Thursday, December 6, 2012

Working in Unity

After completing the texturing and animating of all our game assets, it was time to transfer everything into Unity and start focussing on the cinematographic elements. I ended up doing this part of the project, which I was fine with as I enjoy figuring out lighting effects, camera angles, etc. to compliment a certain atmosphere.

We exported our Maya files in sections as .FBX files (so the cabin, warehouse, Tabitha and Albus were all separately exported). The first thing I realised, to my horror, was that when I imported Tabitha into Unity, some vertices on her hands had gone completely awry:

This happened in Maya, and is an issue with the weight painting, where if a vertex has no joint influence it seems to stick out at strange angles. I managed to solve it within Maya but unfortunately in Unity it's still there - after trying a handful of different solutions with my tutor, including adding a transparency mask on the texture so that it might be invisible for those vertices, and using Maya's weight hammer tool, I decided there wasn't enough time to go through and solve the issue for each scene's model, so we've had to leave it as it is.

Another issue was with the texture of her skirt - the normals were facing the wrong way, which I should have reversed whilst modelling, but instead I ended up using a self-illuminating shader in Unity (one that's generally used for leaves drawn on flat planes) and tweaking it so that it didn't appear to glow so much. This was an adequate solution but meant that light had no effect on the skirt, so it looks a little off, but should hopefully not be too noticeable.

We knew it was very important to get the right lighting and atmosphere in the warehouse room where Tabitha comes across the robot - we wanted shafts of light coming through the window like a spotlight, casting dramatic shadows. We spent some time experimenting with bloom camera effects to really emphasise the mystical quality of that moment. We were also hoping to add particle effects such as floating specks of dust and smoke, which we couldn't do in time for the deadline but still hope to achieve for the exhibition next week.

(it doesn't look nearly as good on my non-pro edition - there's no shadows or effects - but just to get an idea...)

I also had to work on some scripts and animations to control camera switching, texture switching (for Tabitha's changing expressions), and camera movement. These took me a while to grasp, but I'd just about got it before my Unity started playing up, and I ran out of time to finish the cinematic before hand-in. I always say it, but next project, I definitely need to be more realistic with on time management.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tabitha - final model

As our group slowly came to realise we only had a weeks or so to texture, animate and create the cinematic, we decided to split up the tasks we needed to do. I decided to take on a majority of the texture work, whilst Alex and Ryan began working on the animations. Here's Tabitha's final textured model - I perhaps went into a little more detail than was necessary, considering we were going for a fairly simplistic, colourful style, but I think that my painterly style of colouring fits the tone we were trying to create. 

I used a similar style to colour the props, as seen below.

And here is "Surveillance Bot"'s texture: 

Alex created the main robot's (Albus') texture whilst I worked on the environment, but made sure to use a similar brush style so that it would look consistent.

As well as Tabitha's main texture, I had to paint a variety of expressions for her with the intention of using a script in Unity to switch expressions using animation events. It was fairly straight-forward to work in layers and combine different eye and mouth movements to come up with different faces to suit the progression of the story, and hopefully give her a lot more of a personality.

Are game cinematics good or bad?

Creating a game cinematic has led me to think further about how they are used in the industry. There are many debates over whether the film industry's influence on the game industry is positive or negative, with many differing opinions on the effectiveness of cut-scenes within games.

I've been having a look at various forums and sites discussing the topic.

On one forum, a game discussed in particular is Dead Space, which features no cut-scenes. Apparently this was done intentionally so that at all times, the player feels like they could be attacked at any moment - the feeling of apprehension and suspense that the player is experiencing throughout the game is never broken by a cut-scene, even whilst engaging in dialogue with other characters. This increases immersion for the player. However, others said that adding cut-scenes to this game would have given the opportunity to showcase the characters and their personalities more clearly, and went further to say that they'd forgotten what many of the characters were even like.

It was suggested that a cut-scenes effectiveness depends on the game's genre. One person stated that Half-Life, which has no cut-scenes, essentially made using them in first-person shooter games "taboo". However they are still effective in RPG's where they can really help drive narrative and lore-heavy games.

They can be overdone, as is arguably the case for some of the Metal Gear games where you can be sat watching a cinematic for about half an hour - but they may also be there as a welcome break from intense gameplay, and to make the story clearer. For example, a character may be talking to you within a game giving vital information, whilst at the same time you are having to fight enemies. You may be too focussed on defeating enemies that you miss what information you've been told. A cut-scene ensures that you follow more complex narratives and understand what is going on around you, whilst also making the game feel more dramatic and emotional.

Personally, I think they can be at wildly differing levels of effectiveness depending on the game. I find that if you are in control of a character during a particularly dramatic moment (that might usually have been put into a cut scene), it can be some of the most exciting aspects of a game. Yet, also, because of the lack of traditional film techniques such as cuts and dynamic camera angles/movement, close-ups, etc. you possibly lose some of the emotional impact that the scene might have if presented as a cinematic.

My experience of video games is still shamefully limited considering I consider myself a game student, but looking back on those that I have played, it is easy to see that it is impossible to draw such a black-and-white opinion of games. Simply, for some, it works - whilst others, don't.

I largely play RPGs, which are known to be the most dialogue-heavy, and it seems that dialogue within them hasn't evolved much over the years - often your character doesn't speak, and you simply listen to NPC's tell you pages and pages worth of information. One of the most jarring things for me in the Elder Scrolls games, especially Skyrim which sought to be so close to realism, was the dialogue and how it was presented (a similar thing can be said for Fallout 3). Because the entire game is from your character's perspective, whilst engaging in dialogue with somebody you will simply have their face on the screen, talking, often for very long periods of time, with limited movements and facial expressions on their part. Because of the lack of "cinematic" presentation of characters, they can often become forgettable and not feel as in-depth and meaningful as they could possibly be.

I can compare this to Bioware's style, such as in Dragon Age: Origins, which is again very heavy on dialogue,  but uses close-ups, switching cameras, and more movement and visual indicators of a character's personality, which led me to feel a lot more of a connection to the characters and care more for the story. Dragon Age 2 also featured a talking protagonist (the effectiveness of which is a whole other debate), so choosing how our character interacts with others, and seeing it presented cinematically, I think is a very good way to get a better idea of their personality and quirks.

Dragon Age 2's use of cinematic techniques during dialogue scenes helps effectively portray the characters' emotions and personalities

I suppose I can summarise by saying that I feel that action-oriented scenes should be part of the gameplay, as that adds more variation from just running through various areas and killing enemies. However, I think dialogue and character presentation is more effective when it is presented cinematically, as I think it's difficult to express a character properly if they just stand and talk at you. With the advancement of technology, though, we can see that characters are being presented more dynamically from first-person perspectives (I'm curious to see what Elizabeth in the upcoming Bioshock Infinite is like).

Well, this has probably been a very rambling blog post so I'll stop now, although I do find it interesting to think of how I'd present my game cinematic if I was actually making it as a playable game. On the one hand I suppose it would feel more personal and immersive if it was entirely up to the player where they wished to wander, and if the whole scene where they happened across a mysterious robot was entirely from a controllable, first-person perspective as opposed to being presented as a cut-scene.

As with anything else, I suppose there is no perfect solution and everybody has preferences - for me, the most important aspect is to make sure characters are being presented interestingly and in a way that reflects their personality, as I personally play a game to experience an interactive story and it's characters, rather than to just challenge myself with difficult gameplay.