Where to begin? – Part 1

Let’s start with the first thing that comes to mind…

Being an indie game artist is a difficult job. 

I’ve been doing test after test after test after test after test. Modeling tests and normal map creation tests. Animation tests after animation tests to check for geometry fidelity. I’ve compared the techniques I learned many years ago and compared them to the techniques of today’s designers and game artists and found many-a-time that I needed an upgrade. 

Then I would go back and do more tests. (All of this testing is to achieve one goal… a working, as close to flawless pipeline as possible. You know, find the tools that work best based on your knowledge so that you’re not wasting time trying to develop and learn something new all at the same time. 

I’ve pitted game engines against game engines. I’ll let you in on a little secret… they all have pros and cons and are fairly balanced both ways. Whether it is financial accountability and predicting how future events will unfold versus going with something that is maybe something new that has a low learning curve to get started, but is featured pack and ready for NextGen indie developer. 

I’ve put OS against OS. Years ago I switched to Mac simply because I was tired of getting BSODs. TIRED OF IT! I had a day job fixing Windows based PCs and so I would see it at work and then I would come home; and despite building as stable as a machine that I could it still would BSOD on me. So, that got old. Mac has been great for me and has worked fine for the art I was doing before. Even when doing 3D art, if the art was still you could spend as much time and polygons on it as you wanted. With games that’s a little different. Granted, it truly helps knowing that the first “big” game we’re going to be developing is going to Steam first. (Hopefully!)

I truly feel horrible for working with my partner and nailing down milestones and whatnot and then not delivering on those timeframes. Well, you know, it sucks when you can create awesome looking characters and when you go to stick them in the game they look like sh*t. That’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to make sure that the work I was doing was going to hold up. Each character I’ve done for the demo of the Untitled Game we’re working looks great until I get them in the game. Many people I’ve spoken with say it’s because of this or that or just the whole lot of it. So, I go back, I look. Yup, the normal didn’t bake right. Okay, why didn’t that bake right. Oh, well I don’t know, let’s go see what others are using. Oh okay so they are using that. And soon you see a pattern developing. Well this tool didn’t work for me and it did for you, but why? And then oh thats why happens and your asking yourself. Okay, they used this, this, and this, and so you get this, this and that. Still having different results. Well, that’s because they have Dynamic GI setup in their scene whereas you are only using a standard directional with GI set to Auto. 

Which texture map size should I use. Should I use 2×2048 or should I use 1x4k map. If so, then we need to make sure that the game loads in sections so that everything… basically… doesn’t implode on itself. 

Over and over it goes on in my head. If it doesn’t play well, then people wont care. If it doesn’t look good enough then people won’t care. I don’t want to put something out there and people are like, uh yeah… no. The art is there to pull them in and immerse them in this world we’re creating. The “boxart” the wallpapers, screenshots, screengrabs, and clips. I feel like I’m saying, “Hey everybody this game is going to rock and then I get the characters running in the game and it’s like omg this looks HORRIBLE!

After all that’s said and done, frankly all I’ve discovered is that no matter what I do I’m going to have to sacrifice something…

Environment Art, Character Art, Character Animation… one of these important items will have to be sacrificed. Right now the forerunner is Character Animation. Just don’t have the time to do it. So, we’re using Mixamo’s Motion Capture library to help with that. 

Okay then, what about the Character Art. Again, juggling between what I export out of Zbrush, Topogun, and Maya to what enters into the game engine, its just night and day difference. And that difference is not good, its very bad. 

So, what does that leave? Oh, that’s right it leaves Environment Art. Well, I used to care very little for the environment. You can hide a lot of issues in a dark game, the key is don’t give the hero a light source and you’ll be fine. However, I want you to be able to explore this game. I don’t want you to just go down beat up and capture a bunch of prisoners and beat some bosses. I want you to experience this situation. If we could afford a VR dev we would. I really think VR is going to be where we go to next. If you haven’t read the book Ready, Player One. Do it. Fantastic book. Granted, it talks about the negative side of having VR in the world, but the first few years have got to be cool. Oops tangent. 

Anyway, Environment is so important to me now. If you haven’t played Rise of the Tomb Raider then you have committed a crime. Go play it. Those peeps who did the Environment Design on that game should get like an Academy Award for that, it is ridiculous. I constantly found myself saying this is ridiculous. I’ve never cared so much for the environment in a game before in my life and that game has really changed me. Unfortunately, it was probably for the worse as I now care tremendously more about the Environment in this game. 

So much so, that now I’m seriously questioning the Game Engine based on this alone. Unity 5 is a powerful game engine with many great features including now Physical Based Shaders and this is truly an amazing feature. However, EPIC’s Unreal Engine 4 is insanely powerful, yes buggy too, but powerful. And EPIC realized that in order to compete with Unity and gain the avid indie dev followers that they have amassed they will need to make it more accessible to those that may not know C++ well or at all. Being an artist and having not ever used Unreal Engine before I was able to boot into it, import models and mess with many of the Shaders that they have delivered in the starter pack. Needless to say that the PBS and Rendering are top notch right out of the box and can easily make your game be Next Gen.  

Down to one of the issues I’ve been dealing with… if we stick with Unity 5 and use proper lighting and techniques we can achieve something rather nice. However, if we move over to Unreal Engine 4 who knows the possibilities at this point. 

Perhaps a little more testing is needed…

This weekend is it and so a decision will be made.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Good Night!

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I'm just a small little character artist in this big world. I like making characters and places come to life; either through my concept art or character designs. I mostly use Sketchbook Pro for concept art and Zbrush, Maya, Substance, etc for everything else. If you happen to like what you see here, go ahead and subscribe and or email me and hire me for a project! Thanks!

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