Impressions: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released on 11/11/11, which, coincidentally, just happened to be my birthday. I’m fairly certain there’s no other way I could have took the lining up of those two events other than “It’s okay to waste huge swathes of your birthday weekend on Skyrim,” so I did. I’ve been playing the game on both my PC and my friend’s Xbox 360.

The Elder Scrolls series is a long-running RPG franchise, known for its first-person view and extremely open-ended gameplay. You’re literally thrust into a gigantic world with little more than a basic gameplay tutorial and a map marker for your first quest. However, the vital, world-saving quest is… well I hesitate to say optional, but in my opinion, if you do the main quest instead of exploring and doing tiny faction-quests for the next several-hundred hours, you’re playing the game wrong. Again, just my opinion; I’m pretty sure there’s not actually a “right” way to play an open-world game. If there was, it wouldn’t be that open of a world, would it?

As my birthday weekend/Guiltless Skyrim weekend comes to a close, I feel I should finally post my random thoughts. Over the next couple weeks, I’ll doubtless play more and coalesce these bullet-points into an actual critique, but for now, more Skyrim calls.

Disclaimer: I’ve gotten called out recently for “spoiling” miscellaneous dungeons. In my opinion, a spoiler is more of a plot thing. I’ll probably only outright label as a spoiler things about plotlines (Main Quest, faction quests, etc.), but if you’re in the camp for whom “exploring is the main storyline”, then I guess there will be unlabeled spoilers ahead. It’s just a conflict of Points of View on this style of game.

Graphics:

  • Interesting that human hair is rock solid, but the mane and tail of the horse in that opening cutscene is animated.
  • The scenery is beautiful. I had to turn the settings way down (I’ve heard there’s a bug with the PC version having the CPU render the shadows as an artifact from the console versions which don’t have as much GPU power), but even with objects fading out earlier than I’d like and some really obviously tiling terrain textures, the world looks great. The terrain is well designed so that I have yet to run into a spot where  can’t see something on the horizon that I really want to run to, with virtual miles of distractions between me and there.

Aesthetics:

  • Since when do the Imperials dress like members of the Roman Legion? I’m all for stabbing people with a gladius, but I don’t remember them dressing like anything less than badass medieval knights in Oblivion. Were they ancient Romans in the previous three Elder Scrolls that I didn’t play?
  • Interesting choice on the map. The whole zoomed out terrain, complete with gently wafting clouds is pretty cool, but I was kinda expecting something simple, Tolkeinesque like the one we got in Oblivion.
  • The style of the map also helps, somewhat, with trying to find mountain passes.

Gameplay:

  • Character creation and other menus don’t feel like they were built with a Mouse and Keyboard in mind. Real finicky with mouse, but responds well enough to arrow keys or WASD.
  • I don’t understand how, if they simply ported the UI from the console version (which certain elements really seem like) we could still end up with a lot of situations where you have to manually click Yes or No. I was smelting ore earlier this evening, and for about 15 chunks of ore, I had to click “Yes” with a very finicky mouse-driven interface when there’s plenty of precedent for [Enter] for “Yes” and [Tab] for “No”.
  • Recovering arrows is weird. Apparently I can only get them from corpses of enemies I’ve shot, and then only maybe (Perks increase you chance of getting back more of your arrows), and not all of them. I’ve lost track of the number of corpses that still have my arrows sticking out of them because I wasn’t allowed to retrieve my arrows.
  • I don’t even care that they don’t look that good (and again, I have been turning down graphical settings like crazy), the way the rocks are put together so you can carefully climb up and down cliffs (perhaps to ambush a bandit camp or something) is a really nice touch. You could somewhat climb in Oblivion, but not like this. You can really get in there and plot a course up the “wrong” side of a mountain for a sneak attack. It’s a lot of trial and error to figure out which surfaces you can actually climb, and it does sometimes stretch your suspension of disbelief, like walking along a rock jutting out into space so your feet are literally on thin air, but then not being able to climb a 70-ish degree slope.
  • Sprinting is a nice addition. Getting from place-to-place, even when you’re soaking in the beauty and discovering random side dungeons and bandit fortresses, is always a process that can benefit from being sped up. I’m disappointed that I can’t jump while sprinting. How cool would it be to go all Canabalt and hop from stepping stone to stepping stone while crossing a river, all the while laughing at all the suckers using the bridge?
  • Combat seems rather unresponsive. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been in a clicking frenzy in melee combat and had my character not deign to swing either weapon. In fact, I’ll say combat is downright buggy. My clicks don’t register when I’m trying to attack. The “Eagle Eye” perk that lets you zoom in with your bow regularly decides that “zoom in” means “jump wildly back and forth between zoomed view and normal view so that it’s impossible to actually aim.” Edit: This seems to have been mostly fixed when I turned down my settings. Once the game was no longer chugging, I found that these problems virtually disappeared.
  • There’s some real oddities that stem from the removal of Attributes. In the previous Elder Scrolls, your character had traditional RPG Attributes like Strength and Agility, which then fed into other stats like HP, MP, carrying capacity, etc. In Skyrim, they’ve been boiled down to just Stamina, Health, and Magicka. Stamina dictates your ability to use physical actions like power attacks and sprinting. Health, is pretty self-explanatory, and Magicka dictates your ability to cast spells. When you level up, you simply increase one of these stats and pic a new perk. I like the addition of perks, and they’re much more interestingly arranged (each being tied to a skill which you level up by using) than in Fallout 3, the first Bethesda game to use Perks. I’m a big fan of each skill having a “skill tree” of sorts. However, there’s some real weirdness that doesn’t seem to jive with the previously established Elder Scrolls rules as a result of this. The worst offender is that leveling up your Stamina increases your carrying capacity, a trait that used to be the domain of hulking warriors who throw all their points into Strength so they can wear their heavy armor and wield their two-handed battleaxes. Now, it seems mostly leveling Stamina is the domain of the rogue because they’re, if they’re doing it right, not going to be getting into much close combat and instead relying on stamina to finish off their enemies quickly with power attacks or zoomed in bow shots, or sprinting away. That means that the scrawny rogue who’s been throwing points into Stamina most of the game ends up able to carry a whole lot more junk than the big, strong warrior, and that’s just downright confusing. I don’t know if there’s a logical fix for this short of bringing back Attributes (I suppose, the Warrior will be grabbing a lot of Stamina upgrades, but I can’t imagine it’ll be more than 50/50 Stamina Health, since he needs to take a beating which the Rogue doesn’t); it’s possible some serious carrying capacity upgrades could be worked into the Warrior-centric perks, but it’s nonetheless really weird.

