Digital Tutors

Roughly a month ago I signed up with Digital Tutors – if you’re not familiar with it, it’s an online library of video tutorials, providing training from beginner to advanced across a truly staggering range of software used in the creative industries, as well as videos that cover concepts rather than software how-tos. I’ve been greatly impressed with the quality, and it feels like a very worthwhile investment.

I feel a hugely important part of working in any creative industry, in any role, is to remain humble about your work, to continue to learn and develop new skills – it’s something I love about these industries, and learning is something I thrive on. Thankfully, there’s a vast store of online learning resources out in the wilds of the interwebs now that can provide training in a way that just wasn’t possible ten or twenty years ago. It’s changing the educational model for certain skills in a fascinating way, and access to this sort of training is a critical part of being able to continue developing your own skills – alongside hours and hours of practice, for which there is no substitute in my mind.

There are couple of other websites specifically for After Effects that I wanted to mention with this post as well – VideoCopilot.net and GreyscaleGorilla – both of which are excellent but mostly focus on how-tos for specific effects or techniques. That said, it’s useful for inspiration, and in many cases the effects can be adapted for other uses. VideoCopilot also has a good series of After Effects basics tutorials which can be a good place to start if you’re limited with regards to budget for training materials.

The Last of Us

Last night I finished playing through The Last Of Us, the latest title from Naughty Dog and what I can only describe as an brilliant experience from beginning to end.

To break it down a little further (there are no spoilers here, because you should play this game, and you should play it like you watch a great film, with no preconceptions – just get swept up in the experience).

First, story and dialogue. Brilliantly, brilliantly written by Neil Druckmann – a story that develops and holds true emotional story-telling with believable characters throughout. There wasn’t a single moment in the entire game where the actions of the characters didn’t feel real to me; especially from the two lead roles. Every moment feels like honest acting, with great choices from both Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson  at every turn. Of course, these performances would be nothing without the work of the cinematic and gameplay animator, who produced some beautiful work that compliments the vocal performances brilliantly – a fantastic job by all involved.

Second, music. The score for the game is fantastic, thematically perfect, sparse, melancholic, never intrusive – brilliantly done. In many cases the lack of music is a really powerful choice that elevates tensions and focuses the experience even more. It was a brave decision to strip back the audio component as much as they have, but the silences build the tension to a wonderful degree.

Third, combat. It’s brutal, and unforgiving, and as an experience to play through is beautifully tense. The design of the various combat mechanics, with the crafting elements, limited ammunition, and the brutality of the combat animations (which feels like the characters are genuinely fighting for their lives, terrified, desperate) – so different from regenerating health and wonky AI that you can find in comparable titles. The design of the enemies in the game also feeds into this, with different opponents encouraging you to make different choices. As an example of contrast, the Assassin’s Creed games have brutal hand-to-hand combat, but it never feels as desperate, adrenaline-fuelled, and edged with terror as the combat in The Last of Us, and as a result lacks tension for me – with The Last Of Us, you can feel that tension in every combat and it works brilliantly.

Lastly, world design. The art is absolutely stunning; every element of the ruined world the game is set in feels right, the overall aesthetic is so wonderfully grounded – the areas that you explore feel real, they feel as I would imagine that world to be, and do so in a manner that doesn’t feel … the best way I can describe it is that none of it feels like a film set. The visual storytelling that’s inherent in the world never feels forced, you never feel made to look at these elements in the world, but it all adds to the experience.

Naughty Dog have produced an astonishing game with The Last Of Us. It’s a classic, a superb example of just how great games can be. Go play it.