This is the end, beautiful friend

With university over (I got a 2:1, so can’t complain) this blog is no more! I’ll keep it up in case anyone else finds anything here useful.

My new portfolio website is can be found here: hortfrancis.com

Come and take a look!

Peace out,
Alex.

Canary Wharf trademark?

The Canary Wharf Group tried to trademark ‘Canary Wharf’ in 2013 but seems to have unsuccessful. This document from the UK’s Intellectual Property Office outlines the process.

It seems naming an ingame location as ‘Canary Wharf’ would be ok in the derivative work. However, ‘Canary Wharf Group’ is a trademark of the company that owns much of the property at Canary Wharf. To avoid any difficulties, the group of survivors at Canary Wharf could be referred to as the ‘group at Canary Wharf’ or the name could still be changed.

According to Wikipedia:

Canary Wharf itself takes its name from No. 32 berth of the West Wood Quay of the Import Dock. This was built in 1936 for Fruit Lines Ltd, a subsidiary of Fred Olsen Lines for the Mediterranean and Canary Islands fruit trade. At their request, the quay and warehouse were given the name Canary Wharf.

Canada Square is the name of the public square in the middle of Canary Wharf. Again, from Wikipedia:

The Canadian connection is from the original developers of the site, Olympia and York, owned by the Paul Reichmann family of Toronto.

In the derivative work, the ingame location would be referred to as ‘Canada Wharf’, an amalgamation of real-life place names to avoid any unwanted legal complications. Although Canada Wharf does seem to be an actual nearby location in London, as a Google search reveals various domestic properties for sale. “Canada Wharf Group” only picks up one result inside a magazine on issuu.com from 2 years ago, so the name seems safe to use.

http://ipwhiteboard.com.au/canary-wharf-trade-mark-rejected-30-years-late-protect-valuable-property-names-trade-marks-conception/

Making the showreel – part 3

Credits for images in showreel:

The Day of the Triffids cover:

(Found through Pinterest):

Alien poster:
http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2012/02/the-best-movie-posters-of-the-past-100-years.html?p=3

Making the showreel – part 2

My adventure in the sound room has left me with 12 audio files to sort through. Unfortunately the earlier recordings have unwanted noise on them, a combination of my headphone cable hitting the tripod I put the portable microphone on and my breath making a ruffley noise on plosives. Once I realised while recording I repurposed a breath shield thing from a nearby microphone setup onto my tripod and wound the headphone cable around my neck to elevate it. This reduced unwanted noise greatly.

I made a concious point to speak more slowly and clearly but in some cases this actually sounded less natural, an unforeseen problem since the whole idea behind this showreel is to come across genuine and informal. I do have enough recordings to find some I like, though.

Doing this reminded me of the final project of my art foundation: an installation room which told a story through visual clues and props about time travel. I recorded myself as the main character sending themself a message about what not to do. It was an experience I found confusingly difficult, wedged crouching with a camera in the corner of my bedroom in front of a generic looking piece of wall. I’ve always had speech difficulties of some kind, and in times of stress and anxiety these get dramatically worse. So the idea of recording myself to be put on a video for the public wasn’t one that filled me with joy. I think everything I say is intelligible, though, and at least my voice is recognisable.

My notes as I listened through:

000 – test
001 – test
002 – ok
003 – too much noise
004 – good but with noise
005 – good, some noise
006 – aborted
007 – good, some noise
008 – good, just Storehouse
009 – good, just conclusion
010 – good, but slowness sounds less natural, all sections
011 –  good, but sound annoyed, all sections
012 – sound annoyed, just intro and first part of Triffids

Right now it’s looking like the video will be 2 minutes based on the narration alone, so I’ll probably have to cut out some bits. The video only needs to be a very rough overview of what it is that I’ve actually been doing, and any more detailed explanations would be lost on most people, anyway.

London Botanical Gardens

Going to Kew Gardens in BA7 to take photographic reference for the design of the triffids influenced me to include the botanical gardens in the story of Episode 1. The gardens are close to the centre of London, where the majority of the action of Episode 1 takes place, but far enough away that it might take a few days for the triffids to wander over, filling themselves with tasty human flesh on the way.

