Graphic visualization of the project: locations and lighting
Hello, again! In this third and final article about The Uncertain I will tell you how we created the game locations and their lighting. If you’ve missed our previous topics, you can find them here: first and second.
In many old school Adventure games there are many small levels, as there are in our project, and that simplified our task a little bit. Since we could concentrate on specific camera angles we could go into more detail on some parts that a player would see up close while the visibility of other parts was limited. This process resembles the filming of a movie on location with actors, cameras, lighting equipment, etc. When creating locations, we began with drawing concept art, as we did with characters and props.
We needed to set the mood for each game level. We did not aim to copy the concept art precisely when we worked on creating locations, so we neither paid too much attention to the details nor did we try to make the location look exactly like the concept art. Our main goal was to set the mood. In this particular case we wanted to show a ransacked room where everything was turned upside down after having been searched. We changed a few things on this level, but in general we kept the mysterious, gloomy, and enigmatic atmosphere of the concept art, and the soundtrack supports and reinforces it.
Now, let's look at this step by step. The initial forming element of the game's concept art for our location is geometry. 3D models are the main graphic elements in contemporary games. Their quality directly affects the impression that a location creates, but there are a few tricks that allow us to cut down the time of creating 3D models and optimize the computer's performance.
To simplify our task we took some models from Asset Store. Nevertheless, we firmly believe that game-developers must create all the basic and central parts of a game by themselves; that's why we bought only models for the background, and they make up no more than 20% of the content in The Uncertain. We used other assets too, but only while working with sound, special effects and other, less visible details.
Majority of our models are made in the same way as the characters were made; I talked about it in my previous article. After creating high poly models we did retopology and UV mapping, then baked the texture maps and created the textures.
This method allows us to achieve perfect result and realistic look, but it is highly time-consuming. Besides, in any game location there are many objects which you would never be able to see up close to appreciate fully the painstaking work that went into creating them. Therefore, we simplified the objects in the middle and far background: we just made low poly models and created their textures. Sometimes you could get by using only albedo texture maps, but it is better to obtain all necessary texture maps in a different way, i.e base them on other textures (while creating the main characters we baked them from their high poly models). All you need is a graphics editor or a special software allowing you to automate the process.
Such an approach can be used not only on the objects in the middle and far background, but also on the locations. You don't need a high poly model to create a location, even if you work on textures as carefully and painstakingly as our CG-artist – unless, of course, it is a spaceship's cargo hold with lots of complex shapes and elements.
We competently made the model and created the texture for the “box” of a room while keeping the correct size and scale, and in our case that was enough. We turned those places that frequently repeat like a pattern into tiles; please note that it is the geometry that gets copied & pasted, with similar elements that have the same coordinates on the unfolding. This technique allowed us not to use multiple textures for each material, be it wall, or ceiling, or floor tiles, but use the same texture for all the models. Thus, despite the large size we have a good quality low poly model with a minimal number of textures that looks great even up close.
The next task is to choose the lighting, a very important step. Good lighting is the guarantee of a pleasant picture. Even if there are no textures and good-quality models in the game, and the levels consist of white boxes, it is still possible to create an enjoyable view just by using the correct lighting.
Lighting helps to create special atmosphere in any location. By changing the lighting, while moving from one level to another, we alter the perception of the locations; the contrast helps to either bring player's attention to a certain place or divert his attention from something. For example, a player would always feel uncomfortable in dark cold places and tend to move to a lighter and warmer place without realizing it.
We want the game's locations to not just be “places where you can wander around”, but something more, places that contain an interesting story within. It is important to us that a player, while wandering, clearly understands what each level is about, and considers everything that has happened around him. That's why we paid so much attention to details, thanks to those, a journey from point A to point B can become an adventure. We tried to create a bit of history for each object so that a player could stop and think about it: what it is, where it came from, how it was used before and how player can use it now. The comments of the protagonist are here to help and, sometimes, just entertain – it's no secret that a human's thoughts and understanding of certain objects could be very different from that of a robot's.
Post-production is the last step: we beautify the picture; the visual effects improve it significantly. Although, we have to choose the right balance between the beauty of the picture and the performance; the fact that working on special effects is one of the most resource-intensive processes is true for the majority of games. Take, for instance, this screenshot with and without the effects.
We used many standard effects designed by Unity, bought some effects from Asset Store, and also adapted a few effects of Nvidia GameWorks technology. Practically in all the game's locations we used the same combination: Bloom, SSAO, DOF, HBAO+, FXAA, Tonemapping, SSR, Vignette, Chromatic Aberration and Video Glitches.
Thus, using all the above-described methods we created new game locations; each of them contains interesting information about the world in which our protagonist exists. We hope that on August 11th, when the game releases, you will enjoy exploring these locations as much as we enjoyed creating them for you!