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Art in Games

Video Games:

21st Century Art With Catherine Jewell / Page 12

ALSO INSIDE // A Journey to Make Video Games Into Art, Pg. 4 / NYCC_The Art Styles of Japanese & Western Games, Pg. 8


AUG / 2014

PG 4. A Journey to Make Video Games into Art

PG 8. The Art Styles of Japanese and Western Games

PG 12. Video Games: 21st Century Art

Art in Games

Table of Contents

A Journey

to Make Video Games into Art

by Laura Parker 4

The critic Roger Ebert once drew a crucial distinction between video games and art: he said that the ultimate objective of a video game—unlike that of a book, film, or poem—is to achieve a high score, vaporize falling blocks, or save the princess. Art, he argued, cannot be won.


ut Journey, which was released last spring, is not like other games. You play a faceless, cloaked figure who glides through a vast desert towards a mountain on the horizon. Along the way, you may encounter a second player, with an identical avatar, who is plucked from the Internet through an online matchmaking system.

Both players remain anonymous—there are no usernames or other identifying details—and communication is limited to varying combinations of the same, one-note chirp. No words ever appear onscreen during gameplay. The idea of the two-hour game is to make a pair of players connect, despite those limitations, and help each other move forward. Along the way, they solve puzzles and explore the remnants of a forgotten civilization.

This kind of purity of form is at odds with most contemporary games. As the gaming industry has increasingly come to resemble Hollywood in its pursuit of guaranteed blockbuster franchises, the titles that dominate the sales charts—the shooters and the sports games—are designed to trigger the kind of escapism that rarely invites contemplation or self-reflection. Few games are willing to stray from familiar territory, and even fewer do so successfully. By delighting critics and smashing sales records, Journey, a weird game from an unconventional game-development studio, joins the small pantheon of titles to have done both with ease.



A week before our interview, Chen stopped at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in downtown Los Angeles, to see if anyone had one-upped him on his next idea. “I was proud to see that no one is doing what we’re doing, but also worried because I know why,” he said. “It’s risky.” Earlier this year, an ex-TGC employee promised that the compaChen called it “the bastard child” of all his past games and a continuation of TGC’s past themes of connection, nostalgia, and selfreflection. He aims to give people who play it a memory as vivid and emotionally gratifying as their most cherished childhood moments; he compared it to watching “E.T.” for the first time.

People can play alone or with others. It will again feature non-verbal communication, although the studio hasn’t yet planned how players will interact. Chen just wants to ena b l e people to play sideby-side in the same room: “A lot of people asked us why Journey didn’t let them play with friends or family, and obviously we had a reason—because that would have defeated the purpose of the game. But for a game to be truly be accessible, to both children and adults and to men and women, it has to allow people to play with the ones they love.”

After talking about the game, but swearing me to secrecy about some of its details, Chen showed me a letter he received earlier this year from a fifteen-year-old girl whose father had passed away from cancer a few months ago. The girl describes spending hours playing and re-playing Journey with her dad in the last weeks of his life, and how it was their last activity as father and daughter.

“Every artist wants his or her work to connect with someone,” Chen said. “I think that’s why people make art.” 7

The Art Styles of Japanese & Western Games by Colin Moriarty

Two esteemed art directors talk about their different approaches.

Unlike many panels at comic conventions, which usually have a more crowded stage, there were only two panelists present: Isamu Kamikokuryo, Art Director for Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, and Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, Art Director for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. And both had plenty of interesting things to say. The inherent differences between art styles was discussed first. Kamikokuryo, who spoke through a translator, talked about the obvious anime and manga influences that a vast majority of game artists in Japan work under. However, he stressed that Japanese gaming, and the art that goes along with it, is about "envisioning a world that no one has seen before,"

as opposed to the more realistic approach that most western artists take with their games, which he thinks comes from the influence of graphic novels and movies. Jacques-Belletete agreed as he discussed the fact that Japanese game makers seem to want to “create a world from scratch,” while western game artists tend to tell stories in existing worlds. Of course, there are plenty of obvious exceptions to the rule, but one mustn’t look much further than his own game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, to see exactly what he’s talking about. More interestingly, Jonathan Jacques-Belletete talked about

the “secondary” nature of graphical technology in Japanese games. He called the general graphical look of Japanese e games a sort of “global direction” in the way art is created for those titles, while western game makers seem more prone to “strive for photo-realism” when creating characters and environments alike. However, he did readily note that Japanese artists tend to make more compelling, interesting and good-looking characters, and that western game makers are much more likely to rely on technology “as a crutch.” But what could the disciples of these differing art styles learn 9

from one another? And are the point where imagery is “almost styles starting to mix now that more realistic than real.” Kathe gaming industry has become mikokuryo also talked about this more globalized increasingly prevaand borders-free “We can’t import lent “hybrid style” of than ever? “We their style,” Jacques- game art, and that can’t import their going forward, the style,” Jacques- Belletete admitted, industry as a whole Belletete ad- “but we can look at will see “what’s immitted, “but we the recipe” portant and what can look at the resonates” with recipe” for how they go about consumers. their craft. Likewise, Isamu Ka- But Kamikokuryo and Jacquesmikokuryo noted that he’s see- Belletete have plenty in coming more of a western influence mon, too. The “Cyber-Renaisin Japanese art direction, to the sance” stylings of Deus Ex, 10

