Friday, 31 May 2013

Evaluation and Critical Analysis

I am very happy with the end result of my final major project, I would like to do an evaluation on the process and what I have learned along the way, what I would change and what I'm happy with. I will also do and a critical analysis of the project.

Originally at the start of the project I had two projects in mind. I worked on developing the ideas of both for the first presentation. The first idea was to make an environment based on Warwick Castle, and have a back story that the player could explore within the level. It was based on a cataclysmic event long ago, which caused the destruction and abandoning of the castle.

My second idea was to make an alien environment, an Amazon styled jungle on a different planet. I chose environment based projects because that is what I have most enjoyed about the course and would like to specialise in.

Eventually after having feedback and more planning and thoughts, I decided to go with the Alien Jungle idea, since that would also give me a chance to design creatures for the level, which is also one of my main interests. It would also be more fun and give me some more freedom in terms of the design. After being set on this idea, I started working on more concepts for the level itself. I had a very good idea already of the layout and what I would like to have in the environment.

I wrote out my brief as well so this was the guideline to the whole project. After that I was working on a checklist of things needed for the level. I did sketches and digital paintings for the different creatures I could have. I knew that some would be cut out so that I didn't make the project too big for myself to achieve. I noticed at the start that it was quite easy to run wild with ideas and make things rather complicated. You definitely need to ground yourself to realistic achievements and workloads.

I did some research on the Amazon jungle. I also made a trip to the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham to get references and ideas for the kind of plants I would have in my level. I also watched a documentary series that was on BBC called "Lost land of the Volcano", which was excellent for the research and exploration themes I wanted to show. They were there to research an area which people knew little about, and they discovered many new species.

Once the creatures were concepted, I was then able to choose the ones that I would model, texture, rig and animate to be placed within the level. I wanted them to be the one of the key parts of the level, and since I designed them from scratch to be alien and interesting, I hoped that they would capture people's interest while playing or viewing the creation process.

I also did some sketches and digital paintings of the plants I would have in my level. Straight away the main plant became apparent which was the large yellow one.

I did some research on the kind of things that have been done before, similar to this project. I felt that it was a good idea to see how the makers of certain films and games approached the ideas of creating a completely alien world. I looked at James Cameron's Avatar and also The Dark Crystal by Jim Henson. With games I looked at Guild Wars 2 and Beyond Good and Evil. All these worked as inspiration for me and also helped with a better understanding of how these ideas were created and realised.

I made a layout of the level itself and then created it with the terrain editor in UDK. I made some tiling textures for the terrain as well, I was going for an aqua colour theme, so most things were tinted this way.

I then got onto making the foliage for the level. I looked at several tutorials to find out the best way to make the grass and trees for my level, and I learned many new techniques that were extremely useful for the rest of the project. I made sure to give the grass a nice aqua/turquoise colour. I did the same theme for the two kinds of trees.

I then modelled some rocks, starting with high poly versions, made from basic block shapes and then deforming and smoothing them with modifiers in 3ds Max, and then baking down the results to lower poly versions. I also imported my trees and grass to test them out in the level in UDK. This was the first time I used the foliage editor in UDK and I found that it was simple to use and really helped the look of my level. The grass made it seem more real and more populated rather than an empty landscape. I knew over time it would become more jungle like, and this was the first major step towards the environment I had in mind.

The sky dome also helped with bringing the environment to life and definitely helped with visualising the end product once the default black void was gone. I used what I learned from making the sky dome for my roof top level. I then modelled the plants I had concepted, using what I had learned from creating the trees and grass. I also looked at different ways people had created water in UDK, there seemed to be many different ways and I wasn't sure which was right for me, so eventually I just used several different ways until it all came together to make one that worked for me. I also figured out a way to put in a planet in the sky, which also definitely helped to support the idea that the environment was alien.

The level was starting to come together at this point and I was getting through the checklist quite quickly. I added in a height fog volume to help give the level some atmospheric effects, and I also added in a plane for some ground fog, which wrapped nicely around the plants and grass in some shaded lower areas of the level, where mist/fog would naturally accumulate.

Next was modelling the creatures. I enjoyed this part because I've always liked making low poly things from scratch from concepts. So I got the Tree Ray, Grass Stalker and Feather Ghost modelled and textured in a good time frame.

Also modelled the research assets and modified the colour of the sky dome texture after receiving some feedback about it.

I then set up the grass and leaves to move in their material setup and with a wind actor. It took quite a lot of tweaking to get it moving nicely, but once it was done I was really impressed with the way it made the level come alive, since so far it was just static, which was a big detachment from the believability of the environment. I also added some bloom effects and created my particle system too. The particles were also a nice addition to the level and helped with the overall atmosphere of the environment.

