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3D INTEGRATION INTO 2D SCENES

When deciding on the switch from a pure 2D game to combination of 2D and 3D elements, I wanted to maintain the pre-rendered 2D feel of STASIS. Even though I love 3D games, and their endless potential, there is a certain magic around 2D.

Game such as Commandos and Icewind Dale hold up beautifully to this day, largely in part to the use of the 2D backgrounds.

So I’m acutely aware of creating 3D objects that will integrate perfectly into a 2D pre-rendered scene. One way of doing this is by setting up 3D lighting in your scene to accurately represent the same lighting in render. While this is doable, it comes at the expense of time and memory which, let’s face it, are finite resources for a developer. So how to get around this?

Baking!

I’d consider this idea a tried and trusted method. Bake the shadows and lighting into the texture instead of relying on real time shadows and reflections from the scene.

I construct the scene as I would fully detailed pre-rendered background. After which, Nic and I decide with objects should be 3D to best suit the scene and story. We’re mixing 2D sprite maps with 3D animated objects so the best solution is often only visible once the scene has been completed.

Once making that assessment, I create lower poly versions of the chosen 3D objects, while trying to keep as much of the object’s original shape and detail. And because there aren’t many 3D elements in each scene, the low poly models are still rather detailed.

After the low poly models are placed, various renders are done with and without the each object to create the correct shadows and reflections on the background plate.

From there I bake the shadows and textures into the low poly model while it sits in the scene. This was the lighting and shadows on the object are exactly as they would be if it was a 2D pre-rendered sprite.

The result: 3D objects that are perfectly integrated into the 2D scenes.

There are drawbacks to this; if the lighting conditions change drastically the 3D object’s textures have to be re-baked to maintain their integration, but as long as we’re aware of these limitations we design around them.

When the low poly models are used in conjunction with normal maps and lighting, we can create some beautiful looking scenes that still maintain the feel of completely pre-rendered scenes with without many of the memory limitations that those create.

BAKED 3d MODEL LOW POLY BED ingame_bed

 

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…AND WHEN THE DUST SETTLES…

We did it. We released a game! STASIS hit the digital shelves in late 2015. The culmination of thousands of hours, sleepless nights, copious amounts of coffee, and more than a few good old emotional breakdowns. After its release, it felt like a weight was lifted from one of my shoulders and then promptly shifted onto the other!

Patches, user support, interviews, marketing, and then more patches – in a way it felt when the game was complete the real work could start. And start it did! Nic and Kristal did masterful jobs at keeping everything afloat while I attempted some sort of emotional recovery from the 2 years of crunch time I’d just gone through.

I’ve heard people say ‘never read internet comments‘ and I ignored them. I can tell you that I obsessively googled STASIS for weeks after the launch and still find myself doing searches now. It’s hard not to.

We made STASIS for people to play and for people to enjoy. To publish it and then move onto something else instantly just seemed so…heartless. Thankfully, players loved it.

The feedback we got was excellent and I took it all in, both good and bad. I’ve read every Steam comment, thousands of forum replies, and hundreds of reviews. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube Let’s Plays and Twitch steams (even those in languages I don’t understand). I’ve consumed the feedback from STASIS like a dying man who finds an oasis, and it’s been thirst-quenching, even with the occasional mouthful of dirt.

STASIS is a game that we’re incredibly proud of. I personally grew more as an artist in the last 2 years of solid development, than I have in the previous 10 years of doing it professionally. And after all of that, what did we decide to do? Yep, we decided to do it all again.

The Brotherhood is now running as a full time development studio. We can officially call ourselves game developers with a straight face and an enormous sense of pride! We asked ourselves, “where to from here?” as we’d already completed much of the graphic content for the Cayne chapter so that was the most logical thing to tackle… but we aren’t people who take the easy route for anything. So we made the difficult decision to build Cayne from the ground up, and apply all of the lessons we’d learned from STASIS to create the best experience we can.

While STASIS provided a foundation for our future projects, Cayne will most certainly be providing the brick and mortar. We’re going to use Cayne to test out new ideas, technologies, and a new workflow that has both Nic and I working full time.

Our future games will be created around this core, and what we have coming up is going to astound, disgust, and amaze you.

 

WHAT ARE WE DOING DIFFERENTLY?

STASIS started off as a hobby project, and during production much time was spent trying to get things working. While I wouldn’t consider this time wasted (I discovered a lot of ways how NOT to do things), we’re going into this new chapter with a better knowledge of how our future games need to be put together.

The interface, for example, appears simple, but it took countless iterations to get the workings and feel we wanted. We can now take that R&D time and funnel it into other aspects.

While the 2D characters in STASIS were wonderful, we want our next games to use a 2.5D system with 2D pre-rendered backgrounds and 3D characters. This allows us to have smooth transition animations and an unlimited number of directions for the character. More importantly, it eliminates a step that was needed when getting the characters into the game.

In STASIS, I needed to animate everything, render it out, set it up in a scene, tweak it, re-adjust if necessary, re-render, tweak… This process took an enormous amount of time with the results sometimes being less than satisfactory.  By using 3D characters that are rigged with bones, I can animate and import them directly into the game and see what adjustments need to be made.

I can’t explain how satisfying it is to see something in-engine a few seconds after I’ve finished the animation. Less time spent with the technicalities of importing into the engine means more time spent on getting the movement and animation flawless.

Lighting was a challenge in STASIS because it required more planning for even the most basic ‘special’ lighting. A scene had to be constructed in After Effects before it got added into the engine which allowed for almost no iterative design adjustment when it was in. How it came out in render was how it looked in the game.

In Cayne, we’re using Normal Maps and other techniques to get more dynamic lighting. Shader systems allow us to tint the scenes and adjust the mood of the rooms in real time, again allowing a more fluid nature to the games creation. Seeing adjustments to the game as you play it is both satisfying and helpful from a design standpoint. ‘The freedom to experiment’ is SO important in art, and using new systems allows us flexibility, especially where we can overlap the technical expertise with the artistic vision.

I want to push the design of Cayne into new directions. Cayne will portray more of Nic and my personal game styles – in all aspects, from the story to characters and environments. We want to bring in something slightly different to STASIS universe to challenge ourselves. But Cayne is set in the same universe, so we aren’t going to stray too far from our 80s roots.

The work we’re doing will hopefully blow your minds, because the passion is palpable and the excitement we have for the future is tangible. It’s going to be a wild ride.

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