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Folklore : Art Production

Art production is a very key factor in the whole process of making a game. It’s important to know and plan out the art assets correctly to avoid potential problems near the end of the project.

Continuing on with my previous post on Folklore’s development process, let’s focus a bit on the art assets. The biggest telltale sign of the Folklore team’s first environment would have to be the Faery Realm. The reason this is so is evident in their first demo, which features the Faery Realm, and Warcadia. Sounds like the obvious of course, but there are other things that point to that, and the reason I’m going into it is because it sheds light on their production process.

The Ambitions of an Art Team

After playing through most of Folklore, it seems that the levels start out fairly large and vast, and gradually through the game, they get smaller, with less variation. The Faery Realm consisted first of a beautiful lush autumn forest, followed by a miniature faery-town and a giant tree, a truly spectacular open valley with gardens of beautiful flowers, and ending with a very moody-dark forest. This was also the realm of the Faery King, so an audience room was also made. All in all, each of these would be counted as a unique environment.

One of many beautiful environments in the Faery Realm.

In the case of the Faery Realm, very few assets can be recycled, except for maybe a few props with some color tweaks and vertex lighting. Fortunately, if you pay attention, most of these environments are simply large “rooms” or arena floors with narrow paths between each room. I say “fortunately” for the sake of the art team. With a large amount of room for gameplay, this leaves a lot of the props limited to being outside of the surrounding areas. When props are off the beaten path, you can get away with less detail, repeating textures and other time-saving techniques that give the appearance of high populated areas. Much of the trees in the backgrounds are mostly painted textures of trees (sort of like backdrops in a live theater performance) rather than actual geometry. Of course, some actual geometry is needed to make it convincing.

The Greybox – The Birth of a New Level

In the prototype phase, the artists would model a “greybox” of the level for the designers and programmers to test gameflow. It’s called a greybox because they literally get grey textureless boxes roughly in the shape of what design intends to map out the level as. The purpose of this is so that the designers can run through a level playtest, spot for errors, and make changes. These changes would be passed to the artist.

Tweaking changes with a greybox are fast, making for quick turnaround so the designers can go back in and test some more. Some of these tweaks may include relocating a door or passage, changing elevation or shape of terrain, or replacing certain sections entirely. Once the final level shape has been determined, art goes into full production and filling in the greyboxes with actual art assets.

I can only assume that they had planned from the beginning to make the environments completely modular. If you think of it technically, your character travels from room to room. It’s not seamless at all, and some of the environments are drastically different from one another. This planning allows incredible flexibility. The designers have the option of reordering the connections between one section to the next.

Another advantage here is that if art assets were cut from the project due to time constraints, they could easily unhook a room and hook it up to a different room. There probably was a randomize functionality in there as well so that each room you went to would never be the same. This is most evident in two places – the first being the Endless Corridor realm : Multiple paths with no map guide, and going from room to room could lead you to anywhere.

Folklore’s Dungeon Trial.

The second would be in Folklore’s own Dungeon Trial, where each room could modularly connect to any other room or segment. This would have to be the entire Folklore level design editor at its most basic. Given the functionality was probably implemented in the first place, the Dungeon Trial was a nice additional touch. Perhaps, to say, the Dungeon Trial was even part of their prototype phase in figuring out how to lay out their levels!

Modularity, and Recycling – Planning for a Low Risk Future.

If you’ll notice, the way the levels were populated, Endless Corridor and Hellrealm were the most recycled. I’m guessing that at this point in the project, a couple of realms had to be cut, and two of the realms had to be simplified. This typically happens over the course of a development cycle. The project falls behind due to unforeseen circumstances. These can range from small things such as build errors, to larger things such as a complete technical overhaul. All in all, they add up as lost time, and things inevitably have to be trimmed, or the deadline has to be extended.

Not all companies are like Blizzard where they have the option to just keep working until it’s done. Many developers are usually under the tight reign of the publishers with deadlines. The reason being is that the publisher is the one that is usually paying for everything. They’re the client. They seek developers to make a game that the publisher can publish and sell. Publishers end up making most of the money, but they are also the ones that take the highest risk.

Every game development project is an investment risk. It’s very important to them that the budgets don’t go off, and the timing isn’t thrown off. For example, if the publisher needed to release Folklore in time for Christmas, the developer has to get the game done by June. This includes bug testing. This version of the game is called “Release Candidate”. The RC gets passed to Sony for approval. Sony bug tests the game for issues that go against their set policies or guidlines (TRC). If TRC checking fails, it goes back to the developer, they fix the errors, and they attempt another RC. The turnaround time is slow, hence why the publisher has to allow for so much time before the game is ready. After it passes TRC checking, it’s considered Gold Master and ready for publishing. This too can take a long time. Now, you understand why sometimes deadlines cannot be moved and why certain games feel rushed and incomplete.

Take a Deep Breath, and Snip

Having to cut back and reduce the amount of content in a game is never easy. It’s like you’re taking a bit of its soul away, and you’re no longer making the vision that it was ambitiously designed to be. But this is the reality of the game industry, and reality always wins. You either ship the product complete, but entirely over budget and delayed, or you ship the game on time, but with controlled and cuts with the least impact on the overall game experience as possible.

