Thursday, 14 May 2015

Off the map Post Mortem

The Off the Map project has come to an end; in all honesty I’m quite glad it’s over.

The project, as you may have seen from the previous blog posts, entailed us designing and creating a playable game based in the world of Alice in Wonderland. We were originally set to make a side-scroller game for the university hand in but this was soon changed by our tutors, however we decided to stick with it as we thought we could produce something really visually amazing. We were put in to teams of 6 to achieve this task, the team we were put with were a mixed bag. There seemed to be quite a skill gap between some of the members of our team and we were quit unbalanced too, we had 3 character artists and no proper engine person but we tried to make do with what we had.

The project was a 10 week project, plus Easter time if we chose to use it. Which I did, as I really wanted to make this something great. It’s really important to make use of your time efficiently, which I feel I didn’t really achieve; there were definitely weeks where I wasted time on scrapped mechanics or having technical difficulties. The character i produced was also poorly managed time wise, some weeks I’d work solely on it and be motivated with it, others I’d prioritise engine stuff over it. Looking back on it this saddens me a little, I really want to focus on characters and it just felt like the engine work really got in the way of me furthering my character skills. This was down to our team not really having an engine person, whilst I did volunteer to do the engine work for our team it was because I was the only member who really had any experience with it.

The project was a positive experience for me though, from reading this it may not seem this way but I definitely enjoyed the project; well, up to a point but I’ll get to that later. I think during the concepting phase people were quite open to ideas and often came up with compromises if there were two opposing ideas. The overall aesthetic of our level is probably my favourite part of the project it turned out really well in the end and I feel that was down to the fantastic concepts produced by Emily in the beginning and also the great assets created by Christy. I really got to grips with zBrush during this project, it’s something I have been meaning to do for a little while now and this was a great opportunity to do so. I had plenty of input from my peers and picked it up fairly quickly using online tutorials, this is something I will be really working on over summer as it’s essential for all character artists. This long project has made me realise that I need work on my time management skills before my FMP so I am planning to really work on this before my FMP rolls around.

This project ended quite badly for our team, lots of rushing and lots of “That’ll do”s in the end, The concepting stage was fun and seemed to work out and the modelling stage, whilst a little shakey with some members, seemed good, however the level just lacked coherence and didn't really pull together in the end. Communication was the biggest issue, a couple of our team members seemed a little distant to the group and so the style or the way they modelled or textured something didn’t quite fit with our levels aesthetic. Time management is really important, its something I tried to implement with the team but it failed a little, the laid back team lead approach I took with container city really had no place here, it didn’t work out as people got lazy and there were never any deadlines set. I feel that maybe my lack of knowledge with the really technical side of unreal really let our team down, our team lacked an engine person meaning a had to try and keep up with the other tried and tested engine folks so I didn’t end too well. Whilst I have a much larger understanding now of how the engine works I am still not at a suitable level to be the team’s engine person, I will chime in to help but I will never be dedicated to it. I sadly never got to spend an ample amount of time on my character design skills, which for me is the most important thing as I wish to be a character artist.
I’d say the biggest changes we went through had to be the cutting of the canal level, the gimmick we came up with for our level was that the change to 2D sidescroller would happen as you fall down the rabbit hole. We cut this level towards the end of the project as it was incredibly detailed but was visually the weakest level out of all three of them. The concept was lacking meaning I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of layout and positioning of the assets. We made this work however by using the wasted assets to populate the forest scene and it worked really well, it made the forest seem a lot more alive and believable.

If I was to do this project again I probably would have split my tasks between more people, the amount of work individual members of our team were producing was unbalanced; I would especially like to split the engine tasks up again. Setting more frequent deadlines for people in the team would be another (including myself) and also pushing for the work if deadlines aren’t met. I would be a little more organized we had an asset list but I felt like nobody was really updating it other than me, I would also set up naming and asset hand in conventions as people for this project handed there work in, in a plethora of ways.

In conclusion, I’m quite disappointed in the way this project turned out, in the end it really didn’t come together as I had hoped and I feel I really didn’t get out of it what I wanted to. I went into this project with the aiming of creating characters and ended up doing engine work which I decided against doing after the last project. I think the major issue in our group was communication, whilst we gave feedback and acted on it some members weren’t so open to crit and changes and some didn’t really like a particular process and didn’t communicate that to the group.

