Sunday, 22 February 2015

Off The Map III - British Library Trip!


This week I visited the British Library as part of a an organised trip with the university, one person from each group attended and I was the one lucky enough to go so I tried to gather as much information and resources as I could.

This was really helpful for knowing what the judges at the British Library and Gamecity are looking for as well as getting a load of reference material from the original Alice in Wonderland books, all the materials mentioned on the Off The Map website were actually on private display for us so we could go in and take a look at these amazing pieces first-hand.

'The Nursery Alice' a first edition of an 'Alice's adventures in Underground' intended for more younger readers.
The judges are looking for an overall experience rather than something that is either very pretty or that plays well, ideally the submission should be a great mixture of these that really absorbs the player as well as something unique that set it apart from the other entrants.

Another aspect worth touching is architectural and structural accuracy, one of the judges in particular is looking for these aspects within the level done to a high standard and making sure historical accuracy is also kept to. Knowing this, as a group we decided to try and ground as much of the construction in real life as possible and refer to a lot of Victorian architecture books to we can construct set pieces like a massive spiral stair case as accurately as possible.

Which brings me onto my next topic, level blockouts, with the individual puzzles almost at completion it was time to try and fit them into a proper playable level. So work began at trying to create all the rooms together as one massive structure which could later be broken down into individual areas, this was done so the structures fit with each other perfectly without no weird intersection, a hard thing to do for such a complex interior.

More on the construction of the level next week.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Off The Map II - Blueprints are a puzzling thing

This week was all about cementing a solid concept for what we are planning on doing and what we want to achieve. First thing to tackle was gameplay, and how to make our level interesting and engaging for the player, easy enough right?

Well first of all this required some decent blueprinting knowledge. For you guys who don't know blueprints are Unreal Engine 4's new visual scripting system that has been designed to replace UDK's Kismet. It basically gives artists access to all the power of a programmer without having to learn the sometimes daunting language of C++ or others.

As our game involves some puzzles we knew that some decent level of blueprinting would be needed to make it work. So I went and completed a load of tutorials from Youtube so I could get to grips with the basics, with the later half of the week spent trying to prototype these ideas for puzzles we had. It taken no short amount of help from other people to get some of the puzzles working in the end.

Me attempting to use blueprints.

For how we actually designed the puzzles we looked at logic puzzles from TV shows such as Crystal Maze (Hence the gif) and games like Professor Layton. We then thought of unique ways we could tie it back while still pushing certain concepts further such as:

Anamorphic image based Puzzles!
As you could probably guess from the pictures an Anamorphic image is one that is cast from a point which appears to defy perspective. Our idea is that we could use this as a unique angle to base some of the puzzles around, where the player has to stand in a particular point to observe the whole image in order to continue. The rabbit hole in the book is known for it's ways in being to be able to play with twisting reality, using the anamorphic puzzles just seemed to gel well with our concept of having a 'crooked house' feel to the whole rabbit hole.

There were also ideas for a room based around turning white roses red within a time limit and the idea of using riddles to find a book were also things we looked at, it actually turned out that getting these ideas to work well together as gameplay mechanics is actually harder than creating the puzzles themselves. So more work needs to be done into next week in order to make sure these are engaging enough to work everything else into the mix.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Off The Map! I - Alice In Wonderland

So we have got the point on the course now where we are expected to be awesome and make awesome things, with that Off The Map comes around which is a competition held by the British Library and Gamecity that gives us a great opportunity to make some amazing group projects and this year the theme is Alice In Wonderland!

We we given three different areas to explore: Underground, Gardens, or Oxford and a selection of materials from the British Library that we can use as a base for concepting an environment. So our group got together and did some hardcore research.

We went through reading the original book by Lewis Carroll 'Alice's adventures in Underground' and looked into all the fascinating materials the British Library provided including photos of cornish mines taken by John Burrows in the late 19th century, as well as work by a scholar named Athanasius Kircher. From this we did some brainstorming of we liked and didn't like and narrowed down on something we wanted to do, with the underground area exciting us the most.

A brainstorm of some of our ideas
After sifting through a load of research material and images on pinterest we came to settle on a couple of ideas. We decided to focus on the weirdness of the rabbit hole portrayed in the book and create surreal, warped halls acting as some weird extension of Lewis Carroll's study. The whole map will be based around a very small section of the book where Alice is trying to unlock the door to the garden, this allows us to make a small but detailed area filled with loads of references to the source material.

