About kato9 (twitter: @mattdivito)
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Welcome to part 2 in my 3 part postmortem series for my game ZERO2. In this post I’m going to breakdown the creation of a single environment used in the game. But hey, if you haven’t played the game yet please check it out first:
The first step to creating any environment for me is simply coming up with a concept for it. In this game I wanted to have two main types of environments: puzzle environments, where the player would need to focus on solving some obstacle to progress, and atmospheric environments, which would serve more to set the mood and advance the story rather than offer any gameplay.
For this breakdown I’m going to use my personal favorite environment from the game, which happens to fall into the ‘atmospheric environment’ category. At this point in the game, the player has just passed a fairly ‘scary’ portion of the game, so I wanted this area to serve as a bit of a respite. I also wanted to give the player some more clues about what was going on as well, as the game is purposefully vague and mysterious, not much has been revealed up til this point.
The idea I came up with was a fairly open ‘lobby’ type space, the focus being on a large geometric statue in the center. The implication being that this room is basically a gateway to a new section of this facility, one meant to serve as a thematic representation for the goals of the organization at work here. The twist being that the room is not pristine or brightly lit as one would expect, but flooded, dusty and crumbling.
So I started building using my 3d tool of choice, Cinema 4d.
Here you can see the finished environment in the editor. Like all the environments in this game it is comprised mainly of rectangles of various shapes and sizes. The most time intensive element in the whole scene was the construction light on the right which I modeled based on an image I found in a Google search. But what about the statue in the middle you say? Actually, that statue was created procedurally using the Cloner tool in Cinema4d. Essentially, all I created was one of those cubes, then used adjustable parameters to multiply and rearrange them until I found some random combination that looked right!
The other important element in this scene is the lighting. For this game I wanted to use mainly diegetic lighting, meaning that the only sources of light would be ones actually in the game world. To get the most out of this light though, I included a few important components – volumetric lighting and visible noise. This means that the light source would not only illuminate the scene, but that the illumination would be actually be visible in the air. Including noise to this visibility introduces a smokiness to the atmosphere, essential for selling the mood of the scene!
Here’s the render straight from Cinema4d:
This looks pretty good, but it’s not quite there yet. An important lesson for any aspiring 3d artist is that you can almost always improve your renders with post production. So with that in mind, it’s time to move from Cinema4d to After Effects. Here’s a layer by layer breakdown of my post-production on this image:
The lighting in the initial render looks ok bit it’s a bit too flat. In order to increase the dynamic range of the scene, as well as draw focus to the center of the image, I added some vignetting to the top and bottom of the image.
2. Lighting Effects
I already spent a decent amount of time in Cinema 4d trying to get the right lighting, but I wanted to effect to be even stronger. Part of the reason I pointed the light at the statue in the first place was because I knew I could get some cool volumetric light rays streaming through the cracks. To amplify this I used a plugin called Trapcode Shine, which essentially fakes volumetric lighting using the highlights (and lowlights) of the image. This also adds a glow effect to the construction light, making it look more obviously like a source of luminance. Looking good now right…? NO WE’RE NOT DONE YET!
3. Color Correction
While the colors in the original render don’t look bad by any means, they just weren’t selling the mood strongly enough. A bit of color shifting can really change the feel to any image, and in this example, the increased sense of yellow-green makes things look murkier and adds to the density of the smoke in the atmosphere.
It’s probably obvious at this point that I’m into what could be described as a very filmic look. Adding some noise to the scene gives the image a sense of texture and density – the other huge advantage is that since the grain has movement to it, when you actually play the game it brings an otherwise completely static environment to life in a very subtle but effective way.
So, that’s it! Easy right? Well, obviously the downside to this little tutorial is that these tools are by no means free or open source. Because I do motion graphics work professionally it’s certainly worth it to me to have them, for the average hobbyist game developer maybe not so much. Still, I hope the core concepts of this breakdown could be useful to you regardless of what tools you use to create your graphics. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments….
And please, check out my game!
Here’s the first in my (maybe) three part series of postmortems for my game ZERO2. Of course, I’d recommend checking the game out first before reading so here’s the link:
This is my second time participating in Ludum Dare, so coming into it I was hoping not only to simply make a game, but to outdo my previous effort. My LD21 game (NO ESCAPE [pictured below]) was fairly well received for its graphics and audio but (as many commentors noted) suffered from three main flaws:
1. ‘Not A Game’
Well, that’s a little harsh, but in some ways maybe true. I hadn’t even attempted to program anything for years going into LD21, so I decided on a concept that would require the bare minimum of coding. The result ended up feeling more like an interactive movie than a proper game, with little variation between playthroughs, and no real challenge or obstacles.
