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The Haunted: Hells Reach

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Did you read last news Oct 4th ? Sooo. today we lift the curtain - Cedric Danneels is back and today he gets directly to you with the promised next "behind the scene" info...
ALSO: everyone should now get The Haunted: Hells Reach to play the upcoming DLC, we have reduced the price to 8.99 and will also make special offers. Quite close is the next special sale simply watch our steam store each weekend!!

Hello everyone, Cedric talking here...
Back in the days, I made the Museum level for THE HAUNTED: HELLS REACH.
As announced earlier, some of you may also know me for making in DARK SOULS 3 Irithyll of the Boreal Valley and a part of the Lothric castle.
I took over the realisation of upcoming DLC recently and decided to remake things. It may be longer to do things that way, but even if I took my distances with THE HAUNTED: HELLS REACH after the THQ insolvency post-release debacle, I still have some pride and certainly want the players to get a proper product, so that's why I'm here now - to lift the quality step by step until state of the art.

Since there was a comment about it, I’m tempted to show you the reason between what appears to be a day lighting - but I feel it's better to keep that part secret until the end since it's the main feature of the level.
So - no pretty screenshots today, that will be for the next update...

Today is going to be a small “making of” an asset where I’ll explain a part of my designing process.

It all starts with this…

…a small set of very simple meshes. Those meshes will be used to block out the rough shapes of the level, get a sense of scale and also test the gameplay very early on. As you can see, they follow strict size guidelines, this is meant to make sure that the assets will assemble properly without gap. When using random sizes, everything will need to be adjusted later on, potentially causing new problems in other areas. This step is for me the easiest part but also the most important, if you mess up here, you can easily double or triple your production time.
I always keep my set of meshes as small as possible, a wall, a door or two, some pillars and slopes and you're good to go. No need to juggle between a hundred of different assets and spend time wondering if Wall002 would be better than Wall015, simplicity is efficiency.
At this point of the production, making changes is extremely easy so I make sure to test the gameplay a lot to make it as fluid as possible. There may still be some changes later on but unless there was a major oversight on my side, the gameplay should be close to final and any change should be minor. The later the change, the harder it is, the longer it takes to fix, taking away some precious time that could be used to polish the level.

So now let's take one of those meshes, for example the pillar and let's proceed to the next step. For every mesh, I gather some references and do some research about the architecture that I want to recreate and then start refining my meshes and diversifying them.

The meshes should have enough details to be recognizable but still basic enough to be easily modifiable. Once done, i can start replacing the block meshes by their refined version and see if they fit well. Things like pillars become much thinner when going from a 8sides cylinder to something more refined like on this picture, which may look wrong.
Once again, since the meshes are very simple, adjusting the proportions is still very quick and easy at this point so it's better to make sure that the architecture is well balanced rather than having to do fixes later.

Once every mesh has been modeled, placed in the level and adjusted to look correct, it's start to move to the third phase; making the final mesh with all of its details. Well, here it is…

…and you may notice 2 things:

1.) The shape of the base changed compared to the previous version. The reason is that in the previous version, it was easy for the player to get stuck while back-walking. This is a part of the work that players don't realize very often but when making an asset, we have not only to care about how it looks - we also have to make sure that it doesn't hinder the player's movements.
When a game advertises itself as "utra realistic", it actually means "ultra believable". The reality is always slightly altered to help the gameplay because even if we know that graphic make a game sell, we also know that players forgive more easily bad graphics than they forgive bad gameplay.
2.) There are some weird shadows and the mesh looks a bit blobby. What should be flat surfaces appear to be slightly convex.
There are two main ways to fix that.
First way is, we could make a high poly asset then "bake" a normal map that will correct the surface. This way allows us to make very high quality assets, however it takes a very long time (more than a day for a pillar like this), time that i don't have.
Second way is to fix the geometry itself by modifying what we call the vertex normals. This process only takes a few minutes and will also allow me to make the texture without needing a high poly bake.
And here is our pillar with its geometry edited. It looks much better than the previous version and has the same memory weight:

A little peak at the wireframe: I kept the geometry relatively light compared to nowaday's standards. Nowaday's graphic cards can digest millions of polygons per frame at 60fps but since the DLC is for a game that was released five years ago, a part of our playersbase may still have a low end computer so I keep the things a bit more simple and light.

We are getting close to the end now. What is left to do now is to make the texture for our asset - and have a look at how nice our pillar mesh looks combined with its texture:

And then place it in the game…

Well, that’s from Cedric for today. Now its your turn to say: what would you like to see in the next update ?
...and please remember - get your own copy of THE HAUNTED: HELLS REACH for as low as 8,99 or the four pack or watch special sales !!!
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