Drafting: How the hell do I do that?

So, today, I thought it’d be fun to draw up blueprints for one of my upcoming projects, the basic Maliwan SMG from Borderlands 2. I also thought it’d be fun to show people how I go about drawing things like this. The drawings were made in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

So this post is pretty short and principally focuses on the drawing itself. Further updates on construction of the gun will come in the future, so stay tuned for that.

Get your own copy of the blueprint HERE!

The Effects of Atmosphere and Uncertainty on Game Immersion

Game Immersion

Opinions on the components of a truly immersive game


Plodding along through the soft, marshy mud, you shield your eyes from the bright morning sun, waiting for the clouds to cast a shadow before returning your hand to your AKM rifle. The sounds of a gentle breeze and the rustling grass calms you, even while you warily watch for tall grass patches which may hide any manner of horrors. It’s a beautiful morning to be scavenging.

Beautiful morning for a walk.

One of the staples of a video game forum, message board, or comment thread is the age old argument “What makes a good game?” Typically, you find three arguments: graphics, gameplay, and story. People with different relations with video games backup different arguments, each arguing in favor of one design element or another that makes their particular game good.

Amid the arguments of which is most important, there’s always the fourth argument that takes a middle-of-the-road approach: all three aspects are important to making a good game. Once this argument is introduced, most people generally shift over and acknowledge that even though a game may have on strength or another, it’s the unity of all three that makes a good, solid game.

Over the past 15 years of playing games, I’ve found that it’s generally the fourth opinion that is the most accurate. It’s very rare to find a game that excels in two of the three aspects, yet can still be considered ‘good’.

But while a game may excel at certain aspects, there’s one last aspect of game design that is usually missed: the use of atmosphere and uncertainty to create immersive worlds and memorable moments. It’s the use of atmosphere and uncertainty that, in my eyes, makes a truly amazing game.

The passages contained in this essay are derived from personal experiences from my time playing STALKER: Call of Pripyat, and I will be referring back to STALKER as an example from time to time.

In an instant, the tranquility is broken. A deep sound erupts from deeper within the Zone, shortly followed by your radio going haywire.

“Attention, Stalkers! An emission is approaching! Find cover immediately!”

Your heart rate spikes as you yank out your PDA, frantically searching for a bunker, tunnel, or building to hide in. You manage to identify an old power transformer a couple hundred meters away, and after putting your PDA back in its place, you begin jogging towards safety.

ATMOSPHERE


The first component I’m going to discuss is the atmosphere of a game. Gamers typically argue over one of the lesser aspects of game atmosphere by arguing about what game looks better graphically. While graphics are important in a game, it’s important to say that it’s only a part of the whole atmosphere picture.

Now, when I say atmosphere, I’m referring to a game’s soundscape, graphical detail, art style, environmental effects, and voice acting. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it generally describes the audio/visual component of a video game. However, atmosphere does not include a game’s soundtrack, popups, or anything else that sits between the player and the world.

A lot of games have pulled off excellent atmospheres. A couple of big ones are the STALKER games, Metro 2033, Battlefield 3, the Assassin’s Creed games, Fallout 3 and New Vegas, Half-Life, Crysis, and Amnesia: Descent into Darkness.

Each of these games make excellent use of visual style, audioscapes, graphical detail, and atmospheric detail, and each has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. But as a whole, the games create a solid world for the player to interact with.

Using STALKER: Call of Pripyat as my example, GSC Game World managed to create in my opinion, one of the most comprehensive atmospheres in the past 10 years. The graphics are realistic enough to allow for the suspension of disbelief, the soundscape is nothing short of amazingly comprehensive, and the atmospheric effects are beautiful.

However, STALKER also suffered from an unusual problem that is rare in games: the cutscenes sucked. The gameplay and immersive effects of STALKER were completely lost the second a cutscene began. These occasions created breaks in the game’s overall experience. Had GSC made use of Half-Life style expose’, the feelings created by STALKER would’ve been stronger.

