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游戏艺术和游戏设计的美学意境编辑本段回目录

古代大画家的什么美术技巧能启发我们创造丰富而具有情感意义的游戏体验?当制作电子游戏独有的元素——互动活动时,我们应该如何利用那些经典美术技法?

本文将从形状的心理学与动态构成入手,解答上述问题。形状心理学与动态构成也是我最近在北美地区开展的一系列演讲的主题(获得Gbanga、Swissnex和瑞典艺术委员会的Pro Helvetia的大力支持)。我坚定地认为,开发者在塑造游戏的情感体验时应该将动态成分作为首要考虑。动态构成主要包含以下四个元素:

角色形状

角色动画

环境形状

路径

古典画家在创造通向幻想世界的窗口(美术作品)时,通常遵循视角、形态、含意等原则,电子游戏也依赖相同的原则。这些设计技巧的第二个作用——它们的美学价值,同样适用于游戏设计和视觉传达。

理解传统艺术技法和电子游戏美学,有助于创造更丰富的游戏体验,但这需要重新考虑现有的工作室组织结构和游戏设计师与美工的协作。因为我们都知道,沟通古典美术与电子游戏之间的桥梁也需要游戏设计师的介入。

我们将探索以上元素的审美作用,然后在游戏设计中运用这些技巧。但在深入动态构成以前,我们得先简要地了解一下构成的基本元素(线条、形状和体积)、其心理学效应以及在古典绘画和构成中的运用。

线条、形状和体积的心理学

经过百年的发展演进,艺术世界已经发生翻天覆地的变化。20世纪以前,画家通常遵循一套传统的工艺和设计实践,那些原则作为一种交流沟通的视觉化方法,已经历了2000多年的稳定演化。现代美术有意破坏传统和古典美术技法,为自身的崛起清扫道路。这振奋并解放了艺术家,使他们有可能探索个人风格和自我表达的新形式。

我们所处的时代,更加鼓励人们根据个人生活经历来欣赏解读艺术作品。不同的生活经历塑造了个人对世界的独特理解和观念。对世界的理解固然是不明确的,正是这种含糊性,很大程度上解释了艺术创造过程和艺术欣赏为什么会如此神秘而独特。然而,我们并不总是仅仅从这个角度来研究艺术的美学。古典绘画有明确的目的——部分是宗教,因此在创作时必然遵循具有永久心理学基础的设计技巧,从而使古典绘画的目的更容易达到。

作为游戏设计师,我们必定要树立现代和古典的双重立场,尽管古典技艺对于画家和设计师来说,更具实用价值。我们可以从理解视觉设计的源头开始,即线条、形状和体积。

因为我们所看到的现实太复杂了,专业的设计师为了简化描绘现实的任务,必须将物品概念化为简单的线条、形状和体积。这种抽象与3D数字艺术家使用Maya或3ds Max建模非常类似;在这类软件中,各个对象——无论是角色、场景还是道具,都是从基本的形状开始做起的。除了简化的实用性价值,这些形状在艺术史上还始终与以下美学概念相关:

圆形:单纯、年轻、精力、女性化

方形:成熟、稳定、平衡、顽强

三角形:侵略、男性化、力量

为什么我们要将这些形状与它们的美学概念对应起来?这与我们的现实生活经验和触觉有关。与儿童一样,我们第一次感知周围的世界时,是通过触摸实现的。通过感觉周边和比较质感,我们的头脑根据经验,迅速地形成物品的一般性视觉特征。

Primary_Shapes_fixed(from gamasutra)

Primary_Shapes_fixed(from gamasutra)

如上图所示,假设桌面上放着这三个木头做的物品——球、方块和星状物。现在想象一下摇动桌子。球就滚动——体现了它的动态属性;而方块保持不动。现在想象一下有人朝你扔球和星状物,让你抓住。抓住球是什么问题,但你会本能地犹豫是否要去抓星状物,即使你知道它并不会伤到你,这是因为你对尖锐物品的习得反应不同于对柔软圆润物品的。

注意,曲线可以代表圆形或球状体积;垂直线或水平线可以表现方形或方块;有角度的线可以形成三角形或金字塔。(为了方便,我根据形状分组)。

Primary_Shape_Examples(from gamasutra)

Primary_Shape_Examples(from gamasutra)

艺术家可以利用观众的现实生活经验和触觉,将这些概念(通常是直观的)融合到艺术作品中。看上图思考一下,不考虑设计原则,圆形、方形和三角形(从左到右)如何融入标志、建筑设计、道路和车辆设计中?

迪士尼标志的动态曲线(表现为圆形),与滨海人行步道的曲线纹样具有相同的效果——使我们从视觉上和物理上觉得物品富有动态。

伦敦的国家美术馆门前的柱子,方形的垂直线使我们产生稳定的感觉。与此类似,Range Rover车型的线形设计使我们觉得安全又稳固。

激流金属乐队Anthrax的标志体现为尖锐的三角形,美国丹佛的汉密尔顿建筑和Lamborghini车型也具有相同的特征。

想象一下,如果改变形状概念,比如,将迪士尼标志改成Anthrax标志的风格,会怎么样呢?——这种形状概念与品牌完全不合适。

根据与基本形状相关的心理学,我们可以将它们分布在“情绪频谱带”上,并列举对应的角色形象。如下图所示。

Shape_Spectrum(from gamasutra)

Shape_Spectrum(from gamasutra)

当然,以上情绪频谱带不是设计的公式——但可以作为一种概念工具,用于评估艺术作品和鉴定问题。

这些形状具有的心理学基础意味着它们是艺术品的永恒特征,借此,我们可以在看似不同的作品中发现共性,并且更好地理解电子游戏的美学。接下来我们将探讨一下古典绘画作品如何利用这些基本形状影响观众的情绪。

传统美术中的线条、形状和构成

基本形状的运用在经典构成中具有重要意义,古代大画家借此塑造作品的审美特质。什么是经典构成,为什么它是重要的艺术工具?

古典画家会根据线条系统创作绘画,利用线条引导观众的视线落在绘画对像上。这些基于线条的结构有助于组织绘画中的元素——使图象更容易被解读。但是,我们知道,基本线条和形状也具有美学价值,这与构成的第二个目的有关。

05_Vermeer(from gamasutra)

Diana and Her Companions _Vermeer(from gamasutra)

在上图中,画家Vermeer使用的是基于曲线的构成——使作品产生微妙而持续运动的视觉效果。各个元素,从中间角色的右臂到垂至地面的衣物,都被精心布置和塑形,以强化这种圆形构成。再仔细看看,你会发现许多线条与这个概念相呼应。

这种基于线条的结构的设计是很含蓄的,隐藏着画家的秘密——在潜意识水平上影响观众。观众似乎是按自己的意愿解读作品,却没有意识到构成的影响。这些含蓄路径投射的印象本身就在讲述一个视觉故事。

与Vermeer的作品相反的是Rubens的《Massacre of the Innocents》(见下图)。画家没有使用微妙的曲线构成,而是借用三角形结构传达暴力主题。Rubens巧妙地将大多数男性人物放在三角形上部,践踏着三角形下部的女性角色。然而,线条本身体现的是力量的冲突。

Rubens(from gamasutra)

Massacre of the Innocents(from gamasutra)

再细细品味一下Vermeer和Rubens各自作品中的复杂和精细。经典构成之美在于,使画家能够把复杂的图象浓缩成更精炼的视觉语言。现在想象一下将这个复杂的视觉元素组合放在动态媒体中,如在电子游戏中,你会发现,为了处理渐增的视觉噪音,简单的构成甚至变得更加必要。

视觉语言越简单,观众越容易感知作品的艺术信息。

画家设计的构成类型,无论是温和的还是尖锐的,都应该强化作品的情绪性信息。想象一下将一幅画中的构成线条换成另一幅画的,比如将Vermeer的曲线运用到《Massacre of the Innocents》中,或者将后者的三角形结构运用到《Diana and Her Companions》中。我们会发现,两幅作品的情绪意图被大大削弱了,《Massacre of the Innocents》变得更高雅,但与野蛮的主题不相符。

TheBaptismOfChrist_Piero_sm(from gamasutra)

The Baptism Of Christ_Piero_sm(from gamasutra)

Piero della Francesca的作品《The Baptism of Christ》的构成运用了方形的垂直线和水平线——位于情绪频谱带的中间。尽管画中也有一些曲线,但Christ的直立与高耸的树、站在他身边的其他人物以及水平展翅的白鸽相呼应。我们看到这幅作品时会产生静止的感觉,很大程度上要归功于这种垂直结构。

