Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Novels: Runes of Magic - Shareena: A screenshot tour through Candara

When doing the research for my latest novel RUNES OF MAGIC -SHAREENA I travelled a lot through the world of the game, Taborea, or more precisely over the continent of Candara. I created screenshot by screenshot and so the story evolved out of the world.

The shot above shows locations you can experience in the official extract (sorry, in German only so far). 

Extract of the novel Runes of Magic - Shareena (in German only)

The notes I wrote on that shot explain the height of the cave, so Shareena can overlook the landscape, and the Dead Tree filled with nasty spiders, she experienced in the second night after her flight into the dark...

Novels: FarCRy 2 - My fake cover for inspiration

During the writing process of FarCry 2 I needed to know my character. And as it is my habit to plaster my office walls with images for inspiration in 2007 I created a fake cover of the coming book, placing Paula on the wall in front of my desk. I imagined her in the savannah of Central Africas, self concious but in the same time looking for something...

Unofficial fake-cover for FarCry 2, 2007

Here I put a certain sadness into her eyes, a distrust of men and at the same time a longing for hope and trust. Well, for me it was what I wanted to see as this character experienced a lot of pain and needed something to hold onto...

Monday, June 28, 2010

GAMES: Creating the world of BERYL TALES

Sometimes one hasn't enough time to create high definition artworks using copic markers etc. During the production of BERYL TALES I defined the functionalities of the buildings and skibbled them only roughly as a guideline.

Using this image as a checklist I started modelling the buildings using Truespace 3D modelling software. 
The shot below shows a digital skribble, not an ingame shot. To test the buildings I just copied images of the buildings onto an isometric grid. So I could see what worked and what won't.

Note that the project name changed during production. This is quite usual as sometimes a name is already been taken by another project or company.

As BERYL TALES was a free-2-play browser game we used classical 2D-graphics, using traditional tiles. Note the repeating patterns. During development I did several passes on those textures to eliminate those recognizable patterns...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Novels: FarCry - Götterdämmerung: The Death of Hanno Wagner

Creating stories is about creating conflict, which essentially means 'two dogs, one bone'! And as two dogs - the good one and the bad one - fighting to achieve their goal, there is a lot of collateral damage, usually on both sides.

One of the first evil guys to die is a slimy mercenary called Hanno Wagner, a cruel neo nazi type, who is killed on the first pages in a very Daniel-Craig-as-James-Bond-like manner by Jack Carver. 

Check out the extract (in German only) on my website: michael-bhatty.de

I used this treacherous ugly guy and his name to make a statement on the novel's subtitle Götterdämmerung, which means 'God's Twilight', describing the end of the world and the fall of the Gods. Now, the neo nazis in this story are still considering themselves as a superior race - now about to be genetically enhanced, but they face obliteration in the end (thank's, Jack;-)

Of course, the title was inspired by Richard Wagner's opera Götterdämmerung, but here it was used to describe the ultimate downfall to come of the bad guys, as they have to deal with my novels hero, Jack Carver. In this sequence I linked the death of Hanno Wagner - the name is a more modern German name, because there aren't many Hans and Gretchens in Germany nowadays - and the last tunes he hears are whistled by Jack: Richard Wagner's Ritt der Walküren (Ride of the Valkyries), the same music Francis Ford Coppola used in Apocalypse Now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

GAMES: Developing a character for BERYL TALES

When we started experimenting with the first level design editors for our browser game BERYL TALES in 2007 we needed a character that would fit in. Here it is only a placeholder to get a better feeling for sizes and relations.

However, the character I skribbled had a history and it is not by circumstance that he comes in a brown pilot's leather jacket, black pants and high boots...
Character artwork for Beryl Tales, 2007

In 1986/87 (during "Abitur", which is approximately the same as A-Levels) we shot a big science fiction movie on Super 8 film material, called Last Warrior. The whole thing runs for about 60 minutes and was shot in 5 days only. Two for principal shooting, two for special effects and one for pick-ups. Anyway, the character you see below is "Kyle Murdock" (the name is a mixture of James Cameron's Tech. Sgt. Kyle Reese from Terminator and of the villain from First Blood, Part II), played by myself.

