Saturday, March 22, 2014

This is no Skyrim

This blog entry is the answer to EDGE magazine's latest issue (April 2014) and its article on The Elder Scrolls Online

I don’t know whether to agree with the simple truth of the denotation or sigh in annoyance, because of the out-of-place connotation. Yes, The Elder Scrolls Online is not Skyrim – it is an entirely new game that shares a connection with a video game series of a sister company. But the basic demand of a traditionally singleplayer game and an online roleplay game differ greatly. I expected professional journalists to be able to make that distinction without falling into inappropriate and unnecessary condescendence. But, I guess I was wrong.

What would have been those key characteristics that would have satisfied EDGE magazine? In the eyes of the journalist, was The Elder Scrolls Online supposed to be a direct Skyrim-clone or was it supposed to be completely unrelated to Skyrim or its predecessors? The compromise of both apparently doesn’t seem to satisfy his or her requirements. I feel like a lack of forethought and intent has disturbed EDGE magazine’s latest rant on The Elder Scrolls Online.

There are many things wrong with the activity around the development of TESO. Among those things are minor issues, like players still not understanding that Zenimax Online Studios is not the studio that created the singleplayer Elder Scrolls series, but also major issues, like established and influential magazines misjudging a product, because they compare it to something it is not. But why take my word for it.
Let’s dive right into EDGE magazine’s article:

“It looks older, sounds older, and plays like it’s older than 2011’s award-winning RPG”
First of all, let me mention that it was EDGE magazine that in May 2013 released a news entitled - “We’re not making Skyrim 2” says The ElderScrolls Online studioonly to return to the surprising conclusion that TESO is indeed not Skyrim 2. Inconsistency aside, the comparison lacks substance and completely disregards the fundamental differences of singleplayer and online multiplayer games.

Unlike Skyrim, TESO must incorporate the simultaneous actions of hundreds and thousands of players at the same time. The complexity is increased by the myriad of different internet connections and hardware constellations that result in different data flows. Of course, if you don’t have to mind all of that, you can put more focus on the looks, the sounds and the gameplay. But alas, having to work
with these factors is part of creating MMORPGs and leads to trade-offs in the audiovisual category. However, it is not the attempt of an MMORPG to reach the same graphics quality as other contemporary singleplayer games – Zenimax Online Studios knows that – apparently EDGE magazine doesn’t.

“Freedom of exploration is (…) one of the rare areas where (The Elder Scrolls and MMOGs) agree, so its absence here is a comprehensive letdown” 
There is not a single MMORPG out there that allows the player freedom of exploration. You always begin with a new character in a newbie zone and you make your way across a number of zones that increase in level and therefore in difficulty. This kind of linearity has always been part of the genre. What the author has done here, was comparing the freedom of a singleplayer game to the freedom of an MMORPG.
And again: This. Does. Not. Work!

Allowing a player to freely roam the land, requires the environment to adjust to the player - a technique used in Skyrim, as well as in Oblivion - otherwise you would passively enforce the same kind of linearity that the author criticizes in EDGE magazine's article. Such adjustments are impossible in a multiplayer game, because it would be unclear to the system what player to adjust the environment to. EDGE magazine again fails to put the game in context of its genre.

“In trying to look like something it isn’t, TESO invites comparisons it cannot live up to”
This summary at the end of the article actually also summarizes my criticism with this article. TESO is not trying to look like Skyrim, you - the author - is expecting it look like Skyrim. At times it seems like most players in the community are trying to enforce a direct comparison to Skyrim. And despite the fact that this unfitting "comparathon" goes right against my grain, it is okay if uneducated players do it. They are fine with their role as pure consumer and don't care to look at what's actually beneath things. But a magazine that has a following and consequently a responsibility should get its damn facts straight.

If the shoe doesn't fit - it might be a hat.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Everquest Next Signature Banner

I came up with an idea for a small banner for the upcoming MMO Everquest Next and the closely related building-game Everquest Next Landmark. The idea was to find something that would fit both games, incorporate lore and have a nice and kind of aggressive message. My original EQ1 character was a Gnome Magician and at this point it is not entirely sure whether Gnomes will be included in EQNext. So I decided to push my Gnome fetish a little bit.

Since EQ Landmark is going to incorporate some mining and since Gnomes are known to live underground, I thought I could make a little Gnome-Mining-Suit. Gnomes were known as tinkerers back in EQ1, so the idea of a steampowered mining suit would also fit the lore of the EQ-franchise.

I first took a look at some images from Ak'Anon, the old city of the Gnomes from EQ1:

They used robots and machines that were pretty rusty. Everything had a bronze color - more or less dirty and oily. The surrounding area of Ak'Anon was filled with giant vents that would spew out the masses of steam used by the Gnomes. So steam was definitely going to be part of it. Afterwards the big hunt for suitable graphics began. This is what I found:

It took me a couple of days and this is what I made out of it:

The graphic shows a Gnome sitting in a mining suit that is making its way across a tunnel. The suit has a jackhammer for mining and a saw for woodcutting. The suit also has three lights that were geniusly engineered to reveal valueable gems beneath the rock. The suit is steampowered and carries the logo of the Everquest Next Landmark Trailblazers. 

The writing is just a little something to give the entire graphic a fictitious purpose. Consider this a poster to advertise the AMFC - a company that is trying to make it out there in the hard hard world of EQN Landmark.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Elder Scrolls Online Poster Challenge

I am a huge fan of the Elder Scrolls Series and I have been playing MMOs since Everquest, so naturally I jumped on the Elder Scrolls Online. I daily check Tamriel Foundry for new information and one day I came across the poster challenge. First I had a really really hard time thinking of something worth making. So it actually took me 2 weeks to finally come up with a good idea.
This 2 week process led to an idea that is based on a small story. So in order for everyone to fully understand my work, I decided to dedicate a page on my blog to the background and the creation of this poster. Here you have some of my sketch drawings. The one on the top right switches back and forth between two ideas for the header every 5 seconds.


I quickly dismissed the idea of giving each race its own separate space. It would have required extensive work which time did not permit. But as you can see above "AD - High Elf" on the last sketch, I have also considered morphing each of the three race symbols into one to make them fit.

The background story for my work has something to do with a group called "The Pale Kin". Let me make clear from the beginning that "The Pale Kin" is a group that I created. It does not exist anywhere in the Elder Scrolls Series (at least not as far as I know - this would be a crazy coincidence) or anywhere else. I tried googling it, but the results are always for "The Pale King", which apparently exists. So do not confuse the two. The Pale Kin serves only as basis for my work. Consider them fan-fiction and an historical anchor point to give the result more meaning.

Here you have the poster without the logos on it and following that an explanation of what, why and of course: how:

The story:
In E2 583 Tamriel was divided by a conflict that split the land into three groups desperatly fighting one another. Each of these groups determined to conquer the White Gold Tower in the center of Tamriel to gain utter dominance.
Unknown to most and uncovered by none, the raging war between the alliances gave birth to the Pale Kin. A group of raceless that oppose the conflict in order to put focus on a much bigger threat. The Pale Kin believes that the war of the alliances is merely a phase, an unfortunate development serving the undead as a distraction. While the mortals march against each other, the undead forces spread and weaken the force of the living. The Pale Kin seek to reunite the races of Tamriel to strengthen their numbers against their true enemy: Molag Bal. 

The analysis:
The poster shows a lead glass window located somewhere in the White Gold Tower in the Imperial City. Its origin is unknown and so are its creators. It depicts the situation in Tamriel in E2 583 and it shows the motivation of the Pale Kin. The motivation being the prevention of the window (Tamriel) from being destroyed by the creeping smoke (the undead: Molag Bal).

I will begin at the center.
The center piece is, unlike most of the rest of the window, not made of glass. It is simply the silhouette of a cross that is welded to the frame. These open areas were deliberately left open to give the image a lighter look by enabling the view on the sky behind it and also to reduce an overload of impressions.
The cross symbolizes the White Gold Tower touching the sun. This symbolic presentation is a result of (A) its actual size and (B) its figuritive size - meaning: its importance. At its top the three alliances equally touch the tower too, depicting their attempt to seize it. It also stands for a certain balance among the alliances, visible in equal size, form and penetration of the tower (I hope you did not just giggle while reading "penetration").
In our time, the cross itself is usually interpreted as a Christian symbol. I know it is probably impossible, but I wanted to detach that connotation from the cross by giving the explanation above. At the same time, the cross helps to set the mood for a mid-evil lead glass window. So I guess I am trying to pick and choose here.

