We’re heading over to The Hourglass Twins today, but first some news.
USC Games Expo
Earlier this week we showed Outer Wilds at the USC Games Expo. Outer Wilds was first made as Alex Beachum’s thesis project at USC before it was picked up by Mobius.
At the expo, many people who remembered the game from it’s USC days were shocked at how far it has come since then. And those who hadn’t seen it yet were impressed by the visuals. It was great being able to showcase Outer Wilds and we loved watching everyone explore the solar system.
The Hourglass Twins
The Twins are locked in a dynamic exchange of sand. As time passes, Ember Twin’s elaborate cave systems are filled and Ash Twin’s majestic towers are revealed. Home to a variety of unique environments, these planets gave the art team a host of new of challenges to tackle.
Making Ember Twin
For the caves and surface of Ember Twin, the main constraint was the specific nature of their layout and over-all forms, as well as the sheer number of unique terrain assets. The design team spent a lot of time creating complex tunnels and caverns that explore different interactions with the rising sand level. Because so much of the design has incredibly specific requirements and time was limited, the art team had to match it with even more precision than the terrain of other planets. To accomplish this feat, the art team explored three different solutions.
First, the team attempted to use the same tried-and-true method that had been developed for Timber Hearth: a custom rock kit that could quickly block out the different types of environments on the planet. Unfortunately, this method created too much visual noise and didn’t allow the art team to create a close enough match of the claustrophobic caves and tunnels that wind through the Ember Twin.
The team’s second strategy was to create a kit of modular tunnel assets that could be assembled with more precision than the rock kit. This method would have worked if not for the sheer number of unique environments that wrap around on a tiny sphere, which made the kit prohibitively difficult to make.
The final solution was to create a pipeline where the art team could take the greybox meshes straight from the design team and apply a process to turn them into final art that matched the greybox perfectly. The team created a set of 3d sculpted textures with the patterning for floors and walls, and then projected that detail onto the greybox to create the final meshes. Finally, this created the feeling of worn desert caves. The icing on the cake was a shader that projects a large-scale gradient across the planet to create varying colors of rock strata as you explore the depths.
Making Ash Twin
Ash Twin, thankfully, was designed in such a way that the modular rock kit approach from Timber Hearth worked well to build out the terrain; the artists were able to create a new batch of cracked desert rocks of varying shapes and sizes and quickly recreate the surface in final art form. The bulk of the buried planet is not rock, however, but Nomai ruins. In our next update, we’ll go in-depth to talk about the architectural style of the mysterious ancient species that once populated the solar system.