Sunday, May 29, 2011

Donkey Kong Country Returns

So it has been a loooong time since I made my last post, but I am finally able to show what I have been working on since last time.

Donkey Kong Country Returns!
I worked as an environment artist on this game, and it was the first game I had the opportunity to work on from start to finish. For the levels I worked on, I used some models and textures that were created by the whole environment team, so credit also goes to other artists, Sammy Hall, Ryan Powell, Sean Horton, Mark Brady, Reed Ketcham, Ted Anderson, Russel Lingo, Amanda Rotella, Luis Ramirez, Elben Schafers, and Jay Epperson.

My work on the levels mainly consists of taking the blocked in designer level, and arting up the scene, implementing the composition, creating any custom geometry and textures needed for that level, UV mapping, occasional environmental animations, and finally, lighting the scene. For the few silhouette levels, I also had so create versions of the characters, objects, etc. that would have the respective color of the level, as well as the custom skymaps used in them.

Also, many characters appear in these shots, and these were done by the character artists. The few that I had worked on are specified below.

1-4 Sunset Shores

This level was originally an experiment for what might work as a kind of interactive loading screen. I originally tried to use as little textures as possible so that it would be easy for the game to load while other assets were loading in the background. In the end, it was able to be adapted for a proper level instead. The inspiration came mainly from growing up on the coast in Massachusetts, and loving the colors and silhouettes that would come in the early morning sunrise, and sunsets. It was fun to explore silhouettes, and find the middle ground of what was too busy, and what worked nicely as a solid shape. I made Donkey Kong's tie, and Diddy's hat and shirt red primarily as a means to keep their shapes readily identifiable and offer a separation to their otherwise solid forms. I think it kept them very identifiable as characters, while only minimally interrupting the overarching color scheme that applied to everything else in the level. It was also one of the few levels that I had a hand in the initial layout, as much of the original test layout was utilized in the final design.

2-1 Popping Planks

this level was iterated upon many times, and Luis Ramirez and Mark Brady also worked heavily on the final version. I have tried to isolate shots of areas that I had worked on primarily. I created the initial landscape shot of the beach going off in the background, with the ocean surf that comes and crashed upon the beach in the background. Shadow of the Colossus was a good game to study for this effect, to see how what techniques they were using for their crashing waves on their beaches. I also created many of the unique background rock shapes that are jutting out from the ocean.

The background rocks were a fun asset to create. they started out as base sketches, then scanned and painted in photoshop, and finally given some dimension to the models in the actual level. with the restriction of the 2D camera, it allowed me to use some techniques that would not work in a totally 3D environment. Another good example was the skymap, which I was able to use on a polygon that was tilted towards the camera. Even though it is a simple scrolling textures, doing this provides the illusion that the clouds that are higher up on the texture, and closer to the camera, will pan by faster than the clouds far off, and closer to the horizon.

It was a great treat to see these shown during the early playthrough of the game on the Jimmy Fallon show :)

Popping Planks playthrough

2-6 Blowhole Bound

For this level, I given the opportunity to create the Whale character that DK rides upon. This was then given some final touches by one of the character artists, Quinn Smith.

I created the animated mussels that react as DK walks on the pier above. This was fun, as I hadn't done much game scripting before, and it was simple enough to script up the animation attached to an area trigger. I grew up playing on the beach during the summers, and it was always intriguing to study the mussels that would cake up on the rocks, and how they would shut suddenly when disturbed. The yellow on the inside of the shells, and the black shell itself gave a beautiful contrast when they would move.

Blowhole Bound playthrough

2-B Pinchin Pirates

This was the one boss arena that I made for the game. Going from the stormy weather of the previous levels, to a more calm sky for the boss battle. I tried to make an area where the crabs were using the remains of an old wrecked ship as their little hideout.

Pinchin Pirates playthrough

2-K Tumblin Temple

This level was the secret temple level for the Beach world. It was fun to create a level that was in a state of collapse and disrepair, with lava pouring in through the architecture.

Tumblin Temple playthrough

3-3 Mast Blast

I worked on this level with Reed Ketcham. He handled the beginning of the level, with the Jungle Temple, and I focused on the Beach area that transitions to the inside of the ship hull, and ultimately across several ship decks.

Mast blast playthrough

5-1 Vine Valley

I originally arted out an entire version of this level, but after iterations, most of it got tossed and redesigned. the transitionary area from the caverns to the upper tree canopy was kept, though.

Vine Valley playthrough

7-1 Foggy Fumes

This was another silhouette level that was fun to work on. It was much more mono-chromatic than the others, with much of the area being coated with a thick fog. It worked out well as a kind of reveal level for the rest of the factory world, as the fog gets dissipated once you turn the machines on at the end. The designers had the ideas in mind of using the fog to mask the character, and make some of the platforming more challenging in areas.

I was able to use some throwbacks of the past on this level, putting a distant silhouette of the original game's I-beam structure off in the background that had taken some weathering in years since the original adventure took place.

I put a little Mr. Game and Watch off in the background, hammering away at the pipes of the factory. I fell in love with the character after playing him in Smash Bros. I loved how they kept to the original choppy animation speed, and wanted to recreate that here. It was also something of a throwback to a version of the old handheld game.

Foggy Fumes playthrough

7-R Lift-Off Launch

Life-Off Launch was fun because of how unique it was. Going from inside the factory buildings, to launching up into the sky, and up into the atmosphere allowed the opportunity to create an interesting way that the level played out visually. I wanted to sneak an aurora borealis into the game somewhere, and this was the perfect level to use it in.

Lift Off Launch playthrough

8-4 Smokey Peak

This level was fun to. It looks better in motion, as the background consists of rolling smoke throughout the area. It was nice to do a Rambi level in this style, and have lots of destructibles. I put some brambles in to add to the aggressive nature of the level. they were something of a throwback to the dreaded bramble levels of earlier DKC games, too.

I learned a lot of 'low-tech' tricks from the Monster Hunter series. They have done some clever tricks of animating 1-bit alphas across mostly transparent geometry to achieve effects like embers in the wind, or snow billowing in through a doorway. I used a similar thing here with the embers blowing up from the bottom of the frame, and the rolling smoke in the background. The smoke was separated out into four layers, using wavy ribbons of geometry and scrolling textures. The closer to the camera, the faster they would be animating, pushing the illusion of depth in the scene.

Smokey Peak playthrough

8-5 bobbing Basalt

The volcano was the one world I probably had the most influence on the look of. Early on, I worked on the initial look for the world, creating the black stone basalt, lave and rock textures, starry night skymap, and working with the engineers to develop the heatwave effect that would separate the background from the main gameplay path.

Bobbing Basalt playthrough

Extras Gallery Dioramas

I made several of the dioramas that are unlockable in the Extras gallery.

Cave Diorama

Cliff Diorama

Ruins Diorama

Forest Diorama