Art and Critics

Art and Critics

So, I began this with video games and I have been encouraged to continue to do so. By encouraged I mean heavily implied that’s what I am going to do.

But, but, but!

My freedom of choice!

How can I be creative with the yoke of oppression on me?  

I am joking, mostly.  In video games this has become a serious issue. It’s one that has led to death threats, promises of violence, and terrible behavior on the part of gamers.

Mass Effect 3 had a wobbly ending.

There are those who will give you a wall of text on the ins and outs with precisely all the minuscule aspects of this ending.  More so, that they felt that it was a travesty, a crime against nature, and God. They bombarded BioWare with these messages.  More that, the company put out a “fix” to address many of the dominant issues gamers had.

I only had one problem with it.  How the hell did the ground team get on the ship after you saw them smacked around like ping pong balls?

The answer to this amazing feat, I felt they addressed admirably. I am a sucker for the happy ending and it was nice to get closure with all the NPC characters. Everything else folks wanted superfluous.  I have you know, I also didn’t send death threats or walls of texts to BioWare.

I’ve just brought up a very serious topic and we as gamers need to talk about this.  How do threats and abuse effect one’s creativity? Who would want to make something or fix something for someone who called them names or threated their lives?

This is the sticky bits because this tends to get people flamed or even doxed. 

It’s like cooking a giant multi course meal and having it thrown at you because you didn’t give them the right dessert. Yet, BioWare didn’t balk outwardly, they took in what was said and remade the ending for their fans. In no way are they obligated to do this no matter what rabid fans will say. In the end, they are a company and can do what they want, but they stepped up and provided another alternative.

The obligation to fans is to entertain them with a game, sometimes you hit and sometimes you miss. That isn’t the point I am debating.  To redo the entire ending was a large complicated and costly uptake.  It was also one of unprecedented of it size.

So, would you, oh reader, as an artist do the same thing?

Man, I took the long way around to get here huh? Artists have critics, wanted and certainly unwanted. How do they affect your art and should they? Where is the line, or is there one? A simple question with layered answers.

I can be positively bubbly here and say you should let it inspire you (which you totally should.) For example, I made an amazing still life in school through a wall of anger because I didn’t want to work on that at all. There will always be critics, hopefully constructive ones.  And, I just want to point out that death threats and the like aren’t criticism. 

How critics affect you is up to you. Sometimes they should be ignored, but sometimes they can share a perspective with you that’s fresh and stimulating. I have never felt that others should dictate your art to you.  But, they can open your eyes to new possibilities and avenues you couldn’t see previously.

Stories Need Change

Stories Need Change

Last time, I was talking about the art of the story and how it can draw someone in and form a connection. This week I want to point out that sometimes the story needs to change.

Pop Culture & Franchising

Saint’s Row is a satire game (Koch Media/Deep Silver).

It takes its cues from popular culture. It is irreverent, crass, smart and often bizarre. The first game out though was a very different creature. You as the protagonist didn’t even talk, something which all the later games mock themselves for. It was sold as something like Grand Theft Auto (GTA). Sadly, it was no GTA, since Rockstar had that niche firmly mastered and crowned king of the arena.

So, what do you do when you have a possible franchise that can’t compete?

You change.

This is what hold so many people back in everything from personal to professional life. Change is scary. Change is a risk. You could fail. Here’s the thing though. How boring is it to just tread water forever? In all things, you must change or die. Now I’m not suggesting that you do a complete 180 or that you should radically alter things all the time. No, I’m saying change is good, sometimes you need a little, sometimes you need massive amounts. It brings new life to your world and opens new doors. Yeah ice cream is scrumptious, but not for every meal.

Creative Context in Video Games

How does ice cream concern Saint’s Row?  It doesn’t literally. Metaphorically though, Saint’s Row stopped serving you ice cream and hit you with pie. They saw that they were not going to go anywhere with the original model, so they changed and adapted.

