Screenshot from within the Bloom
My name is Koy vanOteghem, Lead Environment Artist here at inXile. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss a few items as we release our first image for Torment that is pre-production and game art oriented (as opposed to concept art). Ordinarily, we would expect to R&D these types of early-prototype scenes during the standard preproduction phase of the project development cycle. And certainly during our actual preproduction, this pipeline will see many changes and iterations based on evolving needs. But technicalities aside, because of our growing comfort level with the Unity Engine, along with our growing connection to our community of backers and fans, we thought it might be fun and informative to give a sneak peek of some of the ideas we have bouncing around the Art Dept. What we are presenting here, for the sake of conversation, is an example of a 2D pre-rendered environment within The Bloom.
The Ninth World of Numenera has a rich tapestry of aesthetics. You can see this in the variety demonstrated in both our Torment concept art as well as the Numenera artwork. While we search out the look and feel for this evolving title, we find ourselves developing a much more organic approach to our asset production pipeline, both in process and in created content. Perhaps it was starting with the Bloom that helped steer us down this road, though we see how it will apply to more architectural environments as well. Our approach involves a heavier focus on sculpting and modeling, and a lesser focus on the engineering side of the art, which will suit our (relatively) small team structure well. We get back to working on the art, and think less of engine settings and geometry management.
Torment will certainly present some special challenges, but more so I think, unique opportunities to realize our vision in a new old way. We’re looking back to a 2D approach, with a fresh eye rooted in contemporary modeling, texturing, and engineering techniques. Much like Project Eternity, our goal is to craft an experience that diverges from the common path of world building. We hope to strike a distinct style while achieving levels of detail often difficult to present in 3D game space with a small team, through a process of pre-rendering major portions of in-game assets. As you have seen in the published concept pieces, geometry varies greatly from location to location. We look to incorporate the organic nature of many of those structures into our asset creation pipeline while avoiding the often processor taxing in-game meshes.
The big debate: playing games in 2D vs. 3D – I know many of you are interested about our decisions regarding the art direction. There has been much talk about the costs associated with "2D development," the quality and scope that can be produced by a small team, and the impact that this might have (for funding) of other departments. And trust you me, I understand from where these expectation emerge. But to be clear, what we are really talking about here is not a 2D game, but what you might call a 2.5D game, with just a portion of art production that is 2D in nature. Bear in mind, any extra time we spend noodling in 2D will be made up 10-fold when we get to our beta build and we are not ripping our eyes out trying to figure out how to get all that geometry to render efficiently on screen. Our early tests are showing very promising frame rates for our 2D assets, freeing up additional processing power for characters, FX, lighting, post-processes, etc.
After all, characters are not 2D, rather 3D seen through an isometric camera. And particles, well, they’ve actually always been 2D, but you know that. I’ll admit, lighting in 2.5D was a concern of mine early on, but after some initial experiments, I feel confident that 3D lighting can and will be used to considerable effect, grounding the characters in the scene through dynamic lighting and some shadow casting. These issues, among others, simply require a mind shift in the creation process, and it’s quite liberating.
In the end, it’s really not that great a departure from what we already know and produce. It’s just a different way of presenting to you the player, our "3D geometry," in an old awesome way. With our new pipeline strategy, we’ll be able to include detail, complexity, and styles that I would typically shy away from given our team size. It’s a win-win from where we are standing.
I would also like to extend a big thank you to two team members, Gavin Glenn-McDowell and James Morford, for their dedication to this KS campaign and eventual production of Torment. As part of an effort to develop a "rapid pipeline" proposal, they produced what would turn out to be a rather motivating gameplay space from The Bloom concept in a weekend charette. After an explanation of their strategy, the potential time savings and cost reductions, and the quality bar that could be reached, we launched into another round of afterhours development with the help of a couple more team members willing to dedicate some oh-so-precious personal time. Their efforts made this post possible.
Thank you for your backing and support. I am in awe.
KoyVia Kickstarter de Torment