Hello! My name is Adrian Phillips, and I'm a digital media designer and developer. I work on everything from commmercial animation to websites to multiplayer games. I have a Master's in Playable Media (games!) from UC Santa Cruz and work professionally as a designer/developer.
From the start I knew that I really wanted to play with a dense, dark environment, something like a subterranean hive world, showing off all the little spaces inhabited by different gangs and organizations. I'm a visual person first and foremost, and so had an ideal for the feel of it without knowing absolutely what to go for, so I started carving out the overall shape of it. I had worked with Manufactura K4's Top Down caves for my current project, Gnome Mercy, and love them, so I grabbed the rock formations and wooden platforms for that. I knew I needed some industrial parts to build the habitation blocks, and so I took a look around the Asset Store before finding the Sci Fi Design Kit (on sale at the time!), and thought it was perfect. While intended for spaceships primarily, I knew I could integrate the modular prefabs nicely with my cave elements to create a subterranean sci-fi world.
Inspiration wise, I was certainly thinking about John Blanche's work for Warhammer 40,000, as well as the environments and lighting of Dark Souls. Here are a couple for reference. I wasn't thinking of any one in particular, but I know I had them in my mind stylistically.
Something I wanted to keep in mind throughout this process was the fact that this is a competition about environments. Not characters, not animation, but the environment. Keeping that in mind, I wanted to tell various stories throughout the scene via smaller scenarios, items, and nooks. This did not mean I shouldn't use characters at all, but that they should really work to compliment the environment itself. In addition, considering the importance of Cinemachine in this project, it was important that the various shots took advantage of the tool's affordances, creating a cinematic short demonstrating what we can do now in real time.
This first pass is me playing with ideas, learning how to use the Volumetric fog on GitHub, and how to repurpose assets I've used in the past. During an October game jam I learned just how powerful Cinemachine is, and have been integrating it into my current game. Right away I knew I had to establish the tone of the piece, starting with the visuals but followed not far behind by the audio elements. Given I had previously learned how to synchronize shots with audio just as I had done back when I first learned film, I sought out an appropriate dark and mysterious soundtrack. Again, the answer was not far, as I had also used John French's Ultimate Game Music Collection in Gnome Mercy, and knew there were several cinematic tracks I could use.
Something I want to stress are the ways we can intentionally evoke cinematic elements, and in this case it was intentionally avoiding any traditional game soundtracks (especially any Tomb Raideresque timpani drums). I digress, but here is an itemized list of the assets I used from the store. They're certainly not all free, but they really have given me so much mileage in my work. I also integrated some of my own assets into the project. I wanted to see what could be made primarily with store assets, but with a twist from my own personal work integrated into them.
Assets, Tools, Plugins List
Top Down Caves
Sci Fi Design Kit
Post Processing Stack
Stylized Weapon Pack
Ultimate Game Music Collection
Styled Nature Pack
Stylized Weapon Pack (also above!)
Grin Mask Assets
When the competition was announced, I had just started modeling one of my most used motifs, the Grin mask. As such, I decided to integrate it in the creation of some dystopic cult scenario.
The model itself was created in Blender, and textured in Quixel. It ended up becoming the focal motif throughout. Using a couple different textures, it was both a centerpiece of the environment, and the calling card of most of my nefarious characters.
As mentioned, I wanted to really expand on my use of Cinemachine. While before I had used the 'look at' and 'follow' target methods on the virtual cameras, I hadn't played with the dolly system yet. As with many of the cinemachine assets, it was very easy to get it up and going, so I could iterate upon the scene.
Audio is an often underlooked aspect of any scene, and there is much we can learn from film in this regard. I've been using the amazing Ultimate Game Music Collection by John French. It is such a wonderful package of soundtracks and audio cues. I'm using it Gnome Mercy, and grabbed one of the cinematic soundtracks from it.
From there, I was able to start synchronizing camera shots with the music, really building the atmosphere I was going for. It is of course very much a work in progress, but it's coming along nicely, and it is getting the feel I wanted.
This dude was made by jumping to Adobe Fuse (formerly Mixamo's), and generating a character from the Brute mesh. I tweaked the textures in the program, giving him a nice pasty complexion and darkening his clothes. I then retextured the aforementioned Grin mask to have a more porcelin feel to it, and attached it to him. I uploaded him to Mixamo.com and used their (FREE) auto rigger to rig him up and give him this sitting animation.
Additional Characters - Cultists!
I jumped back into Fuse and put together a basic character. I went for an emaciated body, toned down all the pigment and sun effects, and gave him some appropriate clothing. After that, I animated him on Mixamo with a praying animation and brought it into Unity to attach the Grin mask!
The scene was feeling a bit dark, and I wanted to build more density into the scene. As an environment piece, it's important to create stories within the space itself. As such, I'm adding lights in key areas in order to highlight elements, characters, and interactions. I want to bring out the hidden nooks and crannies, without explicitly calling them out. Keep an eye out small details as I move forwards.
I love these little doodads from the Sci Fi assets I picked up! They come with these detailed animations that I wanted to highlight in the scene. I'm still not sure about the transparency but love the ambient motion they lend to the scene. I'm working with lights here to highlight them - note I also placed a viable light source, the hologram, next to them.
These cultists are fantastic, so obviously they needed some appropriately religious highlighting. Have to decide if adding more of them would be too much.
Following the shot of the cultists I wanted to show some more 'regular' business going on - perhaps a shipment has just arrived? Are they weapons? Religious paraphernalia? Maybe just some thin mints? Again, I want to play with a menacing sense of the unknown here, and suggest rather than explicitly present this world.
These workers are again being created via Adobe Fuse and animated in Mixamo, totally free. In addition, I'm continuing to use the Sci Fi Design Kit, which has certainly been worth its salt thus far.
Notice also how I'm reusing the spinny thingo from before. It remains to be seem whether its too obvious to be reused, or if I'm actually being clever. We shall see! I am also trying to make better use of fog lights - they really do look amazing. My only fear is in terms of optimization, while this doesn't have to be a super fast as traditional gameplay, I do need to maintain my real time status. So as I go along I will be optimizing on that where needed, and of course I'll let you guys know.
Here I'm just trying to include some additional editor shots, in the spirit of exposing the gritty and not-so-pretty side of things. I'll be sharing more explaining as I go through.
In these you can see more clearly where a lot of the assets are coming from. The holograms, for example, are yet again from the Sci-Fi Design package. In this case, I've blown them up proportionally so that rather than being desk and window holograms, they occupy the space of an entire living module, giving it that bladerunnery vibe. I also love the grainy effect they have, which you can't really see here, but comes out more clearly in the closeup shots via Timeline.
Nearing the end of the project, there was some optimization work to do. Not as much as I thought, but I did go through, deciding which lights were necessary, adjusted occlusions and other nonsense. After doing that I wanted to introduce some further depth to the scene, and so brought in some final elements from another favorite of mine, Mikael Gustafsson's Stylized Nature Pack. In this case, I just imported his particle systems, which are fantastic. Adding some strategic embers, as well as some hand painted sun shafts created the low overhead depth that I was looking for. While the volumetric lighting was fantastic, the sunshafts gave me some extra crispness where I wanted it at a low cost.
This was such a fun project to work on, I'm so glad Unity put it on. Much thanks to all of them.
I'm pretty prolific on Instagram, so check me out there, or send me a message on Unity Connect if you want to chat about anything!