A post-cyberpunk world where robots don't need humans anymore.
Post-mortem - January 12th
About me: I taught myself 3D modeling over the past ten years, and no doubt that's left me out of the loop on many techniques and skills, but it was the fun way to learn and I don't regret it. I've been using Unity almost as long (I actually got it back when it cost 200 dollars, and then about six months later they made a free version - something I'm still slapping my forehead about). I took a hiatus for a while as I focused on making 2D games. Now I'm planning on making a 3D game again and entered this challenge as a fun way to re-familiarize myself with Unity.
My inspiration for this project was mostly "post-apocalyptic" environments and industrial buildings. I'm the kind of person who whips out their phone and snaps a photo of a concrete wall or a piece of grating — and I'm sure many other 3D modelers and texturers are too! I was interested in trying to show the beauty of bland, gray, lifeless buildings.
In the world of A New Friend, only robots remain "below", while the humans live above. However, the robots have forgotten about humans. They don't need them. One robot plays a drum. Another takes a break from carting spare parts. And every week, an autonomous garbage truck comes to dump trash where they live... but the robots see it as a gift. And the callously discarded old robots that sometimes join the trash heap? The robots see them as new friends.
Anyway, let me go into more detail on what I did this final week!
I decided late in the process to make it a night scene, partially because I caught myself falling into the trap of trying to properly showcase every model I'd created. Obviously, that rarely serves the story you're trying to tell. Setting it at night let me pull focus towards certain things instead of cluttering the screen with detail.
Along the way, I created several different lighting set-ups and switched between them frequently to see which one worked best. Though I was partial to the "dawn-ish" set-up you can see in the project thumbnail, it wasn't working for the entire shot. I was set on having it be one-take, because the way the environment is laid out makes cutting between angles kind of awkward. It's a bit like filming a hallway where someone's doing something at the end of it. Since the focal point is the end of the hallway, and the space around you is limited, you really only have one way to film it. That was my logic, anyway.
As for music, I've been getting work as a composer for three years now, again self-taught. I wasn't really aiming for anything groundbreaking, just those classic synth sounds typical of the cyberpunk scores I was listening to while working on this. I always like to add at least one "unexpected" element to my music, and in this case it was African drums, to sort of echo the robot playing on the drum.
For sounds, on the robots, because they were 90s-inspired, I used the sound of a disk ejecting, a Viewmaster clicking, and a bunch of plastic toys. I got all the sounds from Freesound.org, which is a great resource. Using Unity's Timeline feature to trigger sounds was great, because the sounds would sync even when there was lag, and I could also do some of the sound design right in Timeline itself. For the more complicated sounds, I carefully timed them in Logic Pro to the animation.
January 12th Mini-Update:
As of now, my Neon Submission has been updated to use Cinemachine! At first it was a bit tricky to learn how to use it in the way I wanted to, but it's actually quite simple. Just click on the Timeline to add new cameras, and blend between them to create the shots. Being able to track things like the Ragdoll version of the robot that gets dumped out of the garbage truck was really useful. It's a very powerful tool, and now that I know a bit more about it, I'm eager to do more with it. I also found a workaround so that I could use Unity's Recorder... turns out all I needed to do was use a Recorder clip in the timeline instead of using manual mode.
I wish everyone else good luck with their projects... there's been a lot of talent on display here, and it's been heartening to see. :)
What I Used
Unity's Standard Assets, Post-Processing Effects, Timeline, Cinemachine, and Terrain tools.
Textures from Textures.com and sounds from Freesound.org
Models I created myself for the project in Cheetah3d — the robots, props, buildings, and truck.
Textures tweaked in Photoshop CS5. Video captured with iShowU HD (for now, anyway)
Work In Progress Log #5 - December 26th
I spent all day on the 17th creating this garbage truck, and on the 20th I started working on the "upper/lower level portal". But in other news...
You can now view the robot in the Sketchfab embed viewer (and download it too, if you want)! Experimenting with Sketchfab also helped me figure out some things that were still confusing me about textures in Unity, specifically the "Metallic" property. Now I'll be able to add some depth to the materials to make them look a little less blocky and more realistic.
I took a bit of a break from the project after that, but now I'm ready to continue production. As you can see, I've changed the name of the project from "Please" to "A New Friend", and I stealthily switched the tagline from "A post-cyberpunk world where humans don't need robots anymore" to "A post-cyberpunk world where robots don't need humans anymore".
