Off the Map: Post-mortem

Off the map is now handed in for the DMU deadline and its just polishing and documentation to do for the official hand-in on the 22nd of June. Its the end of second year and this project has had one of the best outcomes so far; I am really pleased with how it looks and I'm extremely proud of my team and how we worked together throughout this project.

Just a quick recap; Off the Map is a competition set by the British Library and Game City. You can have up to 6 people work in a group and you can either make a 2D, 3D or text game. This year the theme was 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and you could either do Oxford (focusing on the architecture and the area of Oxford), Underground (focusing on the rabbit hole and Cornish mining) and finally Gardens (mainly based on gardens from the 18th century and the ones in the book). Our group decided to do a 3D side scroller game sticking to the underground theme.

The project started in February and to tell you the truth I have lost track of the days and weeks spent on this project (I've been told it was 3 months and a week). I'm glad that its finished but that doesn't mean that I didn't like my team or the outcome; overall its been a great experience and I learnt a few things along the way. When the project was first introduced to us there was a massive uproar due to some disagreements between tutors and students; honestly this made me really reluctant to do this project and as a year it felt that the tutors had just left us alone to fend for ourselves. Our group wasn't very even either; there was 3 character artist 2 environment artists and a UI artist, this left us with no concepters or engine people; this meant that everyone had to do concepting and I was made head engine person for our team. After the rocky start our team started to take shape; me being team leader 3D artist and engine, Freddy being lead texture artist and art director, Braden UI artist and environment artist, Denzil character artist, 3D artist and engine, Luke 3D artist and engine and Dan being lead character artist. 

Here's a quick step by step of how we went about this project:
  • Started doing mind maps of ideas we had
  • moved onto moodboards and narrowed down a style; paper crafts
  • started concepting, through drawing and photo bashing
  • Braden's concept was going in the right direction so him and Freddy worked on a level design
  • After deciding a style and a level I did a block-out
  • these were painted over to make up the final concept of the level
  • I made an asset list and everyone got started working on modelling or engine stuff whilst Dan was concepting Alice and Freddy and myself were working on finalising a style
  • Braden moved onto UI
  • We continued finished assets as I put the level together and the technicalities
  • We finished everything and got it in engine
  • polished until finished

Here's the final renders of our level:
And here is the final play-though of our level:

Right lets get onto the Q&A part of the post-mortem;

Q. Did you stick to the brief and your overall style?

A. I believe that we stuck to the brief given; we have created a playable level/game that is themed around Alice and the underground. I feel that we followed our concepts pretty well and didn't stray too far, however the whole 2D aspect of our level could have been pushed further; if it was mainly planes I feel that our level would be more visually appealing.

Q. What was the most stressful thing during the project?

A. Definitely being team leader and not having an engine person; being leader was a real strain on me. I got very irritated when people didn't listen to instructions or being asked what to do every couple of hours. When it comes to engine work it wasn't necessarily hard, I love engine however it stressed me out this project because I didn't have enough time to learn anything new due to me having a hard enough time getting a functional level together.

Q.  What strengths have you found; what skills have you learnt?

A. During this project I haven't learnt a lot technically but when it comes to soft skills I have sky rocketed. I feel that I am now a competent leader and that I could lead in any project to come. Braden has also taught me how to use the RGB channels in Photoshop to save texture space on grey-scale maps (e.g. roughness, metallic, specular and emissive). The main thing that I have found to be a strength is organisation; in this project I organised everyone and myself to make sure that everything was getting done on time and correctly.

Q. What weaknesses have you found; how could you improve?

A. A weakness that I found in myself was being able to control my anger; if something went wrong or someone didn't listen to my instructions I had to leave the room or in worst cases shouted at the person. The only way I am going to get better at this is to continue working in groups and trying to keep a cool head. As a group though I felt that unwrapping was our weakest stage; Freddy had to redo a lot of peoples unwraps, including a couple of mine due to them not being the easiest way for her texture them. Me and Freddy went through these and I have picked up a few tips and tricks when it comes to giving an unwrap over to someone else. For everyone else I feel that they need to just practice unwrapping and texturing as this was the weak spot for a few of our team mates.

Q. What went well?

A. Overall our whole project went well, there wasn't a lot of problems at all. If I had to pick the stage which we did the best in it would be modelling; this was done extremely quickly and meant that I could start putting the level together whilst things were getting textured.

Q. What didn't go well?

A. I would say that as well as unwrapping and people not listening to instructions that the last week before hand in didn't go very well. This was due to a few people being slow which meant that I had to stay up all night finishing up the level. This could have been avoided if people kept to the timeline I gave them; however problems arise without hindsight and the only thing you can do is work through it and that's what I did. 

Q. What project changes happened?
A. The main changes that happened to our level was cutting it down; our initial level design was double the size and looking back now we would have never have finished it if we hadn't have cut it. We also changed the style to transition from sepia to bright colours where as originally the level was going to be mostly sepia with a tiny hint of colour towards the end. These were both decided early on in the concepting stage so it wasn't a massive deal; we didn't have to change models or anything etc.

Q. What would you do differently?
A. If I was to do this project again there isn't an massive amount I would change; I might have done more concepting at the begining rather than settling on an idea fairly quickly. I might have also explored doing a 3rd or 1st person game rather than a side scroller because they tend to look more impressive, however I do love what we have come out with. One thing I would do differently would be to set up a measurement guide and naming convention as this caused fair few problems later in the project.

Q: What can you take from this project and apply to others?

A. I will be taking my leadership and organisational skills with me to other projects and also the RGB channel maps, as this is a great way of saving texture space. 

Q: Was this project successful?
A. This project was certainly a success, there is no doubt about it. We managed to create a functioning game that looks good and came out of our head; that's amazing and it feels great. Obviously there as a few thing I would change but I am extremely happy with my team and what we managed to achieve. 

In conclusion our team has done amazingly; our level might not win but I am very proud of what we have made and I know that other students love it too. I fell honoured to have had the opportunity to lead our team and I would gladly work with them again. 

From now all we need to do is fix up a few things in engine such as a few assets and combine maps. Dan also wants to keep on working on Alice; We also need to get all of the documentation for the official hand in ready so that the level can be submitted as soon as its perfect. I will be speaking to the team about what's left to do and hopefully get it all sorted soon.

That it for now, here's the rest of the teams blogs in-case you want to check out their awesome work:

Braden: http://bradenmay.blogspot.co.uk/

Dan: http://www.danbullockart.blogspot.co.uk/

Denzil: http://denzilfordegameart.weebly.com/

Freddy: http://cantoncreates.blogspot.co.uk/

Luke: http://lukethomasdaygart.blogspot.co.uk/

Cheerio for now.

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