World/Story:

  • Saul Tigh? Frak me sideways, I’d know that voice anywhere!
  • Oooh. Choice early on. Well played, designers. It’ll be interesting to see if anything comes of that choice, but, again, when I play an Elder Scrolls game, the Main Quest line is at the very bottom of my to-do list, so it’ll probably be a while before I see anything come from this choice.
  • Some really nice seemingly random stuff, like a ruined fort occupied by a few bandits with training dummies on the walls, I assume to make the fort look better defended than it actually is, though none of the bandits has been talkative enough for me to find out if that’s really the case.
  • Dark Brotherhood Spoilers: I’m a bit disappointed that the early-on choice shown in the tutorial mission didn’t carry over to the faction quests (or at least the Brotherhood. I haven’t started any of the others yet). There’s a point fairly early on in the quest line where your superior directly contradicts the orders you were given by the Night Mother, a sort of prophet that the entire Brotherhood are supposed to obey. Your superior doesn’t even try to hide the fact that she runs the show around here, not the Night Mother. This would have been a great opportunity to see a little more player choice. Do you keep the well-oiled Dark Brotherhood status quo, or do you listen to the Night Mother (whom only you can hear), whose word should be gospel to the Brotherhood. The Night Mother goes so far as to give you a location and person of interest to talk to, but they don’t show up in your quest log until after you complete the contracts that are obviously meant to sidetrack you from doing the Night Mother’s bidding. I won’t deny that this delay was necessary because it probably set off events that forwarded the Dark Brotherhood storyline over the next few quests, but it’s jarring to have such a blatant illusion of choice in a game that otherwise gives you so much freedom.
  • There’s a really nice touch that you probably need subtitles on to really notice. I habitually turn on subtitles in story-based ganes, just because you never know when there’s going to be other noises, often caused by you, the player, horsing around while an NPC is talking to you, that might cause you to miss something important, or miss some clever writing. It was because of my subtitle use that I noticed there are subtitles when a Dragon breathes, and they’re the same (or similar) words to the shouts that you learn as the Dragonborn. I think that’s a really nice touch and draws a neat connection between you and the dragons. Almost certainly intentional, but something I doubt a lot of players notice. Good on Bethesda for paying attention to subtle details like that. I guess we should be referring to the dragons’ breath attacks as “shouts” then, shouldn’t we?

Double Decker Bus Progress

In response to my response to a Polycount thread looking for freelancers, I was sent an art test using this bus, the AEC Regent III:

I was given a budget of one 1024×1024 Diffuse Map and 1000 Quads (not, as you might expect, Tris, an oddity recently confirmed by my contact at the company).

I’ve been working mostly on a Hi-Res which will be used to bake an AO map that will hopefully capture much of the detail I want. This is my first attempt at such a low-res asset, so I’ll be learning as I go.

Beginning of the first pass Hi-Res.

Further detailing.

Beginning to form the ridges.

The point when I originally called the Hi-Res “done” to get started on reducing down to my poly limit.

Beginning to reduce, I think I was at 1,700-something Tris when I pulled these screenshots, and that was before I got the clarification from my contact that my goal wasn’t 1,000 Tris, but 1,000 Quads.

Finalized 1,000-Tri model and UVs, right before I got my clarification on target polycount.

This was also about the time I started getting serious crit about the quality of my Hi-res; however, it seemed to be centered on detail, not technique, so I attempted to fix up the details.

