Posts Tagged ‘design’

How extra budget can increase your visual quality… and put you into troubles!

Monday, March 7th, 2016

This article shows the difficulty of maintaining Art Direction consistency on a project when its scope and visual quality suddenly increase during production!

First, we’ll explain the assets creation guidelines we decided at the beginning of the project. Then we’ll see how quality problems emerged as the production budget increased, and how we dealt with them!

 

Art constraints for small budget

When we started the production of Epistory (codenamed “The heroine of no tale” in those ancient times), the sales expectations were quite low because we thought we were targeting the niche of typing games. We already wanted a unique art direction, made of unfolding environments and paper-crafted items, but the budget constraints made us humble concerning the visual quality of each asset. So we ended up with those production guidelines to create game assets :

  • Simple geometry
  • All assets using the same multi-usage shader
  • No complicated texture mapping (basic planar UVs)
  • No unique texture per asset, only generic colored patches gathered in a few textures

basic asset epistory papercraft origami

Despite our small budget, all those assets put together created a simple but pretty cool look :

epistory papercraft origami

Those constraints made us 3D artists sad but it should have allowed us to make all assets and environments in time for the game release, so we were quite happy with it! But that was before we started communicating on the game…

Change of scope

The art team was producing the first levels of the game, and we started to spread some images and videos, building the community. At that point we understood that something was happening, youtubers were talking about our game, forums and conventions gave us very positive feedbacks. Our little typing game was becoming pretty popular, people were really loving it! The first round of Early Access conforted the first impression. As thousands of people added “Epistory: Typing Chronicles” into their steam wishlist, we realized that instead of making a funny but small scoped typing game, we could scale things up. We decided to transform it into a unique story driven adventure game, with lots of dungeons, collectibles, a scenario written by a real professional writer, and even give a voice to the narrator.

As the deadlines were pushed to 2016, the art team jumped at the chance to put more visual quality into the game!

New quality standards

We wanted to make the most of this extra production time, and we put more details into the new assets, so we basically took the opposite of what we were doing until now:

  • More interesting paper-like shapes for the geometry
  • More and more complicated shaders
  • Clean unfolded texture mapping coordinates
  • Unique textures per asset (or one texture for the same group of assets)
  • A subtle but efficient vertical gradient (the base of the asset is darker than its top)
  • With unique texture coordinates, we could paint paper folds, and add details like hand painted highlights on the edges and Ambient Occlusion (darker color at the junction between surfaces)

On those two images it’s easy to spot the quality gap. You can notice the polished shapes and the greater work made into the textures, which add a lot of depth and details to the assets :

advanced asset epistory papercraft origami

advanced asset epistory papercraft origami

The production time was obviously far longer than the old technique, because for EACH game asset, we had to unfold clean texture coordinates, calculate the Ambient Occlusion pass, calculate the vertical gradient, paint the edges highlights and details into the texture,…

We also put extra time to the environments creation process by adding an “artist layout pass” to polish each dungeon, and by working more on the lighting setups and effects. And the overall visual impact was far better than before!

icemountain epistory papercraft origami

The problem was that we quickly found out that the “old” assets looked dull compared to the new ones, but we couldn’t afford redesigning all of them…

Assets wars

With each new asset being prettier than the last, we soon spotted a problem in the consistency of the art direction and assets quality !

There was too much difference between the old “flat” assets and the new “detailed” ones :

versus epistory papercraft origami

Unfortunately the budget was not so big that we could afford redoing all the former game assets to match the final style!

That unexpected constraint gave us the idea of showing a progression in the art style through the game, and we implemented a chronological progression into the overall papercraft quality of the adventure. That is to say the first part of the game is made of more basic shapes, and the quality of the papercraft technique evolves to be more and more noticeable as we progress into the game, following the steps of humanity evolution:

1- At the beginning, as the world unfolds for the first time, you will see the “basic” objects in the “nature” theme

evolution 01 epistory papercraft origami

2- Next, in the first dungeon you will be able to spot some prehistoric assets, made of archaic papercraft assets

evolution 02 epistory papercraft origami

3- As you continue your journey through human evolution, papercraft techniques evolves to show ancient civilizations

evolution 03 epistory papercraft origami

4- Later, you will travel through complex origami buildings, and much more, but we won’t spoil you the pleasure of discovering it in the game!

evolution 04 epistory papercraft origami

We managed to add a real meaning to this papercraft evolution, but still we decided to redesign several old assets to match the quality gap. We’ve done this only for the assets we could see all over the adventure. Moreover, by doing those important assets prettier, they would be easily noticeable at the beginning of the game, where the assets are simpler, and better integrated in later dungeons, where the assets are polished.

