Shliebi! Or in mortal language, hello! My name is KC Brady and my role on The Channeler is an environment and UI/UX artist. I will leave a brief overview of my process on The Channeler, including challenges and observations.
To keep the art team on track, we were required to have our Style Guide completed by the end of the semester. The Style Guides goes over shape language, color, and design and pattern choices. It is the Bible of art to your game that the art team must keep going back to if there is any doubt what needs to be done for the design of the game. To begin the Style Guide process, lets take a look at how The Channeler began and what we had to figure out for the Style Guide.
The Channeler was originally pitched as a spooky and funky world that initially consisted of two very different environments. One environment was a Victorian-style building, known as the CSA, where Channelers would hang out and receive quest objectives. The second environment was a scary and crowded city filled with detailed ghosts and a good amount of closed shops and detail.
With these two worlds in mind, we wanted to tackle the shape language and color palette as soon as possible. Those would be the most helpful in figuring out how the world would shape itself. We pulled inspiration from Disney Infinity artist, Sam Neilson, Psychonauts and The Secret of Kells.
The art team began a two and a half month phase of concepting in 2D and 3D. We began by studying designs in both cultures and pulling ideas we liked in our concepts of buildings, props, layouts, and architecture.
This worked great until we began to run into our first design challenge: each artist was looking up their own references and pulling what each individual saw. Why was this a challenge? To put it simply, we were all pulling from so many angles, that none of our art looked coherent or looked like it belonged in the same game.
To remedy this first challenge, the art team met and decided to make multiple Pinterest boards. In this way, we made sure each artist was pulling from the same inspiration to keep our ideas in check. We began to notice after studying each others concepts, our art finally began to flow and it became more difficult to tell who worked on what piece. Perfect.
The sailing was pretty smooth from here until Vertical Slice. We had our color palette of muted greens, blues and yellows for our Kowloon city, and browns, reds and golds for our Victorian CSA building. We also had our shape language we pulled from Sam Neilson, with exaggerated and long swooping lines.
And so the boat was rocked, and the feathers were ruffled. All those months of concepting before this point came to ruins at our feet. We had not realized this crucial point until now: the game was simply too big.
A harsh reality came when we discovered it was not possible to complete this much work in the time given, nor did our environments make much sense for the core of our game. What does this mean? Our game made it through the final round of cuts because we were an experimental game via technology. Eye tracking should be the main focus and core of our game. Story needed to take a back seat, and with the cutting of story came the trimmings of a lot of the excess environment.
CSA was no more and Kowloon became a short street and a warehouse.
In hindsight, this was a great pivot point for us. Making these realizations at this point changed our work flow into something more manageable. Sure, we were disappointed we wouldn’t be able to work on everything we wanted to work on, however, it meant that we could really pinpoint what was needed and gave us more time to perfect the required items.
Fortunately, we did not have to do too much concepting to figure out the missing pieces. Only a few here and there as they became needed. Since we knew we were going to focus on the streets of Kowloon and the warehouse, we shifted our studies from shape and color to modularity.
Modularity would be our savior if we could master it. We began by building props and architecture, then blasting them apart. Could this piece possibly fit here? How about this door? Could this window be a railing? There were so many studies and questions about modularity and making sure all the pieces looked and fit once we put them all together in the level.
On that point is another one of our art team challenges. We never put the art together until much later than we probably should have. We all knew what the props looked like, and we were pretty certain they would look good together, however…we never put them in a level and actually checked.
We got stuck in this weird cyclical pattern of waiting for certain things to get accomplished that never did, and ended up way behind making sure our colors and assets looked good together in the engine.
Moving through the mud…
Ultimately, we needed to have our butts kicked to get our art team back to work. I don’t blame our motivation or work ethic as much as I blame our newness to making games. We stagnated for so long that we rarely knew what was going on or what was needed next. We had all these props, but things just weren’t moving forward. We had no level to be seen and people were feeling a bit lost in the direction the game should be going.
Outside help came that we definitely needed in order to move forward. We learned something about our art team that day. As individuals we were okay, but we tended to put things on the back-burners a bit. However, as an ART TEAM, we were this massive destructive force that was something to be reckoned with. We began art jamming. Once a week, we would stay as an art team and do what was necessary for the week. This was so highly successful and pushed our game leaps and bounds forward in a very small and short amount of time.
…by means of scope cuts
It was amazing to see what one little change to our schedules did. We had a level, it was quickly populated, and it was easy to see what assets needed to be cut and what needed to be altered.