The tower (being the center of the window as well as the center of the story and the conflict) is surrounded by three panes showing the three alliances. It thereby creates a triangle that is positioned around the tower part. In the bottom right triangle we see an amalgamation of all three race symbols that belong to the Aldmeri Dominion. It is set before a familiar background kept in its alliance colors to underline the affiliation. Across the other side, on the left, there are four images of locations from the area of the Aldmeri Dominion.
The other two alliances have been set up accordingly. With the Ebonheart Pact above the cross and its correspondent impressions on the very bottom of the window and the Daggerfall Covenant on the left side of the cross and its correspondent images on the right side of the window.
The impressions of Tamriel along the window frame have reduced saturation and are slightly see-through. This should depict that the focus really lies on the center - let's call it the "conflict triangle surrounding the cross". These inner triangles have richer colors and are 100% solid. They even have a second layer of glass around the edges to frame them.

On the top of the window I decided not to add any images. The window symbolizes Tamriel and above Tamriel...well - there are the gods. Maybe not necessarily literally above Tamriel, but figuritively speaking. So instead of drawing a bearded old man or something like the Last Supper, I thought it would have a certain authenticity to let it open. Thereby forcing everyone that is standing in front of the window to look up into the sky - directly towards the gods, if you will.
In the center of the top you see the Ouroboros. It is foremost the Elder Scrolls Online symbol but it also lets me create another familiar symbol.
The sneaky eye:
Every fan of the series knows this icon. For those that do not, it is an icon that tells you that you are currently sneaking. If it is closed, then you are hidden from everyone around you. If it is open, it means that someone can see you. This underlines the hidden character of the group of the Pale Kin. It is a secret organization that most people haven't heard of, yet. They are somewhere out there - hidden. And remember, when the eye is open - someone is watching you...!

Now for the smoke. The smoke stands for the unnatural and evil threat posed by the undead. It is the only thing that is not physically attached to the rest of the window. The unity and the similarity that exists among the races of Tamriel (depicted in the fact that every piece of glass and metal is connected to each other), despite the war of the alliances, is being invaded by this undead threat (the smoke). When looking closer at the areas that are touched by the smoke, it should become visible that the glass beneath is actually corroding. The smoke (the undead) threatens to destroy the window (Tamriel).

I chose to set the scene at the beginning of the day. Dawn is typically more hopeful and optimistic. Of course, making the sky dark works just as well. In my opinion it works even better with the smoke, but this way it puts emphasis on the coming day: things can still change! Just for fun, here you have them both:


This window symbolizes what the Pale Kin stands for. Their quest is to wake up the people of Tamriel and pull them out of this war against each other. They have no affiliation limited to race or region. The Pale Kin are not trying to save a part of Tamriel, they are trying to save it all. Simply put and a nice way to say it in this context: They are all about the big picture.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Enter: color

So let's wrap up the last couple of weeks with a quick line of pictures:

I have added some stuff to make the entire thing more enjoyable. You can see the mushrooms on the left, some stalactites and stalagmites and additional stones and gravel.

There are some steps missing between the last one and the following one, but that's what words are for. I had to add some sort of pillar that would later carry the ceiling. I decided to extend the ramp on the bottom level and add the pillar there. 
I then went on to spray the exterior black and coat the entire enterior model with a simple brown color. I am going to work over that again, but just giving it a color really simplified the work from there on. 

Here we see a more current picture of the lowest level. I have already worked in more colors, two rats (who can spot the small rat?), a Warp-Stone-Deposit and a rill that nourishes the mushrooms below.

The water is made of a see-through paste. The pictures was taken before it was completely dried, which means that there was still some white in there that is entirely gone now. I have incorporated some more water, so I guess I will take specific pictures of that later. 

The entire model looks very glossy on the pictures. In reality that's not the case.

Here you see a treasure chest in the front and an old Skaven bell in the back. 

Here is one shot of the entire thing with Skaven (please ignore the background)

And here is today's final shot: a more immersive look

Wednesday, February 13, 2013