May 21, 2012

Odyssia: The Process

My final year at Ringling College wrapped itself up in a nice little diploma for me. So I decided to wrap up my thesis experience into one blog post for anyone interested and for future reference for myself.

Give it a moment to load images and things

Odyssia is a game concept developed as a 2012 senior thesis at Ringling College of Art and Design in the Game Art and Design major. It's a collaboration between three people:

ODYSSIA is an underwater resort that is suddenly attacked by a giant sea creature. Everyone manages to escape except for one woman. She has to make her way through the now dangerous paradise using a Energy Transferring Tool (ETT). This allows her to absorb the energy used to power objects and inject it into things that she would need to escape or to avoid the creature.

The the player is this woman and the Energy Transferring is the the main gameplay mechanic used to solve environmental puzzles. The general mood is creepy and often threatening with some action thrown in there for encounters with the creature destroying parts of the resort. It can all be thought as a mix between Portal's gameplay and Amnesia's thrill put in a setting similar to Bioshock.

All of this information was developed out in our Junior year second semester as well as over the summer break of 2011. Our animatic trailer looked very different after this point and much of the concepts were still extremely rough. Here's the original animatic that we ended the Pre-Production class with.

It's pretty obvious that some things were cut and some things were added in the final trailer. We showed off gameplay for one thing, I'll go into why that was taken out later on but I am going to go into what kind of gameplay was developed in this concept phase. Even though it was not in the final trailer it still saved us from a massive headache when putting together a navigable space later on. Here are some preliminary concepts and level layouts I created for the team:
I always approach environment design as if I'm creating an interactive illustration. Game environments are meant to not only give the player a challenge to overcome but to also give them some emotional feedback, either through visual narrative or graphics like a XP bonuses and such.

After this we decided on who will be taking which environments. Originally these designs were for gameplay in mind and some spaces you see are not in the final trailer and somethings in the trailer were not in the original design, such as the pod bay environment. That was originally going to be a part of the entrance space because it made sense with the gameplay but as the trailer came along, explaining that one small thing became an issue and so they diverged into two separate environments. As well as another environment entirely dissapearing even though it was a perfect gameplay scenario:

Originally a gameplay level where you have to swim outside to get to another building but you had to avoid the creature's swaying tentacles in order to make it across safely.
This happened quite a bit in the Production phase. Speaking of which...

This is when nothing was just "what could be?" This was when things had to come together and fit properly. Still there was a lot of people questioning us what our thesis was and if it could have some other things to it. Feature creep started happening and the project began to get bloated by the comments of others. Here's the first pass trailer we had when Senior Year started.

Well first off the big comment we got back was "What was all that?" and yeah, there was a lot going on and lots of different shots showing different parts of the game, but it didn't really explain the story that much and there lie the issue we had. The faculty were very much confused by the montage of moments and really pushed for something more linear. 

Everyone on our team went to work fast and hard to get another revision completed that was little more linear. We went through multiple storyboards and animatics to try out different ideas. I even had to completely throw away multiple versions of the entrance space before getting to what you see in the end.

The biggest issue we were having was that the entrance was on the top of the building, which made sense with gameplay (escape the rising water scenario), but in the trailer all attempts to make use of it confused the faculty.

All the while I had another environment to work on as well, the Prominade Hallway which gt significantly less attention than I had wanted because of the constant revisions to the Entrance environment. Eventually though I had the time to give that environment some much needed

There's a jump in the quality mainly because after spending so long on the entrance I had to crunch to bring the hallway up to par.

Eventually we came to a version of the trailer that was very linear, something the faculty really wanted, but had cut the gameplay entirely.

It got the thumbs up of approval but as a team we asked ourselves if we could get some more gameplay footage in. At this point however we were running out of time and as it was it was already going to be a big push. I had added another hallway environment attached to the entrance and the Pod Bay had become it's own environment that Kez took over as her own.

The only issue now was that there was no woman. The woman was something that kept dissapearing and reappearing in our trailer, since it required animation but none of us knew how to animate very well. Still we needed a person there for the main story set up and because we were getting comments from the faculty challenging us to get them to "care about why the environments are flooding" as the viewer.

We needed a person who was left behind in all this destruction and chaos. We needed a damsel is distress with no one there to save her. So I took up the challenge to make and animate this character and we created a scene at the end to introduce her after the destruction. The trailer was all there now, all that was left was to finish the assets and filling up the spaces

Here's the trailer that we had at the end of our first semester:

As the winter break went by, I didn't actually take much of a break. I was working on how I could fill up my spaces quickly with assets, and I went through a lot of sketches and designs for the character that I now had to model and animate as quickly as possible. But first I needed a final design for her. This is the process that she went through:

Some silhouettes and portrait sketches. I concluded some of the aspects of the dress that I wanted and what kind of face shape and hair she should have from these.
Some corset designs, I knew I wanted her dress to have a corset so I did a few quick designs.
This of course led to her turn around sheet...
...and a nice little painting of her.
When I got back to school I got approval and feed back from teachers and classmates and moved on to the modeling and textureing. It was a mixture of things, I kept going back and forth between zBrush and Maya. There was a lot of tweaking and editing. I used zBrush mainly for painting the textures, especially around the face. You can never pay enough attention to the face, everyone will judge your character mainly from the face. By the end I had something like this:

She went through a few tweaks and changes before the end but the main model was done and rigged, ready for animation.

The environments went through an overhaul right after the character was finished. There wasn't much documentation done during this time because we were all on crunch pretty much to the end of thesis.

During this time however I went ahead and just started turning our environments into something that could be used for the navigable space which was a nice change of pace. I was able to think more about the spaces as a player as opposed to a film director and I got back into touch with the initial ideas for environments concerning their mood. It was a whirlwind race to beat the clock with this.

I could only take 5 days away from the work for the trailer if I was ever to hope to finish it in time. By the end of those 5 days I had re-lit, rearranged, added sound, worked around many technical problems with level streaming and kismet, and created a few smaller environments to connect each of our environments together.

Then I went right back to work on the trailer: getting the lighting just right, filling up enough screen space with assets, working out technical issues with matinee, and of course animating the character. By the end of everything we had our trailer finished, the same trailer you saw up on the top of the blog but here it is again:

I also created a gag poster for the trailer that was shown around the school.

Mike and Kez created this awesome desktop backgroud with their hero assets. You should make it your desktop background, 'cause it's better than whatever you have right now

And here are some stills of my final environments:

Water FX by Michael Hosticka
This is one of the environments from the navigable space.

This may be edited in the future since I am still missing some imagery at the moment, but this is enough info that I think you get the gist of most of it.

No comments: