Thursday, 26 March 2015

Easter Holidays! - The horror begins! Pt 1

So finally got a little bit of time to myself to work on some personal bits, there is one project on my mind that I have been waiting to work on for a while now and that is a horror game. First here's just a few things I have been looking at...

Typically horror games as of recent haven't been particularly great. Most of the big horror games franchises have lost their way: some Horror games have become too action orientated (Resident Evil series) while others have just failed to make a lasting impression whatsoever.

Although very recently I believe we have hit a resurgence in video game horror. Titles like Alien: Isolation, Outlast and Five Nights at Freddy's have rekindled many peoples love for this genre by toying with the conventions followed by this games.

Why the sudden comeback for horror games? Some people attribute this to a boredom in horror films, or the fact that it is just a trending theme at the moment. Personally I believe it's just a great time to make a horror game. Graphics technology, virtual reality and better animation quality lend itself really well to creating an environment that can fully immerse the player in that world. These combination of factors I believe give horror games the potential to go beyond what films could in how they make you scream. One game I believe has recently pushed the standard of what it could be: P.T.

In P.T. It's subtleties is what makes it scary.
P.T. is perhaps one of the most influential video games I have played as of recent. I find it incredible how much interest can be put into one little section of corridor, enough to keep you going through it again and again. What strikes me the most about it is that it takes as much time as it needs to build tension, it is more unsettling that any other horror game I have played because you are constantly expecting something to jump out at you.

I suggest you watch this analysis series by Youtube user Marszie. (Play the game first, this is quite spoiler-y) It is a great insight into the meaning behind certain gameplay and design elements aswell as what makes it scary.

How I am applying this to my project?

There are a huge mass of things from the game that inspire me for my own projects; the most of which I think is mood. Little things like lights slightly swaying, the dust particles in the air and the chips off the corners of the walls. All little bits on their own which contribute to the mood in small ways but together has a massive impact on immersion. I want to replicate the same effects with lighting, materials and VFX inside of UE4.

My next post on this project will involve me looking at some lighting stuff, been pretty big on that recently. In the meantime here is UE4 recreation of the PT corridor that I found really interesting; great to see how this guy has approached the details:

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Off The Map VII: Pre-Easter Crackdown

As it is the start of the Easter holidays next week, me and the rest of our team is working tirelessly to make sure that we have the level in a solid state before we head away. We figured out who could or couldn't work on it over the holidays and used to that split work load. Since I don't have a job or anything back at Bristol I aim to put more time towards OTM; fixing the engine issues that need fixing.

This week for me though has been more of a maintenance period for the level, making sure everybody knows what they are doing plus sorting out bits of modelling on my end. Me and Tom were going back and forth trying to fit the architrave, skirting, wooden panelling, etc around the level to make the rooms seem a lot a less like deformed boxes.

I also decided to remodel the railings. The plan was to use alphas for all the railings originally, however by modelling it we could now have some depth we couldn't have had before. I had to learn some spline modelling for this and one thing became clear is that I really love this way of working; Splines are so flexible and I wouldn't be able to make these railings any other way. I am super happy with how they have turned out!

If you were concerned about FPS then no need! I already have plans to make LODs for all the main modular pieces in the level; some will baked down and some reduced tricount versions of the railings will make things a bit more efficient.

Here is what I have so far, just a straight segment. I'll use this to created the curved sections later on:

My railings, connecting up splines then using sweep modifier so such a quick way to work with this kind of complex geometry.
Might do some random progress updates on some personal project things over the holiday, will leave anything Off the Map until I get back in one big post though. Have a good Easter for anybody who's reading!! :D

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Off The Map VI: A sudden burst of colour!


Okay, this week things are coming together. Tom and I were going back and forth readjusting some of the rooms, I've shown him how to add skirting and architrave using spline modelling and he went ahead and did that whilst I continued my asset work and a little bit of lighting. To be honest a lot of this week was fixing up problems with the level so I've been taking time out of my asset building to sort that as well, also I spent a bit of time replacing the first person player character to a third person one with first person camera so we can see the characters hands and feet, an integral part of our game design. Overall it's been a bit of a slow burn this week, but now the level is actually prepared for population. At last!

Here is some shots of the level currently:

Overall bird's eye view of the level currently, the lighting has been changed quite a lot this week. I have been applying things I have learnt about lighting from a personal project to this one by increasing the light bounces in the level and making the lighting more soft and realistic.