Kew Gardens is currently run by a ‘non-departmental public body’, slightly confusingly titled ‘Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’. In the derivative work the ‘London Botanical Gardens’ fulfil roughly the same role as Kew Gardens, the change in name being for copyright purposes. The London Botanical Gardens are an example of a public asset acquired by Arctic & European via its A&EO subsidiary to research and farm triffids. The acquisition of the Botanical Gardens some years before the events of the derivative work was intended to influence public opinion of the triffids, presenting them as non-threatening and unintelligent, a biological marvel crucial to a sustainable future. Within the botanical gardens are accommodation facilities for staff (where Masen lives), triffid specimens made dosile and safe for public viewing along with other attractions to encourage the public to visit, such as the broad array of plants one could expect to find in a botanical garden.  To children, the triffids are caricatured into a non-threatening, cartoon form, designed to massage public support for the process of triffid farming and secure financial return for Arctic & European for the next generation. At the time of the Blinding very few people in the UK, including senior government policy-makers, are aware of the dangerous nature of the triffids.

Industrial research facilities and an indoor farm house some several thousand triffids. The stings of farmed triffids are normally undocked in order to provide a better quality of oil. After the Blinding many of the triffids held within the Botanical Gardens escape, bypassing unmanned and non-functioning electric barriers. They spread out across London seeking sources of sustenance. The blind survivors have little means to defend themselves from a threat they would have difficulty comprehended even if sighted.

The London Botanical Gardens are the setting of a non-chronological sequence before the Blinding in which Masen carries out his duties, is endangered by poorly maintained equipment and attacked by the triffids, leading to his presence in hospital, partial blinding and avoidance of the lights in the sky. On the day after the Blinding he returns to the gardens to make sure the farmed triffids are still secure, only to find that most have either escaped to the surrounding streets or are in the process of leaving the compound. The gardens are an explorable location with various objectives the player can choose to complete, such as retrieving supplies from Masen’s small company-provided flat, attempting to reactivate the electric barriers using an emergency generator (the result of which is fewer triffids in the centre of London later on in Episode 1), looking for coworkers, and retrieving anti-triffid weaponry. The player can also explore some of the publicly accessible parts of the gardens, learning about the disparity present in the public image of the triffids the company is keen to communicate and Masen’s distasteful thoughts on the matter.

Designing the company that farms the triffids

In the novel, the company that farms the triffids is the ‘Arctic & European Oil Company’, formerly the ‘Arctic & European Fish Oil Company’. Masen refers to it as ‘Arctic & European’ for short. This abridged name sounds vague enough to imply a portfolio diversified into various industries, while sounding respected and established. Googling for ‘Arctic & European’ (and derivative spellings) only turns up references to the novel, so it seems a safe bet that no actual companies use this name and would object to its use in the derivative work. In fact among the leading results is this rather charming triffid-themed t-shirt design.

In the derivative work Arctic & European are a massive company with many separate branches and child companies. Farming of the triffids has found the company huge financial success, the oil produced providing a considerably cheaper and more easily attainable alternative to crude oil. The company has patented the processes involved in farming the triffids across Europe, ensuring they control the industry.

Arctic & European is a major provider of outsourced public services in the UK, including: healthcare, state IT, defence contracts, provision of welfare and assessment of claims, policing, security services, prison management, public transport, education and waste management. Arctic & European’s UK defence contracts include operation and maintenance of the satellite weapons platforms that are lightly implied ingame to have been responsible for the Blinding.

Triffid farming operations are carried out by the subsidiary company A&EO — the formerly registered name being an acronym unofficially attributed to ‘Arctic & European Oil’, masking the activities of the subsidiary somewhat to avoid adverse publicity; the farming of triffids has been controversial and would only become more so were the public to be fully aware of their deadliness.

