Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Section 8 - Heavy Armor Type B - Xbox 360

Here's an oldie that I haven't covered previously anywhere online, probably.

In '07,  Timegate Studios in Dallas, in the good ol' Lonestar state, you guessed it, rootin'-tootin', six-shootin' Texas USA... Err, anyway, cold-contacted me, clearly desperate for help with  their new shooter: Section 8.  As some of you will know, as you've probably like me been subject to one, a "Section 8" is traditionally best known as an exemption from military duty, due to poor mental health... And it very nearly cost me my own sensible mind, or would have, if I hadn't already had half of it blown out already by a misdirected friendly fire air-strike in Korea... OK, I admit I called it in, I have a hard time with maps, fortunately the 4077th scooped up what was left and stitched me back together, but that's a different story.

The beautiful concept artwork by, who knows...? If you painted this, let me know. If only I had seen this before agreeing to do the project, eh? 
See, I was perhaps slightly mislead getting into this, I signed the NDA, and got little more info, I was to build was "a vehicle", which technically I guess it is, a person sits inside and drives it around... But lets face it, its a bit more challenging than one might have expected for "a vehicle".  Cue much desaturation of hair-tone and frustration as Coolhand for a change finds himself a little out of depth, for the project was on a strict time limit and what did he learn from that?

Can I go home now, look I'm clearly mad... IAM WAERING TEH NURSEZ HAT
Lemme think....


Bear with me and enjoy some pictures and words in a sequence, that you can play by moving the page up and down in your browser, while I think about what I learned and hammer the dings out of my head-plates for a little bit...

Early days, almost certainly day one, morning... Coming up to lunchtime, Roughing in the shapes, all seems to be going well... Later, I had beans on toast.  
I began the project knowing it would be a massive challenge, a model more complicated than anything I'd built before, a mixture of organic and hard surfaces, I had a hard time thinking of this walking gorilla-mech thing as simply a vehicle.  But, eh, when a freelancer with just a couple of years experience is offered something that's going into an X-Box game it's hard to turn it down. And back in 2007, I certainly enjoyed a bit of X-Boxing every now and then so it was all very exciting.
Everything ends in spikes and stabby looking things, makes sense really. 
On the left, my model, on the right Timegate's proxy. 
A requirement for this model was that as a mech, it requires a pilot to be able to enter and drive it around, so the whole back opens up to reveal a cockpit.  I had TWO WEEKS to do everything. I had been sent a proxy by Timegate showing the animated parts. You might be thinking, why didn't I simply start with the proxy and save some time? That would be a good question and its perhaps because I wanted a cleaner model to start with and felt I could do a better job that way, but due to the time constraints, this was probably a mistake that cost at least half a day.

Some of the sculptural elements going in on the legs. 
Then there was the detailing, which I became very bogged down in, at that point in my career I hadn't learned and developed the workflow and techniques that make this manageable
Now its looking more the part, shame it took so long... 
Probably about now, probably before, I realised this wasn't going to go smoothly, which causes stress, which stresses out everyone at the other end, which stressed me out even more. I was uncertain about everything, but had to plough on and hope for the best.

What? - This isn't tropical white, long? 

I recall becoming slightly obsessed with the 'hinges' of the doors to the cockpit compartment... Even though nobody else cared *how* it worked as it all worked by video-game magic. 
Thats some pure modelling pr0n right there, for all you greeble junkies, a lot of those greebly parts came off my Akula Warship model.  Click for an expanded view, you know you want to, no ones looking... 

Yeah, Baby!
So now its really coming together, while the studio is pleased with the model itself, I'm still stressing as i'm just over the end of my allotted time.

Achtung! Baby!
"Bu... Bu... you're nearly done, right?" You ask, scared and confused.  

Yeah, sure with this model, but this is a model for a console that we were all still inaccurately calling "Next Gen" in 2007.  Clearly this model will not be good for a game as it has something like 4 million triangles, even the mighty Xbox 360 will RROD the instant it attempts to push such an amount around on an HD display. 

A view inside the cockpit, since you would place your legs inside the mechs legs, the design assumed you were a person with a two-foot crotch-gap, not much I could do about that but I did my best to make it seem plausible.  I probably should have cared less.  Also note the detail of all the artificial muscle around the hips, looks OK but it was made in an incredibly stupid, tedious and time consuming way, D'oh!
For a 'Next Gen' game, it became not only necessary to build a low-poly/real-time model, with as few triangles as possible, but also to build a really insanely detailed model too.  It's all to do with Normal Maps, I won't bore you to tears with a technical explanation, but its basic purpose is to give a low detailed surface (like a real time model) the look and detail of a very highly detailed surface, without the overhead of pushing millions of triangles around just to render someone's nose... This Technique was first used by id to make zombies and orcs fully 20 times more boring than they had been in Doom 2, in Doom 3.

