At the time of starting this blog post, it is the day before hand-in, and I hate this project as much as I ever have. I’m waiting for the lighting on our project to finish building, which it has been doing for the last 2 and a half hours, and it looks like UE4’s about to crash. Again. (Edit; it crashed. Six times.) (Edit edit; We built it!)
So. Brace yourself for a very long post about my last 3 months and 1 week at university, and why I have hated it so much. And, I guess, why our final product isn’t too bad after all.
I want to start this post with something that I’m sure everyone knows. Yes, I’m ridiculously negative. I’ve been working on it this year and really feel that I’ve made leaps and bounds in becoming less moody. However, no amount of positive thoughts can counter just how much this project has ruined my enjoyment of my degree this year. Nevertheless, I have tried to hold off ranting too heavily in the spur of my fury on my blog. I’m doing it all here, in slightly calmer retrospect.
From the start, how I’ve felt about this project has been very up and down. I was extremely disgruntled with the way it was introduced to us. We were all under the impression that we could choose whether we could work on our own or not, but when the project was formally given to us we were told we were not allowed to leave our groups unless we had a valid reason or something. Regardless, there were still like 3 people who were not allocated groups who could work on their own, because the groups could be maximum 6 people. I don’t understand why there weren’t just groups of 5. I was extremely jealous of these people (sorry guys!), felt it unfair, and was frustrated by the way the project was being handled. I could almost feel the tutor’s laughing contempt for our, to an extent, rightful outcry about it. It just annoyed me more, but even worse, made me feel really uncomfortable about going to the tutors with my problems with the project.
So I stuck it out with my lovely team. I was dubious at first about how we would all work together, but it went about as well as it could have. Still, though, I spent the first two weeks in a sort of limbo of ‘will I leave? won’t I?’. My decision was made for me when I realised I had literally concepted the whole level for them and couldn’t really leave at that point. I didn’t mind too much, but I could already see a whole host of problems and frustrations on the horizon for such an ambitious and drawn out project.
Our organisation was good, but could have been so much better. Organising such a massive project after only doing 4 week projects was pretty much completely impossible. There is a lot that I have learned from trying to organise this project, which I will take onto future work, but I don’t feel that I should have had such a hardcore leadership role dumped on me when I’m here to learn to art. I like to lead, and I feel it suits me well, but God this has drained me. My team mate Mark also took on a load of the leadership stuff, and though I disagree with having multiple leads (it sort of made stuff confusing), I couldn’t have done it without him. Nevertheless, this project has definitely most benefited me in the soft skill department, for which I am glad. I am now the epitome of patience, compassion, and guidance. Ok. Not quite. But I will elaborate;
As I mentioned, I have learned a lot about organisation for future work if I work in groups (which won’t be happening for my FMP). Asset lists, style guides, and schedules all went completely down the drain as the weeks wore on. I knew it would happen, and I knew things would turn out ok anyway, but it’s very bad practise (practice?). So, next time I’ll definitely be pushing for more stringent guides and schedules to keep things well regimented. I’ve also learned a lot more about how to lead people in general. I need to have a constant list of things that need doing for the inevitable times that someone comes and asks what they should do. My usual reaction was to sit staring at the ceiling making ‘uhhhhhh’ noises for a few minutes. Every hour and team member is key in a project, and as we’ve reached the end of the project and things have got tighter, I’ve remembered how many opportunities I’ve had to set people to doing all these tiny tasks that all of a sudden need our attention. My patience for others (which is now wearing a little thin, I’m embarrassed to say), has also improved tenfold, though it is something I still need to work on.
Our communication was really good. We were mostly in labs all the time, but I became frustrated sometimes with team members not coming in until the afternoon, when we still needed them, particularly towards the end of the project. It really, really held us back, to a point where I would occasionally want to tear my hair out. I felt that some team members also could have contributed more to group discussions and given their opinion more. Particularly at the start of the project I felt like an awful dictator, coming up with ideas while some team members just set there passively. Like, what are you thinking!? Tell me so I don’t feel awkward and mean!
So though my soft skills are on the up, I’m still sat here feeling really pissed off about where this project has led me. I’m on a game art course, and I want to learn more art things. To quench this burning thirst, I took on a personal project in the evenings/weekends/when I felt like it. Though I’ve done barely anything in the two months I’ve had it, I’ve learned way more than I have in the 3 months of constant slaving on OTM. OTM has taught me the art of slap-dash ‘that’ll do’-ing, and I hate it. My love and careful tending to my projects was pushed to the side just to get this over with. I felt like we, the second year, were just totally laid off to flounder helplessly in this sea of misery; abandoned. We had no lessons on art-related fun stuff, and even life drawing was written off since the models always seemed to be absent. Our assigned tutors never met with us after the first couple of meetings, and so we never got feedback on our project towards the end, bar a presentation two weeks before the hand in. Too little, too late. I’ve basically paid £3k to be sad.
