This year's Dominance War, a sort of pan-forum community competition for concept and game art, has just started and, as is made abundantly clear yet again, we have a problem. We are stuck in an infinite loop of mediocrity, where an impoverishment of imagination feeds into impoverished talents, grooming new talent to be as lackluster as the current norm. What am I bitching about? Doesn't Dominance War prove there is some amazing skill out there? It sure does. Every year I am pleasantly shocked at how high the standards are in terms of craft and technical skill. There are a lot of people out there that can model and map a mean character, it's a truly impressive display.
My problem is with the concepts. Every year the theme for the competition is set, I presume, in collaboration with all the sponsors, which includes some game companies. This year the story starts:
Machines victory did not last... In a final desperate effort, the remnants of the opposing forces united against the machines and created an ultimate weapon that would temporarily disrupt all electrical functions within the galaxy. Unfortunately, something went horribly wrong...Sorry, I had to cut it off there for fear of boring my readers into a comatose state of despair. So the back story of the theme is the most uninspired, generic, fantasy sci-fi rubbish you could imagine. The competition rules then:
It has been 1000 years since the disappearance of machines. All electrical and mechanical systems ...
Topic: Create a Powerful Artifact User!Here we have an opportunity to foster, nurture the blooming imagination of a massive group of hopefuls, all eying a position in the game industry, and basically we're asking them to make the same kind of uninspired shite we are currently already making in an industry increasingly under fire, rightfully, for being derivative. An artifact user? Pardon my French, but Heavens forefend!
Sadly, the entrants are all swept up in the excitement and with their eyes on the prize, be it a Wacom Cintiq or a job offer, all are going at it hammer and tongs and with gusto and are creating, yet again, a splendid line-up of technically awesome, amazing game art of the most boring, traditional characters. Reapers, meta-knights, phantoms, zombie reptoid warriors....it just makes me weep.
Within the industry we are already chained, pretty much by necessity, by budgets, time constrains and big business. The reasons we have become derivative are actually quite understandable, even though it is eventually bad for business. While you are outside of the industry you must make every use of your creative freedom. Unfettered by leads, producers and publishers, you could let your imagination run riot. So why waste your time creating 3D versions of, basically, the kind of Heavy Metal, comic book bi-curious doodles schoolboys draw in their notebooks to pass the time?
What I'd like to see for Dominance Wars IV, next year, is an original theme that leads to a wider variety of possibilities for entrants, more inspired characters and set-ups, something we don't see every day. Maybe make it a requirement each entrant must at least use two primary colours, no metal, whatever. It's obvious there is some excellent, inspiring technical skill out there; let them use it to be creative for a change. My suggestions for the next competition:
"The treasurer of the peace envoy to toyland"
"Cute genetic mutations"
Artifact user my arse.
In the meantime I highly recommend checking out the work-in-progress screenshots entrants are posting on the many forums participating. If you look beyond the basic idiocy of the subject matters you’ll find there are a lot of people with some amazing talent out there, enough to make you paranoid of your own future job prospects. I wish them all luck, but I still have an axe to grind with the people responsible for the themes.