Monday, 7 June 2010

All things Game Art Training and Work

Following a request for some inspiration sent to our customer group, a chap sent me some original photographs he had taken of a local Orthodox church
This is as rare and a wonderful opportunity for me as usually inspiration requests come in the form of URLs or a few pics to whet my appetite,  so to actually get some "real" photos to work with was fab!

Of course, I asked him to sign an agreement to confirm they were his original images and that he would allow me to use them in the creation and distribution of commercial textures.
In return, I will be creating over 100 co-ordinating church textures for him free of charge and hope to have the complete 4 - 5 piece collection finished by the end of this week.

Whilst it was great to have some original texture resources, most of the photos can only be used as reference shots because they were taken from a diagonal direction meaning it was hard if not impossible to create seamless textures from many of them.

Taking photos for the creation of seamless textures requires that you face the subject "face on"and get as much of the surface into the frame as possible whilst also trying to avoid light gradients or dark shadows cast from architectural elements or even other objects situated close to the subject.

An example of this would be a wall that had shadows from a near by tree or long "late afternoon" shadows from the window sills on the wall.

If you create game textures with pre existing shadows caught in the original photograph it causes an unnatural visual anomaly even to the subconscious eye.
Game shaders often used in advanced games engines will cast their own shadows in "real time" meaning as the games sun moves,  shadows from assets within the game will move as they would do in real life.
So having a static shadow on your texture that does not move would not be acceptable.

Second Life will be introducing shaders in the future and because of this I have become conscious of the overuse of the "drop shadow" Photoshop layer style often used by default by SL texture artists including myself.
Adding shadows to complex game textures creates an instant "3D" effect by giving depth to what otherwise would be a flat texture.
Basically, if you must add any shadow keep it at 90 degrees and subtle.

The image above is an overview of some foundation textures I have made to kick start the Orthodox church texture collection.
When I start to make a 3D collection, the hardest and most time consuming process is pulling all of the pieces together that complement each other, then extracting windows and other pieces from the unwanted backgrounds and finally making the textures seamless. Once I have my layers pallet filled with elements that work well together the fun begins and I start to see them come to life, so to speak.

I am not happy with the pillars used for the exterior textures.
I don't like the curve of them and I did exactly what I explained above!
I added quite dark shadows from the pillars. So I will be making some alterations with new columns and more options for both the exterior and interior textures.

What I have tried to do is combine the more artistic elements from the customers photographs along with my own stock. The Gothic windows are from our stock site but the arched red brick window is from the customers photos.  It would be easy to just use my own stock but I want to give him a collection that at a glance he will recognise from his own photos.

TIGA diploma for Game Art & Animation

I did my Tutor Marked Assignment over the week-end for the first part of the course which was basically an Introduction to game genres, platforms, engines and a little about various software packages used such as middleware, graphic programs and Version Control packages.
It also covered the various stages and documents a game developer team need to create starting from the High Concept Pitch document, full design, proof of concept, vertical slice, full production, testing, (pre alpha, alpha and beta) to the final Master and Gold Master Candidate.

You are advised to read the book then watch the DVD whilst also doing some self assessment work which will not be seen or marked by your tutor.
I feel a little guilty as I just read the book and looked at the questions at the back which would be asked in the online test.
I was fairly confident I would pass because I did a mock test and there were a few questions I just needed to double check as I wasn't 100% sure my answers were correct, but as it happened they were and so I just did the online test and waited for the result.

Normally, you have to wait 3 days before your online test is marked and you are able to log in to see if you have passed and would be sent the course work for the next level, but the new course work arrived in the post today so I must have passed! yay!

I won't and can't be so laid back again as the course is now leaning more towards "hands on" use of the actual software, photoshop and 3D Max and requires me to send in actual art work files in addition to the end of section test.

The lessons on this section are:
Video Game Art
Art Creation Pipeline in the Game Industry
Intro to Material Editor
Welcome to Photoshop ( I should be OK with that! lol)
Intro to Concept Art  (Not so OK with that)

But the bonus is, initially I thought I only got 30 day trials of both Photoshop and 3DMax but after reading the letter that came with the course work, it appears I will get full copies of both applications which is great considering the price of each of these programs.
I already own Photoshop CS4 but I don't have 3D Max so yea, bonus!