为了更好地理解构成的效应,我们可以将它类比说话中的发声技巧。不考虑所说的字词,节奏和音调就可以完全改变说话人传达的情绪信息。

Kandinsky(from gamasutra)

Kandinsky(from gamasutra)

随着照相机的发明,对基于线条的构成的强调有所改变,因为画家受到照相机反映现实的方式——光和影的影响。Wassily Kandinsky是现代派画家,虽然他彻底放弃了具象派艺术,但他的经典技法说明了他仍然欣赏构成的重要性:

“艺术作品的内容体现在构成中……在作品内部组织的张力中。”——Kandinsky,《Point and Line to Plane》(1926)

贯穿整个美术史,基本形状和构成始终是组织作品,和塑造图象的审美特质的主要工具。因此,我们应该将这种技巧运用到电子游戏中。但是,在将经典构成转换到电子游戏的过程中,我们面临着一个概念上的问题:玩家。

以上绘画代表的是静态媒体。尽管社会和文化品味一直在变化,但艺术作品和欣赏绘画的体验却保持相对稳定。电子游戏的情况就不太一样了。电子游戏中不存在单一的视角,因为这种媒体的互动性,使玩家的视野得以随心所随地在虚拟环境中移动。那么,我们如何将静态媒体的经典技法运用到电子游戏的动态世界中?(但愿)答案是非常简单的。

动态构成

如果我们能想到这种技法的基本成分,那么我们就可以轻而易举地将静态媒体中经典技法转换到电子游戏的动态世界中。构成无非就是将部分或元素组合成一个整体。回忆前面所说的,经典构成的基本元素不外乎线条和形状。如果我们可以在电子游戏中确定在什么地方找到这些元素——以便玩家总是能够感知到它们,无论它们在虚拟世界中的何处,那么我们就可以开始定义动态构成,从而在电子游戏中运用它。

Translating_Composition(from gamasutra)

Translating_Composition(from gamasutra)

如果我们能从概念上将我们在古典绘画中发现的线条和形状提取出来,再确定构成,并将图画视作自上而下的地图,那么,答案就浮现了。当欣赏古典绘画时,我们会潜意识地追踪线条,我们沿着那些变成路径的线条走进三维的世界。

Logo_Projection_GoW(from gamasutra)

Logo_Projection_GoW(from gamasutra)

(《战争机器》中的标志、多人地图和游戏截图。)

将经典的设计概念融入交互体验中,游戏《战争机器》是一个绝佳的范例。在图的左上角是《战争机器》的标志,就像所有设计良好的标志,它通过切题的视觉语言体现了游戏的体验。Epic公司的美工将头骨图案投射到关卡设计中(注意多人地图中的抽象的眼眶、鼻子和嘴巴)。

从概念上说,这张多人地图非常接近绘画,因为沿着关卡的走道,即使不能与之发生身体上的互动作用,我们的眼睛还是可以捕捉到含蓄的线条。然而,电子游戏更进一步,因为头骨图样的投射也表现了一个三维空间——多人地图上的视觉线条成为3D视觉环境中的路径。

Dynamic_Composition(from gamasutra)

Dynamic_Composition(from gamasutra)

环境中的路径只是动态构成的一部分。为了完全理解动态构成,我们必须考虑到上图中的五个元素以及它们之间的关系:

角色形状

角色动画

环境形状

路径

玩家动作

玩家动作不太算是动态构成的一部分,它与屏幕上的图象有关。然而,电子游戏的交互作用意味着玩家活动与视觉体验是紧密相关的,因此我们必须考虑到。

在接下来的五节内容里,我们将借助基本形状:圆形、方形和三角形来研究动态构成的各个方面。在运用这些知识以前,我们还将额外地探讨玩家在电子游戏中的作用。我们先从角色形状开始,同时探讨是否可能利用动态的角色形象的传达信息。

角色形状和角色成长

本文的前面部分探讨了基本形状所蕴含的美学价值。在这一节,我们将研究这些形状如何帮助我们设计出动态构成环境中的角色。任天堂的《马里奥》系列中的角色在形状运用方面是杰出的案例。

Mario_Character_Shapes(from gamasutra)

Mario_Character_Shapes(from gamasutra)

你认为马里奥的性格如何?可能是:活泼的、年轻的、积极的。不出意料,马里奥的设计特征都体现在圆形概念中——从他的球状身体到他的圆胡子。

路易的辅助型的、兄弟般的性格可以从他的身材中看出来,这种长条形身材与马里奥的圆形身材形成对比。不过,瓦里奥和几乎所有敌人都呈侵略性的三角形状。

事实上,我们看到的是同一个角色!任天堂的美工只是根据不同的美学效果的需要——圆形(马里奥)、长方形(路易)和三角形(瓦里奥),将马里奥的身体变得更柔软或更尖锐。

但如果马里奥、路易和瓦里奥确实代表一个角色,只是随着故事发生动态变化,会怎么样呢?这个问题与我们如何对待游戏中的角色成长有关。

Zelda_Character_Development(from gamasutra)

Zelda_Character_Development(from gamasutra)

上面的截图取自我一直都非常喜欢的一款游戏《塞尔达传说:时之笛》(1998)。左半图是游戏前期的Link,右半图是打完多场战斗、经过多个地下城和BOOS战的Link。我们怎么知道经过一系列考验,Link的力量和能力都有所成长了呢?答案可能不是太多人能想到的——角色的形状,但只出现在UI上。左半边的Link的心只有三颗,只装备了一把剑;而右边的Link有许多颗心,还有很多武器和道具。

虽然这样的UI对有经验的玩家来说是有道理的,但那些不熟悉游戏的人会希望看到中心角色的明显的变化,就像电影中的演员。电子游戏对角色成长的态度就相当于演员只是口头上说,“我现在变得更强壮更有自信了!”而他的动作和行为仍然和原来一样。

为了创造逼真的、情感丰富的故事,我们必须把游戏当作真人,赋予其更多的情绪表现。正如法国浪漫主义画家Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863)在就性格这一主题时写道:

“一个人可能有十个不同的自己,有时候这十个自己在一个小时内都出现了。”

Frodo_Character_Development(from gamasutra)

Frodo_Character_Development(from gamasutra)

将Delacroix的话扩展到故事叙述,角色形象从来不会在同一阶段内产生和定形。剧情暗示了角色已经经历了情感变化,应该使观众看到并理解它。在《指环王》三步曲中,由Elijah Wood扮演的Frodo,其性格发展说明了动态的身体语言如何传达角色的心理和生理状态:从嘲弄愤慨,到激烈混乱;从惊慌逃窜,到疲惫麻木。

Disney_Grumpy(from gamasutra)

Disney_Grumpy(from gamasutra)

迪士尼动画师从动画的黄金时代起就不仅关注角色的情绪,而且理解角色的所思所想。一个能表达它的想法和动机的角色更显得真实。

上图选由Frank Thomas和Ollie Johnston编写的必读书籍《The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation》(Disney Editions 1995)。在图中,小矮人Grumpy刚刚得到白雪公主的一个吻。注意,从右到左,他的侵略性较强的动作渐渐变得温和了,因为他气消了。

这种动态的角色动画确实出现在游戏中,如《生化危机》——主角被囚禁或受伤时,身体就会表现出病态,但这与表现角色的健康状态更有关系,其作用更接近UI图标,而不是传递情绪。

Journey_Character_Development(from gamasutra)

Journey_Character_Development(from gamasutra)

到目前为止,最成功地通过身体动作表现角色情绪的游戏应该是thatgamecompany的《Journey》(2012)。在游戏的开场,角色的身体很直,跳跃动作从容而优雅。但遇到风暴后,我们看到角色的身体状态发生了微妙的变化——弓着身子迎风前进。

也许thatgamecompany本可以做一个角色动画来传达对昏暗背景的恐惧感,在这个关卡,玩家第一次遇到飞行守卫的攻击。这可能使蓝天下的最终一战甚至变得更清爽畅快。

事实上,玩家对他们的角色产生强烈的同情,使游戏设计师得以通过多次利用变化的角色形状,将微妙的情绪触点融入游戏体验中。还可以通过改变服装调整角色的形状;不过,它的身体姿势才是暴露内心情感的最强大最普遍的线索。

接着,我们可以开始探讨与角色相关的动态构成的另一个方面,也就是角色动画——跳跃弧和动作线。

角色动画

角色手部的微妙动作或头部活动就是角色动画,在低分辨率的图像中或当角色处于高速运动时,就比较难辨认了。从视觉效果上说,动画是比较好理解的,其内容包括跳跃弧和移动线。因为角色的移动可以方便地视觉化为线条、所以我们可以考虑如何加工这种可能在美学上影响游戏的动画。

Journey_Jump(from gamasutra)

Journey_Jump(from gamasutra)

在《Journey》的开头关卡,当玩家按下跳跃键时,角色的跳跃会呈现一道优雅的弧线(如上图所示)。

这个跳跃形成的隐藏弧线可以从角色的披风摆动上看出来——这就是Vermeer的《Diana and Her Companions》中所体现的圆形构成的美学效果。

再看《Journey》、《Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery》(2011)和《Vanquish》(2010)的游戏视频,当角色穿越各自的游戏场景时,其身后会出现淡淡的轨迹。你能将它们与圆形、方形或三角形的美学意义对应起来吗?