While you jog, the sky begins to turn red and your vision begins to blur. Knowing you have maybe a minute left, you sprint the rest of the way, feeling the weight of 60kg of equipment sapping your strength. As your vision begins to pulse in and out of focus, you reach the transformer’s bunker entrance, haul open the door with a screech of metal on metal, and proceed to tumble down the stairs into the gloom.

UNCERTAINTY


Uncertainty is the other key point that, in my eyes, helps create a truly immersive and memorable experience. Uncertainty creates a unique relationship with the player and the game, where the player takes the time to really examine their surroundings. It is the extensive observation of the environment that helps the player feel a strong connection to the game, making them feel more like part of a world than controlling a character.

Uncertainty can be created in many different ways, some better and more natural than others. The most common way to create an uncertain environment is through the use of fear, an element that has become a staple of modern game development and writing. Amnesia: Descent into Darkness, Bioshock, and Dead Space all make excellent use of fear and suspense to make the player feel uncertain, even in areas where the player may have already been.

Unfortunately, Bioshock and Dead Space were both partially flawed in the way they created this feeling, and it’s a problem that I’ve noticed in video games as far back as the early Quake series: Any game that puts you in a first person perspective and gives you a gun removes an element of the uncertainty. The gun in the player’s hand is a simple solution, it’s a way of essentially giving the player a form of solace in the form of firepower.

The easier it is for a player to solve a problem, the less uncertain they are. Running around in the darkness in Bioshock, I knew that if anything popped out at me, I had a simple solution in the form of a trigger pull. Monsters and bad guys ceased to be scary, because I had a solution to the problem. Same went for Dead Space. It didn’t matter that these creatures were big and scary, a simple movement of my index finger would solve the problem. If the monster killed me, the solution was simple: use more trigger.


Keep shooting until the scary goes away.

Amnesia was different in this regard compared to Bioshock and Dead Space; it didn’t provide the player with a simple solution to a problem. There were multiple solutions given a specific situation. The water monster, for example, could be distracted through the use of sound; throwing a book into the water would give you a few seconds to leap to another safe point. Or, you could just jump from crate to crate. Grunts could either be hidden from or you could simply run away. Simply put, Amnesia had no easy solution for the player to use to solve a problem.

Furthermore, Amnesia did a good job at making sure you never felt safe, even if you were in an area that had been previously cleared. Thus, you always had a feeling of apprehension when you opened a door. Through the use of a lack of simple solutions and a constant sense of uncertainty, Amnesia managed to create an incredibly immersive environment for the player to explore, albeit cautiously.


SHIT! I WAS JUST HERE!

STALKER managed to pull off the concept of uncertainty perfectly. Like Amnesia, you never knew if an area you cleared was secure a day later. Through the use of emissions in the zone, a previously cleared bunker would be full of monsters the next time you needed to hide or complete an objective. Unlike Amnesia, STALKER gave the player a gun. But unlike Bioshock and Dead Space, the weapons in STALKER weren’t consistent. Your rifle was inaccurate as hell, weapon condition dropped dramatically, jams were frequent, and you never knew if a particular ammunition type would be effective.

Emissions in STALKER added an additional layer of uncertainty. Despite the fact that the player was aware that an emission occurred daily, the variance in the time of when an emission would occur made it impossible for an individual to accurately predict where and when they would be when one would hit. If you were trapped in the middle of a swamp, you would have a long way to run to reach safety. On top of that, once you would reach safety, you never knew if some new horror had taken up residence in the bunker or tunnel you found. It was entirely possible that a particular building was worse for your health than the emission.

What STALKER managed to do was take elements from other games like Quake and Doom, and take away the comfort that these elements usually provided, mainly in the form of scaling back their reliability. For me, every time I woke up in the morning (in game) and headed out of the STALKER’s safe zone, I triple checked my equipment, stocked up on medication, radiation blockers, ammunition, and grenades. If I was lacking on anything, I wouldn’t go out further than it took to recover the equipment I needed. There were areas of the Zone that I knew were clear and safe to travel through that I still felt apprehensive in.

