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Three incredibly important things I've learned in developing that I feel could really help others...

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by astracat111, Sep 25, 2019.

  1. astracat111

    astracat111

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    I'm not into the whole idea of pointless list making on the internet, but I felt that I needed to share what I've learned over the years, things that I keep having to remind myself of constantly.

    I'm a creator of games that are either 2D or 2.5D that make use of a lot of pixel-art, and I want to eventually go pro and make a hit and all that jazz, that's my goal. As the market has evolved for PC games, it's gotten more and more competitive, and I've noticed what's needed in my own work in order for me to be able to compete with these games that inevitably are just going to have far better visuals than me.

    These three principles I've started to apply to my visuals, and when I say apply that means that every single shot has at least some element of every single one of these. There are a few more factors than these, but these are the ones I always slip with. My theory with each of these three is that you're trying to give someone a sense of 'brain stimulation' so to speak, in the same way you would want to with sound. These three keys seem to lead me in the right direction in creating something that people can relax and latch their brains onto:

    1. Movement - Never have a single shot in where everything is static. Have characters breath if nothing else, or text that slightly wobbles, or text boxes that have an animated metallic shine, or little faerie spirits or light bugs floating around, there are a lot of ways to do this without having to spend a lot of time. I have very limited animation, so this has been a very tricky challenge for me personally.

    For this what helped me the most was having this wind shader by Boxophobic, it's worked wonders for me:
    https://assetstore.unity.com/packag...u-low-poly-wind-shaders-gradients-and--115146

    I put it on my bushes, trees, and I even put local detail wind motion on my npcs with unique materials per npc so that they all breath in slightly different intervals (you probably don't want every npc or character breathing exactly in the same motion). Now that kids that have been playing things like The Witcher 3 start playing my game after and instead of going "why's it so pixelated", they have a reaction that's a little more interested because their brain is being stimulated all the same, though probably to a lesser degree I guess.

    I've had to learn this lesson the hard way for about 2 decades now of creating animations and working creating 2D and 3D games. Think about this....You could make a 2D webcomic that's black and white and people's brains would kind of pass it by these days, but if you have a 2D animation that's black and white with fluid movement allows for a sense of stimulation that people latch on to.

    2. Varied Detail - Make sure every single shot you avoid 'plainness'. Thankfully detail in 3D doesn't have to take a long time, but it does mean that you need to know what GPU Instancing is. This one can be extremely challenging on mobile, and with what little experience I have working with mobile I can tell you you'll need to focus on smaller focal areas in where the user has their focus, at least until all these expensive Apple chips get cheaper and everyone's using them.

    3. Shinyness - A sense of dreamy shininess, even if it's subtle, in every single shot. If it's not cloudy in the day the sun, reflective water, at night get a solid commercial glow shader like MK Glow (there's a free version too) for lamps, lights, etc..., it's well worth it.

    ...Maybe one other, Color Value and Color Theory - I could go into color values and color theory, but those ones I always seem to remember, so these are just my top three things that I have to examine, go back and take a look at. For color theory and color value, my trick is just to have Photoshop open at the same time I have Unity open and playing in game so that I can make adjustments, save the texture that's already applied in Unity, then Unity will re-import it and automatically apply it in real time so that you can get instant results to look at.

    I am not trying to advertise anything, but here are some shots of my own recent improvements on my game to give some examples. I'm still looking for ways to improve this and I'm paying attention to those three principles. One idea I had was to use volumetric lighting to get rays of sunshine, which would fall in line with the whole shininess rule I'm going by:

    https://gifyu.com/image/kSmt
    https://gifyu.com/image/kSm5
    https://gifyu.com/image/kSmr
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2019
  2. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    Just my unenlightened hunch, but I think the single most global factor influencing good art is composition.

    In the three examples, if I can point to one thing in all of them that could be improved for big payoff, I'd say it's the composition.

    If the pixels on the screen are words, the composition is how you are forming them into sentences. In this paragraph (image below), I am not being enticed as much as I could be. I dunno what the story you are trying to sell player here is, but I give a few examples of things you might tweak to help tell different stories.


    • Remove or thin trees on right to let us see the angled slope of the hill in distance. Add blue tint to it (faking distance atmosphere). Gives us a sense of scope and breaks up the monotonous color pallette. Also creates an area of rest in the screen. If everything is the same you don't know where to look -- it's more fatiguing and less intriguing than a carefully composed image.

