Still Alive! & Development Update

Hi everyone,

So recently I’ve had a lot of time to think about what kind of content I’ve been wanting to share on my blog. I’ve thought about some analytical articles, some work updates or the tips I’ve been sharing recently.  However today, let’s start fresh and let me update you on what’s been going on with me so far!

So, first of all, at the end of September, the academy I was working for: BSD Code and Design Academy and I recently parted ways as the tuition side of the company fell through after months of hardship and several business model changes. Long story short we simply found that our business model was too dated and didn’t fit very comfortably with the fast-paced lifestyle of a metropolitan Bangkok, Thailand. Whilst it was sad to say bye to the colleagues and work I was happy to be afforded a real opportunity to work on what has always mattered to me:

Ever since, I’ve decided to work whole-heartedly on my indie game. Having been a few years in development now on and off, I felt it was high time to seriously make some headway in the endeavour and begin serious full-time development with building assets, proofs, picking up scraps of code here and there and actually getting to the golden stage of having something playable. My target for the golden stage was sometime this month and whilst the game is technically playable, recently I’ve been working on getting my protagonist character built, rigged and animated to replace Unreal Engine’s default bionic character in the 3rd person template provided. This is what I mainly want to share with everyone today.

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I mentioned that I’ve been working on my main character and whilst you can see what she looked like originally on my portfolio over at ArtStation, she has changed quite a bit since that particular model. After a lot of consulting and polling, I decided that she lacked a necessary element of femininity to her and began researching the design ideas behind classic survival-horror titles such as Silent Hill 3, Resident Evil 3 and even portions of The Evil Within; all which have a playable female character and analysed the differences between Heather, Jill and Juli respectively.

Whilst my main character is someone in her late teens, the closest representative from the 3 above is obviously Heather from Silent Hill. Staying far away from the demonic / heavy religious themes of Silent Hill, I too; needed this character to come across as both strong and approachable  and to make sure that players could relate to the character and begin establishing a bond with her whilst they progress through the game.

Very much a place-holder for the time being as I now rush to get something playable on the board here she is inside the corridor level I recently built:

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I say placeholder as I realise the character has quite a weak silhouette. If you’re unsure what that means, it simply means that should you just look at her silhouette you’ll find she’s not exactly unique. In a tidy pull-over hoodie, skinny jeans and sneakers, poor Alice doesn’t really stand out as that unique or as the ‘hero character’ we expect in games. Whilst I argue with myself that that’s exactly what I set out to do: build a character that didn’t seem out of place and very typical, like Heather; she needs an extra something about her to enhance her overall design. So with that said, this is how she’ll appear during the alpha stage of my game and I look to update her clothing later on down the line.

Alice was also a R&D project for me as I looked to match the visuals of modern AAA game characters. Taking cue cards from the top games of: Uncharted 4, The Evil Within and most notably perhaps; Rise of the Tomb Raider. I spent a great deal of time looking at how the characters were built in these games. Glancing over at the fan-made tool: XNALara gave me an opportunity and insight to see how the latest Lara Croft was created; and using a new pipeline of base meshes in Maya, a send off to create Zbrush Dynameshes and a few ZRemeshes later, call coupled with a higher threshold of polygons, I believe I got close to what I wanted, but not entirely there. Again, I look to fix this before I publically release the game 🙂

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I’ve also been spending the last 4 days trying to rig her up using the great ART tools provided by the kind staff at Epic Games and BOY! Talk about how much of a hassle it is to create a custom rig and begin skinning her weights! I now have INTSENSE respect for the industry’s Technical Artists. It wasn’t the fault of ART tools by any means but more of a tug of war with Maya’s weight-painting tools as weights would gleefully dart from limb to limb as I relentlessly negotiated with the software on a limb-by-limb basis. I swear, there were instances where Maya thought it was a good idea to have Alice’s ear partly weighted to her thigh bone. And that was… well done, Maya… much logic! *slow clap*

A few frustrated social media posts and analogies to training a dog later and I now have a rig that’s not perfect by a long shot but is… competent and to my joy, still works with the corrective blendshapes and facial animations I had constructed for Alice. After reading the UE4 documentation, I realised that the engine prefers a rig-system for her face and that minimising the number of blendshapes whilst not essential; would be ideal in terms of memory conservation. So, bearing that in mind, that will be another change I’ll add before the public release version.

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The next step was to head on over to good ol’ Brekel for my Kinect motion capture footage. After over 12 months of having my good friend help me out with Alice’s animations, I’m now at a position where I can finally use them and will be spending the rest of the month translating said animations to Alice so that you can move her around in the level! Not being animator means I’ll be pulling teeth with my good ol’ buddy Maya once again 😉

I realise this might not sound like much of an achievement to someone who’s been through this process a hundred times, or to somebody who’s daily job is to work in the games industry. However for me it’s a huge thing. Yes, I’ve made characters before, I’ve posed them using the transform tool in Zbrush and rendered them and all that, but Alice will truly be the first character ever created with the intention to be moved by a player’s input, inside a game engine, inside an actual game concept; solely my own and that thought is what keeps me persevering through all the hardship, sweat and tears I’ve shed!

Finally, on a closing note, I’m currently tied between working on my indie game and applying for a job overseas. It’s come to my attention at an alarming pace, that I need to move over to the west. I’ve spent many years here in Thailand and realise that socially, culturally and even career-wise it’s largely a personal dead-end with very little enthusiasm for games here. Whilst the market and interest is growing, as someone who still has plenty of room to develop and grow himself, I must now set my sights to the west to finally enter the games industry, a part of the world where such a community is already thriving and not just starting up.

When I have a playable version of my game running, which will consist of a floor’s worth of playable level area, a rigged character and basic interactions and mechanics programmed in, I look forward to spending a bit of time away from game development to conduct several more research and development projects into real-time realistic & stylistic character rendering.

After witnessing great marvels like Uncharted 4, the recently anticipated Last of Us Part 2 and Final Fantasy XV’s Kingsglaive, I feel it’s time to address my portfolio and look into techniques such as fantasy character design, a potential revisit to military design, hard-surface modeling and non-in-game character meshes in the hopes of one day being employed in the west as one of the industry’s top 3D artists and game designers.

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As always, thanks for reading this far and for taking an interest in my blog. From now on I’ll be using this blog as a means of keeping everyone interested up to date in the progress of my game and any other projects I work on, as well as the occasional tips and tricks I feel could be useful to know about based upon my R&D findings and… the occasional musing or two. Soon, I’d like to be able to share with you some discarded concepts of environments and levels I built and run you through all that good stuff!

 

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