It's early days at the moment but hopefully next week it will start coming together, one thing that we are having trouble deciding on is a proper style guide that we can follow so we have a solid art direction, so that is what we are working on next.

Next time expect a much more solid framework of our idea and a lot more puzzle mechanics and art direction things.


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Container Project IV - Final bits and Post Mortem

Ok pretty much done. After a load of sleep lost fixing very weird lighting errors then getting into labs and realizing it's just Amber's computer tricking us we had come to the conclusion that this project has pretty much killed us. We ran a little behind schedule in the end despite the final push but we made some amazing progress and it has all been worthwhile, and I can actually say I'm really happy with what we achieved on this project.

Final screens you ask? Ok,

The Last Bit

The last push was mainly detailing and cluttering up the level with all the plants, mushrooms and various pieces of junk we modeled, making everything seem a bit less clean. This was a fun stage but we had to get through it quick because of the day we had at VFX (Will cover those events in another post) I used the object paint tool in UE4 to quickly paint areas with foliage then placed in some unique assets so we could create some nice looking overgrowth fairly quickly.

Also it was fixing the flickering lights and some other little weird lighting glitches that taken up a lot of time during the last bit, still some left by the time of the deadline but we couldn't solve the problem. For some reason we get a weird purple light on the first blueprint door which we were unable to fix, that's one of the standout annoying things we ran out of time for to sort.

Also another thing that was lost on the last stretch was the lovely orange haze we had in the bridge, it kinda disappeared while messing around with the fog control with the trigger volumes we have set up but I just couldn't get it back to how it was before. Maybe another crack at the lighting might be needed after the deadline so we could end up with some better balanced images. The lighting in bridge looked better last week than what we finished with in my opinion. 

Post Mortem

We as a group have made massive progress on this project and have achieved most of the things we set out to do. Yes there were issues (and a couple still there) but we learnt a lot from trying to fix them and I'm glad we didn't go back over our concept after the first presentation, we continued and fixed up things that really needed it and the level is of a higher quality than we expected as a result.

What did we learn?

On this project we learned a ton about modularity, lighting and UE4's weird little tantrums. Modularity in particular was one area where we really worked to try and get the snapping working how we wanted, things started to work out better when we constructed assets together in 3ds max and then figure out how each piece fits together then building other assets around that, this made everything slot together perfectly as well as making sure of other aspects like scale.

Also there were a number of blueprint issues on this project which taken some time to fix, the doors in particular hassled Amber for a couple of days and later in the project where I was trying to get the fog volumes to work the way we wanted. A technical area worth exploring better for our next project.

Pros and Cons

+Large amount of modular assets, everything fits how it should
+Decent level of polish
+Nice material definition
+Added some extra things like Fog, particles, post process
+Learnt a lot about modeling on this project, got a lot faster and more efficient

-Annoying purple door
-Missed optimal lighting, needed the haze
-Maybe more unique textures
-Better assets to plug up the holes in the twisty corridors

Heres a list of everything I have done on this project (Knowingly)

  • Column_Special_Door
  • Column
  • Computer_1
  • Computer_2
  • Computer_3
  • Desk_Top
  • Desk_Side
  • Desk_Draw
  • Desk_Draw_Compartment
  • Keyboard
  • Wall_Fan
  • Desk_Fan
  • Bulkhead
  • Bridge_Front
  • Cargo_Crate
  • Hanging_Computers
  • Operations_Table
  • Ceiling_Trim
  • Computer_Bridge
  • Computer_Storage_Banks
  • Wall PC (Collaboration with Amber)

Unwraps & Lightmaps
  • Column_Special_Door
  • Column
  • Computer_1
  • Computer_2
  • Computer_3
  • Desk_Top
  • Desk_Side

  • Block out
  • Lighting
  • Post process
  • Fog control blueprints (Collaboration with Lucy)
  • Terrain
  • Object paint
  • Level building
  • Ambient Sounds

All of my assets created for this project (Textures done by Amber)

And here are the rest of the beauty shots, enjoy and see you next time for the next project: OFF THE MAP!