Friday, 31 October 2014

Award Ceremony

     Congratulations to the winners Nix for this years competition who just beat us to the punch as well as to Beneath the Crimson Moon who were also shortlisted this year. We had great fun during the night and wish to thank the Game City for the invite. We've had a fantastic experience with the competition this year and we look forward to seeing what the teams produce next year.

The Flying Buttress

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Final Submission

     So here we are, finished. It felt like it never would be at points but we've reached the other end and our project is now, hopefully, in the hands of the Off The Map panel to be judged. We've put our all into it and I think we all hope that what we've produced is worthy of the source material we've been working from. I'm going to keep this short but before I showcase the final renders I'd just like to say on behalf of the team what a great time we've had on this project, we've produced a level we are all proud of and something we've learned a lot from moving forward onto our our next projects. If you've been following the blog since the beginning we'd like to thank you as well as all those who have offered their support and help across the duration of the project but without further a do here is our final flythrough followed by our final renders of our level Dracula's Whitby.

The Flying Buttress

Friday, 25 July 2014

Crypt Comparison

     Now I've named this post Crypt Comparison to keep a continuity between this and the two precursor post however there isn't a comparison to be made as Whitby does not have a crypt. So the familiar process of showcasing what exists before following with what we've done in our entry isn't quite going to work unless you're happy to look at a handful of soil photos to begin with. No, we'll take a different approach to the third and final entry in this wee series.

     So as I've said there is no crypt so why do we have one? We were first inspired by this story, BBC News, and we really wanted to bring an element of this into our level and alongside this during our research into both Gothic architecture and literature we felt that a quintessential element of these was a crypt or catacomb. Between these two we felt we could bring something that was not only really cool, creepy and more importantly Gothic but also a totally unique aspect that will hopefully be part of what makes our level memorable for people.

     For reference we looked at a lot of English cathedrals and collect a wide variety of crypts and catacombs to draw inspiration from. They also gave us a good ides of how to fit the crypt into our Whitby to make it feel more natural in the existing environment as well as create an architectural continuity between the existing abbey and our crypt. Below is a selection of what we looked at.

Winchester Cathedral Crypt with Gormley sculpture.

Winchester Cathedral Crypt

Our Level:

To achieve this we went through various iterations of technical solutions to try and achieve the best possible effect in this area. Firstly we had problems with light coming through the terrain and effecting the underground area to counter this we tried to use a 2 sided material on the terrain, 2 sided material on all of the meshes underneath the terrain, tried using VisArea's to stop the light leaking through and finally we ended up creating designer all around the underground area so that the sunlight wouldn't affect the crypt or tunnel. Through out trying all these various things to simply stop the light from going through the terrain we found that using VisArea's worked but were extremely buggy as we may have talked about before on the blog. In the end the performance improvement VisAreas provided wasn't enough to warrant using them especially after finding that the most efficient way of blocking the light out was surrounding the underground in designer. Other technical things we had to work out were the animation and the reflection which we have documented (Animation and Reflection)

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Cloister Comparison

     As a team we had a lot of fun redesigning the cloister during the project. As we gathered reference of Whitby's cloister we felt it was a blank canvas just waiting for us to come along and create something new from it and I feel our end result is instantly recognisable to it's real counterpart but with the changes we've made really heightens the Gothic tones of the enclosure. Before tucking into the rest of the post I'll remind you as to how the Cloister is.

     Like I said, we felt the cloister as it is was just waiting to be enhanced and the best way to create the Gothic feeling we wanted was to downsize the cloister area and upscale the features within it such as the mansion, the gatehouse and the statue to make the layer feel very small in this area. To add to this we replaced the rather plain gravel with the foliage to continue the overgrown aesthetics of the level and create a continuity between the clifftop and interior spaces in respect to the foliage. As such the cloister is a crossing area of sorts between the exterior plants and interior ones. Another changed we made was the addition of the arches around the perimeter we hoped that the shadows created by them wold create a sense of unease and also perhaps a little mystery as to where they led and of course within these arches lies the path towards the crypt and ultimately the Abbey.

     I feel as a team we really struck a great balance between our artist liberties to what exist today so the scene still remains instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with Whitby. The changes we have made however efficiently and effectively heightens the Gothic atmosphere the player experiences in the enclosure. In the end the cloister has become perhaps one of my favourite areas within our level and I thinks shows off some of our best artistic decisions in terms of tone and aesthetic for example that we have made over the course of the project.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Abbey Comparison

     With our entry just inches away from completion I'd thought this would be  a cool opportunity to look at the differences and changes we've made to Whitby Abbey. While we wanted to remain faithful to how the Abbey is we felt it was important to allow ourselves the creative freedoms where we felt we would create a better level and experience for the player. This also played into one of our main goals to capture the essence of not only Gothic architecture but also Gothic literature as a major part of this brief was the connections to Bram Stoker's Dracula and we really wanted to explore this.

      To start with, in case you're not familiar with Whitby Abbey, I'll do a small image dump to bring you up to speed.

    We cool? With the Abbey itself the immediate difference is that the building in our level is far less ruined than in reality and we felt it would be cool to visualise what the Abbey would have perhaps looked like during the setting of the novel and indeed through out the rest of the level we have a few small nods towards Stoker's story. While the Abbey may be more built up it's architecture remains faithful to what stands today and from the illustrations provided to us by the British Library however there were still a lot of elements that we didn't have reference for and that was mainly the roof and higher regions of the interior. Then the next major feature of the abbey that we've altered is how overgrown the abbey is, today the area is rather well maintained however we felt an overgrown aesthetic would provide a far more exciting setting for the player to experience.  