Arctic & European’s position as an instrument of neo-liberal policy mirrors a multitude of real-world companies: Atos, G4S, Serco, Maximus, Virgin, and many more. Neo-liberalism generally refers to pro-capitalist policies such as the privatisation and cutting of state funding (austerity) to public services, deregulation of enconomic markets. The neo-liberal consensus in the UK finds its roots with Thatcher, but has been adopted by most parties since. New Labour’s Blairism is a direct continuation of Thatcherism. The now current Conservative government will continue with this legacy, covering their actions from the eye of the public, with whom neo-liberal policies are generally unpopular. Historically, neo-liberalism has been, and continues to be, a very effective way for members of the dominant class to move public assets into private ownership, profiting greatly in the process.

Information on private companies that provide public services in the UK:

http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2014/jun/26/top-20-suppliers-central-local-government-data

Creating a social commentary

And there I was worrying that using Triffids as an opportunity for anti-neoliberal satire might seem unwarranted. The results of this month’s general election mean the UK now has a majority Conservative government for the next 5 years. Incredulously the voting population — or that small proportion accurately represented by first-past-the-post — have decided that the hugely unpopular previous government can only be improved by more Tories. A selection of the things we can now look forward to:

  • more austerity, leading to under-funded (and easily privatised) public services
  • fewer rights to online privacy
  • legal striking more difficult
  • legal protesting more difficult
  • fox hunting re-legalised
  • more schools run privately for profit
  • reduced benefits, making unemployment and under-employement more difficult
  • under 25 year olds will have to work to recieve benefits
  • reducing the number of MPs, making it harder for other parties to get elected in future elections
  • more nuclear weapons being built
  • probably privatising the air…

The derivative work was always intended to take place in a generally non-specified alternate present day, one with an already heavily dismantled public sector, worse wealth inequality, less income security and consequently a generally more angered population; basically all the things that make the real world unpleasant to live in exaggerated to shine a light on just how unpleasant they really are. I’m a big believer that fiction has an opportunity — and more than that, a responsibililty — to communicating real world issues, influencing audience perception to ultimately help make the world a better place.  As is said in V for Vendetta (a quote I’d like to attribute to Alan Moore), “Artists use lies to tell the truth.”

I’ve been greatly influenced by Children of Men and the suggestion by its protagonist that the infertility crisis isn’t solely responsible for the crumbling of British society, but is simply the final nail in a coffin of mistrust, exploitation and misery. As Clive Owen’s character, Theo Faron says:

“Even if they discovered the cure for infertility, doesn’t matter! Too late. World went to shit. Know what? It was too late before the infertility thing happened, for fuck’s sake.”

Children of Men could perhaps have been set in a great many different places in the world, but the grey griminess of the socially and economically deprived urbanality, the veneer of enforced optimistic consumerism flanked within eyeshot by empty, live-to-work desperation just feels so quintessentially … British.

This all fits perfectly into my analysis of the novel, as discussed in BA7. But to paraphrase: the apocalypse — the outbreak of the triffids, the Blinding, and the survivors panicked grasping towards a now defunct worldview that only causes more suffering — is absolutely inevitable, the only logical conclusion to the foolhardiness of humanity. Just as in Children of Men, in the derivative work British society is already deeply wounded before any explicit catastrophe.

This backdrop isn’t just a way of communicating my personal politics, it gives greater meaning to the events that happen after the Blinding. The conflict between the previously privileged survivors, members of the establishment,   taking refuge in Canary Wharf — their decision to seek security amongst the  towering monuments to Western capitalism a concious symbolism — and the anti-austerity protesters now stuck in central London has meaning and context that can be traced back hundreds of years. The worldview, the motivations and the subsequent actions of members of these two factions are informed by real-world struggle. In Brighton, in Episode 3, Coker is drawn into a battle for power between pre-Blinding local authority leaders who believe they have continued legitimacy even though the world has changed and members of the hard left desperate to consolidate their influence over a newly emerging social system, ensuring their utopian vision of the way the world should be run. None of these factions are wholly good or wholly evil, but players will find themselves drawn to certain sides based on their pre-existing beliefs. My experience within left-wing activism gives me access to perspectives not often seen in mainstream fiction.

