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The PS4 launched last week and, though I still barely believe my luck, I got the chance to accompany Jon to the launch event in New York! As it turned out, I was a bit too shy to help him out too much with the questions, but it was still an invaluable experience for someone who has never before been to anything like this event.
The interviews happened somewhat randomly. A whole floor of the Standard Hotel was dedicated to indie games that would appear on the PS4, and the press wandered around, peeking into rooms and sitting down to play the games when they were available. I snapped a picture of the room where The Witness was shown:
We spent two days showing the game to many journalists. They usually played from the beginning for a while, then Jon took them on a guided tour of an area where the puzzles were starting to get a little crazy, explaining the thought process behind them. It was so great to finally see the game being played! Everyone seemed to love it, too!
During the nights, we were invited to a few events. Sony took the indie developers out for dinner, where I met Shuhei Yoshida, and chatted with the guys from Secret Ponchos about goldsmithing and tattoos. It was a good opportunity to get to know the other developers, and a nice gesture by Sony. The next night there was also a bigger, louder party in the penthouse of a tall building, to which local developers were invited as well. It was so full we could barely move, so I just stood around trying to piece together conversation through the incessant club music.
By Wednesday we were done with the interviews and I had some time to explore New York and feel totally lazy while Jon got some programming and design done in a cafe. I ended up spending most of the day in the MoMA, where there just happened to be a special Magritte exhibition going. Love Magritte! Oh, and I also got to see Sleep No More, which was a really amazing experience!
The most unbelievable part of the trip for me, however, was seeing our artwork displayed on the side of the 17 story hotel. It was difficult to decipher right up close, since it was displayed on huge sheets of LED lights, but it was wonderful to be right there to see it happen! We took a few pictures but they turned out very blurry, so here are some taken by Kevin Geisler:
Only Alex’s windmill and my autumn forest and orchard made it onto the building, but I thought I would include all the original images we submitted, since we put some effort into getting them together. These are pretty high res, in case you guys want to print your own posters or crop them down and make some wallpapers:
About a month ago, I gave a speech at Creative Mornings in Portland about the way the Free-to-Play business model affects game design. I compared games to television, looking at the way television business models have drastically affected the composition of those shows.
(I didn’t name this speech; the title given here was picked by Creative Mornings after the speech was given.)
Interview with Adam Sessler at last week’s PlayStation event:
Discussion on PlayStation Blogcast (Witness talk starts around 26:25):
(From the way the PS guys talk, it sounds like it is all me making this game, but as always on games of this size, there is a whole team making it happen!)
Interview with Gametrailers, also from the PlayStation event (you may have to sit through a commercial with army dudes to see it):
Sony had an event today at their offices in Foster City to give the press some hands-on time with upcoming games running on the PlayStation 4.
The Witness was among the games being shown! We were the only third-party game there. Also shown were a whole lot of Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack, PS4 versions of Sound Shapes and Flower, and Resogun.
I did some interviews and talked to a number of press people who are very interested in The Witness. I also took some photos.
Brad from Giant Bomb playing The Witness:
The room we were in:
Flower at 1080p and 60Hz, with the new, more-sensitive controller, feels nice to play:
The shipwreck is an area of the island that has not been shown before, because up until recently it was one of the barest, most undeveloped areas we had. It grew bigger and bigger over the years (like most things on the island), from a little slab mockup Jon had by the shore, into a massive freighter with the usual, intricate gameplay requirements.
The process for building this ship was interesting. We have architects helping us with building designs, but even the architects were not entirely familiar with the structures of ships. We spent a lot of time looking at reference images, talking about the materials and how the entire structure would decay over time. They gave me a base design for the hull, deck, bridge, and the inner beams of the ship. I modeled that whole, then split it up into five pieces.
The front, middle, and back pieces were kept somewhat intact, the rest was split into scattered rubble to dress the scene. Next, it was time to figure out the gameplay and decide what parts of the ship would be accessible and what parts would be rotten away. Because the ship was so huge and I was modeling it alone, I had to be careful about limiting what would be navigable and what would be seen, since I wanted to keep my workload to a minimum while still having very interesting, believable areas. I spent a long time cutting holes, bending floors and ripping out beams.
Then, I had to figure out how to make a decaying heap of metal with our simple, clean style, as described by Eric in the last post. My first attempts had minimal detail in the geometry, with a lot of noise and contrast in the textures. It was exactly the opposite of what we usually do, but I was trying to develop a process for detailing the entire ship quickly, and it’s a lot faster to use blendmaps to add noise than to tediously cut and shape geometry. It looked terrible, but I was at a loss for how to make it better quickly. Fortunately, Luis and Eric encouraged me to just reduce the contrast in the textures, and let the small details in the modeling stand on their own. It took ten seconds to lighten some textures, and all of a sudden I had something I was finally happy with. At first it felt wrong to leave large surfaces so plain, but the other artists were right. With our beautiful lightmaps and simple style, a little detail and a few modular rubble and rust pieces were all that was needed to make the space feel like it belonged to our game.
