From April 2017 through March 2018 I had the opportunity to work on the art team of two VR titles by Black River Studios (BRS). This article is an attempt to sum up my experience. I tried to keep it not too technical or over detailed so everyone may learn a thing or two.
This is part II and it deals with the production experience I had in Dead Body Falls.
You can find part I here: https://ubm.io/2CIphK7
I was asked to work on the project because the art director was going to go on vacation and someone had to replace him during that period. At the time the project was going for around 6 months and this was the sum of the situation as I could perceive:
The project was officially entering “production”.
The game was narrative driven, but besides the location, the main characters and a few guidelines, there wasn't much detail of what would happen in the game and pretty much half of the story was only still a cloud of possibilities.
As a consequence, there had been a lot of reference research, but there was no clear information about what had to be done (how many assets had to be modeled, what were the character’s animations, etc). Despite that, the art style was well established among the team.
At the time the project had:
- 1 environment (“the hotel lobby”) almost ready.
- 5 environments (“the prologue”, “the corridors”, “the HUB”, “the stairs” and “the epilogue”) blocked out but pending adjustments.
- 1 environment (“the room”) that had nothing done (including story or gameplay).
- I was presented with a deadline of around two and half months to the launch of the game.
Image 1 - Examples of art studies the team was conducting
How we handled
The first thing I did was to put all the art creation on a schedule, so the team could know how much time they could dedicate and how delays would affect the chain and make it impossible to achieve the release dates we were presented.
Image 2 - The schedule roughed out on a table
On this schedule I considered 3D asset creation, animation, UI, lighting, VFX, tech art implementation, marketing (for that, part of the art team had to be reallocated) and a period for code stabilization and optimization.
After fitting all this pieces together I called the team members responsible for the project and showed them how challenging the next two month would be.
After that, I made separate meetings with the team members involved (3D modeling, animation, VFX, UI, Tech-Art and Marketing) presenting them the schedule and making some adjustments as they would point aspects to be improved.
By then, we all had a PLAN.
Just as I described in part I of this article, visualizing the end goal had an important function in Conflict0: Shattered. So I wanted to present the team a “beat board” again. For that, I did the following images based on the previous research and guidelines
Image 3 - The beat board
As I did on project Conflict0: Shattered, after the “beat board” was ready and approved by the game designers, I presented it for the art team members so everyone could understand what they should be aiming for.
With the schedule and the beat board we had a PLAN and a GOAL. So I started to work on the actual project.
The artists were working on the hotel lobby, so i decided to anticipate their next challenge: the corridors. The blocking was almost done but the whole environment was done in a single asset, so I did the following:
- Gathered information with the game designers if there were any issues with the current blocked out corridors.
- Fixed the sizes and dimensions needed according to the game designers’ input.
- Separated all the needed assets in their corresponding prefabs.
- Created new asset blocks as needed to populate the environment.
- Named all the files and prefabs according to the studio’s internal conventions.
- Configured a simple white material to all prefabs so they could start reacting to light properly.
- Made a lighting first pass.
By now the developers aided the art team making a script that would allow us to jump from waypoint to waypoint (like we did in the previous project, but at that time we used a work around).
Image 4 - Blocked out corridors
After this, a build was made and I could evaluate the changes I had done before presenting to the game designers. Once I was happy with the blocked scene, it was presented in VR to the game designers scrutiny. After they were happy with the blocking, the scene was passed to the tech artists so they could start working and a list of 3D assets was made (with reference images) so the 3D artists could get the blocked assets and refine them to their final shape.
This way we had found our pipeline.
Image 5 - A simplified view of the pipeline
At this point we had a PLAN, a GOAL and a PIPELINE. From this stage on we could (ideally) simply cycle through our pipeline to face all the remaining challenges.
We approached “the prologue”, “the HUB”, “the stairs” and “the epilogue” pretty much the same way: blocking - rough lighting - VR validation - 3D asset creation and tech artists in parallel.
Image 6 - Blocked out HUB and epilogue
“The room” was a little different, because we didn't have the beat board at first. But when we arrived at it, the game designers had already had time to work it out. Now that we had a briefing of the story and gameplay we took a step back and made some “beat boards” for it.
Image 7 - The beat board for “the room”
Once everybody was happy with these images we proceeded with the actual production pipeline: blocking - rough lighting - VR validation - 3D asset creation and tech artists in parallel.
Image 8 - The room blocking (notice that we managed to reuse many assets the 3D artists had already done)
One happy accident about the “beat boards” was that they were used by the UI designer to present his first previsualization of the UI for the game.
Image 9 - The UI previz
During this period the original art director came back from vacation and after he took the time to be aware of the decisions and paths that were taken I stepped out of the project coming back to work on the marketing material on a latter stage.
- Just as in the other project: It’s OK to change the core of the game, but never lose sight of what the stakeholders are expecting from the final product. Always plan to make a game whose production fits the time you have. Maybe you just don’t have the resources you need to make the masterpiece you want to.
- This time we didn't have time for 360° concept art creation, but we managed to deliver more finished blocked scenes in VR which was a good advance in our pipeline. I believe the next step would be trying to incorporate VR scene creation (with tools like Quill) and compare it to our previous experiences.
- Once again looking for what’s preventing people from doing their best work (and fixing it) is of great importance. The team has to be aware of their goals, deadlines and pipelines. Make sure everybody understands what it’s trying to be achieved, how late the project is and how their work affects other team members.
- Try not to get too personally attached to the projects you’re working on. You never know when you’ll be inserted into a new project and taken away from the one you are now. Try always to look ahead.
Looking in a broad scope, I believe the most important lessons I could take from this two productions were:
- All ideas start floating in people’s heads. Make all you can to turn it into reality as fast as you can. This way everybody can start realizing what works and fixing what doesn't.
- Don’t lose focus of the stakeholders goals.
- Don’t lose focus of your media. At the end it doesn't matter if you have great game design theories (or if the concept art is looking good, or if you have great level design skills), but that’s not tangible to the user when he has the headset on.
- Be aware of production bottlenecks during the project, make all you can to avoid or at least minimize them.
If you have any doubt or suggestion for other posts, please leave a comment or write me a message.