Wednesday, 30 June 2010

From Dough to Boy

It always amazes me at the end of a Zbrush session to see how far the model has come. For the most part, I was practicing some anatomy, but after such a long absence from Zbrush I was rusty to say the least. I couldn't remember brush settings, I didn't have any alphas loaded, nor could I remember the optimal brush or tool for the situation.

Basically, what I'm saying is that this took quite a long time, but this sort of thing was never quick in the first place. The head gave me a lot of trouble, as did the hands. Oh god, hands, I'm still terrible at them, but I never find the time to really make good ones. For the most part I would think the quality depends on the basemesh, either from Maya or Zspheres. The head however, felt like an endless battle between realism and style. I think I reached a nice middle ground (depends on what the middle is though). I found each of the features to be hard to get right for a while, as you can probably see from the first 2 stages. The nose wasn't in the right place, the eyes looked weird and I couldn't get a mouth good enough to even look at as a work in progress to put on the face. Eventually everything came into place, the eyes last of all (being the hardest but most important feature on the face).

The body was fun to work on, especially mixed in with anatomy DVDs and books (which aren't as easy to learn from as they go so damn fast you can't follow along easily). I feel like this is another step forward, but then again I always feel like that, and 2 weeks later I hate whatever I've done. The body has a mix of correct (I think) anatomy and smooth shapes, mostly because I don't know what I'm doing with this yet. I'm thinking Wii style graphics, which means I don't NEED to do this, but it never hurt anyone to get some nice shapes. And if I do decide to use normal maps, this'll help, right?

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The End of the World (Working Title)

So, my third semester is (naturally) based on character design. Seeing how characters change over the course of design. Style and concept feeds into design which feeds back into the style and concept. I think its circular like that, but only up to a certain point (after which you've overdesigned the character).

To help me with this, I have enlisted the help of some friends to create some rough concepts for me. Some of them know more or less enough about the world, but I want to see what they come up with and how I can change it to fit the concept. I guess the point I want to prove is that all character are more or less viable for any given concept, it's just a matter of working it.


So the basic idea for this game would be the end of the world (no, not that kind). This was inspired by the idea of looking over the edge of the known world. The kind of thing you would imagine would happen if the concept of "the world is flat" was actually true. This "world" is flat, so by going to the end of the world, you could look down to the abyss. The island the game starts on is basically a chunk of floating rock, the truth of the world is a big secret, so people naturally think that what they see is all there is and that going to the end of the world is forbidden.

The game would be an action RPG (wet dream genre) so narrative is important here, but I didn't want to get too far into it. Basically, the world (Earth as it was known) was fractured into much smaller islands (if each continent was a floating island) that are for the most part isolated. The Earth before it split was very technologically advanced, and it was only because of a tragic mistake (THE ENDLESS NIGHT) that the wold was fractured. Evidence of the old world is present in the new world, as artifacts lay scattered around the area. Some are functioning tech, others are books/paintings depicting the old world. The most valuable are scientist's journals that describe the events leading up to the world fracturing and the team behind it.

The energy radiating from the planet's core is now a powerful and for now, constant source of energy. But this energy has adverse effects on people, changing their form into something that can handle exposure. Most consider these people freaks/mutants and abominations (religion isn't dead yet), so they are hunted down and for the most part captured or killed if they resist. The upper echelons use these mutants to harvest energy from the planet's core -- usually from the bottom of the island -- in order to power the island. The mutants are the only kind of people who can use magic, but magic is more of a symptom of illness than a product of mutation.

For the most part, the mutants are slaves, working in the mines and factories to help the rest of the population live comfortably. The luckier natural slaves work as maids or caretakers as well, the most unlucky are used for experimentation or as sport. Of course, this only works for the island you start on, as a constant how the island uses mutants differs. Some islands would use them for military and other islands have been taken over by them. Regardless of the circumstances, the one thing that mutants provide is the means to harvest energy, so an islands existence is often dependant on them. How they get the energy are by using turbine like devices that suck in the radiation and use its raw power. All appliances/devices have radiation shielding, which means if something goes wrong ordinary people can get exposed and changed, so despite it being powerful it's often dangerous and unclean.