This shipwreck is still not quite finished, but it is the last huge project on my plate before moving on to the many smaller projects and tasks we still need to complete to ship the game.
What’s up, internet? I’m Eric – one of the artists working on The Witness. I figured what better way to celebrate more than two years on the project than by making my very first post on the development blog! (plus, Luis and Orsi hassled me!!!) So here goes:
In the olden days of The Witness art development, our visual “style” for the game hadn’t really coalesced yet. Or, to be more accurate, we knew what our objectives were (from a purely theoretical, gameplay-based perspective) but we hadn’t really grasped what the ramifications would be in terms of our production process.
For instance, on an early attempt at adding a rough-stone wall, I approached it like most modern game artists would: using the full spectrum of art tools and tricks… normal mapping, edge-distress, enhanced details, etc..
But the problem with this approach is that it’s sort of at odds with one of our prime directives from Jonathan: to build a game world without unnecessary visual clutter. “Noise” was our enemy. But that’s kind of an interesting riddle, since most game engines and art techniques are so often all about adding extra levels of noise, grime, texture, detail, (realism!), etc.
So we began an exploration of different techniques we could use to achieve a sort of stylized realism. We needed to be able to capture the “essence” of our reference imagery while not being quite so literal. It also had to be free of gratuitous visual noise, plus appealing to look at and explore. So what follows is an early effort to break down and re-think that art process in a different sort of way.
In this case, my objective was to figure out how to attack a medium-sized cliff face while avoiding an overwhelming amount of noise/detail. First off, reference. Starting with some photo reference, I wanted to isolate the primary features, and not worry at all about the small, noisy stuff:
Then, an attempt to stylistically sculpt those simplified shapes:
And finally, breaking those forms down into modularized, reusable meshes that could be combined to form a cliff:
One of the biggest lessons we learned from this experiment was that if we give the engine nice clean, simplified geometry (not worry as much about the texturing – just keep it understated and focus more on the overall color and balance), the lighting results we get are gorgeous. In a way this is extremely freeing, as it lets us concentrate on the overall form of objects, rather than obsess over details like perfect seamless, UV mapping, limited texture resolution, normal mapping issues, etc. We also learned very quickly that hard edges are not evil…. In the absence of heavy texture detail, the faceting had become a powerful tool to help define the form in a clean, almost graphic style, with minimal noise, but lots of subtlety.
That process of “analyze, deconstruct, simplify” became our new way of approaching complex surfaces. And so, as we built out more areas of the island, this visual language began to take shape,and you can now see it deployed across most of the rock forms in the game…
Take note that foliage has a different language [see Orsi’s previous post on trees], as does rolling terrain, and hard architectural surfaces. But this style contrast is extremely useful from a game design perspective, as it helps inform the player as to what materials the surfaces they are looking at are likely made from, without having to resort to overtly photoreal textures.
Even older areas of the game (that were suddenly “out of style”) were able to be refreshed using this new lens, and brought in-line alongside the cleaner, less-noisy artwork:
And here’s some additional rock shots from around the island, just because…
Luis’ awesome sculpted sandstone cliffs:
Orsi’s awesome lakeside steppes:
And a bit of mysterious tunnel:
That’s all I’ve got to share for now. Have a great September!!!
It’s been a long time since the last posting! Time flies.
Normally I would post an Island Snapshot, but the viewpoint we have been using for Island Snapshots is a little bit unfortunate lately, since the main thing taking up the view is the mountain, which is an area we haven’t worked on modeling-wise lately. (It is a big area so we are going to do a concentrated push on it in a little bit, when some other things get locked down.)
So, here are some screenshots of other stuff we have been working on lately. Both areas are in progress and will look better than this in the final game!
A lake that’s central to the island…
A swampy area with light buildings and walkways. The vegetation you see here is temporary! But I am happy we are finally starting to work on this area; if you look at it in the trailer, for example, it’s obviously very much more temporary.
Since a lot of you have been asking for them, I put together a few wallpapers based on those poster ideas from a while ago (most of which were created by Luis, who has a great eye for composition. Hopefully I didn’t butcher them too badly.)
My hope is that at some point we will add a media section where we can put more wallpapers, posters, screenshots and such. We are all working hard to finish the game, however, so it’s not exactly a high priority.
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