Making a plan take shape

Introductions!

Let us start with an introduction. My name is Tino, and my role in the team was to provide art assets for whatever we would build in this jam. What you are reading is my personal perspective and experience from start to finish of the LD26. Before you read on; I urge you to play the game first as the explanation below will spoil the experience. Turn up the volume, (preferably put on some headphones), take your time, and open yourself up to what you can find in this link:

http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-26/?action=preview&uid=15100

 

Testing the waters (for ducks of course! :D)

When going into the LD26 we already had the team together where the designer expressed he would like to make a game heavy on the narrative side of game development. Personally, I like a challenge and looked forward to working on a type of game that I have not made before. When the designer carefully shared his preliminary thoughts I thought his scope was pretty insane. On the first day of the jam I secretly hoped he changed his mind and I think he actually did although as a result the scope seemed to have gotten even more daunting.

 

The Plan

The plan was as follows. The designer had thought of a touching story that is told through exploring and interacting with the environment. This required four environments and characters in different poses. The environments are (in order) a park, an apartment, city streets, and an office. Each environment features a single character model twice; each a different pose. The apartment is repeated and thus required additional poses as does the park. The amount of poses resulted in eleven.

 

Leaps and bounds

When absorbing the task ahead I thought to myself that the scope was way too large although I was curious to see how far we could get. If you have seen the game that Aceria and I made for LD24 you can see that it is a huge leap from boxes to a full on world like experience. On top of that, characters are my biggest nemesis. My experiences with modelling and rigging a character are rushed, crude, and done in different software.

 

We are in this together

How on earth did we manage then? What, I think, allowed us to pull this off was a combination of great team work and long hours. For example; What made making the environments really easy was the excellent assistance from the designer in providing me with reference material. The characters probably wouldn’t have looked half as presentable without the intervention of my anatomy loving girlfriend. Additionally, she also assisted in the apartment scene and whipped up some furniture out of one of the objects I had initially placed. In terms of hours I have counted about 47,5 hours of work with roughly 10 hours of sleep.

 

Long hours are nothing without a goal and focus

Because the scope was daunting I figured it was smartest, and safest, to model the scenes in passes starting with the scene the player would start in and provide the programmer/designer with a space to be explored as quickly as possible. With the environments blocked out faster than I can remember; it was time to go for the second pass. This pass included all the key items in the environments that has story attached to them. The programmer had to wait for this pass for such a long time that he started working on easter eggs (perhaps you may find them eventually). Once the key items were placed in the environment it was time to get the character modelled. As mentioned before I had some awesome assistance on this hurdle. Next up was rigging which resulted in the crudest rig imaginable. With the character modelled and rigged, and the key narrative items in place in the blocked out environments I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Prettiness and performance

The characters were rather simple to place although getting the poses right took quite a bit of fiddling. With everything in place to provide for a minimum viable product it was up to the programmer to get it all to work from A to Z. In the mean time I got to focus on prop modelling to dress up the environments and give it more character. Initially we had also the idea to use Unity’s option to automatically generate UV’s on import, and bake shadows and ambient occlusion (fancy shadows) into the environments. A light bake during breakfast taught us that just the park required 40MB of light map textures. This was not an option and so we shifted from strain on the memory to strain on the processor. As if that wasn’t enough for the processor; I also really wanted to emphasise the mood and experience by using chromatic aberration (Google it) and a vignette. Without ambient occlusion and shadows the environment looks really flat. Luckily the deferred rendering method and SSAO (screen space ambient occlusion) in Unity provided solutions to these problems. With a considerable amount of tweaking in Unity’s settings we feel that we have come close to the sweet spot in terms of performance and strain.

 

We have seen the light

Because we are now using deferred rendering and SSAO, instead of baking shadows and AO, we could use many lights in the scene as the cherry on top. With the environments fully decked out in models and all the character poses in place all that was left was to do was to place these lights. Keen eyes may have also noticed the blinking light on the messaging machines and flickering candle lights.

 

Closing words on environments.

Environments have a history and can also tell stories. For example, in the office you may have noticed a picture frame in the bin next to the door; or the books beside the filing cabinet. How this happened is speculation and whatever your imagination may come up with for a reason, it adds to the experience of the world before you. Thank you for taking the time to play our game and listening to my words. If you had additional questions I would love to answer them.

Cordially,
Tino


3 Responses to “Artist Post Mortem – Fragments of Him – Making a plan take shape”

  1. Jorjon says:

    I was intrigued about the decision to make the male main character have a male partner. I was really pleased to find that kind of change in a love/tragic story. How and why was that decision taken?

    • Aceria says:

      Hi Jorjon,

      This decision was made by our narrative designer, Mata Haggis. This is what he had to say on the matter: “I described the outline of the story to the team and they had no feelings either way on the gender of the partner, and so we ended up with a story about coping with grief, where the lead characters happen to both be male”. Thank you for showing interest and I hope you enjoyed the experience.

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