Shot from Last Warrior, 1987

And as it was the habit of my character (and myself) to prefer black clothes and a leather jacket, well, that was the start. Also, the harsh type of world we created came from this amateur movie we did. A cold, grey world, a place you need to make better...

Digital artwork for Beryl Tales, 2007

The same character comes on the first atmospehric shot I did to show the main character Sarah, the pilot (now named Marc) and one of the hovercrafts used in that universe. Still with body armor but this time in red and blue as Sarah was dressed in black already...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Movies: Storyboards for the extro-cutscene of SACRED

As Lead Game Designer I took also charge of the cinematics of SACRED 1. What you see here are my original storyboard images for the extro, which starts after the evil mage has been defeated.

For SACRED several passes were neccessary as I didn't present them as animated storyboard to that time (that lesson was learned then and for Tortuga I defined the exact timing and speed of each shot with the storyboard).
And here is the final result...

Movies - Tortuga Storyboard

In late 2004/early 2005 the project Tortuga 2 was announced to the press, featuring as first German game a black pirate as lead character. Unfortunately after I left that company and the project experienced several changes the black pirate was skipped (among other things).

However the musical score came from the most talented composer Andreas Adler, who hit my definitions with his first shot.

What I did was creating an animated storyboard trimmed to music I like and then Andreas could unfold his creative powers. Those images were very rough and fastly done. I remember writing, skribbling and animating about 30 minutes of these animated storyboards in about 10 days.

About Fantasy - My approach to this genre I

I am child of the 80s, holding dear memories to swashbuckler-movies like The Three Musqueteers from 1972/73, Conan - The Barbarian and of course fast-paced and 'more intense' movies like Star Wars. I was thrilled by the story telling potential one could find in traditional pencil and paper role playing games like D&D and later A&D and how one could create worlds here.

However, while most fantasy was (too) colourful, too magical and too fancy, I'll always prefered the more mediaval approach in the '80s and '90s. The feeling and flair of riding and fighting, living in that world in every aspect.

So, with this focus on 'Low Fantasy' I had my focus on the 'sword' rather the 'sorcery'. 

Sorcery was the female aspect I saw in that device. I like magic, but in a subtle way - or in a powerful unleash of energies channelled through the magician. But what I liked were the sensual aspects of that fantasy, depicted in images by Vallejo or Frazetta.

Painting by Boris Vallejo, 1979

Monsters weren't just the next ugly critters, but intelligent beings with an agenda of their own. The images of Boris Vallejos are a symbol for this idea.

Painting by Boris Vallejo, 1979

Also - if you check out my novels FARCRY 2 - Blutige Diamanten (*Blood Diamonds) and RUNES OF MAGIC - SHAREENA, you'll experience strong, powerful women as lead characters.

Painting by Boris Vallejo, 1982

Images like this inspired me for those fighting ladies... (and fortunately the last one wears armour;-)

Games: The musical score of SACRED

Composer Dag Winderlich created the score for SACRED (2004) and we had an inspiring creative collaboration. During the production of SACRED I took charge of several aspects of game development as I saw the position of the lead Game Designer, the title I inherited during that time, as one of a director and author (this led to my definitions of game development I taught at the Games Academy in Berlin later). So, it was vital to keep the vision together and so I developed the behaviour to talk with other artists like animators, painters, graphic artists, musicians sound effect designers etc.

