Friday, 15 May 2015

Off the Map Post Mortem

As a quick Recap; Off the Map was the final project of my second year at De Montfort University. It is also competition run by Game City, in conjunction with the British library. The competition is centred on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the book. The Off the Map competition accompanies the British Library’s exhibition on Alice in Wonderland. In group we had Three themes to choose from; The Underground, Gardens or Oxford. For this project My Team comprised of Hannah Simmons, Emily Kelly, Christy Judge, Jake Roddis, Olivia Anderston and myself, decided to focus on the Underground theme, and Alice's journey into the rabbit hole and Carroll's nonsense filled world, with heavy ties to Oxford architecture and environments.

This project lasted around 3 months and started out very bumpy. There were a lot of disagreements between students and tutors, and misinformation surrounding this project and how groups were initially chosen, and not open to adjustments. The result of this made it very difficult for students to start this project with optimism. It personally made me very wary of this project and I considered requesting to work on my own for this project. Unfortunately it also made it very difficult to go to tutors for advice related to this project. I feel like my group was disadvantaged greatly with the lack of tutor feedback meetings as we definitely needed support throughout this 3 month project.

My team mates, as lovely as they are weren't at all balanced in areas of expertise. We had three 3D environment artists and three character artists, with secondary skills in prop creation, 3D modelling and texturing. But we had no one who was dedicated to concept art, UI or engine work three massive parts of the project. I believe none of us had worked together beforehand as well, so the settling period for our group was long. To be honest we never really settled into roles, everyone just ended up doing a bit of everything to compensate for the gaps in our team composition. As individuals we all have a willingness to learn new skills and we're competent regardless, but it would have been nice to just be able to focus on what we specified that we wanted to improve for this project. I feel like we ended up missing out on the opportunity to specialise, to keep the balance in our team.

Project Contribution:

  • Underground level
  • Garden level
  • The White Rabbit
• Bluebells- Full Process
• Foxgloves- Full Process
• Victorian Clock- Full Process
• “Eat me” Cake- Full process
• Pillar- Texturing (Albedo)
• Big Leaf- Unwrapping, Texturing (Albedo, Normal, Roughness)
• Books- Unwrapping, Texturing (Albedo, Normal, Roughness)

This is a quick summary of how my weeks looked throughout this project (recorded in more detail in previous blog posts.)

At the end of the project I came out with a hand full of assets, but my main contribution to the project was my White Rabbit Character

Underground Assets

Garden Assets
White Rabbit Render

Assets in game
Assets in game
White Rabbit in game

Post Mortem Q&A

Q: Did my end result represent what I wanted for this project?

This is a tricky question as I didn't have a clear idea of what I wanted for this project after my initial ideas. In the beginning I envisioned this project to be a simple platformer, with painted, stylised backgrounds and assets; with a focus on 2D skills (think Rayman legends with a little 3D thrown in there) with minimal mechanics. However none of this happened; the type of game I wanted was shot down fairly early in the process and I never replaced that with anything else as the direction we ended up going in was the complete opposite of what I had in mind.

Q: Strengths I found during this project

As a group: Though we didn't get the level of polish we could have for the project. I got to hand it to us, we produced a lot of work. 3 different populated levels that include 3 completely rigged characters with all the concepts to back them is nothing to scoff at. We really powered through this project despite the imbalances in the team composition and we helped each other out when we could. Most of the team went about the project with a constant level of optimism (which I found disconcerting at times, but encouraging none the less.)

Individually: I've found that I'm very quick and texturing individual assets, having been able to complete several in an afternoon when previously I'd need a least a day for each one. I've also become fast at rigging biped characters and can test them in engine quickly. 

Q: Weaknesses I found during this project

As a group: Attendance was an issue through this project. Half of the team were in every day at consistent times, whereas the other half came in at more sporadic times, or not at all, without much of an explanation for that. Because of this it was difficult to keep track of how everyone was doing, if they were on track, needed help etc. I assumed that everyone was  working on what was discussed but that was not the case, on several occasions a team-mate would add extra details, or work to their current jobs, that weren't discussed, and looking back, really weren't needed to improve the game, people got carried away with new features rather than finishing what they already had. These problems tie in with the large issue of a lack of communication. Though there were several means of communicating with each other, the just were not used much by the majority of the team. I've learnt that making communication easy doesn't guarantee that communication will happen.

