working title: MOLD

working title: MOLD

production blog

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Welcome,

to our developer blog of “mold”, a modern Adventure game currently in production.

for First-Timers and all those brave men battling against the boredom of Friday afternoons..

Click here to read from the beginning
( currently 90 posts in total )

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my weakest discipline…

June 30, 2016

160626_3d_interface_header

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… is without any doubt interface / icon design. It is hands down one of the biggest obstacles (actual content creation is the biggest ;) )  I’ve faced since I started to work on the game and it’s still a big one to overcome. Lets take the basic control interface as an example (..of my design insecurity and painful suffering in this case ;) ).

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the first concept, a verb based interface

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the original plan (back, when I experimented with Visionaire) was to have a “Day of the Tentacle” style interface. Six verbs, static and always visible in the lower half of the screen, nothing too fancy. So, in 2012 I started to work on the first tests….

interface_old

the text was painted digitally, then mapped on to 3D grids in Softimage and rendered with Arnold (please note the complete unnecessary shadows and depth of field :) ) the main reason to move the 2D text into the 3D realm was primarily the way better animation capabilities, but in hindsight, it just was a big time-sink and should have stayed in a simple on/off concept-quality.

(I somewhat like the oldschool feel, though)

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the switch to Unity and a new temporary coin interface

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After my first tests in Unity4 (and with an early version of the AdventureCreator asset) it was getting clear, a ‘coin interface’ would be the best and easiest control method to implement (this phrase was ‘coined’ by Monkey Island 3)

151205_interface_icons_proto

It opens directly beneath the cursor, and seems to have become the standard interface of modern point and click adventure games. I grabbed some free icons from the web to test the game logic, while i drew version after version of 2D icons, but not a single one was really convincing or fitted the style of the game.

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my desperate move to 3D

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160626_3d_interface_icons

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so to get over this hurdle, I started to experiment with a 3D prerendered coin interface. The initial tests were pretty promising, so I dropped the 2D plan, and continued to build the icons out of parts of the protagonist. I’m still not 100% convinced of the idea, but the consistent look seems to fit quite well with the game..

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interface_rollUp

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so, what’s the reasoning behind the strange doughnut shape of the thing? Mold feels and controls quite differently compared to standard point&click adventures (you run fast and a lot ;) ), so it got really annoying when you double clicked on the set (to run), but hit a hotspot instead. The double click opened the menu and executed the choice in the center. With the hole, it simply opens and closes again, which helped to keep the gameplay fluid and intuitive.

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interface_explodeThe latest version (fully animated and hooked up in Unity)

That’s all for this time, feel free to tell me what you think about these controls! (either here or on facebook) ;)

–stephan

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woa… it’s really time for an update ;)

June 10, 2016

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….it really is, sorry for the long silence! We are slowly ramping up again (after a, granted, slow last half year). And to kick it all off again, lets start with something positive ;)

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the main menu

I’m working on this one for quite some time…. well, way too long for a main menu if you ask me ;)

Menu_beauty_Main_v39_smallstill a work in a progress, but it’s getting there…

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the original image was rendered in 6K, so there has to be a lot of detail pretty much everywhere (and detail always takes massive amounts of time)
Menu_beauty_Main_v39_cropa 1:1 crop of the original resolution

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I’m still adding details and stuff (like those carefully placed cans ;) ), but overall, we are close of putting this scene into the engine.
160706_menu_dosen

That’s all for this time!

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techniques behind the prototype #4 “inside Unity”

August 9, 2015

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Hi everybody!

I’d like to close this prototype overview soon, so this will be one of my last posts on the subject. It’s time to make some ground on the production side, get some stuff finally done. (Hear, hear! ;) )

I’d still like to write a dedicated post on the frog, but lets see when that happens.

The primary goal, ‘le grand objectif’, is to finish the first three sets this year. (sounds crazy slow if you think we’ll have to do ~35 sets in total…. totally crazy…) – Fortunately (or unfortunately) I’m still hoping for a miraculous increase in efficiency ;) so the journey continues. But this manual effort/process with a decent and consistent quality was and is very time consuming, and nothing will ever change that.

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150405_unity_ship

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You can clearly see how “fake” the set is ;) lowres geometry and some sprites positioned in 3D space. That’s basically it. (yellow and red labels represent hotboxes, orange ones are triggers in the game)

150405_unity_scene_overview

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and that’s all I got for today. Hopefully these screenshots give you some insight or ideas of how this kind of projection mapping works.

Have a good one!

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techniques behind the prototype #3 “projection mapping”

March 31, 2015

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Hi everybody!

Before we were able to continue our tedious workflow, we had to first build the lowres geometry. It’s constructed with simple grids, in a similar style as the layers we outputted before. These objects are formed and located as close as possible to the highres geometry.

150313_dummy_geo_andShip(the projection mapping geometry of the toy ship.)