I cut roughly about two props that had been already UV’d and had proxy textures on them. It didn’t hurt. I was too dedicated to making sure the product looked good for the team, that I personally never got upset at what I worked on getting cut. I will say though, I did have quite the nice looking bicycle model.
Another major cut we faced was nixing the warehouse. It was too much to try to convert all the props we had made from outside to inside props and getting them all to work. This made us happier, sort of.
Playing nice in the sandbox
This was such a brief period, that I will only mention it here just as briefly. There was a time where the designers were working with a few puzzles that only seemed to work with an environment that was inside a building. We tried working with this idea, but it was just as much work to make an inside area as it was to make assets for the warehouse. We pushed back and finally made the ultimate decision to keep everything outside in the alley.
With our level finally flushed out, we had to try something a bit different, making sure our art fit the needs of the designers and their puzzles that they were developing. This called for communication between the two teams to make sure they had the assets they needed to complete their puzzles, but give us enough time to make the assets function and hit a certain quality bar.
Getting a finalized asset list is just something that is near impossible to obtain. The artists remained on standby for the designers if they had an urgent request that they needed to have for their puzzles by a certain deadline. This never really caused too many problems, but we didn’t really know when the end came for some of these requests. Also, not having flushed out asset lists meant that assets were overlooked until they got play tested much later.
I would not necessarily say that this was a challenge as just making sure that each time has some give and take. We made ourselves available and in return, the designers altered some of their puzzle mechanics to make sure it fit the look and feel the of game when they could.
To summarize, at this point it is pretty late in the summer semester. The Style Guide has long been outdated since we had to revamp everything at Vertical Slice, the level was finally coming together, and much of our modular studies proved to be fruitful.
All that was left was lighting and making sure the textures were all updated to something that reflected our style. I spent a lot of time updating UV maps and making sure textures fit into the environment by playing with color balancing and curves.
The art team met weekly to review and go over all the assets. We eventually made an excel spreadsheet that kept tabs of all the art assets in the game, what stage of completion they were at and which ones got cut.
The spreadsheet was also available to designers to go in and add any other assets they might need so the art team could meet and distribute tasks as necessary.
UI – I cry
Finally, the last requirement for our game was UI. It was touched on so late in the process that it didn’t get the love it deserved. We had lofty ideas for what we wanted to achieve with the UI, but we ran into challenges with the UI creation tool that prevented many of the art aesthetics we made to be unusable and we had to settle for what the program could do.
From start to finish, all the UI/UX design took three weeks of steady work and many frustrations on setting up.
I loved our game. It was a blast to work on and I really truly loved all my teammates. They were great to work with, and even if there were bumps in the road, they got over it and knew they had to continue for the sake of the game.
The assets I was in charge of for the game was:
- Carts – which could be broken apart into new things
- Signage across the level. This included 2 variations of neon signs, 1 short street sign and 1 tall street sign
- Decals to spread across the level. These included 10 variations of symbols used on the neon signs and barrels, torn cloth, paper to spread on the ground and the walls
- 4 variation of bottles used for one of the designer puzzle games
- 2 variations of plants to be scattered across the level
- 2 variations of pipes that were also placed along the level. These also got broken into modular bits and pieces
- UI designing and building of the start screen and pause screen.
Despite the work I put into the game, there were some assets I created that didn’t make the cut. Luckily, I was never married to anything that ultimately got cut, so letting my babies go wasn’t that hard. Some I even decided to cut myself to make sure I followed the style of the game. Some assets I made that got cut were:
- Bicycle (the best one anyone has ever laid eyes on) – It was too realistic for our game
- Lantern – it just was not favorable compared to other lanterns that were made.
- Grass planes – I made a few grass planes to scatter across the level, but the lighting was not playing nice with them and had to give up on them.
- Water – I had made a puddle decal to place on the ground. I found that water was extremely difficult.
Some lessons we learned was that we need to keep moving forward. There were times where we did not want to step on toes, but it caused us to get a little lost when we weren’t sure what to do next.
Communication is always one that gets mentioned in these, and our team was no exception. It took us awhile to organize and prioritize what everyone should be doing and in what order. There was also some minor miscommunication in what should be delivered to some of the different tracks.
On that same topic, know what your deliverable should be. It’s great to plow forward and just make whatever you want, but restrictions help more than hurt. Know that the asset you need is smaller, therefore, does not need a 6k texture map! (Not that this would..ever…happen…)
Overall, our project went pretty smoothly. Not one of the tracks from my observation really hit too many major problems, and any problems that did come up were solved. I will continue to say this, but I loved my team. Everyone worked so well together and everyone felt comfortable enough to say anything to anyone to get an answer.