After five or so months of development, and things have started to get fascinating. The planning phase is over, and it is now that elements begin to come to life. As you all know, the first map which we’re developing is called “The Lost Research,” an abandoned research facility located somewhere in the Amazon, substantially before the war began to roar. This map, in particular, was chosen to be developed first as it is the most diverse –from the environment’s perspective- of all of the levels. It shares elements from distinct maps and sections due to the nature of the operations and the importance of them in the game’s story, which I introduced in the previous article.
The map is very influential as it blends nature with man’s working hand to create a varied location. Its background story origins from 2017 A.C., when the American scouts were in search of optimal locations to establish military facilities after its ties to the Latin-American Union fell apart. Nevertheless, this area had something in particular in its core: a volcanic area with radioactivity. What they found would –or, at least, they thought so- change the world forever, so the government instructed a base to be built, both a laboratory and a military operation unit for the war that seemed right around the corner.
By the time the war started, however, this base had been long abandoned. Speculations suggested a radioactive laboratory explosion wiped the population in the area. It is unclear what happened to the scientists and soldiers who inhabited that area. Furthermore, it is still a mystery what was what they found in the first place. The only thing that’s known is that apparently none of the enlisted made it back.
Neat storytelling, isn’t it? Well, this is what the map’s origins are. Let’s talk a bit more about the design and composition of this map, and how we’re working to get that story across players who explore it. First, following up on the previous article, let’s discuss its initial layout.
The map has four main interest points, each having their approach and combat style. It possesses fast combat areas and more open areas, where each faction (dinosaur or human) can exploit different things depending on the strategy that they use. One important factor that is mandatory to keep in mind is the fact that we have to be very careful with the scale of the map, as it's easily forgettable that we're employing differently-sized players in it. A highly detailed map for humans will be great, but think about how big the scenarios are going to be so that Rotbrute –as mentioned before, an Allosaurus, can walk around comfortably would end up rendering an enormous amount of things with a lot of "unnecessary details." Now, some areas will need a greater level of detail than others. However, these areas are done this way for a reason. You want to either make it a map spotlight (gameplay wise, as it leads players to inhabit this zone more frequently) or what we call a "Rendering beauty;" an area with no real gameplay perks, but one to stand out and help players appreciate what you do. Be careful with these regions, as they can backfire significantly from the player's point of view, arising comments such as "why isn't all the level like this?" Among others. Of course optimization, highlights, and many other reasons are behind this happening, but of course, for design reasons, this cannot be a reality. Not only that but the amount of time required to get those right would be enormous. Food for thought.
Following up with how design varies in the previous article, the map has three types of areas: Ambush, Claustrophobia, and Middle-Range (we started running out of dazzling names to nickname standard details), each having a different spot in the Overpowered Balance. Let me share with you how each of those areas look, for example, in our map The Lost Research as I walk you through our process of thoughts and methods of execution. Please note that the following pictures represent a work in progress. :)
(Update March 2016: Please note these screenshots have been updated to this month's milestone.)
The back-place area in the headquarter section, as you can see, is dedicated for close range combat. This section has the potential to be considered both as an Ambush and Claustrophobia since it has four (4) access points. From here, there is a transition to middle-Range, this happening in all connections to this area. Three (3) of these waypoints lead their way to the Parking lot, a Middle-Range location. This type of site is special due to that even though it majorly favors the human faction, it also shows great dangers to them, such as reduced cover and visibility waypoints. Nevertheless, this section is particularly dangerous to dinosaurs because:
- Extended profiling: staying out of the point of sight is a lot more challenging as well as making them easy targets from multiple points.
- Longer movements: with the cover and viewing obstacles reduced, every movement from one location to another is greater, putting a double risk to make any of them sudden.
Without keeping it out of the equation, we find ourselves with the Ambush areas, where it shares elements of both types mentioned above. For example, a spot between the rock ring and tank-over, a critical discrete path to avoid entering the parking area. However, it contains a significant risk. Any player that finds themselves in this area and is a target has little to no chance of immediate escaping, not to mention, for survival.
