The Beauty Of Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 is, without question, visually gorgeous. Feast your eyes on the latest visual art inspired by the game.

From drawings to screenshots (although very little Machinima so far, sadly), Guild Wars 2 is arguably the most visually striking MMO since LoTRO – or perhaps even WoW. Here’s a roundup of the most beautiful renderings of its artwork we’ve come across in the last few days:

Have you seen any impressive works of GW2 art lately?

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You have never, ever seen game screenshots like this. Ever. EVER.

You know that whole speech at the start of “X-Men” that concludes with the phrase “every so often, evolution takes a leap forward”?

Well, today I’m feeling like that about video games.

We’ve all known for a while that games are getting much, much prettier. I’ve occasionally heard of people who play games as a photographer, and I’ve seen a couple of neat Flickr sets of pretty-looking visuals.

But today, I ran across a site that completely changes the game as far as computer game graphics are concerned.

That site is Dead End Thrills, the game photography portfolio site of games journalist Duncan Harris.

You may well have seen a couple of his earlier Skyrim pictures – I’d seen them on various sites. But he doesn’t just do Skyrim.

Check out his amazing collection of Star Trek Online work, for example – it’s not known as the prettiest of games, but he makes it shine. Or his mind-bogglingly realistic work in Modern Warfare 2. Or his amazing EVE Online portraits:

Oh, and yeah, there’s his work in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, which is, without a doubt, high art – worthy of photography awards and gallery showings. (It may be noted here that I’m a professional filmmaker specialising in video game technology – I’m not easy to impress with this stuff.).

Be warned – once you start exploring Dead End Thrills, you’re going to be there for a while. I was looking at Duncan’s pictures for over an hour last night.

But this isn’t the usual empty Internet rabbit hole. Seriously, clear a space in your schedule – it’s worth it to see Dead End Thrills take on video games like National Geographic has taken on the real world.

Am I smoking something? Or is Dead End Thrills seriously, seriously amazing?

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Mog Madness and Classical Art

It’s a bit of a quiet day on the blogosphere today, but fear not – there’s still some cool stuff going on!

  • Three prominent WoW blogs are teaming up to announce Mog Madness, a five-round, screenshot-based transmog contest looking for “creativity and originality”.
  • Melmoth of Killed in A Smiling Accident has been finding inspiration in the great artists of the past, specifically El Greco’s famous portrayal of … a PUG group?“The DPS just to the left of The Primary Whiner appears to be contemplating the ground – one presumes the subject is curious about the big puddle of fire they all seem to be standing in.”

Know any cool blogs or posts we should be featuring? Let us know!

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Are bloggers the archivists of the MMO artform?

Games are art. I think we’ve got to the point where this is a generally accepted fact, right?

Well, Random Waypoint writes a really interesting article today, in which he discusses the problem of preserving MMOs. It’s easily possible to preserve a CD of music or a DVD of film, but preserving MMOs presents a great deal more of a challenge

“There are projects that try to find out how to properly archive and preserve virtual worlds. I’m sure I read about a funded research project somewhere, but I can’t find the source any more… “Research project” means though that it will probably be years before we have a stable, off-the-shelf solution for archivists.

There is also the problem of intellectual property and patents. While the client side software readily available, the server side is practically never published by the game company. The best we can do these days typically are emulation servers, like Project 1999 for Everquest and SWGEmu for Star Wars Galaxies. But these come with two problems. First, they’re never 100% the original. Second, they’re on shaky legal terrain. Today, a game company can simply shut down their servers, and if it was hellbent on it, probably still hunt emulation servers and get them taken down.

Preserve the experience: But even if you have a server and clients available, what worth is a virtual world that you are in all by yourself? It’s like preserving an opera house without performing any operas. Ask yourself: what are the things that you remember from the time you played? It bet it isn’t the 10 million rats you killed over the course of 1 million quests. What we remember are those special moments, those attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, that we witnessed – and this is important – with others. You can’t capture these moments by emulating the server and client software, and playing the games years or decades after their death. Many of these moments are special because of their transience: Your guild’s first kill of Nefarian, that epic quest that you finally finished after weeks with help from your friends, the surprise attack in nullsec that annihilated a whole fleet of supercapitals. And even though it was plagued with lag and server overload, many people still speak fondly of the day their server opened the gates to Ahn’Qiraj.”

