Friday, April 17, 2015

Legendaries Mode, Round 2 - Adam Adamowicz, Concept Artist for Bethesda Softworks
In the second installment of Legendaries Mode, Tiger and Rabbit pay tribute to an influential video game artist who was taken too soon but not before he left his mark on the industry as a whole. His works can be only described as inspirational and he helped to shape two of Tiger’s favorite games.


Tiger: Since you picked Rima Brek last time, I think it’s only fair that I get to pick this time.

Rabbit: Are you going to pick Troy Baker? I know how much you love his work. Or maybe it’s someone from Naughty Dog.

Tiger: Maybe I should pick Ted Price.

Rabbit: ^shocked face^ That’s so mean, I’m still scarred from that whole ordeal.

Tiger: Okay, I won’t. Actually I am picking Adam Adamowicz, the concept artist for Bethesda Softworks. This man singlehandedly created the visual worlds of two of my favorite games. 

Rabbit: Oh wow, you are right. We actually got to see some of his work at the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games exhibit at the EMP in Seattle last year. His art is amazingly expressive.

Tiger: He was also one of the few concept artists that worked with non digital mediums. On display at the EMP were a few hand drawn concept art from Skyrim and a canvas painting of Megaton.

Rabbit: I love the idea of creating concept art on paper or at least in some physical form. I know video games are a digital media but there’s something about seeing art created on paper versus on a tablet or computer. His display was one of the few that weren’t shown on a screen.

Tiger: I agree with you there but I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about some of his earlier works first. In 2001, Adam Adamowicz worked on Nightcaster: Defeat the Darkness for the original Xbox and then on the sequel, Nightcaster II: Equinox, in 2002. The original title garnered mediocre reviews but the art style was praised. Tim Tracy of Gamespot said, “Had there been better implementation of the in-game camera, the game would have had a better chance of showing what it had to offer. It’s almost a shame that the detail put into the graphics is all but hidden by the overhead view that you’re seemingly stuck with.”

Rabbit: His next project was Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde in 2003, also for the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. In 2005, Adamowicz began working at Bethesda Softworks on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. He also contributed to the Oblivion DLC, Nights of the Nine and Shivering Isles.

Tiger: His most stunning work came from two of the biggest games on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC for Bethesda Softworks; Fallout 3 in 2008 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in 2011. I think the most striking thing about Adamowicz’s work on those two games is the fact that he was the only concept artist for those games. Though he worked with a design team, he singlehandedly created the visual worlds for Fallout and Skyrim.
Rabbit: His work on Fallout 3 was highly praised. With the post-apocalyptic setting, it could have been very easy to produce a visually drab game, but the art and overall design were stunning. The environment created stories throughout the game; you only had to look close enough to see them. Erik Brudvig of IGN pointed out this very thing about Fallout 3 saying, “Browns and grays dominate the color palette, creating a stylized and convincing post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s clear that care has been paid to giving Fallout 3 a look that adds to the atmosphere of desperation. And even as the bleak style provides clear limitations in terms of how much visual variety can put into the game… Bethesda has used attention to detail to create unique locations that beg to be explored.”

Tiger: For me, the big standout of Fallout 3 was the environment. Because it is so desolate, there are times when you feel all alone exploring the wasteland. Every so often, you would come across a seemingly meaningless locale only to find that on closer inspection a story is being told to you. Not in words but in visual clues, that a subtle placement of an object gave meaning to the desolation. Brudvig in that same review brought up the time he came across a small bunker. In it he found only a skeleton behind a locked door. After searching the area, he found a book on picking locks and a bobby pin just a few feet out of the reach of the skeleton. “Safety was just a few feet away, but unreachable” as Brudvig put it.

Rabbit: Little details like that just show how much care was put into the game. I’m still amazed at how much art one man could create. Reading through the Fallout Diaries, Adamowicz wrote, “No design is ever a waste of time, even if it only serves to point you towards another possibility.” You can definitely tell that he believed in that statement. On his personal blog, Adamowicz talked about how the Shishkesword had him stumped for weeks and he had several trashcans full of scrapped designs until he reached the “real eureka moment.”