Individually: I did not assert myself enough throughout this project. I found that having to work with completely new people stopped me being able to be as critical as I normally would with those that I know. I would voice concerns, but I stopped myself repeating them afterwards and as a result my concerns were often forgotten in the end. The fear of being seem as overly negative or annoying prevented me from following up on the problems. Now I know to just go with it regardless, because the problems I mention won't just go away.

Q. What stressed me out the most during this project?

Asset creation was a slow process all around, everyone was left to do their own thing but there wasn’t enough overlap in peoples work. Assets were concepted, modelled and textured by the same person, and if they didn't show you their work, you wouldn't know what to expect. I personally shared screenshots of my work throughout my process as did many member of the team, but there are few assets and bits of work that I did not see until they were completed and put in the game. This combined with a slow output in asset creation meant that some assets never had the opportunity to be improved. There was no clear leadership or structure to this project which caused problems and stress for me since I could never be sure that everyone was on track with what they were doing. There was also a sense of passiveness in the team everything just seemed "ok" but there weren't many points in the project that got people fired up and really enthusiastic about the project. Having a group of people was such varying tastes and work practises contributed to that.

The want of individual ownership over parts of the project hindered how well the group worked together. Though everyone in the group worked towards finishing the project there was little to no collaboration between smaller areas of work, instead work was produced in self-contained projects. This practice I believe has come about from the urgency for portfolio pieces this year; team mates (including myself) wanted to showcase their individual skills to help them get hired after graduation. Which isn't a problem normally, but can be terrible in group work. This links with my main issue during this project; texturing. Not being allowed to texture many assets in this project really stressed me out. Despite offering, and putting myself down for texturing as a main skill, no one passed their assets to me for texturing until the very end of the project. This was frustrating because for one it made me feel like I wasn't trusted to do good work, and two, made me annoyed  when texturing was left to the last possible second. I saw several assets that I could have textured early that didn't get time put into them because people were busy with other aspects of the project, but still wanted these assets for portfolios, so were unwilling to give them up.

The scope of this project was just too much, the team does not lack ambition, but needs to know when to stop. Despite being told several times through this project to cut down the level I'd come back to look at how things were going and see  that though areas were cut, extra aspects were still being added, without finishing other problem areas and really polishing the level.


This has been an exhausting project, and it's not even 100% finished yet, but I learnt a lot about myself and how I work. My biggest take away from this project is that I need to have more confidence in myself when it comes to pitching my skills and voicing my concerns in group projects. Finishing a project that I'm proud of takes priority of being seen as a negative team mate, if things aren't going the way which I think is beneficial, next time I'll just have to take charge of that situation, if I overstep hopefully someone will call me out and I can work on it. But I won't know until I try.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Week 32:Final Week

This week I finished off the White Rabbit model and wrapped up all of my work for the DMU Off the Map hand in. Starting from the colour pallet tests from last week I moved onto adjusting the UV unwrap of my model and texturing the rabbit.

The jacket pattern from 6 was combined with the overall look of 3
I had a lot of trouble with the fur texture on  this character as I made space in the Uvs for fur alphas. However I wasn't sure if I could ad them in time so I set about trying to make the fur as good as possible without them. In the middle of texturing I found that the neck area didn't look right so I painted over my work to break up the neck area more and balance the model. When I was happy with the paint over I finished up the texture, polished the rig and made sure everything worked in engine.

Final Albedo map "White Rabbit Body"
Final Albedo map "White Rabbit accessoriesCertain aspects of the model such as the original scarf and fur alphas were omitted from the final White Rabbit, so there are gaps to the uv unwrap
Marmoset Renders
White Rabbit in game
Overall I'm very proud with how my character ended up. I did what I set out to do in a technical sense, by making a fully rigged and playable character, and I am confident that I'd be able to do this with any new characters I create. Visually I like the overall look of the rabbit, and believe he fits in well with the underground level. If I were to go back I'd play around with fur alphas, and putting physics on the ears.

