Do you use placeholder art while creating levels?

Discussion in 'Game Development (Technical)' started by Adrian Lopez, May 16, 2010.

  1. Adrian Lopez

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    Do you use placeholder art when creating levels for your games or do you instead wait to have some assets available before creating your levels? It can be hard to tell what assets you'll need before you know how your level will play, but on the other hand there's something to be said about designing a level around known assets.

    So what is your approach to this dilemma, especially when your paying somebody else for their art?
     
  2. hippocoder

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    Well you don't know precisely what you will need till you've basically completed the entire game imo.
     
  3. lennard

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    I use placeholder art until I have things roughed together - helps me avoid worrying about changing directions.

    Under the heading of shameless plug...

    http://www.rustyaxe.com/apps/dd/screens.php

    my forthcoming dungeon editor comes with a lot of free to use art so you can start making great looking levels from day one. Once you know what you want then you can hire artists to make very specific pieces and you are free to ship with any art that you don't feel you need to replace. This should cut down on your costs significantly because you can bid out concise asset lists.
     
  4. Over00

    Over00 New Member

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    Always.

    Just need to be careful to not make decisions that will make it difficult to adapt once you have the real assets. It's usually not a problem though but if you find out later that proportions are a problem and need to resize everything (I'm mostly working with web games so ...) ... Just need to code well right from the start so it's not a pain to adapt.
     
  5. vjvj

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    We absolutely use placeholder art when creating levels. Most designers refer to this as "gray boxing" (building levels with minimal details)... We gray box our levels in Sketchup.

    IMHO what you really need to know are the metrics... And gray boxing serves that purpose beautifully. I would advise against buying/producing any art until all the metrics are finalized.
     
  6. Adrian Lopez

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    I agree that getting the relative sizes of objects right is important, but so far I've found it difficult to conceive of proper sizes for things when I don't really know what they're supposed to look like. I could imagine a bunch of boxes representing this or that type of object, but I fear my lack of artistic skills might translate into having no sense of proportion.

    Most significant, however, is dealing with the behavior of objects in the game. This strikes me as even more difficult than getting your proportions right given the potential complexity of interactions between pairs of non-static objects, between non-static objects and the environment, and between all of these and the player. You may end up altering the gameplay as a side-effect of changing the shapes and movements of your game objects, and behaviors that would feel right with finished assets in place might lack the proper feel (and therefore be rejected prematurely) when using placeholder art.
     
  7. zoombapup

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    Conversely, if your gray box level feels good to play, then adding in final art assets will only make it feel better.

    I tend to gray box everythiing I can. I've falled into the trap of getting art too early on in the project far too many times.

    Of course, it feels more complete when you see the real assets in there and makes everyone else have faith in the project. But its a false sense of security because you think you are further along than you are.

    Placeholder for the win!
     
  8. vjvj

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    Oh definitely; when I say "metrics", I don't just mean dimensions... I'm also thinking about stuff like run speed, gravity, jump height, etc. I really think all of that needs to be nailed before you start building art.

    I agree that sometimes the behaviors/mechanics can feel off or wrong with placeholder art. This can especially be a problem when trying to sell ideas to other team members. Several times I've found myself saying something like "this gameplay action should look totally cool when we get real animations in", while using placeholders that look like crap LOL. But like zoomba said, I think trying to shortcut past this just leads to a false sense of security (not to mention that you'll have to re-do the art, anyway).
     
  9. Bad Sector

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    Thats what most people do.

    That remind me a couple of years ago when i wanted to make some platform game. Instead of using final art assets, i used simple rectangles. I asked a few people to test it and they liked the smooth movement of the "character" (a dark gray rectangle in a level made of light gray rectangles). Later when i replaced the rectangles with true pixel art, almost everyone preferred the gray rectangles version because it looked different than most platforms out there.

    Its tempting to make a 3D game where instead of actual textures i have blue textures with light blue text writing "water - water - water" and gray/brown textures writing "wall - wall -wall", etc :p.
     
  10. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    We're doing a game around the DrWho franchise atm and we hit alpha without a single pixel of art in it.

    For the level art, it didn't matter a toss and now the finals are going in the game is coming alive and they only had to do it once, so all good.

    What has been a problem was all the 2D stuff like gui buttons, hud displays, fonts and other boring stuff. I would say you want to finalise these as soon as you possibly can, else you're just putting work off that could've been done already.

