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.

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