2007 - Two Worlds

Having shipped Earth 2160 which apparently sold well the company with the backing of its publishing overlords embarked on an incredibly ambitious project. Reality Pump was at that time a small company of less then 30 developers and we started work on a free roaming open-world action RPG.

We made good speed on it but it still took us almost 2 years to complete. It were a joyous two years but the end of the project also meant the end of my stay at Reality Pump - as I have graduated from my university that year and I had plans to move to the UK but I'm getting way ahead of myself here.

The game itself was, as I mentioned, a fairly straightforward fantasy action RPG. As every one of those it had its own story and distinct world (which still started with the letter 'A' though) but if you ever played one you'd be immediately comfortable with the setting. It had its fair share of innovations and gameplay ideas and the graphics were still top notch technologically. It certainly wasn't lacking in features. It had horse riding, it had a unique magic system based on cards (which you could combine to augment spells) and a way to keep upgrading weapons so you could use a certain weapon you liked for longer if you kept beefing it up.

Like I mentioned the project was enormous and extremely asset hungry. The world spanned many aesthetic styles requiring unique assets. The artists certainly had their hands full. The first model I made for the project was a teleporter site (screenshot above) used to fast travel around around the world. By this time I was completely comfortable in my work-flow and settled in for the long journey on this one. At that point I used Maya to build the meshes and Photoshop for textures with a little help from ZBrush.

I'm not sure how I landed the privilege but one of the last objects I made for the project was the key which is part of the central quest in the game (screenshot on the left). The object was exceptional in the way that I designed it myself - a rare occurrence having usually concept artwork to work from when making assets (a decision made to try and keep the assets in a similar style). Our concept artist didn't hate it (or at least not enough to reject it) so I considered it a success. I'm not being entirely serious here, of course, and our concept artist was a top bloke and a friend.

The best things about the project was the variety of assets I got to do in its long run. On of the parts of the world was Asian-influenced and I ended up doing quite a bit of assets for it, including some Asian faces.

For the same region I also did a set of city walls for the cities and many of the interior decor assets. The mythical and ethnic background of the region was a mishmash of Asian cultures, chock full of samurai but instead of the dragons you'd expect - lizards, worshipped as gods. Like I said, it was extremely fun to work on. The local temple had a dungeon which you got to explore at great length.

At the end of the confusing corridors filled with giant lizards lizard was a enormous chamber (half filled with water missing from the render) where the boss battle took place. Over the course of the project I'd do quite a lot of dungeons as they featured heavily this being action RPG and all.

The dungeons were done by linking sections created from tile-able blocks and unique locations like this one. As you can guess I had the pleasure of designing the blocks and then creating them. It might look like a tedious job having to do so many blocks and make sure they fit in with each other in all the required ways but I loved it. It's the sort of technical challenge I enjoy the most.

It wasn't a simple job of copying the same set over and applying different textures - each type of environment called for a different style of blocks. You'd want different types of passages for a dwarven mine - narrow and winding, different, more open sections for natural caverns, and structured sections with smooth arcs and bends for human built dungeons. When you add alternate blocks to the mix for visual variety things get interesting and challenging. And immensely fun to make.

The length of the project meant I got to do a varied assortment of assets. Weapon categories were divided up amongst artist and I got the rogue's arsenal (which is often my favourite class when playing RPGs, both computer and tabletop ones so I was pleased) - bows, daggers and short blades.

The bows were quite varied and all obviously needed to be rigger to animations. Daggers and any sort of short bladed weapons are usually made quickly obsolete in RPGs. Two Worlds was clever about it with its system of combining weapons and adding boosting effects onto them making them a viable weapon of choice. Especially when you opted for a bow as your main weapon.

From the modelling point of view it was quite challenging to make the knives and daggers recognisable and unique looking despite their small size. However exotic they look though, most of them are based on real weapons from different cultures.

I didn't get to do many props, concentrating mostly on larger structures but I did get to do some small furnishings, mostly all kinds of lights and candlesticks. I could probably squeeze in some of the smaller structures I made into the props category but environments were my main job to be honest.

This isn't to say I didn't make any occasional contributions to other categories, especially when the company was concentrating on one particular subject to show the publishers for example - in such cases all artists would be corralled into helping out.

Most of the times though I'd be working on large scale structures and the biggest one I got to make was one of the cities with a Roman feel to it. Obviously, I didn't construct the town itself - we had talented level designers to do that - but I did create almost all of the buildings and building elements used to build it from, including the surrounding walls and towers and all the miscellaneous bits.

It was terribly satisfying to be able to create a comprehensive set of assets used throughout the whole city. For one it meant I could go around the city freely and take in game screenshots without the worry of including some other artist's work in the frame.

Apart from doing a whole swathe of generic building sets and dungeon blocks I also got to do some unique structures use in only one place in the game and serving as landmarks. One of them was an abandoned mausoleum in a swamp infested with the undead.

Having fought your way through the legions of enemies you'd enter the tall chamber with the sarcophagus in the canter holding up the sought after artefact. What exactly the artefact was escapes me but I think it might have been one of the key parts of the key base, since it was probably connected with the main quest. The chamber was fun to make with it's round layout and having to try and keep the texture density running constant across the radius.

In hindsight the complex dome and ceiling was a waste of time as no one ever looks up in games like that unless there are flying enemies. And there were any there. Even I forgot to take a screenshot of the ceiling when I was making the renders for my archive.

Another prominent structure I got to make was the dwarven gate blocking a narrow canyon passage passage. The dwarves were mean bastards and even though they mostly infested the mines they for some reason thought necessary to inconvenience everyone on the surface as well by arbitrarily locking off parts of the world.

Early on I got to do a lot of work on the natural environments as well. Some of it though in the end didn't make it to the release. During production we've explored different ways of making trees and plants. It was decided in the end to create a tree generator (another app later sold as middle-ware). Interestingly the job was initially assigned to one of the newly hired junior programmers. I was the one pestering him for functionality I needed but at the actual asset creation level most of my job was just creating the texture for the bark and leaves as the actual mesh was created by the generator. While the bark was pretty straightforward to make, leaves were created by rendering actual meshes so as to achieve realistic normal maps on them. This made them seem less flat and gave the whole tree a better illusion of depth.

At the end of the project I got assigned to clean up duties. The game was initially released in Germany whilst it was still receiving polish and we were producing patches often - a few months later it was released all patched up in the rest of the world. In the meantime I was trawling the forums in case someone spotted a glitch our testers missed and dealt with it quickly so we could ship it with the next patch. Other than that I was slashing polys in bottleneck areas and tidying up in general.

The game production didn't stop because the company already decided to start work on an expansion pack even before the release and everyone was hard at work on that. Alas, I could not stay to join in as my time at Reality Pump had run out. By summer 2007 I have graduated and was tying up loose ends and packing my suitcase (just the one; I'll be moving again soon and I can't believe I once was able to do that). My boss knew about my intentions a long time before I left and he and the company were extremely accommodating (I even got a raise even though I was just about to leave - yeah, it was that nice a company).

A few months later I was on a plane headed for the UK.

Thinking it didn't matter where I stayed whilst job-hunting I settled in Luton, where the plane had landed. A month later I moved to Cambridge.

Eventually I landed a job starting that same year at Stainless Games located on the idyllic Isle of Wight. And there I spent my next three years. Dodging burning christmas trees and generally having an altogether stranger time.