The Art Style of Röki - Part Two
Last week we started to dig into some of the art techniques and methods we're using on Röki (if you missed it or fancy a quick refresh you can see it here). This week we'll continue further down this arty path, hopefully they'll be some interesting insights for you along the way. Before we start, have a quick gander at the above image,..all done? Great, we'll begin.
We talked last week about generating some of our in-game geometry straight from our concept artwork, allowing a direct translation of our work from Photoshop into Maya and Unity. Pretty nifty, but it doesn't stop there. We realised we could leverage this technique in a different way-when using photo reference.
The bulk of Röki is set in an ancient dark wilderness, so one of the key ingredients was always going to be vegetation and foliage. I'd picked up a 30x optical zoom camera a while back (my second in fact, the first perished in a fight with a bottle of water much to my dismay) and had been experimenting with it to take some zoomed in reference photos of foliage and plants. I'm sure I looked a little odd taking pictures of branches, twigs and wild flowers but hey, it was a sacrifice worth making. Ideally I'd snap the shots against the sky with the subject silhouetted against the sun so the organic shapes were easy to extract in Photoshop. I've included some samples below so you can see what on earth I'm talking about.
The generated 3D geometry that comes out differs a fair bit from the photo due to the nature of the process, but that's a good thing. The final result is more crunchy and abstracted which works really well for us because it sits nicely alongside the more graphical elements of our visuals.
Now that we've built up a decent 'kit-box' (or library) of these low-fi organic shapes we can use them either in our concept work in Photoshop (as custom shapes), or use them for additional set dressing parts we can quickly drag into a scene in Unity. We're planning to add to this library throughout development. It allows us to work quickly and efficiently as well as helping maintain a consistent look throughout the game. If you return to have another look at the title image I very indulgently asked you to look at, you'll be able to spot some of the elements we've been talking about!
You might be thinking 'Hold onto your potatoes cowboy, that's just flat geometry isn't it?'. Correct, it is. We use them like theatrical flats, they don't get any lighting so are never revealed as 'flat' and are layered in 3D space to convincing effect.
Using this techniques also has a side effect, we have very little alpha (textures that have transparent areas for non-gamedev/CG literate folks) in the game. Using generated geometry over alpha textures seems to be working well so far for our game. Crisp and clean lines are very important to the look of our game and unless we have super high resolution (and expensive) textures it'll be difficult to hit the desired level of 'crispiness' we're hungry for.
We'll be keeping an eye on this to see how it pans out over development, but we're keen to sidestep the Pandora's Box of sorting issues that comes with heavy use of layered alpha textures.
Whilst I'm yammering on about foliage and vegetation one other aspect to talk about is motion. if you have a stroll into the woods, down a country lane or lurk around your local garden centre you'll see that there is lots of motion in the leaves and branches of plants and trees, even on a calm day. This was something that was key for us to get into our ancient wilderness. A static forest would feel fake and unconvincing, in short, a massive FAIL. Motion brings everything to life, making your game world feel believable and rich. Obviously don't get carried away. Subtle ambient motion is great and will make everything sing but if you overcook it it will be super distracting, making your scenes difficult to read and hurt the player's eyeballs.
The final thing for today, that I'll touch on ever so briefly, is that we actually have a similar use of layered flat 3D geometry for other more complex elements in the game, such as some of the strange beasts, monsters and critters that inhabit the world of Röki. I'm sure you're all familiar with the notion of shadow puppets, where flat puppet parts are rigged together with wires and performed from below to tell epic stories. Well, our versions are kinda like this,...but about a million times cooler :P
Until next week,
Alex & Tom