Habboi's Blog of Games Design and All Things Awesome!

A Blog made of Awesome and Kittens. ;-)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Portfolio Scene 06

What a month this has been. My PC went on the fritz over and over until Dell finally sorted it out by replacing the GFX, Motherboard and Harddrive. During each visit I must had reinstalled the service packs and installed my usual programs three times. Oh well, it's stable now and I am able to work on my scene again.

So here's an update since the last one. I've mainly been tweaking the lighting again. I like to watch videos on YouTube of games that contain art I admire. One of these is Assassin's Creed 2 which funny enough is the same game this scene is based on. Anyway I usually print screen a bunch of stills and use the colour picker to get a sense of the colours they used for creating mood. Quite often than not it doesn't always work so well but it gives me an insight into colour theory and helps me realise that my original settings aren't all that bad.

Nothing and I mean nothing seems to beat the colour settings I have for my sunlight. I've tried all manner of tones and shades but I always come back to this slightly orange colour. In the past the orange was too strong so this time I desaturated the brick textures by .6 which took away that effect.

I also tweaked AO yet again as Epic have finally included SSAO2 which is meant to be the be all of Ambient Occlusion. Sadly I thought it was too weak so I adjusted the settings slightly to give some of the pillars a shadow around their edges. Fog was also adjusted so that it was further away, allowing the buildings to stand out more. The skydome was rotated to make the view behind the buildings a little more interesting.

Finally I added a real-time vignette that comes with UDK and tweaked the material so that it wasn't so intense.

I plan to add a billboard outside, texture the remaining props, sort out the UV for the main wall on the right and I'll throw it out to the public for feedback. It's very common to stare at something or read something over and over and not see the problems so a fresh set of eyes is always the best way to improve your work.

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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

My long awaited Assassin's Creed Review

I haven't shown you any progress on my scene lately but that's on hold for the moment as I had issues with my PC and the release of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood took up the rest of my time. I bet you were expecting a review of AC1? I know I promised that years ago but I honestly don't think anyone would read that now. So I'm making up for my false promise by reviewing Ubisoft's latest game: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

Now I'm a big fan of the AC series because it combines many great factors that all add up to a fascinating game. Not only do you get to visit the past in a futuristic machine but you also get to see a re-imagining of the present day which appears to be a bit more advanced than our present.

So ACB follows on from Assassin's Creed 2 exactly from the point it ended and continues the story of Ezio Auditore. I would like to add that the developers only spent a year making this game which is an impressive feat considering how big and detailed the game is however I have some negative points that I think could have been addressed had they spent more time on it.

First of all I felt that Rome was still too small even though they said it is three times bigger than Florence. That is a minor issue I know but I would have liked just a few more places to explore. In fact I wish they had included more underground tunnels as it was always fun discovering them and looking for treasure.

Speaking of underground tunnels, the Romulus Tombs which are basically the same as the Assassin Tombs from AC2 were also a big disappointment. I appreciate that they tried to tie a story to these tombs but the thing I loved about the ones in AC2 was the lack of a story and NPC's. Why? Because it created a powerful atmosphere and allowed me to appreciate the work that went into creating those landmarks. Instead ACB quite often forces me to either rush through them in 8 minutes, concentrate on not losing any health or cause great frustration due to unforgiving jumps. Oh and don't get me started on the "Good, if I fall I can use this to get back up." line that Ezio kept saying every two minutes.

Overall though, again, I can appreciate the whole tie in with the Romans but I honestly get enough combat and story outside in the open world. I looked forward to the tombs because they are a way to relax and enjoy the sights. Instead I'm running through a church while rain and thunder (which reminds me of God of War 3 for some reason) falls down on me and I am left no time to appreciate the art.

Once you get the Romulus armour from completing these tombs, you may be disappointed. I know I keep saying this but I like how it ties in with the Romans but the overall design, in my opinion, doesn't fit in with the assassin look. I think it was one of those moments where the design team and the art team were split on connecting it with the story of the Romans and making it aesthetically pleasing to fans of the AC series. At least it's not required unlike the armour of Altair from AC2.

Another issue I had with the game was the stress it sometimes created. Funny enough I came across Ubisoft's job page and they have videos of developers talking about their experiences and what the jobs involve. One of the developers then talks about their design philosophy and how games can't always be happy, there must be times of great stress. I'm sorry but I strongly disagree with that statement to some degree. While we all like a challenge I have to state that there's "stress" and then there's "STRESS".

For example I was running after a target in one of the Romulus tunnels when the automatic jumping decided to make me miss a pole and fall in the water. Now, my target is getting further and further away and the game is yelling at me to "hurry up" while at the same time I'm being hit with stones from nearby NPC's causing me to fail my full synchronization. You could argue that's all my fault but I must note that even the review on Game Trailers bashes the automatic jumping which causes quite a few miss-jumps. So really Ubisoft probably could have tweaked that if they had more time to test it but it's really just a minor issue and I just laughed it off.