After attempting to round everything out with a few more bevels, resistance kept growing among my criticizers. My Hi-Res was limited by the fact that I wasn’t taking advantage of smoothing tools. I’d always had difficulty handling round shapes in 3D, but never figured out just how much of an Achilles Heel it was until a couple helpful Polycounters suggested it and threw a couple subdivision modeling tutorials my way*.

As much as I was, understandably resistant to the idea that everything I knew was wrong, I was eventually convinced to give it a try, and it’s certainly helped with my issues. It’s not exactly quick-going, but I’m still new to this workflow; ideally, once I build up some subD instincts, I’ll get much quicker, and probably less hung up on little details than I was in the past. I don’t even want to think about how much time I’ve wasted throwing tiny little bevels into Hi-Res models by trial and error to get something round, or trying to tweak a shape that I’ve already made “round enough” but is suddenly in the wrong place.

Now, I’m finally getting close to the point where I can start adding back in the same level of detail I had on my old “Hi-Res”, but with smoothing so that my ridges are actually round and you can’t count the number of bevels on my rounded corners.

Adding in more details. Windows are mostly roughed in, but since I haven’t finalized the geometry behind them (i.e.extruded it in). Started to place some of the other details like the grille, the vents, the headlights and the doors.

Modeled out the lower panels, started adding little details like the mirrors, fuel tank, license plate. Finally bit the bullet and carved out the hollows for the main lower windows so they can actually sit correctly.

Wheels still need work. Upper half still needs a lot of love (placing the windows properly, figuring out panels etc.) The main body still needs to be recombined (or at least have everything line up properly to get rid of gaps). Little details like the lights need polish, and the headlights aren’t really attached yet.

Painstakingly cut out the geometry behind the windows and little gaps in the panels like the fuel cap, license plate and… thing that looks sorta like a foostep… I don’t know, but it’s in all the reference. Hopefully this’ll get easier as I get more used to subdivision work. I’ve been at this way, way too long, so I think I’m probably going to need to start the low-res, if not because the hi-res is “done”, then at least because I’ll probably go insane/procrastinate more if I have to putz anymore with the little details of the hi-res.

Went back in and remodeled the wheel wells and tires. Hopefully they’re less bubbly now. I don’t know why, but for some reason I had started with a cube on those wheel wells instead of the infinitely more straightforward option of a cylinder. Started re-tweaking some of the smaller details like the curved bit in front of the left-side windows. It needed more detail and the curve was all wonky.

Added the ridges. Troubleshooting the “bubbliness” around the upper windows. Tweaked some of the other curves that weren’t curvy enough for my tastes.Attempted to work around some scaling issues (specifically, the top is too wide because of the position of the windows and the ridges).

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*On the off-chance that I’m not the last one jumping onto the Subdivision modeling bandwagon, here are the two tutorials I used to help make the transition less painful:

Don Ott’s intro to Subdivision modeling

Racer 255’s tutorial

Both kinda assume that you’re familiar with your modeling program of choice, and they’re both Max-oriented, so hopefully you’re either familiar with Max or familiar enough with 3D’s concepts that you can relate them back to your package of choice.

I’ve also found it helpful, if a particular shape is giving me trouble, to build a simplified version out of a cube with some extrudes and use that to figure out where my control edges should go. It’s a lot quicker than using trial and error on the whole mesh, and in a couple spots (like the windows), it’s led to meshes that I can just integrate wholesale into the model itself or replace the old problem geometry with. It’s also very helpful to work in small chunks and stitch it together only when you absolutely need to.

New Environment: Preproduction

As I finish up Models and Textures and get ready to start on Shader R&D and Lighting on the Deli, I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do next with the goal of getting myself a portfolio that says “Environment Artist” as quickly as possible. I’m, so far, very happy with the Deli even if months of only sporadic work culminating in an overwhelming desire to finish and move on ASAP resulted in severe cutbacks in scope and redundancy in the assets.

However, there are definitely some things it didn’t cover that I’m seeing in a lot of Environment Art job descriptions:

  1. Bland Architecture: The Deli is basically a square room with little exciting architecture except for the rafters and the moulding. If I go back and do an exterior facade, that will help, but [the style of exterior I would want to give it] would lead to an awkward sense of isolation unless I went on to give similar treatments to several surrounding buildings in a crowded neighborhood, and that doesn’t sound expedient to me. The Deli Exterior will be pushed farther back on the To-Do list, for now.
  2. Not many interesting Shaders. With only a few exceptions, the Deli has mostly been handled with Diffuse, Alpha, and Spec maps and little else. One of my goals going into the Deli was to learn shaders, but there’s very little that actually need fancy shaders in that scene.
  3. Interior: There was no way around this. The Deli could only really be an interior. That means that, upon completing the Deli, my portfolio will still only contain an interior environment and no exteriors.
  4. Limited Lighting Opportunities: Like shaders, lights were something else that I’ve only ever rushed and not gotten terribly intricate with. The Deli, using just a couple point lights, is still not a very interesting lighting opportunity.
  5. Too Many Models; Not Enough Everything Else: Anyone looking at my portfolio will see a confident, competent modeler, and the Deli got bogged down with a bunch of little props, more than I originally estimated. I spent way too long modeling everything and didn’t really do much else.
  6. Not enough Sculpting: Due to time constraints, I only really sculpted one thing in a project that was ostensibly supposed to enable me to start learning Zbrush. Everything that I ended up most enjoying on the Deli was Hard Surface, and all the organic stuff is hidden behind dirty glass where you can’t really see the lack of detail.
  7. No environmental storytelling: I toyed with a couple ideas for how to incorporate environmental storytelling into the Deli, but I never really implemented them because I didn’t want to add more time to a project that had already taken longer than it should have. I guess you could say there’s a little bit with the Deli’s decor, but it’s pretty minimal.