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every object got its own UV space, which were combined and packed into groups (shown via different wireframe colors in the image above) depending on their relative screensize (objects far away get less UV space).

150327_ship_uvs(the UVs of the ship)

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one tool to bake them all….

Instead of creating all camera projections in Softimage with secondary UV spaces and a slow and user-unfriendly bake-tool, we decided to do it all in Nuke. (which was a massive timesaver, and one of the better ideas of this workflow ;) )

The lowres geometry and camera were imported via FBX without any problems, and were added to the test-layer-comp. (the big colored backplanes show the bake outputs)

150320_comp_final_prepare(a monstrosity of a comp tree)

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We had to add dozens of new corrections and vector paints, because the way back (2 compositions) for a simple correction was way too time consuming. To make the layers work correctly inside of Unity, we eventually had to refine quite a lot. (but it’s still not perfect)

In our first attempt we baked everything in 4K, but we later learned that some GPUs/platforms don’t support it yet, so we regrouped everything and exported 2K maps just to be safe.

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this is how the baked texture of the ship looks like:

150327_set_06_2K_ship_baked

and this is result, the textured FBX model.

150329_ship_FBX_model

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Well, that’s basically the workflow before we move on to the characters, and later the realtime business of things.

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techniques behind the prototype #2 “lookdev, forever ever”

March 24, 2015

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Hi everybody!

We are going to continue from Part #1 and cover the next phase of our set creation process, before we move on to the characters. In hindsight this post feels a bit negative ;) but I’m sure optimizations will be found, and efficiency will rise eventually. (it’ll have to ;) )

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fighting the darkness

Even after constructing and sculpting masses of polygons, we are far from being able to add it to the game. The next step is texturing, shading and of course lighting. You can see a wireframe and gray-material rendering of the lighting setup below. (Softimage, Arnold)

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150314_lighting_spoAnf

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Eventually it took about 50 shaders, 20 area lights and one HDRI (mostly for reflections) – and months of spare time work ;) to get the look and atmosphere we wanted. Image composition, color corrections and other fixes, were done simultaneously at Babettes company after working hours. Thanks for the opportunity, Optix Hamburg!

The highres set was split into several layers before rendering (to avoid occlusions between them). To continue our example from last time, this is how the toy ship got layered. (don’t mind the green background, it’s just better to show these dark elements on a brighter background (it’s not used to key the footage ;) ))

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150313_ship_layers_thumb

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The 3D lookdev phase was heavily coupled with 2D compositing, meaning we had to handle massive 10K resolution comp trees as well. And yes, they got big, real big… which brings me to the last point of this part.

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worst workflow i could think of

Seriously… but still, I can’t think of any better way to do it, but this doesn’t make this workflow any good ;)  Small “mistakes” added to the problem, naturally.

One example: during the lookdev phase, I decided to add a separate rim light pass for compositing (like i do most of the time..) …which doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all, but after we split the set into over 20 passes/layer we now had to manage over 40……. a bad idea after all.

Every pass got rendered in 10000×3000 resolution, some with multiple states. The frog had around 400 frames alone (and took 2 weeks to finish on 3 PCs). The big passes took about 5 days to complete (on an up-to-date i7) for one frame i might add, so you can imagine how painful previews were (even at lower samplings and resolutions).

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thai massaging pixels

But the true fun is just about to begin ;) Every pass was rendered with AOVs (separated diffuse, reflection, indirect diffuse, etc. layers) and needed to be pre-combined before it could be used and passed through the lookdev comp. (it would have been way to slow and memory demanding to have all AOVs in the final comp, so we seperated both tasks).

The reason to output AOVs in the first place was the possibility to apply post noise-reduction to some of the channels. (like indirect diffuse, or indirect reflections which tend to get pretty noisy in Arnold)

150320_comp_precombine(the AOV pre-combine comps)

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Working in this high resolution is never fun, but requiring to render 40 precombine comps and 20 lookdev comps everytime you change something, is even worse. Especially because this tedious procedure isn’t done yet. (we even added a checklist about it to the comp trees ;) to avoid errors)

150320_comp_lookdev(the fairly small lookdev comp)

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Before we could output the final textures used on the projection mapping geometry, the images had to be test-combined, tweaked (again…) and eventually baked to a square UV space, but this part will be covered in the next post.

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have a good one!

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techniques behind the prototype #1 “lets build it”

March 14, 2015

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Hi everybody!

This will be the first of a hand full of posts dedicated to the techniques used in our last prototype. I’ll try to cover everything important, but feel free to suggest areas we should cover in more detail. Just let us know! (via posts on our Facebook page, or by commenting here)

I’ve already written a little bit about parts of the production in earlier posts, but lets start from the beginning to give you a complete picture of how we did it.

If you want to read all posts dedicated to the production sprint (resulting in the prototype), please click here.