This is a huge part of creativity. They took a risk and tested the waters in Saint’s Row 2 and it worked, so then they decided to really push the envelope in 3 and it was fantastic.

Now, even if you didn’t like the game, you could see how they branded themselves as a unique entity. They were not just another copy or want to be, they kind of created their own genre. This is because they stepped back, looked at what they had and instead of giving up, they invested. Which is part and parcel of being creative.

Even if you have a set style, you should grow with it. You can’t regurgitate the same thing over and over. For example, Tim Burton has a very singular look and feel.  He never wants to tell the same story.  His projects have his style, but each one is unique.

I will always remember the one art teacher who said (or plagiarized someone smarter), that a sign of a great artist is what they do with their mistakes. The great ones use them or learn from them. They don’t let them hold them back. Creativity is not always easy and there will be failures. Just last night I tried to be creative with some lemon bread, even the dog wouldn’t eat it and she eats cat poop. However, I will continue to bake and make everyone taste it, because the pistachio bread was fabulous. Motley tried to sample some more on her own, luckily tinfoil makes noise when kitty teeth are trying to pry it open.

In closing, after much rambling, what I am saying is be flexible, be aware, and don’t be satisfied with just treading water.

Change.


Leigh-Alexandra Jacob is a visual effects artist and creative director.  She’s the founder of Atomic Dumpling.  You can reach her at leigh@atomicdumpling.com.

Gaming Experience

I’m the resident gamer in the company.  I enjoy video games and experience them in a unique way. I talk about this a bit in a previous article.

Relativity

It’s unique because it’s me, not you. We may have parallels, but my reality bubble is not yours (and vice versa).  I’m pointing this out for those that want to generalize and say “That’s not what games are like for me.”  I will answer, ‘exactly, they are not.’  Some might agree with me, some may not. This makes no one right or wrong. That’s my disclaimer, because this is solely my opinion.

We all have ways to relieve the stress of our lives. For me, sometimes I like to use video games. It allows me a level of immersion where the world fades and Its nonsense and mindless and sometimes can touch you in ways that surprise. I like story, in fact, most games I play must have story. Also, I suck at platforms. seriously, Little Big Planet was embarrassing.

So far, I have over a hundred hours in Dragon Age, Inquisition (BioWare). I finished with one race and class, and now I am trying another. In doing so, I can say that, yes the game is mostly the same.  But, it also has a consistent story thread.  And there is this important experience for each choice you make, so choices matter. Some are small, but each choice has a meaning and there are consequences.  Which keeps you invested in the game.

Difference in Games

I also have a hundred hours in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (Bethesda Softworks), yet I have never finished the main story arc of the game.

Skyrim tries to immerse you, but in a completely different way. Borrowing heavily from its Fallout brethren, it uses a very similar combat system and animations. Now let me say for equal comparison, that Inquisition also borrows from its own siblings Mass Effect (BioWare). There are always parts that make you feel something in that moment.  In example, it was amusing to see Liara’s head tilt and sashay away in Inquisition.

Now I am not going to say one is better than the other.  Each game is different and a new experience, so its apples and oranges.  You can’t make a blanket statement like that.  Both, Skyrim and Inquisition are amazing games.  This is entirely about immersion.  It’s about ‘how did I fall into and interact with the world’.

How did they hold my attention and keep it?  

I played Skyrim first, and I had played a Fallout games already.  So, I was familiar with Bethesda style. The main storyline, frankly, reminded me of a lose/lose tale in Fallout New Vegas. Yet, even without a happy ending, it was an ending you could live with.

I was more caught up with the downloadable content (DLC). Specifically, I’m referring to the Dawnguard DLC.  This was far more immersive than the main game. 

What do I mean by that? 

I mean that the NPCs around you were fleshed out, they had history and interacted. Serena was a well-rounded NPC who inevitably, totally, friend-zones you.  

But, another character stands out from the main game.  What about Lydia?