So, as a contrast to the Deli, this new project needs to be an exterior with interesting shader opportunities, interesting, organic architecture, and without an overwhelming number of models.

To keep the number of models down, I decided this project should probably be set somewhere without a lot of foliage, which led me to the idea of a desert environment. Last night, I started pulling reference, sketching thumbnails, and categorizing the pros and cons of a variety of different desert locations with potential to be my next environment project.

Disclaimer: You’ll notice my thumbnails (if you can interpret them at all) are very similar in composition to my reference images. That’s because I’m shamefully out of practice when it comes to drawing. I fully intend to rectify this eventually, but for now, copying is a good way to get back into the swing of things. Getting into 3D will help with the originality because it’s less constrained by my atrophied skills…

Translation:

1. Mission

Pros:

  • Interesting Architecture
  • Dynamic lighting opportunity
  • Relatively unique
  • Modular, easy to change the scope

Cons:

  • Lots of foliage
  • Not many interesting shaders

Crazy Southwest Shrine:

Pros:

  • Road would be a fun addition/break up the monotony of endless desert
  • Stuff in the shrine presents opportunities for interesting shaders possibly.
  • That crazy fence is something I really, really want to make.
  • Interesting geography.

Cons:

  • I’m concerned it might be difficult to make that wide horizon interesting.
  • The architecture is pretty minimal and not all that exciting.

Indian Temple 1:

Pros:

  • Elevation changes add interest to the area and the camera angles I can show it from.
  • Indian architecture is really cool.
  • “Exotic”, could look “at-home” in more crazy geography than the previous ideas.

Cons:

  • The architecture of India is very intricate and detailed.
  • I’m less familiar with Indian architecture and religion. This would be a lot more research than the previous two.

Rock-Cut Cave Temple:

Pros:

  • Such a cool style. I fell in love with it right away.
  • Very unique style as well.
  • Easy to relocate to a different environment and take this principle in a surreal or fantastic direction.
  • Elevation changes again.
  • Would be easy to include both interior and exterior elements.
  • Stuff in the shrine presents opportunities for interesting shaders possibly.

Cons:

  • Lots of organic sculpting. In spite of being a goal of this project, needing to sculpt that much organic detail is still very daunting
  • The architecture is basically all one asset.

Wrecked Tower:

Pros:

  • The verticality is very interesting.
  • Again, easy to transplant into a more fantastic or surreal setting.

Cons:

  • This looks almost too simple. I’m concerned some unforeseen complication will jump out halfway through.
  • Again, not much shader interest.

Just a couple inspirational images in terms of feeling and lighting ideas:

 

Deli Process: Textures, Shaders, Lighting, Layout

Continued process on the Deli. Working on texturing up all the props.

Deli 09/19/2011. Props are partially textured. Strongly considering rescoping space now that I’m seeing how bad the area looks repeating the assets.

Props whose textures were mostly finished by 09/19/2011. Bread slicer is still pretty rough, and I hate to say it, but I may have to make it’s texture higher resolution. The transparency map is too chunky as a 512.

Layout as of 09/23/2011. Cut the space pretty much in half because those aisles full of shelves each with practically the same stuff on them were just looking bad, as were the four different identical deli counters. Plus, I’m now thinking of, eventually doing an exterior based on the cool, narrow, old buildings found in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, and those buildings are mostly very narrow. Hence, a narrower space.

Inspired by a deli even closer to home than downtown, that doorway leading into the back room is going to have a flag hanging down like a curtain. Undecided on whether that’d be Italy or Sicily. Need to figure out what the back room and back walls would be made of. Need to model some molding or something for all the transitional edges. Need to figure out how to fill up a bit more of this empty space (e.g. the corner under the ticket machine, the area by the coolers). Need to finish the textures on the older models, as well as the new doors and framed posters, whose textures are in various stages of incompleteness, from not even having UVs, to having some rushed diffuse detail and nothing more. Need a better “outside” material than flat emissive.

Deli Process 10/04/2011. Added in architectural details. Added more depth to storefront. Need to figure out how to convincingly attach lights to rafters, figure out material of rear wall (probably drywall or plaster. Need to finish up last couple textures. Need to get into shaders (make my own glass, figure out the metal. Thankfully the wood, brickwork, and food look good with just normal, spec, and diffuse). Noticed a couple models to add that would really make the space a bit more believable, like garbage cans. Still need to figure out what I’m doing with the shelves in the new layout.

