On Art Style:
‘Simplified Realism’ – a general overview
Having most of the description of the asset come from the lighting and material parameters vs an abundance of detail in the diffuse texture itself. Object surfaces should be fully described but no more than needed to be recognized as the proper material.
Believability and ‘lived-in’-ness.
Lots of wear in areas that would feel wear – need to sell the story behind the environments at a glance. If the environment was used previously it should feel like it. This doesn’t necessarily mean everything is dirty, but selling it by the way things are placed in the world, where we add grime, stains, scratches, blast marks, scrapes along the floor, blood, damaged things, etc.
Additional thoughts: Simpler is better. As in, only as much as we need to make our statement. For the environment itself I’m all for using a lot of polygons to selling the feel of the world, especially the tech-heavy areas. We can go light on the texturing in general and focus on getting all the geometry we need to make it *feel* real. For character designs and even the ‘busy/detailed’ areas of the ship, we should still show restraint. This is not only a visual design decision but one made to ease the burden of creating a large number of assets. The more detail we add the more time it’s going to take. In addition, I’d like to reuse texture sheets wherever it makes sense by creating a handful of atlases that can be used for a variety of different structures and props, which will help save memory and let us allocate it more towards unique POI’s, weapons/equipment, and the like.
On Visual Progression:
Throughout the course of the game there should be a steady form of progression in the way the game looks and feels. It should always strive to match the mood of the current location and situation while making an effort to avoid feeling ‘samey’ or ‘copy paste’.
Some ideas to keep the game visually fresh during the course of play would be:
- Architecture – Gradually introducing more variety into the environment design, as well as having rooms which feature unique props and assets. Each of the three floors should have models that are used exclusively for them, so as you ascend and proceed through the ship you are regularly being introduced to new visuals.
- Lighting – The types of lights we use, how much contrast in the environment, their colors, how many, etc. should vary in an appropriate way. Each floor is likely to introduce new types of fixtures which in turn might give off different color temperature, come from different locations in the room, or be generated by different sources. For example, the bottom floor might have a lot of dark ambient lighting, generic ceiling lights, and a lot of floor running lights, whereas the top floor might be a lot more lit and manicured with how the lights are placed and used, giving a more modern, brighter feel, with a lot more intentional (as in, designed) light fixtures along the walls and ceiling.
- Color – There should be an overall ‘color flow’ as players progress through the game. Each floor should have a general color theme, while not being restrictive as to say that’s the ‘only’ color allowed, but conscious decisions in regards to hue and a tendency to tint lights in each level towards the decided desired direction. For example, the lower floors might use a general theme of reds and yellows, with some blue or yellow lights as standard, the middle floor might use predominantly greens with some oranges, and the top floor might be mostly blue with purple, etc. Again, it’s not a restriction so much as a guideline that can add cohesion to each floor and a sense of progression while traversing onward.
This is something that will refine with time and exploration. My current thoughts on the matter are that while the game isn’t going to be cartoony by any stretch of the imagination, I would like to try keeping the textures having a simple, ‘clean’ feel to them. This isn’t to say there won’t be grime or weathering – I think wear and tear is crucial for selling the feel of an object or area. I just want to go about it without excessive photo-sourcing of textures, and if they are used as a base, that they be simplified appropriately. I’d like to keep just enough detail needed to sell the feel of the material. Attention will be paid more outside of the diffuse texture, focusing on the other maps that define the surface.
Lighting should be used in an appropriate manner through the course of the game, but if we see opportunities to further emphasize mood, we should feel encouraged to exaggerate lighting as long as it doesn’t change the intended feel. Examples of this would be pushing contrast between the ambient and direct/spot lights, or even breaking from reality a bit to put lighting where it looks good even if there’s no light static mesh there, as long as it ‘feels’ right and benefits the scene in a positive way. There shouldn’t be a bright spot in the middle of the room with absolutely no explanation (either a hole in a wall or floor somewhere, a prop that might glow, etc.), as it still needs to be somewhat believable.
Bold shapes. Bigger/chunky geo, stuff that will stand out. Should feel well proportioned and believable in terms of functionality. I would like to rely less on normal maps when possible in regards to shape. If things can be modeled in, they should be. This is why it’s important for a lot of our shape language to be big and readable. We will absolutely still use normal maps, but it shouldn’t be a huge issue to allow some props and important POI assets to be fairly realized from a model perspective. We should make sure to be more conservative on things like the walls, floors, and ceilings since they will certainly be placed the most. There will need to be some tests to see how performance is impacted via instanced objects.
Effects should be integrated regularly around the environment, on both a macro and micro level. The motion and life they bring will add a lot to the game experience. Within whatever budget we have, we should look for opportunities to add effects to different areas that make sense: Sparks where wires are broken, clouds of steam or smoke from pipes or vents, dripping water, haze, etc. will all be desirable throughout the ship.
Simple animation should be attempted because, like effects, it can add another layer of life to the game experience.
- Environments – Doors opening and closing with more than a simple hinge, pipes shaking or vibrating back and forth, gears moving, floating space debris outside the windows, fans spinning, etc. The animation does not need to be complex in any of these cases, nor do many things need to move, it is usually enough that something moves at all to break the static feeling.
- Weapon and Tools – Seeing things move in first person view is fun. It’s more exciting. Whenever appropriate, we should design the weapons and items so we can take advantage of how close they are to the player camera. The more beefy and bad ass a weapon is, the more rewarding we can make it feel by adding another layer of movement. As with the environments, it doesn’t need to be anything complicated, some spinning parts or flipping pieces are usually enough.
With any of these, we need to make sure to keep things simple so that it’s feasible to do within the amount of time we will have available. This is obviously mostly ‘fluff’ and lower priority, but can add a tremendous amount to the perception of the game. It doesn’t take much to make a big impact using animation.