Arachnotron Post-Mortem Part 2: Art Pipeline

The technical constrains that came from the wall-climbing may have hit the environment art the hardest. To begin with, having never done much real environment art myself, and with Sean busy on the character work in the first semester, I just designed the level geometry in the first level as I went, figuring out what worked and what didn’t without much regard for what the art would take.

As it turned out, this was the opposite of what would work well.

The first real push to get environment art into the game was the rush to get the game ready for the MassDigi competition. It was a bit of a disaster. With only a week left, I finished up the final changes to the refinery level and handed it off to the artists. I didn’t really think about what their process would look like, and that cost us all a great many hours of extra work.

Because of how much the wall-climbing mechanic relies on the world geometry, there was an important list of constraints the artists would have to adhere to to make sure their art didn’t break the game. I neglected to communicate this well enough, so the art-pass they did was borderline unusable. The wall-climbing demands that there are no acute angles, small bumpy details, skinny outcroppings, or any objects set to an uneven scale in the scene. The art that was added had all of these.

Thanks to Pro-Builder’s mesh conversion tools (the add-on we used for level block-outs), I was able to go through each individual piece and make it work with the wall-climbing collisions without changing how it looked. Under the hood they’d be unrecognizable to the artists who’d placed them, but on such a tight schedule that wasn’t important at the time.

As soon as I got back from MassDigi, the design and art teams had a big meeting to discuss what we’d failed to communicate ahead of time, so we’d never have to do that again.

Future levels were designed with much more modularity in mind, and the final level in particular was constructed using less than 8 different pieces, if I remember right. It was a great lesson about proactive cross-discipline communication.

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