Props textured since the 09/19/2011 update. The metal parts of the table are the clearest evidence that I’ll need to start dabbling in shaders soon.

Deli Process: Reducing, UVing, and Baking

After a shamefully long time not working on completing any of my projects, and an even more shamefully long time not documenting progress when I was making it, I finally got back into posting Deli Process. Since the last post (expect the other Hi-Res models to wind up there soon), I’ve starting reducing, UVing, and baking the props I have, starting, mostly, with the big furniture elements. I’ve also thrown them into UDK in a rough level layout and begun first pass lighting.

Rough Layout and lights basically unchanged since June 6, 2011. Lighting is first pass, coming only from the actual light sources with no fanciness yet. Props are getting in place as they get game-res models, UV’s, and texture bakes. Small props like bottles, cans, and other food have not been prioritized, hence the empty shelves.

All glass at this point is an Unreal glass material as a stand-in until I get to the Shader R&D point in this project.

Cooler with first pass textures as of August 02, 2011. Eventually I’m planning to make an alpha for the wire shelf. My current planned solution for populating the coolers, counters, and shelves is to place the food and drink on them in Maya and export as a single mesh. This seems like it would be less tedious than placing little props in engine, as I would be able to use Duplicate Special, or simply enter channel values, as well as not needing to re-place the props for each iteration of the shelf or every time I want to rearrange the level layout. May be problematic that they’ll all look alike, but I could probably mitigate this with multiple unique shelf layouts.

Deli Counter with first-pass textures as of August 03, 2011.

Cash Register with first-pass textures as of July 23, 2011.

Bread Slicer with first pass textures as of July 29, 2011. Still need to create transparency map for the array of blades.

Ticket Counter with first pass textures as of July 02, 2011. Need to investigate wonkiness of the bake on the chunk connecting the body to the sign. Edges in the normal map on the front part didn’t come out as sharp as I would have liked. Will need to investigate. Because it’s now sharing UV’s with the Cooler, I need to decide if it’s worthwhile to bring back the post that it was originally mounted on, and work that into the shared UVs, or simply change its position in the Level.

Wire Shelf solution. Will probably look good when covered with bread and rolls. Undecided if 990 Tris is too high or if an alpha solution would be better than the volumetric wires.

Crane Arm Progress

In response to a posting I made offering my services as a freelance artist, I was sent an art test by a studio who requested I not name them or share the concept art I was given when I post this to my portfolio.

The concept art given was a rough sketch of a robotic crane arm, like you might find in a factory. There were several stipulations about programs and polycounts/texture resolution. However, the most daunting stipulation was that I would have to do the project in 3DS Max, a program I had not previously attempted to use, leaving me three days to learn Max and model and texture a moderately complex prop at game resolution.

After three days of reading tutorials and learning Max by the seat of my pants, I, regrettably, did not finish the test. Max’s interface for UV-editing was simply too drastic a change to wrap my head around in so short a time. Tasks that would have taken mere minutes in Maya, due in no small part to knowing shortcuts, but also because there seems a fundamental difference in the philosophies behind Max and Maya, took two or three times as long.

At the end of the three days, I was left with a middle-resolution model, a Low-res model 1,500 Tris below the minimum polycount, and a reasonably efficient UV layout. I did not, however, have time to troubleshoot my xNormal bake to figure out why xNormal did not seem to have baked to the UV’s as I had laid them out in Max. I also did not manage to sculpt fine detail into a truly high-resolution model.

This project was useful in finally forcing* me to learn a non-Maya 3D program, even if I was unsuccessful (and honestly, 3 days is not a lot of time to wrap your head around a new program. I know I’ve barely scratched the surface after 3 years of Maya). It also opened my eyes to options that I know I have but never use in Maya (e.g. Boolean subtractions. I know those are in there somewhere, but I keep cutting out holes the old fashioned way.) Plus, in spite of the failure, it still demonstrates my adaptability. It may not be a completed project, but not bad for never having done more with Max than downloading it in the past, right? There’s no reason that with a couple more days, I couldn’t have a pretty respectable grasp of Max and a pretty nice-looking robot arm added to my portfolio.

Expect to see more progress on this project soon (as opposed to the other projects I haven’t touched in months, or, in the case of the Deli, haven’t updated the post for in months).I am allowed to continue working on this piece, so long as I continue not naming the studio or showing off their conceptst

First Pass textures on the arm. I figured out my baking error (for some reason I had been trying to bake off a version with outdated UV’s. Next step is getting re-acquainted with Zbrush and sculpting up the Higher Resolution detail. Then putting the finishing touches on the textures. Also need to go back in and fix some of the smoothing groups.

Textural reference. Looking into some beat-up chipped paint, and I really like that coating of dust on the top two images. The little bump pattern  on #3 is also very nice. Need to figure out some labels, safety warnings, etc.

