Christmas has now past and it's time to start working on wrapping things up ready to start back in the new year. FMP is peeking over the horizon; ever creeping closer, and I've got a bunch of loose ends that need tying before that can begin. I am currently working on 2 different projects, one for university (fountain project) and one personal (lawn-mower project).
Update on the fountain, it's slowly trickling along. Modeled, unwrapped, with textures the fountain itself exists. I've also got the base of the water shader done, although it needs tweaking, but then everything does. I've blocked out the base of the flowing water particle but I've realised that I may have made a slight mis-judgement on the type/ size of fountain I chose to make given the amount of samples I am allowed in total for the particles. Given there are 3 tiers and 16 spouts on each tier of the fountain it means that however many samples a particle uses I have to multiply that by 48 to get the amount that will be present in the scene. As I've only got a limit of 400 samples for the whole scene it has restricted the quality of the particle effect I have been able to produce. I'm going to see if I can get it to work but if not i may have to go back and change the design of the fountain to fit the particle budget better.
Another thing i am currently having to consider with fountain is what variables I want to be exposed on the fountain. I have made different textures so that I can put the age/ wear of the fountain on a sliding scale, this will also change the colour and how clear the water is. I'm also looking to be able to set the strength of the fountain, this'll change the water flow as well as the water height. There are some other features I have in mind to add but getting these working, bug free, and having it visually at an industry standard is the highest priority currently.
Along side this I am also working on modeling a lawn mower. The idea behind this is to practice PBR texturing as well as hard surface modelling. I have changed from working with solely photoshop for texturing but using substance painter to texture as it allows the ability to paint the albedo, roughness, metalness and height map simultaneously, as well as having a bunch of other features that makes the process a lot faster without taking away from the end result. Once I have finished adding all the decals, text and small details I will be able to export the texture maps from substance painter and render screenshots and a turntable to showcase on my portfolio.
I've got a couple of weeks at the start of the new year before my final major project begins but I am hoping to have these projects mostly finished new year so that I can use the following 2 weeks for polish and do some more concepting and research before the final project starts.
“Game Art is a fast moving industry and it is necessary to be able to work quickly, effectively and as part of a team. This project should give you the opportunity to understand what your chosen specialism would be like. Together we will be working towards a large goal (Game), this will have separate elements (Levels) and these levels should have individual content that you can put towards your portfolio.
This project has elements that will allow concept artists, character artists, environment artists and engine artists to develop their skills, and hopefully allow you as a year group to create something larger and more impressive.” – Project Introduction
As part of the Engine team for this project I was tasked with creating “a playable game that can load each level section. Each level should be lit effectively and should contain various events that can work with gameplay. The first half of the project should involve white boxing and flushing out the development of the gameplay. The second half should involve bringing in assets and finalising the appearance of each level.”
This brief was what we were given to understand what our job role was as a member of the engine team throughout the duration of the project. Knowing this we started off by collating everybody’s ideas for what they wanted to be included in the game, in terms of gameplay and interactivity and started to do some research and development into what was going to be possible to get working in the time that we had available.
Given the age of the engine there isn’t as much information online on how to get certain things working in engine. We found that some research was drying up rather quickly and to get things working would take more experimenting ourselves than just copying what someone has already achieved in the past. For example an early idea that was brought to us was to have large leaves that when you land on them they droop and you slide off them. This had to be scrapped as we found that it wasn’t going to be doable in the time restraints. But, getting something like having to pull multiple levers to open a door was achievable although there wasn’t any good pre-existing example of how it would work.
Having a lift system was going to be the key feature in traversing through the majority of the levels so I spent a good amount of time developing the blueprint to get that working. We had a working prototype from a very early stage of development but it was buggy and wasn’t as smooth as needed. The blueprint went through many iterations reducing in complexity but increasing in efficiency each time. Once I had it at a stage that it was watertight and bug free I was able to use it as a base and add more features and iterate off it for other blueprints. For example giving it the option to be triggered before it starts moving as well as making it so that instead of the mesh being a platform to stand on it was an enemy that killed you on contact. It was also used as the base for the ‘Space Whales’, so instead of having it move back and for between 2 locations they fly to the end location and re-spawn at the start. It turned out to be the most useful and diverse tool in our arsenal when creating the gameplay.
Building the levels from a visual stand point wasn’t too much of an issue. Each team had a vision for what direction they wanted the level to go in and with constant communication between us and them we managed to create something very close to their concepts. The larger issue arose when making the levels playable. Not only moving from A to B, Start to Finish, but back again. We wanted it so that the player could fully explore the environment. This meant constant play testing and tweaking to make sure jumps between platforms where achievable as well as fixing collision issues and other game breaking problems that we encountered along the way.
The main issue we had visually was getting the environment to start thinking about the levels as a 3D environment and less of a 2d one. The early whitebox assets we received where very flat, especially in the terrain, and having the sense of depth in the environment was key to getting the look that we ended up with. This was overcome by continuous communication as well as constant referral to the style guide and making sure everyone was working towards a single vision as to what the levels where going to look like.
[Final Level Engine ScreenShots]
There are several elements I would have liked to have seen in the finished product that got cut. For example having a character select screen would have been great given that we had 2 main playable characters working in engine. Unfortunately due to the limitations only working with blueprints and not a C++ build of the engine I wasn’t able to implement that, although I was able to get the real-time physics working on the cloth on the character so not all is lost when it comes to character related features.
I’d be nice to have more sounds in the levels whether it was just ambient or triggered as it helps really bring it to life. But due to time restraints we decided to push the visuals and put all our focus on getting it looking awesome and playable.
Overall it has been a unique experience working on this project. It’s the first time I’ve worked on a project this big with this amount of people and although it has had its low point I feel that I have come out of it will a lot better knowledge of the game engine and a better understanding of what it takes to work with such a variety of personality’s and the organisation and communication skills required to pull something like this off. Although it’s not quite the same it’s got me ready to move forward and take what I’ve learnt and apply that to my upcoming final major project.
Back to the mower. Now this is cutting edge stuff. I have used my grandad's own lawnmower as reference for this as I couldn't find a good enough images online to work from. This also meant I could take photographs not only to model from but also for texturing purposes. I want this to be a truly realistic representation of the actual lawn mower but also be optimised so that it can be viewed in realtime in a game engine. This means calling on my previous PBR material practice to give it realistic material properties so that it will work in any lighting setup and still give physically accurate renders.
This will be the first time I have done a full model built to use PBR shaders. To make it easier to texture and make sure the right area's have the correct material properties I have separated all the different materials found on the object and baked separate masks for each one. This means I can work quickly getting the right values for easy element; blocking out the Albedo, Roughness, and Metalness maps out first to use them as a base to work from and add detail to.
As you can see already with these very basic textures applied and the baked Normal map you get a close to real looking result already at this early stage of texturing. It's just a case of adding/ layering more detail on top of these bases; adding wear and tear, grime, dirt, generally making the object look used as well as adding any key notifiable decals and graphics.
I am Elliott Pacel, a Technical Artist at Reflections, Ubisoft.