Monday, August 24, 2009

The horrors of "Nightmare Tower"

Alright, so I'm creating a surreal horror-themed UT3 level with my good friends Yusuke Sato and Andrew Quintiliani, as well as Henry Nayson and Laura Clark. To populate our scary level, I brainstormed some creepy critters. I dubbed my first creation the "Wailers" (though my teammates insisted on calling them "Squidwards" due to their uncanny resemblance to Squidward Tentacles from Spongebob Squarepants). Initially, I imagined their "feet" being more like roots (as they cannot move from the spot from which they're standing), but they evolved into tentacles. Initially, they will appear to the player doubled over in a tight ball. However, when the player gets close enough, they will unfold themselves to stand erect, thrashing about while making a loud, irritating "wailing" noise. As soon as the player steps out of their awareness radius, however, they will return to their tightly-wrapped quieter form. Here is my initial concept art/rotoscope image I created in Photoshop.

Another critter was created from combining the fear of spiders (i.e., arachnaphobia) with the fear of dolls (i.e., pediophobia). Basically, it's a series of four spider legs (Why not 8?! Because it'd be too hard to rig and animate!!!) coming out of a baby doll's mouth. Then, based on Laura's suggestion, I added a spider head coming out of the doll's neck hole. Oh yeah, nice and creepy...

Here's another concept art/rotoscope image that I created using Photoshop.

Next, I modeled the "Wailers" in Maya at a very respectable 2,100 quads.

Of course, digitally sculpting the model in Z Brush to create the Normal map and creating the Diffuse map in Photoshop helped to "flesh out" the model. I have a few seam problems, but, hopefully, not too bad. He's a keeper!

Here's a view of his back. Check out that carbuncle-esque spine! Nasty!

This is a nice close up of the face. I really tried to put in the detail through digitally sculpted Normal maps reinforced by Specular maps that I created using CrazyBump.

Here's my Maya model of the Baby Doll Spider creature. Once again, 1,982 quads is a nice low poly number.

Once again, I digitally sculpted the model using Z Brush to create the all important Normal map, as well as Photoshop to create the Diffuse map. Specular map was created using CrazyBump.

As soon as I began sculpting the doll's head, I couldn't resist making it appear more lifelike. So, in the end, the head itself appears more like a real baby head, but terminates with a doll's neck ridge.

After completing the "Wailers" model, it was time to rig it for animation. Since rigging is definitely not my specialty, I created a very simple rig using the Digital Tutors rigging tutorial as a guide. I used Inverse Kinematics for the elbows and single knee (with associated pole vectors) as well as a Spline with Clusters for the spine. I also added a Set Driven Key attribute for the hand controls to make a fist and a forearm bone with an Expression to calculate forearm twist. It's pretty straightforward... nothing fancy... but it gets the job done.

I then created the standing animation, whereby the "Wailers" stand up from their initial "balled up" pose.


Next, I created the wailing animation, which seamlessly continues from the standing animation... yet is capable of looping until the player leaves the "Wailers" awareness radius.


My rig for the Baby Doll Spiders is quite a bit different from the "Wailers," since their anatomy is so different. I used Forward Kinematics (FK) for the top "knee" joint of each leg and IK for the second "knee." The last joint of each leg has a foot controller, which utilizes the IK handle and can be rotated to change the angle of the spider's "foot." I also rigged the tiny legs on either side of the spider's head. Finally, a basic controller was added to move and rotate the Baby Doll Head (i.e., the spider's "body").

I then created a basic walk cycle which can be looped.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

"The Experiment" sci-fi UT3 level

Okay, this entry is long overdue--I was supposed to post this over the break, but now I'm 3/4 of the way through Summer quarter. I've actually had the screenshots ready for a while now... just haven't gotten around to posting them. Anyway, I wanted to create a science fiction puzzle-based UT3 level in which the player is basically a lab rat caught in the middle of a maze, forced to participate in a grand experiment that they know nothing about (i.e., heavily influenced by Portal). I did not want to include any combat within the level--only puzzles, based on game mechanics, such as: the Translocator (kinda like Portal-lite), K Actor physics objects and Gravity Volumes.