You fumble for your flashlight and hit the switch, illuminating the gloom of the bunker. Above you, harsh red light filters through the porthole on the door, followed by a flash of blinding white light, then darkness again. You clutch your AKM as you slowly climb to your feet, nervously checking the corners of the room.

ATMOSPHERE & UNCERTAINTY


It’s these two elements together, atmosphere and uncertainty, that create truly memorable game experiences. The use of uncertainty in a detailed atmosphere encourages players to really look at their surroundings, making them feel like they were a part of the world they were playing in. The more detailed an atmosphere the game provided, the easier it was for uncertainty to take hold.

The more detailed an environment, the more the player notices, and the more difficult it is for an individual to become completely comfortable in an environment, even if it’s one they’ve been in before. This helps ensure that the player keeps their eyes and ears open, normally for the purpose of not being taken by surprise, but with the added benefit of truly understanding the world they’re in.

This is why uncertainty and atmosphere, together, creates truly memorable experiences. Limiting a player in terms of how much there is to perceive inhibits the development of memories specific to things that occur within a game. It causes the mind to blend all of the experiences in a game together in a single memory: every corridor begins to look the same, details of certain rooms are lost, and occasionally, parts of the story just aren’t picked up.

I’ve felt this sort of lack of immersion in games like Halo, Call of Duty, Gears of War, and Battlefield. I’ve used some of the games above as examples on things that games have done right, but despite that, I’ve felt that a lot of their experience is generalized in memory.

The repetitive nature of Halo’s environments causes players to lump multiple games worth of memories together, making it difficult to recall just what happens where. This is particularly true in sections of the game taking place on Forerunner installations, like the Halos. The architecture, while detailed, isn’t unique to the area, and thus uninteresting and even worse, un-immersive.

Gears of War and other cover based shooters like Mass Effect are affected in a similar way, but not environmentally specific. By forcing the player to make extensive use of cover, levels lose detail in the minds eye, as the brain begins focusing only on where cover is. This causes a sort of funneling effect that helps limit perception during gameplay, forcing the developers to make extensive use of cutscenes and in-game encyclopedias.

The problem is exacerbated when you have overlap between games, such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Medal of Honor; eventually, you can look at a screenshot from each game and find it difficult to determine which game is which without specific details.

Can you tell the difference?

CONCLUSION


For these reasons, it is vital for the developer to make use of detailed environments, soundscapes, dialogue, and animations, as well as utilize elements of gameplay mechanics that are designed to promote a sense of perpetual uncertainty. Together, these components help encourage the players mind to create unique, game-specific memories that are easy to recall.

While I’ve mentioned a great deal of games in this essay that are examples of what not to do, I must stress that these games aren’t bad, and in fact make use of many of the elements I put forth in this document to create good experiences. However, despite using certain elements, even doing so spectacularly, the lack of other elements described in this article keep these games stuck at a good game, preventing them from being great games.

All in all, I’m happy with the state of games today. With such a wide variety of different games available, it is becoming easier for gamers to find games that create strong memories. There are many games outside of this article that successfully make use of extensive atmospheres and uncertainty.

I encourage all developers to keep doing what they’re doing, and consider my words. Even though I am no expert on game development and design, I feel strongly that some of the most impressive games I’ve ever played were the ones that left me feeling constantly uncertain and had a rich world for me to explore.

Without warning, a chair slams into your side, knocking you against the wall. A deep, guttural growl comes from beyond your flashlight’s range, hinting at the monsters hidden beyond. You raise your rifle and aim towards the source of the growl and pull the trigger.

*Click*
Shit. Weapon jam.

AER-9 Laser Rifle

This is an old project that’s finally getting it’s own page. A shame, because I feel like this was one of my best projects, too.

The AER-9 Laser Rifle from Fallout 3/New Vegas.