    • Change angle of red crops planted or camera angle so we can see orderly rows. Gives a sense of order and tranquility.

    • Window color -- this is bad and hsould be changed. No reason for flat gray in this idealistic scene. You could paint a backdrop into there, like the silhouettes of some kitchen supplies

    • Scrub plants along the fence -- let them butt up into the fence for a sense of bountifulness. Right now scene feels like it's 70%. A few props been dragged and dropped. But I think you want a sense here that things are GROWING and it's just a little piece of heaven. I'd start from exaggeration and then scale back as necessary.

    • Adjust camera angle/position/fov to get one of the houses in completely and see the top of hill and tops of trees. More like a Bob Ross painting. Right now we seem like we got blinders on.

    • Fence -- nudged some of the cross beams so they aren't all totally CG perfect. Maybe even let one lean all the way down. Gives a sense of reality and lived-in-ness. Even better, adjust the length of it that we are looking down to have some waviness in it. Won't add any extra vertices but will add 100% more reality and character to the scene.

    • Grass texture is bad. Looks like US army modern camoflauge. Just because you using pixel art for some things doens't mean you gotta do on all things. A flat color broken up by more tufts of grass or other props may be nicer.

    • Right now you got darker colors along the horizon and brightest colors on bottom. Just don't feel right. When colors move generally in a gradient that usually feels nice.

    • Borders -- have a clear border along your path will just feel nicer.

    • Focal point(s) -- If there is ONE thing we are telling player, what is it? Is player a happy farmer and this is their beautiful home? Then put house more centered on left side and have farmer standing in the doorway. Right now the focal point is the corner of the fence. Doesn't really say anything.
    example-16a9a43446a709ce4.md.gif
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2019
  3. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    Side by Side.jpg
    To demonstrate colors, here I have taken original, blurred it, and then retouched colors.

    Goal is to help foreground elements have clear separation from background (aiding in declaration of areas of rest versus areas of interest), as well as give more natural gradients that are pleasing to the eye.

    Additionally, I've replaced grass with flat color (with gradient) and slightly boosted overall vibrance. I've overlayed blue tint onto background elements to give more color, sense of distance.

    Here is an artist who's work I like a lot because he uses extremely simple elements but simply applies nice color and composition to get stunning results. He has a package on asset store, hwoever be warned it is not even close to game optimized. But, it could be.
    https://www.google.com/search?q=mik...uzkAhWHo1kKHZsmCmMQ_AUIEigC&biw=2144&bih=1122
     
    YBtheS and astracat111 like this.
  4. astracat111

    astracat111

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    @BIGTIMEMASTER Hey, thank you so much for the help. Even as you said it I've made a lot of changes including improving the houses, and my idea was that since I'm not aiming for mobile anymore I can add quite a lot of grass now everywhere (rather than just the flat terrain with the texture), which to me was probably the main issue holding the scene back originally, it was flat colored and designed for mobile without lighting.

    I hadn't looked into simplifying the flat grass texture, but I think I'll come up with something after seeing the improvements made on the right image.

    Now, while I do see your point that composition is incredibly important and I don't want to negate that, a scene that's not living vs a scene that's breathing still seems to make a huge difference in creating a stimulating experience that grabs people, which is the point that I'm trying to convey in the original post as I feel that others could benefit from it, what I'm sharing here that I felt could help some other developers and designers.
     
  5. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    oh yeah for sure i thought everything you mentioned was great points and some i hadnt thought of, i just wanted to add on because i think composition is probably the single most importnat thing -- if it isn't right everything else will suffer
     
  6. astracat111

    astracat111

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    I think in my experience, and this is coming from being a not so good artist for 10 years and trying anyway, what seemed to immediately grip people was some form of animation or movement. I worked on this animatic thing for 2-3 years and had certain parts with some animation while most of it was kind of flat and had still illustrations, and people seemed to be gripped immediately, even though it was black and white with often terrible composition, when there was some sort of breathing/animation going on.

    At the time it kind of frustrated me, because I wanted to tell longer stories, and I could only achieve that if I found a way to re-use graphics. I found later that I literally could have just animated the mouths, and in the background on still shots maybe had some moving clouds or something for exteriors. So long as there was SOME element of constant stimulation in the movement/animation department, even though the artwork wasn't the best, people's brains would be stimulated in a fashion in where they would be interested.