So the upper class exploit the lower class and the middle class is totally unaware, seems oddly familiar, but what do I know (or care) about world issues? The specific details of each island differ, but overall this is how things operate. The lower down you go the more things change, mostly with mutants becoming more free and common at this point, the most powerful living near the core. Eventually I want the story to journey down to the core, using the islands as a stepping stone to get there (with some classic transportation to get between them, like an airship).

As mentioned before, there would be mutants warped by the core's energy and all RPGs need monsters, so animals and plants are also affected. Creating monsters and fusions between species (animal + animal, animal + plant, plant + fish, plant + human etc) that would populate the outer rims of the islands (as energy basically envelops the islands, the outer rims are unsafe and the middle is the safest). This would create a need for hunters/cleaners, because there's a need for food and water. So the hunters would go out and hunt for food as well as protect the inner city from dangers, and there would be jobs like harvesters (for plants/crops) and purifiers (so you can eat tainted meats and drink water). Mechanics/technicians would be responsible for creating the shielding so that appliances work and hunters can venture further from the center without being exposed to radiation. All combined they have a working machine that operates nicely. A model that I hope can be adapted and changed depending on the island.

Of course, you would have weird stuff, like nature/plants would become dependant more on the radiation for survival than sunlight, so trees always point to the outer rims and some trees grow upside down (the roots on the surface) so they can poke underground and feed off the highest concentration of radiation. And what RPG would be complete without crystals? I dunno what purpose they'd serve other than looking awesome, but I'm sure I can think of something (I had a good idea prior to playing FFXIII, but as I played it I noticed how similar it was to mine so now I feel bad using it).

New Stuff: Thought about weather (for a strange reason). Had a vision of rain coming down in bubble form, basically raindrops but at 100x magnification. You could pick them out of the air and avoid getting wet, but they would rest on objects and 'pop' once enough tension is pressed on them. Light (night and day) works because the light from the sun hits the radiation clouds and is absorbed by them. The intention of this was to have blankets of light that hover across the sky, making day and night really sporadic and random (lots of RPGs have a day and night system). You would see daylight in the clouds, and maybe people prepare accordingly depending on what weather they see coming towards them.

Entertainment is what you expect from any RPG. There are sports (nothing special or specific yet), TV/Movie stars, pop/singstars, actors and fame. There are games, art and culture but they all depend on the area. Nothing in mind yet, but I'll think of something.

In terms of military and government, there isn't much there that is different than what the current Earth is like. But the military would be a lot more secular and rarely used, more like an extensive police force that mostly focuses on crime and dangers within the inner city. Most monster threats are dealt with by hunters, with exceptionally dangerous ones being dealt with by some special tasks force. What military and ranks are left would mostly be for protection of important people. The real purpose would be to deter from invasion from other islands, and perhaps the most trustworthy and reputable would get missions on other islands. Of course this is all secret and not noticed until getting past the first island.

As for weapons, I mentioned before that energy is collected by turbine-like machines and used like that. Weapons would largely work the same way, as there would be trace (or more obvious) elements in the air, so weapons would draw on that to use more powerful attacks (so the more of it that is around the better you can fight - but that also means its a more dangerous area). The weapons would have mini-turbines in them that suck in and distribute power to the other parts of the weapon, then after that the energy would be expelled (like steam) and disperse. People proficient in using these weapons would mostly be hunters, but this tech would also be helpful in transportation as well.


As for the gameplay, it would be an action RPG as I mentioned before. Not turn based -- although I did want to explore that side of it -- but more like Star Ocean. My first ideas were that of a multiverse type thing. I would use that excuse as a reason to add in previous characters I did and just tweak them to fit the setting (that was me thinking lazy). There were things like character classes which I explained a bit earlier (Hunter, Harvester, Tech, Mutant etc), which I think is good for an RPG as it helps classify and split characters, but I doubt it really is needed so much in a game where every character can be its own class.

