Friday, October 13, 2006

A Tangled Rope

This is the last of the visual prototype images we brought to the Voodoo Vince green light meeting. Just about every picture shows Vince doing something different. We felt it was important to show as much variety as possible by putting Vince in a variety of settings and in an assortment of vehicles. Here we see him swinging his way though a fanciful forest canopy. Of the four mockups, I think this is one of the prettiest. It's definitely in the top four.

During the creation of this picture Gary Hanna jokingly referred to all the bright, radiant plant things as "glowberries." We didn't really have glowing bits like that in the final version, but that did provide part of the level's name, Glowberry Tangle. For players who don't like bottomless pits (and there are many), this level was pure hell since the whole thing is one big bottomless space with thin, twisty tree limbs to land upon.

Different modes of travel always create interesting issues for art, design and technology. Keeping the camera under control, physics, strange clipping and character behavior all present different challenges. This visual test depicts a cable-like vine for Vince to swing on. We soon found that making a polygonal model look convincing as a rope (in real time) is pretty damn tough. A solid rope object also did some odd things when it passed around or through the in-game camera. We opted for a string of stretchy particles instead. This avoided strange rope malfunctions and pulled Vince away from the camera quickly, which helped to avoid clipping and a loss of orientation.

Original take on the Glowberry "perfect world" image by Doug Williams

The illusion of distant foliage in Glowberry Tangle was done simply by wrapping the level in some layers of leafy texture, forming a surrounding tube of sorts. Again, the original take on this didn't work out. The original has a light, distant sky layer with a slight gradient to it. This tended to make the leaf backdrop stand out more, and look more fake. The brighter, more intense backdrop also competed too much with the branches and landing places, making an already challenging level even harder. So, the final version (again) made use of a simple dark backdrop with the distant tube o' leaves mostly obscured by distance.

A skilled player can breeze through Glowberry tangle in mere minutes, never suspecting the long list of boring decisions that went into its creation. That sort of makes me wish a "directors cut" of a game were possible, with running commentary so players could be made aware of the developer's self-centered, long winded thoughts. That wouldn't work for me as a player, though. I'd probably get distracted by some comment about the code or art while a monster is going to town gnawing on my leg.


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