Archive for the 'History' Category

Listening to the Game – A Brief History of Game Audio

One of the things I keep mentioning in the context of game design is the role of sound. Go to any games arcade, and one of the first things you’ll notice is that it’s an attack on all your senses.

Audio can play an important part in manipulating the emotions of the player – and their engagement with the game – as well as providing feedback when a particular action has occurred – or equally as a warning about something that is about to happen.

Today, many games consoles have part of their hardware dedicated to managing the sound – even surround sound in some cases. But high quality audio production was not always the order of the day!

Read A History of Video Game Music (GameSpot). As you do so, see if you can use the article to answer the following questions – or at least act as the starting point for a wider search that will turn up the answers!

  1. The Grammy Awards are best known as music industry awards. To what extent are game soundtracks eligible for recognition in the Awards? Is there a category for game soundtracks in the awards?
  2. How was sound used to create tension in Space Invaders? (Unfortunately, the links to the audio clips no longer appear to work. If you can find copies of sound files for any of the games mentioned, please comment back here with a link. If you want to share your own recordings, DivShare is one place to share them from (it’s not quite ‘YouTube for audio clips’, but then, is anywhere?).
  3. what is claimed to be “the first stand-alone audio soundtrack in the video game industry”? And just what is a “stand-alone video-game audio soundtrack”? ;-)
  4. when did stero sound start to appear in video games?
  5. to what extent was sound supported in the original GameBoy? How does this compare with audio supported in the current generation of handheld consoles (such as the Sony PSP, or Nintendo DS Lite?)
  6. when did sports titles first start to use continuous “play-by-play” commentary? What exactly is continuous “play-by-play” commentary anyway?;-)
  7. how did games from the late 1990s start to use music as an important part of the actual gameplay or game mechanic?

If you are maintaining your own timeline of notable events in game and interactive media history, why not add some important dates in the history of in-game audio to it? (You might also like to refer to the alternative game audio timeline given in the first part of Adaptive Audio: A report by Alexander Brandon.)

If you have access to IEEE Explore, for example through you local library, this paper provides an interesting technical history of game audio: Video Game Console Audio: Evolution and Future Trends, K Chang et al., Computer Graphics, Imaging and Visualisation (CGIV ’07) 2007 pp. 97-102, 2007 (doi:10.1109/CGIV.2007.87).

For more general reading, try Game Sound Design at


Breathing Life into Animated Objects

In several of the most recent, previous posts, we’ve considered how stories can be plotted in a variety of ways around narrative events that take the characters in the story on an emotional journey (and hopefully take the audience with them on that emotional journey too!).

So how can an animator create a character that the audience comes to identify with on a physical level, as communicated to the the audience through animation?

The Twelve Principles of Animation

Although the techniques for doing much of the hard work of animation have been revolutionised by digital media, the pioneering work in ‘traditional’ film animation done by Walt Disney and Disney Studios on how to animate characters in a lifelike way still holds good today…

So for example, if you were to search for “principles of animation”, you’re quite likely to come across references to “the 5 principles”, or “the 12 principles”, or even “the 28 principles”. Most commentators, however, would go with 12 – the twelve principles – as developed by a core team of animators from Disney Studios in the 1920s and 1930s.

The principles refer to a set of techniques that describe how the characters might move from scene to scene as characters:

  1. Squash and stretch
  2. Anticipation
  3. Staging
  4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
  5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action
  6. Slow In and Slow Out
  7. Arcs
  8. Secondary Action
  9. Timing
  10. Exaggeration
  11. Solid Drawing
  12. Appeal and Character Personality

If you’d like to listen to a brief (15 minute) summary of what constitutes each of these principles, try this Introdution to Cartooning: Principles of Animation presentation.

If you prefer the written word, I’ll be drawing on “Applying the 12 Principles to 3D Animation” by Tito A. Belgrave and “The 12 Principles of Animation (annotated for stopmotion by Mike Brent)” to try and characterise these principles. My summaries of the principles are very brief though, so if you would like to learn more, please see either (or both) of those references for more detail.

If you find any short movie examples of any of the principles, or create one yourself, please link it back to this post – over time, I’d like to be able illustrate each of the principles with “found” resources from the web…or the Digital Worlds’ readership… ;-)

Squash and stretch

If you bounce a rubber ball, it squashes up as it hits the ground, and then it stretches out, as the first 10 seconds of this high speed movie clip demonstrate:

Although the squash and stretch effect can be exaggerated, it is important that the “mass” of whatever is being transformed is preserved. For example, if you are animating a bouncing rubber ball using clay, you would not add or take away any of the clay as you record each frame.