My action plan for the summer is to focus solely on characters, I may do a little engine work here and there for fun. I’m actually aiming to work in team based projects over the summer, in the hope that I understand the dynamic more. I hope to improve my team skills as a character artist and try to reign in my creative input on the level and focus that on the characters design. The design process I go through is another thing I plan to improve on, as I feel that my designs are all really samey at the moment. zBrush is beyond important as a character artist, so I will do a project or two learning how to start the mesh in the zBrush and re-topologize in max or 3D-coat.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Week 29 - Off the map week 11

Easter is over and everyone on the course other than me seems to have forgotten about off the map, I mean this in the least offensive way possible. Everyone is just preoccupied with doing character resubmissions and essays; along with preparing for presentations. This brings me to the topic of this week’s blog post, my failure of a presentation. Basically I choked towards the start of my presentation which really threw me off for the rest of it in turn making me panic. I couldn’t hate Pechu Kucha any more right now; It is a bizarre way of presenting something. How to make someone who is usually alright with presentations completely mess it up and panic, make them present in Pech Kucha format.

In terms of off the map stuff it really hasn’t been very productive week, pretty much all of our team are essay writing, redoing there character projects or are doing personal portfolio stuff for the deadline that is coming up for the Natural Motion Internship.

I have gotten quite far in to a personal character this week for my portfolio I have designed it too fit in the DOTA 2 universe and have followed their production specification; the mesh is approximately 7k tris and follows the DOTA value system allowing for players to identify them easily at a glance. I have made sure for this project to have a keen focus on zBrush, as an aspiring character artist I have found that it is a skill required on every CV so I need to practice. I just hope I can get this project done in time, I am quite proud of the character so far so I really hope this becomes an interesting piece for my portfolio I will be sure to update next week as to where I am at with it, in the meantime back to my CV.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Week 26 - 28 - Off the map Week 8 - 10

Easter is here and the Off the Map university deadline is drawing close. Plenty on my to do list at the moment. Before everyone went off on their Easter breaks, asked them to dump all of their assets into a folder at university for me to pick up and put in to our game. So I started mostly populating the scene with the props provided in the first week, I took it easy this week as it was the start of the holidays and planned to work a lot once some of my team were back. I also plan on starting a couple personal projects this week; I need to start gathering a portfolio to apply for summer internships.

The second week I focused on the cinematic elements of our game, the transitions between levels, animations for puzzles and camera work. I made a handful of assets too to make some of the cave parts a little more interesting too, mostly candles and books/bookshelves. I was quite inspired to model these little assets by the game Bloodbourne, the detailed environments feel almost tactile as you move through them. I made book piles that fell over as you walked past them and candles to create atmospheric light sources. I then put a lot of time in to the matinees for the end puzzle room; this marks the half-way point for the game so I want it to be quite memorable. The final room blueprint was also in need of doing so I also put that in, you go small, grow bigger, push a bookcase out of the way, go small again but realise you forgot the key and start crying; the room floods with tears and the door burst through pushing you into the forest level. I learnt quite a bit in Unreal this week so whilst there is still lots to do, I feel reassured that I’m still learning important skills.

During the third week, most of my team were back so it was business as usual here at DMU for me. I focussed on the canal level this week; I pretty much rebuilt it from scratch as I thought the second time around it would look a lot better. By the second build, it was looking a lot better; id learnt how to paint multiple textures using the landscape texture brush and also the ins and outs of the landscape sculpt brush. I also got the rabbit hole looking a lot better, looks more stand out in comparison to the other trees.

Id managed to start work on a few personal projects this week too, mostly just the design work and the starts of the base mesh. I have lots of plans to use zBrush in these two projects, zBrush is incredibly important for character artists and I need to know it more.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Week 25 - Off the map Week 7

Week 7 was another slow week, I am not entirely sure much was achieved between the team; just general asset creation was the main focus. I baked and started texturing Alice, I am a little worried about Alice at the moment, I don’t have much input from team mates as it is something I have never really done in labs as it is more of a free time thing at the moment with all this engine stuff. There is still a daunting amount of engine stuff left to do so that is also really hindering me from doing Alice.