AER-9 - Profile

Inspired by the work Volpin had done on his Laser Rifle, I set to work on my own laser rifle back in 2010.

I started with making a rough-cut, Laser Rifle-shaped box out of 1/2″ MDF.

Slapped together AER-9

Top Down AER-9

More AER-9

Top of the AER-9

Obviously, this won’t work. So I had to next round the edges of the Laser Rifle, as well as add the front grip. The front section of the main barrel was also tapered inwards for vents.

All cleaned up!

Barrel close up

Butt-stock close up

And a nice first person shot.

First Person

Next came the primer and wet-sanding…

Primed

As well as a slot for the MFC catch.

Slot Detail

Raised sections were added for the flaring at the front/back. These were made of Sintra sheets.

Stuff

The rim of the buttstock is nailed-on styrene strips, giving the weapon a stamped metal feel.

Butt Stock Edging

While there were a few extra steps here, I’ve got no photos. The under-slung tube was lathed from a piece of wood, and the drop down at the front of the barrel was added.

Overshot

Fins were added to the back of the barrel in the control panel…

Control Panel (?)

And at the front of the muzzle.

Front Barrel

Raised sections were also added to the grip for depth.

Butt Stock again

After a second coat of grime, I attached a Micro Fusion Cell (lathed from a block of MDF) and the yellow laser sight cable to the top.

AER-9 - Profile

The new grime coat really helped make this weapon look complete.

AER-9 - Backside

If you look closely at the fins at the muzzle, it looks like they were welded on. This effect was achieved using hot melt glue.

AER-9 - Business End

AER-9 - Top

So there’s my AER-9 Laser Rifle. Took about two months total to complete.

AER-9 - Profile

More photos are available on my Flickr.

The Buffalo Longbow – A Modified Righteous Bison

So, even though its about 6 months after the fact, I’m finally going to write a post about my modified Dr. Grordbort’s Righteous Bison: The Buffalo Longbow.

A little background, first. In spring of 2011, the Replica Prop Forum paired up with the Weta Workshop and Weta NZ to hold a competition for the RPF’s members. The competition involved Weta making a limited run of unfinished Righteous Bisons, providing them to members of the RPF at half-price, and asking each member to modify the Righteous Bison as their individual imagination dictated.

We were given a few months, and in August of 2011, we were asked to submit photos of our final creations to be judged by a panel of Weta employees. I didn’t win, unfortunately, but I did manage to get my own self-designed steampunk raygun!

Now, for the process itself!

Righteous Bison Blueprint

The Righteous Bison is probably one of the best known Dr. Grordbort rayguns, even being featured in the Grordbort Industries crest. What better candidate to modify?

I started with the creation of the above rough blueprint so that I could create my own unique variations of the Bison.

Condensed Designs

These were a couple of my better designs. Part of the requirements for the contest was that the raygun had to maintain a bovine-themed name. I had three paths of thought for this product.

The topmost design was meant to be a repeating rifle type of weapon, similar to a wild west era Winchester shotgun. I was hoping to pursue a more western variant of a traditionally British/Victorian styling, a design style I’ve rarely seen.

The next two designs were going to go by the name of the Chinashop Bull. I thought it a clever use of the phrase “Like a bull in a Chinashop”. The aesthetic of these weapons were meant to invoke a classical Chinese style through the use of dragons, thin paper screens, and Chinese lanterns. While I didn’t go with this design, I think that the style was very clever, and with a proper use of lighting could’ve looked very good.

The final two designs were meant to be a more utilitarian, soldier-esque design. The lore of the contest was that Lord Cockswain was trapped on Venus and required rearmament. With that in mind, these designs were also called the Chinashop Bull, but mainly because the weapon was meant to serve as more of a grenade launcher then a direct energy weapon. Making use of a metal stock, the gun was meant to have a lever on the front which, when pulled down, would eject a rather large vacuum tube. This was in part inspired by the modern day M203/M320 grenade launchers, in the sense that they were a single shot support weapon.