Yeah sure, she is sworn to carry your burdens, but what else is there to this character? You can play alongside her almost the entire game and yet you know really nothing about her nor are there any interaction or meaningful dialogs. You can even marry her and turn her into a shop keeper with no store. It’s the same for all your companions.

I was left wanting more from the main game. (I also hated all the bards, but that’s for another time.) My immersion in the game came from moments of exploration and investigation.    I loved the open world and finding new places and things.  I really enjoyed the adventure. Emotionally though, Skyrim never touched me other than to annoy me, seriously, those stupid Bards and those damn chickens!  You could die from accidental chicken killing!  Who does that?!

How things differed

In contrast, Inquisition gave me goosebumps at times with the character interactions. Anyone who says they didn’t get some feels from the song, is kidding you. I guess I’m a big softie, I like the emotional touches that move the story along and connect you to it. I still remember where I was when Aeris died, but I can’t tell you what I did for my 21st birthday.  Admittedly, alcohol may have played a small part in that.

What does this all have to do with art? Everything!

Stories are art.  Being able to pull someone into a new world is wonderful. Having a story touch someone is the same as touching them with a beautiful picture, film, or music. Therefore, art can be everywhere and not just hung up on a wall in a museum. It is the very reason we must encourage creativity when and where we find it. 

This the principle Atomic Dumpling was founded on.  To create art in every possible form, to encourage it, and to help others with it.


Leigh-Alexandra Jacob is a visual effects artist and creative director who founded Atomic Dumpling.  You can reach her at leigh@atomicdumpling.com.

The Emotional Art Ride

I was driving home one evening when a song started to play, and I began listening to a song from the Bioshock Infinite soundtrack and was immediately transported back. I have my iPod on random, which occasionally plays more than the two hundred same songs. Spoilers abound!  The Bioshock series is one of my favorites and the very first-person shooter I played. The complexity of the story and the production design sucked me right in along with its great soundtrack.

Musical Ties to Stories

As the music continued, I could remember exactly how I felt as the ending played out, devastated. I thought I knew what was going on until the twist at the end. I mean I knew there was a twist but wasn’t expecting to have my mind blown. The DLC wasn’t much kinder, in fact I wouldn’t play the second one when I found out how it ends, coward that I am and sucker for some semblance of a happy ending. Bioshock Infinite does not have a happy ending. However, I was ok because everything was so good. I was moved and amazed at their story telling. The game had managed to get me immersed in their world and feel more than frustration at missing shots. I was worried where the story was heading, I wanted to protect Elizabeth. I was engaged. I was gutted! And it was brilliant! That’s what a great story is supposed to do, that’s what any art CAN do. It can engage people and stimulate the brain to send it soaring up or to crash and burn. I think that’s what they were trying for, to engage the player and touch them in some way. I don’t think this is true for all games. I doubt Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja want to blow your mind. This was my long meandering way to pull you along to this point, sometimes the purpose of art is just for the artist to create.

The Burden of Art

Sometimes art is burdened with “purpose” and “meaning”. I have heard ad nauseum how works are not “real” art. I think these folks are full of themselves and bolstered by their own pretensions, however, new artists hear this and it holds them back or makes them feel embarrassed about what they do. This is wrong!

Most folks equate money with success. Video games are now a multibillion-dollar industry and have validity for many as a creative art form with multiple disciplines. The same can gain be said about comic books. But if we compare if folks considered it real art yesterday versus today the answers would be very different.

I believe that art comes from inside the artist for all different reasons, none eclipse the other. I say this because some people like to just make art, while others have to send a message. The outcome is the same when Art is made. Impact is in the eye of the beholder. That is Art’s secret. Two people can look at the same painting, one can be overcome with a case of euphoria, like Stendhal syndrome, the other might not be impressed at all and can’t see what all the fuss is about. This is because the value of art is personal creation is personal.


Leigh-Alexandra Jacob is a visual effects artist and creative director who founded Atomic Dumpling.  You can reach her at leigh@atomicdumpling.com.