Friday, 31 January 2014

Style Guides, Modulars and More!

Finally got round to scanning the stuff I had in my sketchbook today, so you can see where I'm at now. I've got the mandatory modular pieces sketched down, so most, if not all of February will be spent making these and their LODs and placing them into my level accordingly. I've read a few articles and posts on how best to approach building with modularity and I feel what I've written below will work nicely. Basically for the actual buildings themselves, I will be creating 3 or 4 tileable textures for them, which will be fairly neutral colours - these I can alter in CryENGINE in the material editor to give each building unique hues, making them seem more homely and personal. As the textures will be tileable I can preserve the UVs on the base building itself and quickly create many differently shaped buildings to stack on and next to each other, quickly creating indentations for windows and doors.
While the grid method is a very reliable way of creating seamless areas of levels, I don't see it of being tremendous use for a lot of my level as it is all very haphazardly built - there's no formulaic layout the people of the city are sticking to. This means I need to be careful where two pieces of geometry collide. For things like corner trims and placing windows and doors I can still snap to a grid, but for more 'organically' placed objects, such as wires, pipes and AC units, and also where two buildings at different angles meet, I'll need to be very careful  as to how they collide, or if something needs to be placed there to cover it up.
I will also create decals like cracks, stains and build-up of mold to further break up the textures. Once all of this is done, 70-80% of the level will already be finished. Then I will have the remaining two months left to focus on the more unique assets such as the shopfronts and also repeatable assets like signs, bridges and lanterns.

At the rate things are going I'm still confident I'll get everything essential done on time, but some things may end up not getting done in time. Originally the garden area was going to be extended scope, but as this has become a mandatory part of the level now, I'm going to switch it with sound effects and the lighthouse. The garden is the only part of the level where it is predominantly natural, which serves as a nice contrast to the rest of the man-made city. The lighthouse was merely just another unexplorable unique asset to populate the area. Sound effects were always going to be very low priority, as even though they add a huge amount to the experience, this is obviously an art course, so spending too much time on something I won't even probably touch in-industry will be a waste of time.
I also whipped up a colour/style guide today, which I'd been meaning to do for a while now. Nothing much to say about this as I've covered what I want my level to feel like when discussing my inspirations, but I did also add a section on what I want to avoid. This is because when I explain my idea to people I feel it sometimes comes across quite grim and claustrophobic, something I obviously don't want to emanate in my level.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

I have a logo 'n shizz, yay

Not a major update today, I'll probably do a much larger one tomorrow once I've scanned some stuff in, but just an update to say I've made a logo for my FMP/City and also updated the blog's layout so hopefully it's a little more relatable to my project now. Not too sure about this logo as I'm obviously not a graphic designer (which everyone outside of my course seems to think I am for some reason), but I'm still pleased with it. Tried to capture a fairly 80s/90s postcard vibe, seeing as it's set in a alternate timeline where the Earth is mostly submerged in water. The Chinese at the bottom should translate into something similar to 'Earth's best hub for all your adventuring needs!' referencing that my city is a hypothetical hub for players in an explorative MMORPG. Fúchéng itself translates to 'Floating City', nothing too clever but sensible enough. Unfortunately 'Upon-the-Sea' translated to Shanghai.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Chinatown and tonnes of other Ref!

Finally posting up this blog post after arriving back in Leicester. Over the weekend I visited Chinatown in London not actually expecting all that much (in all honesty it was just to show that I went that extra mile in getting first-hand reference for myself) but it actually turned out far more useful than I had hoped. Most people I spoke to about it said it was literally just a street, but it was around 5 or 6 streets and alleys, all housing a large number of Chinese and occasionally other oriental shops. I got a load of reference for things like general clutter and structure too. I can hopefully Photoshop and use a lot of these textures for my shopfronts and signs I want scattered through the level.
I've also taken the time to place all my necessary first-hand reference into my FMP folder, which is mainly collections of photos I've taken around Leicester, alongside the texture gallery I've built up over the years for myself. I'm not sure how important all this is when it comes to marking and whatnot, but I always like to submit my work with all the reference I obtained myself anyway as it shows I haven't just nabbed the pictures off of the internet (and if I do have to do that for textures I can't personally obtain I always source where I got it from). So above is a snapshot of some of the photos I took around Leicester that I think will come in handy, and below is a snapshot of some of the photos I took in London on Saturday.