Before a character performs an action, it should physically “wind up” to perform that action. Anticipation draws the attention of the viewer, so that they focus on a particular area of the screen and prepare themselves for something to happen there. The classic example is of throwing a ball, in which the character draws their arm back in a possibly exaggerated way, before performing the action. Without anticipation, you have surprise – or maybe even an unnatural looking action. Suspense draws on a slightly different sense of anticipation, in which the viewer has an expectation that an action is will occur, but they are not sure where or when.


Staging refers the set – or setting – of the scene, and the way in which it is portrayed. Staging is an important element of all the dramatic arts, from theatre, set design and stagecraft to film cinematography. In animation, staging a scene is likely to involve “set design”, “lighting” and choice of camera angle and other camera techniques (close-ups, slow-motion etc.), as well as visual composition of the scene in much the same way that a photograph is composed.

Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose

Straight-ahead action refers to a production technique, such as stop motion animation, in which a scene is captured in frame order – for example, using motion capture or a dynamic computer simulation. Pose to pose refers to the key frame technique of animation, in which certain key frames, or poses, are drawn first, and then in-between frames are added that “move” all the elements from one pose to the next.

Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Follow through refers to the way a character behaves whilst completing an action, and can often be used to communicate a character’s feelings about that action or the likely consequences of it. In the case of throwing a ball, the action continues after releasing the ball, both in terms of how the character’s arm moves, but maybe also their facial expression as they realise how good their throw was. Overlapping action relates to the follow through behaviour of ‘secondary’ features, such as the motion of hair or clothing. The main focus is on the motion of the arm, but this must be dressed with overlapping action to make it look real.

Slow In and Slow Out (aka Ease in, Ease Out, or Acceleration, Deceleration)

Most actions start slowly and end slowly. If you think of a car, it doesn’t go from 0 to 60 instantaneously, nor it is likely to stop immediately from traveling at any speed. Slow in and slow out models this acceleration and deceleration.


Most things don’t move in straight lines. if you throw a ball, it doesn’t fly horizontally for a bit, then drop vertically down. Gravity acts on it all the time, pulling it in a downward arc. For body parts, if you swing your arm round, your hand doesn’t describe a square shape – it follows a circle, an arc, centred on your shoulder.

Secondary Action

Secondary actions are the incidental actions that make things look more realistic and may add to the anticipation of an action. For example, our ball thrower might be playing with the ball in their hands, or bouncing it from one hand to another, before actually performing the main throwing action. The movement of hair or clothing, or body twitches and facial gestures, are often likely to count as secondary action.


In its simplest form, timing refers to the choice of when an action is started and how long it takes to perform. Many comedians are highly rated not just because of (or even in spite of!) what they say, but the exact moment at which they choose say it…


Exaggeration can be used to focus attention, and stress a particular action. Exaggeration can also be used to develop character, as for example in the case of a caricature.

Solid Drawing (Solid Modeling)

Getting the drawing – or computer model – right. Whatever you’re animating should be a solid drawing, well crafted and executed and apparently capable of responding appropriately to the physics of the world it is performing in.

Appeal and Character Personality

The characters should appeal to the audience. They should be able to provoke an emotional response and also demonstrate their own “emotions” through their actions and gestures.

Putting (Some of) The Principles into Action

Hopefully, uncourse readers will start linking back resources that demonstrate the twelve principles back to this post – so keep checking back to see any new links/comments below! (Remember, you can always subscribe to the comments feed using an RSS feed reader…)

In the meantime, the following page has an excellent walkthrough of how to create a bouncing ball animation, illustrating along the way the principles of Squash and Stretch, Timing/Spacing, Solid Drawing, Slow in/Slow out and Arcs:

Animation Tutorial: The Bouncing Ball

Why not have a go at making your own simple bouncing ball animation, full of stretch and squash goodness?;-) You don’t even need a computer… remember the flip book in Making Pictures Move? ;-)

The History of Computer Games

I was going to try to write a brief history of video games here, but I’m not too sure what I’d really be trying to achieve by that?

I suppose one way to construct the story would be to look at games that introduced technical innovations, in graphics, sound design or soundtrack composition; or games that invented new styles of gameplay (such as the first real adventure game, or sandbox game), or were the first of a kind that hailed a new innovation in interface design – whether on screen (life/health bar indicators, for example), or via physical input devices (joysticks, gamepads, six-axis controllers, or guitars!); or a history of the first popular game on each new games console? A history based on games that achieved milestones of one sort or another, in other words.