I think we could have really benefited from better feedback, just as a team would get feedback from team leaders etc. in a games studio. Our game would have been much better off as a result, as there are many problems with it. I’ll just stick to the art side, since I don’t really know about all the technical stuff. Mostly this is my fault, because I should have spotted it earlier and helped to guide the team, but hey. Would have, could have, should have. Our level is too flat, and actually goes down rather than up. There’s something wrong about going down a hill rather than up in a game, and so that was our first fatal mistake. The whole level actually feels better to play when it’s reversed, and you’re running up hill. Then comes our/my second mistake. There is virtually no height to the level. It’s so boring. The gardens are flat, with some flowerbeds plonked in, and that’s that. I think I just had so much on my plate at the start of the project that I didn’t even consider the level design properly. My creativity sputtered and died. When I had been drawing up preliminary ideas for levels if I decided to break away, they were vertical as much as horizontal, and much more interesting. I can’t explain what went wrong when I was working in the group.
The game is hard on the eye. There is no art style, colour palette, continuity. Everything that has happened in the level is a happy accident, since the level pretty much completely diverged from most of my concepts in the end. They only served as a starting point. We basically threw an asset list together, got some reference pictures from Fable, and went ‘that’ll do now go make things quickly so we can get this over with’. I didn’t take the time to learn exciting new things that would create beautiful polished assets, because they would probably end up looking completely out of place in a ‘that’ll do’ level. The art style is a mash of everyone’s own interpretation of a style, and there is absolutely no colour continuity between my wood planks and another team member’s wood planks, or between my flowers and another team member’s. Nothing really sits quite well together.
Many of my own assets don’t really work together either, because I was trying to find the quickest way to get things done, whether the style of that particular asset would be affected or not. I would use photo textures, hand-paint, or use baking depending on which would produce good-to-mediocre results quickly. Oh, and the amount of assets where I neglected to add a normal or roughness map! I’m really not proud of the work I’ve done. My favourite assets are my fish, but even those could have had more love;
This project has got me thinking about working in the game industry. Is this what it’s like? It’s how I imagine working in a large company to be for sure. Rattling off one asset after the other, because who cares- someone will only glance at it and move on. I was playing GTA V the other day and was really disappointed by how some of the assets looked. They were clearly just part of a lightning-fast production line. If that’s what it’s like, could I work in a bigger studio? I think not. I think smaller studios would suit me better and maybe be less ‘that’ll do’. I can hope.
Anyway. As a team I think we overall worked really well. There were no fall-outs, and minimal moaning. Everyone got on with what they had to do, and I really appreciate the luxury of a team that doesn’t argue or bitch. I think it’s taught me to put my faith in other people more, and trust that they can get things done. There were instances where I asked for something to be done, and I had to pester, but they were minimal compared to how much went right. I know this post mortem so far has painted a very negative picture of our level, but there were loooads of times where I would exclaim how great stuff looked or how well it was going. I really like the atmosphere of our level, and we had some great turnouts with composition too. The colours were starting to go on the right track, I think it just needed a little more coaxing in the right direction. As much as I would love our level to be perfect and amazing, it’ll never happen at our stage of learning, and it’ll take a lot more experience and projects to get there.
That’s why I totally disagree with such a long project. I’d have much rather a selection of say, 20 projects, from which we had to do 3. Over multiple projects we are bound to learn more.
To conclude, I am very proud of how we worked together, and both shocked and pleased that we actually fully achieved what we set out to. We have a fully working game level, with NPCs, cutscenes, and minigames. Currently there are a few character placeholders and things, which we’re aiming to fix for the OTM competition itself, but it’s still a game. I’m also pleased with how the final level looks, despite everything. It’s a freaking huge level. Takes roughly an hour to play if you don’t know what you’re doing (we have a cheat sheet though!). I feel like we have a nice sense of scale, like you’re in a small part of a bigger world, though the immersion isn’t total yet because the area around the level is empty. Unfortunately this piece will not be going into my portfolio, but I’ll keep pretending that I learned enough to make the project worthwhile. I regret not working on my own, which is absolutely totally completely NOT a reflection on my team. It just would have saved me a headache and I’d have enjoyed it more. If it eases the bite of this post, there were some truly sterling moments in the making of our level that make it worth the pain. Like when we got our games working. And when we’d created a forest together. And when we realised that our game was… well, a real life game. It was nice.
It was a pleasure/pain working with you team, and I’m glad it is over! But we did good. 🙂 Check their blogs;
Some time next week I’ll update ya’ll on my personal project, and probably do some paintovers of our level. There’s still a lot to do on our level, and many fixes to find. You haven’t heard the end of OTM yet. Thanks for reading/skimming/skipping to the end of this post.