你应该发现,移动线传达了各种各样的情绪:柔弱和活泼(曲线),缓慢而平和(垂直线和水平线),好斗而激进(三角形)。在设计角色的移动时,你希望玩家体会到什么,就要选择相应的移动线。

除了上一节中谈到的角色形状,我们在设计角色动画时往往从头到尾只使用一种类型的移动线。电子游戏是一种动态媒体,所以我们当然有理由利用所有可能的动画效果来传达更复杂的信息。

游戏的摄像镜头移动与角色动画紧密相关——特别是在第一人视角游戏中,它变成传达角色心理状态的主要工具。在第一人称游戏中,我们必须想象摄像镜头代表活人的视野,具有感觉和表达各种情绪的能力。

以上例子体现了两种相反的摄像动画:一是以《光晕:最后一战》为代表的温和派镜头,二是以《战争机器3》为代表的激进派镜头。《光晕》让玩家产生一种流畅高雅的感觉(特别是在游戏早期),而《战争机器》则表现了一种尖锐的暴力美学——暗示了Delta Squad和Locust Horde处于同样的道德水平。

这些例子突出了的摄像动画在动态构成中的重要性。既然我们已经理解了角色形状和动画,现在可以考虑角色与环境之间的关系了。

角色形状与环境形状

角色的周边是动态构成的重要部分,因为环境通常占据视野的大部分。(游戏邦注:这里的环境还包括配角和敌人)单靠角色形状和动画,我们确实能对角色产生情绪上的反应,但只有角色处在场景中,才能产生故事。

Character_Environment_Shapes(from gamasutra)

Character_Environment_Shapes(from gamasutra)

上图表示角色(紫色)及其所处的环境(绿色)。圆形角色处在圆形场景中(左上)表现了一种和谐的氛围,因为角色形状与环境形状相呼应。这种呼应使我们产生如家般的感觉——暗示了这里是角色的归属地。如果角色和环境都是方形或三角形(右下),我们也会觉得和谐,虽然基本形状的改变给我们带来的是不同的审美感受。

当角色与环境形状形成反差时,我们就会产生不和谐的感觉。当放在三角形的环境中(右上),圆形角色似乎受到威胁;相反地,当三角形角色出现在圆形环境中(左下),就显得对环境构成威胁。

LOTR_Shapes(from gamasutra)

LOTR_Shapes(from gamasutra)

和谐与不和谐的概念也出现在《指环王》中。善良的霍比特人处于情绪频谱带的左端。与他们有关的一切都表现为单纯年幼的圆形:卷发、圆肩、钮扣、洞穴和甚至地形的曲线轮廓。在情绪频谱带的右端是索伦,表现为侵略性较强的三角形:尖锐的指甲、地形上的三角火山。

基本形状的反差使我们得以将《指环王》的故事用基本形状抽象为视觉故事,即圆形的Frodo和Samwise离开他们圆形的家踏上危险的、三角形的旅程,最后又回到了安全的家。

Super_Mario_Galaxy(from gamasutra)

Super_Mario_Galaxy(from gamasutra)

除了《指环王》电影,《超级马里奥银河》系列也可以简化为抽象的视觉故事。球形的马里奥在充满三角形敌人的球形世界里。玩家的任务就是帮助马里奥清扫银河中的三角形,恢复马理奥和他的圆形世界的和谐。

Journey(from gamasutra)

Journey(from gamasutra)

《Journey》是利用三角形实现角色-环境和谐的典范。游戏的三角形与角色形状以及地形相呼应。有趣的是,游戏体验的非侵略属性本可以用圆形来体现,但游戏的设计就是因为违反常规才显得更加出色,从而产生了一种三角形角色、移动线和跳跃弧之间的反差。

Morf(from gamasutra)

Morf(from gamasutra)

《Morf》是我开发的一款简单的网页游戏,我借它研究角色和环境形状之间的情绪性联系。在游戏中,玩家要引导圆形角色经过两处场景——前一个是圆形的,后一个是三角形的。让玩家吃惊的是,这两种环境其实从技术上说,是相同的——只是改变了表面图象。

我在熟练玩家和非玩家之间测试了《Morf》。熟练玩家自然熟知游戏语言,因此主要是利用他们测试游戏的规则系统:如果先跑再跳,可以跳得更高吗?如果我撞到尖锐的物品,角色会死掉吗?

非玩家事实上更能感知游戏的视觉设计。他们会无所顾忌地穿过圆形场景,但一到三角形关卡(如上图),他们就会花过多的时间小心地避开尖锐物品。当他们的角色突然落到尖物上时,他们会本能地发出“嗷哟!”之类的声音——在现实生活中,当我们受伤时就会那么叫。我们应该感到自豪,电子游戏居然可以唤起这样的反应,这在艺术领域中是独一无二的,体现了玩家对角色的强烈共鸣。

非玩家产生的这种突出的情绪性反应表明,艺术性电子游戏具有甚至更大的潜力。非玩家——代表大量被忽视的受众,非常不注重游戏的规则(甚至不了解游戏技巧),因此更容易放弃他们的怀疑而单纯地体验游戏。这强烈地暗示游戏开发者应该开发针对非硬核玩家的游戏。

我们已经知道可以通过塑造角色形状、角色动画和环境形状来影响玩家在游戏中的审美体验。我们的分析以基本形状——圆形、方形和三角形作为概念工具来解释各种美术风格和交互作用。在下一节中,我们将探索游戏场景中的路径如何影响动态构成中的情绪性体验。

路径

场景中的路径就好比公司里的小路或城市里的街道,可以简化为线条系统。路径的形状具有强烈的生理和情绪影响力,这就是为什么公园里的小路一般要设计成曲线的。

Journey_Open_Canvas(from gamasutra)

Journey_Open_Canvas(from gamasutra)

《Journey》的开头关卡没有明确的路径。如果你能把角色想象成一个铅笔尖或笔刷头,那么,我们就可以运用“开放画布”这个概念来分析这个关卡。设计师允许玩家在这个环境中随心所欲地画他们的路线。

然而,玩家能够画的线条已经受到适合这一审美体验的一种风格的限制——角色的优雅姿态,这个我们在角色动画中已提谈过了。

随着游戏剧情进入更加昏暗、无常的中期,《Journey》的路径变得更加明显和受限,从而创造出一种自由与约束之间的反差。

Halo 4(from gamasutra)

Halo 4(from gamasutra)

Master Chief的移动和游戏内摄像镜头与《战争机器》中的激进移动是显著不同的。《光晕》中有大量圆形的和有组织的路径,所以显得与许多第一人称射击游戏大不相同。从之前的案例中,我们知道曲线具有温和的美学特征—-也就是Vermeer的《Diana and Her Companions》的构成线的审美效果。

Superbrothers_SSEP(from gamasutra)

Superbrothers_SSEP(from gamasutra)

在情绪频谱带的另一端是垂直线和水平线,《Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP》是这方面的典型。尽管该游戏确实出现战斗冲突,但因为环境形状,游戏呈现的美感始终是平和的。

如果游戏中的所有树木都倾斜向一边,由于水中倒影而产生锯齿效果,游戏会呈现怎样的视觉动态?事实上,游戏的平和感部分来自于背景的垂直和角色行走路径的水平。为了对比,请回想一下在前文中作为例子的Piero della Francesca的《The Baptism of Christ》,对垂直线的运用。

GoW_Pathways(from gamasutra)

GoW_Pathways(from gamasutra)

如果我们把场景的路径做成三角形,游戏的视觉体验和交互体验会立刻显得激进——非常适合《战争机器》的美学特质。再思考一下在以上三维空间中的路径如何反映《Massacre of the Innocents》中的三角形构成线。

