Thursday, May 12, 2016

Art Prototype Dev Blog 01

So for the last month or so after pausing Project Merfolk and besides new character work for Battle High 2 A+, I've been trying to work on improving my art skills and my art pipeline.  I wrote a script to convert any rig to the 3D Studio Max biped

I then did research and experimentation with various other programs such as iClone, 3DCoat, and Marvelous Designer, all with the goal of becoming a better and self-sufficient artist.  I've been wanting to start a new project, but since I've been doing all of this art exploration, I thought that it would be a good idea to, instead of making a gameplay prototype, make an art prototype, a prototype of the way the art in my game would look and feel.
This is an important step for my next game, regardless of what it is, so I'm going to start this now.  I'm going to do it live!
Well sorta...and with a lot less anger

The first thing I need to do is determine the look I am going for.  There are several ways to go about this.  One is to determine my strengths and weaknesses.  I know photorealism is definitely not an option.  It takes too long for me, and there are certain skill sets that I don't possess and would take way too long to try and develop -- high res sculpting, complex retopology, etc.  Another tool to help with this is to develop a style guide; from what I know, a style guide is similar to a game design document, but focuses solely on the visuals of a game and usually done very early in a game's production.
I'm going to develop the style guide for the look of characters for my next game, Cupkick.  The first part, is on a scale from realism to cartoony, how do I want the characters to appear.  The following image shows a character made in iClone Character Creator.  It uses the Slim morph -- one I find rather cartoonish and like -- and ranges from no (0%) influence to 100% influence of this morph.

Based on this morph, I want something a bit higher than 25% but not any more than 50%.  The game is going to be a 3D fighter, so characters will be a big focus.  I like this range because it's not 100% realistic, but the 100% is a bit too cartoony and looks weirdly unnatural.  This could be due to the use of a realistic texture on a cartoon-proportioned model. (Note, I'm going to edit these textures before using them in game.)  Regardless, the previous image is just one of many types used in a style guide.

Another part done for style guides is just the use of finding existing work and stating what aspects you want and what aspects you don't.  Here are some games I'm looking at for influence:

Team Fortress 2

Though not a fighting game, TF2 has a unique style that has many aspects I like such as strong silohuettes -- important in a figthing game to help identify moves and simple yet bright colors.  One aspect I don't like is that the proportions are a bit too on the cartoon side for what I'm shooting for.

Dead or Alive & Tekken

I've been a big fan of the Dead or Alive and Tekken series.  I do like the way the characters look.  There's an anime influence in their faces; they aren't realistic so they avoid an uncanny valley look, but they are still strong.  Also the game is bright as a whole.  The negative takeaway is that the world and shading as a whole is a bit too realistic and sometimes silhouettes can get lost.

Marvel Vs. Capcom 3


I really like the graphic style of Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.  The characters are a great mix between realistic and comic style.  The graphic style is a bit too harsh and flashy for what I'm shooting for, gameplay elements can get lost sometimes.

Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy is a bit too cartoony for what I'm shooting for; however, there are aspects of the game's looks I'd like to capture, particularly its cleanliness and bright colors.

Street Fighter V


It's contested, but I think SFV is a great looking game.  The character models, though not all beautiful, are great because they have strong silhouettes.

So, comparing these, I sorta want the following in my game:
  • Bright colors
  • Easy to discern silohuettes
  • Slightly unrealistic characters
And here are some elements I don't want:
  • Comic book style / harsh outlines
  • Photorealistic graphics (in characters AND environments)
  • Cartoony proportions
My biggest issue, of course, is that achieving this level of art fidelity on my own is going to be very difficult (if not impossible).

So what is my goal?

My goal is to create one character from scratch for this game with the following goals in mind:
  • Determine how long creating a new character will take; for example, if it takes 2 months for one character, this is way too long, and obviously i need to invest in other avenues to create characters.  
  • Develop and polish a pipeline for creating characters
  • Achieve the look of the characters I am developing
  • Have something more visually appearing to show off early to gain excitement
I mention the last one because I've felt for my previous prototypes that because they usually have prototype are or look boring, usually get ignored or I get little feedback on them.  I want to see that, if I start with stronger visuals first, that I can get more interest in what I am working on early.
In addition, here are some other, more specific questions I want to answer:
  • How am I going to do hair?!  I like planar hair, but it usually takes a long time to model.  Can I find a starter base asset somewhere and work with that?
  • Will the iClone Characters be good enough?  Too high poly?  Too recognizable?
  • How will I do clothing?  All iClone?  Marvelous Designer?  Model from scratch?
  • What shader / materials will I use?
  • Will these characters run well in Unity3D? On Xbox One?  On PC?  On mobile?
Anyway, this is just a short blog post about what I'm working on next.  Hopefully I'll be able to show progress as I continue working on it and smoothing out the pipeline.

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