Dag was very open minded to suggestions as this was the first time for hime to do such a vast an epic score and so I presented him themes from my favorite artists, soundtrack composers like John Williams, Alan Silvestri and Michael Kamen. One could say, I put him in good company;-) Of course, Dag looked at me and said "Are you mad?! They have time and an orchestra!" But I grinned, handed him a bunch of audio CDs and said: "You can do it!" And Dag Winderlich did it.;-)

What you see here are my original audio CDs (with some notes which part should be used as inspiration). I choose this music because I had several themes in my mind that suited regions and story NPC, be it Michael Kamens score for the beautiful barony of Mascarell or the Military theme for Baron DeMordrey. So, the main parts came from...

  • Star Wars I - The Phantom Menace, John Williams (inspiration for the invasion theme)
  • Star Wars V - The Empire Strikes Back, John Williams (inspiration for the Evil baron theme)
  • The Lord of the Rings - Fellowship, Howard Shore (inspiration for battle scenes and combat)
  • Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves, Michael Kamen (inspiration for the rolling hills of Mascarell and the woods of Tyr-Fasul)
  • Gladiator, Hans Zimmer (inspiration for the Extro-Cutscene)
So, here one can see the difference between SACRED 1 and SACRED 2. In SACRED 1 every part - from graphics to sound to story telling mechanics - they all were designed to suit each other. I allways considered it as a composition.

SACRED 2 was developed by other people and I am not happy with that outcome, despite they had some great artists. What can I say to that matter? Well... that development company broke...

About Fencing in SACRED, Tortuga, Flashback... and a wheelchair

I have a love for Martial Arts and fencing. Recently two friends invited me to an 'Old Men's Fencing' (well, we may be slower than the 20-year-olds, but we still hit hard and the bruises took weeks to fade away;-)

Anyway, a lot of fencing can be found in my work.

Shot from Flashback, 1993/94

For SACRED (2004) project lead Franz Stradal and I did the motion capture directing and the whole team created the most wonderful special moves, effects and attack patterns, as this game was an action RPG.

 Screenshot from SACRED, 2004

For Tortuga (announced in early 2005, a midprice title who later was upgraded and tuned and published in 2007 (they skipped the black pirate from the first announcement)) I used a reverse-angle-shot system to convey attack and defense pattern.

Screenshot from Tortuga (announced version of 2004/05)

The hero (black pirate) is in defense mode and has to get his initiative back...
Screenshot from Tortuga (announced version of 2004/05)

And now he is attacking again... Well, that was fun and it was to bad that the concept wasn't released in those days. I think one day I like to do a swashbuckler story or movie again;-)

Anyway, this interest can also be found in my  latest novel RUNES OF MAGIC -SHAREENA. Check it out, the knight Fantur and yound Shareena do some tremendous action sequences in there. Have fun!

Novels: FarCry - A written shooter

FarCry - Götterdämmerung (God's Twilight) is a written shooter. The novel describes the events of the game FarCry (2004) and enrich them by telling more about events that formed the main character into his present form: Jack Carver.

As it is my nature I did more research on the setting and added information on World War II, the Third Reich (as the evil guys are a modern form of Nazis, having their roots back in the 1930s and 1940s) and added information on the Gulf War of 1990/91, where my Jack got his PTSD trauma.
Also I've added first links to the sequel, FarCry 2 - Blutige Diamanten, introducing Jack's Mentor Zam and Marty as well as another Africa-sequence.

Well, my stories aren't about massacre and blood and violence, but about people in pain. People haunted by their inner demons. And I placed a lot of those conflict into the story, because the story telling of a shooter isn't very insightful. I've added background and emotions to it... but I described it very openly, very explicitely. A bullet rips a body open, renders the body into shock, and a knife slashing a throat will do terrible damage. There is no such thing like "Oh, that is to hard, make that war look nicer!"...  

Novels: FarCry 1 & FarCry 2 - About the cruelty of War

Often I am confronted with comments on the degree of violence in my novels, especially in FarCry - Götterdämmerung (*God's Twilight) and FarCry 2 - Blutige Diamanten (*Blood Diamonds). Well, it is my styl and my understanding to describe things like this in the way I do, which is explicitely. 

