ZERO2 // Environment Breakdown

Posted by (twitter: @mattdivito)
December 21st, 2011 1:08 pm

Welcome to part 2 in my 3 part postmortem series for my game ZERO2. In this post I’m going to breakdown the creation of a single environment used in the game. But hey, if you haven’t played the game yet please check it out first:


The first step to creating any environment for me is simply coming up with a concept for it. In this game I wanted to have two main types of environments: puzzle environments, where the player would need to focus on solving some obstacle to progress, and atmospheric environments, which would serve more to set the mood and advance the story rather than offer any gameplay.

For this breakdown I’m going to use my personal favorite environment from the game, which happens to fall into the ‘atmospheric environment’ category. At this point in the game, the player has just passed a fairly ‘scary’ portion of the game, so I wanted this area to serve as a bit of a respite. I also wanted to give the player some more clues about what was going on as well, as the game is purposefully vague and mysterious, not much has been revealed up til this point.

The idea I came up with was a fairly open ‘lobby’ type space, the focus being on a large geometric statue in the center. The implication being that this room is basically a gateway to a new section of this facility, one meant to serve as a thematic representation for the goals of the organization at work here. The twist being that the room is not pristine or brightly lit as one would expect, but flooded, dusty and crumbling.


So I started building using my 3d tool of choice, Cinema 4d.

Here you can see the finished environment in the editor. Like all the environments in this game it is comprised mainly of rectangles of various shapes and sizes. The most time intensive element in the whole scene was the construction light on the right which I modeled based on an image I found in a Google search. But what about the statue in the middle you say? Actually, that statue was created procedurally using the Cloner tool in Cinema4d. Essentially, all I created was one of those cubes, then used adjustable parameters to multiply and rearrange them until I found some random combination that looked right!

The other important element in this scene is the lighting. For this game I wanted to use mainly diegetic lighting, meaning that the only sources of light would be ones actually in the game world. To get the most out of this light though, I included a few important components – volumetric lighting and visible noise. This means that the light source would not only illuminate the scene, but that the illumination would be actually be visible in the air. Including noise to this visibility introduces a smokiness to the atmosphere, essential for selling the mood of the scene!

Here’s the render straight from Cinema4d:

This looks pretty good, but it’s not quite there yet. An important lesson for any aspiring 3d artist is that you can almost always improve your renders with post production. So with that in mind, it’s time to move from Cinema4d to After Effects. Here’s a layer by layer breakdown of my post-production on this image:

1. Vignetting

The lighting in the initial render looks ok bit it’s a bit too flat. In order to increase the dynamic range of the scene, as well as draw focus to the center of the image, I added some vignetting to the top and bottom of the image.

2. Lighting Effects

I already spent a decent amount of time in Cinema 4d trying to get the right lighting, but I wanted to effect to be even stronger. Part of the reason I pointed the light at the statue in the first place was because I knew I could get some cool volumetric light rays streaming through the cracks. To amplify this I used a plugin called Trapcode Shine, which essentially fakes volumetric lighting using the highlights (and lowlights) of the image. This also adds a glow effect to the construction light, making it look more obviously like a source of luminance. Looking good now right…? NO WE’RE NOT DONE YET!

3. Color Correction

While the colors in the original render don’t look bad by any means, they just weren’t selling the mood strongly enough. A bit of color shifting can really change the feel to any image, and in this example, the increased sense of yellow-green makes things look murkier and adds to the density of the smoke in the atmosphere.

4. Noise

It’s probably obvious at this point that I’m into what could be described as a very filmic look. Adding some noise to the scene gives the image a sense of texture and density – the other huge advantage is that since the grain has movement to it, when you actually play the game it brings an otherwise completely static environment to life in a very subtle but effective way.


So, that’s it! Easy right? Well, obviously the downside to this little tutorial is that these tools are by no means free or open source. Because I do motion graphics work professionally it’s certainly worth it to me to have them, for the average hobbyist game developer maybe not so much. Still, I hope the core concepts of this breakdown could be useful to you regardless of what tools you use to create your graphics. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments….

And please, check out my game!

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