I'll be at GDC2018 next week! Get in touch if you'd like to meet up!
This is a repost of an old writeup I made in my Polycount project thread in November 2017. That thread can be found here: http://polycount.com/discussion/193151/overwatch-hq-long-term-environment-working-thread-ue4/
Now streaming work on Overwatch HQ 2 nights a week @ twitch.tv/mutatedjellyfish!
So I decided to go all-in on a long-term project set in the Overwatch universe. A lot of good artist friends recommend that 3D artists go out and look for an existing piece of concept art from a solid artist and build from that; that way you're starting from a well-designed foundation. On the other hand, the artist in me wanted to have a bit more creative input and besides, where was I going to find solid concept art for Overwatch that wasn't already in the game? I started putting together a tearsheet of a few options like mountain-top observatories or middle-American missile silos. Then a friend got a really awesome brainwave: The comics! The Uprising comic had just come out which shows the halls of the Overwatch headquarters in Switzerland for the first time. Pages of perfect, unused, official concept art!
Here's the tearsheet I made of my "concept art"
At this point I started thinking a lot about Overwatch levels: how they're constructed, what elements and areas make up OW levels, and how they are designed for gameplay. I wanted to make an environment that was big and fully-realized enough to be worth working on for 6+ months. A couple hallways wouldn't cut it, I thought. There's a panel where Cdr Morrison and Cpt Amari are walking down a hall and an exterior is shown with a large Morrison statue. Overwatch maps tend to be made up of:
• A POI or point of interest in a large, open area. These are main story "beats" of the map. Capture points or payload checkpoints.
• Main routes run from POI to POI. These are medium-quarters areas for fighting.
• Side routes criss cross through the main routes. These are close-quarters areas.
• Peppered throughout the routes are smaller vignette areas. These are filled with interesting props and often contain backstory hooks to other characters or more obscure lore. They also tend to have health packs in them.
I'm technically not making an actual playable, balanced OW map, but I wanted it to at least feel like one, so I thought I would at least include some of these elements, even if they didn't make for great gameplay in the end. At least the space would feel authentically OW. I also wanted to add a lot of my own elements not shown in the comic. The environments in the comic are frankly pretty sparse compared to in-game OW levels which are much richer in population and variation. It was all about my interpretation.
I went for a few walks and talked my way through the design. I wanted a comic book-feeling HQ facility that looked solidly Overwatch themed but set in the alpine mountains of Switzerland. I would have close quarters hallways, a medium-sized atrium room, a vignette area, and a large POI exterior space.
My projects never start pretty. Here are my post-walk brainstorm "sketches":
I'd be surprised if anyone could make any sense of this except me!
I also watched a ton of tourist videos of Switzerland and compiled an Alps tearsheet. I'm looking for the essence elements of the alps: the things that you recognize when you look at an unknown photo and go "Hey, that's the Swiss Alps". In this case I honed in on the unique color gradient: rich green valleys with deep grey cliffs that spring right out of the grass, get clipped with white snow just at the tops, mirrored by snow-white clouds on vivid blue skies. Also the Matterhorn. I'm also looking at architecture styles of the chateaus, gondolas, and local flora.
With raw ideas, I then go right to 3D block in. This is pre-preproduction 3D work. It's not even prototyping and I only call it "block in" because I haven't thought of a better word for it. None of this geometry will survive even into the next iteration, but it does become my underdrawing so to speak for the project. The goal here is to get into the game engine asap and start developing a sense of space. This is where I begin nailing down units, measurements, and scales and it's where I begin setting up my pipeline and workflow. This means making project folders, deciding on naming schemes, getting a feel for the export process, and deciding on tools. This can all remain malleable at first but it will need to solidify and become Policy pretty quickly so I can avoid tripping over myself weeks and months down the road. Organization is king!
Anyway, I get this block in into the engine as fast as I can so I can start running around the space and getting a feel for how things need to be proportioned. Once it starts to feel physically ok, then I use the block in to do some quick, simple concept drawings. I do these drawovers throughout the project as things pop up. Drawovers for me are a creative problem solving tool.
Here are my initial drawings of the exterior space and some of the skydome as those areas needed the most creative input from me. The interior was done more by riffing directly from the concept art, but I'll get into that in my next post!