Experiences with Environments: Part 1 Creation

Concept Used for Creation. Arted by Jeremy Love

At the beginning of Term 3, I decided to start on a journey and I never would have expected to have learned so much. I wanted to create a whole environment from scratch, while keeping up with my schoolwork. At first, I believed that the mixture of the two would be easy, but I soon figured out that my skills and drive would be tested.

Welcome to the three part series of Experiences with Environments. These articles explain my process, problems and successes that I found during my progress of creating a full scene. The series will cover my ideology from concept, creation in Autodesk Maya and Pixologic Zbrush, creation of textures, then finally, transferring to and creating materials in Epic’s Unreal Development Kit and Unity 3D. This part covers concept, creation of Maya and Zbrush elements, and textures.

The first step to my quest was finding a good piece of concept art. I wanted to find a piece that would challenge my skills, but keep within my skill level. Therefore, I picked the picture featured at the beginning of the article. What caught my eye the most was the reflections and the emissive lights within the environment. I did not previously know how to create these effects, so I sought out to make this picture a virtual reality. Thank you to Jeremy Love from JeremyLove.com for inspiring me with this picture.

The next step was creating the environment in Maya. After three attempts, I finally modelled everything:

Everything Modelled

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Graduation & Awards show for the 32nd class of Game Design

The Olympics are over, and once again the Game Design program has a reason to celebrate. It’s graduation night, a night to celebrate, to look back on the year, and recognize the amazing things they have done.

The Graduation and Awards show on February 27th has a mix of parts: one part formal, and one part fun. The formal part of the evening hosted by Tanya Jensenbegan with a speech from myself, then the student-elected class speaker Rony Miller spoke from the hip about his classmates past year in Game Design, and finally student selected Instructor speaker Jonathan Falkowski closed the speeches with some heart-warming words and stories about this crazy batch of students.

Each of the speakers had some deep insight into what they had just been through, and how to prepare for the coming months, but mostly it was a chance to look back on the year, and look ahead to the bright future this class has. The formalities continued with the handing out of diplomas and the embarrassingly long handshakes that make up that portion of the evening. Congratulations to Miles, Melissa, Sebastian, Gui, and Karthik, all who graduated with honours.
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The Graduation Ceremony of Class GD31

Class GD31 saw the end of 2013 with a bang by celebrating their Graduation from the Game Design program.  The night was a mixture of looking back at an amazing year of work accomplished, friendships forged and exciting opportunities to look forward to.

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Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 6

Finally, it’s time to add some finishing touches to the scene.  It’s been about 8 months since I began this scene (yes, I started the original white box way back in January 2013, finished around September).  So you can imagine how good it feels to wrap this project up after such a long time.

Today we are going to add a few elements to provide even more depth to our composition.  The first is fog, and no we are not using fog in a Silent Hill kind of way where we are trying to get back framerate, we are using fog here to simulate atmosphere that would naturally occur outdoors (have a look at the mountains, the further they are the more they are in haze.)

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Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 5

When it comes to building an environment, lighting is one of those aspects that can make or break a scene.  You can have the best looking assets, but poor lighting can destroy all the time and effort you put into your props.  On the other hand, a scene composed of mediocre  assets can look great with proper lighting.  This is because lighting will create the overall impression of your scene to the viewers’ eye at a quick glance.  Because of this you want to push your lighting to define the shapes and silhouettes as much as possible, using light and dark to give the illusion of depth.

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Hat Jam 3 – The Temptation of Antonio the Vampire [Post-Mortem]

Hat Jam is a game jam that runs at VFS (Vancouver Film School) once a term and is organized by fellow students Anna Prein and Michelangelo Pereira Huezo.

Teams of 3 had less than 48 hours to design and make a game from scratch, based on a painting that was randomly given to them.

You can read Anna’s write up of the jam on the VFS arcade and play games made by other teams HERE.

I entered with two of my classmates, Danilo Reyes and Guerric Haché, winning best story.

Picture taken from here: Danilo, myself and Guerric, with a screenshot of our game.

This post is about the process behind the game we made, ‘The Temptation of Antonio the Vampire’, which can be played by clicking HERE.

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Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 4

Now that most of the immediate play space is decorated, we can finally have a step back and look at the background elements.  Keep in mind that the player will never reach that area so we are going to stay fairly loose and try several layouts.  The background’s main purpose in this case is to immerse the player to make them feel as if they are part of something larger.  As a level designer you always want the player to look in the distance to reveal other parts of the world and make them want to go there.

Vistas and backgrounds should have strong silhouettes and be readable from afar.   If you squint at the backdrop you should still be able to make out the shapes.  Each of the following images has a depth pass accompanying it.  This is to show that you want to build your background in layers to give a good sense of depth and parallax.

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Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 3

We previously ended off our scene by refining our blockout with custom meshes, and did a quick pass on integrating medium details into the level.  At this point the overall layout should be set and now it’s time for the nitty gritty.  I only get to doing finer details once all gameplay spaces and layouts are finished, that we can keep our focus on the task at hand.

After having played The Last of Us I was inspired to have an overgrowth through the level.  After all, this level takes place in the mountain tops and having some vegetation would give the sense that the area has been around for quite some time, nature slowly re-claiming its place.  Not only that, I had to find a way to break up the ground surface, since this is the player’s immediate view I did want to invest time into making it interesting.

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Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 2

Last week we had a look at whiteboxing out the major details of our level.  We then brought that mesh into a 3d package and started to refine the meshes.  Today we’ll look at bringing them back into the game engine and replace all the primitives with some refined models.  I’d call this the medium detailing portion of the level, so things like structural supports and landmarks should all be placed with first pass meshes and materials.

 

The modeling process at this point is nothing too complicated.  Simple shapes and basic texture sheet for a majority of the assets.  As you can see on the prop screenshot I try to keep things modular as possible, this way I can try different looks out by piecing parts together.

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Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 1

The whole idea about creating a level from scratch, is to always gather reference, design on paper and begin white boxing.  So let’s say you are a level designer that wants their vision fully fleshed out once it gets passed onto the world art team.  It’s really up to you to lead them to ensure that all the ideas you had from the beginning come across in the game.

What I’m going to show you is my progression in creating a scene in UDK (the image above).  Before set dressing an entire world, it’s wise to create a “visual target.”  In this case I will be using a small section of what would be part of a larger world and fully build it from the ground up with custom models, textures, lighting and finishing things off with a touch of post-fx and screen overlays, to get the unique look I am going for.

I had this idea that I wanted the player to traverse through a roman castle hidden up in the mountain tops.  I am a big fan of Cecil Kim and his work on the God of War series, and I really wanted to capture the feeling of being in an epic environment, after all, level designers want players to feel immersed as if they are part of a living world that extends the gameplay space.  Other than that I did not really have any solid ideas for the level, so it was really up to me to experiment and try different things with size, scale and lighting to convey what I wanted the player to feel.

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