Final render of the High-Poly model.... OOOOoooooh. 

So now, already over my deadline I had to scramble to get a low poly version together too, the one that would actually be used in the game, with normal maps generated from the high poly version we are all now familiar with.

Exciting Low-Poly WIREFRAMES! 

Fortunately this doesn't take as long and I quickly built a highly optimised model around the high detail version, of course its crucial how the two models relate to each other so care needs to be taken to make the models match.  I was familiar with these concepts anyway, but this was highly stressed to me, I guessed they had problems previously with freelancers providing out-of-sync versions or something.

More wires, and more and more... The tiny spikes around the upper armour were later removed because they were stupid.
Sometimes its a challenge to work out what detail to leave in, and where, a problem with normal mapping is that it falls apart and fails at the edges of things, its an illusion created within a surface and does not extend beyond it... As if each triangle, each face of the model were a tiny screen itself, displaying a bit of the high poly version, it can give the illusion of depth but cannot extend outside the screen... Is that making sense, or confusing everyone more?
And here's the final version! This actually went into the game, a proper game made by almost real people. 
Finally this model was complete and joined its high detail counterpart on the Timegate FTP.  I was relieved and the studio were more than happy with the model, but it was overdue, I was a gibbering mess and I had missed the payroll date... Which combined with an accounting mistake meant I had to wait a long time for any compensation, which caused me additional problems.  It seems that the bigger the company, the more inflexible the payroll systems are.

As I was under NDA it was also a very long time before the game was released and I was able to talk about the work, a couple of years in fact, but that's so often the case, when the time came, I had more or less forgotten about it.

Whatever you do, try and look good doing it.
Ultimately, though I'm proud of the model as it worked out, at that point I'd have been better off not accepting the task, which given the time constraints was at that stage in my skills, beyond me. I actually felt I had been somewhat manipulated by the studio into taking on too much work, for too little reward in too short a time-frame - of course everyone wants things done cheaply and as quickly as possible, but this puts the people at the end of the chain of command under the most strain.

I'm not sure if this was either knowing or unknowing by the description given and the way things were handled, perhaps it was my own inexperience of dealing with these things and not knowing the right questions to ask and too much wishful thinking, working freelance in the games industry, as opposed to other industries, is a real minefield to new players.

I guess the lesson is to not be blinded by an apparently golden opportunity.

To be fair to the people who worked at Timegate, it was pretty obvious that everyone there was very strained, stressed and under pressure, don't forget that this was nearly two years before the game was actually released!

(I was also promised a copy of the game itself, two years later but that never appeared, surprise surprise;))

I really want to make clear that this was 6 years ago, today it would not be an issue. All the same it was still a challenging build of a very complicated design that had organic and in-organic shapes, all kinds of mechanisms and animated parts.

Finally here are some pics and vids of the final thing in the game and painted etc.

A Wiki Article about this, err, vehicle... is here I obviously never did play the game as I had no idea the mech is called, wait for it: M05 Silverback

 I was expecting a bit more from the texturing.

Still, looks pretty funky, and suitably scary enough to give a person a bit of shock to turn another boringly textured brown coloured corner to find it lurking menacingly near some bins or whatever else litters the map of this game I never played or was even sent a copy of, as promised. 

Ah, **** it, 6 years ago, who cares. 

You can see it in action in this video here from about 8 minutes in:

I think they also shoved it into the sequel too, the model gets the living crap kicked out of it by another angry looking mech, what is it with my models always getting blown up by these studios? 

Must be the new version of my old version, meh, I think the old one was a better design;) 

Anyway, thanks for reading, if you did, maybe you just looked through the pictures, kinda bored on your lunch break... You're probably already on facebook or twitter looking at other stuff and if you are don't forget to like this article on whatever, its a great help, and if you didn't like it, whatever, you can't have those precious minutes of your life back now.  

Pfft, don't kid me, and don't complain, you knew what you were getting into.
 M*A*S*H, if you've never seen it, the references to Klinger and his cross-dressing efforts to get Sectioned out of Korea will be entirely lost on you... BTW I did this whole project while wearing a dress.  AHAHaHahaaahaaa (don't move until the credits roll ends)