Naturally, random battles are out of the window. Nostalgia is all well and good, but progress is better. Random battles were a tech limitation, and unless the tech limits me I won't limit myself.

I also had the idea of a system which would allow you to preview fights to find out strategies and weaknesses and exploit them in a real battle. Knowledge is power, and a lot of RPGs are quick to throw you into random fights and punish you for not knowing your enemy inside and out. With this, you would get a short preview of the fight (like 10-20 seconds?) and use that time to try out new things with the enemy and find out the weaknesses which would allow you to prepare accordingly with equipment and skills. Figuring out how this system deals with boss fights would be key, because apart from reloading an old save there isn't a way to know (and reloading kinda breaks the flow something harsh). This idea would extend to exploration, in that the character would be given knowledge of what each path would hold so there aren't any pointless areas and finding items would be easier. Naturally, if you missed an item you would know about it, so completionists and kleptomaniacs would be satisfied (I always hate those treasure hunter trophies/achievements).

As for in a fight, there would be free movement across the field with attack and defense options being applied at will. I wanted a system where you could control all the characters, but that's strikingly similar to turn based systems. My idea would initially be to have a timeline of sorts, and once that timeline is complete you can switch characters or let the AI control them. This would effectively let you control all characters in the same time window without leaving any of them helpless. If they are attacked, they are attacked in a timeline that allows you to manually defend (provided you are controlling them, you could let the AI defend). The switch is optional, so you could play as the same character for the entire fight, but for harder fights it would be better to switch characters.

Attacks and defense would be in real time, so while you're attacking and defending, time is ticking along and your allies and enemies are moving. For the most part, there would be light and heavy attacks (as well as directional normals, so pressing the movement stick towards an enemy and attacking would execute a move that closes the gap between you). There would be defensive options like block, dodge and parry but the options would be more available to defensive characters.

Stronger enemies would have a radiation shield that keep characters out, and all fights would have ranges. So when you start a fight, naturally your target will be at long range. There will be a chance for your characters to charge in quickly and cause big damage - most of the time for trash fights this will be the best method to dispatch enemies with. But as you dash in, some enemies will attack you with ranged attacks or magic, meaning you have to avoid/counter their attacks to get in. If they manage to hit you they cause extra damage and push you back, making you retry the charge or rethink your approach (like distracting them or stunning them). Some characters will have tech items (like hover boards?) that help them charge, when these characters are hit they get an extra chance to get in, but often it gets harder the less aid they have. Once your character gets in, they can cause damage and stay close.

Ranged characters don't need to get close to do good damage, and often being close means trouble for them. So the opposite holds true in these cases, the character has to retreat (instead of charge), using whatever attacks/tricks to get away and keep away (maybe I can call it keep out). Dealing enough damage (or getting a certain number of hits) causes the enemy to back off. Naturally enemies will do this as well, meaning that close range characters need to keep close. The issue is dealing with this along side the timeline concept and switching characters. I guess when a character is defending, charging or retreating the player is alerted and can switch characters.

Anyway, there's a light and heavy attack, and some defense, there's also a simple switch target buttons, as RPGs without dedicated targeting buttons are messy when you fight more than one thing (and often annoying when you can't target mages or the most troublesome enemy). There are of course some special attacks, bright lights and whistles. Each character can set a stance or mode, and when you hold a button that mode charges up. Once complete the characters moveset changes and new attacks become available. For example, if you had a character who normally uses a sword, charging up a new mode (that allows for quick hits) would change how he moves, so there would be no heavy attack, just light/quick attacks, there might also be less (or no) defensive options but instead replaced by attack options. Pressing two buttons together would execute a special move that can only be used once you've hit the enemy enough times, but normal special moves could be done with their own unique buttons. Ranged characters work pretty much the same. I'm thinking about a launch system that once active allows characters to deal extra damage, changing normal attacks to aerial juggles and smackdowns, some types allow the airborne enemy to stay in the air longer.