    I think that composition would have to be added to the list as well for sure, but I think the reason I'm not mentioning it is that I'm trying to be bold about ideas that I simply didn't find in school or through artists lesson videos that I learned from, and seems widely undermentioned.

    One way I learned this was studying recent Japanese game trailers. I've recently in the past two decades actually been turned off from Japanese games. These guys seem to understand this concept and take it too far by adding a thousand explosions and fast trance music everywhere. I think I've found that they know that they need to market the product on stimulating the brain with movement and shineyness, but they do it to a degree that's overwhelming, and they need to in the current marketplace almost because that's what they're competing with. One great example is marketing a visual novel, you see the trailers in where they had a metallic shine to still characters, have tons of transition effects and patterns constantly blaring out at you. The constant stimulation is an attempt to grip your attention, and they use it because it's proven to work, even though they use it in a way that I personally wouldn't want to use myself.

    So I guess I'm not trying to negate what you're saying because to be honest it's what I really needed to hear for myself and I feel like taking your tips on the grass and the contrast in the back with the forest and the mountains will help. To be honest I just kind of created copy textures of Minecraft but in 64x64 to start out and it's probably about time to ditch that for me.
     
    BIGTIMEMASTER likes this.
  7. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    yeah i feel you with the overdoing it. BUt it's not just in japanese games. I've stopped playing several recent western AAA games just because it made my eyes hurt. Too much details. I think it's easy trap for artist to fall into -- you don't know the knot so you make a lot.

    Like check out AAA characters. They all have six belts, belts around their arms, satchels hanging from their ears, weapons that are like entire space stations... tattoos, piercingns, insane hairstyles... just STUFF. So much stuff. Then you got the artist adding so much detail into all the tiny props. Then finally you end up with a scene where so much crap is happening in order to clue player into what's important you gotta put big stupid highlights on important stuff.

    Anyway, just ranting. I think you are definintely onto something with need for things to be moving and feel alive. Also about the shininess, I think in addition to color and contrast the second biggest thing is doing the same wiht your roughness maps. Even if stylized and not using roughness you still paint that same thing in. I guess you might call it variance in surface qualities. Some things soft, others hard, etc. But everything should communicate to player exactly what it would feel like if you could reach out and touch it.
     
  8. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    I show an example of feeling like you can touch something. In my game, I think the roughness quality of the character pieces is good. They seem like you could reach in their, pick them up, and they'd feel smooth in your fingers. Like little painted plastic pieces.

    But the castles don't. They look like something that only exist in video game. Mostly because the edges need to have subtle bevel, but also because they have no variation in roughness. What are they made of? You can't really tell. So it's not as interesting to look at it. Doesn't seem real.
    becdfab39d420e904dbc1eb2b1861a3c - Copy.jpg

    So this is like smaller scope than what you are talking about with overall shininess, but I think kind of the same idea.
     
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  9. astracat111

    astracat111

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    That reminds me so much of when Star Wars Episode 1 came out and they crammed way too many things into every shot. It's tough, because I think the tips work from my background coming with what little experience I have.

    For me a lot of western things are just too dark and gritty these days, that's what a lot of people are into, but when that's the only gig in town in the AAA space, just murdering people and zombies and all that stuff it can also be a big turn off, and I think that goes in line with the whole detail thing you mentioned, they aren't just adding details but they're adding rough heavy details.

    I'm pming you with the results of trying to improve the colors a bit and taken the tips you mentioned on the grass by the way.
     
  10. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    Yeah i think it's easy to get into mindset of, "well our game is dark and serious, so there can't be color or bright lights."

    Which is severely limiting and not true. I remember those vampire vs werewolf movies. I can't remember the names, but it was 2 hours of people whispering seriously and the entire screen was blue and black. The entire time. That is literally the only time I have ever fallen asleep during a movie. And for the record, I was a teenager and there was boobs. And I fell asleep.

    But yeah colors is good thing and I think "dark colors = serious" "lilght colors = for kiddies" is a silly, simplistic way to see things.
     
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  11. Not_Sure

    Not_Sure

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    Stillness and quiet is an excellent way to punctuate a scene and raise anticipation.

    I agree that motion is good in the right tone, such as walking through a lush forest in Oblivion, but think about how captivating that scene was in Wolf of Wallstreet when Jordan is giving his speech about not leaving.

    It builds and grows in volume, pauses in total silence in a room packed with people, then ends with him erupting 'I'm not going anywhere!' and everyone loses their mind.