我们现在已经考察了关于游戏画面的动态构成的四个方面。这些概念工具使我们能更好地掌握游戏的审美体验,从而创造更复杂的叙述手法。在我们将这些技巧运用到游戏设计中以前,我们必须探究游戏美学的另一个方面,这个方面是游戏这种媒体的独特之处,因为它与交互作用有关,即产生游戏设计师与玩家之间的艺术合作。

玩家动作

我们目前探讨过的动态构成的元素仅限于屏幕上的画面——响应玩家输入的图象。因此,为了全面理解电子游戏的美学,我们必须考虑到玩家的作用,这与艺术家的活动紧密相关。

体现玩家在游戏的艺术介入方面,运动控制器非常实用。运动控制器包括通微软的Kinect、索尼的PlayStation Move和任天堂的Wii,总之任何允许玩家通过身体姿势控制屏幕上的元素的输入设备都属于运动控制器。

Artistic_Collaboration(from gamasutra)

Artistic_Collaboration(from gamasutra)

运动控制机制除了健身和游戏,还有非常大的潜力没被开发出来。在此之前,观众/玩家的作用从来没有这么接近艺术家/游戏设计师。想一想以下类比:

所有传统绘画都是由画家通过各种线条和形状的组合而创造出来的。画布上的每一条线都需要画家做出某种身体姿势才能完成,为了让线条柔和或精细或粗犷,动作也要相应地调整。通过欣赏作品,观众可能被动地对画家的审美选择和画法作出反应。

电子游戏也是这样的——只是游戏中的线条和形状表现为动态元素,如角色的跳跃弧。玩家对这些屏幕上的形状的响应方式与欣赏绘画一样。然而,电子游戏更进一步:在制作电子游戏时,游戏设计师通过交互作用给予玩家创造的控制权,从而使玩家体验类似于传统画家作画时产生的感觉。

为了体验这些艺术家动作,请比较一下使用任天堂的Wii玩《马里奥赛车Wii》和《Tron: Evolution》这两款游戏的不同控制感。相比于后者的Light Cycles(参见原版Disney电影的急转弯) ,玩家更容易原谅《马里奥赛车Wii》的赛车把手。大家可以看一下两款游戏的视频,但我不推荐为了体验这种效果而玩游戏。

《马里奥赛车Wii》中更加温和的动画和跑道,使玩家用更微小的身体姿势就能使用控制器。《Tron》的Light Cycles的应急把手意味着玩家必须使用相应的身体姿势才能控制赛车。

Music_Conductor(from gamasutra)

Music_Conductor(from gamasutra)

屏幕上的动画与玩家的身体姿势直接相关,这就是电子游戏独有的交互作用。我个人喜欢将这种艺术合作比喻为,玩家就好比音乐指挥。

队乐演奏的乐曲相当于设计师团队(作曲家)创造的游戏体验。玩家(音乐指挥)启动演奏,感受它的节奏,同时在身体上和情绪上对音乐作出响应。

想象你自己就是一个挥舞着指挥棒的音乐指挥。当你听到三首不同的歌曲时,你会分别做出什么动作?你做出的动作与玩家玩游戏时通过运动控制器可以执行的动作大有关系。

Mario_Gestures(from gamasutra)

Mario_Gestures(from gamasutra)

音乐就像视觉图象,可以概念化为圆形、方形和三角形。每一首歌和对应的音乐指挥的姿势使玩家产生不同的审美感受。审美元素之间的组合使我们再次想到电子游戏如《超级马里奥兄弟》和将跳跃弧概念化为通过运动控制器操纵的旋律。

我们已经理解了游戏的美学——包括角色形状、角色动画、环境形状、路径以及玩家在动态作品中的作用,那么接下来我们可以将这些知识运用到美学游戏的设计中,然后探讨艺术家和游戏设计师是否可能产生密切的合作。

游戏设计的美学

这一节将从玩法的角度入手分析游戏设计,把游戏当作规则的系统。如果我们把游戏概念化为形状,那么玩法也有美学品质。这个概念视角的关键是将游戏理解成活化故事的工具。甚至在传统的游戏如国际象棋中,玩家也有行动目标,在游戏区域里构建他们个人的叙述手法。因为游戏这种媒体的动态和交互属性,现代电子游戏甚至能用更复杂的叙述结构产生故事。

从以上动态构成的例子中,我们已经看到古典美术和电子游戏具有共同的视觉语法。只有思考交互作用如何影响传统设计原则才能揭示二者之间的关联。电子游戏的诞生显然不是艺术史上的一场革命,而是一次演变。

Game_Shapes(from gamasutra)

Game_Shapes(from gamasutra)

上图是三个游戏的示意图:敲彩罐(游戏邦注:piñata,墨西哥人过圣诞节或生日将玩具、糖果等礼物盛在此种罐内,悬于天花板上,由蒙住眼的儿童用棒击破)、捉迷藏和棒球。各个游戏中的主要玩家用紫色的图形。游戏的规则限定了游戏区域的形状,以及参与者的分布。我们已经知道,形状——圆形、方形和三角形会对我们(观者)产生强烈的心理学效应,所以我们有必要研究一下游戏的形状如何在情绪水平上影响玩家。

在敲彩罐游戏中,主要玩家站在朋友、家人和其他人围成的圆圈中间。在玩家蒙眼去敲悬挂着的罐子时,这个圆圈就形成一个鼓励玩家的安全区。捉迷藏的形状则非常特殊,因为捉人的玩家看不到其他玩家。棒球形成的游戏形状呈明显的对抗性,因为击手的面前和方向面临着8名防手。

如果我们要从美学上强化这些游戏——操纵摄像机角度、取景、动画、颜色等,以捉迷藏为例,我们可以从视觉上让捉迷藏显出孤寂的气氛,主要玩家非常像意大利画家Giorgio de Chirico的作品中的那些孤零零的人物。然后我们可以把这三个游戏组合成一个游戏,这样各个游戏就代表一个关卡。我们假想出来的“三关”游戏的玩家可以体验到第一关(敲彩罐)中的温馨、第二关(捉迷藏)中的孤寂和第三关(棒球)中的攻击性。

Game_Design_Mario_Jumps(from gamasutra)

Game_Design_Mario_Jumps(from gamasutra)

从玩法的角度看,我们还可以设计一系列新的玩家动画——在各个游戏已有规则的约束内。比如说,我们可以让原版《超级马里奥兄弟》的马里奥具有移动范围。马里奥如果跳以前先助跑,就可以跳得更高。

这样的设计选择一度被当作仅仅是玩法的问题,而不是审美的选择,因为游戏的技术限制。但根据《Journey》、《Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP》和《Vanquish》,我们知道游戏设计和游戏艺术现在变得更复杂了,所以角色的移动和动作可以对应游戏的规则,并且仍然传达令人愉悦的、丰富的美感。

对于我们刚才所说的“三关”游戏——即敲彩罐、捉迷藏和棒球的混合体,我们可以在不同关卡之间显著地改变玩家角色的形状和动画。第一关可以借鉴《超级马里奥银河》的马里奥的动态和移动;第二关的孤寂感可以参考《Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP》的动画;第三关的最终对决可以学习《战争机器》。

这个臆想的游戏未必就能产生高雅的艺术体验,但我们可以把它当作一个例子,用来探究能否通过动态设计达到玩法上的美学效果。我们当然不能遵循一套规则固定的游戏设计公式,因为那是扎根于传统桌面游戏设计的概念。有了动态构成和传统艺术原则的知识,我们可以开始根据美学特质设计游戏了,另外还要在游戏中融入动态玩法,以便产生更具情感深度的体验。

打破惯例

因为电子游戏的各个方面——画面、交互活动和游戏设计都具有美学特质,如果我们打算在创造深刻而丰富的艺术体验上挑战传统艺术,那么我们就应该把游戏设计原则与艺术相结合。

为了制作一款卓越、刺激情绪反应的游戏,我们必须先思考以下问题:什么是情绪性体验?我们往往在游戏的类型或风格的误导下设计游戏。

如果我们能做得好,我们就可以利用媒体的长项制作游戏内叙述——不过分依赖过场动画、对话、特效和UI。有趣的是,这种转变会使电子游戏更加接近表演艺术如芭蕾,而不是电影;在芭蕾中,仅靠动作和音乐(以及互动)就能叙述故事。为此,整个开发团队都必须充分理解动态构成的概念。总之,动态构成主要包括:

角色形状

角色动画

环境形状

路径

利用这些简单的技巧,我们就有了一套通用的语言来交流艺术的各种原则、游戏设计和编程。

三角形和圆形一直是本文的主要论题,因为这两种形状分别代表情绪频谱带的两个极端——就像色值中的黑与白。二者具有不同的视觉和心理学效果。这种反差是故事中的发展、冲突和活动的必要成分,会使观众产生情绪上的矛盾。这就是为什么纵观整个艺术史,艺术家总是用圆形和三角形抽象地表示互相对抗的两股力量。

