2 April 2014

99 Ways to tell a story - Matt Madden

I've been going on a sort of reading list binge recently, allowing myself some time to read around different subjects that interest me and might be able to shed some light on areas that relate to environment art and game design. The latest book I devoured almost instantly as it proved to be so interesting. I obtained a copy of Matt Madden's "99 ways to tell a story" a sort of essay in formalism through comics.

A fantastic book for inspiration as it gets you to think about how sequential images are represented. It does wonders for the imagination and I'll be keeping it at hand for future reference, as it can be picked up and flipped through without regard to the context.

The premise is a simple story, told in comic form over one page. The author interprets this single story repeatedly using different styles, allowing the reader to understand each style's particular qualities, and how they form the same story in a different way every time.

I feel it would be especially helpful in the area of indie game design in that some are trying to explore new ways of communicating. It's an area that seems to be untapped by the majority of indie games developers as they get drawn into creating what has already been done before, or are confused about visual communication in general.

31 March 2014

Dream Worlds - Hans Bacher

Dream Worlds contains some very inspiring images of some of the painstakingly created Disney layouts, spanning most of the Disney renaissance era of the nineties. I enjoyed some of Hans' anecdotes from some of the different productions he worked on but overall the text is a bit frivolous and with some of the advice being about general film making and lacking focus. Aspects of it were useful to my field though, and generally it was a very inspiring book.

This particular area of animation production is extremely useful to environment production, as animation masters have utilised some of the fundamentals of we understand environments in a scene, whether that be games or movies. Composition, staging, lighting, attention to detail (or lack of) were all great sections, with decision making being particularly relevant to me. He briefly mentions the multitude of options that working digitally has provided artists and designers, and how this can lead to overworking your scenes. I can certainly relate to this, as I am now very comfortable with certain applications and feel like I could just keep doing passes on work in some sort of infinite loop if I'm not careful.

One problem that games have in this respect is that players don't necessarily see the view you have created. People play games differently and focus their attention on different things, so we can't guarantee they will observe anything that we create in the game, much less stop and admire. The problem of being unable to control a viewer's composition in a game is sometimes solved by the level designers, by either or forcing players down a certain pathway via a bottleneck or controlling the camera temporarily. Gears of war is one of the games that decides to go down the camera control route at certain points, and I found this to be particularly annoying. It felt akin to the level designer petulantly turning my head for me because I wasn't paying attention to their work. This for me was too much, and I do feel that whilst it's important to place players in situations where they can admire things easier, you should never force a player, they might love your work very much, but they might have different priorities at that point in time.

24 March 2014

The Unreal Engine - A comprehensive guide to creating playable levels by Andrew Finch

Just finished reading "The Unreal Engine" by 3D-Total, a comprehensive guide to creating playable levels. There were a couple of good tips, and some nice broad advice on creating scenes. Shame it had a release so close to UE4, as most of the book covers aspects of UE3. It can still be applied I guess, although there are a lot of screenshots of settings and whatnot that will no longer apply. Still, the section on creating a mini level in the style of the game "Dead Light" was worth it, and it serves it's purpose well as a sort of 'basics' manual with some polish.

14 March 2014

Picture This - How pictures work by Molly Bang

This book was fantastic. It reveals simple but effective rules on the dynamics of images and how we understand them. The main focus is how we associate with different shapes, colours and their composition, and how this can be manipulated to produce certain responses from a viewer. The principles explored here would apply to any visual field, and it's certainly well suited to level design and game art. I now have a much better understand of what shapes work well in different environments, how to lead players attention using different colour/size/shape techniques, and controlling how a player feels in a space. It will be interesting to apply this to some things I'm currently working on.

4 March 2014

Modular asset workflows for UDK

I've been experimenting with different workflows natural assets such as rock and wood. Here's an update of one of the better workflows I found, which consisted of modelling a rough shape in Maya or your basic 3D package. Then jumping into ZBrush, where most of the work was done, and sculpting at different sub-D levels some different detail passes. Then I decimated my final sculpt and using the newly created low-poly version to bake out a normal map for the overall shape. I then used various texturing techniques in Photoshop and created a some maps for it, making sure to also keep it tileable. The same was done for the surface detail normals I created in PS as well using nDo on the diffuse map. This results in a nice bumpy rock texture, that looks particularly good on the rock I have created, but can also be applied to other rocks seamlessly in UDK.

I created a material in UDK that is aware of the scale of the object it is applied to, which is great for environment artists. It allows you to scale the asset up and down, and the material automatically updates it's own scale within the viewport. This is why it's important to make sure the texture was tileable.

Below is an example of exactly the same rock, scaled and rotated a few times, to give the illusion of a large rock formation. All of this was done with just one rock and one texture, and the assembling of these rocks below took seconds due to efficient workflow practises.

3 March 2014

UDK Fundamentals Course

Starting a UDK fundamentals course today. The fundamentals part seems misleading as it provides extremely in-depth knowledge of UDK should progress me past the environment basics I've learnt and prepare me well for the Environment modelling for games course next month.

I'll be posting updates of anything relevant or visually interesting until then.

3D Buzz UDK Fundamentals Course

The Hows and Whys of the Games Industry Book

Another book I read recently, it contains extremely useful info on exactly what to expect in looking for a games industry job, the author being extremely qualified and high-profile game developer himself.

Although the advice is roughly five years old, which is a lifetime in the games industry, most of it still applies. Topics such as indie games, Kickstarter would be great to include in an updated release of the book as these two aspects alone have morphed the industry drastically. Still the practical job seeking advice is invaluable as it is so thorough, and I'm fairly certain this book alone could teach you more practically about how to obtain a game developer job than any game course could hope to.

Purchase the book here at Lulu, an independent book publishing company.

Checkout what other related books I've been reading on my GoodReads profile.

Ultimate Level Design Guide (World of level design) Book

This publication is brief but to the point. It doesn't waste time giving you a history of the subject, or discuss reasons for why you might like to try level design. Instead it is just straightforward level design tip and techniques from start to finish.

I have a feeling this book will become increasingly more useful to me over time as the scale of the environments I create gets much larger. Prop placement, lighting, atmosphere and methods to guide a player are some of the aspects covered, and they'll go a long way to improving my portfolio pieces.

Much of level design is subliminal to the player, and simply having played games before doesn't help much when confronted with the task of environment production. Best of all, it's FREE, when you sign up to World of level designs newsletters! Checkout the link below:

Ultimate level design guide link

Checkout what other related books I've been reading on my GoodReads profile.

13 January 2014

xNormal Day

I've been increasingly using xNormal to bake out my normals instead of Maya's transfer maps feature, and I'm finding it much more functional and stable. Today I had a thorough overview of all the settings to get familiar with it. This tiny app should prove very useful in the future.

23 October 2013

Game props - texture practise

After some time off whilst getting back in to work and moving to a new city, I'm back in to the swing of things and this past week I've been practising next-gen texturing on some generic game props. The textures were created with Photoshop, nDo2 and dDo2. I'm also pretty handy with Marmoset Toolbag now, a great way to show game ready models without the hassle of learning a game engine to display them. That said, UDK is next on my list of things to learn, and once I'm comfortable with that I can partake in some of the environment challenges on the various forums.

Game_Props_03 Game_Props_02 Game_Props_01