Tiger: In that same Fallout Diaries post, Adamowicz stated, “for this job, I think the more you read on a wide variety of subjects, the better equipped you are to create depth and realism, especially for a fantasy setting. The fantastic that’s grounded in real world elements and then elaborated and exaggerated upon, seem to work the best, and create a solid jumping off point. This often creates fertile ground for generating additional story elements that can influence costumes, machines, and even motives for various personalities inhabiting a made up world.”
Rabbit: You can definitely feel his passion through his work. Bethesda was great enough to put Adamowicz’s art for the Oblivion DLC, Fallout 3, and Skyrim on Flickr. I would highly recommend taking a look at them.

Tiger: Yes, it’s amazing to see how some of those concepts were literally transferred straight into the games with little or no alterations.

Rabbit: Since we’re still on the topic of Fallout 3, I also want to bring up how the 50s propaganda art really helped create the satirical vibe that runs rampant throughout the game.

Tiger: I also love that 50s art style and it was like finding Easter eggs throughout the game when I would discover a new poster or billboard that I hadn’t seen before. Adamowicz also loved that era and its art style, in an interview included with Fallout 3 he remarked, “I have an interest in all things ‘50s because I think there’s a certain charisma with the music, with the automobiles, with the clothing style. So designing any of these characters and then throwing them into the Wasteland, the dark humor for me kicked in when I imagined Ward Cleaver being pushed out of his bunker and he’s looking for fresh tobacco for his pipe and then here comes a raider over the top of the horizon.”

Rabbit: Who’s Ward Cleaver?

Tiger: *hesitates* Umm… let me go to Wikipedia… according to them he was a fictional character on a TV show called Leave It to Beaver.

Rabbit: What is that?

Tiger: I’m not sure but I’ll just leave the link here.

Rabbit: Well, while you were doing that, I was looking at the art that’s up on Flickr and I’m still just blown away by how much there is and the quality of it all.

Tiger: I know I’ve been perusing the collection as well. Which game were you checking out?

Rabbit: I’ve been looking at the Skyrim art and while Adamowicz’s Fallout 3 work was impressive, I have to say his Skyrim stuff is the best. There’s so much more variety to the style and color palette of Skyrim. There are different weapon and armor sets for the various races. The environments are much richer, from the forests of Falkreath to the high cliffs of Solitude, Skyrim really feels like a complete world.

Tiger: That’s the striking difference between Fallout 3 and Skyrim in my mind. Fallout 3 has the better, more concise story. I also think its story is more compelling between the two but overall it feels like a smaller game than Skyrim. Not just because the map is smaller but because it feels like the entire world is dealing with the same post-apocalyptic setting. Skyrim has this breadth to it and I think it’s due to the races with their different agendas. You have the Mer, or Elves, and the Aldmeri Dominion which has banned the religious worship of the Nords’ god. Of course, the Nords don’t take to kindly to this and choose to defy the Mer. Then there’s the Empire which is made up of humans who have to play nice with the Mer because they signed a peace treaty with them. And that’s just the start of it. Like you mentioned, you can look at a characters armor or clothes and know exactly who they are and where they came from.

Rabbit: Like the time I watched you play last time, you were in Eastmarch and the clothes that the people wore were actually different from the clothes that you saw in Markarth.

Tiger: And it’s not just the clothes, the weapon and armor designs are painstakingly detailed. I remember people joking about how all the items in Skyrim can be viewed in three dimensions, allowing you to rotate or zoom in but I’m thankful they have that feature. While I don’t wear Glass Armor anymore, it’s my favorite set though, I still keep it on hand so I can look at it when I want to.

Rabbit: Charles Onyett in his review for IGN also pointed that out; “Weapon and armor designs are fantastically detailed, to the point where the increased damage or armor bonus for a new piece of gear is usually less exciting than the opportunity to marvel at its design.”

Tiger: And OMG those landscapes. From the stunning Whiterun plains drenched in the sun’s rays to mountains shrouded in snow storms; just wandering around Skyrim is a great experience. I often stumbled upon waterfalls located high in the mountains or streams that I had never seen before. There is also an active day and night cycle along with weather effects so you never know what you’ll wake up to in Skyrim. I often tried to time my exploration so that I’d be out and about when Masser and Secunda were full, hoping to catch the aurora that streaked across the skies.

