Category Archives: 3d modeling

New gameplay footage (music, telekinesis, invisibility, planets)

I just posted two new videos of gameplay footage from the most recent build of Arcana Manor (7-27-09).

The video has two parts.

The first part demonstrates several new features, including:
musical tones that correspond to colors and planets in the magic system,
mountable weapons based on the tarot suits,
elemental projectiles flung from melee weapons,
weapon cycling,

guard bots with basic AI,
an invisibility spell,
a demon model with flame effects from a procedural shader

The second part showcases these features:

a spell interface based on tarot cards
Moving platforms
A telekinesis spell
Collectible orbs whose colors and associated musical tones correspond to the seven planets of the ancients
A color-based and tonal magical interface corresponding to the orbs

first-person magical items and projectiles

I’ve been working on several features of Arcana Manor which are starting to add to the magic system.  The first is that I re-sized all of my tarot objects (the suits like cups and swords) and placed mount nodes on them so that they can be equipped as weapons in first-person view.   I worked for a couple of days to get weapon cycling operational so that players can switch between these weapons with a button press.  Then, I modified the melee scripts so that swinging the weapons would cast spells that fire projectiles in first-person mode, targeting with the crosshairs rather than selecting with selectrons.  Next, I made a set of geometrical projectiles fired by the various tarot suits, starting with a sphere textured in a wave image that emits water droplets through particle emitters.  Equipping the cup allows the player to fling this watery sphere, and each of the other tarot suits can hurl similar projectiles that correlate with their traditional ancient elemental attributions as well as the appropriate Platonic solids defined that the Greek philosopher Empedocles associated with the four elements.  The wand throws a flaming pyramid, the sword shoots an airy octahedron, and the pentacle fires a purple sphere (technically, this should be an earthy cube, but I like the glowing purple plasma texture better).  In fact, I like the plasma filter in Gimp 2.0 so much that I made seven plasma textures for each of the seven colors of the visible spectrum and then applied these textures to seven geometrical primitives that can also be projectiles (including the delightfully obscure rhombicosahedron).  When I export these, I think they can be 3d jewels as well as projectiles, so they may end up playing into a 3d magic interface of the kind that I described in

I need to implement a power-up system that strengthens spells according to what objects and cards have been collected.

In terms of level design, I also want to make a really twisted, surreal, evil sorcerous tower for the player to explore, inspired in part by Castlevania 64 and an obscure Elder Scrolls game called Battlespire, in which the developers made the ballsy move of including platforming elements in a first-person game with magic.  (I can’t turn these italics off, but they don’t mean anything.)  And also more directly inspired by the Alchemist’s Tower in The Holy Mountain, as well as the Dark Tower (Browning and King).  Because I like upward movement and vertiginous heights and the symbolism of ascent.

uv unwrapping complications

Well, I finished the polygon modeling portions of the ogre model and embarked on the uv mapping portions.  Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that Softimage Mod Tool 7.5 has some quirks that make this process a little more difficult.  First, the export as .obj file option has been removed from Mod Tool 7.5, which means that I can no longer export scenes into a form that could be opened by Roadkill, a uv unwrapping application.  Mod Tool 6.0, which still had the export as .obj option, can’t open scenes from Mod Tool 7.5.  The pelt unwrapping method, which is a smoother and cleaner way of uv unwrapping organic, curvy shapes, is not present in Mod Tool and maybe not in Softimage at all.  This is unfortunate, since Ward’s book relies heavily on pelt mapping.  I probably just need to learn to do basic cylindrical and cubic sub-projections using Mod Tool’s texture editor.

First-person spells and current-gen character development

Over the last few days, I’ve been implementing some first-person spells in Arcana Manor, i.e. spells that look good from a first-person perspective, which is not really the format for which ArcaneFX is designed.  Gareth Fouche (a Garagegames community member and Torque designer) made a good spell-casting resource that uses projectiles to cast spells–an approach that resembles Oblivion (or Undying) instead of a third-person MMO.  Fouche’s approach is the one I want, but it will take some tweaking to get this going with ArcaneFX.

I also have been working through an excellent book by Anthony S. Ward called Game Character Development.  The book gives a very detailed overview of the processes involved in current-gen character development (i.e. Xbox 360 and PS3), which entails several more steps than the previous-gen workfolow.

In previous-gen character development, the game artist would use a modeling application like 3dsmax or Maya to build the character out of polygons, then UV map the character and texture it in Photoshop.

The main difference between the previous-gen and current-gen approach is the current-gen use of sculpting programs like Mudbox or Z-Brush to paint details onto a model which would have been too time-consuming and memory-intensive to be accomodated on previous-gen hardware.  The artist then converts these details into a normal map, which is an RGB image whose pixel colors indicate the directions in which the model’s normals should be transformed.  (Previous-gen character art tended to include bump maps, which were grayscale images that could indicate only elevation, rather than normal maps.  Current-gen development includes both bump maps and normal maps, as well as other shader-based modifiers such as parallax maps and ambient occlusion maps.)