At around this time, my girlfriend made the Naptown Roller Derby team here in Indianapolis, taking the name Killamity Jane. I myself took the name Buffalo Kill, and I wound up selecting the Longbow Buffalo as my design of choice due to her western themed name.

Longbow Design V1

The primary variation between the standard Righteous Bison and the Longbow Buffalo was the wood furniture, which I tried to split in style between the designs of classic lever action rifles and the Dr. Grordbort style. Cut out of layered pieces of wood, the furniture was the first part that was roughly completed.

Wooden parts

With the way the Bison was designed, I couldn’t attach the furniture without taking the gun apart. After messing around with it for a few hours and giving myself a wicked scar on my thumb from the improper use of a razor blade, I was finally able to remove the obstructing pieces.

IMG_0272

IMG_0270

IMG_0266

While I was happy with the furniture, I still felt that the Buffalow Longbow was missing something vital: a raygun theme. Part of my original design was to put a vacuum tube on the right hand side of the gun (which is missing from the final version), but even that wasn’t enough. Finally, I decided on utilizing a 1883 syrup bottle from the coffee shop I work at, and using it as an ‘aether vessel’. The bottle was to be frosted, then filled with a bank of purple LED’s to give it a nice glowing look. Unfortunately, due to a time crunch, I was unable to make said bank of LED’s, and instead I opted for using a product called Glowire, which was an electroluminescent wire that glowed with a continuous look.

IMG_0274

Also, because the weapon was meant to be a sharpshooter’s weapon and a western themed gun, I needed a carry strap.

Mockup

After assembling everything, the final product was fun to carry, easy on your arms with the strap, and an attractive piece that garnered a lot of attention at Gencon this past August.

Carried

Clock Dial

Final Side

Looking back on the project, there are a few things I’ve got planned to improve the design. Mainly the following:

  • Add a scope to the top fin
  • Add a forward sight
  • Replace the glowire with an actual purple LED bank
  • Add copper piping to the bottle to give the gun a unified look
  • Add copper piping and detail to the front grip to make it appear like an actual weapon
  • Add a copper plate to the butt stock

All in all, I had fun building the weapon, as it was the first time I was able to use my own creative license on a weapon.

And because I love the designs everyone else had, here are the winners and a listing of all the entries.

And lastly, holy crap! 5000 views!

Blueprints! News! Yay!

So, with school coming to a close (friggin’ finally…), I’ve found the time to start preparing for my collection of summer projects. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve got going on!

Dr. Grordbort’s Righteous Bison Contest:

Weta NZ and the RPF have come up with a unique project for people to compete in: modify a Dr. Grordbort’s Righteous Bison, making it your own! Exciting project to take part in! I’ve done some preliminary designs, and I think I’ve nailed down my direction.

Condensed Designs

Longbow Design V1

AR-2 Pulse Rifle (Overwatch Standard Issue Pulse Rifle):

My second summer project will be the AR-2 from Half-Life 2 that I meant to do last year. But this year will be different! I’ve got a blueprint now!

OSIPR Blueprint

Peacemaker Carbine

And my final project for the summer will be the Peacemaker Carbine from Bulletstorm. I keep going back on forth as to how much lighting I want in it, but it should be cool nonetheless.

Peacemaker Blueprint

So, if for some reason you follow my work, keep an eye out this summer for news as I finish things!

I’m Still Not Dead

Similar name to the last post, I know.

Anyone who has actually followed me, don’t worry, for I am still very much at work on my hobby and craft. I’ve just been under alot of pressure with my senior year and all.

It being my senior year, I needed to take some photos of my works for college portfolios. Here are a few!

Strider Diorama

AER-9 - Profile

DSCI0037

Ezio Auditore Vitruvian Man

Alyx's Gun - Left

EOD - Right

Mk-VI - Red (V5) Left

I’ll update as soon as I’ve got the time to put some meaningful work into my projects. Thanks for looking!