Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Portfolio site, some drawings and Happy Holidays

to the end of the year I finally found the time to create a new portfolio website.
You can check it out under: http://martin-niehoff.de/
Together with my new Portfolio website I also adjusted some minor things on the layout of this blog.

Beside that I also want to show you some concepts, that I have made last quarter for school.

As always, I'm open to feedback and would appreciate comments and suggestions.
That's all for now.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year

Friday, November 1, 2013

Stay on the Track (4) Final Map

in this fourth and last part of my blog series about Stay on the Track I want to show you the final results of the map.

Because I already wrote tons of text in my Previous posts I will try to reduce it this time to a minimum and let just the images speak, because no one will read the text anyway ;)

To present the final map and show at least some interaction I have made a small fly-through video.

I used a lot of models from the Hl2 Mod Fistful of Frags for my final version, because even if  I wanted, I haven't got the time to create all these models and textures from scratch for this project. So at the end I just decided to go along with css and fof assets as mentioned in the credits.

So enough text, here you have some screenshots of my final version.

Its probably not my prettiest map so far, but for the short amount of time I got to work on it, I am kind of happy with the results.

With this I want to finally finish this blog series, took a bit longer than I thought.
I hope this little post was useful in an informative or inspiring kind, or at least useful in some way ;)

If you like this small project I would appreciate some feedback.

So bye for now and till my next blog post. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Stay on the Track (3) Stages of Development

in my third post about my project Stay on the Track I want to tell you something about the different development stages I have passed with this map.

After I got a decent story for the map everything was ready to go ahead and plan the layout of the map.

I started with a top down view of the map to get an overview of the map. Such a sketch will help you later to get faster results. If you don't have a clear overview where to place everything what you want in your map, you will fast get stuck with things.

And also don't get stuck on details in the top down view, it is just to get an overview of the map. Not to show the mood or something. You just have to draw the contours of the stuff in your map like on a street map or so.

 After I had finished the top down view, I have started to search for reference pictures of the buildings and assets I wanted to have on the map. For this I can really recommend, Deviant Art, Flickr and of course the google image search. Just be creative, it gives a lot of great websites on the Internet to get some useful references.

If you have enough reference images of the stuff that you want to create, you can first make some sketches of it. That is useful if you want to combine parts of different images, or if you are still not sure how things should look like. But if you think you can build your stuff directly from the references, try so, but I personally made the experience that its worth to invest time to create sketches.

After I got all my references collected and a few sketches made, it was time to start on the map itself.

I started with a blockout of the map. A blockout is useful to get an overview about the dimensions of the map. If you don't like some parts of the map, it is easier to change the size or position of a block instead of a whole detailed building that you have already created. A blockout is also sometimes called greybox, so just basic shapes without textures or details.

After I had finished the blockout of the map I started to add some details to the buildings, but not to the environment.

Once I had the details on the buildings done, I started adding some ambient lights to the map. At this stage you should already be able to get an overview about the look and feel of the map.

In the next step I started to add the textures to the buildings and to start with the displacement work. After this stage the map looked already quite okay.

The last but also one of the most important parts was to add more details to the map. Add some props, correct the lighting, and to correct some other little cosmetic things like detail sprites. But the results of this I will show you in my next post.

I hope this little post was useful in an informative or inspiring kind or at least useful in some way ;)
In the next and last part of this series I will show you some screenshots and a video of the final map.
So stay tuned.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Workflow improvent in Hammer (2)

as I said in my other post about useful tips how to improve your work flow in Hammer I will now continue my small guide about that. In my first post I mainly talked about how you can improve your work flow with tweaking some settings in Hammer.
But another important thing for a good work flow are shortcuts beside good preferences in Hammer.
I want to give you some tips for the best Hammer settings after my experience. I ignored most of the settings in Hammer for a long time, but if you spent a bit time for optimizing and customizing Hammer for your personal style of working you can work much better and faster with it.

I will give you a few simple steps to improve your work flow but don't forgot the most important one is practise and this you just get by doing, and maybe you have made some other experiences or thoughts how to improve your work flow. When fell free to write them in the comments or send me a mail.
  1. Plan your map before you start in Hammer, that reduces you idle time at the keyboard and reduces the risk to rework things. So that you can spent all your time in the editor at maximum speed!
  2. Compiling costs time! Try to reduce your compile time and compile just these parts of the map you are currently working on (use the Cordon tool) and just compile vis and rad if you really need it. For Brushwork and layout tests a .bsp only compile is enough.
  3. Use the Cordon tools! You should not just use the Cordon tools for compiling it is also wisely to use them to select the parts of the map your are currently working on. This creates a much clearer 2D view and improves the Hammer performance.
  4. Take notes if you find bugs so that you remember them if you want to fix them later or on the next day.
  5. Use shortcuts as often as possible and don't waste time on moving your mouse around. You can watch them on Valves wiki. To better learn them I created and printed myself a Hotkey_Reference.pdf that makes it easier to look at them.
  6. Set up your displacements wisely. Plan them before that will save a lot time than optimize them later on.
  7. Paint displacements in the face normal mode. You can change the axis from the face-normal by alt+right click on a face or displacement vertex. So you will waste less time on painting the displacements.
  8. Use visgroups wisely. Turn off models or tool textures and co every time you are not working with them, because they often just block your view so that you have to waste time moving around them and so on.
  9. Create own visgroups and call them wisely this will help you to make your map more clear and help teammates who are maybe working on your map to understand your work.
  10. Optimize your map from time to time and make complex brushes to func_details and reduce the lightmap scale there ever you can. This will reduce you compile times.
  11. Create Prefabs for things you use often in your map (in newer SDK versions you should use instances). This needs less time than creating this things every time again or to copy them.
  12. Create Brushes first with a nodraw texture applied, and texture just the sides that are visibly in the map later.
  13. Activate Snap to Grid under Map in the upper toolbar.
  14. Work on a 16 grid. And 8 - 4 grid for details and only us a finer grid if it is really necessary.
  15. Don't use the carve tool.
  16. Displacements must sew. Check if everything is sewed correctly before compiling.
I hope this few tips will help you to improve your work flow. If you have made different experiences or have some other tips, I would really like to get some feedback from you ;)

