"Ideally you want to create a set of rules the player can learn and use throughout the entire game. It can be painful sometimes as it can interfere with your artwork, but good playability should always be first."
- Martin Teichmann, environment modeler at Naughty Dog.
What's more beautiful than a summer's day? A summer's day where the floor is visually distinct from the surroundings and all the interactive bits are subtly color-coded, if you happen to be a game developer building a level around said summer's day.
At least, that's the perspective offered by Naughty Dog's Martin Teichmann in a recent conversation with game dev hub 80 Level. It's a conversation worth reading because it sheds light on how environment artists approach their work, and the thought that goes into crafting virtual worlds so that players will forget they're fake.
"Color and lighting are very powerful tools to guide the player in your environment. It’s very easy to get lost in details and lose the overall picture for your scene, Teichmann said. "For example: it’s important to separate the floor and the walls visually to make sure the player can read an environment easily. Also gameplay elements need to be visible even from distances. Color codes can be very helpful in that case. For Uncharted 4 we had the rule that all the ledge grabs had to have a white line to make sure the player would know where to go."
Before joining Naughty Dog, Teichmann spent time at companies like Rocksteady and Crytek working on everything from Crysis 2 to Arkham Knight. His insight is interesting because he's spent so much time focusing purely on environmental art design, a too-rarely covered field of game design that involves (as does all game development, to some extent) balancing the need to create a believable world with the need to create a playable game.
"[My] main task is to create beautiful art, add meaning to the scene and enhance readability," he said. "But there is more to that. As an environment artist you are responsible for all sorts of gameplay mechanics too. Collision, for example. You need to maintain all the technical elements that make sure the level plays as smooth as possible, even though you have to sacrifice your art in certain cases."
You can read the rest of his comments, which include a deeper look at how he works in the larger machine of game production that is a studio like Naughty Dog, in the full interview over on 80 Level.