Making the showreel – part 1

It’s been a few years since I’ve used After Effects and unfortunately I’ve forgotten a lot of my knowledge regarding how to use the program. Of course my general competency at using graphics software has improved since then, so it doesn’t take me as long to relearn how to do things. One of my complaints against Adobe products is that useful functions do not exist across different programs or are altered in ways that seem unnecessary. After Effects guides system is one such example of a set of tools that are remarkably similar to those found in the other programs, but with certain features inexplicably missing. There seems to be no way to type in the exact position of a guide, as you can in InDesign. Guides don’t snap to objects, as they do in Photoshop. Lots of small annoyances make progress slower than it needs to be.

The composition size is 1920x1080px, at 25fps. I checked the submission guidelines on the intranet and this is what they asked for. In case my showreel gets selected for screening at Cinema City it needs to be at the right specifications.

Here’s a WIP of the grid I set up, based on horizontal and vertical thirds. There are 100 px margins on all sides. Another 50 pixels are added to pad out the horizontal third dividers, separating the content. Images will appear on the right 2 thirds with text on the left third column. Images will slide down from the top and disappear at the bottom of the screen, while text does the opposite.

showreel wip 01

I’ll probably use Glober for the text; I’ve used it before for invoices, I think it suits my professional presence pretty well. I ought to put some proper thought into branding myself professionally one of these days, but that isn’t a priority for me right now. With filler text:

showreel wip 02

List of images I want for the showreel (I’ll probably cut this down a bit as I go on):

– my face
—————————-
– The Day of the Triffids novel cover
– gdd front cover & pages
– gdd on website
—————————-
– Alien poster/screengrab
– image of research report
– image of Alien: Isolation article on Storehouse
– image of gameplay blueprints
– image of Alien work on website
—————————-
– image of Issue 9 cover and pages
– image of general election feature
– image of Issue 9 on issuu.com
– image of Issue 10 on issuu.com
—————————-
– my face again

Alien:Isolation gameplay blueprints – work so far

I won’t have a chance to finish these off before BA8 hand-in, as I need to focus on the GDD, and other thing. So I’ll write up what I’ve got so far on here.

Copy explaining the reason for the blueprints:

PROBLEM
The alien becomes less scary, less mysterious, and less malevolent the more frequently the player sees it.

SOLUTION
The player must stay further away from the alien in the gamespace, while still interacting with it.

HOW
Develop equipment and crafting gameplay mechanics further to give the player tools to keep the alien from finding their immediate location.
– modular crafting system
– armPAL interface
– workbench interface

The components I detailed in an earlier post can be combined by the player to create ‘devices’ (my term for the equipment the game already has). These components are found scattered around the gamespace, either on their own or as part of other found objects that must be dissassembled at the workbench (think of the robot toy that Ripley takes apart in this promotional video). Ripley would have a limited inventory to store these objects, meaning the player must decide which objects to keep, predicting which they can harvest the most useful components out of considering their immediate ingame needs, creating more potential for strategy. All these components could be kept in a shared inventory accessible through any workbench throughout the Sevastopol, Dead Space style, or separate but infrequently found workbenches could have their own discreet inventories, encouraging players to backtrack around the station.

The components are detailed here:

small battery
provides a small amount of power

large battery
provides a large amount of power

bus connector
allows connectivity to subsystem rewire panels

wireless sender
sends a wirelees signal to the armPAL

 wireless reciever
can recieve a wireless signal from the armPAL

speaker
creates noise, useful for distractions

motion detecter
detects movement in a small radius

spark trigger
can ignite explosive and flammable materials

explosive pack
industrial explosive, can be triggered by a spark

ethanol
flammable liquid, will ignite from a spark

electromagnet
can be discharged to create an electromagnetic pulse

smoke fuel
creates thick, choking smoke when ignited by a spark

Some of the devices that can be made:

shortrange rewire tool
Attach to a rewire panel to access it through the armPAL from a short distance.
components needed:
– small battery
– bus connector
– wireless transmitter
– wireless reciever

longrange remote rewire tool
Attach to a rewire panel to access it through the armPAL from a longer distance.
components needed:
– large battery
– bus connector
– wireless transmitter
– wireless reciever

proximity alarm
Detects movement within a small radius and sends an alert to the armPAL.
components needed:
– small battery
– motion detector
– wireless transmitter

proximity firebomb
Creates an explosion of flame if it detects movement nearby. Components are destroyed if detonated.
(If the alien sneaks up on the player while they are working on the Sevastopol’s systems it can give the player a second chance to escape.)
components needed:
– small battery
– motion detector
– spark trigger
– ethanol

remote noisemaker
Creates a distraction when triggered from the armPAL.
– small battery
– speaker
– wireless reciever

