GONE ARE THE days of the parent-child barter trade: “Score Straight As in your exams, and you’ll get that Gameboy Yellow you wanted.” Today, this coveted prize has been replaced by either a Nintendo Switch, a gaming laptop or the latest PlayStation. Clearly, the video game industry has progressed by leaps and bounds.
The Discovery Tour feature of Assassin’s Creed: Origins was the result of teachers reaching out to Ubisoft on how they’d use the game as a tool for teaching history.
In 2019 Malaysia’s 20.1 million gamers spent an estimated US$673mil on video games alone, making the country one of the biggest markets in the region.1 This also encouraged the hosting of video game – or eSports – tournaments, and platforms such as Twitch for players to live stream their gameplay. Well-known digital distribution platforms like Steam have additionally made finding success for indie video game developers easier.
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The industry is presently witnessing two booming trends. “The first, major video game companies have been devoting large sums of money in producing huge budget AAA2 games for console and PC; and the second, companies are redirecting their focus to the mobile games market which can potentially make huge revenues,” says manager Eng Tzy Ling of Lemon Sky Studios, a leading South-east Asian art and animation studio, which has an office in Penang.
Some of Eng’s past projects include Warcraft III: Reforged and Final Fantasy VII Remake. She was also the production head for the Buzzy Bee & Friends TV series from 2012 to 2015..
Lemon Sky Studios has gained a niche in remastering Real-Time Strategy (RTS) classics,3 including Command & Conquer Remastered Collection, Starcraft Remastered and Warcraft III: Reforged, as well as venturing in AAA game developments such as The Last Part of Us: Part II, Marvel’s Avengers, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Resident Evil 3 (Project Resistance), and Marvel’s Spider Man. Be they single player, multiplayer, online or offline games, each video game is generally segregated based on its platform and genre. In essence, a platform is the console used to play the video game, e.g. the PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PC or mobile phones; while a genre typically refers to the type of gameplay that the game adopts. Common ones are action (shooting and fighting games are subgenres under this category); action-adventure (Uncharted, The Last of Us); role-playing (Dark Souls, The Witcher); strategy (Command & Conquer, Warcraft, Mobile Legends); simulation (The Sims); and sports (FIFA, WWE).
Creating A Video Game from Scratch
Building a video game is an intricate process. “The art director and concept artist(s) are responsible for establishing the overall visual concept of the game, while the game designers and artists are tasked to design the gameplay elements – the playable parts of the game. Finally, the programmer(s) puts these pieces together to ensure that a playable game is produced.
“A wide range of artists are involved in the process: animators, concept artists, modelers, compositors and visual effects (VFX) artists, etc. They are responsible for the visuals that you see on screen such as graphics, animations, character designs and special effects. The project manager and respective coordinators keep track of the artists’ work and ensure that everything progresses according to schedule.”
Bridging the Gaps
Just last year, Hasnul Hadi Samsudin, the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC)’s Vice President of Digital Creative Content likened Malaysia’s video game industry development to a maturing adolescent.4 “A strong video game development ecosystem requires education (from primary all the way to tertiary) and sustainable companies. Malaysia may not have the most robust of ecosystems, but the cogs are already in place.”
Inter-collaboration between the video game development industry and other sectors are on the rise. One such example of real-life brands and celebrities being featured in popular video games is Keanu Reeves for the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.
To illustrate, courses in game design such as game software development, game art and design as well as programming are currently offered at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, and Management and Science University.5
Still, Hasnul believes that there are numerous gaps for Malaysia to bridge, one of which is between the industry and academia. Eng agrees with Hasnul, adding that fresh graduates today are not exactly equipped with insights on what the industry expects from them once they start working. “To bridge the gaps, we conduct training sessions with fresh graduates who have just joined us.”
A proper – and reliable – infrastructure network notwithstanding, stigma also hampers the industry’s growth. “Most people still do not understand that being an artist is a profession; instead, they perceive it as merely a hobby. Lack of awareness and knowledge on what happens within the field further enforces this fact. A lot of young artists struggle at the beginning of their career paths because there’s a lot of pressure from their parents and elders to produce tangible results. To top it all off, they need to work tirelessly to somehow prove their worth as artists,” Eng laments.
Game-based Learning: A Potent Tool for Education
Gaming has proven to be an effective form of distraction from the pandemic – more so for those confined within their homes. With Covid-19 at our doorstep, teachers and parents are seeking out alternate forms of learning in place of traditional classroom pedagogy. One such option is game-based learning.
Take Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Origins for instance. Its Discovery feature allows players to step into the historical streets of Alexandria, Egypt for an immersive learning experience through visual tours guided by historians and Egyptologists. Players can explore the pyramids, learn about the geography and wildlife of ancient Egypt, and walk along the streets while observing the world around as Non-player Characters go about their lives – recreating history.6
The length does not matter; a game can be played repeatedly. Repetition in gameplay allows students to retain information more efficiently and lastingly, and apply the knowledge they have learned from playing to prevent them from repeating mistakes.
Likewise, the usage of game-based learning is able to drive engagement and collaboration among students.7
To be sure, the introduction of video games – even in a classroom setting – does not spell the end of books. Games can supplement time-tested pedagogical practices with new technological solutions to long-term problems.8
As games continue to develop beyond our scope of imagination, with Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Full Immersion being the fixtures of the future,9 video games may no longer cater only to the purpose of entertainment, but to the fields of healthcare, education and even architecture as well.
Eng sees a bright future for the local gaming industry and advises young artists to stay true to their goals. “The greatest gift to have is the ability to be passionate about what you do and to have the motivation to create art. We believe as artists, that as long as we stay true to our passion and original goals of making good art, one day we will without a doubt succeed in this industry.”
2AAA = an informal classification used in the gaming industry to refer to games of high production value and of top quality thanks to its large budget, typically going into the millions. It is equivalent to the word “blockbuster” in the movie industry. https://www.g2a.com/news/ features/best-aaa-games/
3Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games are played simultaneously between players, unlike turn-based games where players take turns. https://www.techopedia.com/definition/1923/real-time-strategy-rts
Alexander Fernandez is a USM graduate. While most people eat to live, he lives to eat instead.