Blog 1: Overcoming hurdles and moving forward effectively

19 February 2021

Chapter 1: The Plan

During the summer we bagan planning what we wanted to focus on in the coming semester. We knew in the big picture, we wanted to have:

- A tutorial level

- A set of levels to accompany the story arc

- A boss fight

- A Visual of the narrators telling the story

Focusing on the art, we had a great plan, although ambitious. We were onboarding an environment artist and and animator. I would cover the role of character artist. We really wanted to make something that people would look at and say "That was made in 2 semesters by students?!" Our plan was to leave the in-game environemnt mostly where it is and focus on our main eye-candy. A photorealistic scene with believable character models and even motion capture to make everything feel complete, this will be referenced as the "Cutscenes"

Chapter 2: Introductions and Roles

Sam, The Environment Artist

The actual environment that you play in is made of toys and nothing is very complicated. The models can be simple, and the textures don't hold to a specific color palette so the possibilities for the creation of assets are endless. I already made many envioronment assets last semester, so we could ignore working on that for a while. This helped our chances with the ambitious cutscenes that we wanted. Sam's first priority was to make the study where the narrators would be telling the story.

Chase, The Animator

Chase was an essential puzzle piece to the feasibility of the cutscenes. Last semester, I had made all of the animations and I am no animator. And we wanted to change the way that the character attacks, rendering 80% of my animations unusable. Chase is an incredible animator and would be able to take on every animation we needed from the player, enemies, and the boss. Not only that, he could help cleanup the motion capture data for the cutscene animations.

Me, The Character Artist

My role was to focus 100% of my semester on these cutscenes. I would be modeling and texturing 3 realistic characters for the cutscenes. I was in communication with a facial motion capture company that was able to help get us the software we would need to make this work. And I had a Microsoft Kinect so I could record motion capture of myself. I had even began work on the grandfather character which after seeing, we all knew that we were able to successfully make the ambitious cutscenes work.

Chapter 3: The Cookie has Crumbled

Nearing the half way point of winter break, we recieved the worst news we could imagine. Chase was unable to join the team for the following semester, leaving us with 2 artists, and most importantly, no animator. Our entire vision for the game fell apart. I knew immediately that cutscenes would be scrapped and the work about to be put on myself and Sam's shoulders was about to increase dramatically. I had to contact the motion capture company and let them know that we would no longer be needing their softwate, and I had to begin planning for the next steps.

These 3 characters were supposed to be my star pieces to add to my character art portfolio to hopefully become part of the prestigious few that manage to graduate into a Character Art position, one of the single hardest goals to accomplish and requires an unbelievable portfolio and an absolute mastery of the field. But making those pieces on my little free time, would be impossible. Unmotivated and lost, I did'nt know where to go and how to plan around this. 3 artists was already a huge bottleneck, 2 artists seemed pointless. After 3 more weeks of spending my break not thinking about our final game, we began to talk again as a team about the situation.

Chapter 4: The Plan

After letting go of the idea of the cutscenes, a more realistic plan was in the works. Sam would put all of their effort in taking the toy environment to the next level with more polished assets, more unique toys, and working closely with the designers to make assets that would transform the toybox from a boring wasteland of cardboard bricks and plastic trees, to a lush forest of visually interesting toys that remind the players of their own childhood, and creating a connection between the player and the narrators.

My tasks would be to re-rig the character, and start from scratch on every animation to fit the new combat system and to add more life to the toy character that had passable animations at best last semester. I would also be responsible for making and animating the boss and anything else that would come about that doesn't involve the environment.

Chapter 5: The Semester Begins

I began working full force on animations and making sure that my work was in as soon as possible since the need for my work was a direct impediment to progress on the new controller. It was a rough start, as I logged 25 hours for one week and still couldn't see the end of the tunnel. I had to make sub-par animations that allowed the rest of the team to work, but after finishing every animation, I knew that the next sprint I would have to go back to them and spend more time making them look good. This cycle is normal, however as I am not an animator, it was difficult to inform the team of accurate timing of how long tasks would take me. Every time our QA manager was asking for things from me to be tested, I would just tell him that I had nothing to be tested, which became an impediment for him since he had nothing to test.

Chapter 6: Present Time

I am more than glad to announce that after the rocky trek that was the beginning of the semester, everything has been become smooth. I have been able to log a more normal amount of hours, my confidence in my animation skills has grown, and even just the task of animating our amazing boss, has become an enjoyable task. How can anyboby feel lost with the equal part cute and horrifying that our boss is. I had shimmering googly eyes keeping me laughing as I animated the boss. Everything that loomed over my head as a potential pitfall for my sanity has gone away, we are getting testable builds out, and the whole team is working with eachother perfectly. I can finally take a breath, relax, and focus on making what we know will be an amazing final product.