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design and prep

As always, a concept sketch is the first thing to do. I prefer to draw on paper, so most of the elements were drawn separately, scanned and then placed/transformed digitally to form the final concept. I’ve altered and changed it quite a few times (especially before the story was locked down) but eventually settled with this:

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140211_spotlightAnfang_new_layout_15c

Next, we built a very rough dummy set in 3D to define some of the proportions, which 1. enabled us to test the set in unity very early, 2. makes it easier or even possible for multiple artists to work and contribute to the same set.

150305_SpoAnf_dummy

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all elements, one by one

We split everything into several sub groups, modeling tasks if you will, and started to distribute them between Babette (Kahn), Florian (Stucki), Thorsten (Kesse) and myself. Lets take our little toy ship as example.

Ship_v02changes

Babette started modeling the ship after we locked down the set layout and collected some references, and after a few nerve-wracking iterations of changes (sorry ;) ) she ended up with this great result:

Ship_v04

Every single element was built with basically the same emphasis on detail and quality, which (no surprise here) took up most of the production time. A stylized approach would have saved probably 3/4 of the work (this number would be even higher if we didn’t have as many animations), so if you start to work on a game, keep that in mind ;)

we’ll cover the rest of the creation process next time, so stay tuned!

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first slooow status update 2015.

February 19, 2015

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Hi everybody!

This update is really overdue, sorry for that! I was extremely busy in December and January (not a lot of Mold I’m afraid…. but we all need to eat ;) ), followed by a (still active) cold / flu. But I’m slowly recovering and fighting my way back into the project – which is a pretty unpleasant experience….. there is always the feeling I forgot everything (the parts of the job which are not hammered into my muscle memory ;) like Unity for example) but it’s getting better…. slowly.

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So any news?

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We posted our december gameplay video on a hand full of Facebook groups and forums, and got exclusively positive resonance. Quite a lot people liked it, some even shared, reblogged or posted it on their favorite forum (Thanks all of you!!! it’s an amazing experience (and motivational boost) to see people talking about it) and this certainly increased the pressure to finish this massive undertaking of a game.

and to top the good news, Tobias Schlage (edit: changed URL), a young thriving artist volunteered to support us as rigger and characteranimator… awesome news, welcome to the team, Tobias!

pastenake_mouth_rig

heroTraube_walk_stop

The rare free hours I had left in January, were used to work on the animation cycles of our little green protagonist. Eventually I got to the point of finishing three Idle cycles, as well as the walk and walk-stop cycles.

 

 

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and what’s next?

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well, I still have to add a proper facerig to the protagonist, which has to work with the current rig and body animation. Eventually i also have to create all “run”, “interaction” or whatever animation cycles which are still missing…

Babette is currently finishing another tiny, flying side character to bring a little more variation into our fauna.

lastenfliege_flug

and I promised to create a more detailed breakdown of the prototype.. The plan is to create a few blog posts covering the main aspects of all techniques used.. so stay tuned if you are interested! (but don’t hold your breath :) )

It’s not carved in stone (depends on how busy we are in our regular jobs), but I’d love to start another production sprint beginning of April, to get the first three sets to final (and hopefully to progress a bit in areas like interface design)… but lets see…

That’s all for this time folks, we hope you like it!

 

prealpha 0.03.64 gameplay footage – “baffled .. and tired” ;)

December 19, 2014

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Hi everybody!

It has been an awful long time since i posted an update, which could be either a sign of no or a lot of progress ;) in our case it’s fortunately the latter… we (almost) finalized the first set, animated a few characters/animation cycles, hooked up dialogs and interactions, and even home brew a finite statemachine based AI to add more dynamic life to the set. It’s slowly but steadily shaping up to a real game ;) who’d ever believed that?

actual gameplay of the prototype (recorded on a dated i7 with a modern (at the time of writing ;) ) GTX 780)

I hope you like it, and merry christmas!

2 years.

June 24, 2014

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Hi everybody!

well… can you believe it? It has been two years since I started this endeavor, and unfortunately there are several years still to come (but I really try not to think about that ;) )…

it’s more like rebuilding a car from a rusty pile of “shh-whatever-car-that-was”…… it could take decades… Hell, I even think I’ll have to convince my future kids to take over the project some day ;)

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‘gone social.

FB-ThumbsUp_72

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I’ve finally created a Facebook page for the game… I thought it would never happen, but there you go ;) ( It’s fresh and totally deserted at the moment ;), so please help us a little to get the ball running, thanks! )

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so what’s the plan, what’s the “social agenda?” First of all, I really enjoyed seeing a lot of old faces again …. damn I’d even say the platform is disturbingly convenient. ;)

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I’ll continue to post on this blog of course, Facebook is going to be used for bigger announcements and all client-close-combat situations ;) Tell us what you think, and help us to improve the game!
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