无论你的游戏角色采用什么形状,你都必须注意到反差是一个信息传达工具,为了达到戏剧效果,你应该颠倒角色的极性。对玩家而言,反差更容易适应叙述的情绪阶段。

记住,你不应该死板地运用动态构成和基本形状的概念。有时候,相信自己的直觉、打破常规反而能产生更好的结果。例如,一个看起来很恶毒的角色其实是一个英雄人物,会让玩家感到惊奇,从而使玩家体验更感性更丰富。

Christopher Vogler在他的佳作《The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers》中,告诉读者如何找到主角的旅程隐喻,这个方法之于小说叙述,就相当于动态构成之于游戏艺术和游戏设计:

“如果你迷失了,那就参看那个隐喻,就好像你在旅行时查看地图一样。但不要用错旅行地图了。你开车时不会把地图贴在挡风玻璃上。你只有在出发前或找不着路时才看地图。旅行的乐趣不是沿着地图走,而是探索未知的地方、时不时脱离地图的指引。只有允许自己创意地迷失,脱离惯例的约束,你才能得到新发现。”(本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,作者:Chris Solarski)

The Aesthetics of Game Art and Game Design

by Chris Solarski

What can we learn from the techniques of the Old Masters to help us create more varied and emotionally meaningful gaming experiences? And how must we go about adapting these classical art techniques when we add video gaming’s unique element of interactivity?

To explore these questions, this article examines the psychology of shapes and dynamic composition, which are the focus of a series of talks I recently completed around North America (kindly supported by Gbanga, Swissnex, and the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia). I firmly believe that dynamic composition should be the topmost consideration for developers wishing to shape the emotional experience of their video games. Dynamic composition brings together several topics from my book — Drawing Basics and Video Game Art: Classic to Cutting Edge Art Techniques for Winning Video Game Design — and is chiefly composed of four elements:

Character shape

Character animations

Environment shapes

Pathways

Video games rely on the very same design principles — perspective, form, value, etc. — which classical artists employed to create the illusion that the television (or canvas) is a window into an imagined world. These design techniques also serve a second purpose equally applicable to game design, which is their aesthetic value, and application in visual narratives.

A better understanding of traditional art techniques, and video game aesthetics, will lead to richer gaming experiences, and may require a rethinking of established studio structures and the collaborative roles of game designers and artists. Because, as we’ll see, making bridges between classical art and video games has implications for game designers too.

We’ll explore how these elements work together aesthetically, and finish by applying the techniques learned to game design. But before diving into dynamic composition we’ll take a quick look at the basic elements of composition (lines, shapes, and volumes); their psychological affects; and their application in classical painting and composition.

The Psychology of Lines, Shapes, and Volumes

The art world has changed drastically over the past hundred years with the coming of Modern Art. Prior to the 20th Century, artists would follow a tradition of craft and design practice, which had been steadily evolving for over 2000 years for the purpose of communicating pictorial stories. What Modern Art did was to clean the creative slate by deliberately breaking with tradition and classical art techniques. This had the invigorating effect of freeing artists to explore individual styles and new forms of self-expression.

We now find ourselves in a culture that appreciates that you and I will respond to art in different ways based on our unique life experiences — experiences that inform the way in which we individually interpret and give meaning to the world around us. The inherent ambiguity concerning interpretation is largely responsible for what makes the creative process and art appreciation so mysterious and personal. However the aesthetics of art weren’t always studied from this perspective alone. Classical paintings had a definite purpose — particularly in the context of religious paintings — and were therefore crafted using design techniques that have a timeless psychological basis, and are therefore easier to define.

As video game designers it’s important that we appreciate both modern and classical standpoints on aesthetics, although classical techniques are of more practical benefit to us as artists and designers. We can begin by examining the root of visual design, in the form lines, shapes, and volumes.

Because reality is so visually complex, professional artists conceptually reduce objects to simple lines, shapes, and volumes, to simplify the task of rendering reality. This abstraction is something that is familiar to 3D digital artists working in such programs as Maya or 3ds Max, where each object — whether it’s a figure, an environment, or a prop — will start its life as a primitive shape. Aside from the practical benefit of simplification, these shapes have been consistently associated with the following aesthetic concepts throughout art history:

Circle: innocence, youth, energy, femininity

Square: maturity, stability, balance, stubbornness

Triangle: aggression, masculinity, force

Why we associate these shapes with their corresponding aesthetic concepts has to do with our real-life experiences, and the sense of touch. As kids, much of how we understand the world around us is first learned through touch. By feeling our way around and comparing textures, we quickly develop a mental shorthand for visually assessing the general characteristics of objects based on experience.

Picture the above three wooden objects — the sphere, cube, and star — placed on a table. Now imagine shaking that table. The round sphere would begin rolling around — demonstrating its dynamic properties — while the cube would stay in place. Now imagine somebody throwing the sphere and star towards you for you to catch. You’d instinctively hesitate to catch the star, even if you knew it wouldn’t harm you, based on your learned response to sharp objects, in contrast to soft and round shapes.

Note that a curved line can be represented as a circular shape, or spherical volume; a straight upright or horizontal line, as a square, or cube; and an angular line as a triangle, or pyramid. [For convenience, I will refer to each group by its shape].

As artists, we take advantage of our audience’s real-life experiences and the sense of touch, and incorporate these concepts (often intuitively) into our artwork. See for yourself in the above illustration how, irrespective of the design discipline, the circle, square, and triangle, have been respectively integrated (from left to right) into logos, architecture design, decorative pavements, and vehicle designs.

The dynamic curves of Disney’s logo, which references the circle, are echoed in the curved pattern of a beachside promenade — encouraging us to visually and physically experience the objects in a dynamic way.

The upright lines of the square give us a sense of stability in the form of pillars fronting the National Gallery in London; and echoed in the straight lines of the Range Rover, designed to elicit feelings of safety, and sophistication.

While the edgy triangle is embedded in the logo of thrash metal band, Anthrax; as well as Frederic C. Hamilton building in Denver, USA; and the aggressively sporty lines of the Lamborghini.

Try to imagine how each object would look if you were to switch shape concepts so that, for instance, the Disney logo was based on the angularity of the Anthrax logo — a shape concept completely inappropriate for the brand.

These psychological associations with primary shapes allow us to orientate them along a shape spectrum of emotions, against which characters and objects can be measured.

The shape spectrum of emotions should NOT be used as a design formula — but as a conceptual tool to assess artwork and identify problem areas.

The psychological basis of these shapes means that they are a timeless feature of art, allowing us to find relationships between seemingly disparate artworks, and better understand the aesthetics of video games. Let’s take a look at how these basic shapes have been used in classical art to influence the viewer’s emotions.

Lines, Shapes, and Composition in Traditional Art

Classical composition is an important application for primary shapes, employed by the Old Masters to influence the aesthetic qualities of an artwork. What is classical composition, and why is it such an important artistic tool?

Classical artists would compose their paintings upon a system of lines that were designed to guide the viewer’s eye around the image. These line-based compositions helped to organize elements in a painting — making the image easier to read. But, as we know, primary lines and shapes also have an aesthetic value, which relates to a composition’s second purpose.

Diana and Her Companions (c. 1655), Johannes Vermeer

In the painting above, Vermeer has used a composition based on a curving line — giving viewers a visual impression of delicate and continuous movement. Each element — from the central figure’s right arm, to the cloth on the ground — has been deliberately placed and shaped to reinforce this round composition. Take a longer look at this painting and you’ll discover many more composition lines echoing this concept.

Such line-based constructions were designed to be implicit — the artist’s hidden secret — affecting viewers on a subconscious level. Viewers could then explore the painting seemingly at their own will, unaware of the composition’s influence. The impressions these implicit pathways projected were capable of telling a visual narrative in themselves.

Now contrast Vermeer’s painting with that of Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents (c. 1611-1612) below. Rather than use a system of delicately curving composition lines, Rubens has based his painting on angular lines to communicate the violent topic of the painting. Rubens has skillfully placed the majority of the male figures in the upper triangle, trampling the females in the lower portion of the painting. However the lines alone describe a collision of forces.

Take a moment to appreciate the complexity and details of both the Vermeer and Rubens paintings. The beauty of classical composition is that it enables artists to reduce complex images to more concise visual statements. Now imagine setting this complex arrangement of visual elements in motion, as in a typical video game, and a simple composition becomes even more necessary to deal with the increased visual noise.