Rabbit: Even if you don’t like the game itself, you can’t deny that Skyrim has some of the best visuals of any game I have ever seen. Maybe not that most graphically impressive, but its design is flawless.
Tiger: Unfortunately, Adam Adamowicz passed away from complications of lung cancer in 2012, he was 43. Outside of his work with video games, he had a love for monsters which he turned into sculptures. Adamowicz also worked on Dark Horse’s New Recruits, did cover art for Malibu Graphics, and worked with David Greenberger on The Duplex Planet from Fantagraphics. For me, I will always remember him for his work in Fallout 3 and Skyrim. I don’t think I can truly express how much of an impact Fallout and Skyrim had on me and my own creative projects. It’s not so much the gameplay or the story that I love, but the subtle visual nuances of the games. On Bethesda’s tribute page, there is an entry that talks about when Adamowicz was designing the concepts for Dewmer weapons. He had dozens of reference photos not only of weapons but of architecture, paintings, pottery, and other such things. He created culture as much as he created a concept; undeniably that detail is what had the most impact on me as a gamer. Because when I looked at a weapon or a location in those games, I knew that it wasn’t made to just “look cool.” There is a depth of history, culture, and meaning behind those items; and I know that painstaking work went into shaping a complete world.

Rabbit: I can’t imagine what Fallout 3 and Skyrim would be like without his contributions. While many people may not have known his name, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of gamers at least have seen his work. I definitely believe his influence will carry on for a long time to come in the art and design of video games.

Tiger: I think there is no better way to end this post than with a few snippets from the people that worked and knew Adam Adamowicz directly.

“Adam’s presence is indelibly felt in the games he worked on. To play his games – Fallout 3 in particular – was to know him, in a way. His personality seeped into every piece he worked on. I’m still impressed with the number of final assets that seemed lifted directly from the page where he drew them. His creativity has no boundaries, and he made it seem so effortless - working with him was a privilege I’ll never forget.”

“I would like to quote Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: ‘There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.’”

"The gaming industry lost an extremely talented young man and we at Bethesda lost a really good friend. There’s no doubt that his work will continue to influence what we create here at Bethesda and his work will continue to inspire others around the world."

Random Happy Time, 16 O’Clock - Wasteland Lawbringers
After discussing Fallout 3, Tiger and Rabbit reminisce about their own adventures in the Capital Wasteland. Unwanted guests, hunting for fingers, teddy bear collections; in Fallout 3 the escapades were limitless.


Tiger: I was just thinking about all the crazy things that happened when we played Fallout 3.

Rabbit: Ooh, yeah. Like the time I was working for the Regulators and collecting fingers off of bad guys I killed.

Tiger: It was fun at first but there were easier ways to make money.

Rabbit: There was always a Radscorpion outside of the Regulators HQ. One time I fast traveled there and it attacked Sonora Cruz, killing her! I had close to 50 fingers on me that I couldn’t turn in.

Tiger: Geez, that sucks. Reminds me of when I traveled with Charon, the Ghoul bodyguard. I stopped at my home in Megaton and he got stuck in the floor. I thought if I left him, that he would eventually follow me to another area of town. He never did so I went back to check on him only to find that Wadsworth, the robot butler, was stuck on Charon’s head. [○・`Д´・○] Charon himself was wedged into the stairs so that only his head stuck out. The thing that sucked was that they both blocked the staircase so I couldn’t use my bed on the second floor.

Rabbit: ^laughing^ Buhahaha! That’s awesome! (ᗒᗜᗕ)՛̵̖

Tiger: What kind of a laugh is that?

Rabbit: Remember my teddy bear collection?

Tiger: Yes, and how you crashed the game when you dumped them all in your house.

Rabbit: ^snickers^ What did you collect?

Tiger: Pencils.

Rabbit: Why pencils?

Tiger: Because they weighed nothing and didn’t count against the total you could carry.

Rabbit: That’s so like you. But you actually collected everything right?

Tiger: Almost, I got to the point where I wasted so much time picking up those bent cans you can find everywhere that I made a rule where I would only take something that was worth equal or more than it weighed.

Rabbit: Wow, that’s still a lot of items though.

Tiger: That’s why it took me so long to play that game.

Rabbit: I gotta admit it was so freaking cool to have Liam Neeson as our father. He’s probably one of the cooler big name actors that I can think of being in a video game.

Tiger: Patrick Stewart as Uriel Septim VII in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was also a great pick.

Rabbit: Oh, remember Three Dog? Man, he was cool.

Tiger: I always had Galaxy News Radio playing on my Pip-Boy whenever I played Fallout 3.

Rabbit: GNR had the best music and Three Dog did the funniest news updates.

Tiger: I always loved that he made comments on your actions during the main quests. Wholesome slaughter, baby.

