Twin Switch: Final Stretch

CRUNCH TIME

The team is in the last month of production and the game is really coming together. Both characters are complete, the background environment is being tweaked and the level geo/textures are coming in. There are no new changes being made to the game, and a lot of polishing is being done at this point. There are only a few weeks left before our target event, the Level Up Showcase in Toronto. For this last production stage, I have gone back to the terrain to optimize it, add atmospherics effects and help finish up the characters and have them in the game.

 

CHARACTERS

Both characters are fully textured and animated within the game. I helped texture the Exo character so that our  3D artist and spend more time on bringing the level environment to a completion. I had to watch some quick tutorials on Substance Painter so that I can work in parallel with the other artist on our team. I was lucky enough to also get some quick tips and ask for help whenever needed from my peer.

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Hi-res sculpt of the Solar character. Now complete and within the game with animations.

Above is the textures low-poly version of our Exo character which I was responsible for making. I referenced several games including Halo to get an idea about what colour scheme would fit within the game. The Exo characters are red and the Solars are a mix of white and blue. This creates contrast between the two characters not only through the colour, but also the shape and forms (more organic vs. mech/blocky). We had to make sure the designs and colour both worked when the player is in 3rd person and top-down views.

 

ENVIRONMENT/ATMOSPHERICS

I went back to the landscape and played with the colours. There was no time to fix the texture stretching around the inner faces of the crater, but combined with atmospheric effects, the outer environment has come together.

Above are some in-engine screenshots showing the result of the effects. I re-created the skybox within Photoshop, making sure to paint in 32-bit depth to get the value ranges within the sky. The sun is created from an atmospheric scattering script from the Adam Environment Demo. In the demo, I took a look at how they did the environmental effects. We wanted a rotating skybox within our scene, so it had to be separated from the Sun on a different layer. The Sun is actually the Directional Light within the Unity scene with a script attached to it in order to edit the amotspheric levels and glow.

Since we decided to rotate the skybox, I had to create new geometry for the distant mountains to be painted on. Previously, I painted the mountains straight into the skybox, but this had to change. I simply created low-poly ring geometry and put a transparent texture with my painted mountains. After atmospherics were adjusted, I took a screenshot in order to colour pick the real landscape geometry to match the colours and make it look as real as possible, despite it being a billboard in the  background. Overall I was pretty satisfied with the result.

 

UBISOFT PLAYTEST

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We were given the amazing opportunity to playtest our game at Ubisoft this past week to get feedback before the Level Up event. The team worked hard before the big day to prep for the playtest. In the end, we were able to get a very solid build prepared for Ubisoft. We got a lot of good feedback about how we can bring our game to a polish for Level Up. In terms of art, they made sure to mention that the level-geo should have the more detail than the background in the landscape. Since we only had floor textures for the level-geo, it was evident that we have a lot of texture work to be done on the level-geo.

 

NEXT STEP: LEVEL UP SHOWCASE

The next step is a lot of testing and bringing in final art assets for the level geometry and being prepared for Level Up. We are brainstorming ideas about branding for the event and raising a lot of questions about how we can get peoples attention during the event. However, the most important thing is still getting the game to play well and ensuring that players will have fun. One crucial thing to remember is that there will be a lot of people at the event, and we have to create a way for people to quickly come in and learn the mechanics and go through a play-through that is successful.

 

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Project Clade: “Twin Switch”

PRODUCTION STAGE

The team is now at the production stage after a fairly successful first 4 months with pre production. We managed to put together an “almost” complete alpha build with a mock-up of our environment concept within the Unity Engine. Our core mechanics at this point are solidified and moving forward, the team will be adjusting metrics and making sure gameplay is fun.

For the production stretch (4 months) we are determined to get the game to a polish with 1 working level and 2 rigged and animated characters. My jobs is to concept out the environment that will be used in the final deliverable, as well as create high and low poly versions of the characters. Once these are complete we will push marketing art and other promotional graphics that will help create buzz for our game, which is now officially titled “Twin Switch”.

ENVIRONMENT

We decided to keep our initial “Eye of the Storm” concept but change our level geometry to fit our gameplay. These past two weeks for the production term, I’ve been working on the environment of the level. I first started with some sketches of the tower in which the level geo will be placed on. These towers are energy hubs that will “fire” at certain intervals due to an excess release of energy. Below are concepts for defining shapes/forms and some visual development about how these towers expel energy.

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Tower concept from the side. Creating faceted shapes to fit the “Exo” race but also have earth elements from the surrounding terrain.
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Establishing a silhouette for the tower.

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Above images show the different tower states. Going from idle, to a “shockwave” release of energy and then returning to the idle stage when the lights on the tower turn green.

