The concept art that inspired my scene is the one by Georgi Simeonov titled Smokescapes- The Sentries.
They are all inspiring, but this piece snared me, and I spent a long time studying it. To me, the industrial smokestacks indicated that something important is being generated inside the towers, and then my imagination took over. I ignored the tower's structural instability and made them much larger in my mind. I wondered what the inside would be like if one of these units housed several thousand people, in a world where it’s not safe to go outside. The tower would be isolated and completely self-sustaining, and would need a self-contained bio-system. I imagined the tower built around a gigantic tree that grows inside, sprawling from the ground level all the way up to the top floor, supplying necessary oxygen and air purification.
Then, I researched California Redwoods. Interestingly, they can grow up to about 400', which is the theoretical height limit of a tree’s ability to push nutrients up from its roots to its top leaves. I decided that limit could be increased with cybernetic enhancement. So, this cyberpunk/exploitative world began to take shape in my mind.
Here is what I came up with from Smokescapes- The Sentries. Thank you Georgi Simoneov.
The World of the Tower
All levels of government and all social classes of inhabitants work and live within the Tower. The ground level (the Root) is highly industrial and always dark, damp, and cold—this is the location of the slums and the spaces of the unfortunate. At the top, where the sun shines in from a green-glass roof, the richest and luckiest fare well. A Life Tree grows in the center of the tower keeping the inhabitants alive by providing oxygen and filtering pollutants from the air.
The people in this world live by their high-tech, including cybernetic enhancements and AI aids. The government maintains the Life Tree with cybernetic enhancements of its own. In such a closed world, identity and privacy are of high value—staying under the radar and identification systems of the Big Brother government is worth a lot of money to some people. Secure identification is established through vocal signatures, and so people often use vocal synthesizers to protect their voices from theft—an irony in a society where the AI are able to produce natural-sounding speech.
As with all societies that have a large economic gap, the poorest suffer the most because they live at the Root, and they live at the Root because they are the poorest. This is where our scene begins: the player character is what the fortunate call a “root rat.” The PC has acquired a coveted item and is trying to sell it.
The scene I am making has a small amount of dialogue to tell the story, and follows this script.
Scene and Dialogue Script
Setting: a large, dimly-lit and highly-shadowed, industrial room containing several huge generators/machines and storage tanks—obviously a center for power generation, and heat and water distribution. There is no visible ceiling and a daunting smoke stack rises up from the main generator into the darkness beyond visibility. The floors are dirty, wet in places, strewn with refuse, and dominated by cockroaches unafraid. The entire room is hazy and steam escapes from some of the pipes. There is a catwalk two stories up that provides access to the generator for maintenance purposes, but the bottom floor level has no attendants. Along the walls and in the corners there are multiple makeshift houses of cardboard, scrap wood, sheet metal, barrels, pipes and industrial castoffs. Angst-driven graffiti covers the walls, and small fires burn in barrels. This is a slum-village in the bowels of the tower, inhabited by people, rats and other street vermin fighting to survive.
This scene opens with a first-person player/camera looking out from behind boxes into this generator room. We hear the machinery and noise in the background mixed with sounds of taxed breathing from the PC. A forearm raises up to the camera, with a neon-lit prosthetic device embedded in the wrist. The PC touches buttons and makes a call:
Synthesized male voice answers: Yeah. Wat.
Player (androgynous youth, excited): Mik! It’s me! I got it! I got the--!
Voice: What the fuh—! No! I told you never—! Never call without using a freakin’ synth! Hang up!
Lights on the device dim and the call disconnects.
Player (frantic, to self): Ooooh, man… Come on!
Player dials again.
Voice: So? You better be synthed!
Player: Mine’s broken! I –
Voice: Ok, ok! Shut up--don’t say nothin’! You dumb punk, I swear… Anyway, I just told the boss what you said, an’ he say no way, don’t bring it here…
Player: But my money! You said –
Voice: Yeah, yeah… boss said you’ll get it. But you don’t come here… you don’t got the brains-god-gave-a-cat. And ‘at stuff’s too hot…
Voice: Shut up! You’ll get the money. Boss wants ‘at stuff. But you gotta stash it and lay low for a bit-- till boss figures this out. Hold a sec... Ok, yeah… Boss says…yeah, uh, they might could trace it—you gotta take it outside, kid.
Player: NO! Omigod--how? How I get past the --?
Voice: Shut up! I dunno—boss says you the slick, you figure it out. Call back—three days. And, get yer freakin’ arm fixed—or get a vader for godsakes!
Player: (distraught and fading) But… I can’t get it fixed without the money…
Voice: Yeah, yeah… life sucks don’t it? Three days. (Pauses, then with a kinder tone) Better take cover, kid--damn tree’s gonna start weeping any minute…
Call disconnects and lights dim on the wrist apparatus.