Why is that? Do you remember the invasion in Saving Privae Ryan featuring Tom Hanks? This sequence is brutal and direct. It doesn't spare the spectator the horrors of war and pain. Thus the display of violence needs a dramaturgical reason and it is this reason, why I describe things in that way as well.
You can't depict war and combat and pain if you try to make it nice or political correct. If you are hit by a sword, that hurts. If your body is hit by a bullet your biosystem will go into shock. Hell, I like fencing (in real life, not virtual) and sometimes it takes weeks to get rid of those bruises - and a sports rapier has safety tips.

Also, if you describe a story you need to show the evil ones motivation, how cruel and bizarre that may be. Read Jonathan Nasaw or Kathy Reichs or R.E. Feist - they all do it. They show you the mounstrous side of human beings and their deeds.

The third point that influenced my style were my studies of British and American Literature. From Shakespeare to Native American Literature you'll find a tremendous degree of physical and sexual violence, described very closely. They don't spare the reader the pain or horros, they don't fade out to make you feel comfortable - and they don't close their eyes!

Especially for FarCry 2 Blutige Diamanten I decided to make it real, because those civil war events in Central Africa take place. I did a lot of research on the horrors happening and put them into my story.

Novels: Writing for a female audience?

I am doing mostly action, fantasy and science fiction, so one might think my readers are mostly adolescent males. A very interesting thing is, that I do have a female audience and this is something I appreciate.
I received a lot of feedback that especially women said they like the way I kill (in my novels) and describe sexual encounters in that explicit way I do. Even FarCry - Götterdämmerung, which is actually a 'written shooter' (meaning page number and body count are approximately the same;-) received positive feedback by women - and disasterous by men. What strikes me as funny is that most men do consider my work as to bloody and to sexual - and I wonder why that is. 
Is there something in my work that repels the one and attracts the other? Well, we shall see in the time to come...

So, questions like "Why do I have a female audience?" or more precisely "What in my work triggers that female response?" remains. For me as an artist this is vital to know. Any ideas?

Check out my novels; on Amazon and my website you can find reading extracts as examples (in German only). 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Movies: First costume tests... without a costume

When we had the idea to do a fantasy movie in 1991 we asked ourselves: can we do it? How can we build a fantasy world that won't look ridiculous?

Production still from Darkness & Light, 1991
The first approach was to use lighting to create a more dramatic view, the second to use believable costumes. Here we see the principal actor in a first costume and camera test. the funny thing is, that there is no costume.

He has the sword, a piece of 20 cm *20 cm of chainmail (took me 10 hours to craft it by hand). The leather tunic is the back of a common leather jacket with arms removed.

 Shot from Darkness & Light, 1992

Well, this is what his costume looked like in the movie...

Movies: An Elf is an Elf is an Elf...

I like the idea of Drow and Dark Elves, though I prefer Feist interpretation of them nowadays. What we see here is a Drow inspired from RPG AD&D, and idea we used  in our fantasy movie Darkness & Light.

Shot from Darkness & Light, 1992

Note the pointed elven ears, we created the same way as the ape and orc masks or the Terminator facial applications.

 Shot from Darkness & Light, 1992

In this sequence the Dark Elf taunts and eventually kills the Elven Lord of the woodland realm by thrusting and twitching his poisoned blade into the Elven Lords body.

Production still from Darkness & Light, 1992

Shooting this sequence was a thrilling experience as both actors pushed themselves to their limits of displaying hate and  disgust. The hightlight was when the Elven Lord spit (unexpectantly) at his torturer, the saliva dropping from the Dark Elves cheek, touching it calmly and then turns into an outrage of fury against his bound victim. That's what I love about working with real people...

Artwork: History of my company's Logo

The logo of my company Michael Bhatty Entertainment displays a warrior, a sword in is hand, raising the other to the skies. This image has a history...

