Monday, December 6, 2010

Atmospherics in Games

Singularity Atmospherics from Tim Elek on Vimeo.



I have already written a developer diary entry for Raven on this topic, but in case that diary disappears in the future I thought I might put more thoughts on the matter here.

Link to the Dev Diary

During the development of Singularity (Sing) there were a ton of opportunities to really bring the environment alive through the use of VFX. I am a big fan of story driven games and I always felt like really moody atmospheres help to give the player that elusive suspension of disbelief.

In my mind VFX can strongly aid in the suspension of disbelief and aid in setting up a subconscious sense of the space for the player. I am talking about subtle effects the player may not necessarily take note of, but feel as a part of the whole experience. For instance, a thick layer of fog set low to the ground gives an almost magical feel to the environment. These effects can also give the audio team visual cues to build on which help bring the world to life. Dripping water, steam rising from a humming machine, vents blowing as heat and smoke are belched forth, wind rustling leaves through the air, kicking dust and debris off of the ground...the possibilities are endless.

In the case of Sing there was the entire "Raise the Freighter" level which gave us so many great reasons to use particle and material effects to give the player the impression that the boat was coming apart around you and ready to sink at any moment.

One consistent comparison Singularity received was to Bioshock, and I don't suspect that it is only because of game mechanics or the use of the Unreal Engine. There are many folks at Raven who were inspired by that game. As an effects artist I too felt like the level of ambiance bestowed upon Rapture by the VFX team was unique for the time, and I found it to be highly inspirational. It is no coincidence that we worked as hard as we could to make Singularity as ambient as possible.

On a more personal level Singularity was a cumulative effort based on the experience I had working on Wolfenstein. At first glance it may not be immediately obvious but there is a ton of atmospheric effects work in Wolfenstein as well. This is a video I created following the shipment of Wolf to showcase some of those location based effects.



Of course there are a ton of games starting to really sell the environments through more use of VFX and the Call of Duty series seems to be leading the way. I had the opportunity to work with the COD tools during the short stint I did on Black Ops prior to my departure from Raven.

I found the systems put in place for the COD titles to be directly geared towards getting as many effects as possible on the screen at any given time, and was impressed with the level of granularity a VFX artist had the ability to go to in order to control/limit/manipulate overdraw and CPU cost on any given effect. The only "bottleneck" in the system had to do with effects placement, it was painfully slow and counter-intuitive compared to the systems developed for previous titles I had worked on, specifically Wolfenstein and Singularity (Unreal3.)

The above videos are just a snippet of some of the atmospherics used in Sing and Wolf, but I feel strongly that VFX really are one of the keys to the future development of game environments. Once we can properly light effects and better integrate them into the world we will really start to see environments begin to come alive.

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