RW’s covers a lot of really interesting ground here. His argument that MMOs are the cathedrals of our day is extremely interesting – it’s indeed the case that they are among the most massive, sprawling, expensive artistic projects undertaken anywhere in the world. But the real meat of his argument comes when he looks at the preservation of the experience of playing MMORPGs – and argues that bloggers have a vital role there, as the people who “document why these games were more to us than “kill 10 rats” repeated 1000 times, then “kill the bad guy with 24 random strangers”.”

Obviously, I think that MMO blogging is important, or I wouldn’t be running this site. And I’d generally agree that some bloggers do a fantastic job of memorialising just why an MMO was so fantastic, or so important, to them or to others. (And non-MMOs too – if you haven’t read the Boatmurdered Chronicles of Dwarf Fortress, you’re missing out).

But at the same time, it’s a hell of a responsibility. So, what do you think? Are we bloggers really the curators of an entire artform?

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A World Dies – the end of Star Wars Galaxies

After more than a decade of massively multiplayer games, it’s a very rare event still for a game to close its doors – and a very sad one. Whether the game was a success or a failure commercially, thousands – sometimes millions – of people have invested themselves in the virtual world any MMO creates.

With the single press of a command key on a distant server somewhere, that world ceases to be. More than likely, forever.

Yesterday, Star Wars: Galaxies shut down. Here are some of the posts that hit the blogosphere mourning its passing:

  • The Ancient Gaming Noob was there to watch the end of the game, and to find out how it all ended“A couple of other people showed up, choosing Jabba’s palace to be their final resting place in SWG. I listened to the players, long term veterans of the game, talk about the game while we were reminded every minute that the server was going down and that we should go some place safe to log out.”
  • Third Age Films recorded a tribute to the game’s many sights and sounds. It goes on a bit, but it’s stirring none the less, and is a great reminder that even compared to today’s games, SWG had some pretty stunning moments
  • Ardwulf mourns SWG and the way that he feels it was forced into conformity“Eight years ago Star Wars’ place in the MMO space lie with a game too revolutionary for its own good, so innovative that the Lucas goons had to put a boot on its neck to force it to conform.”
  • Massively interviewed the maker of Third Age’s tribute (above) about what she’ll remember from SWG“Once we discovered who among us was being hunted, several of us went down to make small talk with the Bounty Hunter. Meanwhile, the target remained upstairs, stocking up on every buff and enhancement imaginable. Before long, he came outside and proceeded to teach the Bounty Hunter a lesson in front of at least a dozen spectators.”
  • And I’ll close off with an old link to my own first introduction to SWG: the Machinima film Fallen, which I first featured on when the game came out, many years ago. It’s fantastic work, and captures much of what’s great about any MMO

I’m not sure we’ve ever really seen something similar to the closure of an MMO in the recent history of art. Sure, series end and books are finished, but we can always go back and watch them again. But with the closure of SWG, no-one will ever be able to experience that art again – barring an unofficial and possibly illegal fan-server. It’s a throwback to an age before recorded media, almost, where the death of a musician or storyteller meant no-one would ever hear their stories again.

It’s strange, and sad.

Update – “No. There is another.” – check out the SWG Emu project . I may contact these guys about an interview soon!

What are your thoughts on the closure of Star Wars Galaxies?

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Art panel reactions – old engine? Not so much.

The art panel at Blizzcon was utterly fascinating to me, but then again, I’m a professional 3D filmmaker and have been for 14 years. I could talk about the specific bits I found interesting, but it’s early in the evening, and I don’t want to put everyone to sleep.

However, one thing really stuck out to me from the panel.

It’s a common complaint nowadays, and has been for a while, that WoW has an “old engine”. People claim that the 3D programming behind WoW can’t manage anything more than cartoon-style figures, and that’s why WoW has its distinctive visual style. And they talk about newer games, and say that their graphics are obviously better, because the 3D engine was written more recently.

I’ve never been entirely convinced – apart from anything else, I’ve seen how my older machines have reacted to Cataclysm (moving from having a Frames per Second counter to a Seconds Per Frame counter). It’s always been reasonably obvious that there was something going on.