    We also made some large changes to the landscape and while the placement of the buildings largely remains identical to how it is we exaggerated the position of the Abbey to the cliff and the elevation changes to further emphasis certain features. The geography of the Abbey's position was a tad flat we felt and we could make it far more exciting for the player if it was more inline with some of the old illustrations of the abbey specifically the one shown below. We felt the Abbey's position on the clifftop would be far more dramatic if it sat almost on the edge of the cliff. The height of the Abbey in relation to the surrounding complex was something we felt could be used to really increase the Abbey's command of the area and as a side affect of this allowed for a smoother transition from the cloister to the crypt as they now roughly sat at the same level. 

     The surrounding foliage is far more wild with a couple of trees to help compose and direct the layer along the path. Most of the land around the Abbey is either residential or farmland and while we retained this for our background we believed we could create something that fell more inline with the tone we were aiming for.

     Within our level the clifftop and Abbey is the areas that have seen perhaps the least amount of artistic integrity and as I continue with this series following with the cloister and ending on the crypt I'll hopefully be able to elaborate on more of our artistic judgement regarding our level. I'd also like to think this will offer a little bit of insight into the decisions we made and the reason we made them. 


Sunday, 13 July 2014

Foliage & Overgrowth

     From a very early point in development we toyed around with the idea of an overgrown version of Whitby and after a handful of concepts we felt it really worked in the context of what we wanted to produce for Off The Map. Come production this obviously meant that a large quantity of foliage assets would be required to convincingly pull this aesthetic off but they also had to be a major player in driving the Gothic atmosphere of the level. 

      Over the course of the project foliage was predominately my responsibility and during pre-production I spent a lot of time researching the species of plants that grow around the Abbey and the greater Whitby area and was able to narrow it down to what I felt best fitted our needs. From here I drew up quick info sheets on the unique elements of each plant such as bark texture, colours and leaf shape to help model realistic looking foliage assets. While we didn't concept each individual plant as I felt a lot of the form and design of our assets could be left until modelling and by utilising an flexible modelling system not only did we allow ourselves the room to edit the models relatively easily but also produce models and variations fairly quickly.

     One of the most important things to me was creating a foliage library that was A) reusable without repeating too obviously B) Compliment the colour palette and push the tone we were aiming for and C) could be used as a compositional tool to guide the player or emphasise certain features such as with the establishing shot of the abbey. There would also be plants specific to the exterior or interior for instance with the ivy and some of the trees had specific variants for areas for example within the abbey and, as I've just mentioned, with the establishing shot which you can see in the concept below.

     What did I need then in terms of plant life? Trees and grasses of course then I felt Heather would play an important role in breaking up the grass clumps while adding a new harmonising colour into the level. The Heather was used predominately on the cliff top and the cloister to give a wild look to the level and as a plant that I feel is quintessentially northern would hopefully help sell to the player that they were in Whitby. Ivy was also important for the interior and in establishing the overgrown aesthetic of much of the level. I challenged myself to create an almost modular Ivy kit that could be pieced together to create larger clumps quickly and with relative ease. For the Abbey's interior Kit produced a number of assets including ferns, cow parsley and nettles to further vary the foliage to create a more convincing look for the player. Below you can see some of it in action.

     The foliage plays a key part in our level, by supporting the atmosphere through form and colour to guiding the player with its placement and strengthening the composition of the key areas. In the end though I feel I was able to achieve my three goals that I mentioned before and was able to create a strong foliage library which we could utilise through out the level. So while perhaps not the most interesting of topics or roles within the team  it's certainly a challenging and important one.



Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Crypt Statue

     We wanted the crypt to contrast with what's earlier in our level so while the clifftop and cloister are fairly dramatic with the storm and wind pushing the player across the clifftop we wanted the crypt to be silent, still and uneasy. While the colour played a large part of projecting this tone we knew we needed something else to really nail the atmosphere of the crypt. Within Gothic literature a lot of the unease of the books comes from the uncanny elements of the narrative and we felt this was the angle we need to approach this challenge from. Eventually we settled on the idea of a statue with a different reflection something that while not immediately noticeable once the player gets close and realises this will hopefully let the unease set in and drive them to continue through the level.

      When we started looking n to how to do this we initially thought it be a lot harder to do then it turned out to be. In Cryengine we were able to simply flip a copy of the geometry of the crypt upside down. With the geometry in place all we had to do was make the floor slightly transparent to create the illusion of a reflection. Does that make sense? No, a diagram may help I suspect.

     That help? Good stuff, With the "reflection" of the crypt in place we added the two statues, the normal one fr the crypt side and the spooky one for the reflection. I think pretty much from the initial point we decided on using the statue concept we were sure that the reflection would be a skeleton, after all is there anything that much more unnerving than a skeleton? Below you can see both iterations of our crypt statue.


     We feel the statue and it's effect makes the crypts stand out against the rest of the level creating a unique identity for it. While relatively easy to implement into Cryengine it's had a large effect on the crypt's uneasy atmosphere and has really pushed the uncanny and Gothic tones of the level as a whole. The statue also represents a more fantastical element of our environment and for a lot of the early development process we were a tad timid when it came to creating a Gothic atmosphere. To me at least this represents a moment within the group when we were more comfortable with the theme and really began play around with some more fun and experimental ideas and ultimately this led to what I feel is one of the stronger features of our entry.