A shot of Puzzle Area 1 before population, the wall material is adapted from one I used in a personal project but I added in a whole section to the material that layers on a victorian pattern that Annie made and makes it slightly more reflective than the rest of the wall.

Here is where you can see the effect of the lighting properly, the light casts a realistic bounce onto the wall but stays fairly dramatic and contrasty, a feeling we want to keep throughout the level. In this section of the game the player will encounter the rabbit for the second time so seeing it emerge into the light in this corridor will be a great moment visually.
My main priority now is finishing my assets, so far most of my assets are in level as they are needed for the overall level shape but I still have a lot to do, so far all the columns and arches are incomplete and I also need to complete the ceiling for the lobby which is a large part of making that area looking closer to completion. Also some of my other assets need a lick of paint to raise the quality bar, all of this is my goal going into next week.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Off The Map V - More on the stairs

A lot of back and forth between engine and working on my assets this week. Me and Stuart were busy trying to include all the playable elements into the level to make it 100% playable from start to finish. An important goal that has been delayed slightly, now though it seems like we have it. This week has been hard work preparing our assets for populating. There are still some structural issues, but I am working through it, recreating the blockout as one massive structure has helped level any issues we did have in that area but one or two remain, mostly relating to the stairs I was talking about last week.

On that front here's some in engine shots currently, not too much in engine compared to last week but the structures are beginning to look better now.

Lobby with modular columns and arches, testing out the sizes to make sure everything fits well, also joint pieces need to be constructed.
I received some really great help from one of our tutors Jack Greasley this week as well; he gave me a design book which had a diagram in it about constructing staircases which proved immensely helpful in improving the structural integrity of the spiral staircase, it made things harder for sure but the result will look a whole lot better. Here is what I intend to recreate within our art direction:

The crossing beams and the way it connects to the stairs is something I have to experiment with to get the right shape, this is quite a complex and will be even harder to get working in a helical shape.
In progress stairs in 3ds Max, structure is almost there, just the railings and the bannister need work.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Off The Map IV - Rising to the challenge!


This week was a large push to get a solid, playable level as well as solidify some art direction decisions. First of all the current stage of the level blockout:

Current stage of the blockout with all the puzzle areas and the rabbit hole. The lobby with the spiral staircase is the area in which the player accesses all the puzzles.
The blockout mesh was there but needed tweaking and some paintovers done to make sure everything is how we want it. It was quite a lot of trouble creating the environments all twisty - like a crooked house - but keeping that architectural accuracy so we had to turn down the twistiness quite a bit to make sure everything fitted together smoothly. This was especially problematic when it came to the corridors fitting to the lobby as it angles inwards as it gets towards the top so trying to get a door frame fitting on it plus to an adjacent room and you end up with a whole world of problems. My workaround was to try and create straight sections of the outer lobby walls in order to counter the problem while the lobby gets smaller with each individual floor which still keeps the same forced perspective of the staircase.

This also leads me to my next task, creating the spiral staircase. This is perhaps the most complex structural asset in the entire level as it relies on a few factors in order for it to look believable.

  • Scale? - The size of the steps must be accurate as well as the bannister and the incline. The most daunting element is getting the entire staircase to fit between the floors as the whole lobby tapers in towards the ceiling, which makes using modular sections for the stairs impractical. The stairs must be at maximum three separate models (one for each floor) if we wanted to make sure the structure fits together properly.

  • Supports? - What is holding up the staircase and the structure underpinning it
  • Ornaments? - One thing we decided very early is the use of wrought iron decor in our level, a victorian staple, creating this high detailed design in a curved formation around the stairs would prove difficult. This also applies to the bannister, which is the same issue of keeping the pieces modular.
  • Connections to the floors? The staircases must attach seamlessly to each floor, this can by tailoring each staircase to fit plus use of modular trim assets to bridge any gaps in architecture (same process I'm using for other structural elements like the columns and arches.) Also the connection to the ground floor must be made according to the angle of the ground plane, which is off by 10 degrees, this calls for a start of the staircase to be angled correctly so it can be lined up.

Also here's some paintovers of the level blockout just so we can make some quick decisions, the number of columns in the lobby and the look of the rabbit hole entrance hall were quite important areas to pin down as well as the library which needed some tweaking as the previous concept might have been too large to do.

Alternate designs for the lobby, playing around with different amount of columns, flooring, some light arrangements and overgrowth.

Paintovers of the level in order of level progression, trying to create mood through values and establish a continuity of design