That's because I realized during my hiatus that my premise was wrong. These robots don't need humans, they've clearly carved a life out for themselves without them! So that's what this project will be about: the independence of the discarded robots.
I was trying to stuff this project with too many styles and ideas. I'm just going to stick to the industrial city and show an average day, basically, with the robots as the centerpiece. This showcase will end as the garbage truck arrives from the upper level with another discarded robot — a new friend for the other robots.
I'm going to limit myself to working with what I have so far — no new levels, just adding detail to this one. Sometimes you overreach and get a bit too ambitious, and I almost fell into that trap, which would've been a mess. Another thing to keep in mind is to stick to your vision. I added a bunch of ideas because I thought my project wouldn't fit the guidelines because it didn't have "new technology", but that was a mistake. I shouldn't have gotten caught up in the minutiae of the guidelines, especially when the concept art didn't really show any "new technology".
Anyway, let me go into a bit more detail about how I create the models for these projects...
It starts in Cheetah3D, the software I've been using for the past ten years or so. It's not an industry standard, but I'm most comfortable using it. After I create the model and texture it with textures from Textures.com (sorry to say "texture" so many times), I bake the materials and ambient occlusion before importing the model to Unity. I should mention that the hdr I use to create soft lighting has been doctored by me to be black and white so that I have more control over the color of the lighting within Unity.
That's the process I've used for implementing all the environment models I've made. For animated models, like the robots, I usually animate them in Cheetah, and then play those animations from Unity's Timeline editor. But for less complex animations, like the garbage truck or the Camera, I feel comfortable using just Timeline.
Anyway, that's all for this update. Hopefully I'll have more to show soon.
Work In Progress Log #4 - December 14th
Work on the lowest level continued. I started work on the pillars that will support the intermediate and upper levels, and I painted the terrain a bit, though it still isn't done. With Unity's excellent Post-Processing effects, it's very easy to create a great-looking scene quickly. I finally feel confident enough in it to replace my proof of concept with the actual Unity scene as it is now!
So, when will I upload a video? Well, currently the scene is completely silent, and I would like to have some sound in it before I upload anything — really make it a proper teaser. A bit picky, I know, but I want the atmosphere to really make an impression.
Because I have a lot of buildings in the scene now, I figured I'd save some processing power by rendering billboards of the more complex buildings when fleshing out the background. The illusion is perfect, I'm happy to say, which means I can make many more buildings in the background without slowing down the scene too much, as the "layering" of the upper levels are going to be very dense visually.
Someone smarter would probably graybox all of this first so that they don't spend time on unnecessary detail (for instance, on the scaffold I modeled, there's an elevator that isn't even visible). I'm the kind of person who likes to see professional results quickly (one of the reasons I love working with Unity). I'm just too impatient to make grayboxes when I could be modeling the actual thing!
Anyway, that's all for this time. I'd like to have the intermediate level finished before my next update so that I have something more substantial to talk about.
Stay tuned for more updates, and tell me what you think so far.
Work In Progress Log #3 - December 13th
Day five, and it's starting to come together — almost to the point where I will change my thumbnail from the proof of concept — but not quite yet, as I will explain.
I spent Day 4 creating kitbash parts and scrap. I mean, I could've used free assets, which would've saved a lot of time, but doing so would keep it from having a unified look, which is something that I can really only achieve by either being very selective or modeling it all myself. Since I have some modeling experience (though obviously not AAA quality), I decided to do it myself.
You'll notice that right now this looks very abandoned and industrial, and not very futuristic. After considering the challenge further, I've decided to amend my concept a little to fit the challenge better. (The description for the challenge says to imagine new, as yet undiscovered technology, which was not part of my original concept).
What you see here is going to be "level one" of a large city. The oldest buildings, detritus and robots are at the bottom, whereas the new technology, and the sophisticated elite humans are at the top. Complex scaffolding has stacked layers of history on top of each other.
Instead of the humans moving onto a more "organic" lifestyle, it's that these "90's bots" are the older models, and have long since been abandoned for shiny new models.
No humans visit the lower levels.
Now that the concept has changed, my list of setpieces has also changed a bit.
• Malfunctioning robots attempting to wheel a cart of junk across the bridge, and failing each time due to their outdated programming.
• Old robots walking into walls, glitching.
• A robot trying to convince a human living on the intermediate level that it is useful.
• A newer model of robot, accompanying a human, watching as an older model robot clings onto the edge of a garbage disposal, trying to keep from falling to the lower levels.
So, what's on my agenda?
