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Posts Tagged ‘art direction’

I know, I know, that’s a terrible pun.  I do that sometimes.  English just lends itself well to such… malleability.

I played in the Allods Online closed beta a little while back.  (They are having another one, too, so if you’re interested, go sign up!)  As always, I didn’t get a lot of time in the game, but what I did see at least has me looking forward to playing it a bit when it gets a full release.

The Massively preview that I referenced last time I wrote about Allods Online has perhaps more than I really have to offer, so I would suggest that as a starting point.  I do have some screenshots that I wanted to chime in about (out of 173… I take a lot of shots).

Before I get to that, though, a few thoughts (noting that this time, I can’t remember where I read these things, and what inaccuracies exist about the lore are entirely my fault):

One, what exactly is an “Allod”, anyway?  It turns out that an Allod is a chunk of habitable terrain floating around in this sort of… space… Etherium-like… thing.  (The Etherium is Treasure Planet’s “outer space”… which is a strange sort of space with breathable atmosphere and unidirectional gravity… unless there’s a spatial distortion or baby black hole.  Treasure Planet isn’t a terrible movie, but the physics are just so… WRONG.)  Apparently, people used to be constrained to their local Allod, whilst the mage priesthood maintained the means to travel between them… until someone went and discovered that you could just go sail around in space, looking for other Allods.

So, we have some sort of power hungry magehood (the mage version of a priesthood, of course) conspiring for population control, rebels trying to set everyone free, power struggles between the Empire and the League (I’m not sure who is closer to the mages, or if they are a third faction that nobody likes), and Gibberlings.  These guys are sort of like a cross between Gnomes, Ewoks and Gremlins that are born in triplets and fight as a trio.  Yes, they are player characters as well as NPCs.  It’s a lot of fun to play as Gibberlings for me, but then, I wasn’t traumatized by Teddy Ruxpin or Tickle Me Elmo.  Player response to these guys will be varied, methinketh.

Oh, and ships.  Did I mention ships?  Apparently, ship combat is meant to be the “endgame”, or at least a significant part of the non-noob experience.  At some point, you can get your own ship and sail around between Allods, complete with combat and crew cooperation.  As in, you may need other players to man your ship.

I can’t shake the Puzzle Pirates feel of that.  In PP, you can solo a lot of things, and have a lot of fun playing alone, even on your own little sloop (and I hope Allods Online lets you solo ships), but the really crazy (fun) and rewarding stuff is done on ships with other players.  If the ship combat (including manning separate stations) in Allods Online can be even partially as fun as PP (but in 3D, wooooo), it’ll be worth digging into.  PP has PvP and PvE on these group ships, and both can be a lot of fun.  I lean more to the cooperative PvE (the PP equivalent to raiding, I suppose), but PvP can be a thrill at times, too.  PP is player skill based, though, which is, as always, significant when it comes to game design.  We’ll see how much player skill means in Allods Online.  I’ve never considered outleveling someone else to really be a “skill” when it comes to PvP.

Of course, the land-based DIKU standard MMO fare will appeal to some, and the ship combat will appeal to others.  I haven’t read anything on raids, but perhaps that’s still in the pipeline.  The DIKU combat doesn’t have an “autoattack + hotkeys”, rather, it’s all hotkeys.  You need to trigger your basic attack.  This can be good or bad, depending on how you play.  I had fun with it, but I’ll admit, I miss the old brainless autopilot combat sometimes (and I want more involved combat sometimes, too).  Either way, it’s something a bit different than the gorilla standard, while still being accessible.  Time will tell if that’s a good idea.  (I lean more to DDO if I want more involved combat, but hey, to each their own.)

OK, so… pictures.  I’m hiding them behind the More link for cleanliness’ sake, and for anyone who happens to be tuning in via dialup.  There are plenty of pictures after the break, for better or worse.

Bottom line, I’ll be playing this in the next beta, and I look forward to playing once it’s live.  It may not be my permanent MMO home, but it bears investigation.  I do heartily recommend it to anyone interested in MMOs, if only to see what the Russians are up to in game development.  (Apparently, there are some solid game studios in Russia.  I welcome this, since “Western” and Japanese games could use some competition.)

Pictures after the link: (more…)

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We all live in a steampunk submarine, a steampunk submarine, a steampunk submarine

(Yes, that’s three links to different articles about the same office, but there are some unique pictures in each, as far as I can tell.)

OK, so it’s not exactly a submarine, but the “Captain Nemo” steampunk flavor of the Three Rings office (the Puzzle Pirates guys) sure looks like it would be a fun place to work.  The design alone is awesome, but even better is that it was fairly cheap.  Quick router cuts and simple colors fit the Three Rings design ethos, and with enough attention to art direction, even the flat colors and fairly simple shapes look fantastic.  (Chalk another one up for simple but consistent and interesting art direction over pixel shaders, gigantic poly meshes and huge texture footprints.)

These are the guys behind the office construction (with some more pictures of the same):

Because We Can

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I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a technical artist in the game industry.  I presented a class to my fellow artists a while back regarding what I’m calling Object Oriented Texturing.  The official work blog writeup is here:

Texturing Class

That’s actually the short version, derived from my class notes.  The long version is this .doc file:

texturing-and-uv-layout

Long story short, computer programming has benefitted greatly from object oriented programming.  Art assets are somewhat more specialized in that many things need unique assets, but inasmuch as the object oriented conceptual framework has allowed engineers to reuse code and streamline the production pipeline, if we can reuse art assets we should see similar benefits.

Reused art means lower total costs, smaller data footprint, quicker runtime access to assets, and simpler art direction.  (A reused texture can be tweaked once, naturally propagating through all instances where it’s used, rather than reworking the art assets one by one by hand if they are just part of a series of unique texture assets.)  Of course, smart art direction means finding ways to reuse assets while still making it look like you’re not reusing them.  Similarly, reducing poly count and texture size mean finding ways to cheat so that it’s not obvious that you’re skimping.

This is part of what makes art direction and art generation so important in games.  We can’t get away with prerendered frames like Pixar can (I was trained to do their level of graphics, so I know both ends of the spectrum), since we need visuals to update at least 24 times per second.  “Reduce, reuse and recycle” are highly relevant terms in the game industry.

Of course, this is probably pretty obvious for many gamers, as they have seen where this fails.  Say, Final Fight, wherein every fifth enemy is either the same art assets, or “palette swapped” versions of the same.  Some of these tricks were very necessary in the 8-bit and 16-bit era, but we still use them today, even on 3D games with stupidly huge budgets by comparison.  In fact, it’s often even more important in 3D, since a 3D animated mesh is much more expensive than a sprite.  (Yes, the hardware is better too, but we still have to beware of bloat.)  At the same time, we can cheat a bit more in 3D, since we have access to not only textures, but also normals, vertex color, lighting and surface light properties (specular and diffuse settings or maps, for example), as well as “shaders” that allow for specialized visual effects, like the much-ballyhooed “cel shading”.

That’s part of the toolset that a game artist needs to learn; when and how to cheat visuals so that things look good while not being overly expensive.  OOT is one way to handle that.  I’ve also found that describing this sort of art asset pipeline optimization in those terms means that the CS guys immediately understand what I’m getting at, and it’s easier to sell them on things that we may need them to do to make our art pipeline work better.

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