(This is an archived old post from the previous version of the page.)
Spring has finally arrived, and we could go out and gather new reference material for our game – in an operation known as Astro Crunch One.
Last weekend a few of The Astronauts set up camp in the town of Karpacz. We took a lot of hardware with ourselves – from laptops and cameras to coffee makers – and we have practically opened up a small mobile studio. All that effort just to grab some lovely looking texture maps.
The place we’ve chosen was in the middle of Karkonosze mountains. The only shadows came from trees, and not skyscrapers. Those few days, that journey through creepy forests, forgotten caves, and abandoned train stations helped us to get a new perspective on the vibe of the game.
Building the reference material database straight from the source has a lot of surprising advantages and allows adding coherence to a project. If, instead of relying on Google Image Search, you can actually see an object or a location with your own eyes, not only you get a fantastic 1:1 reference, but you also get an opportunity to analyze a unique and hard-to-recreate organic detail added by nature and time. You would be surprised how much one’s idea of a damp patch behind a drain pipe differs from the real life version.
Other critical elements are the material of an object and the way that the light works on its surface. It’s devilishly hard to truly understand these things by looking at stock photos, or, even worse, CG visualizations (e.g. other video games). These sources are full of either various distortions, or shortcuts and inconsistencies. If authenticity is your goal, nothing beats experiencing things with your own eyes. Even if real life looks stranger than fiction.
In Ethan Carter, we want to provide the players with the world as close to our own as possible, and with the exploration based gameplay and, more importantly, a big push for the player’s sense of presence, the extra steps help us to assure the perfect recreation of the reality down to almost the tiniest detail.
Contrary to what you may think, our stay at Karpacz meant a lot of hard work, all thanks to the weather being our number one enemy. Especially during the Spring, when the conditions can change literally in minutes.
To get a good source material for a texture, you need the sun behind the clouds: to avoid sharp shadows and to make sure that the light is distributed evenly on the surface of an object. But, of course, clouds often mean that the rain is coming. Not only it’s kind of hard to dance around the rain drops, but the rain drops also add unwanted artifacts and the specular light baked into the diffuse texture. And that’s of course not something you want, duh! ;)
The need for clouds – but neither the sun nor the rain – meant that our usual working hours at The Astronauts had to change quite radically. But if “only” it meant that we had to wake up really, really early… No such luck. Apart from the fact that most of the stuff we wanted to take pictures of was miles away from the hotel…
…we had to add mad Olympic skills to the mix. Because you always want to photograph something for a texture reference under a perpendicular angle, you might be surprised how many times one of us had to climb and hang from a tree, or stand motionless in a pose straight from a figure skating competition. Or just learn to love the pavement.
All in all, it was way more physical experience than any of us ever anticipated, with crazy working hours and a lot of prayers for a cloudy day. We weren’t always lucky, and when the sun did not allow us to work, we were forced to just wait for a better weather for hours out in the open…
…or in the hotel sauna or pool… ;)
But enough complaining. We are tired, but happy. I’m looking through thousands of captured images right now, and I know that all this work will allow us to add that extra layer to the game, making it that crucial bit closer to what we imagine it to be. We hope to share the results of that work with you soon.