A Long Overdue Katabasis Update

It’s been quite a while since my last thesis update, but I think I have a good excuse. As soon as the semester began I really dug into my thesis work, and I haven’t let up at all. Things are to coming along nicely, though perhaps not as nicely as they could be. There’s still a huge amount of work to get done, but I’ve been working consistently on a broad range of stuff: modeling, rigging, animating, texturing, lighting, sculpting, scripting, designing, writing.. yeah, I’ve been busy.

A good portion of the first couple weeks of the semester I spent on rigging (for those who don’t know, rigging is basically building the skeleton that drives animation). Rigging is definitely one of the most tedious parts of the character creation process. It’s something that requires a lot of repetition to really learn, and luckily (I guess) I’ve now had a good amount of that repetition. I made a rig for my World Surveyor Man a couple semesters ago for a class, but I came out of it not really knowing what I had actually done. This semester I’m in a Game Animation class, and our first project was to build a rig. So I rigged (and re-rigged and re-rigged) the still-unnamed son character for my game as well as making a more game appropriate one for the World Surveyor Man. Finally finished the latter rig yesterday, and did an idle animation for him. I had done an idle animation for the son as well, but then realized that his wrist joints are way too far up his arms, so looks like I get to attain some more of that beloved rigging repetition. Hooray. I must admit though, as much of a nightmare as rigging is, I’m actually starting to enjoy it now that I’ve gotten a lot better at it. No videos yet, but here’s a screenshot of the World Surveyor Man in the midst of his current idle animation (which still needs more tweaking):

This should be about what he'll look like in-game.

Without the normal map, to show how big of a difference it makes.

Can’t wait to get him in game with some artificial-ancient-god-intelligence.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time working on extending the cathedral that I’ve shown here before. Not too much to show right now; not too much new stuff has been realized within Unity, and a lot of it has been tweaking what I already had. So here’s a glimpse of the model from Maya:

Can’t really see all that much there, but new things include the aisles and the buttresses on the western (lower left) dome. And I’ve been working on smaller details, such as lanterns and rubble and things poking through the walls. Hopefully I’ll have some more finished work of such things to show soon. I’ve been doing some scripting in there as well; basic event triggers, such as lights turning on, and turning on/off different “levels” to attempt to keep things running smoother and light better.

This weekend I realized that I’ve probably been getting a little fixated on the cathedral, however, so I started working on the very first level of the game: the campsite from which the son goes missing, and the initial riverside wilderness. Even though I’m pretty sure willows don’t exist in the area where it takes place, I can’t resist putting some around the campsite as a little tribute to the excellent Algernon Blackwood story The Willows, which was a huge inspiration for this game/story.

With just default lighting. I do have some basic lighting in there, which really helps obscure texture repetition, but it's a night scene so it's a little hard to see the whole terrain with the lighting turned on.

It obviously needs a lot of work still, but I just started it two days ago. Worked on it most of the day Saturday and some more last night. It’s coming together surprisingly fast. Which is very good, considering I’m planning on having around 7 “levels” in my game, each about this size. For this level–more specifically, for the campsite area of the level–last night and this morning I modeled the canoe in which the father and son travel.

I’m now working on laying out the UV’s for it, can’t wait to start texturing it. I love modeling prop type stuff like this. Modeling this canoe made me really want to go canoeing again though, it’s been far too long.

In other news, I’ve been working on laying out the structure of the story. I forgot how much I love writing. I’ve decided that, in Dear Esther and Bastion and Alan Wake style, to have narration throughout the game. It’ll be from the viewpoint of the father, from a journal which you find out he wrote near the end of the game. I want to do some more random triggered narrations as events occur, with some more key backbone narrations to get main points across. The idea is to hit a nice balance point between Dear Esther and Bastion’s pseudo-interactivity (i.e. doing certain things and going certain places will trigger sometimes randomized narrations), and Alan Wake’s more set-in-stone traditional story linearity. I’ll probably write a lot more that at some point. Hello I am Tyler and I love Story.

I’ve also been re-sculpting my wolf creature. The original sculpt got all screwed up in ZBrush from retopologizing and I deemed it unsaveable. So I decided to try out a new workflow, which consists of: take shots of the necessary views from the ZBrush sculpt into Maya to do a low-poly model, and then bring it back in ZBRush for the high detail sculpt. If I like this workflow (which I am so far), I’ll usually just do a more sketchy concept sculpt in ZBrush initially, rather than choosing to spend a lot of time doing a highly detailed finished sculpt and breaking it, like I did with the wolf. I actually did the former with another creature concept I came up with last semester, which I may or may not include in Katabasis. So far this workflow has been working and flowing rather well.. but we’ll see. In the end doing the ol’ ZBrush retopology may work better. But the way I see it, I’m a student so I should be experimenting and trying different methods as much as reasonably possible.

SPEAKING OF DEAR ESTHER, the much-expanded commercial version of the former Half Life 2 mod is coming out in a week. I seriously can’t wait for it, I absolutely loved the original little mod, which had a huge influence on the way in which I look at games. Basically, it’s a rather abstract game in which all you do is wander around and explore and listen to narration. Which doesn’t sound very exciting, but trust me, it’s amazing. This new version looks beautiful. There’s a video on the site which I linked above.

Ok, time to get to work on animating a walk cycle for the World Surveyor Man. I was supposed to spend this time I have between classes busting out said walk cycle. Time to see how much I can get done in the next hour.

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