Arm with 2nd pass textures. After some experimentation, I’ve come to the conclusion that Zbrush is rather fickle when I attempt to open it up just to stamp in some paint-chipping and scratching detail and that it will probably be easier for the sake of just getting this project over with and moving onto projects I’m still interested in to just deal with painting the texture in in Photoshop. Now, I just need to refine the technique. Also, add in some labels and figure out that caked in dust from the reference images.

Arm after a label, dust, and spec pass (spec is the alpha channel of the Diffuse Map). I’m currently regretting leaving the nuts and bolts as textural detail as they’re very flat right now. I know this may reflect poorly on me, but I’ve lost all interest in this project so I’m calling it done, probably a large part of why it took me so long to force myself to even get to this point. It was a good learning project, considering that I gained a passing knowledge of 3DS Max in a mere 3 days. I may return to it in the future, but for now, I have only 7 days left with Photoshop access, and I want to get as far on the deli textures as possible before I need to figure out a Photoshop alternative.

Things I would fix when I come back to this project:

  • it was pointed out to me that I could have better articulated the “wrist” joint of the arm. It’s just a block in this version, but some more accurate mechanism is in order in the future.
  • I also need to seriously R&D creating materials in UDK. As much as I enjoy texturing (when my computer isn’t chugging while I attempt to texture), I can only ever get so far with textures alone.
  • Also, I could definitely afford to put some of the nuts and bolts on the model itself instead of just in the maps. I was well below the original tri-count limit and I’ve got spare UV space in a couple spots.
  • On the subject of UV’s, the very top of the model somehow wound up slightly overlapping another shell. Of course the overlap isn’t really noticeable because neither chunk of the model is likely to be seen by the player (the very top and the inside of the top chunk, where the big axle sits)

Somewhat amusing aside, the logo on the upper chunk of the arm is the logo of Cyberdyne Systems, whom, I’m told, are currently at work bringing about Judgement Day with their work on Skynet.

*And I do mean forcing, not just in that the prompt stipulated that Max was required, but also that Maya and xNormal were doing everything in their power to keep me honest, from refusing to import the .objs that I exported from Max to simply baking normals and AO that didn’t correspond to the UV’s on over half the model. These programs are to be commended for their overbearing commitment to my not cheating on this art test.

LeMat Revolver Process

I recently discovered the LeMat Revolver, a Civil War-era pistol with a built-in shotgun. I was looking to try my hand at some weapon modeling, so I decided to create a LeMat.

There are several models of LeMat Revolver that I’ve found reference for, and there were certain details that I could only find up-close and/or exploded view on certain models, so my revolver is an amalgam of several variants.

Revolver Blockout as of 05/21/2011. Still need to figure out the ramrod, the multiple-configuration hammer, and how the firing mechanism in the back can work. Handle and trigger region are still far from complete. Cylinder still needs to be recombined and border edges merged and softened.

Revolver Blockout 5/24/11. Remodeled the handle. Finished the ramrod. Remodeled the hammer and continued trying to figure out how best to make the hammer and firing pins fit so that it could conceivably strike in both positions. Hammer position still needs work, as it could fire the revolver portion but would not be able to strike the pin for the shotgun. Handle still missing some modeled details.

Deli Process: Idea Generation and Initial Modeling

For my final project at Ringling, I’ve decided to create a little Italian Deli. The goal is to generate all the assets and get everything integrated into a UDK level by graduation in early May. However, as a form of risk-mitigation, I’m focusing exclusively on generating the props for now so that, in a worst-case scenario, I at least have a page of props for my portfolio if not the whole Deli Level.

I’ve got a couple learning goals in mind with this project as well, things I’ve unfortunately scraped by without learning to do through my 2.5 years of using the Unreal Engine. I haven’t touched Zbrush yet, so I intend to get acquainted with the program to sculpt the organic stuff in the deli, the meats, breads, cheeses, bowls of pasta salad etc. I also had a bad tendency in earlier projects to push modeling and texturing to the last minute and never have time to learn to make any shaders more complex than just a diffuse, normal, and spec map. This project will require shaders like glass and convincing metal, wood, and food. That should enable me to finally dabble in materials like I’ve wanted to for a very long time. I’m also looking forward to re-learning lighting.

Mid-res Deli Props as of 4/9/11. The ticket counter and the scale are probably hi-res enough for the level of detail they’ll need baked down. The Meat Slicer is still very far from done; I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around how all the different parts would need to work together so that I can figure out how to model each chunk. I’m reasonably happy with the cooler and the counter, but because they’re the big props of the environment, I expect I’ll give them a bit more polish before I go into getting them game ready. They also need to be filled with food and drinks. Currently planning to fill them with contents in Maya and just export a couple different versions rather than trying to place food inside the counters in Unreal.

Mid-res Cash register 4/11/11. Took longer than I expected, primarily because I was having trouble finding reference of the crappy, old, 80’s/90’s cash register I was looking for. This especially made the printer difficult, as I was basically working off just a front view and eventually had to reconstruct it from a functional point of view to figure out what it should actually look like.

Progress has been slow this weekend while I work on trying to get my portfolio ready for recruiters. Also, a lot of my “working on this project” time has been spent watching Zbrush tutorials and trying to get familiar with the Interface, neither of which lend themselves to good images to post on my process page.