Blueprints for specific devices can be found around the Sevastopol, but the player is encouraged to experiment with components to make new devices. The player can also save their own blueprints. More complex devices can be constructed, combining several functions into a single device. Some examples:

longrange proximity noisemaker with alarm
Creates a distraction when it detects movement nearby within a larger radius, and sends an alert to the armPAL over a long distance.
components required:
– large battery
– motion detector
– speaker
– wireless sender

remote proximity smoke bomb
Creates a cloud of smoke, reducing visibility and choking enemies. Will detonate when movement is detected nearby, or remotely via the armPAL.
components needed:
– small battery
– smoke fuel
– wireless reciever
– motion detector
– spark trigger

Devices placed in the gamespace can be retrieved and taken apart to reuse their components to make new devices. Those devices that have destructive capabilities — explosive, flammable, emp devices — are destroyed upon use, meaning their components cannot be reused. Depending on how useful components are, they are encountered more or less frequently ingame: motion detectors and explosive packs are particularly useful, and for gameplay balancing purposes should be less readily available than, for instance, speakers or wireless senders. Small batteries are more common than large batteries.

One of the blueprint sheets will show the armPAL interface and how the pre-existing ingame map would be incorporated into it. I’ve been building a vector version of one of the levels from the game:

san cristobal map 1

For those devices that can be activated remotely, graphical elements on top of the map show which button to press and what the effect will be. As they might appear on Xbox:

face button interface 1

 

Bill Masen character design – part 1

Bill Masen is the protagonist of the novel. In my derivative work he is the playercharacter of Episode 1. This is what I wrote in BA7’s pitch document:

  • 27 years old when the Blinding happens.
  • Works on a triffid farm. The company that farms the triffids funded his degree in Biological Science.
  • Is attacked by a triffid a few days before the Blinding, hospitalising him. His eyes are bandaged on the night of the Blinding, protecting them from the lights in the sky.
  • Has a mild phobia of trees, brought on by an attack by a triffid when he was a child.
  • Masen is both fascinated and disturbed by the triffids in equal measure.
  • Both of his parents were killed in a hotel bombing in Spain several years before the Blinding.

I’ll add some more details about his personality, etc in the GDD.

I did do a visual design for Masen a few years ago:

old Bill Masen

I actually quite like that piece of artwork, although it’s not a particularly appropriate style for concept art. I ought to try my hand at some more of this style of illustration after I’ve finished the degree. I’m always drawn towards this ‘cartoon’ style, I’d like to develop it more. The face is the weakest part of this drawing.

This outfit is still pretty much where I want to go with the character. In a much earlier conception of the Triffids game Masen would be the sole playercharacter, with Jo Playton and Coker acting as allies in a ‘Freudian trio‘, offering Masen, and consequently the player, different perspectives on ingame decisions. In the Freudian model the mind is comprised of the id, home to unconcious desires and needs; the superego, representing rules and social conventions; and the ego, the part of the mind externally visible that reconciles the two other forces — the TvTropes example is of Star Trek’s McCoy, Spock and Kirk, respectively.  Playton would be the superego, providing quietly thoughtful logical assessments, whereas Coker’s viewpoint is informed by gut, emotional reactions to the situations the characters faced. I think this would be a strong foundation for the characters and their interactions, but as I considered the structure of the game I moved away from this arrangement. The ‘semi-episodic’ development & release structure I’m proposing is an important move away from the Telltale-style arc-based pre-planned narrative that I feel is dragging the feet of  interactive-narrative-driven games. There were all sorts of troublesome story contrivances I had to come up with to get the characters into that arrangement and keep them there, and I feel like focusing each one of the 3 episodes on a separate character gives them ‘room to breath’, allowing the audience enough time to get to know them without the intermediary of Masen colouring their representation.

