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  • Changing with the Times: The Evolution of Wolfenstein

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    Home screen from Wolfenstein 3D

    Tomorrow sees the release of Wolfenstein the New Order, the latest iteration of the legendary Wolfenstein franchise. While many gamers of a certain age will fondly remember the fast-paced kill-or-be-killed style of 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D, a deeper look reveals that Wolfenstein has been a trend-setter since its first incarnation in 1981. While many gamers will remember Wolfenstein 3D as ushering in an era of first-person shooters (FPS) with Doom and Quake being released shortly after, throughout its three-decade history, Wolfenstein has often been at the forefront of game design. Below we look at the major innovations and trends initiated by the series.

    Phase I: Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond

    A screen shot from Castle Wolfenstein

    Created by Silas Warner and released by Muse Software for the Apple II computer in 1981, Castle Wolfenstein stood out from the get-go with its permit to let game players go one-on-one with Nazi guards and SS Stormtroopers as the player traversed the levels of the castle to rescue a secret map and escape. It and its sequel, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, were top-down action-adventure shooter games that actually placed less importance on shooting—players after all had a limited amount of ammo—and more on stealth, as players were more likely to succeed by outwitting their opponents through evasion and even disguise, presaging the late 90s boom in such stealth games as Metal Gear Solid and Thief: The Dark Project. The original was so successful that it resulted in the creation of the first game trainer, helping players to bend the rules of the game as needed.

    Phase II: Wolfenstein 3D

    Facing off with a Nazi guard in Wolfenstein 3D

    For gamers in the 90s, the release of Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 was a watershed moment, introducing many features of the first-person shooter whose influence is still felt today. As Muse Software had allowed their trademark on Wolfenstein to expire, iD software stepped in to create a wholly new gaming experience paired with an exhilarating (and blood-filled) storyline that helped to popularize the FPS genre for the PC while pioneering the run-and-gun model that would become a hallmark of subsequent FPS games. Compared to its predecessor, Wolfenstein 3D signified a quantum leap in game design as players were thrown into a pseudo-3D environment, playing as the protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz as he makes his way through a series of map-like levels with ample ammunition.

    A decidedly raunchier and more inventive version of its top-down predecessor, players stalked swastika-draped environs while encountering a seemingly endless onslaught of guards, manic guard dogs, Nazi mutants, and eventually Adolf Hitler himself, decked out in a robotic suit and multiple chainguns. Over the next few years, iD continued to pump out additional mission packs and expand to such ports as the SNES, Atari Jaguar, and the Mac OS—anyone remember the opening scene from 1995’s internet-thriller The Net where Sandra Bullock’s character “tests” the game for viruses? Priceless. However, the game lost steam as popular FPS games like Doom and Quake pushed the genre into even darker and bloodier territory, nudging the Wolfenstein franchise into hibernation.

    Phase III: Return to Castle Wolfenstein

    Playing multiplayer mode in Return to Castle Wolfenstein

    Released when WWII FPS games seemed to be coming out faster than they could be played, Activision decided the time was ripe for a new generation of gamers to enter the world of Wolfenstein with 2001’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Players could choose between assuming the character of B.J. in a single-player version that featured even more fantastical foes or play together in the exceedingly popular multiplayer mode where players could fight in teams against each other in teams of either of Axis or Allies, which reflected the increasing popularity of historical FPS games that allowed players to assume the role of the enemy. Building on the success of its multiplayer version, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory was released as a free, downloadable multiplayer game that still remains popular over a decade later.

    Phase IV: Wolfenstein and the Future

    A soldier holds a rifle in Wolfenstein 2009

    As military shooters retained their popularity with such franchises as Call of Duty, the 2009 Wolfenstein incarnation took players even deeper into the increasingly bizarre alternative history of the Wolfenstein universe, implementing even more sci-fi and fantasy elements. However, the game came out to mixed reviews and disappointing sales, seemingly putting a death nail in the franchise’s future.

    And yet, developer MachineGames and its owner ZeniMax Media acquired id Software and its many classic franchises in 2009 and decided to start developing Wolfenstein: The New Order in 2010. This latest version takes the player back to the single-player origins of Wolfenstein 3D, placing them in an alternate 1960 where the Nazis have won WWII. While early buzz has been solid regarding the game play and plot, it’s a safe bet to assume that the Wolfenstein franchise could either flourish again or recede into video game history for another decade depending on its success. Either way, this writer will be happy to content himself playing Wolfenstein 3D on his iPhone for the foreseeable future and see how the franchise continues to both change with and influence the current video game landscape.

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    May 19, 2014 • Game Design • Views: 1533

  • VIEW Conference 2014 Contests

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    View Conference 2014 Turin, Italy 14-17 Oct

    Here are some exciting opportunities for our 3D Animation and Game Design students to not only have their projects reach a wider audience, but also win an award! VIEW Conference, an annual international computer graphics conference, has announced a series of contests for 2014 aimed at both students and non-students.