So my next issue is the AI. It's still as dumb as ever and here is an example. I was doing that task where you have to follow the man who is giving Borgia soldiers Roman costumes for a play. I walked up to the guards and summoned my assassin's while he was standing right next to them. I think any normal person would suspect something and I believe the AI is something that Ubisoft needs to improve in their next game.

Continuing on from AI, I will admit that they are much cleverer when fighting. Grabbing you from behind and attacking you while you're countering all adds up to a really intense fight scenario. So good job there Ubisoft! The combat is also so much better now that you are rewarded for attacking first.

Now onto some positives. Going back a little, the opening really pulled me in. Not just the opening with Ezio but the present day section as well. Quite honestly the very first parts as Desmond were my overall favourite part of the entire game as sad as that is to write. I'm a big sci-fi nerd and I love exploring so going through the caves of Monteriggioni and seeing all the technology set up in Altair's tomb really excited me. Makes me think Ubisoft should work on a separate series with game play similar to that opening section. I'm getting Uncharted 2 vibes just thinking about it. Oh on a final note the dialogue between Desmond, Lucy and the rest of the gang is top notch and very funny.

My second favourite part in the game was when you had to infiltrate the Borgia Castello. I literally said out loud to myself "This is why I love the AC series. Reminds me of Splinter Cell and makes me 'feel' like an assassin." My hope is that Ubisoft reads this and includes more infiltrating and sneaking.

Next positive is the music which is the most important factor for me when deciding if a game is "good" or "great". Jesper Kyd has once again created some of the most atmospheric songs I have ever heard in a videogame. If Ubisoft ever want to keep creating great games they must keep him! I also like the usual inclusion of Acre Underworld from Assassin's Creed 1. The first time I heard it was in the abandoned church (Romulus Tomb) and it really, really made the environment feel eerie. I literally had my hand ready on my sword because I was seriously expecting someone to jump out and attack me. My favourite song overall though was the one that is played when you're in the present. It's mysterious but also has moments of sadness and that's just how good of a composer Jesper is. So a big hand to Jesper Kyd, may he keep on creating great ambience.

The voice acting was very good as expected and I want to praise the voice of Cesare Borgia, Andreas Apergis. His voice suited the villain and really made me hate him as an antagonist. His last words were very chilling...

Improving Rome using money was a nice touch and maybe it was just me but I didn't see any difference afterwards. I think the actual lighting was brighter and more vibrant and there were more NPC's than before but overall I don't think it had that big of an impact on me than I was expecting. What is also very strange is how expensive the landmarks were and yet they don't give any real benefit once purchased. I was saving up my money to buy the bigger landmarks because I thought it would benefit me more. You know? "Spend money to make money". So really, buying the landmarks are pointless and are only there for "completionists".

The flash back moments in the game were a nice touch and I especially connected with the one scene where Ezio had to carry the bodies of his family. That was a touching moment so good job Ubi. I also liked the ability of accessing emails in the present as it was a missed feature from AC1.

VR training was also a welcome addition as it adds one more task to the list. I spent a good half hour completing them all for the Raiden outfit because I was curious what it looked like and whether Ubi modelled it or were given the assets by Konami. Still not sure about that...

So now on to the main factor which is the new addition of hiring assassin brothers / sisters to join your cause. Honestly, it felt tacked on, as if it was a last minute idea. What I would have liked to have experienced was the ability to join them on their missions outside of Rome and it would have been nice if they had more life in them. Instead, they are just tools for the player to obtain. One other thing that someone else mentioned was the fact that you can customise them but as soon as they reach the rank of assassin you lose that ability. Quite strange since it's like allowing the player to use any weapon for 50% of the game and then only letting them use the hidden blade.

Finally, the ending. I won't spoil anything but you may get hints from just reading what I have to say. If I recall, Ubisoft said we, the fans, would like the ending. When I read that I was expecting some sort of real closure to Ezio's life but instead it left it more open than ever. At the start of the game, Desmond sees an old Ezio caused by the bleeding effect. When I first saw that I was excited because it started conjuring up ideas in my head that we'd get to see an old Ezio dying in his death bed. I even went as far as to believe that the pyramid painted on the wall was a hint at the next time period for AC3. Boy was I wrong.

Overall I was disappointed by the ending. It was too cryptic and my struggle through the Animus to reach the end felt pointless. I went through all that for answers and all I got were questions. This is a debatable subject however because I'm sure a lot of people like mysteries and are no doubt debating about it on forums all over the world. I just can't accept it because I was expecting real solid answers and a closed book to Ezio's life.

Oh and was I the only one who thought, maybe, Mario was still alive? The opening and the ending were different from each other by a few words. Also was I just being dumb when I thought the Piece of Eden was under their feet back in Monteriggioni?

So on a final note; I believe that a year wasn't enough for Ubisoft to finish this game. If they had just one more year, imagine what they could have improved. I would like to see more of Desmond, perhaps 50/50 and I hope the ending for the next game isn't so cryptic.

P.S. You probably think I missed the multiplayer but the truth is I haven't played it yet. I only played the beta and I thought it was pretty good. Reminded me of "The Ship". And yes, I have heard of the issue involving the developers of The Ship and Ubisoft.

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