One of the less interesting backdrops of Endless Corridor.

Hellrealm and Endless Corridor are definitely one of those that had to suffer cutting. I’m guessing that several unique sections had to be removed from Endless Corridor. I would say that Endless Corridor was probably supposed to have a very large castle environment with spanning bridges, and this was condensed into a single room.

The Matrix-text in Hellrealm.

Hellrealm probably suffered the most changes from the original vision, there’s a section with “matrix-like text”. This seems like it happens in only one very small area, but I can assume they had greater ideas for it. The single area with the swampy look probably could have been expanded as well. Instead, they lengthened the level with a tower of sorts. Each floor is pretty much identical.

You’ll also notice that the creatures of Hellrealm and Endless Corridor, and even Netherworld Core are mostly recycled. Some palette swaps here and there, and you suddenly have 8 more creatures! Interestingly, their animations are all identical as well. This gets me into some of the recycling tricks that I have observed… stay tuned as I continue on with the art production of Folklore!

Glossary of Terms:

  • Vertex – a point in space. If you create three points, and join them together, you get a triangle, or a polygon.
  • Vertex Lighting – Applying a color to a vertex. The color is compounded with the texture map. If you apply black to a vertex, then that vertex will appear like a shadow. Apply white to it, and it will appear like it is being lit. Apply a color to it, and it will appear as if the light is coloring it that way. Vertex lighting is used as a cost effective alternative to real time lighting. Real time lighting requires the CPU to calculate lights and shadows on the fly. Vertex lighting is considered “pre-lit”
  • Environment – the topology that the player moves in. Basically, the land, trees, backgrounds, props, etc. Usually, an environment is defined as a unique setting. A level that looked exactly the same would be considered an environment. A part of a level that looked entirely different from the rest would be considered an environment. The Faery Realm in Folklore is composed of several environments.
  • Prop – an object in the environment that is served as a prop. Imagine a stage prop. Without props, the environment would look pretty bare! Props range between objects like logs, rocks, trees, flowers, plants, a machine, a light fixture, a chair, etc. Basically something that helps define the environment.
  • Modular Environments – When something can be re-ordered seamlessly, it’s modular.
  • Dungeon Trial – Folklore’s own in-game level editor. The player can create their own little dungeons and set parameters for them, and then upload them into cyberspace for others to enjoy.
  • Endless Corridor – One of the realms of Folklore. Supposedly a sum of everyone’s fears and nightmares.
  • Hellrealm – One of the realms of Folklore. Supposedly the sum of sinners fears of life after death.
  • Netherworld Core – One of the realms of Folklore. No spoilers here.
  • Build – The process of compiling all the art assets, design assets, and programming into a functional collection that the engine can understand and read.
  • Technical Overhaul – Sometimes, things don’t work as planned, and sometimes teams have no idea how they can fix it. Sometimes, they can work around it, but it requires pulling out large sections of code and replacing it with a workaround.
  • Developer – a company that makes the game. They consist of artists, programmers, designers, producers, and other important studio managers.
  • Publisher – the company that takes a developed game and publishes it. They are usually the ones that pay for everything.
  • License – Game system companies license the right to the publishers to create games for their game systems. In order to get licensed, publishers must submit their game to the game company for approval. Approval is granted when the Technical Requirements are met.
  • TRC – Technical Requirements Check. The process of the game system company checking the game for meeting the TRC guidelines. These can range from “The legal screen is not displayed long enough” or “The Press Start Button text is in all caps” or “the controller does not resemble the Playstation 3 controller”. They even have very specific text for very specific things. If you play through some games, you’ll notice some consistent naming conventions. Those are TRCs. They aren’t just cosmetics or text either. There’s also back end TRCs, such as accessing illegally accessing certain memory allocations, or switching on Wi-Fi without the user knowing, and other such. These TRCs are put in place to ensure that the game will work, that potential hacks or exploits are dealt with, etc.

Jump To:

  1. Development Process
  2. Art Production
  3. Industry Shortcuts
  4. Specific Shortcutting Strategies
  1. Kin
    January 21, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Without a PS3 or Folklore, I can’t really comment on the game since I haven’t experienced it first hand. Despite that, I’ve learned a great deal about the process of how developers go through production from your blog post.

    Before entering the game industry (almost 5 months already!), I have always played games passively. Without giving any thought to the things developers have to go through to make the very game I’m playing. Things have slightly changed as I started to learn more about the process and really look at the games I play. It’s kind of fun figuring out what exactly did the artists and designers do to save time and space. I’m very interested in finding the tricks artists do to recycle work to save time.

    Now I just have to think critically about my own work… and maybe purchase a PS3…

    Here’s the obligatory “Awesome post! Keep up the good work! Very interesting!!!”

  2. January 22, 2008 at 7:08 am

    I like faery realm a lot, one of the prettiest dungeon in video game 🙂 the underwater realm also isn’t bad tho

    dungeon trial is decent but a bit repetitive for me, need more variation 😀

  3. September 18, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    I agree with your Folklore : Art Production The Mirror’s Edge, wonderful post.

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