The simpler a visual statement, the easier it is for audiences to engage with your artistic message.

Massacre of the Innocents (c. 1611-1612), Peter Paul Rubens

The type of composition an artist designs — whether it’s delicate or angular, for example — should reinforce the emotional message of the artwork. Imagine substituting the compositional lines of one painting for the other, applying Vermeer’s curved lines to Massacre of the Innocents, and vice versa. What we’d find is that each artists emotional intent would be significantly weakened, with Massacre of the Innocents becoming more elegant, despite its brutal theme.

The Baptism of Christ (c. 1448-1450), Piero della Francesca

The composition of The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca (c. 1415-1492) aligns itself with the straight upright and horizontal lines of the square — which is located in the middle of the shape spectrum of emotions. Although there are some curved lines within the image, it is dominated by the verticality of Christ, and echoed in the tree, secondary figures, and the horizontal lines of the white dove. This vertical motif is largely responsible for the impression of stillness that we feel when looking at the painting.

A useful analogy to understand the effects of composition is to liken the technique to intonation in speech. Irrespective of the words in a speech, the rhythm and tone of delivery can completely alter the emotional message of what somebody is saying.

Black and Violet (1923), Wassily Kandinsky

With the invention of the photographic camera in more recent times, the emphasis on line-based compositions shifted, as artists became influenced by the way in which the camera registered reality — in terms of light and shadow shapes. Wassily Kandinsky (1866), who was very much a Modern Artist, did away with representational art altogether and yet his classical training meant he also appreciated the importance of composition:

“The content of a work of art finds its expression in the composition [...] in the sum of the tensions inwardly organized for the work.”

- Kandinsky, Point and Line to Plane (1926)

Throughout art history, basic shapes and composition have been a primary artistic tool used to organize a work of art, and shape the aesthetic qualities of images. We should therefore find a way to apply this technique to video games. We have a conceptual problem, however, in translating classical composition to video games: the player.

The above paintings represent a static medium. Although society and cultural tastes change over time, the artwork and the experience of looking at a painting remains relatively unchanged. Not so with video games. There is no one single point of view in video games, because the medium’s interactivity allows players to move within virtual environments at will. So how do we go about translating classical techniques from a static medium to the dynamic worlds of video games? The answer, as hoped, is very simple.

Dynamic Composition

Finding a solution for translating classical composition to video games is made simple if we consider the basic components of the technique. Composition is nothing more than the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole. As you will recall from the previous section, the basic elements of classical composition are little more than lines and shapes. If we can identify where these elements are to be found pervasively in video games — so that the player is always aware of them irrespective of where they are within the virtual world — we can begin to define dynamic composition, as is applicable to video games.

The answer is revealed if we conceptually take the lines and shapes found in a classical painting, lay the composition down flat on the ground, and treat the image like a top-down map. The lines that we would implicitly trace with our eyes when looking at a classical painting, now become pathways along which we can travel through a three-dimensional environment.

Logo, multiplayer map, and in-game screenshot from the Gears of War franchise, by Epic Games.

The meticulous design that has gone into the Gears of War franchise is an excellent example of translating classical design concepts to interactive experiences. In the top-left we have the Gears of War logo that, just like every good logo should, embodies the experience of the game in one poignant visual statement. The artists at Epic have then projected the skull motif onto their level designs (notice the abstract eye sockets, nose, and mouth of the multiplayer map).

Conceptually this multiplayer map is very close to a painting, in that our eyes can trace implicit lines around the level’s corridors without the ability to physically interact with the artwork. However video games go one step further, in that the projection of the skull motif also represents a three-dimensional environment — visual lines on the multiplayer map, become pathways in a 3D virtual environment.

Pathways within an environment are only one part of dynamic composition. To fully understand dynamic composition, we must take into account the five elements in the illustration above, and their relationships to each other:

Character shape

Character animations

Environment shape

Pathways

Player gestures

Player gestures are not so much a part of dynamic composition, which relates to on-screen images. However, video gaming’s interactivity means that a player’s actions are closely bound to the visual experience, and must also be considered in this context.

Over the course of the next five sections we will examine each aspect of dynamic composition, with the help of our primary shapes: the circle, square, and triangle. We will additionally examine the player’s role in a video game artwork, before applying the combined knowledge to game design. We will begin with character shape, and simultaneously explore the narrative possibilities of dynamic character shapes.

Character Shapes and Character Development

The earlier section of this article explored the aesthetic sensations that we associate with primary shapes. In this section we will look at how these shapes can help us make sense of various character designs in the context of dynamic composition. The characters in Nintendo’s Mario games make for great examples for this application.

Nintendo characters from left to right: Mario, Luigi, Wario, Bowser, and a Goomba

How would you describe Mario’s personality? Perhaps: dynamic, youthful, positive. It’s therefore no surprise to find that everything about Mario’s design is based on the circular concept — from his spherical torso, to his round moustache.

Luigi’s supportive, brotherly personality can also be evidenced in the verticality of his figure, which references the rectangle in contrast to Mario’s round shape. While Wario — and almost every enemy within the Mario universe — is aligned to the aggressive triangle.

In actual fact, what we’re looking at is the same character! The artists at Nintendo have simply taken Mario’s body and dialled the forms to be softer or sharper for different aesthetic effects based on the circle (Mario), square (Luigi), and triangle (Wario).

But what if Mario, Luigi, and Wario indeed represented one character that dynamically changed over the course of a narrative? The question relates to the way that we treat character development in video games.

Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), Nintendo

Take a look at the screenshots from one of my all-time favorite games, Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998). The screen on the left depicts Link early in his quest, while the right-side image shows Link after you’ve helped him battle his way through many dungeons and large boss fights. How do we know that Link has grown in strength and ability during the course of this game? The evidence is not where most would expect to find it — in the physical appearance of the character — but in the user-interface. Link on the left has fewer hearts and a single sword equipped; and Link on the right has more hearts and many more weapons and gadgets.

While user-interfaces make sense to experienced video game players, those unfamiliar with the medium rightfully expect to see a visible change in the central character — as occurs with actors in theatre and movies. Video gaming’s treatment of character development is the equivalent of an actor verbally stating, “I am now stronger and more confident!” while his posture and behavior remains the same.

To create realistic and emotionally richer narratives we must begin treating video game characters as real people with a breadth of emotions. As the French Romantic painter, Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), wrote on the topic of personalities:

“There may be ten different people in one [person], and sometimes all ten appear within a single hour.”

- from The Journal of Eugene Delacroix

Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003), directed by Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema

Delacroix’s remark extends to narratives and the fact that characters never start and finish in the same state. A narrative implies that a character has gone through an emotional change, which should be made visible for viewers to comprehend. Frodo’s character in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, performed by Elijah Wood, illustrates how dynamic body language communicates his character’s mental and physical state: from mock indignation; to a fevered shuffle; panicked run; and an exhausted stupor.

Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Disney. Sequence animated by Bill Tytla.

Disney animators from animation’s Golden Age not only made a point of understanding the emotions of the character, but also understanding what the character is thinking. A character expressing its thoughts and motivations instantly appeared more lifelike.

The above sequence is featured in the must-have book, The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation (Disney Editions 1995) by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, in which Grumpy has just received a good-bye kiss from Snow White. Notice how, from right to left, the aggressive angularity in his gestures soften to gentle curves as his temper dissolves.

Such dynamic character animations do appear in games like Resident Evil — where the protagonist becomes physically impaired when poisoned or injured — however this has more to do with communicating the character’s health stats — much like a user-interface icon — than an emotional purpose.

Journey (2012), thatgamecompany

To date, the most successful game to express the playable character’s emotions through physical gestures is thatgamecompany’s, Journey (2012). In the opening sections of the game, the character has an upright posture and jumps freely and gracefully. But we witness a delicate shift in the character’s physical state as we eventually guide it up into the storm where it begins to hunch forward against the pounding winds.

Perhaps thatgamecompany could have included character animations that communicate a sense of fear for the darker underground levels where the player is first confronted by a threat from flying Guardians. This may have made the final flight under blue sky even more cathartic.

The fact that players have a strong emotional empathy for their on-screen avatars will allow game designers to bring more emotional subtlety to video game experiences through increased use of dynamic character shapes. A character’s shape can also be adjusted with a costume change; however, its physical posture is the strongest and broadest visual clue to their inner feelings.

This brings us to another aspect of dynamic composition associated with the character, and that is character animations in terms of jump arcs and lines of movement, which we’ll explore in the next section.

