This diary will detail the process for how we created the environments in Singularity, with the goal of realizing the vision of the art direction, and creating a believable world that the player is compelled to explore.
I will use the first area of the game to describe this process.
When a new area of the game is being constructed, the first step is to understand the intended gameplay experience, and narrative, for that area.
At the start of the game, Nathaniel Renko finds himself suddenly alone. His helicopter has crashed along the southern shore of the island. The island is a mystery to Renko, just as the game is new to the player. The starting area is used to simultaneously immerse the player into the world of Singularity, while teaching some fundamental gameplay mechanics.
The goals for the area:
- intended for exploration
- introduce the player to the island
- introduce the player to simple mechanics (movement, using objects)
We decided that the one great way to introduce the player to island was to follow in the footsteps of the workers of the island, and how they were introduced to their life on Katorga-12.
We settled on creating a dock, where, back in the 1950’s, Russian civilians were first brought to the island, as workers. Whole families were brought from Russia, and the docks were their first introduction to their new lives. The island was abandoned shortly after. The player finds himself exploring this abandoned dockside, 50+ years later.
Once we know the narrative, and necessary gameplay for a space, the next step is to create concept art. The concept piece sets the mood, and serves as the road map for what the environment artists will create. Here is the primary concept, painted by concept artist, Eric Spray.
Armed with the concept art, and with the narrative and gameplay in mind, the environment artist (or a designer) can build out the game space, with very rough, primitive shapes. This is done in the game engine. For Singularity, we used Epic’s Unreal3 engine. Here is a shot of the docks, blocked out…
In this rough state, it is easy to iterate upon. The level is playable at this point, and the area is play tested and tweaked until the space feels just right. Once we feel that the play space is well established, it is ready for art.
During this phase, an environment artist takes the block-out, and begins to add all of the details that will make the space area come alive. Much of the block-out is replaced with detailed 3d models, although care is taken to maintain the size and shape of the area. This includes everything from large wall sections, and entire buildings, all the way down the smallest details of electrical conduits and tufts of grass. Materials and textures are applied to the world, and small details such as foliage, signage and grunge “decals” are added as well.
Through set dressing, the environment artist tells the tale of what has taken place in the past. There are empty suitcases hinting at a hurried abandonment of the area. Propaganda posters and banners are hung, intended to indoctrinate the workers to the values of the communist society on the island. These details help to sell the level as a believable, interesting place, and immerse the player into the game world.
Once the area is fully set dressed, it is ready for a lighting pass. The lighting artist, following the time of day dictated by the narrative, adds light for primary light source (in this case the moon), as well as the smaller light sources such as the flames from the helicopter wreckage. Finally, subtle lights are added to simulate the way light bounces in the real world. Throughout this process, a color scheme is referenced, which is established by the Art Director.
Effects and Post Process
The final step in the environment pipeline is the addition of effects and post process. An effects artist will add particle effects, such as flames, as well as more subtle elements, such as swirling mist, blowing leaves, or dust. The addition of effects goes a long way to bring the area to life.
Post Process is a full screen effect that can tint the entire scene, which helps to marry the world into a unified color palette. In this case, the color of the scene is desaturated slightly, and shifted towards a pale blue. The post process also adds a slight, distance based, fog. This adds to the mood of the scene, and has the benefit of “knocking back’ the far background, and “popping out” the foreground, which is the all important playable space.
Finally the scene is complete!
Thanks for reading! To close, here are some screenshots from some other areas of the game…
Lead Environment Artist