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Darkness Revealed Update 17 - Designing Aspects of an Environment's Mood (Part 1)

Hello, everyone! How's it going?

In the last two updates, we showed the creation process behind Last Dive's very first level, the bright and warm coral reefs. Today we will show how we created a completely different environment, Act 1's final level, the caverns. Unlike the corals, which didn't work out on the first try, the caverns art creation was a lot more about nailing an area's mood and fine tuning some aspects. Let's get started!

Creating the Caverns

The caverns development started out like any other environment: with a concept thumbnail that tries to capture that level's mood. The caverns are a big part of Act 1. Despite not being too deep into the ocean, it's still pretty gloomy and scary. It's also where Dave will have his first boss encounter. As you can see below, with the thumbnail done and capturing the exact mood we intended for this place, we created a first render for the caverns. 

This first render was already pretty spot on. The environment is dark and vast, and our intention is to keep the player constantly under pressure of an imminent attack. To help with that feeling, we wanted this place to have very few light sources. Opposite to the corals or our base ocean, this area has no surface light because of the caves' ceiling, so that pretty much cuts out most of the lighting source for this environment. We decided this area would only have two sources of light: bright coral-like plants, which emit colorful omni lights; and big cracks on the background wall, which lets some of the surface light in. These two movable sources give us a lot of level design possibilites because we can control exactly what we want the player to see.

Even though it looked good, however, we thought it had a bit of a fantasy or mystic feeling to it. The weird bright flowers, the purple walls and columns, the glittering floor tile and the unknown light source lighting the back wall all contributed to this feeling. Last Dive does have a mystical and enigmatic mood to it, but we didn't want it to be this early into the game. This first act is a lot more about being lost at the bottom of the ocean and the survival aspect of the game, so we wanted the environment to feel more realistic and believable.

From Mystic to Realistic

Based on this initial feedback, we worked on a toned down version of the caves, trying to make it match the initial thumbnail as closely as possible. The stones got more 'stone-like' colors, the light distribution got a little more realistic, and the background was adjusted to increase the sense of depth. In the first render, the further back wall had a bright color, and this made it look closer than it actually was. The overall depth of the first render was shallow, background layers didn't seem to be that far from the player. We wanted to fix this in the second render, so we worked on making the second back wall less noticeable, by making it darker and more blurry than the first.

That's it for today! In the next update we'll show the rest of the caverns' development process and it's result in game!

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