I then started working on the animations of the creatures. I first created bones for them, since a human biped wouldn't have worked at all, and it was much easier to make custom bones in the places they were actually needed. I used IK Solvers to link the joints to get some fluid movements. Next was using the skin modifier to assign the weighting of the verts to each of the bones. After that was key-framing their animations. I then exported the mesh and bones as FBX, baking the animation and importing them into UDK. Once their anim sets were set up, and the skeletal meshes were working with their animations, I then key-framed their movements through the level. I also created the kismet sequence of a Tree Ray falling from a tree, which is something I wanted to add right from the beginning.

I then created all the sounds needed for the level, all of them made by myself. I used an app on my phone called Easy Voice Recorder to capture them. I then used the sound editor in UDK to vary them and create the ambient sounds and creature noises. I also linked a sound to happen when the Tree Ray falls to the ground.

The last thing I did was add in some decals of moss to place on some of the trees. This was the first time I had used decals, so I wasn't very experienced with them, but they still achieved the effect I wanted.

The level was finished at this point! Made some slight tweaks to the animations of the creatures, and duplicated a few of the shrubs, and that was all. I then made a fly-through camera sequence and recorded it. I put some music to the video as well, which was "Guitar Sound" by Ronald Jenkees, which is one of my favourite songs. I used the free program Video Pad Editor to edit the video.

I have learned a lot through this project and I really enjoyed the whole process. I feel like its a great achievement to have the finished level now, and its great to look back through the process of creating it. I have definitely improved my time management skills. I have also really improved on my digital paintings. I have learnt how to make a bone structure with IK solvers and to create an animation usable within UDK. I also learned how to make particle systems in UDK. I have a better understanding of the whole design process needed for a game project, and I feel like I would be very confident in starting on a whole new project right from planning through to completion. I have learned a lot about animation, which wasn't something really taught on the course in detail, so it was something I opted to learn for this project.

Critical Analysis:

I think that the planning phase of the project went very well. I was able to get the research needed and the sketches and concepts phase done well so that I could produce the assets needed for the level. One thing I am most proud of was how the creatures went from the sketches to the digital concepts and to the final 3D form, I think I captured their forms from the 2D versions very well and I believe that they are very close to what I had first imagined at the start of the project. They definitely look alien and accurate to my concepts. I think that their animations could have been a little more dynamic, perhaps more exaggerated movements and varying animations depending on their situation within the level.

I think the level itself could have been a little bigger and perhaps have had more varied terrain.

I think I stuck to my original brief very well. I have definitely produced an alien environment, the research assets within the level give the idea that this is an exploration mission. There are different plants and creatures to see. There are animations, sounds and enough assets to populate the environment.

Though some things did have to be cut out along the way due to time and the complexity of the project. I think this is a very true reality in the game industry, as many concepts and other things in a project have to be cut, the decision is often due to time or changes in ideas, sometimes because of conflicts within the other parts of the project. For instance, the original beetle concepts never went any further due to time, and also because I wanted to focus more on the three main creatures I concepted after them. The beetles also were not alien enough, they definitely seemed too earthly, and if I had added them into the level, it could possibly have been mistaken for a place on this planet, or they would have just seemed out of place. Perhaps I should have re-concepted them to be more alien.

I also cut out the glowing tree with veins, this was due to needing to keep under my texture budget, and also that the trees I had already seemed to do a good enough job in populating the environment, as I could vary their sizes.

I didn't put in as many small trees and shrubs as I had originally planned, this was due to the fact that the level could have became too cluttered. This would have made things less visible and also would have made it more confusing for a player to navigate. I also realised that while I originally wanted this, at the time I didn't consider that the creatures in the level would also need enough room to move, and room to be visible, even if some are meant to be camouflaged. They still needed to be possible to find.

Although not in the brief, I did want to add a waterfall into the level at some stage, but again due to the texture budget and time, this had to be left out. It also would have needed some water influence actors to effect the pool already there, plus more particles to make it look believable where it would be cascading down the cliff, and hitting the water in the pool itself. This is something I would definitely add though if I did this project again.

My original triangle budget was to be under 200,000, and in total I used 53,754, which is way below it. I did make the budget quite high as I was not too certain about how much I would eventually need to create the level I had imagined at the start and was beginning to plan. The texture budget was below 200MB, and my textures add up to 117MB, so I'm happy that this has stayed within budget and that my original budget was within a reasonable amount to complete the project.

I think it would have been nice to add more glowing assets. The Feather Ghost creature had a good emissive effect when I plugged its diffuse texture into that slot. But it would have been nice to have other things glowing as well.

Another addition that would have been good to include would have been a water creature, since there was water in the level, it would have added an extra twist to the level if there was water dwelling creatures as well.

Overall I think I managed this project well and achieved what I had originally set out to do. I learned a lot of new skills and improved key ones along the way. I have identified things that need improvement, such as better foresight to what will be needed in the project, perhaps better planning at the start to prevent going overboard with ideas. I am proud of this project and I think it is an excellent conclusion to my time on this course.

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