All of which suggests one thing: I need to recruit a modeler so that I can focus on scripting and programing the game’s magic system rather than building its models. :)

Actually, it’s more a matter of emphasis.  It’s still good to work on 3d models (which could represent characters summoned by the player or custom aspects of the player, such as hands for first-person casting), but the production of art assets is so time-consuming that it would be best to recruit someone whose main talent and experience is in models.

That said, I’ve been working on an ogre tutorial in Ward’s book, and here are a few screenshots.

modeling a character

After completing the modeling of the Joan of Arc tutorial, I’m now working on a model of an original character in Autodesk Softimage (formerly Softimage XSI).   Ron Smith drew some excellent orthogonals (concept sketches that are exactly proportional to each other and can be placed at 90 degree angles to be used as guides for making a 3d model).

Here is the verbal description of the character that I gave Ron.

“Imagine a demon summoned by Knossos, the architect, when he realized that he needed supernatural help to build his manor but did not understand just how dangerous and corrupting this help could be.  The demon is in some ways a standard balor-type monster: large, red-skinned, winged, horned, and clawed.  He could tear a feeble architect’s head off, or his sister’s, without a second thought.  But there is something sad and thoughtful in his face, a pensively furrowed brow, a far-off look.  He has seen so many foolish humans sell their souls for so little, and even though he should be the Mephisto character in this Faustian drama, he takes no glee in the role.  He’s almost more of a genii in a lamp who has grown weary of the same 3 wishes and the way that they always destroy the wishers.  He holds a book in his hand: a giant, leather-bound, brass clamped tome, which is the Necronomicon-like architect’s notebook that will be so central to the unfolding of the manor’s mystery.  Eliza will be forced to summon this creature in order to find out what happens to her brother, but in doing so she takes all the risks of a conjurer, because the answers that demons give are never straightforward and they may turn on their captor at any moment if there is some slip-up in the ritual, some edge of the magic circle that isn’t drawn in fully.  So this character should look supremely ambiguous: pissed and menacing, but potentially helpful, depending on how skillful our player turns out to be.”

And here are Ron’s orthogonals:

And here are the orthogonals placed onto grids as guide images in Softimage.  I’m currently modeling one of the demon’s legs.

Here is a shot of further progress, including the demon’s haunches, torso, and shoulders.

“The runes on the sword / Are the wyrms that are wise.”

I’ve been learning to model items, unwrap the uv’s of these 3d objects, then texture these uvs and re-apply them to the mesh.  Here is the textured uv mesh of a sword, which readers of Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga as illustrated by Robert Gould will recognize as Stormbringer, the black sword.  Here is the uv mesh after I unwrapped it and textured it.

Stormbringer uv mesh, textured

Here is the textured sword.

textured model of Stormbringer

Joan of Arc model

Here is a screenshot of a model that I’ve been making in XSI.  This is the XSI version of the famous “Joan of Arc” tutorial.  I had to do the body portion of the tutorial twice, but the second time produced smoother results.  If I finish the entire tutorial, which is excellent but very long and complex, I will need to make Joan’s hands, ears, and all the pieces of her armor.  Then, I’ll need to UV unwrap all of her accessories, paint textures for them, and assign appropriate materials to each of her body parts.  Lastly, I’ll rig her for animation by building a skeleton of bones and chains inside of her body.  The complexity of this process shows just how involved character design can be when one designs one’s own art assets, but it is very satisfying to watch a single cube slowly be extruded and shifted until it forms a human body.


Modeling Quest Items for Arcana Manor

For the last few weeks, I’ve been using a 3d modeling program called XSI to model quest items for Arcana Manor. I started with a famous 3d modeling tutorial for building Joan of Arc (who for this game’s purposes I will adapt as the Queen of Swords), and more recently I’ve been making 3d models of the tarot suits. The suits of today’s playing cards are highly abstracted versions of the four tarot suits (swords, cups, wands, and pentacles), which in many tarot decks are concrete items worn or used by allegorical characters. These suits are associated with complex systems of symbolic correspondences, including the elements of air, water, fire, and earth, and in mystical lore they are literal and metaphorical weapons wielded by a magician. We can see these items:

in their symbolic and ritualistic function on the Magician card of the Rider-Waite tarot deck,

The Magician (Tarot Card)

arrayed on the table of Aleister Crowley as he poses with characteristic flamboyance,

Crowley with Weapons

Crowley with Weapons

and brought to life in the moving pictures of Alexander Jodrowksky’s glorious film The Holy Mountain.

Holy Mountain cover

Holy Mountain cover

Given my argument that one of the key principles of meaningful quest design is the use of re-configurable symbolic correspondences expressed through a fusion of gameplay and narrative, what better basis for a magic system than this?

Here are some screenshots of my models so far. The learning curve of 3d modeling is steep, and I’m progressing slowly but surely. These beginning results are rough, but the hard work is compensated by the liberation of being able to design one’s own custom items beginning with only primitive geometric polygons whose edges, faces, and vertices can be shaped in complex ways.

Here are a few first screenshots.


Sword(Stormbringer Style)