Camera pans up, changes focal length to see the steamy room, and quickly pans around, taking in the hovels, the trash and graffiti, and finally, the high-tech glowing machines.
Then the player/camera runs out of this industrial area, into the open solarium where the monstrous tree grows. The government calls this a park, but at the root level it looks like the worst kind of neon hell-hole, dark and dank, with businesses lining the four streets, including bars, liquor stores, the prison, and a do-it-yourself tattoo parlor. The tree is growing from a small patch of dirt and trash, but is protected by a 10’ fence with razor-wire and cameras. It has several of its branches amputated, and machines are attached to its stumped limbs noisily pumping life chemicals into its trunk. Dilapidated robots—sentries and vermin-exterminators—circuit the streets, pathing through the people milling around. A few beggars, both human and AI, hustle spare change.
An alarm bell rings and people run for cover under the store awnings and overhangs. The massive pumps stop. The tree releases large drops of acid rain from its leaves (a by-product of the chemical injection process that keeps it alive and accelerates its respiration.) Steam rises from the pavement increasing the low layer of fog. PC takes off running, leaving the industrial section, then past the Life Tree, up the fire escape (the elevator does not come down to the bottom floor of the tower) then catches the elevator. As the glass elevator lifts all the way to the top story, the camera pans up the interior of the tower showing the ascension of the tree from brown, naked trunk to verdant leaves, and we see the environment change from grimy, dark and industrial, to clean, lighted and comfortable. At the top floor, the player sneaks to the exit to the roof, and then outside, into night time. The camera stops forward motion and pans the tanks and towers on the fenced-in rooftop, then changes focus to the horizon beyond the fence. The clouds clear and we see the awesome Milky Way come into focus—brilliant and gorgeous—so visible because there is no source of light pollution in that dead exterior world.
End of scene.
Progression Log and Callouts
1/1/2018: I discovered the Challenge. I attended Unity Austin 2017 and was fortunate to see the original presentation of Neon, and it was awesome, so I was intrigued. I re-watched the original video and read the interview with Veselin Efremov. I was completely hooked when I saw the concept art, and the basics of my scene formed in my mind immediately, including the ending shot with the Milky Way.
So, I created the Unity Project and downloaded Standard Assets, Timeline, Post Processing Stack, and Cinemachine, and began the Challenge. I started on the outdoor scene, downloaded the most amazing MilkyWay skybox and edited a skyline texture—still need to create the roof top. Created the terrain for the indoors scene, using Yughues free textures for dirt and tile for floors. Spent lots of time going through textures and assets, scaling and sizing, building this vision in my mind as I played with Unity.
1/2/2018: Went kind of crazy with assets in the Asset Store; got carried away trying out each and every one of all the different textures for concrete; built several demo planes and worked through ideas, building this world in my head. Yughues is amazing; I really thank you. Set up another Unity Project just to try out assets from the Asset Store before I imported only what I need into my main project. I’m afraid this project will be too huge for my laptop to cope. Created the Life Tree from a single tree in SpeedTree package, and the pump towers from SciFi Platforms column and SciFi Battery Pack’s non-working battery. They aren’t perfect, but they are good enough until I see what’s really needed. Tweaked the tree and tree base. Edited the diffuse and emissive maps on the Scifi column so they match the colors and emissions of the Battery Pack pump. Love that fence with barbed-wire from ChainLink Fences asset--used it around the tree base.
Edited the diffuse and emissive maps for what will be the Droids, which are actually parts of enemy ships in the Julai Models pack—so nice.
1/3/2018: Still going crazy in the asset store. Built the SE tower and the big generator.
Began on custom graffiti. Got lost in graffiti. Read up and watched Unity tutorials on lighting and effects and shaders, Legacy and the Standard one… so much I didn’t know before! Built the Generator from spare parts: rescaled towers from the SciFi pack and used the ring from the Prototyping package, with a little animation, Emissive enabled, and the rotator script from the Roll-a-Ball tutorial. Spent a lot of time creating in my mind and playing in Unity… and hoping everything I will do with PostProcessingStack and Cinemachine will make up for the current cheesy look of my scene--lol-- full of a lot of thrown together parts as I’m fleshing out ideas.
1/4/2018: Finished all the graffiti objects, which took a while because I had to figure out how to make Decals-- but they make me laugh and make me feel this world more. Made neon signs on UI Canvas. Experimented with Emissive part of shaders—trying to get textures with decals to match the same texture with Emissive enabled. Experimented with particle systems and made the “acid drips” from the Life Tree. Watched tutorials on Volumetric Lighting and Fog and got more ideas on what I can do to make my cheesy scene look way cool. Can’t wait. Spent a lot of time googling slums so I can get mine just right, but real life is worse than fiction—going to go with PostProcessingEffects and make use of light/dark—no way can I generate all that trash and grunge and sorrow in this time frame.
1/5/2018: Submitted this initial entry for contest with initial screenshots.