Creating a visual style for NS2

Posted by unknownworlds 17 years ago

I don’t know how much I have to write about, but I want to get in the habit of being a bit more open about what’s going on behind closed doors here so here goes.

There are many joys to having a distributed team. Working half-naked, cooking at home, living in the location of your choice and no commute are all great. The problem comes when you have some multi-disciplinary task that requires a lot of iteration and input from multiple people. We had this problem player animations in NS – they required input from me but they also required working closely with modelers, who had to build the model so that it could be rigged, then riggers, who set the model up to be animated, then animators to do the actual animation THEN programmers to set up the ".qc" file which is a kind of script to match the animations and bones up to the game.

There was also input from the concept artist and playtesters who had their own ideas. When you bugs or problems or were trying to try something we were unsure the system could handle, it ended up taking a very long time to get anything done. The files would be checked in and out of source control or e-mailed around and after adding up the delays and time zone difference, a task that could’ve been done in 2 hours when three guys standing around a monitor would end up taking weeks. The end result wouldn’t be as good either.

We’re starting to have a similar problem with one of our first big tasks for NS2 – establishing a visual style.

We want input from Cory, who was the main artist behind NS.
We need to make sure we appeal to you guys, our existing fan-base, yet also differentiate ourselves from NS and others in the market so it doesn’t seem to be "more of the same"
We aren’t very familiar with the new technology, so we don’t know exactly to what extent we want to use shaders and other bells and whistles in what is going to be a 5+ year leap forward in technology
The style very much is influenced by the kinds of levels we can build on limited resources, so we need to account for details in level design as well as how long it takes to build textures, normal maps, bump maps, etc. with each approach
There is input from me, the designer, who has his own wack ideas for what he wants, etc.

I’m sure there’s more but the point is, it’s extremely tricky when you can’t work face to face and a lot of times you can’t get everyone you need on the line to have a meeting. It’s strange when you can work on a big project with many people for years at a time, without having a single meeting with everyone involved. There is just no possibility of getting everyone online at the same time at once. So what’s a distributed team to do?

One thing we’re trying is a wiki, which I think will help, at least in the way that we can all quickly edit a document without worrying about blowing away other people’s changes. Another approach I’d like to try is to try working as if we’re in a single room. That is, leaving Skype, Teamspeak, etc. on while you’re working, even if you don’t have someone you think you need to talk to. I think one barrier to distributed communication is the fact that you have to call someone and "have an issue" in order to communicate at all. The wheels are greased just by casually bumping into someone on the way to coffee so I think this might help.

When trying to establish our visual style, another thing that helps is to find a lot of reference material. We didn’t do this so much with NS, but Cory did with Zen and I think it really helped. So in lieu of giving you more detail about what the actual visual style of NS2 is going to be, let me leave you with some images that we’re finding inspirational. Colorful, easy to see while "feeling" dark and a smooth interplay between man-made and organic are the main concepts here:

These are from the amazing remake of Solaris.

Battlestar Galactica:

The incredible ukitakumuki:

The ultra-incredible Craig Mullins:

Seen any great reference art you think would fit NS2?

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