Saturday, 24 March 2012

Environment Project - Slum

After gathering more reference images I've grown to like the idea of a slum environment more. I know its been done before in things such as District 9, Call of duty and probably others, so it still isn't very original. Despite it being done before, the concept of a slum scene being well done in other games or films isn't the reason I thought it would be a good idea, unlike most of my other ideas.

I was drawn to the idea of a slum environment because I think its really interesting. Slums are colourful, chaotic, crowded, run down and messy and interesting to look at!
I thought it would make an interesting game environment if the slums were abandoned for all but a few people, giving you the chance to explore around this mass of shambled together homes. Scavenged materials and items litter the homes and streets with rubbish everywhere, creating a very busy run down look.
Wandering around you see clothes are still hung out to dry, meagre food supplies still in pots and yet the 1000s of people that inhabit the slum have completely disappeared. What happened? Where could so many people of gone?
The shocking conditions of the cramp slums aren't any indication as to what might have happened but show the way all these people lived.

I thought this had the potential to create an immersive environment that was quite creepy as it feels like it should be bustling with people yet it remains empty, all the shacks and clutter would also make an interesting environment to explore.

Seeing as I haven't done much visual design work for a while getting into the design and drawing of the environment is going to be difficult. So I start small scale and try digi paint some ideas for shacks to get me going.

Its abit of a mixed result but at least its going somewhere. Next I'll do some quick thumbnails of environments.

Environment Project - Initial Ideas

Now I have a basic grasp of what an environment is and how it's design plays such an important role I'm now faced with the task of creating/designing my own environment!

Eeeek. I'm sure I should be more enthusiastic than I am but theres not been much of value going on in my head lately so I'm concerned anything I come up with could well be complete rubbish!
The first thing I need is a basic idea, something to expand upon. Uuugh.
Some things come to mind;
Treasure hunter

Futuristic city
Space ships / hover craft
Tall buildings
Lots of metal
Future warfare
At sea
Rusting metal

The problem I'm having is I want to come up with something interesting and what I'm looking for inspiration in things have already been done.
"Oh I love Uncharted that was awesome I'll do something like that. A jungle theme with temples and ruins, hell yeah!"
But theres no point in that. It's already been done and its already been done better than I could ever hope to imagine it, so that wouldn't be of much use to me. I need to stop getting ideas from games!

------------------------------------------THINKING GAP GOES ON----------------------------------------------
Ok so after a bit of deeper thought I like the idea of doing a slum environment. The run down, overcrowded messy look is interesting to me and I like the look of random bright colours mixed with metal and tight spaces.
A few of my reference images gathered from...oh!

Environment Project - The hard beginning

Designing an environment is something I always thought I would enjoy doing, I don't know why I've never come close to ever doing it before. Maybe I thought I would like doing it because I really like other people's environment art, I tend to find it really interesting, eye catching and fantastic. A good piece of environmental art can set the scene for the rest of the world and what you might expect to be going on in it.

However, now we have a project to design an environment and the people that inhabit it I feel abit 'rabbit in the headlights', I don't know where to begin!
I've tried sitting about and drumming up some ideas in my empty head but nothing seems to be very interesting or worthwhile pursuing. :-/ Hmm this is going to be harder than I thought.

First things first I guess, coming to grips with what environment design is and why it is so important.

I started by reading the various PDFs we had available and I must admit I found some of them rather hard to stick with. One I did find really interesting however was the "What happened here - story telling through environment" PDF. 

The in-game examples it used are all from games I've played it this made it easy to understand and relate what the writer was going on about. Before reading this I had a general idea of what 'environment' referred to but never really thought about it so deeply. While playing a game I often run through most of the level not paying much attention to the surroundings or thinking about what they might mean, but this is a good thing. If the environment has been designed well we don't need to think about things too much we instinctively read and understand what we are seeing. The example made of Bioshock demonstrates this well I think -

"Theres a lot of subtext and associations here.
-ATMs are associated with money and represent other people's savings
-Trashing an ATM (or stealing from it) is frowned upon by society
-Splicers represent social ideals gone wrong
-Water reminds us of Rapture's setting

While playing Bioshock I will have seen this scene and interacted with it but not sat and scrutinised it, it fits perfectly into the setting and story of Bioshock and I could instantly read the meaning of what had gone on. If the ATM had been something else, say a rock, I would have questioned the situation and it would have had a negative effect that detracts from the believability of the game.
This scene wasn't needed within the game but it was there as added effect, interest and a deepening of the immerse Bioshock world! Awesome.