Rabbit: Speaking of dogs, did you ever get Dogmeat? U^ェ^U

Tiger: You know, I never found him. I even used a few online guides to try and get him but out of the four or five times I’ve played Fallout, he never showed up once.

Rabbit: Me neither, I was super bummed that I couldn’t get him as a pet. I thought that would be cool to have a puppy along for the ride.

Tiger: As much as I wanted Dogmeat, my favorite companion was Fawkes.

Rabbit: ヽ(゚Д゚)ノ No, he’s scary.

Tiger: Having a super mutant back you up was awesome!

Rabbit: No thanks. I’ll take something that’s cute and fluffy any day.

Tiger: You know Rabbit, Fallout 3 isn’t a cute and fluffy kind of game.

Rabbit: Maybe Bethesda should fix that in Fallout 4! /(^ x ^=)\

Friday, April 3, 2015

Q Attack, Round 10 - Are Graphics Important?
Next-gen graphics were the talk of the town when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were announced. Demos and trailers touted phenomenal graphics that looked photo-realistic but are graphics really important? Tiger and Rabbit discuss looks over substance and whether or not you should judge a book by its cover.


Tiger: So one of the biggest releases this month just happens to be The Order: 1886.

Rabbit: Which we got a chance to play at PAX Prime last year.

Tiger: That’s right. Have you noticed that most of the hype surrounding this game has been about how it looks? It seems like everything is about the graphics and how realistic it looks. Maybe not so much in the overall design but the lighting and environments are pretty awesome.

Rabbit: I have noticed that and having seen it first hand, I can say that the hype is real. Even in a dark PAX booth with poor lighting, you could tell that the game had high quality graphics.

Tiger: But then we played it, and well, it kind of sucked.

Rabbit: The guy felt so heavy, like he was running around in mud.

Tiger: It felt like an on-rails shooter. It was like I was playing a really pretty version of Time Crisis or something.

Rabbit: It wasn’t quite that bad, but pretty close. I definitely think that so much focus was put on the looks of the game versus the actual gameplay.

Tiger: Granted, we haven’t played the full game yet so it could be a lot better than the underwhelming demo we played. It does look pretty.

Rabbit: See, that’s a shallow comment right there.

Tiger: What? I can’t tell a game it’s pretty?

Rabbit: That’s just gameist. I mean, what about the ugly games? There are some that really deserve attention but everyone only seems to care about the pretty ones. It’s not all about looks.

Tiger: That’s true and you can’t judge a game by its graphics alone but looks do matter.

Rabbit: If the game is good, why should its graphics mean anything? Think of all those PS Classics. They look atrocious by current-gen standards but they are still great to play.

Tiger: But a lot of those games looked amazing when they came out. Think of Legend of Dragoon or Gran Turismo, they looked amazing when they released. Granted they haven’t aged that well but I still think they look pretty good considering how old they are.  Or look at ICO and Shadow of the Colossus; I know they got an HD remake on the PS3 but the PS2 versions still hold up really well. Not only were they designed well but their graphics really helped to create the immersive and unique game worlds.

Rabbit: Design does matter but that’s not the same as graphics. You can have a game that has great level and character design that just falls a bit short in regards to the graphics, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game though. Freedom Fighters was amazing on the PlayStation 2 and had some great designs but it definitely wasn’t easy on the eyes. I just think gamers should be careful about picking up a game just because “it looks cool.”

Tiger: And this is coming from the person who bought Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color because the game “looked cool.”

Rabbit: And the gameplay “looked cool” as well. So no, I wasn’t buying it just on its lovely face. What do you think I am? A cavebunny?

Tiger: I don’t really see why you have a problem with judging something by its looks. We do it every day with other things, so why not video games? I’m not saying that we need to be shallow and only care about the graphics of a game but we shouldn’t disregard them either. After all, video games are a visual medium. Why would you want to spend 20+ hours with an ugly game?

Rabbit: I can’t believe this is who you really are. How could you even judge a game on how it looks rather than who it is as a game? Games are people too you know. They have feelings; they aren’t a piece of eye candy. They have souls and don’t exist just so you could stare at them.

Tiger: Actually, they kind of do.
Rabbit: That’s beside the point. So you’re telling me that a game’s graphics are more important than its substance? Are graphics really important?