The character on the logo is one I am working with for over 25 years now. A fighter, challenging the Gods, taking his fate into his own hands. Suitable if you start your own business, I thought.
The fighter challenging the Gods and battling his (inner) demons became a symbol of most of my stories. In FARCRY, FARCRY 2 and RUNES OF MAGIC - SHAREENA my characters often have to face what haunts them.

Well, the origin of that image was an airbrush I created in about 1990. There is a fantasy novel I''ll present soon enough, featuring that sequence....

The image above shows the scan of the airbrush image (70 cm * 100 cm), including a digital rework using difference clouds for the lighning.

By the way, in SACRED (2004) there is my 'fingerprint', if you will. I created the image with the red demon in the background and copies my fighter in the foreground. This image was pasted onto a quest item - a painting on canvas. Game Designer's humour;-)

The 3D-objects were created by Thomas Kronenberg, Intulo.

Movies: Special Effects in Space IV

In late 2008, early 2009 I started developing an advertisement clip for the browser game Beryl Tales. For this clip, I created this special effect completely digitally.

Check out the three passes with the vessel in front of a green screen, the hangar without the vessel and separated background and the final composite image with colour grading.

However, my approach was based on my experiences done with real models and so I separated the layers and was able to replace background and vessel if I wanted. I used this same clip for another clip later, adding a Martian landscape there.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Movies: Flashback - Using volumetric lighting with cigar smoke

In Flashback the story is told by the evil guy, who is not just another villain, but the ultimate eternal Evil or the Devil, doomed to call in THE hero by doing evil things - to finally meet his punishment... til the next cycle. 

 Production still from Flashback, 1993/94

To get a gloomy look we used very sharp lighting and a number of volume lights. To achive this we smoked the room with cigars (which is not funny if you are a non-smoker). However, the effect worked and the standard rule is: pain is momentarily but film is for eternity!;-) 

 Shot from Flashback, 1993/94

I guess this is what the actor of the Evil one thought as well, because his eye patch was glued to his face (and the cement burned like hell on his skin, beside the fact that it was a medical skin adhesive).

Shot from Flashback, 1993/94

Well, he was rewarded, as the Single Malt Whisky was real. And yes, that's 'on the rocks' - a subtle reason why he gets what he deserves in the end;-)

Beryl Tales: The browser based MMO

Beryl Tales was a coproduction between my company MBE and Xybris Interactive. With a small team we created a game wherein the player could travel with his hovercraft through stargates to other planets. 
The graphics you see below were done by myself as the content part were in my hands, while Xybris provided the programming, marketing and distribution.

One main feature was, that the player could leave his hovercraft, when he docked his vessel at a space station.

The player character was displayed in the same way like the hovercraft.

A loose storyline led the player through this dark future world; an oppressive system had cast out all the unwanted and now a rebellion against that system had formed and the look for a way to get back to Earth.

Novel: FarCry2 - Getting the look and feel of Africa

Official FarCry2 artwork

I always had a love for the adventurous side of Africa.As a kid I loved TV-shows like Daktari, Tarzan and Quartermain. When Panini called and told me about FarCry2 I was thrilled. Of course, today I dont wanted to create that old-fashioned point of view, but a new and real one, so I started doing my research on today's Africa and talked to people from Southern and Central African countries.

My Africa map, created from IKEA's world map and Wikipedia satellite shots

Also I worked with political and geographical maps, to get a feeling on borders, deserts, savannahs and jungles areas. This map was created from several layers to get the vegetation levels and the states. Note my former project name here - Warmongers.

newspaper-articles, DIE WELT, 2007, 2008

Newspapers were another vital source and most of the brutal crimes against humanity (which some self-appointed critics considered much to brutal in my novel) came from those newspaper articles from the noted German newspaper DIE WELT in 2007 and 2008.Well, I don't like closing my eyes and describe it political correct...