Blending these locations within the map provides a diverse level, giving the players many choices of taking their game to the next step. Now, it is also important to leave room for a multi-side approach. This meaning, allowing the players to reach a particular location in many different manners. Something important to keep in mind with this, though: remember that you're making an interactive level, not a labyrinth (for the most cases).
To wrap things up, remember that a level can be as beautiful as can be, but that practicality is more important because, at the end of the day, players will enjoy a well designed and diverse level rather than an ultimately beautiful one. Nevertheless, each location has its background story and adding details to tell a story (not only to break the monotony) will result in a much more immersive as well as satisfying experience.
All the best.
- Mario Funderburk
The developing and making of a game character protagonist can be tiresome. One has to consider several aspects: what the character represents, how he fits the game world, what personality does it have and how to present int on context of game values. Besides, we must understand what made this character who he/she is now. I have to admit that this task is far greater than what I originally anticipated since at idealization phase everything seems smooth and straightforward.
Let me tell you this: what I wrote above turned out to take a great deal of time and labor. A lot of things are going on in a protagonist's creation process. In the case of Extinction: AG, the main character is Rotbrute - a Saurophaganax. Putting into consideration the game's artistic approach, a graffiti and abstract based oriented design started and, after doing reference research it became obvious that this would be no trivial task. From the start, we had to outline technical details such, as High Poly, Low Poly model - Triangle count, LOD and PBR set-up,, Normal Baking and UV, and texture quality -among others.
Imagine a 4 meter colorful tall and massively powerful armored dinosaur with a pair of heavy machine guns mounted on its back. Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, you might ask: how did this end up happening? There is interesting story to it. The goal of Rotbrute, originally, conformed of different sectors. He, as a protagonist, represents the mood of the game. A game of power, strategy and strength. Its his duty to enforce the ideals of the game, which, for Rotbrute, specifically, symbolizes the failed attempts to unite societies by forcing clashing ideals together, which is why it looks as a lab experiment failure. With that said, it also hold meaning of the fortitude to go through tempests and remain standing, he conveys the ability to recover and reform.
For a task this size, a way to be able to materialize these symbols was needed. At that time, with the style of the game being dark but having humorous kick and focusing on the absurdity of things, we had to build the emotional portrait of the Character. With aforementioned game's emblems, a big-scale contender was required: Rotbrute. With the hardware limitations in mind and aiming for middle-gamma, the best result had to be achieved from a design perspective with as little resource usage (when rendered in real-time). Using Unreal Engine 4 and its PBR system, We used the approach to make a high poly model, retopologize it, bake the texture and normal map information and finally proceed to the diffuse and roughness/scalar map creation.
So... It was... Research time! While looking into references is always fun, one must not forget that time is gold, so hands were put to work. Looking through references was fascinating, especially because there are so many different representations of the Saurophaganax. The initial concept was to borrow from three major sources:
And thus it was decided. Modelling process of the dinosaur has started. Colorwise, it wasn't yet entirely clear what it would be, but after the conception of the model –and according to our style at the time, this was the outcome:
This is not a bad start -not bad at all :) . Add to that, the fact that the original artistic choice was on the verge of being cel shaded, imagine a mix between something like Borderlands 2 and Battlefield 3. It wouldn't be until a month or two after, that the whole scope of the game –artistically- changed to a semi-realistic as the quality to follow. This meant, of course, to completely redesign the characters. The humans design have also drastically changed, and you can see those changes in the images below. A change so broad, however, meant a lot of work 'lost.' The levels in the making had to be redone, the characters, many of the already custom made models and their respective textures, too but it was what the symbols represented that were the biggest hit: it would be a serious tone, with a slight touch of cynical humor. Big changes coming to the mighty protagonist, Rotbrute.