Mid-res props as of 4/19/11. Generated the Base mesh for the Butcher’s block that will be taken into Zbrush once I’m a bit more comfortable with the program, as well as lights, shelves, and the first round of bottles and cans. Also, not pictured, the rough base-meshes for the meat that I’ll be sculpting.

First-pass on sculpting some of the meat as of 4/19/11. Pretty much my first foray into Zbrush. Adjusting the basic shapes and working on laying in some of the base textural detail. Need to push those details further. Need to figure out how to make the string that’ll be holding it up in the final deli.

Meat Progress as of 4/28/11. Figured out more of the medium details, such as muscles and tendons, wrinkles, and veins. Being the end of the semester, I think I’m calling the meat done (except for getting the string in place, but that’s a Maya task).

Butcher’s Block Process. Skewed the legs a bit (figured they would be on pegs and likely to rotate when you weren’t expecting it), knocked the pegs it together on top around a bit, and added some bolted-on plates that will be holding together big cracks that I haven’t figured out how to do in Zbrush yet. Been playing around with trying to figure out good approaches to this asset in Zbrush, since it needs a combination of soft and hard edges that I haven’t been able to satisfactorily pull off with subtools or creasing.

Bread Slicer Hi-Res progress 06/14/11. Pretty close to calling the Hi-Res done, since I don’t think you’d ever really see the parts that I can’t figure out.

Environment Project: Idea Generation

At Game Developer’s Conference, it became apparent that my love of vehicle-modeling was not going to be enough to get a job on its own. With one notable exception at GDC and a couple others I’ve seen in subsequent searches, vehicles tend to get lumped in with Environment Artists at most studios.

That said, the completion of Thesis marks the start of an uphill climb to get some good environment work in my portfolio before graduation, and ideally in time for on-campus recruiters.

The current intent is to create a modern, realistic environment with realistic props, but that also includes some science-fiction-y elements so I can still get in and do the hard-surface Sci-Fi stuff that I love.

I’ve had a lot of ideas on this topic, including, but not limited to a cramped little ethnic deli, which I haven’t figured out the science-fictiony bits to, or several extremely rough ideas for stages in Polycount’s Brawl competition. Since I’d imagine by the start of class tomorrow, I should know what I’m doing for this last month of school, here’s where I start trying to nail down these ideas.

My main hurdle to getting started with Brawl is a lack of familiarity with the genre. I haven’t played a fighting game in years, and I wasn’t looking for cool environments when I did. I figure the pool of games that I know well enough to go back and look through extends to a couple of the later Dead or Alives, the Smash Bros. series, and Soul Calibur II, with probably less than $10 worth of quarters given to other classics like the Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom, Tekken or Mortal Kombat series over my 22 years.

My first idea is to reimagine Dead or Alive 4’s unlockable Halo Level Nassau Station. The basic seed of the idea would be to turn it into the cargo bay of a steampunk luxury zeppelin with the Covenant being replaced by some sort of air-pirates.

Nassau Station from DOA4

My biggest concerns going into this getting all that redesign work done in time to also get models and textures done in the month left in the contest, and that the steampunk idea, as much as I really would love to do some Zeppelins, doesn’t really lend itself to the modern, realistic props recruiters at GDC mentioned that they would like to see.

My next idea involves taking the Seaside Market level, also from Dead or Alive 4 and turning it into a dingy near-future marketplace, similar to the one that spontaneously comes to life around the Doctor and Martha in the “Gridlock” episode of Doctor Who.

Right off the bat, this one is concerning in that it’s been preposterously difficult to find images of the level. Assuming difficulty in finding reference of this level doesn’t remain a problem, this could be a fun level, even if I don’t stay married to the polluted near future reimagining. A bunch of market stalls, cool architecture. Potential issue is the scope of this level. The marketplace area is rather deep, and players can be knocked down to the beach below. Waiting on a moderator response on whether reducing the level’s scope is an acceptable component of reimagining.

My other Brawl idea would be to reimagine Saffron City from the original Super Smash Bros. I’m torn between a couple different ideas, such as an ancient castle/temple, probably up on a mountain of some sort to keep it nice and high, replacing the Pokemon (theoretically; doubt I could get them incorporated within the scope of the contest) with some sort of demons or Lovecraftian “gods”; another idea would be to keep the setting similar with the rooftops of a skyscraper, but shoot for a situation like the end of the No Mercy campaign in Left4Dead in which the survivors defend the rooftop of a hospital while waiting for rescue amid a sea of Zombies (again, theoretical since I wouldn’t have time to make zombies, much less good-looking zombies…)

 

This one seems like one where, knowing me, I would get suckered into slacking off on something that seems simple in scope. The simplicity could be a boon, in that it could give me more time to come up with a cool concept, but at the same time, if I’m going to use this to sell myself as an environment artist, I have to come up with a lot of assets to populate the space that simply aren’t there in the rather plain original version.