Magic would work a little differently, with only a single defensive option, mages would have several different attacks that need to be chained together based on colour (often the colour of the next spell to be used - corresponding with face buttons?). Charging skills would instead activate a certain spell, which changes how mages work again. There would be active areas of magic that can be used to attack. Each radius will have a button that needs to be pressed to activate the magic (like a flame pillar or lightning strike), so when enemies enter the radius they can be hurt. There could be overlaps or buttons combined to increase the area of effect (AoE) or power. Using the targeting button instead allows the players to adjust the attack zones (automatically and manually). Instead of special moves, the same buttons assigned to that task will be used to cycle through magic set ups, allowing mages access to all of their power.

Thinking a little on how to handle techs, like making their skills give them the ability to build robots or turrets on the battlefield (easier/simple ones are just placed down, but harder ones need to be built from scratch each time). Techs would be able to attack like any close or long range character, but their skill modes would be more about building stuff (vehicles as well, everyone hop in the tank to blow this monster to pieces). The method of doing so would be a little like a minigame I guess, as for what specifically I dunno. This method was also how I wanted to do things with characters who mix potions and medicines.

I was thinking about summons, but I honestly might leave them out, as the idea I had for them seems more like its own game than something I should retrofit into this one. As for extra stuff, I wanted to bridge the gap more between gameplay and narrative, things like mentioning and using attacks that characters have in the field and in cutscene/story segments, and characters not doing some new/weird crazy crap in cutscenes that for some reason they can never do in a real fight (DEUS EX MACHINA). Maybe being able to select what skill/spell you want to use at a certain point in a cutscene would change how to the cutscene progresses.

Well, that's about all I got for now. So next up will be some character concepts.

Ninjas! Final + Other Projects

Long time waiting for this post, been a bit busy with crap but I figured this was a good time to start updating and working out stuff for my third semester. This project was mostly just for practice, as such I think it worked. I need to figure out a better way to colour stuff and get concepts out, but that's what progress is for.

A couple more concepts, going back and forth between time periods. I decided to go with my original look a bit more, since I liked that the most. I dunno why I didn't experiment more, I got impatient and wanted to colour stuff in.

Line work for the final piece. Say what you will about lineart, but I love it. Haters gonna hate, lineart is great. The only problem is being constrained to lines once you start shading, which I guess is only a problem if you can't colour/shade without lines. Lines are comforting, somehow safe. Without lines, the drawing isn't safe anymore, but it isn't constrained either.

Shading/grey tones. This part is hard as hell, but once you get used to it there isn't much of a problem. Getting rid of lines and defining stuff is a long process but very rewarding. I like the picture the most at this stage, colouring it in always seems to make it go downhill.

Final colours and a (crappy) turn around. Definitely need to do better next time, though I'm happy with the overall look and drawings, the colour lets it down for me. Next time, I'll start in full colour, I think there's a lot more control to be had doing it like that. I did try something new though, colouring completely with colour balances. It's weird, but it works oddly enough. I love me some colour balancing.


Apart from that, one of my Dad's friends wanted me to do some pictures for their website. I agreed (semi-reluctantly), as everyone figured it would be good exposure. They're right, but mostly the idea of doing pictures in a style I like to do (and don't get to do often--for anyone else) was kinda appealing. Hopefully this won't take up too much time, but as I know from working with others is that you can never estimate a timescale for stuff such as this.

Early concepts (yes, it's a black girl).

Early poses (working out things for finals).

Some changes they requested (more dynamic dancing pose and wilder hair).

One of the finished pictures. Would you believe that the lineart takes the longest?

That's all for now, though sooner or later I'll be writing up some of my third semester stuff.