But that doesn’t sound particularly satisfying – there are lots of books that tell the tale in detail, and lots of other books that cover it in brief, and I’m not sure I could do it justice here in a thousand words or so…

So I’m going to “cheat: – and pass of the telling of the tale, should you care to “read” it, to someone else. And to a medium that isn’t a long text document…

…a timeline.

To try and get you to actually look at the thing (?!), I thought it might be interesting to compare two versions of a common (more or less) timeline. In particular, the History of Video Games timeline on xtimelines (the same service where the Digital Worlds timeline lives…)

Firstly, there’s the actual timeline version: History of Video Games

Then there’s this video version inspired by that timeline:

View both treatments of the timeline. Do either of them engage you in the telling of the story? Did you get a sense from either of the tellings why the games represented do appear in the history? Did you feel you actually learned anything? Is there any way that either telling could be improved in such a way that you feel you might have learned something from it (and what would that something be?)

If you prefer a more traditional documentary style view, here’s something from Google Video: History of Video Games (Discovery Channel) (though it does rather look as if it has been ‘stolen’ and shouldn’t really be there… ;-)

Alternatively, if you prefer a traditional presentation, try this (Console Video Game History):

From a quick look around the web, I haven’t managed to find a really good public domain article on the history of games (post a comment if you find one;-), though there are lots of books covering the subject area (try Amazon!;-)

So if you fancy writing a brief history of video games, maybe even just focusing on the games that revolutionsed the development of a particular aspect of computer gaming, such as soundtrack design, or user interface design) and linking back to here, I’m sure we’d all like to read it ;-)

Making Pictures Move

In Bringing the Digital World Alive, I introduced the idea that contemporary computer games represent a convergence of ideas, techniques and technologies from the separate worlds of computing, entertainment, art and games.

In this post, I’m going to focus on the early history of moving images, to provide a bit of background about how to bring worlds and characters alive through animation.

Perhaps the simplest form of animation comes in the form of a flipbook – a series of images are drawn on separate pages of a book, in about the same position, representing snapshots of something moving, or someone performing an action. Flicking through the pages quickly gives the appearance of motion.

If you have a pack of post-it notes handy, why not try to create your own simple flipbook animation? Think about what would make a good animation. For example, a stick figure kicking a ball, or a rubber ball bouncing after it is dropped from a height. Plan what each still picture will look like and imagine each picture as a “frame”. Sketch it in pencil so you can make changes and keep flipping through the to see how it looks.

Even cycling quickly between just two images can create the illusion of motion, as these thaumatropes show:

If you have a couple of elastic bands handy, why not try making one? How to make a thaumatrope.

Next up in the level of complexity are what we might term mechanically aided animations. Again, the viewer is presented with a series of static images that represent different snapshots of an action being performed; the viewpoint is held fixed, and the the sequence of images rapidly shown one after another:

For example, here’s a praxinoscope (which is a refinement of a zoetrope – please comment back with a link if you find a movie of a good one;-):

The images are arranged around a the inside of a cylinder and then viewed in a series of centrally mounted mirrors. (By contrast, how does the zoetrope work?)

As well as the difficulty of drawing each of the frozen images, the makers of this animated toys faced the problem of not really know what each ‘frame’ should look like.

Time lapse photography, in which a series of still photographs were taken one after another, provided the first “scientific” glimpses of ‘frozen motion. Using a series of cameras that were triggered one after another (an approach popularised more recently by which sci-fi film of the last 10 years?!;-), Eadweard Muybridge was allegedly able to settle a wager about whether all four of a galloping horse’s hooves were ever off the ground at the same time.

Muybridge horse - multiple frames

Viewing these images quickly one after another gives the impression of motion.

Muybridge horse, animated

(You can read a little more about the history of film here: Making it move in the OpenLearn unit Crossing the boundary – analogue universe, digital worlds.)

The Classic Age of Traditional (Cel) Animation

Realising that objects could be made to appear to move by displaying a sequence of images that differed slightly several times a second, one ofter the other, the pioneers of drawn animation developed a technique that remained largely unchanged for much of the 20th century.

Images were hand drawn and painted onto transparent celluloid sheets (from which we get the word cel), and overlaid to build up a single ‘frame’. Fixed background images were placed at the bottom of the stack of cels, and cels detailing foreground imagery aid on top. An overhead camera could then grab a snapshot of the apparently flat image. Drawing images over several multiple layers meant that background imagery could often remain unchanged and the background cels reused in multiple frames.

(If you’re interested, here is a timeline showing significant dates in the history of animation – feel free to use it as the basis of your own interactive timeline… ;-)

Stop-Frame Animation

The second classic animation technique is known as stop-frame animation. Rather than using cels, stop-frame animation is used to produce animations of physical objects, which are moved slightly in between each frame. The Aardman studio, creates of Wallace and Gromit, and the Creature Comforts short movies, are perhaps the world’s bexst known contemporary stop-motion film producers.