Jacques-Belletete admitted, was heavily influenced by the Japanese series Metal Gear. And Kamikokuryo discussed how impressive an American game like Red Dead Redemption was to him on a more general level, what with it’s sprawling open world and all. It went “above and beyond what Japanese games have done,” he concluded. Following this eye-opening conversation, the panel ended with a bit of a surprise. These two esteemed artists exchanged

pictures they had drawn for one another. Kamikokuryo gave Jacques-Belletete a picture he drew of Adam from Deus Ex: Human Revolution, while Jacques-Belletete in turn gave Kamikokuryo a picture he drew of Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII. The two men signed their pictures, handed them to the other person, and will hopefully go back to their respective studios with a new perspective as they both approach their new, upcoming projects.


Video Games:

21st Century Art by Catherine Jewell

They thrill, exhilarate and inspire. In just four decades, video games have become an increasingly popular form of mass entertainment, a powerful and exciting platform for innovative art and a multibillion dollar industry.

The highly interactive, sleek, realistic and fascinating worlds created in contemporary video games are a far cry from the clunky, pixilated aliens featuring in classics such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man. Contemporary video games are an amalgam of traditional art forms – including music, narrative, sculpture, painting and storytelling - and are increasingly recognized as an artistic medium in their own right.


In 2011, the US Supreme Court put video games on a par with other traditional artistic media stating, “like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas – and even social messages – through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world).” In today’s interconnected world, video games are an increasingly popular form of mass entertainment. Their compelling and influential narratives and photo-realistic images are shaping the way many socialize and learn. Video games stand out as an artistic medium, because

they offer an immersive experience that can educate as well as distract. Chris Melissinos believes that, while video games include classic elements of art, they “offer designers a previously unprecedented method of communicating with and engaging audiences by including a new element – the player.” He believes “video games are the only form of artistic expression that allows the authoritative voice of the author to remain true while allowing the observer to explore and experiment… No other medium affords the world this incredible opportunity.” Jesse Schnell notes that the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons marked a turning point in her life as a designer. It made her realize that games offered a


“world that was limitless… insights and acquire skills. and that you could make the When playing a game, “you imaginary real in a tangible feel you’ve succeeded in way.” Always fascinated with learning something, and you creating entertainment exare good at it,” notes video periences “that make people game developer Mike Mika. It say ‘wow’,” she says that, as is a medium in which players “video games are always inte- “can learn something about grating new techthe world and “I’ve always said if niques… there about themare more ways to Beethoven were alive selves,” says give people that today, he’d be a vid- video game kind of experieo game composer.” producer Warence.” ren Spector. This is what drives players to The pros come back again and again and cons to relive that experience. of video gaming No other form of entertainremain a ment puts players “in the hotly shoes of the main character deand lets them make choices that will have consequences ultimately,” muses David Cage. “We play games to get batsome useful information that ed issue. is somehow linked deep in Many our brains to survival skills. propoWith a game, it’s about what nents, I should do, what skill should however, I evolve and what choices feel they should I make,” explains vidoffer players eo designer Noah Falstein. a unique opportunity to As in film, music plays a key gain personal 14

role in enriching the narrative of video games. Game music has also come a very long way. “The original composers were essentially programmers who had musical chops… In the last 10 years, the system has changed and come to resemble the model used in the film industry (freelance composers working with a production company),” observes Austin Wintory, a game music composer. For him, the technical capabilities for audio have made it “one of the best times in history to be a working composer”. Fellow composer Tommy Tallarico, founder of Video Games Live, also underlines the enormous musical possibilities contemporary video games offer. “Games have become so massive now, and there are so many things you can do.” Whereas the games of the past required about 50 sound effects, contemporary games have around 100 hours of game play, 25,000 lines of dialogue and 7,000 different sound effects. “We’re doing

things now that Beethoven and Mozart never dreamed would be possible,” he enthused. “We’re able to branch out interactively. I can layer different elements depending on what’s happening on screen and what the player is doing. The player becomes the conductor on the stage. The massiveness of it all is overwhelming. At no time ever in the history of the world has more music been played more times than in video games right now,” he explains. “I’ve always said if Beethoven were alive today, he’d be a video game composer.”


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