Another idea I’ve been toying around with, even to the point of getting started on a couple occasions when I needed a break from Thesis, is an Italian Deli. Despite starting this already, I almost feel like I’d rather wait on this one, in part because I’d really like to get in on Brawl, but mostly because if I end up going home this summer, I’ve got several nice delis and bakeries I can visit for “reference” (also lunch) while working on the project. There really isn’t much of that caliber of reference that I’ve seen in Sarasota. Another issue with this is that I’m just not sure yet what the weird sci-fi elements are that’ll keep me interested in it. The obvious answers are things like human meat or giant alien body parts, and those are pretty good, but I bet I could do better. The other thing that I like about this concept is that, once I figure out what the “food” in the Deli will be, that gives me a very obvious organic thing to force me into learning how to use zBrush.

Another idea is the Lucasarts Contest. I’m not sure how much I would be allowed to say while publicly brainstorming like this, but it involves exploring, with a Man Vs. Nature theme. I could start to envision something for this, but it would be a pretty significant departure from the things I know I’m good at into skills that are less honed, specifically organic modeling. The prompt is also vague on whether images from a 3D project are technically acceptable. Suffice to say, I have questions on this one.

I’m also interested in the idea of an Orwellian police state environment. Not entirely sure what to do with this idea other than an interest in placing a lot of cameras and propaganda in my environment. Could be integrated into the dingy Sci-Fi reimagining of the Seaside Market, or it could be its own thing. I just like the idea of an environment in which Big Brother is watching.

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These are my front-running ideas. I’ve got plenty of vehicle ideas I want to get into too, but for now, I think getting a good environment into my portfolio is probably a safer bet than a re-imagined Batmobile, a sweet cyberpunk-ified hot rod or a lovingly crafted AT-AT, unfortunately.

My goal is to have these narrowed down to one idea to push forward on very, very soon. Will update this post when that’s figured out.

GDC 2011: Day 3-5 Expo and Career Pavilion

Wednesday through Friday contained the Expo and Career Pavilion, in which lots of the cool new hardware and software of the industry were shown off to the press and… well… the industry. The Career Pavilion is where hopeful future industry employees got to talk to a wide variety of professionals and HR people about how best to proceed to get into the industry.

Day 5 also included the Game Career Seminar, in which important people in the industry held very specific seminars about getting your first job, and even did private portfolio reviews for a couple hours.

Getting Hired Tips:

  • “Your worst piece is your most remembered piece.” Thus, get rid of your worst work ASAP
  • It’s not enough to simply have your website and portfolio. It’s important to get known in the communities you’re trying to be a part of, such as Conceptart.org, Polycount.com. This sort of community involvement generates both contact and experience, which is why I’m now a member of Polycount and will be making use of it once Thesis ramps down.
  • Show your portfolio in such a way that provides easy access to the awesomeness. People don’t want to waste a lot of time looking for the cool parts of your portfolio. Don’t waste their time with crazy flash galleries and things like that. The work will speak for itself.
  • The note of “Focus!” came up a lot, but it’s tempered by the fact that everyone wants someone with a wide variety of skills. I think it was best summed up by Seth Gibson: “Don’t be a scalpel [really good at one very specific thing] or a Swiss Army Knife [having a broad range of talents]. Your goal should be to be a Swiss Army Knife with a scalpel attached.”
  • That said, it’s possible to be too focused. For example, I love vehicles, but there aren’t exactly a lot of job listings for Junior Vehicle Modelers, so I need to broaden my portfolio a little bit.
  • Load your portfolio with things you’re passionate about. You don’t want to get hired to come in every day and do work you hate.
  • It never hurts to show Process. Knowing how you think is important to prospective employers.
  • Attention to detail is key. Know how the things you’re creating should work, and use your attention to detail to infuse them with backstory.
  • “There’s a big difference between ‘no’ and ‘not right now.’ ” Most of the time, not getting the job is a side-effect of needing to give something a bit more polish or applying for the wrong job at the wrong time.
  • It’s neither what you know, nor who you know. It’s both. Who you know and what you know are equally important.
  • Learn every lesson you can from everyone you can. You never know when it might prove valuable.
  • Be picky about who you work for. If a company tries to hire you to work on a crappy product, remember, that crappy product will be on your resumé for a while.
  • Establish a voice rather than simply parroting what you expect the industry will want.
  • Know your weaknesses, and then work on them.

    On the Expo side of things:

    • The 3DS excites me, more because of its remakes of classic games from my favorite of Nintendo’s past consoles. The 3D kinda hurt (it was also very picky about viewing angle, which meant it started to hurt my arms, not just my eyes after a while), but when I turned it down, Ocarina of Time seemed, from the brief demo I got, like it had aged rather well since 1998, or at least triggered the Nostalgia Center of my brain pretty severely.
    • Spy Party is shaping up to affect the same parts of my brain that keep scheming about Diplomacy long after the turn orders have been submitted and long before they’re due. Having finally played instead of just reading the blog, I’m very excited about it.
    • The Octodad team seemed to have a pretty effective marketing plan, in that it got me to wait patiently enough to actually play a game at IGF that wasn’t Spy Party: “Free Shirts… if you play our game.”