    Firstly, the VIEW Award 2014 is open to any filmmaker who has made an animated short film using 2D/3D animation and VFX in the past two years. Filmmakers can choose to submit in the following categories: Best Short, Best Design, Best Character, and Best Digital Visual Effects. The deadline for submission is August 31, 2014 and the award for first prize is 2,000 Euros.  More information can be found here.

    For those filmmakers interested in using their art to address social issues, this year sees the creation of the VIEW Social contest aimed at artists who have created a 2D/3D or VFX animated feature, short, music video, and piece of advertising with a focus on social themes in 2013 and 2014. Applicants can submit in the categories of Best Gameplay, Best Art Design, Best Architecture, and Best Music by August 31, 2014 to compete for a grand prize of 1,000 Euros. Learn more here.

    Emerging game designers have the chance to submit their original video games by September 15, 2014 in the categories of Best Gameplay, Best Art Design, Best Architecture, and Best Music. View more here.

    For anyone who has a passion for comics, another new addition to this year’s conference is the VIEW Comics Contest in which applicants are encouraged to create an original comic based on a previous edition of the conference. The deadline for entries is August 31, 2014 and entrants will compete for a 500 Euro prize. Discover more here.

    Finally, for those either from Italy or interested in telling stories about Italy, the ITALIANMIX competition welcomes works across genres and visual forms that, if chosen, will be included in the program for VIEWFest 2014.

    So if you’re looking for a platform to showcase your work and win an award, consider submitting today.

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    February 26, 2014 • 3D Animation, Film Festivals, Game Design • Views: 5933

  • Do Video Games Have an Impact on How Movies are Made?

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    The tools that are used to make the 3D worlds of video games are largely the same as the tools used to make 3D effects in feature films. So from a production standpoint, the people making both games and movies are overlapping more and more.

    Also, the aesthetics of both games and movies influence one another more than ever. For example, the camera placement in The Fast and Furious movies evoke racing games, and at the same time the cinematics in the racing game Gran Turismo 5 evoke racing movies.

    The movie Sucker Punch looks like a modern video game and utilizes visual techniques from games throughout. This type of stylization was a design choice by the director, Zack Snyder, and his production designer, Rick Carter.

    Another extreme example is the movie Crank. It borrows from the aesthetics of the Grand Theft Auto series throughout including multiple GTA-like sequences utilizing the same 3rd person camera perspective.

    It goes without saying that film aesthetics are used in video games. Game makers want to make their stories as immersive as possible. In recent years, the processing power of PC and consoles (Xbox and PlayStation) allows game makers to use the same sophisticated cinematic techniques as filmmakers. Great examples of cinematic games are:

    • Grand Theft Auto 5
    • Skyrim
    • Batman: Arkham City
    • Bioshock: Infinite
    • Heavy Rain

    The bottom line is: movies and games continue to influence one another and blend into a modern visual aesthetic.

    If you’re interested in learning more about New York Film Academy‘s Game Design Program, click HERE.

    -Chris Swain, Chair of NYFA‘s Game Design Program

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    December 11, 2013 • Game Design • Views: 9670

  • Classic Art in Video Games

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    Chris Solarski in New York Film Academy

    This Thursday the New York Film Academy‘s Game Design and 3D Animation program welcomed guest lecturer, Chris Solarski. Chris is an artist game designer and author of Drawing Basics and Video Game Art: Classic to Cutting Edge Art Techniques for Winning Video Game Design. With a Bachelor’s in computer animation, Chris began working as a 3D character and environment artist for Sony Computer Entertainment in London. Later, he enrolled in art classes at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, where his interest in applying classical art techniques to video games began. It was after a lecture by visual artist, Andrew Jones, that Chris found his true calling. “I was so impressed with his ability to create something out of nothing,” recalled Chris. “I knew I needed more training. I had catching up to do.”

    The students were treated to an hour lecture that was truly fascinating and well thought out. Chris’ lecture focused on the connection between classic art and modern video games. Yes, that’s correct. While it may not be obvious at first glance, Chris was able to dissect classic works of art to validate his points. Using comparisons from the work of artists like Degas and Boticelli, Chris was able to show the influences these artists have on modern gaming. Much like an intricate painting or drawing, a crucial element in game design is emotion. Emotion can be conveyed through composition, contrast, and the structure of images. These elements are essential in the development of any art, and Game Design and 3D Animation are no different. “The composition and contrasting elements have a very strong impact on emotion.”

    One of Chris’ most recent games that he enjoys the most is Journey, mainly due to the composition and emotion of the experience. “It is important to know the emotional experience from the outset and use composition to create the player experience.”

    Chris currently develops his own video games under Solarski Studio, with the aim of exploring new forms of player interaction and creating more expressive and varied emotional experiences in games. “My job is to validate video games.”

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    October 5, 2012 • 3D Animation, Acting, Game Design, Guest Speakers • Views: 5490