The gameplay view is First Person and, upon starting, the player immediately sees a bar code, a serial number and the name "Adam" tattooed on the character's left hand. Spherical, animated robotic cameras cover the walls, overseeing the action and introducing new game concepts to Adam. Through these robo-cams, the narrator introduces himself as "God" and voices excitement regarding observation of Adam's performance within "The Experiment." The player also sees observation windows, behind which the shadows of mysterious "scientists" loom. The initial portion of the level contains a platform with rapidly moving tracks (akin to moving sidewalks in airports) and barriers; it is basically a futuristic obstacle course.

Here is a render of the quick robo-cam model that I made, textured and animated for the level.

Here's a render of the observation deck model... complete with scrutinizing "scientists."

Here's a render of the modular barrier model I created and textured for the level.

This is an aerial screenshot of the initial portion of the level, with all model assets in place. I created the BSP (Binary Space Partition)--basically the level map--and all of the textures/materials as well. In this "physical" portion of "The Experiment," the player must duck under, jump over and generally avoid the barriers while traversing sections of track that are moving in different directions. For the tracks, I used the Unreal Pan node to animate the track material in the desired direction and Gravity Volumes to actually "push" the player. Note: the Gravity Volumes are shallow enough so the player can double-jump to overcome them. In the beginning of the level, the tracks push the player off the platform onto a nearby floor level. In later portions, falling to the floor level causes damage (or even death).

This is a gameplay screenshot of the same area.

Here is a view of the bottom floor... lighted stairs lead back to the beginning of the level. The player must start over at the beginning of the platform when he/she falls over the edge.

This is a screenshot of a later section of the same puzzle. At this point, the barriers function more like maze walls and the player must utilize the correct teleporters to successfully traverse the platforms (or else be looped indefinitely back into the maze).

Here's a view from the lower platform. Is that the correct teleporter nearby?

Another section of the level represents a more "mental" challenge. In this puzzle, the player must use the Link Cannon to shoot a series of K Actor boxes and platforms to negotiate his/her way through the level. This is an aerial screenshot of the first portion of the puzzle. The player actually starts on the central pillar with each of the extended bridge sections standing vertically (i.e., surrounding the player). The bridges are UT Rigid Body actors which are hinged to the central pillar. The player shoots the thin platforms to topple them onto the nearby ledges containing boxes of varying sizes. The player then shoots these boxes (which are K Actors) off the ledges onto the floor below, arranging them to form steps to the exit door. By the way, the box and bridge models were created and textured by the most excellent Rashad Foux.
Here is a gameplay screenshot illustrating the player's ability to move the boxes by shooting them.

Here is the solution to the first portion of the puzzle. Note: the teleporter allows the player to return to the top of the central pillar if he/she falls to the floor before knocking all of the boxes off the ledges.

The second room contains a puzzle similar to the first, except the boxes must be used in a particular order to reach cubbyholes containing other boxes. After all the boxes have been retrieved, they can be, once again, stacked to reach the exit door.

Here is a view inside one of the cubbyholes, with the box being shot back out into the main room.

Here is the solution to the second portion of the puzzle.

After beating the entire level, the player finally meets God... or, more specifically, G.O.D. (General Observation Droid 1138). G.O.D. reveals that he is an artificially intelligent machine designed by an ancient alien race to discover the correct DNA template for population of the test planet Earth. Because Adam is the first being to complete "The Experiment," he is the lucky candidate. For this end sequence, I created canister models containing low poly test specimens.

I designed G.O.D. as a chaotic mass of hoses plugged into a central glowing pillar. The mechanical column tapers to a floating, fiery "eye" (aesthetically linking it to the robo-cams) surrounded by undulating metal hemispherical shields. Here is a render of the model I created/textured of G.O.D.

Here's a gameplay screenshot of the end sequence.

This is a detail screenshot of the same sequence.