What the PDF also pointed out and really made me think about was the idea of 'avoiding disconnects', again something I have never thought about, but upon reflection have often encountered within games.

"Here's another example that we really like a lot:

Somebody built a ramp in the sewer system and tried to play Evil Knievel.

But… can we play Evil Knievel?

What does this moment say about the game? Fallout 3 is a game heavy on traversal. Does this example remind us of things that we can't do, drive around the wasteland on a motorcycle?

Once again, the example is probably okay, because Fallout 3 never communicates the possibility of drivable vehicles elsewhere in the game, and the bike looks sufficiently broken."

I again agree with these statements, while playing Fallout 3 I noticed various broken vehicles around but never expected to at any point be able to use one. This allowed them to be there, creating a more believable world, while not irritating me as a player by not being able to use any of them.

A game I can think of which doesn't do this is Stalker. The game world is large with expansive zones of not much, requiring you to run quite long distances. The game had vehicles about but not that you could use and this annoyed me and distracted me from the game. I couldn't help but think it was all abit stupid that I have to run miles, often slowly due to heavy stuff,  thinking why couldn't I use a vehicle? It always felt abit wrong and irritating.

Other people must have thought the same because it wasn't long before people made a mod that allowed you to use vehicles to get about!

Populating a game with things that make it believable and interesting yet avoiding making us question what we can and can't do within the game must be difficult yet very important task.

So a well designed environment is an important part of the game that does alot more than just looking pretty! So I come to guidelines or rules for creating that all important environment:
 - The environment creates meaningful play by guiding the player through the level allowing or dening access to other areas.
-The environment communicates with the player, helping them to understand the purpose of an area.
- Communicates the boundaries of the game and expectations of what we can and cant do.
- The environment sets a scene which reinforces the identity of the player.
- The
environment should further the story as the player advances through the game, providing narrative context.
- The environment should provide the story for the game where the player can read, understand and assume what has happened without the need to be shown it.
- The environment needs to be compelling and interesting while at the same time believable and indicative of a larger world outside that of what the player sees.
- The environment should be immersive and avoid things that may disconnect the player from the believability of the game.


Monday, 19 March 2012

Texturing Project

I had no idea what project we were going to be given after the gladiator project and with only two weeks till assessment I knew it couldn't be anything massive.

So we were set the texturing competition project. We were given two basic character meshes, a male and a female and had the task of unwrapping, texturing and rigging both within the two week deadline. I figured a good way to approach this would be to do one a week so I'd have plenty of time one each.

I started by having a good look at each of the models and thinking about what they reminded me of, what style I could give them and how I should texture or portray them. The ideas that I visualised were of a stylised army look, so I started researching this and finding reference images.

Male moodboard

Female moodboard
 To bring my ideas together I did some quick paint overs of the models to help me decide how I was going to texture each one.

I felt I had a stronger idea of what I wanted to do for the female model, so I unwrapped this one first. I found unwrapping the model to be fairly straight forward and quick without too many difficulties. Knowing the texture sheet was limited to 512x512 I made an effort to use as much of the texture space as possible so it would have the highest quality possible. I made the texture using a mix of reference images and hand painted textures, I think this mix worked well and generated an interesting texture.
Quick female concepts.

 Using the 'skin' modifier to rig the character was quick and simple, I found the envelopes it made as default were effective and fairly accurate enough. I did however have to alter the weights of a few verts so it animated slightly more realisticly.
Female model
With the style of the textures now set with the completed female model doing the male was straight forward. I found unwrapping him slightly more irritating than the female due to more complicated geometry but I was able to create a UV that I thought would texture well, using as much of the space as possible. Following the same method as before I used a mix of hand painted textures and reference images to create a texture I was happy with.

While the doing the rest of the model was was problem free when I got to rigging the male model everything started to go wrong. 3Ds max crashed halfway through rigging and this corrupted my autoback files, the only save I had was before I started rigging.

Male model
This was only the beginning of the problems however and from this point on Max would crash regularly meaning I had to redo most of the rigging several times. I also had alot of problems getting the texture to display with a model that wold keep going grey and not displaying the textures.

As a result of these problems I'm not completely satisfied with the male model's rigging and the way he animates, the majority of the model is OK but there are some bits I would change if the program didn't crash the instant I tried to.

Despite some problems I enjoyed the texturing project, I'm pleased with the textures I made and the overall theme and look of the models together.

Finished posed models.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Masses and masses of Posemaniacs.

Recently I've been doing masses of figure drawing from the website
I've been doing it any time I get chance, like while waiting for 3D to start on Monday morning or while I'm sitting on the sofa too tired to do any real work.

