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May 9, 2011 | by  | in Arts | [ssba]

Anomalous Materials : Shedding Some Light on Videogame Development

As with any other collaborative artistic work, the creation of a videogame is a defined process.

Being a relatively new medium, the internal workings of its industry aren’t really investigated by any media beyond niche videogame journalism. As a result of this, you could ask almost anybody—even the majority of gamers—“how is a videogame made?” and be met with a blank stare and a shrug of the shoulders. This is unfortunate, as the field is an incredibly interesting example of 21st Century artistry. The steps taken to turn an idea or inspiration into a piece of enjoyable (let alone playable) software are reflective of the innovations of a young, yet prosperous industry.

The production of a piece of electronic entertainment is essentially divided into two distinct parties: the developer and the publisher. The former is the creative force behind the product, akin to, say, the production team that works on a film. The latter is entirely responsible for the commercial side of things. Basically, they pay for the whole affair, and manage things like marketing and distribution. Keeping up with the film analogy, a publisher is similar to something like a film producer/distributor—think Fox or Universal.

For this week’s article, I’ll stick to exploring videogame development rather than publishing. Donnie and I have agreed to run a series of these articles, as we’d like to discuss the inner workings of the videogame industry in detail, rather than simply gloss over its basic outlines.

Your standard videogame development team is comprised of a whole host of people, all of whom have a specific contribution to the final product. Again, these staff can be divided into two major categories—either designers or programmers. Designers deal with what can be called the macro level of a videogame, or, everything you as the player perceive in your experience. Individual aspects of the sights and sounds within a game world are handled by specific staff.

The creation of a simple in-game character is exemplary of this collaborative process. First of all, a concept artist will design a character. From there, a 3D modeller and a texture artist work to create its virtual-world representation by use of computer software. Finally, an animator and sound designer actualise how the character moves and sounds, bringing it to life in-game. More importantly, lead game designers are responsible for conceptualising and working to manifest gameplay ideas and mechanics, or more simply put, the rules and structure that necessitate a game, rather than just a virtual environment. For instance, somebody at some point in time decided that Mario should eat mushrooms and grow two times in size, making it easier to jump on psychedelic monsters. Go figure.

At the same time, videogame programmers are working at the micro level of a videogame. This is where it all gets very interesting, and where both your and my own comprehension begins to fade away. In order for every facet of the aforementioned macro level of a videogame to actually operate and be perceptible, it must be coded by a programmer. If a videogame is essentially a virtual world, then it’s code is analogous to it’s laws of physics and reality. For Mario to be able to appear before you in world 1-1, to be able to move left or right, or to jump, it must be written in mathematical code. When Mario and the mushroom come into contact, a programmer has scripted its apparent consumption and your resulting growth in size. You get the picture.

This method of utilising cutting edge technology to combine complex mathematical language with digital artistry, all to form playable art, is truly a creative marvel of our generation. These people are working their day jobs and literally crafting virtual worlds that can tell us a story, evoke our adrenaline, or puzzle and confound us. Isn’t that wonderful? What’s more, the videogame development industry is notable amongst other artistic mediums in that many of its major development studios are free from corporate meddling. Blizzard and Valve, massively successful for their respective Warcraft and Half-Life franchises, are notorious for their “we’ll release it when it’s done, not when it’s financially viable” approach to game development. It really is refreshing to see the cashcows in a creative field retain total legitimacy post commercial success. However, as with all multi-billion-dollar industries, all is not well. Next week, Donnie gets into the business of it all…


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