledge of Maya and modelling/texturing/animating skills is a more suprising requirement and something that sets this apart from a traditional illustration job. The most troubling items are the expectation of 2 years minimum industry experience and to have shipped a AAA title in the games industry. It raises a question I’ve heard asked numerous times before “How do I go about gaining experience?”. Mod and indie devs are certainly great for getting a foothold, but I’m not sure that alone would prepare you for working on a AAA title. It’s something I need to investigate if I want to be able to make this work as a career.

Wii HD

Nintendo’s next console is rumoured to be announced at this years E3. With Wii sales slipping and the market for motion controlled minigames seemingly near saturation  many have already predicted that Nintendo would be the first of the 3 major console providers to move to new hardware.

The PS3 and Xbox 360, the Wii’s competitors, have both been selling at a loss as far as hardware is concerned. Plus with development costs for AAA games being exorbitantly high both Sony and Microsoft have made it clear that they intend to extend this console generation’s life as long as possible. Without costly research & development as well as manufacturing costs associated with releasing new hardware Sony and Microsoft have more time to take advantage of cheaper development as studios learn to adjust to the existing hardware and are able to reuse their engine for multiple games.

Nintendo on the other hand has been selling Wii hardware at a profit. Market saturation, poor 3rd party support, and the Wii’s lack of processing power in relation to the other two consoles, all mean that they need to release a new console if they want to stay profitable.

Rumours of the new console’s specifications place it as slightly more powerful than the Xbox 360. This is a smart move in my opinion. Computer hardware has moved on immensely in the 5+ years since the Xbox was released, if they wanted to Nintendo could easily leapfrog the competition and have the most graphically advance console on the market, however by keeping themselves on par with Sony and Mircosoft they lower manufacturing costs and make themselves an appealing option for 3rd party developers looking to publish on multiple platforms. The new console is also rumoured to utilize a touchsreen controller interface, with an in-built camera, in addition to functioning as a Wiimote like motion controller. The inclusion of bumpers, dual analog sticks, and a D-pad means that it would be just as viable as an Xbox or Playstation for multiplatform games, but with it’s in-built motion controls and other features Nintendo exculsives could not be emmulated easily on other hardware.

None of this has yet been confirmed, as is for now mostly speculation. We should find out for sure at this years E3.

Feng Zhu design cinema

Fang Zhu is a concept artist and designer who’s worked on games like Command and Conquer as well as films like Transformers. He now runs a school in Singapore teaching students how to work in a production environment. The video tutorials he posts online serve to give potential students a look at what is taught and to advertise the school. The videos serve as useful tools in their own right however, and I’ve been following the series for some time now.

This particular video focuses of environment painting and emphasises the importance of fundamental skills; composition, perspective, lighting, design etc without which a painting cannot have appeal, regardless of the level of detail. I find his use of colours interesting since colour theory has always been one of my weaker areas. The colours he uses aren’t quite realistic but instead what he dubs “entertainment lighting” where areas of increased contrast or saturation are used to draw focus to a painting’s subject matter.


The Hobbit production blog

The first in a series of videos set to follow the making of the film The Hobbit. This first one doesn’t go into too much detail but it does give some glimpses at how important pre-production is in filming. We see walls plastered with concept art (blurred to avoid spoilers) to inform the costume department. We see props being made, loacations which been scouted and sets which have been built. Even for an adaptaion like The Hobbit which is drawing it’s story and visual style from existing materials it’s still vital to have that stage of design and conception.