We showed our level to Emma again this week, only briefly and we were advised to trim the fat a little more around the forest area. At this point we really streamlined the level and it flowed a lot better and just focussed on the best bits. We also got the rabbit running away from you in engine which was really impressive to see, it meant we could make parts of the cave completely functional. Right now I am just planning for the holidays I have spoken to my team, explained the situation I should hopefully have most of the finished meshes left for me on K drive at this point to get in engine then textures after Easter.

For me over Easter I am really going to get it playing a little more like we intend it to be, with matinees and the camera panning around as you do certain things. Another thing I plan to go to town on is cut scenes and transitioning between each level is quite janky at the moment, as a stretch goal I plan to implement a menu and loading screens.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Week 24 - Off the map Week 6

This week started with showing the current state of the project to Emma our personal tutor, during the presentation she helped us to realise that the levels we were producing were just too big and would need to be drastically cut down. At first we thought that maybe dropping the cave level would be the right choice here, however we felt that the cave had an equal share and offered lots of contrast to the other two very similar areas. We then just decided to get people to play through our levels and decide what bits people found boring. Once we had done this, we cut parts out of the level and tweaked the layout a little so it was fairly seamless. I really feel that this has benefitted us as a lot of the previously seen areas weren’t very interesting we took the small handful of areas we liked and combined them in to one; cutting the level down to a third.

This also made me realise that I would need to really work on the forest level, at this point our cave level was looking quite populated and even contained some finished assets, and they were sparce but still there; whilst the forest was entirely whitebox. I actually used a lot of the canal assets to populate this scene, there would not be too many unique assets for this area so I soon filled the space given to me.

Something else really dawned on me too this week, we were officially half way through the project, and we have LOTS to do. At this point I started to think about our time management and how bad its been, so I created massive to do list with all the assets on it letting us know stage people are at. I am also using a website called producteev to help with my project management. Its proved useful this week but im not sure about its longevity.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Week 23 - Off the map week 5

This week a looked at our levels as a whole and decided to really go to town on the canal level as it looked and felt like the level that was getting the least attention. To do so I got all the assets that Christy had produced for this level and imported them and began to scatter them using the foliage brush. The foliage brush was awkward and just sometimes didn’t work, it gave good results in the end, it was a little dense in the field area so I may have to go back and erase some of it if we get frame rate problems.

Example of Christys Foliage

The main issue I found was the ground texture, the texture I was provided with was a fantastic tillable but we needed a mud texture for it too to really sell it and get it looking realistic. So I asked Christy to work on this. This week was also the great merging of our forest and cave level in to one unreal file. Good god it was a mess, materials and textures all over the place and meshes in every other folder, it took a while to sort through and actually broke a couple textures, most are fixed by now though.

I managed to get the Alice concept down towards the start of this week too, which means by the end of the week I could start modelling and maybe start unwrapping too. This was a load of my back as I was beginning to worry about the characters design as the group hadn’t seen a lot of my design work. The mesh is quite high poly as I was thinking of maybe using Apex cloth in Unreal engine 4.

This for me is a major stretch goal, if we are struggling for time towards the end then this will be the first thing to be cut. I also really hope to actually figure out how on earth hair alphas work in unreal engine 4.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Week 22 - Off the map week 4

This week I planned on really going to town with the Alice mesh however I found some more pressing matters within our level. Having seen where people are at in other groups a started to really block in the basics of our level. I really focused on the visuals and the layered feel of the level, I am mostly focussing on the cave level as the other members of our team are focussing on the other levels. Obviously everyone in the team has lots of input on the decisions we make and we follow the concept given to us, although our concepts are quite vague at the moment so we will really need to work on these to refine them.

I asked Christy to make me some very basic rocks to help create the walls of the cave, it didn’t have to be any detailed but it had to look remotely like a rock. Once I got this from him , I scattered it around the cave to give the illusion of cave walls. I then also started to block out the ambient lighting and also start to think about the caves lighting.

I also implemented one of the puzzles we were planning, a simple tilt puzzle where you had to get some planks in the right order and hit a lever which fills the water and raises a platform allowing you to progress. This puzzle proved awkward in terms of blueprints, to begin with I started by thinking about it to literally so I reassessed and thought about it more in a game sense. I set the basics of the blueprint up with the intention of later covering it with matinees. The puzzles is currently functional and allows you to play through the rest of level from here I will figure out the rest of the mechanics for the level although its getting quite lengthy at this point and I may cut it down in the coming weeks.