So far greets from my side and bye for now :>

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stay on the Track (2) Story and Gameplay

in my second post about my project Stay on the Track I want to tell you the Story and the Gameplay idea behind the map.
After I decided to use the Western setting for the map, the question was, why is the map placed there and what is the story behind that?
My luck is, that it´s not really one of my problems to find ideas, so I found really fast a few possible ideas for the story of the map and a gameplay use for that.
First I couldn´t decide what would maybe a better solution, a fight for precious metals or oil or maybe a war with Indians? But the base theme for the application was "track". 
Okay Oil? Yeah the railroad is the main supply line to get the oil from the oil field to the refinery's. So maybe a competing company is trying to sabotage your railroad and you have to protect them? Remembers me a bit on "There will be blood".
Yeah what would be a nice story but oil was discovered real late in the wild west times and I wanted to create a real cool Western style map with steam trains and cowboys. And so I thought a bit more about the story. So if you think about the Wild West, what are you imagine? 
Cowboys, horses, freedom, bandits, Indians. Right?
So that I finally come to this story:

The map puts the player in a fictional town called "Last Sun" in the Midwestern United States around 1880.
This is close to the "frontier", the border of Indian Territory. It has only a few hundred inhabitants,
which either try their luck as a rancher, or employees of the railroad company
which route leads through the village.  
The city lies on erstwhile Indian Territory,
from were the natives were expelled by the settlers behind the "frontier".
The proximity to the Indian Territory and the associated hunting areas 
have settled some hunters, fur traders, Interpreters and trackers
and a few shady characters in and around the city.
The railroad is used by the inhabitants to transport the goods, so that the railroad soon become the stream of life for the city, and also brings more money and people in the city
In order to increase their wealth, the settlers ordered to continue the construction of the route
over the border into Indian territory,
whereupon the Indians respond with attacks on the trains.
This breaks out a bitter battle over the railway line.

To formulate this text was much harder than the idea itself :D
And whats with the gameplay? Yeah the basic gameplay idea you should have already identified in the story about the map. Your goal as the player is it to defend the trains at all costs to prevent the goods of the ranchers and settlers. Source is mainly a Engine for shooter and small maps, with wide open areas source got its troubles, so how I could realize this gamemode. To defend trains you need open wide areas. To realise this and to finish my project soon enough for the application I decided to create just the city Last Sun from which trains start over the frontier. This was feasible and would also give me some more opportunities for the gameplay at all.

The basic idea of the level is to place the player in a part of an open world rpg in which the level the centre for the missions is. But the main goal for the player is to protect a train until the reaches his goal, Stay on the Track. 
For this are a few special places in the city there the player can get special things and so on.
The train station for example is the starting point for a lot of missions. Further the church is because of its height a good landmark from which the player can find from every place of the level back to the city.
In the manor house in the back part of the city there the probably richest rancher of the region lives who has triggered the conflict between the settlers and Indians in Last Sun.
In the sheriffs office the player has the opportunity to take up missions in the name of law and order, or leave the prisoners in the jail.
In the bank the player can save his hard earned money. And in the shop he has the opportunity to get all the new stuff he need to survive in the outback from supplies to weapons up to ammunition.
The Saloon is like the train station the starting point for many missions. There is also the right place to talk to other settles to get the newest information's, to consume the drinks inventories of the owner or to instigate a real bar fight.

Why I made myself all the work to write down such a background story? That is easy, if you want to win someone for your project (and that was more or less my goal with this application) you have to show him in an easy and understandable way what you try to achieve with your work, and why it is also interesting for him. If you have a background story it is much easier to explain your map to others. And also it is much easier for yourself if you write something down on what you can be focused later.

I hope its readable, because I think in German this was a bit better to read :D

So that's enough text for now, in the next part I will show you the different stages of the development, that means less text, and more pictures :)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

I am still alive ;)

sorry that so much time has passed since my last post here, but I was busy with other things in the last months. But that didn't mean that I have made nothing in this time. My Game Design study has started and I have already made a few cool things in this time. 
I hope that no one will blame me for that. And I will try to continue the blog series I have already started in the next time and maybe show you some other cool new things I am working on :>

For the beginning I want to show you a small matte painting I have made for my study. Nothing that is outstanding good, but I lacked a bit of time to create more details in it. And it is my first matte painting and for that I think it is quite okay.

But for everyone who is interested in how to create something like this, I can put this book to the very heart. 

 The Digital Matte Painting Handbook

It is really well explained and gives a lot of helpful tips to create some amazing stuff. And the things that are explained in this book are not only helpful for matte paintings. I already used some of the techniques from the book to detail a skybox texture for a Source Engine Map I am working on.

So far greets from my side and bye for now :>