Character Animations

The subtle gesture of a hand or movement of a character’s head are animations which are relatively indecipherable at low resolutions, or when the character is in motion. Animations that are visually more comprehensible include character jump arcs and general lines of movement. Because character movement on this broader scale can be conveniently visualized as lines, we can consider how shaping such animations may affect the video game aesthetically.

Journey, thatgamecompany

When a player presses the jump button in the opening levels of Journey, the character jumps gracefully across the screen (as illustrated above).

The implied line that this jump arc creates — made explicit by the character’s trailing scarf — is aesthetically aligned to the circular composition in Vermeer’s Diana and Her Companions.

Watch the video below — featuring, Journey, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery (2011), and Vanquish (2010) — and picture a light trail behind the characters as each travels through its respective video game environment. Can you align the animations to the circle, square, or triangle?

You should find that the lines of movement communicate a variety of emotions ranging from delicate and dynamic (curved lines); slow and peaceful (straight uprights and horizontals); and aggressive (angular). In designing a character’s movements it’s vital to choose lines that complement the emotions you would like players to experience.

As with character shapes in the previous section, we also tend to design character animations with one style of movement used consistently throughout the game. Video games being such a dynamic medium, there’s no reason why we can’t design experiences that take advantage of the whole range of possible animations to communicate more complex narratives.

A game’s camera movement relates closely to character animation — especially in first person games where it becomes the primary tool for communicating the in-game characters state of mind. In a first person game, we must imagine that the camera represents the perspective of a living-breathing person, capable of feeling and expressing a whole range of emotions.

The video above illustrates two contrasting camera animations: the gentler camera of Halo: Combat Evolved by Bungie, and the aggressive camera of Epic’s Gears of War 3. Halo gives the player a feeling of smooth elegance (more so in the earlier games), elevating Master Chief above the edgier, and aggressive movements of the enemy. While Gears of War has an edgy and aggressive aesthetic throughout — implying that Delta Squad and the Locust Horde are on the same moral level as each other.

These examples highlight the importance of camera animations in the context of dynamic composition. Now that we have character shapes and animations covered, it’s time to consider the character in relation to its environment.

Character Shape Versus Environment Shape

A character’s surroundings are a key part of dynamic composition because the environment normally takes up much of the visual frame. (Please note that environment here also includes secondary characters and enemies.) We can respond emotionally to characters based on their shape and animation alone, however it’s only once we see characters in an environment that a narrative emerges.

The illustrations above represent a character (purple) in an environment (green). A circular character in a circular environment (top-left) exhibits a sense of harmony because the character’s shape is echoed in its surroundings. The echo gives us a sense of home — suggesting that here is where the character belongs. We also get a sense of harmony if both the character and environment are square, or triangular (lower-right), although the change of primary shape gives us a different aesthetic sensation.

We get a sense of dissonance when character and environment shapes contrast each other. A circular character appears threatened when placed in an edgy environment (top-right); while a triangular character appears the threat in a soft and rounded environment (lower-left).

Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003), directed by Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema

These concepts of harmony and dissonance can be seen in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, where we have the good-natured Hobbits on one side of the shape spectrum of emotions. Everything about them references the innocent, youthful circle: from the curl of their hair; their rounded shoulders and shirt buttons; to the round Hobbit holes; and even the curves of the landscape. At the other end of the shape spectrum we find Sauron, who is aligned to the aggressive triangle: from his sharp fingertips; to the triangular volcano on the landscape.

This contrast of primary shapes allows us to reduce the story of Lord of the Rings to an abstract visual narrative using basic shapes, which sees the round Frodo and Samwise leave their round home to journey to a threatening, angular landscape, before returning to the safety of home.

Super Mario Galaxy (2007), Nintendo

As with the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, the Super Mario Galaxy series of games can also be reduced to an abstract visual narrative. We have the spherical Mario in his spherical world filled with triangular enemies. It’s the player’s role to help Mario clear the galaxy of triangles to restore a harmony between Mario and his home environment.

Journey (2012), thatgamecompany

Journey is a great example of character-environment harmony using triangular forms, which are echoed in the playable character’s shape and throughout the landscape. Interestingly, the non-aggressive nature of the game’s experience could have been rendered using sugary, rounded forms, but the game’s design is all the better for going against conventions by creating a contrast between the character’s edgy form, and its delicate movements and jump arcs.

Morf (2011), SOLARSKI STUDIO

Morf is a simple browser-based game that I developed to explore the emotional links between character and environment shapes. You, the player, must guide a round character through two environments — one round, and the latter, sharp. The surprise awaiting players is that, technically, both environments are identical — it’s only the superficial surface graphics that change. You can play the game by visiting my page.

I had the opportunity of testing Morf on both experienced gamers and non-gamers. Experienced players were naturally well-versed in the language of video games, and were therefore primarily concerned with testing the game’s rule system: Can I jump higher if I run and jump? Can the character die if I touch a spiked object?

Non-gamers, on the other hand, were acutely aware of the game’s visual design. They would bump their way through the round level without concern, but upon reaching the edgy leve (pictured above)l, they would spend an inordinate amount of time carefully avoiding sharp objects. When their character would accidentally land on a spike, they’d exclaim words like “ouch!” — words that we use when we hurt ourselves in reality. We should be very proud that video games can evoke such responses, since they’re unique among artistic disciplines, and illustrate the player’s strong empathy for their on-screen character.

This heightened emotional response from non-gamers suggests that there exists an even greater potential for artistic video games. Non-gamers — representing a huge, and disregarded audience — have a significantly lower concern for the rules of a game (and an even smaller technical understanding), and are therefore more ready to suspend their disbelief and simply experience. This should be a strong call to action for developers to explore games that are not targeted at hardcore gamers.

We’ve looked at how character shapes, character animations, and environment shapes can be shaped to influence the aesthetic experience of a video game. Our analysis uses the emotionally charged primary shapes — the circle, square, and triangle — as a conceptual tool to make sense of a wide variety of artistic styles and interactions. In the next section we will explore how pathways within a video game environment can also influence the emotional experience within the context of dynamic composition.

Pathways

The pathways within an environment — just like the pathways in a park, or pavements in a city — can readily be reduced to systems of lines. The shape of a path has a strong physical and emotional influence, which is the reason why pathways in parks tend to have leisurely curving shapes, for instance.

Journey (2012), thatgamecompany

Journey’s opening level has no explicit pathways whatsoever. We can fittingly apply the concept of an open canvas to this level, if you imagine the character as the tip of a pencil or paintbrush. What the designers have done is to give players the freedom to draw their way through the environment in any way they wish.

However, the lines that players are able to draw have been restricted to one style that fits the aesthetic experience — with delicate gestures of the character, which we explored in the previous section on character animation.

The pathways in Journey become more explicit and constrained as the narrative drops to the darker, moodier mid-point of the game — thus creating an abstract narrative of freedom versus confinement.

Halo 4 (2012), 343 Industries

We already looked at how Master Chief’s movements and in-game camera distinguish themselves from the aggressive movements of Gears of War. Games in the Halo franchise further differ themselves from many other first person shooters because they often feature rounded and organic pathways. We know from previous examples that rounded lines have a gentler aesthetic quality — aligning themselves with the composition lines in Vermeer’s Diana and Her Companions.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (2011), Capybara Games

Moving along the shape spectrum of emotions we come to the straight upright and horizontal lines found in Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP . Although conflict does feature in S:S&S EP, the game has a very tranquil aesthetic generated through a sensitive choice of environment shapes.

Imagine how dynamic the game would visually appear if all the trees in S:S&S EP were titled to one side, creating a chevron effect on account of the reflection in the water. As it stands, the game’s sense of tranquility is, in part, created by the verticality of the background, and the horizontal and vertical pathways along which the character travels. For comparison, think back to vertical lines of Piero della Francesca’s The Baptism of Christ, in the earlier section on classical composition.

Gears of War, Epic Games

If we make an environment’s pathways angular, the visual and interactive experience instantly becomes more aggressive — an aesthetic quality perfectly suited to the Gears of War franchise. Take a moment to consider how the pathways in the three-dimensional environment above reflect the angular composition lines in Massacre of the Innocents by Rubens.

We’ve now examined the four aspects of dynamic composition that relate to the on-screen visuals of a video game. Collectively, these conceptual tools give us more control over a game’s aesthetic experience, and allow us to create complex narratives. Before applying these techniques to game design, we’ll examine an aspect of video game aesthetics that is fairly unique to the medium as it relates to interactivity, which creates a form of artistic collaboration between a game’s designers and the players.