The combat, exploration and teleporter tiles redone from scratch:

reworked assets epistory papercraft origami

The conclusion of this article could be that it’s far better to know the scope/budget BEFORE beginning the production process! If the scope suddenly increases, you will have to choose between more content or more quality, but keep in mind that most of the time you will not be able to use a trick like we did, and you will end up redoing all of your assets from scratch! And as artists will always tend to increase quality if you give them extra time, do not forget to keep an eye on them!

Valentine Special: “Ultimate Care Bear Love Rampage” (Arcade title made in two days during Global Game Jam)

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

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Arriving At The Global Game Jam

That they work all day every day on Creatures 4 is normal. It’s their job. That they keep working on it overtime, long nights and during weekends is somewhat understandable. For it’s their passion too. But when we unleashed our Andrea DiStefano, Samuel Languy and Gauthier Billot for two days off so that they can relax and recharge the batteries a bit, we didn’t quite expect that they’d go ahead and build another game from scratch during their spare time. Yet that’s exactly what they’ve done two weeks ago during Global Game Jam. They were accompanied in their little escapade by our Fabrice Lété and Guillaume Bouckaert, though the latter both ended up working with other dev teams once on site.

 

 

IMG_2530For those who are not familiar with it, Global Game Jam is a regular worldwide effort organized by a central entity that coordinates all local chapters. The concept is both simple and amazing: on a given day, game developers and artists from around the globe, professional or hobbyist alike, set up locations in their region, where they meet and… Improvise the creation of video games on the fly. By the end of the event, the games must be finished.

The latest Global Game Jam took place between January 25th and 27th, and the Belgium scene gathered to the Design Center of Winkelhaak (Antwerp area) for the meet-up. Our three nutjobs only joined the partay on the Saturday ;-)  

 

doubleThe Ultimate Care Bear Love Rampage

Upon arrival on the set, two things immediately grabbed our gang’s attention. First, the camping tents in the corner of the room. Then, a fascinating object had already caught their eye:  the Winnitron indie Arcade system. Already existing in Canada, Shanghai and New Zealand, the collective-spirited retro system was introduced to Belgium for the occasion. A stick and two buttons over a stylish wooden cabinet. 

Take off your jacket. Code, draw, assemble. Don’t stop until they tell you to. Gauthier Billot took the lead on the actual coding, assisted in that by Sam Languy, who also handled sound and music on the side (he actually kept tweaking the main track for a week after, in the car-pool ride to work that he shares with Andrea every morning – note that his creation scooped the prize for “best sound”). Andrea drew the graphic assets to change his mind from his game designer routine. No real director to speak of, our three stooges pretty much decided the mechanics and the flow of the game collectively, in iteration and in consensus. 

The game was built upon the Love 2D multi-platform technology, using a Linux PC, a Windows PC and a MAC. It relies on the Winnitron Frameworks to run on Arcade machines. Maps were created with Tiled software. The underlying concept is clearly and blatantly borrowed from Halfbrick’s brilliant Jetpack Joyride. You press a button to go up, and release it to go down. But there’s a tiny twist that the crew borrowed from some frantic button-mashing titles of our youth, such as Track’n'Field: sometimes to floats upwards, you have to rapidly and repeatedly tap the A and B buttons at the same time until you break a sweat out of it. The action gets increasingly hectic as you progress. Levels are generated randomly. You can play the game alone or against a friend. 

In lieu of Barry Steakfries, the central character you control is an adorable care-bear made of thick and blocky 8-bit era pixels. Don’t be fooled by its cuteness though: it is out for rampage. There’s your title right there. Just throw in an “Ultimate” at the beginning for the wow-factor, and add the word “Love” somewhere in the middle because it’s got heart (and pixelated hearts assets too) — And that’s a wrap. Happy Valentine’s Day everybody!

You can freely download the game file from here

Special thanks to Wim Wouters for setting up the GGJ belgian chapter and making this wonderful weekend possible. Here below some more pictures of the event that he took.

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The Quest for the perfect design tool!

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

As designers we are always looking for the best tool to communicate our ideas. At Fishing Cactus we always try to come up with collaborative solutions and we try to keep the following motto: “not make a 100 pages design document”. Instead we try to find solutions to keep the design document light and readable for different audiences. Managers want to have an overview of the game in order to evaluate scope. Programmers want to have a clear understanding of the mechanic they have to implement and game designers want to know how a mechanic works with another. Most of the time all these people are looking for either a very detailed aspect of the game or a big overview.

All design documents are living pieces, changes in scope and gameplay mechanics occur more than once in the lifespan of a game project. Also there are different types of design documents: game concept, game treatment, one pager, game design document, game backlog (if you are using SCRUM). Also, a variety of production documents is generated as the design undergoes implementation (asset lists for one, localization texts list and so on…).
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