These concepts will be passed onto our 3D modeler, Armand,  so he can add his own touch and texture/prep it for in-game use.

TERRAIN

Below are some progress shots of terrain creation for use in Unity for our surrounding environment. The rocks and cliffs are jagged and hard edged, the atmosphere is gloomy, dark and stormy. I am using World Machine for the terrain, which I will bring into Zbrush to sculpt on and get the proper forms we need to fit our concept. Then I can create a low poly and bring it into Unity to test how it looks.

The terrain will definitely need to go through some iterations on how to most effectively utilize the player camera and determine how much of the terrain we actually need to render in game versus using billboards/graphics at very far distances.

 

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After watching several tutorials on World Machine to get a refresher, I was able to come up with a first pass on the terrain as seen above. I’m still currently working on a compelling colour map texture for the terrain and have setup a non-destructive approach in which I can easily swap out my own colour tables I’ve created in Photoshop and apply it on the terrain based on height. For example, lower heights I can use sediment and sand colours while mid and high levels (1000m+) I can begin to use a combination of trees, grass and cliff rocks from reference.

WHATS NEXT

The terrain is schedule to be finished mid-next week and I’m confident I’ll be able to pull it off and move onto the level environments for a small amount of time.

Next steps for the next few weeks is to finish up the terrain, environment concepts and character sculpts. There’s a lot of work ahead, but its crunch time and we want to be able to bring everything together and have enough time for testing, polish and making sure the game is presentable as we are planning to bring it to LevelUp in April.

 

Project Clade: Environment Design

CHOOSING A LEVEL

One of our goals for the alpha is the produce a fully polished level. This level however, is not necessarily going to be used for the final game, but more of pre-production task to test our art style and methods of implementing assets into the Unity engine.

Earlier, the team had decided on a greybox to take to the next level, this was based on the early concept created below:

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This environment is located on the edge of a storm. The gameplay takes place in a tower that extracts and stores energy from the hurricane. After deciding on a level to take further, more concepts were created to flesh out the concept of how the environment works and what type of assets would be placed inside it.

Below are sketches to describe the geometry around the level. At this point, I was thinking about how the top-down view of the game would impact the level design, geometry and patterns for textures. It’s important to keep in mind the level flow of an arena shooter from not only a 3rd person perspective but also top down. The player should be able to navigate strategically in both of these modes.

After creating some technical concepts of the level, we still had to establish the atmosphere of the storm. How would the skybox look like? What kind of storm is it? Would there be environmental events within the level? We sat down and discussed these questions and it was my job to visual these observations.

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Front view of the level. There are towers in the distance with a large crater in the middle that interact with each other with environmental events.
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Rear view of the level, at the edge of the storm. Turbines harvest the energy from strong hurricanes.

SKYBOX

As the artist, I am also responsible for creating the skybox of our level. It took some time to figure out how I wanted to approach the skybox creation process. Since our sky is unique, there was no method of finding HDRI maps on the internet, it had to be matte painted. Before I created the first iteration of the skybox, we had not fully fleshed out the details of the level as shown above. However, the purpose of this particular skybox was to figure out the methods in which best suited our pipeline.

My next challenge was being able to take a matte painted skybox in Photoshop and properly map it to Unity so the distortion would not be so obvious. However, we also wanted to take advantage of 32-bit depth in order to get the dynamic range of our sky and utilize Unity’s skybox tools.

Having recently taken a course Narrative Concept Art at LearnSquared, I learned some 3D techniques within Photoshop that I realized would help me paint a skybox in 32-bit depth.

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Taking a panoramic painting and using the 3D feature in Photoshop to map it to a Spherical Panorama.
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You are able to directly paint inside the sphere as you would normally on a canvas in Photoshop using layers. However, the larger the texture, the more brush lag you will experience.
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I also discovered 32-bit painting in Photoshop during my research. However, a lot of Photoshop functions and adjustments are not usable in 32-bit so there are some limits. Here I created two layers, one on Multiply, and the other on Linear Dodge. This way I can mask in and paint the lights and shadows to get that dynamic range and test these values using the Exposure adjustments to see how the details shows in high and low exposure settings.
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Importing the texture created in Photoshop into the Unity Engine. You can use “Auto” Mapping configuration and Unity will be able to map the texture to the sphere. The Wrap Mode should also be set to “Clamp” in the import settings.
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Test skybox within the greybox scene in Unity. There is significantly less distortion using the 3D Photoshop method because you are able to paint out areas where there is stretching.

