Happy New Year, Heres hoping for a good one!
We're back to our weekly developer updates. The alcohol is all gone, the cake has been eaten, and the presents have long been opened. We're back to work on Conquest, and we're starting the year as we mean to go on.
This week's article is focused around the character customisation system. It's mostly going to give you an insight into what is coming. But we're also going to show of a few images of the current progress with it.
It's also good to mention that we've picked up two talented programmers. So while gameplay wasn't something we were focusing on before now. It's definitely going to start showing itself over the next months.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, what are you up to at the moment? What is your experience within the Games Industry, and when did you join the team?
My name's Lee Devonald. I've been doing freelance stuff for various studios for a few years now, but that's not how it started out. I actually got into character art through a teenage man crush on Manga/Anime. I was a hardcore Dragonball Z fan, and found a mod for half-life (GoldSource engine) called Earths Special Forces, I'd suggest checking it out, and they've done some very cool stuff with a very old engine!
From there I moved on to making my own characters for Jedi academy, and then on to freelance. I joined Crystal Core a couple of months ago. Originally the idea was to create an episodic RPG type game with a small group of friends under the CC name. But that went out the window and we all pulled together to work on Conquest.
2. As Creative Director, how much control do you have over the visual and gameplay areas of development?
About as much control as there's possible to have! It's very exciting for me, I've always had a strong vision for how I'd love games to look or "feel", but I've only ever done character art at the same time. My personal background outside of games design is in management, so this is like the perfect blend of the two disciplines. I get to apply my own artistic spin to everything within the game that you can see. And of course, visual style can often dictate gameplay...
3. With Conquest's customisation system, how does this effect character development. What is the process of providing content for the customisation system?
I had to think a little outside the box for tackling this problem... we want players to be able to customise their characters. But that could potentially leave an insane amount of work for the character artists to perform. I realise that many fulltime hardcore games studios have already got this workflow down so anyone out there reading probably won't be surprised by the answer. But I built a base mesh... kind of like lord of the rings "one base mesh to rule them all".
This one mesh was fully UVW mapped, and the entire body was textured. From there it's simply a case of sculpting different heads from that one mesh. Each face texture blends "somewhat" seamlessly with the existing body texture; the only difference to the mesh itself is vertex positions. So within the game all that has to happen is to call up different textures + vertex positions.
It's sped up character creation quite a bit.
4. Visual style is very important in videogames. How was the art style of Conquest developed?
Well of course Conquest is Roman themed. So in a lot of ways colour will play a strong role. It's actually quite interesting to see the dynamic between the Romans and Celtics in this area. Romans had relatively colourful clothing, deep reds, blues, and other colours, accentuated by gleaming armour. While the Celts had dirty brown and green clothing, little more than rags and leather in most cases.
By stark contrast though, roman buildings were almost universally white or terracotta, leaving a very "boring" look in some ways. With very little contrast between buildings other than the architecture itself. Celts having very similar building styles, but due to materials were full of greens, reds, browns etc.
Ultimately we decided on a fairly realistic looking game, so I hope we can pull it off. I just keep having to remind myself that often realism is achieved through imperfections rather than perfect symmetry.
5. How much of the artwork is accurate to Roman and Celtic history?
As much as possible. The Roman armour is being extensively researched and will be modelled as accurately as possible. However some things may differ, for example robe colours will likely be dictated by the player themselves.
Similarly Celtic weapons will be as accurate as possible to what materials and building styles they had available to them at the time.
6. What other influences and references are you using in the visual design of the project?
I have a literal mountain of naked male and female photos for reference, as well as a couple of mannequins kicking around. I've got a nifty laser scan of Michelangelo's "David" on my computer too. It's quite breathtaking!
In an effort to maintain realism, good reference is everything. I've got pictures of all kind of different faces, clothes, cloth types, metals...
7. How much customisation is possible with the current character system?
Almost infinite. I say almost, because truly infinite is impossible. Ultimately each different faction and gender will have 5 starting base meshes and textures. The player can blend these meshes and textures to create something close to what they would like for themselves. They can adjust skin tone, how greasy the skin is. Whether the player is heavily scarred, has body hair or not.
A couple of things we've left out of customisation though, particularly for the Romans, are things like age. It's not that it's difficult to set up, but more that the roman army was quite strict about who was allowed to serve at a particular age.
8. What will we be seeing from you over the next few months?
9. What games are you playing at the moment, and who is your favourite game character?
Actually I'm slowly weaning myself off of gaming to give myself more time for my art and for my family. I play Warhammer Online a lot; I find it a lot of fun. I also played through the Assassins Creed games recently, and I play Gran Turismo quite a bit. I enjoy a good shoot em' up too, but I'm quite picky... I never got into the whole Call of Duty thing, I found them very "dumbed down" for a particular audience, and stick with quake 3 and unreal tournament for my fps kicks.
10. That concludes this interview with Lee Devonald, Creative Director for Conquest: Hadrian's Divide. Would you like to add anything before we finish here Lee?
I made a chocolate cake yesterday... it was yummy!
As promised, here is a preview of the character creation system. This image shows three variations of the characters face/head. They are all using the same polygon structure, and therefore can share animations, armour, materials and the body and hair meshes. So essentially you'll be able to pick from a variety of different heads, and then on top of that, choose your hair style and colour. Then any face paint, tattoos, and other items.
It's very early. But the plans are in place, and the artwork to support it is now being produced. So you can probably expect that by the time the early combat system is in place, you'll also have some amount of customisation available at that same time.
The next image we're showing off is an update to the last concept we showed. This is the 'before' version of the Celtic Village. This is our next map, which will see the Romans storming for control of a Celtic settlement. It's a vital step for the Romans. Enabling them to set the Celt's back even further.
And finally, we'd like to give you something for free. We've been a customer of DreamHost.com for just over a year now. They've provided the best hosting service yet. With brilliant support, Subversion and FTP thats easy to use. Not to mention the other stuff we haven't even used yet. So we're giving you $75 off of your new signup with DreamHost. Just make sure you enter the code, and it should be discounted from your order!
That's all this week. Although we did well considering we spent more time drinking and celebrating! We'll be back again next week. Until then, feel free to sign up to the community forums. Read this and leave your comments here, or on the Conquest blog. Or be our friends on Facebook and Twitter.
On the recruitment front, we're looking for Environment Artists and someone with an understanding of Scaleform and Flash. Email us your portfolio/CV and we'll get back to you as soon as possible!