Its ironic that I have completed the intro course just as I received an email from a game developer team who are interested in hiring me to do some 2D seamless tile sets for their iPhone game.
The terminology used in the letter made sense to me were as 3 months ago I may have strung it together but at least now I fully understood what "top down" meant and "terrain hazard assets" were.

Heres the letter I got just an hour ago:

Hey Elizabeth,

Thanks for responding to the job offer and I'm sorry I couldn't get back to you sooner. I really like your work and you certainly seem to understand seamless tiling so I'm hoping we can work together.

As I've already mentioned, this is a humble little casual game for mobile platforms and we basically just need to populate a dungeon world with the appropriate textures/tile art. This would include a top-down view of dungeon floor, walls, stairwells, raw earth, pools of water, mossy cobblestones, etc. Essentially, all the standard elements for fantasy game environments. Most art assets for the game will be 128x128pixels at most.

If you go about 20 seconds into
this video, (linked removed by me) you'll see approximately the type of environment we need. I've also attached some of our rough early experiments to give you the idea. We'd basically need a finalized and perfectly tileable version of something along these lines. We'd also need plenty of props and terrain hazards to layer over this, and there's also the possibility of multiple tilesets (i.e. lava setting, grassy setting, abandoned mine setting, etc). So please let me know if this seems like something you'd like to be a part of and please give me an idea of what you'd charge for this kind of work. Thanks in advance and looking forward to your response!


I feel a little intimidated. I didn't expect them to be interested when I sent my application :(
Maybe I will wait until I am further into the course so I have more confidence in general.
It's one thing making game textures for your own business, quite another for a commercial game company!

I "did" explain I was looking for more work experience with game developers when I wrote to him.

Ah well, it's flattering if nothing else :)

We finally signed the contracts for the TRU websites new template which is going to be designed by Chosen Few from Second Life.
For those of you that don't know Chosen he has been in SL longer than me and is very well known and respected for the advise he gives in the official forums.
Myself, Thorian and Chosen Few had a Skype conference on Sunday night and the new template design should be completed by this week-end.

In theory, we should then be able to roll out the new site features too which will allow the purchase and download of textures to none Second Life members who will pay by Paypal.
Additionally, Thorian has isolated and fixed some bugs that were causing delivery issues in world too.
Also currently all TRU Franchise and website "in world" purchases are delivered as separate textures instead of in folders as is the case when you buy direct from the main store, this is another crease we have ironed out and we hope this will make the website even more of a convenient tool to use for content creators in SL

What Thorian designed with the website was (and still may be) totally unique to any store in SL.
The ability to browse on an external website and teleport from a product on the site to the vendor in world as well as buy and have your purchase delivered to you anywhere in SL was totally unheard of except for Xstreet which Linden Labs bought out just over a year ago.
I think there is a fashion store that has a similar system, but theirs looks professional unlike ours and so I have been niggled about the "home brewed" look of the site since is was first developed.

Our focus with the website has always been on fixing issues and researching weaknesses and now we feel we have reached the stage to focus on the aesthetics too.

In addition to the template there will be new buttons and tabs etc and I for one am very excited about it all. It has cost us an arm and a leg right from the beginning but with the amount of stock we have, we had to offer something to make browsing easier, as I have always said TRUs strength is also its weakness. People feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice and a good stock take is long overdue to separate the wheat from the chaff. As we have been running on a large scale since 2006, some of our collections date back to that time and in all honesty they simply don't come up to the standard they should do in 2010 so I must make some time to delete some old "less than brilliant" stock soon.

I hope customers will also like the new look and features of the site as it's a great way to browse LAG free for textures even when you're not logged into SL.
If you have an account you can browse from any PC and add your "possibles" to your favourites folder ready to purchase when you next log into SL.

Not all textures will be available for direct sale via Paypal.
Most of our outside clients like will continue to only sell their texture collections from TRU to existing SL members and for the use within Second Life only as has always been the case.

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