BACK TO CHARACTERS

It is now crunch time, with only two weeks left for our alpha deliverable, the character development has been trailing behind. Now that our alpha environment concepts have been established, I can push forward with more character development. Earlier on, I created a character that was rigged, textured, and added into the game engine to see how it would handle it. The design of the character was not very well thought out. So this time around, We as a team sat down and established the mechanics of the  character and how they would fit within the mechanics of the game. Moving forward, I can now design the character while keeping those mechanics in mind.

 

 

Project Clade: Concepting

 

STEPPING BACK

I had to take a step back in terms of developing the character concepts in order to show exploration for both factions of the game. For the prototype presentation, I presented some of the current exploration, studies and concepts that is going towards our “test” character and the two factions.

The team also sat together recently and discussed the idea of exploring some top-down studies of how the character shapes may look like. As we are progressing further along with our development, we have to figure out how the weapons and character shapes fit together and to make sure they have enough contrast to be able to distinguish from one faction to another. Thinking about where these differences are going to take place within the character shape and the size of these differences when in the top-down camera view.

Below are some simple silhouette studies of some possible top-down character shapes, I’m looking for contrasting shapes, round vs. hard edged, curved etc.

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I also went back to some of the greyscale character sketches I did, added some colour and explored some more shape design to find some interesting forms to get some sort of sci-fi armor design look. This was a faction neutral approach, so I wasn’t really thinking about if this specific design would be for one faction or the other, but rather an overall exploration.

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PROTOTYPE CHARACTER SCULPT

Moving forward with the test character concept I did earlier, it’s time to create a high-poly sculpt of it. After taking some refresher courses on Zbrush and familiarizing myself with the UI, I started off with a base male model free from DAZ Studio. I often use this software for my workflow when I want to pose characters or look at reference. I also don’t have much experience with hard-surface modeling, but the entire reason for this test character is to learn the general principles of character sculpting and some simple techniques that I can pick up.

Most of the armor was sculpting using the “Extract” method via masks.

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Other parts I decided to explore some kitbash brushes and meshes taken from BadKing, a site that offers some awesome free zbrush assets. I definitely plan on using a lot of kitbash items, especially for environ

ment sculpting. It not only speeds up the workflow but also helps when going to retopologize and UV later on for the 3D modeler.

The initial sculpt took me around 2 weeks, which is a lot of time within our project. However, I failed several times and learned from those mistakes. So hopefully, in the future, when I’m creating for final assets, I can speed up my workflow from the practice I’ve done.

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There were several changes to the overall concept that deviated from the original. I found the shapes within the chest more interesting and they stood out more from a design point of view. Next was to explore some colour concepts for the “Solar Character”, this faction is of Earth so I decided to play around with some nature colours.

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I’m still trying to develop a consistency for the style within the game, so this is definitely good practice for me.

The high-poly sculpt is ready to be retopologized and then moved onto the texturing phase.

ENVIRONMENT CONCEPTS AND IDEAS

We have developed a few greybox levels but realized that there wasn’t much inspiration behind the setting of the levels. We decided on having one fully polished level as an end product. For pre-production we want to do a full art pass at least twice on one of the greybox level to really establish the art style and workflow in terms of going from concept to 3D and then optimizing in the Unity Engine. Of course there is also setting up lighting, atmospherics etc.

My job was to develop some quick and dirty environment concepts and mood shots to get some inspiration behind our next greybox. Below are some possible settings that could take place on earth or another planet.

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Looking at different shape forms and graphic shapes for composition and possible ideas for greyboxing

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STEPPING FORWARD

My next task is to deliver these environment concepts to the level designer so that he can mock up some greybox levels for testing. Once we test the greybox for play-ability, then my task is to do some paintovers of the environment to establish the possible mood, lighting, materials, props and general aesthetic of the level from multiple angles. Once that is done, then myself and the lead modeler can move onto sculpting and modeling props and assets for the environment. This will be our next sprint and hopefully we can have an iteration of the art pass done on the level by December.

 

 

Project Clade: blue-sky phase

I’m the artistic lead for Project Clade, A competitive twin-stick arena shooter, being developed by a team of 4 strong developers: Armand Mech, Stefano Della Croce, Jake Nissen and myself. We call ourselves Scend Interactive (work in progress logo). The team was formed during the summer, founded by Stefano, who brought us a compelling team philosophy and how we would approach this final year of school with the capstone project.

MY ROLE

As the lead artist on the team my responsibility is to develop and establish the overall aesthetic of our game. Concepting characters, environments, props and any visuals that will help progress the development of the game. The majority of my work is happening now with the blue-sky phase. My job now is to throw as many visuals and concepts as possible to inspire the team with ideas, mechanics, design and any other possible areas the visuals could spark.

STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES

Over the past few years I have focused my artistic development in environments. Since I will also have to design characters for the project, that is a projected risk in terms of time management and also design.

Since Project Clade fits within a fantasy/sci-fi genre, and will most likely not be a hyper-realistic game, my goal is to create visually appealing and semi-functional designs for characters and environments that complement the backstory. Since I struggle with characters and anatomy, being able to create semi-functional yet cool designs adds an additional barrier to my creative freedom. Prior to the project I shifted a bit of focus on anatomy and armor functionality to have some sort of warm up for the challenge. Looking at sources such as Pinterest for design inspirations and creating short studies of armor forms and sci-fi themed shapes, I can start building my visual library and prepare for the concepting phase.

DEVELOPING THE STYLE

Developing a style and having that style be consistent throughout a game seems like a tough task. There are so many games out there to reference , and since many of them do it so well, should we simply emulate it, create our own or grab something from our favourite aesthetically pleasing games and bring them together. These are questions the team sat down and discussed for long periods of time and is currently still being developed. However, we have narrowed down some specifics about how the environment and characters should interact and some general principles and guidelines to inspire the design behind the overall look.

After receiving some advice from out art mentor Thaddeus, it was suggested that a style guide be developed for the pre-production phase. This guide would outline what look we are aiming for and use referenced and procedures to create a consistent as cohesive art direction that blends well with gameplay.

Some key points on style was referenced and studied from Valve’s Illustrative Rendering In Team Fortress 2 which discuses environment, characters and the details behind the shaders used for the game.

A WIP Style Guide for Project Clade

ENVIRONMENT

  • simple shapes, effective composition (readable forms throughout environment, building vs. ground , light vs. dark)
  • theme of organic mixed with hard surface sci-fi
  • Neutral coloured objects, saturation contrast from team specific environment elements to show that these objects/powerups can be used by both teams.
  • Overall Monochromatic mood which represents where in the universe the level takes place
    • Cool vs. Warm colours

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CHARACTERS

  • Contrasting colours for quick team distinction
    • Contrast forms between races
      • Humans – grounded, heavy
      • Exo humans – geometrical, organic, mystic
    • Power armor vs. sleek design
      • Somewhat over-the-top, semi-functional armor design, body does not have to “fit” in the suit.
    • Mobility vs. Combat mode
      • Contrast from changing from mobility (third-person) to top down combat mode via transformation
        • show this transformation visually through small character in mobility vs. big weapons and forms in combat mode

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WEAPONS

  • Over-the-top style weapons
  • Stylized TF2 design reference mixed with DOOM 4 functionality
  • Create contrast between the silhouette of mobility mode vs. combat mode (in combat mode, weapons are more prominent and extrude from the character)

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LEARNING AS I GO

With the internet today, learning resources are virtually infinite. Throughout the development of the game, seeking out tutorials and resources online is going to be crucial. Since this is my first time working on a long-term project with a team as an artist, I will have to experiment different workflows, learn new tools and be able to integrate them into a working pipeline in order to end up with a successful product. Having done personal projects in the past and learning/developing with new tools, being prepared for the bumps is also something to be aware about, and I’m definitely expecting them.

Below are some tutorials by industry professionals that I have been watching and have been super helpful so far in the way I want to approach designing the character (the first phase of the project).

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Anthony Jones is a renowned character artist in the industry today. Having watched both of his lessons above gave me some insight and knowledge on anatomy studies and sci-fi design which has helped me during my sketching phases of character development.

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Zbrush is my tool of choice when it comes to creating characters. I recently had to refresh my skills and the ZClassroom offers a an abundance of video tutorials on sculpting and modeling techniques. I have been specifically looking at the ZModeler, which is a new feature in 4R7 that has added a more functional development aid for hard surface modeling.

PROTOTYPING

Stefano and Jake are currently working on the technical prototype while Armand and myself are developing our art pipeline. This prototype will serve as practice for going from concept, to high-res sculpts, to low poly models, texturing and eventually optimization for in-game assets for Unity. The designs I’m creating now are not necessarily final, and may not even be in the polished version of the project.

CHARACTER CONCEPTING

A week into September, I have started developing and  exploring some character concepts for the human faction of our game. Going from chicken scratches, to silhouettes, shape studies and eventually developing a character turnaround that will serve as the prototype for the art test pipeline.

WHAT’S NEXT

The next step is to create a high-poly sculpt of the above designed character. This way the character can be taken for low-poly conversion and texturing to be further rigged and animated.

During this phase I will have to learn a lot about using different tools and techniques to create a well rounded high-poly version of the character. I expect to learn a lot and make mistakes, but that is the reason for the prototype pipeline, so that later on I can be more efficient in not only design but also production time management.