Feed Back from the industry.

7 07 2009

Recently I spoke to Ben Sizer, Software Engineer at Nottingham Based Monumental Games. As a programmer Ben works with the practical side of games, and is familiar with how art is applied in practical terms when creating a game.

I showed him the trailer for the pigeon king and asked for his feedback in terms of how he saw it practically and artisitcally.  I was really happy with how comprehensive Bens feedback was:

“- coherent art direction that supports the setting without compromising the chosen distinctive aesthetic.

– very detailed backgrounds; may be resource intensive, but this might not be a problem if there is to be no change in the camera distance or angle. use of period art and recognisable landmarks help to communicate the setting to the player without requiring textual exposition.

– trailer shows several scenario examples, providing an insight into the sort of colour schemes and textures needed throughout the project. Ideally more would be provided so that estimates could be made of the total asset requirements but what is shown is sufficient to gain a good understanding of the sort of art ‘density’ and the programming requirements to rendering it.

– the animation could be smoother, but presumably that would detract from the desired effect? There’s nothing wrong with the style as long as it is presented consistently – perhaps in a way it is too good in places?

– very effective use of depth of field effects on top of the parallax scrolling to add a 3rd dimension to the otherwise 2 dimensional medium. The blurred foregrounds may take work to get looking good in a final hardware-accelerated implementation due to the alpha blending at the edges but are definitely practical.

– for the most part, background texturing is good and not too saturated, so as to not clash with gameplay elements or foreground characters. In some places background elements may be too bright or saturated and draw the eye more than the moving characters, but it’s nothing that a mild adjustment wouldn’t fix.

– explosions and fires look good, but would need careful implementation, maybe replacement with particle effects to meet real-time performance and resource limits.

– lighting is tasteful – most of it, including the bloom effects, can be burned into the backgrounds, with little requirement for dynamic lighting.

– characters feel coherent, with similar figures and distinctive detail in each case. Character style is consistent with environmental style.

– character silhouettes perhaps not as distinctive as they could be (compare with, eg. Sam Fisher’s 3 goggle lights, Mario’s red hat) which may be slightly confusing in slow-moving scenes with distinctive background features. Characters are not lacking these features (eg. pipe, moustache, flying goggles, gas-mask on the presumed adversary) so perhaps they can be brought more to the forefront.”

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All Art Work Finished.

7 07 2009

Ok, so it’s been stupidly long since I updated on here, but admittedly, I’ve had my head down and I’ve been working. As of now, all of the Animations/Menu’s/Character designs and Prints are finished.

I’m going to reflect on the finished pieces in this very long article!

1. The London Rooftops Video.

This video was the hardest to do, It’s the one I “cut my teeth” on and it threw up the most “learning experiences” (read: mistakes) Due to the number of layers and frame rates I was working with, I had serious problems even getting After effects to preview it, let alone render the finished thing. The solution in the end was to sacrifice some depth in the background, merging multiple layers. Comparing the before and after you can hardly tell any difference. The video is also of quite a slow pace, but with some key moments of excitement mixed in. This was originally intentional, as this is intended to be an early level in the game, where the player would still be learning the ropes. However – on reflection, it is perhaps too slow, and could of been more exciting. Time restrains prevented me from redoing this though – and all told the video is still more than satisfactory and I am very happy with it.

2. Factory Escape Video / Artwork

Set at a much faster pace than the other 2 videos, this one required management of many events and effects in a shorter period of time. Perhaps the biggest challenge in this video was the movement of Cooper and the Pigeon carrying him. This is a player controlled action and, as such, must appear to flow in a natural way, the player would react to objects and obstacles quickly and intuitively. Movements could most certainly not be roboticor appear scripted and forced.

I managed this by liberal use of the bezier movement tool in After effects, tweening objects between 2 points and changing the “curve” and the speed of the path that movement follows.

I think in the final video I’ve done a reasonable job of making it appear that a player is guiding Cooper, not that he is on a set demo path (which is in fact the reality)

Artwork: creating the artwork for the factory was a real test.  As the second piece of level art, it had to stylistically and thematically match the first. But it also had to be uniquely recognisable as it’s own location. This meant realsing what made the London level stand out.

– A liberal use of outlines on all elements, windows, boxes, girders – etc
– Seemless dark brick textures.

These things gave the factory a link to the london rooftops, however.  This leve is set much further into the narrative at a much more progressed and difficult time. There is more destruction, and more chaos.

I’ve also tied  destroyed brickwork and lots of fire together with the existing backdrop work from before to link the two in terms of location.

3. Boss encounter.

This video went much smoother with the existing 2 under my belt – I knew how to make after effects work efficiently at this point. That said, i was faced with the challenge of scripted set events. Like a “cut-scene” this depicts part of the game that has parts that will always play out the same. This is because it heavily features characters that the player does not control, the Nazi zombies, and the Main Antagonist.

I’ve achieved this by initially seperating the 2 parties, (Cooper/pigeons & Antagonist/Zombies) with separate entrances to the location, implying that one is hot on the tails of the other. The use of a frozen camera at the end suggests a non user controlled set of actions, as the camera is not following the protagonist.

Art: The art for this was much much harder to define, at first I attempted to create something similar to the interior of St. Pauls Catherdral. However, this building is too light, to spacious for the atmosphere of the occult I wanted to project. The church needed to break the real world ties of the game and take a more design sympathetic route.  To this end i’ve created an interior by hand that echoes the gothic nature of the church one imagines when they think of the dark ages. Filled with candles and cold black/blue bricks. This level now provides the perfect backdrop for the explosions of green projected from the antagonist in action.

4. Improvements to the pigeons:

Looking at real animations and studies of flight, It became obvious that I would have to animate a full wing flap in order to achieve the correct appearance of flight. Fortunately the Puppect tool in after effects allowed me to do this with a comparative ease and more than satisfactory result – given the alternative of hand drawing each frame of the flap (something I doubt I could of done with much clarity)

This first required some visual changes to the pigeons, which until now had looked a bit too dopey and rigid to be real birds. I had too closely stuck to the ideal of a pigeon, that of the stupid, disease ridden “vermin” not the reality, that they are actually pretty strong flyers and are not as physically “dopey” as the stereotype may purvey.

5. Creating Different zombies. The different locations require different zombies, after all, the people of  London do not all look the same. However to have a theme of enemies per level is something of a video game staple,  so I’ve stuck to Zombie “teams” per area. Really, this was just a case of “re skinning” my photo shop files. Because After effects reads the layers of a PSD it is possible to copy the psd, edit all the layers in place (i.e. add different clothes, colours etc) and then reimport onto the existing animation. You then need to tweak it all to ensure it fits, but it’s still an efficient and effective way of using existing resources and creating “new”  animations and characters from them.

The vidoes will all shortly be viewable on my youtube channel.  http://www.youtube.com/user/xerowalsh