The Rabbit was finished mid week so from there I was freed up to do some odd texturing jobs for my team. I ended up texturing some books, the leaf you ride on in the garden level and the main pillar featured in the underground level.

"Big leaf" Asset Modelled by Olivia Anderton.
"Pillar" asset, Modelled and normal mapped by Hannah Simmons
"Book" assets modelled by Jake Roddis.
 Then it was just  finishing up this project with documentation. I'll go more into the whole project in my next post.But the end of this project marks the end of the second year of this course, going to get more into that later as well.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Dailies #3

Some of my favourite sketches and studies from March-April

Week 31- Wrapping up

A quick update on Off the Map. This week was spent just finishing off any loose assets for our level. Mine included the "Eat me" Cake, a Victorian clock and various flowers.
"Eat me" Cake complete with card and Lewis Carol's handwriting
Lewis Carols original manuscript
Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures Under Ground, page 10Copyright © The British Library Board
Clock Asset
Foxgloves asset, and materiel instances
I also began the texturing process for the White Rabbit. Since this character is already modelled and in game this is the last step I need to do. It's also the last asset I need to complete for the De Montfort hand in.
Quick colour passes. 3 will be the main design with aspects of 5 and 6

If all goes according to plan I should have the rabbit finished by mid-week, freeing myself up to do any quick fixes to the level leading up to hand in.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Week 30: Book Club

A couple of weeks ago we were tasked with writing a self reflective essay, going over our work of the year and linking it to our own career aspirations. I wrote about my aim of becoming a visual developer (with a focus on character design. ) and how the work that I have produced this year pushed towards that goal. Though  I'm  happy with the end result, writing the essay was a bit of a struggle.
During this process I  rediscovered  my dislike for academic styled writing. I love fictional stories, and recently I've found that I love auto biographic works as well;I've also enjoyed writing bits of both.  But when the purpose of my writing is self reflection, it is frustrating when I'm required to find other peoples' words and thoughts to put into my refection to make it valid. Doing this didn't bother me in all aspects, the most successful parts of my essay came when I was citing books that I've been reading over this year. They did aid my writing in a more organic way and was probably the main aim of citing others for this essay I'm sure. unfortunately too many of my references were found specifically so I could reach the required reference count before a deadline. The information found is still valid and still useful; but it needed some time to breathe and sink in. There wasn't enough time to meditate on anything new, which was a little disappointing for a self reflective essay.

Writing this essay has made me appreciate this blog more as my medium to write, and though what I write might not be as polished or academic as my essay it is certainly less dull.

To end of this post I'd like to recommend some books that I've read, and were included in my self reflection this year. These are written by authors who lives and writing style inspire me to write the way that I do, and to continue reading. This list is also the reason why this blogs a few weeks late; as I needed some time to finish reading a few of these and return them to the library, so people can actually try out these recommendations. So without further a due:

Austin Kleon:
Steal Like an Artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative
Show Your Work: 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered

Having had Steal Like an Artist recommended to me a few times before I finally got round to reading it around half a year ago. I then took the time to re-read and pick up the sequel Show Your Work for the essay. These are two easy and fun reads on being an artist and doing good work. These two books also have a recommended reading list in the end pages, and I haven't found a bad recommendation on there yet.

Twyla Tharp:
The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life
The Collaborative habit: Life lessons for working together

These two books have taken a little longer to digest and I'm still reading through sections at the moment. Both books look into Twyla Tharp's experiences with individual and collaborative work. The creative habit includes some practical exercises to boast your own creativity and a look into Twyla Tharp's own (highly efficient) creative process.

Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on writing and life

A book that, at the bare minimum is funny as hell but also filled with solid advice. Though specifically about writing (and life) this book can easily apply to art; with topics on jealousy, false starts and allowing yourself to write "shitty first drafts" without wanting to die by the end of it.