The Pixel Crush

-------------------------------------------|Digital Animation & Game Criticism|-------------------------------------------

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Global Game Jam 2013: Einsam

I recently attended a game jam in Bristol which is an event where lots of people get together for a short period of time, form teams, and create games, videogames. This one was a 48 hour game jam (note how the event is measured in hours not days, because each hour is precious) and myself and Nigel Kitts rocked up to try our hand(s) at game development. There was about 50 of us, some professional, some students, some with no experience at all. The atmosphere was enthusiastic, not especially competitive, and sleep deprived after a short while.

The theme we were all set was the sound of a heartbeat, just the sound. So our team (whom Nigel had made acquaintance with on the door before I arrived) set about coming up with ideas. We were joined at this point by a guy from radio 4 who was interested in sitting in on this early stage, him and other BBC staff were observing and offering creative input in an open minded attempt to get some idea of how games could be more relevant to the BBC's output. This went in a number of different directions and to our credit no game was derivative of another (at the game jam that is, we totally ripped of Amnesia: Dark Descent, crossed it with Dead Space and then made it 2.5D), each had its individual style and mechanics.

Some concept art from one of the talented members of our team:

The Athena Suit
As our coder pointed out, it was nice to have an actual asset workflow that went all the way from concept to 3D model and rig, not that it was flawless mind you.

Nigel did a commendable job modelling the character, unwrapping it, and texturing the the diffuse map, while I churned out a few environmental assets before helping out on the character sculpt and texture to create normal and AO maps.

Due to both my severe lack of rigging skills and a general ignorance of how to use Unity, our game engine of choice, the animation on the main character didn't quite turn out as expected. We started with a really simple set up that was no more than different parts of the model parented to each other in an appropriate hierarchy, and then a global movement control wacked on top.

Not only is our game's protagonist a girl, but also a camp black stereotype?
This was getting some good results and was very fast to make and use, I made all the animations in the videos below using it. But we couldnt get this stuff to import correctly into Unity, not using Maya files, nor the FBX format. Turns out they were there, just a few metres out of view, but we only discovered that much later.
Hero Pose
We didn't have too much of a problem getting the character into Unity and looking sweet, but movement was another thing altogether.
Unity Real-Time Renders

Mental Ray Render, 1m 30s

Mental Ray Render II, 1m 30s

Inspired by the Barn Owl apparently.
I hypothesised that maybe Unity required a proper rig with skinning and a bone structure (see the setup that tested that theory in the video below) so I set about constructing one for the first time in 3 years and probably only the 3rd time ever. Positioning the bones wasn't a problem (though they were hardly precision, but we were short on time, it was already day two) but I had to look up a number of things like setup up IKs for the legs and arms and had external help figuring out why parent constraints were screwing up the hierarchy.


I learnt a lot blasting through that rigging process, I even enjoyed painting the weight from the bones onto the mesh, seeing the character come to life was satisfying and I can now appreciate the appeal of rigging. Its made me much more confident that I could actually create and rig my own character from scratch which is a pretty exciting prospect seeing as its been a gaping whole in my knowledge of the CG workflow for ages.




Im tempted to go back and finish the rig etc but it'd mean re-doing all the animations on the new rig so instead what I'd like to do is create a small environment, and a character. Then I could go through the whole process of porting this scene into maybe a couple of different game engines, including Unity, in order to being myself up to speed on realtime awesomeness.


Here's the global game jam website. And here's where you can play the version of the game we submitted (its been improved significantly now):


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