Shadow of Mordor – Rain and Lightning FX
One of the key elements of Shadow of Mordor’s gameplay is having different atmospheres and times of day – not on a day/night cycle, though. This gave us the chance to really dig in to specific atmospheres, and the introduction of GPU particles on the newer consoles gave us a lot to play with in terms of environmental FX.
For the weather systems, I worked closely with the graphics engineers, making and tweaking content, working on scripting that drove changes in parameters like storm intensity over time, and collaborating on features like rain shadows, reflection map capture, and hail impact/bounce.
We found ourselves bound in terms of shader performance in places, but less so by texture memory so I made some FX that baked things like raindrop impacts into animated textures. The lightning FX are fairly straightforward shader-wise, but touch other systems like raindrop brightness, global HDR, and the skybox.
Shadow of Mordor – Modular Architecture
As we started filling out the large sandbox-style levels of Shadow of Mordor, we found that the gameplay called for more architecture that we could place as needed anywhere, outside of the main ‘fortresses’. The existing inventory of tents and carts and so forth wasn’t enough.
The requirements for these pieces were substantial – low performance impact, compliant with all traversal standards, good for combat, nice Romanesque style, able to enclose pockets of space without being true ‘interiors’, able to create a wide variety of configurations out of a small inventory of parts, and more. I built these as greybox prefabs to demonstrate how to approach those goals, and they worked well enough that they just got a beauty pass from the environment artists, a markup check from our player movement wizard, and shipped.
Condemned and Condemned 2
The Condemned games were our chance to dig deep into first-person horror. With the introduction of normal mapping and shaders, we could make much more realistic surfaces and lighting, so we looked to the urban exploration movement for inspiration when conceiving our environments. We wanted gritty, run-down, real-world spaces, so I worked with location scouts to get our environment team access to all sorts of places, from a decaying abandoned seminary to a rusting cargo ship full of bird skeletons. Our artists took high-res photos of all kinds of objects and surfaces that we developed into assets for the levels, our designers visited and took notes on the spaces, and our audio crew recorded various ambiances, footsteps, creaks, groans, and miscellaneous nightmare fuel.
At points we found we actually needed to have a few ‘clean’ or ‘normal’ looking places in the game for contrast, because being deeply immersed in extremely decrepit environments becomes fatiguing, even in unrelenting survival horror games.
Tron 2.0 was a delight to work on – a chance to play around in the Tron universe, a movie that was incredibly visually distinctive and memorable. It was so rewarding to play with masses and forms while designing levels, finding expressiveness in raw geometry, since so much of the look of Tron is flat-colored, outlined abstraction. The same went for texturing, patterning, and making signs and other animated displays. And it was just fun to build ideas from the computer world – data corruption, reformatting, spam, firewalls, and so on – as things you could run around in.
Abstract spaces can be very tricky, though, as we discovered that it can be very hard for someone to orient themselves in a video game when there aren’t enough depth cues inherent in the surfaces around them. As a result we put a lot of work into floors and the walls around the player’s height, breaking up the uniformity. The lightcycle grids were especially challenging, because it’s very difficult to know where you are, globally, when looking at uniform black surfaces with uniform glowing grid lines everywhere. We added a lot of pattern detail to the walls at corners to help orientation, and made the lightcycle grid floors partially transparent, with deep canyons of geometry below, to give players some parallax cues.