Animated GIFs – A Flipbook Equivalent

You will no doubt be familiar with the idea of ‘animated’ adverts on many websites. These are often displayed using a particular image format known as an animated gif. A single image file is loaded into the page, but it actually contains within it a series of frames that are cycled over to produce a changing sequence of images, rather than the illusion of movement. In essence, it operates very much like a computerised flipbook.

The above image of the running horse is one such example of an animated GIF.

(This idea of ‘many images in one image’ is one we shall return to when looking behind the scenes at tilesets and just what makes an animated sprite tick in a computer game.)

If you have a spare few minutes, why not create your own animated GIF? To do this, you will need to create a series of static images, and then load them into an animated GIF generator.

For creating quick image doodles, I tend to use CanvasPaint, an online equivalent of the popular Windows Paint programme. The Animated GIF Generator Tool is ideal for creating animated GIFs. (Note that the animated GIF image generator works by sequencing a series of images from your desktop; which means you will have to save the images you want to animate there beforehand…)

And finally, something to mull over before the next post: can you think of any problems or difficulties that are likely to be associated with using traditional animation techniques in the creation of animations for computer games?

A (Very!?) Brief History of Games

I was fortunate enough to attend the Media Guardian “Changing Media Summit” in 2008, and one of the sessions I attended was looking at the issue of games.

I’ll be posting more about the session later, but one thing that came up related to the definition of a ‘gamer’. Members of the audience were asked whether or not they consider themselves to be “gamers” (would you consider yourself to be “a gamer”? Why/why not?) and then asked to show whether they had played various games recently: Grand Theft Auto, The Sims, or Scrabulous, for example…

One thing that came out of the discussion was that people are unlikely to class themselves as gamers unless a significant part of their self-defining identity is wrapped up in gaming culture. Another point that came out was that computer games now have a claim on cultural grounds to be rightly placed as part of the tradition of gaming down the centuries, rather than as a geeky,spotty youth subculture!

Anyway, one of the most popular forms of computer game today – in turns of numbers of people playing them – are ‘casual games’ like Solitaire, Snake or Minesweeper. Casual games are easy to grasp and may be targeted at a mass audience and played over a short period of time. If you play games during snatched moments of time, such as a coffee break, or on your mobile phone whilst waiting for a bus, or train, the likelihood is that you’ll be playing a “casual game”.

Many people first play casual games that are based on variants of real world games they are familiar with. Historical games have provided a rich source of inspiration for many computer based puzzle games, from straightforward replicas to what might be fairly termed ‘derivative works’.

Not surprisingly, many of the earliest games we know about have been discovered through their remains or visual records of them. Some of the games are still played today – “living fossils” from the ludic past! –although whether the rules are the same today as they were several thousand years ago is open to question.

UPDATE: see if you can find two or three games timelines on the web. Do they show the same games? What criteria do you think were used for including a game on the particular timelines you found? What criteria would you use?

I was going to give a brief history of games, here, but instead I’d like to try out a little game… ;-)

I’ve set up a form to play the game using a Google spreadsheet: “History of Games” timeline.

The game is very simple…

Rules of the “History of Games Timeline Game”

  • I have seeded the timeline with scant details of three games and the periods they are thought to date from.
  • The game is time limited and next runs for fourteen days from May 3rd, 2009, for fourteen days.
  • The game proceeds by players committing sets of entries to the timeline.
  • You may make one set of entries to the timeline per clock hour, but make as many sets of entries as you like given that constraint for the duration of the game.
  • A set of entries is defined as follows: Pick one game from the games listed on the timeline, and enter two other games: one that dates from a period after the game you chose, another that first appeared before it.
  • Furthermore, the two games you add to the timeline must not be more recent than the most recent game in the timeline, nor should they be older.
  • You may optionally add a third game to the list that is either more recent than the most recent game, or older than the oldest game.
  • You may challenge as many other game entries as you like if you think the date, name, ‘creator’, location, or description given they have given for a game is in error; to post a challenge, enter the game details you believe are correct, using the same game name, and tick the challenge box;
  • Points will be awarded for each entry you make, and each correction you make, and deducted for each change that is made to one of your entries.
  • All rules are subject to change, and I may make arbitrary or incorrect rulings against them…
  • If you would like to suggest rule changes or modifications to the Timeline game (this is a first attempt after all!), please post a comment…

I have no idea whether this experimental game will work, so please engage with it, and please bear with me if one or two things need ironing out around it!