Above is another snapshot of textures I've collected over the years, the ones in the photo being the most recent. Again, I'm gonna delete the ones I don't think I'll use (such as the fire hydrant ones) but some I've found always come in handy when you need to grunge something up. Below is a snapshot of my general reference gallery; photos and artists I've gathered the past 6 months that have directly influenced my FMP. Some of these I haven't sourced as they are merely just to get me thinking and such; I won't actually be using them in my project unlike the textures I have. For real life inspiration (considering I've already done blog posts on all the artists and games that inspire me) I mainly looked at Hong Kong and Tokyo's streets, mainly for the stuff above street level - the signs and AC Units, pipes and wires everywhere, but some more obscure stuff got me inspired too, like the Abraj Al Bait towers (which prompted me to have a large clock at the centre of my shopping area).

Finally, just thought I'd post up some random textures and photos I'm gonna be using, so you can see some in higher quality than the thumbnails above.

Some serious lens distortion on this as I didn't want to step into the road, but nothing Photoshop can't fix! 

I was quite lucky to go when I did - the area is preparing for Chinese New Year next weekend, but if I went then it would've been way too busy to take some of the shop front photos free of people. I really like the shot below as it encompasses pretty much everything I want in my level - air conditioner units, window boxes, Chinese lanterns, signs, wires, etc.

I'm really glad there was so much stuff like this, as it's just random signs and such that I can plop around the level as decals, and means I won't have to rely on Google's not entirely reliable Translate function to do all my writing for me.

Friday, 24 January 2014

In CryEngine

Just another quick update on some more whitebox fixes. I keep posting saying it's done but then something else pops up. It's good to make sure the whitebox is fully finished before creating the level though, as it ensures I know exactly where everything should go. The texture I applied was just some random default CryEngine concrete texture so that I could get rid of the dark red 'REPLACE ME' texture.

This area is the biggest problem at the moment, as the tram rail leads the player through an alleyway that leads to a dead end, instead of to where the tram entrance is. I'll probably rectify this by adding a bridge to the dead end, and converting the original path into a more open area (but still an alternate route).

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Quick Update

Got some feedback today from Max and others on my whitebox, so above is what I've changed. I'm hoping it's final now, all that's left to do is play-test it in CryEngine. Also I'm sorry about the weird orange tinge going on, Bloggers upload is doing that for some reason. In regards to the tram going through the street, I want it to have the same 'non-threatening' sort of imposition as the train below when passing through (though obviously not at ground level).

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Finished Whitebox


I decided I should probably finish my whitebox before anything else, which proved more tiresome than I thought. It mainly just came down to positioning the same few boxes over and over, but I'm glad it's done now, as it means once my modulars are complete I can just place them in more or less the same locations. The next step is putting it in CryEngine so that I can walk about and get a feel for the level, but for now I'm pleased with the layout. I did change a few things about it from my initial plan and had to think about structuring certain areas (the tram ride makes a lot of geometry become more visible than it would have been, meaning the whole city basically needs to be modeled rather than just what's visible). One area I changed was changing the exit in the circular platform from being completely opposite to being on the left of the entrance bridge. This was because Dan mentioned to me that it looked too straight beforehand and didn't feel that natural for a typical city construction. It also started to build way too much to the right so rotating it brought it back to the centre.