Player Gestures

The elements of dynamic composition that we’ve explored up till now have been restricted to visual images on screen — images that respond to the player’s inputs. Therefore, to fully appreciate the aesthetics of video games we must also consider the performance role of the player, which is closely aligned to that of the artist.

Motion controllers are particularly useful at illustrating the player’s artistic involvement in video games. Motion controllers include Microsoft’s Kinect, Sony’s PlayStation Move, and Nintendo’s Wii, and any input that allows players to control on-screen elements using physical gestures.

Motion control mechanics that go beyond fitness and washing games are grossly underdeveloped, because their applied potential is massive. Never before has the role of the audience/player been so closely aligned to that of the artist/game designer. Consider the following analogy:

Every traditional painting was constructed by an artist using various combinations of lines and shapes. Each line placed on the canvas required a physical gesture from the artist, which changed depending on whether the line was soft and delicate, or aggressive. Viewers of the artwork would then passively respond to the artist’s aesthetic choices and brushwork by exploring the artwork visually.

The same is true of video games — only the lines and shapes in video games are represented as dynamic elements, such as the jump arc of a character. The player responds to these on-screen shapes in much the same manor as if they were looking at a painting. However, video games go one step further: upon creating a video game, the game’s designers give creative control to the player through interaction, allowing players to experience the very same sensations that a traditional artist would feel when painting.

To experience these artistic gestures, compare the differing control sensations for two games that use Nintendo’s Wii Remote: Mario Kart Wii and Tron: Evolution. Mario Kart Wii’s vehicle handling is more forgiving than Tron’s Light Cycles, which reference the abrupt turns seen in the original Disney movie. The video above features both games, although I recommend actually playing them to fully appreciate the effect.

The softer animations and tracks of Mario Kart Wii have the player tilting the controller using gentler physical gestures. The abrupt handling of Tron’s Light Cycles means that players must use corresponding physical gestures to control the vehicles.

This linking of on-screen animations directly to the player’s physical gestures is an interaction unique to video games. My favorite metaphor for this artistic collaboration — and one that I’m applying to one of my current video game projects — is that of the player as music conductor.

In this metaphor, the orchestra playing a scripted piece of music represents a video game experience created by a team of designers (the composers). The player (music conductor) activates the music, feeds it impulses, while responding to the music physically and emotionally.

Imagine yourself a music conductor waving a conductor’s baton while listening to the three songs in the above video. What type of gestures would you make to conduct each piece of music? The gestures you create are closely related to the type of gestures that players can be prompted to perform when playing video games using motion controllers.

Music, just like visual images, can be conceptually reduced to circles, squares, and triangles. Each song and corresponding music conductor’s gesture creates different aesthetic sensations in the player. This combining of aesthetic elements allows us to re-imagine video games, such as Super Mario Bros., and conceptualize the jump arcs of Mario as a melody that could be controlled with a motion controller.

Now that we have a good overview of video game aesthetics — including character shape, character animations, environment shape, and pathways — and the player’s role in the dynamic artwork, we can go about applying our knowledge to aesthetic game design, and explore the possibilities of stronger collaborations between artists and game designers.

The Aesthetics of Game Design

This section explores game design from a gameplay perspective, in the sense of games as systems of rules. Gameplay also has aesthetic qualities if we conceptualize games as shapes. Key to this conceptual view is the understanding that games are vehicles for activating stories. Even traditional games like chess give players a purpose to act upon, and construct their personal narrative within the play area. Today’s video games are capable of activating stories with infinitely more complex narrative structures, on account of the medium’s dynamic and interactive properties.

We’ve seen through the above example of dynamic composition that classical art, and video game art is linked by a common visual grammar. We must only consider how interactivity affects traditional design principles to reveal these links. Video games are clearly not a revolution in art history, but an evolution.

The above illustration features three games — pi?ata, hide and seek, and baseball. The primary player in each game has been highlighted in purple. The rules of each game dictate the shape of the play area, and the arrangement of participants. As we know full well, shapes — the circle, square, and triangle — have strong psychological effects on us, the viewers, so it’s important to examine how a game’s shape may influence players emotionally.

Pi?ata plants a single person in the middle of a circle defined by friends, family, and acquaintances. The circle serves as a safe space of encouragement while the player blindly tries to hit the hanging pi?ata. The shape of hide and seek is very different because there is an absence of other players from the point of view of the seeker. Baseball has a very confrontational shape, from the point of view of the person batting, confronted by eight fielders facing her or his direction.

If we were to aesthetically enhance each game — manipulating camera angles, framing, animations, color, etc. — we could, for instance, make hide and seek visually exude loneliness, much like the solitary figures inhabiting Giorgio de Chirico paintings. We could then imagine combining all three of these games into one narrative, so that each game represents a narrative act. A player of our hypothetical three-act game could be made to experience joy in Act 1 (pi?ata), loneliness in Act 2 (hide and seek), and aggression in Act 3 (baseball).

From the perspective of gameplay, we could also design a new range of player animations — within the confines of each game’s existing rule-set. Take, for instance, the range of moves available to Mario in the original Super Mario Bros. game from Nintendo. Mario could achieve greater jump heights if he did a running jump.

Such design choices were once exclusively a question of gameplay, and not aesthetic choices, on account of gaming’s technical limitations. But as we saw in an earlier video — featuring Journey, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, and Vanquish — game design and game art is now significantly more sophisticated, so that a character’s available movements and actions can adhere to a game’s rules, while also being aesthetically pleasing and varied.

For our three act video game — inspired by pi?ata, hide and seek, and baseball — we could therefore have the playable characters dynamically change their shapes and animations between narrative acts. The dynamic and playful movements of Mario in Super Mario Galaxy could inspire the animations in Act 1 (pi?ata). Feelings of loneliness in Act 2 (hide and seek) could be enhanced with animations referencing Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. The final confrontation in Act 3 (baseball) could take its lead from Gears of War.

The results of this particular example would not necessarily make for an elegant artistic experience — however this hypothetical game serves only as an example for the aesthetic possibilities of gameplay that fully take advantage of dynamic design. No longer must we stick to the formula of designing games that follow a constant set of rules, which is a concept rooted in traditional board game design. Armed with knowledge of dynamic composition and traditional art principles, we can begin designing games based on aesthetic qualities, while additionally incorporating dynamic gameplay, to create experiences with more emotional depth.

Breaking Conventions

Because every aspect of a video game — the visuals, interactions, and game design — have aesthetic qualities, we can begin making stronger bridges between the disciplines of game design and art if we’re to rival the traditional arts in creating meaningful and varied artistic experiences.

To create great, emotion-driven games we must start each project by asking the question: what is the emotional experience? Our misguided tendency is often to lead a game’s design by its genre or style.

If we do it right, we can begin creating in-game narratives using the strengths of the medium — without over-reliance on cut-scenes, dialogue, special effects, and user-interfaces. Interestingly, such a shift will align video games closer to performance arts such as ballet, than film, where movement and music (and interaction) alone tell a story. For this to happen the whole development team must be versed in the concepts of dynamic composition. To summarize, dynamic composition is primarily concerned with:

Character shape

Character animations

Environment shape

Pathways

These unassumingly simple techniques give us a common language with which to communicate across the various disciplines of art, game design, and programming found collectively in video game development.

The triangle in opposition to the circle has been a common theme throughout this article because these two shapes represent a polarity on the shape spectrum of emotions — much like black and white on the value scale. Each shape is visually and psychologically distinct from the other. Such contrast is an essential component of storytelling, sparking conflict and action within the narrative, and an emotional conflict within the audience. Which is why, throughout art history, the circle and triangle have been used abstractly to define two opposing forces.

Whichever shapes you choose for your game’s characters, it’s important to be aware of contrast as a narrative tool, and to be prepared to reverse the polarity of characters for dramatic effect. Contrast also makes it easier for your audience to orientate itself on the emotional stage of the narrative.

Keep in mind that dynamic composition and primary shape concepts should not be used formulaically. Using your intuition and going against convention is more desirable. For instance, a character that appears villainous in appearance, but turns out to be a hero, will surprise players, and make their experience emotionally richer and more engaging.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Christopher Vogler, advising how readers of his fantastic book — The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers — should approach the hero’s journey metaphor, which provides a similar conceptual function for narrative to that of dynamic composition for game art and game design:

“If you get lost, refer to the metaphor as you would check a map on a journey. But don’t mistake the map for the journey. You don’t drive with a map pasted to your windshield. You consult it before setting out or when you get disorientated. The joy of a journey is not reading or following a map, but exploring unknown places and wandering off the map now and then. It’s only by getting creatively lost, beyond the boundaries of tradition, that new discoveries can be made.”(source:gamasutra)


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