Having mentioned that Extinction: AG has an odd artistic choice –and odd as in unorthodox to most games, Rotbrute had to be adapted to this colorful and meaningful setting. The idea from the design stages of the game was to show feelings and events and with Rotbrute's adaptation, it showed an Iguana, a rose and in its upper head, lighting, representing the will of nature, the rarity of a rose and the power of lighting –in this developer's opinion, a good delegate for the game- and its adaptation into the new artistic focus would not entitle a complete redesign, but a total remake in the 3D world. We used different references, such as the following and got to work. The result was the follwing:
This time, it needed to be more impactful, more fearsome, and even more memorable. All of these just mean, in a way 'more of the same,' which any designer knows how hard that can be. The new concept was not so different from the previous one, but the approach and image it left was different and furthermore, more impacting would also mean to smartly 'numb down' the levels so that no matter the location, it would be highlighted, which is something I will talk about below in more detail.
Even though this has sounded like an Italian melodrama, designing always has it ups and downs and sometimes the ups overcome the downs limitations. For example, regardless of all the work that each iteration went through, seeing them evolve and progress was fun and each layer of work opened the doors to wonderful ideas, many of which did materialize in-game after Rotbrute's finalization. There's a problem, though: Art is a never-ending task and it was tough to know when to say "that's enough detail" or "it's done!" Sometimes a stepping stone was met and climbing over it seemed hard back then... And still hard today when remembering it.
As much as one wants to postpone the task of protagonist creation, one has to know that in many cases, a lot of the games depend on the final outcome of such assignment to determine how highlighting will work but more importantly, how to blend it into a more congruent scenario.
Making protagonists shine is always a hassle because the mix has to be just right and its until final execution that its effectiveness starts to show. Even a tiny variation can make it obvious whether it's either blending completely with the world –and therefore losing impact value- or over highlighting and make it annoying for the one interacting with the experience. How do games do it? Well, glad it was asked (imaginary audience laughs). Different types of games do it differently, of course. Single-player games have a whole experience to embrace and glorify them while multiplayer experiences require a more subtle execution. Take the Gears of War franchise and how even though they do have both modes, all highlighting comes in the single-player by immersing the player into the whole world as you go through this world with your AI pals/enemies. If a game like Evolve is chosen, however, they take on a very different approach. While having critical characters (the monsters), they still execute it much more slowly. Not to confuse the two scenarios, though. Nevertheless, it is important to note that these highlights are usually done (whenever done properly) from the design perspective and not execution. A game such as Duke Nukem Forever did the highlight more from execution and well, in this dev's opinion, it feels shallow and has a very hard time connecting with the player.
Having 17k triangles and 2k textures (although with a lower artistic fidelity), the first model stood pretty high for the respective design. Now that the new model was coming in, it was time to compare. A pretty staggering difference, and more suiting to the aggressive settings of the game while still staying expressive of the factors defined before. It came at 22k triangles, 2k textures at a bit higher level but a much more detailed normal map.
The artistic switch that the game went through was to appeal better to the settings: a dying world succumbing into extinction from WW3, with countries desperate to find a solution and up to a degree to think that dinosaurs were a good bet to win the war in a place where resources are scarce. With this in mind the design that would then follow with the raptors –as well as with other dinosaurs that are planned for the game- made much more sense. To use colors as an expression but to have them in a meaningful way. While some of these colors are lost in the speed of the gameplay, the team will thrive to also immerse the players into the world of Extinction: Archaic Genesis.
It is needless to say that the creation of Rotbrute helped us define the tone of the game as well as lead us in the right direction when switching artistic approach. With a graffiti world and a fearsome creature, it is certain that all creatures and humans that wonder the area will think twice before entering the reach of this enormous predator –with guns. Something that personally surprised me was the amount of hidden work in between layers when creating this character, especially coming from a programming perspective and having limited knowledge of the 3D pipeline. I think I can speak for the team when I say that it helped us learn even more how to represent an entire universe, with a single factor. In our case, is a meat eating, shooting, rock throwing and devastating monster and to be honest, I could not be happier to have anyone else, than Rotbrute.