Here I start to place in something from one of my earlier concepts; where there is a plaza much higher up in the city. I feel this is what really helps the city feel more vertical as it's more than just tall buildings, it's an entire other shopping area above traditional level. Getting the player here using just stairs would mean I would have to model an awful lot of alleys, so I started to plan out where the tram route would go from here for a quick but scenic route to the top. Below is the rough path for the player to take. I may make some more split paths to make it a bit more dynamic, but as the genre I have chosen is MMORPG, and this acts as a hub for the player, a linear path will be fine for the time being.

Time to do some paint-overs at last! Going to focus on concepting some more this week, as I do want some nice 2D final pieces alongside my finished level when this is done. As mentioned before, I'm going to London on Saturday to visit Chinatown and just generally get some more textures and whatnot to use. I'll begin my modulars next week and will probably take a fair while making them as perfect as possible, as they will obviously compose around 85% of my level. I keep worrying myself that I've made it too big, but hopefully finishing the modulars and placing them in will quell those worries.

I've also been reading up on CryEngine 3 when I've had time, basically just trying to learn a few tips and tricks, such as learning about the supplied CryTools, which automatically create and name proxies for you, something I'm sure will come in handy when considering CryEngines very long and awkward export process.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

FMP Inspirations - Studio Ghibli (specifically Spirited Away)

For my final blog on FMP Inspirations (not including my general reference which will be more of a photo-reference blog), I'm going to be talking about the art of Studio Ghibli, but more specifically Spirited Away. Spirited Away was the first Ghibli film I saw, and probably one of the first anime movie's I'd ever seen too, if you don't count things like the Pokemon, Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh! movies. I don't. Typically as most people do with Ghibli films, I fell in love with the art style and all that, but it was only really last summer I watched a load more of their movies. 

Studio Ghibli's art style has been pretty consistent over the years, but Spirited Away is more of an influence than their other films because of the setting and sheer fantasy it contains. While my FMP is grounded in very hypothetical reality, there are certain things about Spirited Away that I just really wanted to portray in my own way, things like the water train (which I would've done had my tram idea not become the main transport in the city) and just the general vibe of a multi-tiered environment by the ocean. Hayao Miyazaki's very loose drawing style is also what got me back into watercolours, as he demonstrated to me that you don't have to make perfect decisions when using them; sometimes an ink and watercolour sketch is just what you need to get your idea across vividly and quickly.

Admittedly this inspiration is more 2D oriented as it's only really the colour and charisma that I want to take from, but this is stuff that I hope I'll be able to carry over into 3D; creating a world that looks lived in and characteristic will be a fun but challenging task.

Weekly FMP Update

So FMP has been officially going on for a week now, so it's time for an update! Kind of average week, not overly productive but not too little either. I mainly focused on planning and blogging, getting the boring stuff out the way before all the drawing and modelling comes in. So yeah, most of this week was spent on the previous blogs, mainly what is inspiring me through this project and also my plan on how I go about structuring my time and how I'll be prioritizing things. I did do some concept work too, seen above, and some tram concepts I've not scanned yet. I'll be concepting and whiteboxing all the main areas first, before concepting the smaller assets. One thing that came to mind when doing the sketches above for the alleyways is my composition. I know that my project is a cluttered and compact city, but this is pretty much all I had in mind when sketching. I need to run through my books on composition, colour and lighting again just so I can really push the set pieces that will be presented to the viewer.
I think some of what I've learned has subconsciously set in anyway; Feng Zhu always goes on about the rule of three, and how three standout bits of information in a piece works better than more or less, and below I have the players first view of the city, which is compiled of the main city, and two offshoots on either side.

I've also begun my whitebox, so that I can start to quickly build a rough route for the player to take, which I can then bring into CryEngine to playtest. I'll also use it to produce some more polished paintovers, to give and idea of the finished product. As the tram will be a large feature, I will probably have to import a very simple mesh around the same size, to test how I would go about getting the player to enter it and have it move to another point of the level. If this proves too difficult and starts to eat away at my time plan then I may have to scrap it and just have the trams as dynamic elements in the background (but hopefully this won't happen). I had started to model a tram with an interior before realizing this, so I've momentarily paused that 3D asset.

