For small teams, producing high quality assets is a difficult and time-intensive task. Often this leads to a compromise of quality, or simple stylized graphics. Here at Space Bullet, our approach is a little different. We have always been a very workflow/pipeline focused studio, so our take on this quality vs. manpower problem is to make better tools. Today I would like to highlight our 3D asset development approach in making the visuals for Vox Machinae, which is being made with just one savvy artist and one masterful tech-wiz.
Our modelling pipeline emphasizes good clean geometry with tagged cluster properties that are then used to automate tasks when the asset is ready for export (using SP2Exporter) .The same geometry is used for both high-poly meshes and cage meshes, they're just smoothed (using the Our auto-crease tool as a base) and have some extra properties tagged for post-processing. The UV process for example, involves tagging a set of edges on any mesh that is then automatically unwrapped and merged with other assets at the export phase. This allows me to keep each mesh live and independent for editing, while offloading the tedious/repetitive stuff on the tools.
Since the actual texture creation is done in another application, the job of the texture tools inside the 3D package is to prepare all the masks it requires and creating maps for it. These masks are used for applying different materials, trims, colour variation, paneling, and specialty masks to the appropriate parts of assets. This is all done using the Masks and Local Mask Tools, which lets me tag/edit/query any set of polygons so the exporter knows what to do with them later. During this phase I also use the UV scaling tool to tag areas that should receive more or less UV coverage to make the best use of texture space. Working in this way allows me to iterate and edit assets without worrying about any lost time in other applications manually redoing masking or compositing for textures.
The SP2Exporter is the hub for managing the automated export process, along with taking care of map renders and bakes. The tool can be set to process the assets both locally and remotely via dedicated PCs I affectionately named renderbots. Remote batching is ideal for baking lighting maps which are very processor-intensive (lighting is something I'll get into in a later post). It also lets me offload the export process and keep the work machine nice and productive on other tasks.
Devoting time to the creation of these tools is often its own challenging process, but we are already seeing that the effort is worth it in the long-term of development. With these workflow-enhancing tools, Space Bullet is in a great position to make Vox Machinae a compelling product that redefines the quality that indies can achieve.
Stay tuned next week for a look at our texture-making worflow!
(here's a hint, it does not involve Photoshop!)