I was put off by the way the models you draw look to begin with but started to enjoy it and practising from it quite relaxing. I think the process has helped me alot to learn the shape and scaling of both the male and female form. I have become much more confident from doing it as well, to begin with I would only draw the poses I wanted to, ignoring more complex or awkward angles but as I've improved I've started to attempt every pose that comes up.

I've even gone as far as getting the app on my iphone so while I'm out and about I can be scribbling some posemaniacs down rather than sitting around doing nothing.

I think my life drawing benefited from doing all the posemaniacs, I felt like I knew how to approach drawing the figure better, and how to get the proportions right.

Recent life drawing.

Update: Recently I haven't been doing as much posemanaics or drawing in general, jumping back into trying to do posemaniacs has been difficult and annoying. Looking back at my early drawings I think my current ones are better in a way, but I'm still unhappy with them. I also found life drawing for the last 2 weeks incredibly difficult and frustrating, the current lack of drawing has made me feel really rubbish at it all over again.

Unfortunately I don't have 24 hour access to a life model I can practise drawing but I do at least still have posemaniacs so I'm going to try get back into drawing from it. I also want to start drawing from photos of really life models more.

Guild Hall

Bit far down the line to be doing a blog on the Guild hall project, but I just kinda forgot about doing it.

So the most important thing about the Guild Hall in's cold, so cold. This impacted my ability to sit about drawing but I gave it a decent go.
I hadn't really drawn much for a while so going into the guild hall was daunting to say the least. I'm not great at drawing interiors as it is and the guild hall's unevenness and amount of detail made it even harder. Needless to say I got pretty frustrated with it all and drawing didn't go so well.

To try break it up abit and give me some more chances to not suck I tried using a few different mediums. The results were varied but enjoyable and I got the chance to use something different.


The best result I got from the guild hall project was a digi paint. Following what I did previously I wanted to do a mix of traditional thumbnails and digital, so I spent a day on the Cintiqs in uni having a bash at some digi thumbnails of the guild hall. It went surprisingly well and the first thumbnail I started doing turned out so well I up-scaled it, spent more time on it and got a decent final image out of it. Out of all the photos I took at the guildhall something about this one stood out to me and I really liked the composition and lighting in it. I think this is the first digi paint I've done that is any good and I'd like to practise more at it.

Guild hall digi final.

Despite the digi paint being alright I would, however like to do another final when I get more time using a traditional medium as I don't want to rely on digi paints to get my work done.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Gladiator Project

I'd like to start the blog by saying that I learnt from previous mistakes and got this project started and underway straight after we were given it, allowing myself plenty of time to get everything done and dusted!

But that wouldn't really be true. I did manage to get the project started the week we were given it, I collected research and reference, started the design doc and got most of the basic figure modelled! It was going great. Then for some reason that I can't remember I didn't really touch the project for 2 weeks. I seem to recall it being down to needing to do lots of 2D stuff, but that sounds awfully like an excuse to me. *sad face*

A few of my concepts.

So with a week left to go till the deadline, it became all about 3D.

I enjoyed concepting the gladiator, using reference from films like 'Gladiator' or the internet in general. Doing a female gladiator made it instantly more interesting and difficult as there wasn't anywhere near as much reference around and I kinda had to fit male designs to her. Once I had decided on the clothes/armour I wanted to her have modelling them wasn't too difficult. I managed to get her modelled comfortably within the tri budget.

Unwrapping was a bit hit and miss. I struggled with the pelt mapping quite a bit, I found it often unwrapped awkwardly and badly proportioned but it was help full with areas such as the head. To parts of the mesh that wouldn't quite work with pelt mapping I used the cylindrical tool which worked well.

Texture sheet.

I used the site for getting good orthographical reference images and found these also worked well for creating textures. The way I had laid of the UV sheet did make things a little awkward but the process didn't take as long as I was expecting it to after experiencing the Transit van. I got the basic textures on first and then added some details that I felt were fitting for a gladiator, such as; scars, bandages and blood splatters. I'm pleased with most of the texture but think the face could be much better, I think the problem was due to the pelt unwrap making the face small compared to the rest of the head. I also think I could of added more details to my gladiator to make her more interesting.

So the final part of the gladiator, rigging. Rigging is horrible and I spent several days failing at it! I did at a few points have something that might have been acceptable and I could of just stuck with it but I wanted to do it better. I gave up using the psyhique modifier we were shown and tried the skin modifier instead.
It was a much more pleasing experience, I found the interface much easier to navigate and the use of colour to see the weight on certain verts really helpful. Using the skin modifier allowed me to finally rig my character to a standard I was happier with.