I should also hopefully be going to London next weekend to gather some reference in its Chinatown. While London's Chinatown isn't very large at all, I feel it will still be somewhat useful, as as I've said before, any reference is good reference, even if it's not that much. I did also go around Leicester with Luc and Dan a few days ago for general reference and textures, as their project is fairly similar. I'll post up the personal reference and textures I've gathered next week after I've been to London to discuss and whatnot, some style and colour guides and also probably post up the reference folder I've gathered for this project in general (as making a few moodboards for a project of this scope doesn't seem adequate enough).

Thursday, 16 January 2014

FMP Inspirations - Imperial Boy

Probably the single biggest influence on my whole FMP is this guy; Imperial Boy. I think it's pretty obvious to see why he's been an influence, and some of his work is why I chose to do an isolated man-made island city. Hopefully you can draw both similarities and differences between my FMP and his work (apart from his obvious extreme attention to detail and masterful use of light and perspective).

Over Summer, before finalising my FMP, I started to look more at his work, and set about trying to do my own similar style of drawings to improve my three point perspective, when I realised I hadn't really seen anything like his work rendered in a interactive 3D world. Not on that level of detail and verticality anyway. So that's when I pretty much decided on doing it for my FMP, and went about starting to concept my own ideas for an island city.

His works definitely helped to inspire me to really master my three point perspective, as this is the most important aspect of his drawings I feel. While the lighting gives it the character and liveliness, it's the three point that just gives you that sense of scope and scale, which I can then use to construct in 3D and create my own lighting in CryEngine.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

FMP Inspiration - Bravely Default, Eternal Sonata & Sonic Generations

So I'm gonna be talking about three different games today as while they're all still influential towards my FMP, it's only really certain aspects of them that are (whereas Remember Me was hugely inspirational, hence the longer post). First up is Bravely Default, a game that came out in December for the 3DS in Europe. While the game itself isn't really relevant, especially as it's style involves hand-drawn environments 'extruded' out into 3D traversable locations (which does look great in its own right, just not relevant to me), the locations themselves are relevant. Again, the fantasy setting isn't something I want to tread too heavily into, but (and this is a similar theme for the next two games) the very clustered and detailed city environments are fantastic.

These pics are taken from the art book, as I wanted to include some of the concept work too (the finished pieces are literally exactly how it looks in-game). The concepts still show a clear sense of scale and direction for the player, which gives me a good insight into how I should concept the streets of my city.

The next game is Eternal Sonata, a fairly old game now that I suddenly realised had some really nice colourful locations to draw inspiration from. If I didn't settle on going for a realistic look for my FMP I would have chosen a style similar to this, as it allows for such vivid colour palettes.

Not much to say here really as the images I hope speak for themselves. I suppose it can be a good example of how you can create very crammed and busy scenes with some fairly average modelling and texture work provided the concept has been worked into enough.

Finally, I took this purely for the dappled light on the path. I believe CryEngine's realtime lighting allows for stuff like this to be created naturally given the correct lighting and positioning, but a workaround, if I really wanted it, would be to create an alpha decal that gently moves about, as they do above, in game.

Finally, a rather odd choice; Sonic Generations (althought I believe above is Sonic Unleashed). I chose this purely for the levels Rooftop Run (which is also a re-imagining of a level in Sonic Unleashed) and City Escape (a re-imagining from Sonic Adventure 2). Again, the main theme here being complex city environments made relatively simple once the assets are made and well placed. 

These environments look extremely complex, despite being made from a handful of assets. While the scope of my city isn't nearly as large (and rightly so, I'm not making what is essentially a visual racetrack) it does prove, which is encouraging for me, that large environments can be made extremely quickly and almost effortlessly provided you make smart and well thought out modular pieces.