Harry Corr and Connor Stanley from Trapped Nerve Games gave a nice talk on some of the production challenges behind a first-person puzzle adventure game.
We are Harry Corr (Art Director & Level Designer), a Berlin based artist, that’s held numerous video game jobs over the past seven years and Connor Stanley (Environment Artist), a UK based artist and graduate of the Futureworks school of media. We are currently both working for Trapped Nerve Games on the first-person puzzle adventure game, Q.U.B.E 2.
We decided early on in the game’s development to maintain the minimalist aesthetic and cube structure of the original game. We experimented with different environment styles and spaces but quickly found that we were losing a lot of the personality present in the first game. Not wanting to alienate our fans for the sake of a new style, we focused on taking the original environments and pushing them as far as we could.
One of the largest influences on how we elevated the visual was undeniably Unreal 4. Game development is always easier when you play to your engine’s strengths and Unreal’s material, lighting and post-process tools were clearly beyond what was possible in Unreal 3. We put a far greater emphasis on lighting and materials which dramatically increased the visual impact of the environments.
Is every cube separate?
The environments are constructed in quite a straightforward way. We have a modular kit of cubes in varying sizes (1×1, 2×2, 3×3 etc…) that we place in-engine. For eachsize we have several variations of the mesh with the cubes extruded at slightly different heights which is what creates the scattering effect. The cubes in each mesh have all possible verts welded and faces deleted to make them as efficient as possible.
Unfortunately it was beyond the scope of what the team could achieve for this project. We do however have other elements in the environment that animate (particles, foliage, clouds, moving walls etc..) that help give life to the environments.
We’re not doing anything particularly bespoke with our materials and techniques. To avoid obvious texture repetition we use world-space mapping across all of environment textures and a combination of SD and PS to generate our textures.
The biggest difficulty was definitely balancing the amount of visual noise in the environment. The entire environment is made up of small cubes that create a lot of horizontal and vertical lines. Each cube has a rough, weathered material that reflects the world around it. It all generates a considerable amount of visual noise that can be very distracting. We believe,for this game, that the art should be secondary to the puzzles, the player should be able to easily identify every puzzle element in the room from the moment they walk in. Balancing the materials to allow for this without completely removing the reflections and texture was easily the hardest part of building them.
Reflection on cubes
We’re using the default Unreal screen space reflection. They look fantastic but as mentioned above, the difficulty was in balancing the amount of visual noise. The reflection may look great but they’re secondary to the actual puzzles.
With such a minimal aesthetic each element in the world has a far greater visual impact. The cubes that comprise the majority of the game’s environments have an extremely rigid shape and we wanted to introduce more organic elements that would contrast that. We decided to drape cables over the environment and add areas of foliage to create these super interesting areas of contrasts.
How does level design influence art?
We actually took charge of the level design. Our puzzle designer would create each puzzle in a square room and once he was done we were free to rebuild the environment that housed each puzzle.
Considering the minimal nature of our aesthetic, the level design is the artwork so to speak, so it made a lot of sense for us to oversee it. With almost total freedom with each room we were still careful to prioritise good level design. The prettiest room in the world would just frustrate player if they couldn’t find the exit. Considering this we feel like we’ve struck a great balance of architecturally interesting levels complete with dramatic lighting that play super well.