Lower level: More buildings. More junk and debris. Robot animations and different textures and levels of damage for robots. Terrain painting. Lighting. Sound.
Speaking of sound, I have this idea for a robot tapping out a bad rhythm on a little drum. Not really related to anything, but I thought I'd make a note of it.
Though the transition to the shiny upper level will mostly be scaffolding, I want to show how the world evolved from a more industrial style to a shiny modern one. This environment is basically a breakdown of cyberpunk, showing a "punk" lower level, with graffiti, grit, and grime, and transitioning to "cyber" — the shiny, new city. But this intermediate area will be a blend of both — truly cyberpunk. So I want to have some fun with that, and maybe that's where I can put some of the more seedy neon signage & aesthetic.
The main focal point of the upper level will be a grand temple, with fancy residential buildings pulling in around it, like a magnet. There will be a lot more motion on this level, with humans and robot companions everywhere, and hovercraft flying around.
One thing I haven't talked about much is the humans. Full disclosure, I'm really not good with modeling human faces, and I know that if I try, they'll probably end up looking creepy and doll-like. I'm still working out how to work around this weakness but still get the message across that they are humans. I'll probably end up giving everyone masks. That's usually the way I solve that issue. Either that, or have all of them in shadow, or wearing big hats.
So far, Unity-wise, I've only tapped into the Post-Processing effects (Bloom is a lot better than I remembered. Really good effect for emissive materials!) I remember working with Timeline a little, but Cinemachine is entirely new for me and will require some research.
Work In Progress Log #2 - December 11th
The day before yesterday I updated the textures on the robot and changed some things about the design. Then I took a day off, so today makes for three days of development in total.
Today was all about creating buildings to add to the environment. Finally I'm starting to put things together in Unity.
Obviously, this isn't very detailed and the terrain is still very rough. This is mostly me just figuring out the general placement of things.
Tomorrow I'll work on increasing the level of detail for this apartment building and fixing a few things about it that I don't like. But I also want to create some kitbash parts — fire escapes, doors, roofs and other architectural features to make the process of creating these buildings faster, as well as creating props to clutter the landscape with — dumpsters, potholes, terminals, papers, etc.
The environment is the most important element of the project, as dictated by the challenge, so it's important for it to immediately have a recognizable identity. Right now, I'm still not quite sure what the technological part of the techno-organic conceit should be. Is it a residential street? Is it an agricultural trading dock?
Is it... both??
This is the not-fun part of the process, where everything still hasn't congealed properly and it's all still taking shape. But hopefully within the deadline it will all come together. I need to sort all this stuff out quickly so that I don't spend any more time working on concepts that I will only scrap later.
Work In Progress Log #1 - December 9th
Hello! For the Neon Challenge I thought it'd be a great opportunity to flesh out an idea that was kicking around my brain for the past few weeks. Here's the basic premise:
The age of cyberpunk has ended and the cycle of history has begun once again. Humans have abandoned technology and civilizations, and have gone back to being simple farmers and traders — living "organic" lives. The robots that once served them loyally are swept aside. Without the humans there to care for them, the robots have begun to break down. In desperation, they try to convince humans to "adopt" them by coming up with new ways to be useful.
My favorite cyberpunk stories take place in very crowded, foggy, grunge-y environments filled with clunky technology. I want the robots to look like Microsoft designed them in the 90s. The head of the "Standard" model robot is inspired by a projector, and the body is inspired by Asimo.
The proof of concept in the thumbnail wasn't made in Unity, it's meant to illustrate the general mood. I'll be improving the textures & detail on the robot and making the environment more unique in future updates.
As you can see, I don't have much to show at the moment, but here's what I have planned.
• A retractable bridge with carts being wheeled across it.
• A cluttered street underneath with robots "begging" to be used by passing humans, and feebly demonstrating various skills for them.
• An alley where a robot has been thrown out of the window of an apartment, and a group of robots are ignoring its cries for help.
I think the best way to approach this challenge is to think of it like a Disneyland ride, where there's a group of set-pieces that convey an idea, and give you a glimpse at part of a story. Like the pirates urging the dog to let them out of prison — you never see them get in, and you never see them get out — but you don't need to, because a snapshot of the moment is all you need.
I think the biggest challenge in making this will be sending the message that this is NOT a post-apocalyptic environment, but rather a cyberpunk city built to accommodate nature.
If you're wondering why the robots don't just take care of themselves, the reason is that they are designed to be dependent on humans to survive in order to prevent a robot uprising. Not sure how I'll convey that visually, but I'm working on it.