2. ’40 MB WTF?!?!’
While I was working on it the last thing on my mind was how big the .swf was going to be. Turns out it was really big – 40 MB big, which in the world of Flash games is humongous. This led to a painfully slow preloading screen. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for this next point…
3. ‘Press Space Bar for a Minute Then it’s Over?!?’
Yup, despite all that loading time you were getting only about a minute of gameplay. And while I generally go for quality over quantity, I think it’s safe to say my game simply didn’t have enough content.
So, with these goals in mind, how do I think I did with my LD22 entry?
1. ‘It’s A Game This Time I Swear!’
This time I based my gameplay on the point-and-click adventure style popularized by games like Myst in the early 90′s. Although this type of game still has moments that feel a bit like ‘interactive movies’, it still definitely feels like a game. You solve (admittedly simple) puzzles, collect equipment, and have to find your way to the end. The great thing for me, is that this type of game is relatively easy to code – and I was sort of thrilled that everything worked as expected almost right off the bat.
2. ’3 MB OHH YEAAAAHHHH’
I was SO concerned about the file size of the final .swf that I took every imaginable step to keep it down. All of the image files are as compressed as I could get them without showing too many artifacts. I also really restrained myself in terms of adding animated sequences to the game, and when I did add them I tried to be very conservative with the frame count.
3. ‘It Takes Slightly Longer Than a Minute to Beat!’
Ok, it’s still a short game, but I really busted my ass to create as many environments as I could so that the experience would have some ‘girth’ to it. I think these types of games are successful when you can really drag the player into the game world so they can feel that sense of exploration and being lost in an unknown environment. While I think this game could certainly be much longer, I think it’s long enough to get the player ‘involved’ with the world and the story.
While overall I think I would describe the game as a success, there are certainly ways it could be better:
1. Too Easy
Right now the game is quite simple – almost all the puzzles are solved in the same way: you need some object to proceed, find said object, proceed. I wish I could have programmed some more complicated stuff in (for example I had an idea for a ‘circuit breaker’ style minigame to get one of the elevators running) but every additional layer of complexity would have severely increased the time spent coding.
2. The Sound of Silence
While I’d like to think the environments convey a potent atmosphere with the visuals alone, the truth is that sound probably would have made the experience twice as good. In fact, I was thinking about sounds all the way through the development process – unfortunately, I just ran out of time!
3. Too Short / Not Enough Replay Value
Ok, after patting myself on the back for making it longer than my LD21 game, I still think I could do better. Part of that could be achieved through replay value. And while replay value for puzzle/adventure games is always hard to achieve, I had a pretty good idea to implement an ‘Investigation Rating’ at the end of the game so that players would potentially want to go through it again and try to examine everything in the game for a 100% rating. You know, basically achievement hunting! Of course, I’d need to add a lot more stuff to investigate…
Despite these ‘failures’ I still feel pretty good about my game, as I think overall I was able to achieve my goal of outdoing my LD21 in almost every way. The other good news is that I feel I’m in a pretty good position to expand upon and improve the game without needing to completely redo it. Whether I choose to do that or not…well, we’ll see.
I haven’t said too much about the graphics since I’ve decided to save that for another post. If you’re curious about my process though stay tuned for my next postmortem, in which I’ll do a step-by-step breakdown of the creation of a single scene.
Here’s my game, ZERO2:
It’s short and pretty easy, but for what it is I think it came out pretty well. Check it out, let me know what you think!
I’ve also got tons of material for postmortems, so stay tuned!
Well, it’s about 1:30 AM here on the East Coast and I’m about ready to hit the sack. However, I’ve actually made some pretty good progress in the past four hours. Here’s a screen:
The game is a Myst style point-and-click adventure. I’m actually a bit beside myself at the moment because so far everything is working as planned. Obviously, this means by Sunday the game will be a broken mess, but for now I am satisfied
Here’s my video. This is what we were supposed to do right??
Kato9, winner of ’3rd best graphics in an LD21 game’ and also winner of ’454th most fun LD21 game’ returns for LD22.
Some people complained that my entry for LD21 was quote ‘not a game’. WELL FINE. This time I’ll make a ‘game’ game. Maybe.