Tiger: I think they are important because you consume video games with your eyes. If video games were always ugly or had bad graphics, it would be like watching a really ugly movie. Or better yet, could you imagine listening to Bartok on an out-of-tune piano? Bartok is Bartok but still, even his work would sound pretty bad if the instrument it’s played on is not in tune. So why are video games any different? I’m not saying that graphics are the only thing important when it comes to choosing my video games but I do want them to look nice. I can think of a few upcoming games like No Man’s Sky or The Tomorrow Children that really piqued my interest because of their visual design and graphics. Neither game has crazy graphics like The Order but both look unique and amazing. So while you don’t always have to be the best looking game, I think developers should try and create a game that’s visually appealing. I always go back to Fallout 3 as an example but it really fits here. The game is set in a wasteland and it could have been visually drab but the overall design helped to breathe life into the game. Combine that with the graphically power of the gaming platforms back then, made it stand out visually amongst its peers. A game doesn’t need to win Miss Universe or anything but if I’m going to take it out on a date, I’d rather spend my time looking at a pretty face than a really ugly one and that’s just a fact. I’m not being shallow, I’m being sensible. And why are we talking about games like they’re people?

Rabbit: Because they are, deep down inside, they are. Well, I can understand where you are coming from but I have to disagree. I think too much stock is put into a video game’s graphics, so much so that it has become a major focus, a focus that has taken away from other aspects of a game’s creation. Think back to the Killzone debacle, for one the game didn’t look as good as the trailer showed. And then it wasn’t even that good of a game. Now Killzone: Shadow Fall lived up to its visual hype but still, it wasn’t a very good game. Maybe if Guerrilla had spent less time on looks and more time on substance, they would have released a better product. Or what about Assassin’s Creed: Unity? The demos that we saw looked far superior to the game that was actually released. It makes me skeptical that Rainbow Six: Siege or The Division will look half as good as what we’ve already seen. Not every developer is going to have the time or resources to spend to make a game that’s graphically powerful. Look at Naughty Dog, not everyone has a mocap studio like they do so not everyone is going to be able to produce a game that will rival Uncharted 4. Does that mean those developers produce lesser quality games? Probably, because they aren’t Naughty Dog, but maybe one of those developers will create a worthwhile game even if it isn’t beautiful. Plus, who needs another pretty face? I want a game that truly understands me and what I need as a gamer. People make art out of all sorts of objects, some art isn’t going to be pretty, and I think that’s true for video games too.

Tiger: Wait… video games are art?

Are Graphics Important?

Tiger     vs     Rabbit

Random Happy Time, 15 O’Clock - Man, You Are Ugly!
After chatting about beautiful games, Tiger and Rabbit decide to flip the coin and discuss ugly things. From the monstrous to the grotesque, Tiger and Rabbit share the ugly things that they love.


Rabbit: I feel bad that we talked about pretty things before and left out all the ugly things. I don’t want to get their feelings hurt so I thought we could do that here.

Tiger: Do what?

Rabbit: Talk about ugly things we like.

Tiger: You don’t like ugly things.

Rabbit: There are some ugly things I like.

Tiger: Okay, how about worms?

Rabbit: ヽ(。_°)ノ Eww.

Tiger: One-eyed dogs?

Rabbit: That’s so sad.

Tiger: Dirt?

Rabbit: You think dirt is ugly?

Tiger: Salamanders?

Rabbit: They’re just cute little lizards.

Tiger: Rocks?

Rabbit: They’re neat.

Tiger: Rocks covered in bird poop?

Rabbit: ¯\(°_o)/¯ Gross.

Tiger: All-you-can-eat buffets?

Rabbit: So hungry.

Tiger: All-you-can-eat buffets with sick people?

Rabbit: I don’t wanna eat sick people. ヽ(゚Д゚)ノ

Tiger: ヽ( ̄д ̄;)ノ No, I meant with sick people in line. Never mind, how about moldy cheese?

Rabbit: I thought cheese was already a mold.

Tiger: Spaghetti noodles.

Rabbit: Huh?

Tiger: They’re ugly and creepy looking.

Rabbit: I guess we really don’t like ugly things. We are terrible people.

Tiger: You just realized that?

Rabbit: (⌒_⌒;) I think voles are ugly and cute at the same time.

Tiger: How so?

Rabbit: Well, voles are often used in experiments so they cut open their skull and place a cap on it.

Tiger: *raises eyebrows*

Rabbit: So they are ugly because they have had their heads cut open but their cute too because they’re idle bitty mice looking things.

Tiger: Ooookay. We’re done now.