Our designer Loan Verneau discusses the design-art relationship on Outer Wilds!
With a game like Outer Wilds, it has been critical for us, the designers, to work closely with the art team when it comes to the creation of the levels. First, because a large part of the game is told through environmental storytelling. Secondly, with a game about player-driven exploration, visually guiding the player towards points of interest is vital.
One of our biggest challenges is to ensure players never end up lost in an environment for a few minutes before finding what they are looking for. As there are no markers on the screen or minimap as to where things are, the content needs to be immediately identifiable when arriving in a new area. The last thing we want is to make the players feel like they need to check every corner in case we hid something there.
The start of that collaboration comes with us using the concept art our art team created as a visual reference for our graybox. When I start designing a place, I like to reproduce a crude version of the concept art look. It keeps me within the visual constraints of the game and often inspires new level design ideas.
Our awesome & talented Art Director, Wesley Martin, discusses what he does on Outer Wilds and how he got his job. This is #2 in the Meet the Team series: hope y'all enjoy!
So you're the Art Director on Outer Wilds: What does that mean you do on a day-to-day basis?
On a day to day basis, being the Art Director on Outer Wilds involves jumping back and forth between a bunch of different processes. For the first few months I focused on setting a visual style through research, concept art, and the creation of all of our initial 3D assets and pipeline. Once the direction was established to the satisfaction of the team, my role shifted towards art asset production and technical art. On the technical side, most of my work is in tandem with Logan, our technical art programmer. He and I work together on shaders and materials, particle effects, and techniques for making the game visually spectacular that often involve a lot of trial and error as well as unusual visual magic. On the art side, I spend most of my time making copious amounts of planetary terrain, as well as putting together the final scenes in unity - doing prop placement, setting up lighting, and getting rid of any art-related bugs we encounter. I have been training our concept artist Alice in 3D modeling, and she is already cranking out props to help fill out our worlds with visual detail. We also just hired Lara, who is a generalist like myself, so that she can help fill out the game with terrain, props, and characters. For those who aren't familiar with the game development process, my job is somewhere in between a painter, a sculptor, a landscape architect, an interior decorator, and an animator.
How long have you been working on Outer Wilds?
I started work on Outer Wilds in pre-production this past July, and my initial role was to make the vertical slice that we used to design our art direction and pitch the game on Fig. Though I have only been working on the game for six months, as soon as I played the alpha demo I felt like I had been preparing to work on this game my whole life. I have always been obsessed with space exploration and I grew up on the grounds of a summer camp, so this job fit me like a glove!
What’s the most fun part of being a Art Director?
My favorite part of being an art director is being able to fill any role as needed to make sure the art gets done to specification. I get to be the first one to jump in and try to solve a problem, and I am usually the last one sticking around to get that last bit of visual polish into the build. I love jumping back and forth between different roles and doing whatever is necessary to make the game look great! I also love working with the whole team - design, programming, production, and art, to make sure that everyone is on the same page and contributing everything we need to get the game done.
Our brilliant tech artist, Logan, discusses the evolution of our ice shader!
Dark Bramble is one of our crazier planets. As a planet it’s $#$%#$%&$ #$%#$ #$%#$%$%#$%#$ (EDIT: Logan, you can't reveal that!), with lots of ice and fog. Alex Beachum, our lead designer, started greyboxing out the new Dark Bramble a few weeks ago, and found himself in need of a new ice shader. This, of course, is where I come in.
I’ve found that shaders are one of those things where you have to write the damn thing twice. First, you spend some time thinking about it, and what you need to have it do. For the ice, it was important that we see objects embedded in it, but in a hazy hard-to-make-out way. After coming off of writing the river shader, this seemed straightforward to me; it would be a nearly identical shader, without moving distortion, and with more appropriate fogging as objects got deeper into it. So I sat down and spent a night banging it out. Here’s the result of the first time I wrote it:
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