Now we’ve seen what it is, and it’s damn impressive. It would appear that the 3D engine behind WoW is continuously, quietly evolving. However, where another company might shout about that fact, Blizzard prefers to pretend that the technology doesn’t exist. They keep it invisible, and in doing so probably avoid scaring off a lot of non-technical people.

However, that PR decision does mean that the advances they make in their technology go unheralded.

The amount of new tech that was mentioned in the art panel was pretty extraordinary:

  • Much higher-detail characters with many more bones – a Technical Directing triumph from the sound of it.
  • More advanced facial animation
  • New terrain tools based on distance from height level automatically changing the way textures are rendered
  • New secondary animations for items like belts.
  • Shadows now darkening lights as well as casting shadows (that’s seriously high-end rendering tech if they’re doing what I think they’re doing).
  • Advanced masking technology for objects
  • Objects automatically merge and interact with terrain

And that’s just what they showed.

That’s enough for an entire convention’s worth of announcements for some other games companies. For Blizzard, it gets tucked away into 10 minutes in the morning panel.

Because they don’t talk about it, it’s very tempting to assume that Blizzard aren’t a very technically adept company. But that would be a mistake.

They just don’t brag.

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Celebrating great MMO artists

It’s very easy to get caught up in the cycle of complaining about MMOs. And if you’re commentating on anything, it’s easy to pick out the angry, the negative, the reaction-getting – “if it bleeds, it leads”. And that’s why I love Gazimoff’s new “Smile Week”, talking about everything he loves in MMOs.

Today’s post is particularly compelling, as he’s talking about one of the great strengths of WoW, LoTRO, and several other of the top MMOs of the day – the beautiful, often stunning art that can be found everywhere within our favourite games

MMOs aren’t the first time I’ve been impressed by videogame graphics. I used to buy every id software game released, drooling over the new techniques that John Carmack developed. That coder knows how to make a graphics card roar, using every trick in the book to push more and more polygons and detail in front of our retinas.

Today’s post isn’t about the coders or the engines though – it’s about the people who craft the worlds we play in. The artists and modellers, the world builders and animators who put some of the most spectacular scenes together. Everything from the spectacular city views to the isolated mountain hideaways, it’s the attention to detail that always amazes me.”

I really agree with Gazimoff’s points. As a Machinima creator, I often spend time staring at elements of the game that I didn’t notice at all whilst playing through them – and the level of artistic ability on display, even from the most obscure parts of WoW, for example, is amazing. The control of the colour pallete used, the brilliant use of a limited polygon count to provide a strong, immediately recognisable world – even when I’m complaining about WoW’s design or dev decisions, I know that the art is world-class.

It’s great to focus on the things that inspire us about our games sometimes – and so I’m rather pleased to be able to leave you, after a lot of controversy during the week, with this dose of something positive.

What parts of game art have inspired you most?

Quote taken directly from Gazmioff’s article .

Find Mana Obscura’s homepage at .

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SCOTUS FTW LOLS – Supreme Court upholds video games as creative expression

Yep, amazingly the biggest MMO news of the day isn’t WoW patch 4.2. Instead, there’s something even cooler happening – the Supreme Court of the USA has struck down a California law that would have restricted the sale of violent video games to minors, and in doing so, affirmed that in the eyes of the US legal system, at least, video games are creative, artistic expression.

And there’s more – implications for people claiming video games cause violence, that interactivity isn’t a problem for freedom of expression (this one’s particularly cool) and more. Brainy Gamer has a really interesting analysis of the judgement

Today’s decision also protects video games from the tyranny of the ‘moral’ majority. While the court displayed a clear distaste for games like Mortal Kombat (and an unmistakable elitism about its artistic merits1), the majority opinion reiterated its support for individual choice and interpretation. Quoting United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Scalia writes, “Under our Constitution, esthetic and moral judgments about art and literature…are for the individual to make, not for the Government to decree, even with the mandate or approval of a majority.”

Whilst the Californian lawmakers responsible for the original law vowed, in a rather Skeletor-like fashion, to keep on fighting, this is unquestionably very good news for the gaming industry and for gamers as a whole. And the analysis is fascinating – there’s more to this judgement than a simple “games are now Art” ruling.

What’s your favourite part of the judgement? Or are you, for some reason, not happy with how it came out?

_Quote taken directly from Brainy Gamer’s original post.

Find Brainy Gamer’s homepage at

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