This Freudian trio arrangement would have been described visually. The cooler, more collected Playton is dressed in cool colours; primarily blues and lavenders. Hot-headed Coker is described with hot colours; reds, yellows and oranges. In the middle is Masen taking up the left-over primary colour green — distinct enough to not interfere with the colour schemes of the other two. Green is also a central colour in the derivative work, representing danger, impending disaster, and the triffids specifically. Masen’s earthy colour scheme creates a symbolic association between the triffids and himself, representing his combined fascination and fear towards them, and the guilt he feels at spending his pre-Blinding life tending to the plants that have now killed millions. Although the context is different, I want to stick with this meaningful colour scheme to help differentiate the characters and their stories.

Masen starts Episode 1 in a hospital gown and his clothes are found in his private hospital room after the player has removed the bandages. These clothes are the same ones he is wearing when he is attacked by triffids at the farm at the London Botanical Gardens.

Some key words:

Barbour jacket, workboots, cargo trousers, workmans clothes, industrial, farming, greys, greens, worn, muddy, thick fabric, earthy.

Some reference, courtesy of Google images:

12-02-2014_barbour_heritageamphibianjacket_covertgreen_d11 modd182borderbarbour-mens-rynie-waterproof-jacket-olive-green-p1094-1405_imageMWX0622OL71-Front-259Wx245Himagessrfgsrfrsfseftokyo_laundry_atticus_blue_jumper_1a4981indexSunspel-Green-Melange-Crew-Neck-Shetland-Wool-Knitted-Jumper-1429-698-2 blackrock-grampian-mens-work-black-grey-cargo-trousers-4592-p      s-l1000  stock-photo-dirty-old-brown-leather-steel-toe-capped-boots-of-a-workman-covered-in-mud-against-a-white-1085054   Work boots workman-s-boots-jeans-18898751

John Duttine plays Masen in the 1981 TV adaptation:

5061-9887Bill_Masen_002

John Duttine  'The Day of the Triffids' (1981)

Dougray Scott plays Masen in the 2009 TV adaptation:

009DOT_Dougray_Scott_001_46932889_dougray1

009DOT_Dougray_Scott_005

I like the idea of basing my Masen on John Wyndham. His squinty, quizical face suits where I’m going with the character, someone perpetually confused by the reactions of humans around him. Game-Masen is something of a loner, often feeling more comfortable around the botanical abominations that other human beings; exactly the kind of person that might find the breakdown of society a slight relief.

John Wyndham John Wyndham , c 1955 . British science fiction , 10 July 1903 – 11 March 1969 .

220px-John_Wyndham_Parkes_Lucas_Beynon_Harris

When I saw Rafe Spall in Black Mirror: White Christmas at the end of last I was struck that he would suit my Masen well. Spall’s character is deeply emotionally damaged by unresolved trauma.

black-mirror-hal-shinnie-dsc3531-lst155823 rafe-spall-black-mirror-43 62605

I got a friend to take a bunch of photos of me posing for reference. Here are some of the more useful ones.

photos1

It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious drawing, so approaching the concept images for the characters took a bit of thinking about. I gave alchemy a go, hoping to follow the silhouette- first method I learnt in first year. Although alchemy can be a really useful tool I came to the conclusion that going back to try out silhouettes wasn’t helping me. I’ve already got a good idea of roughly how the characters’ outfits should look and what clothes make them up. Working from silhouettes first means working out ways to justify the shapes with credible outfits. This is in theory a bit more difficult with something set in the present day, if simply because fashion — particularly men’s fashion —  adhers to certain rules you can’t easily break from.

I imported one of my reference pose photos into Alchemy and tried drawing over it, but it wasn’t doing it for me.

alchemy 1

My original idea was to do block in the colours and shapes on Illustrator to make some minimal but visually striking images that would complement a similar aesthetic amongst the document.A quick test of this idea:

illustrator test 1

This could be interesting if developed, but may not convey enough detail to be useful.

I’m not entirely confident with ability to produce concept art; although I enjoy drawing from time to time, it’s not my forte. I surprised myself with how these early sketch-overs came out, though.

masen photoshop 01 masen photoshop 02

masen photoshop 04