    It's also demotivating to be looking at shit the whole time. My take on this is to get it done as soon as its feasible, but don't risk tying things up too early just because you want to see some shinies.
     
  11. Adrian Lopez

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    I can see how level art may be treated as interchangeable with simple geometry so long as the art you replace it with is similar enough that it doesn't affect navigation. What really concerns me, however, is things like characters that require tighter collision detection than simple boxes and objects whose behavior and interaction with other objects in the game is strongly related to their shape and animation.

    Having said that, I can tell from people's responses here that it's better to use placeholder art than to spend money early on assets that might change or be abandoned as the game is being developed. As much as I'd like the ability to design levels like players do in games that come with level editing tools, it's just not economical to do so in games with original content. I've therefore decided not to worry about using polished assets so early in the game.

    Thanks to all of you for your responses.
     
  12. Maupin

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    Absolutely. Playability is key and when you've got a fun game with differently colored rectangles bopping around a good artist can only improve things.
     
  13. Bad Sector

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    You will not use the same objects for collision though so you can have final or near-final versions of the collision objects (which 99% of the time *are* boxes or cylinders). Alyx from Half-Life 2 might have some thousands of polygons and high detailed textures, but for collision she has a plain bounding box.

    Even if you need something more detailed, you can model it with plain boxes like this one here (took me about 6-7 minutes, although i would need a little more to attach bones, etc).
     
  14. Adrian Lopez

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    True, but those collision objects generally follow the contours of the final model, so it's not as simple as a single bounding box around the whole model (except when used as part of an earlier collision test) and you do need to know the proportions of the final model if you want the collision mesh to match the final renderable model.
     
    #14 Adrian Lopez, May 17, 2010
    Last edited: May 17, 2010
  15. Bad Sector

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    that is true, but i assumed that it is known beforehand how entities might look like. I mean, there aren't many shapes for a boxy humanoid - only different box sizes. And if you want to use the boxes until the end, make them a little fatter and instruct your artist at the end to make sure that the model follows the collision mesh :).
     
  16. Qitsune

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    It'S also important o use items with a relatively similar weight (level of the palette, number of polygons, size of texture) so as to have a good idea of the weight of the game file and how fast it's going to run. Coming from the lower end console side of things, I'd say palettes and numbers of poly are a huge nightmare in some games and a limitation we have to contend with as par of the design of the game itself.
     
  17. vjvj

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    Well it kind of depends on your design, but generally speaking most dynamic collision shapes boil down to cubes, spheres, capsules, and cylinders, just for performance reasons. Even AAA games use capsules for characters for the most part. Per-triangle collision is usually reserved for static objects like the environment.

    Even if your game design requires fully-dynamic arbitrary shapes, you can still gray box those as meshes with placeholder textures.
     
  18. Adrian Lopez

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    I realize collision meshes are usually constructed out of simple shapes, but the point is that they usually involve a number of such simple shapes that are supposed to fit tightly around the final, renderable mesh. The choice of simple shapes is for efficiency, but you generally want them to match the renderable mesh as closely as possible.
     
  19. vjvj

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    Ah, I see what you are saying. Even then, though, you very often do not want the collision mesh to fit tightly around the visual mesh. This is especially true for characters, where you generally want to give the player the benefit of the doubt. Setting the player collision shape to be smaller will create more "near-misses", while setting the enemy collision shapes larger makes the player attacks feel more effective.

    Some games even apply a translation offset to the visual mesh (relative to the collision mesh) to compensate for size/position differences as well as to smooth out any physics motion anomalies (like motion snapping or popping). God of War is one example of this.

    It might also help to understand what your goals are. It could be the case that your game design needs more accurate collision than many of our games do. Do you really want entities to be able to hit other entities in the arm or the foot? That could be an awesome feature, or it could make the gameplay totally suck, depending on the kind of game you are making.
     
  20. Adrian Lopez

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    Nah. It's just me worrying about problems I'd rather avoid than fix.

    The game I have in mind does not depend on collision shapes any more than most 3D games. It's just that changing the shapes of the models would necessarily have an effect upon the game's execution and could, in some cases, affect it enough that changes to the levels would be necessary. I'm simply afraid of putting a lot of effort into creating the game's levels only to find out I have to revise it all due to problems introduced by differences between the prototype models and the final ones.
     

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