A friend of mine told me later that she found the real Africa in my writing, as she had lived there and not only colours, smells, heat were there, but also behaviour, attitude and cultural aspects.

Movies: The love for Directing

Production still from Darkness & Light, 1992

I have a love for directing, for each type of creative collaboration. to consider and provide information on questions like 'Why is that character here?', 'What is this scene about?', 'What happened before and what speed does this scene need?' etc. All those questions need to be answered. It won't work to tell an actor "Just look into the screenplay!" (I made that mistake in the beginning). No, you need to guide and explain every emotional and circumstancial aspect.

Production still from Flashback, 1993/94

Later I developed a love for the creative collaboration with actors. During rehearsals a lot of new ideas, pacing and patterns are to be developed.

Production still from Flashback, 1993/94

 To be able to direct you need a good team. The crew I worked on Flashback with was brilliant, working efficiently and hand in hand, keeping my back free. Thank you, folks;-)

Novel: FarCry2 - Paula, my novel's hero

I have a love for Lara Croft and this is something you'll find in Paula as well. This image from Tomb Raider - Legends was the first one, that influenced me in creating my main character.

But while Lara is kept strictly "clean" in her sexuality, my Paula has a different history. She is a pained soul, a woman who were raped as a girl and who has her own demons to fight. I've read a lot of material about the Civil Wars and crimes against humanity happening in today's Central Africa. To create a more suitable, more cleaner version out of it, felt wrong.  
This former rape is also one of the reasons, why she prefers animals, especially wild animals and why she seeks to protect them. Being a veterinarian is the other part of my Paula, which has its roots in another media. When I was about four years old I was enthrilled by a character in one of my favorite TV-shows: Daktari's daughter... Paula by name. 

And like in that old TV show I put Paula in the middle of a team - only this time she's the one in charge.

Game Design: Games are not Games!

Most game developers still think that making games is about game mechanics. Well, it is, but only part. Games are more than things you can play with - that would make them toys. No, especially games with a story are something else: a form of interactive media.

And if games are a form of media, they can do more than just conveying the next gameplay-motivitation-cycle we experiencing in most games right now. With games as a media form, you can tell any story - just interactively!

During the research of my doctoral thesis (Interactive Story Telling, 1999) I created a paradigm which worked out: where? Well in the blockbuster title SACRED (2004). This paradigm focuses on managing chaos - which is something you'll find in each aspect of games, as there is an uncertainty priciple of space in time: Where and when will the player do what?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Runes of Magic - Shareena: Audio reading

I did a reading (in GERMAN only) from my sword and sorcery fantasy novel RUNES OF MAGIC - SHAREENA, published in 2010.

This reading features the chapter "Arena", wherein Shareena is forced to fight as a gladiator. Also you'll meet the priestess Asiya and the ferret Jonesy for the first time.

Novel: Runes of Magic - The cover process

Usually the publishing company selects an artwork for the book, but this time I had the honour that both Panini and Frogster wanted the cover of my latest novel express the actual heroes of my story. As a result, I was asked to give feedback and ideas.

What I did in October 2009 was to create a dummy-cover, using Runes-of-Magic-material provided by Frogster. Here the idea is not about doing a fine artwork, but to explain what is intended with a rough five-minute-montage. That's the reason, why Shareenas Arm is dissolving - I just erased it, because another object was in the way:-)

During the process I received skibbles; I cut out the characters of these skribbles to move and scale them on separate layers. Note the sharp line around Shareenas hair - for those rough images I didn't bother about precise marquee tools, but used the faster polygon marquee tool. 
On the original the Shareena character was much smaller, so I scaled her up a little bit, to let her appaear more powerful and impressive in the forgreound.

However, all those ideas were just suggestions I made - and I am more than happy to see what the artists of Frogster have created and how they created the darker area for the title in the lower area. Below you see the release version.

This was fun and a pleasure. Thank you very much.