For a week and a half I had to work in a vertical slice of an Escape Room building it from the ground up, while focusing on simple mechanics with even more simple input controls and a low poly aesthetic to fit among Decentraland's smallest parcels limitations.
I had the pleasure to work with Laura Usón as an Artist, Javier Diez as a Level Designer (go give them a follow, they're both great) and some other friends of Polygonal Mind as testers, who made sure the level of difficulty of the puzzles stayed consistent throughout the experience.
I can't stress enough how important having a fresh pair of eyes is, specially after working a few days on something to get rid of your tunnel vision; grab some friends from all the backgrounds (hardcore gamers, mobile gamers, casual gamers, non gamers...) and make them play your stuff!
First things first, what's an Escape Room?
If you haven't been living under a rock, you probably already know this. But for the people out there who still don't know about the existence of these fun group experiences, an escape room is a themed timed challenge where with the help of other people you try to solve all the puzzles necessary in order to get out of that room before the timer goes off, usually lasting around 60 minutes. There are of many types: more logical, more physical, with actors, military themed, zombie lab themed, and so on.
Beating the designer's blank page block
Level Design and iteration
After deciding what kind of puzzles we were going to use, we proceeded doing a simple block out for level design. Personally I prefer to do it in 3D and then test whether is it good or not by test and iteration, but this time the team decided to do an overview on paper first, and then translate it to a 3d block out.
Once that was out of the way, we made a list of the props that would be needed for the room, in order so Laura and I could work at the same pace, she made the models and texturing, and I took care of the sounds, puzzles and coding.
I started using the FPS Controller from the Standard Packages from Unity. I tweaked it to disable jumping and camera bob and then began with the puzzle experimentation.
Here's a video of how the sound slider puzzles looked in the beginning (they were wall levers, and the controls were click + drag instead of just left click or right click):
Here is a video comparison where you can see the progress on the sound puzzle.
I went through a couple of iterations, where the sliders were still levers but a lot smaller than the wall ones in the first video, and they weren't attached to the radio, but this confused players.
Ultimately, the players associate the sliders with sound, and it's a lot easier to understand that higher frequency sounds go up, and lower frequency sounds go down. This wouldn't have been able to get fixed without play testing.
Every puzzle I went through the same iteration process just showed above:
The cherry on the top
All the team made a great effort to make this project work in a short period of time, we used Unity because it seems to be what Decentraland is going to end up using. Most of the post processing tweaks we added won't be available to be used in DLC anytime soon, but still we wanted this small demo to shine.
I had a blast working with skilled peers and although I usually work as a 3D artist, I love doing some coding and SFX work from time to time.
Small challenges with tight deadlines push you out of the comfort zone, and make you focus on what's important, making it work and shipping it on time. You cannot get lost on polishing or get stuck into improving your code, if it works, just move on to the next thing on the list.
This was an awesome experience and I'd be pleased to do more stuff like this in the future!
Soon we'll be releasing a link to download and play the Escape Room :)
Alejandro Bielsa is a junior 3D artist working at Polygonal Mind's in-house team.
Passionate about videogames, vivid tutorial drinker and cat lover.
A little bit about the project
Now that we know more about this virtual world, we can officially start.
Breaking down the project.
The Aetherian Block Museum is an ambitious project and to have a better control over the development sprints we divided it all in 3 different stages.
- The structure
This would be the over all shape and feel of the building, and included everything that cannot be moved or duplicated inside the scene, to have a real life example, this would be the job of an architect.
We define as props anything that can be duplicated in the scene and doesn't belong to the structure, a bench, a painting or a vending machine would be a prop, in real life, this would be the work of an interior designer.
- Animations and final polishing
After everything is done we will invest some extra time giving life to the scene with animations and interactions. In conclusion, the job of an in real life wizard.
Since this project it is still in development, on this post we're going to focus on the structure.
A Basic outline
When working on a Decentraland building project, is important to note that there are technical limitations everywhere, on size, on polycount, textures,... it all depends on the extend of the terrain you are going to build on.
Knowing this, when I have size limitations I usually start creating a cube that has the maximum size and use it as a visual reference to know where is the limit.
Learn from the Masters, Gather References
Never understimate the power of the references, for getting a general idea about what we want to transmit or the look we want to achieve.
I like to start by entering Pinterest and look for some references, in this case cyberpunk style, since this district does not have yet an exact design, I looked into the most "iconic technological futures", movies and videogames, like Blade Runner, Tron, Rune and Ghost in the Shell were some of the major references on this project.
Also, one thing that I tend to do, is gather different images that have some detail that I like, and I think that could fit in the project, regardless the overall style, this way I can mix new ideas into it.
Block the Idea out!
Once we have some ideas about what we want, it’s time to make some visual MVP (Minimum Viable Product), at Polygonal Mind we call this blockouts, with them you can see the overall shape of the building helping you visualize the final product, in this case of the museum. Generally, in this stage, the ideal thing is to make at least 3 totally different variations, so we can experiment with different shapes and ideas and see which one could be the most feasible.
In this case, three buildings were done, each one with a different shape, so that in the end we can reach the most pleasant form while taking advantage of the maximum size.
Seeing that the pretended design is technological, I added some emissive lights. Here the contrasting colours help visually how these lights could work.
After this first stage, we decided to post the results on the Decentraland and Aetherian Discord servers to gather some feedback.
The devil is on the Details
Once we have chosen the most viable option, in this case the chosen one was the second option, we pass on the details, on the first stages of the modelling, I tend not to worry about the number of the polygons, and I just look for the overall shape.
On this stage however I remade some of the pieces of the model, that way I can create drawings on the model far more controlled way. A good example of this are the exhibition floors.
If there is a feeling, there is a style
As I explained before, Decentraland is divided in various districts, each one with its own style, this building is destined to the cyberpunk district. However this style can encompass a lot of different feelings.
So in this project we could test different color palettes. One similar to the aesthetic of tron, another more dark and grim and the last one more natural.
As I mentioned in other articles, Adobe Kuler is a great tool for this, you can search or create your own palettes that can fit your project very quickly.
Again, we made 3 different variations and went to the DCL and Aetherian Discord servers to gather some community feedback.
Once we have the basic colors we can pass onto detailing the textures using the colors that have been selected, in this case the dark palette was the chosen one.
This was a basic outline for my process when it comes to create buildings for Decentraland, though depending of its needs this can change slightly, For example for organic objects I tend to use Zbrush.
Nevertheless, never forget the musts. Reference, Blockout and Detail.
See you in the next case study :)
Laura Usón is a 3D artist working at Polygonal Mind's in-house team.