We recently did a Q&A with the Torment art team where we took questions about the game! You can find the full Q&A on Facebook, or read below. Most of these answers come courtesy of our art director on the game, Charlie Bloomer. Enjoy!
We're back today with some answers from our Art Team regarding your questions. You asked some really thoughtful questions and we had an absolute pleasure answering them. We hope you're enjoying the inside scoop as much as we like providing it. Don't forget to tune in to our next Q&A to answer more of your questions!
Which critter or character in the game has the largest number of states/poses/animations?
The player characters have the most animations since they are essentially "in every scene." And as you might expect for a game like Torment that is mostly populated with bipeds, there is a fair amount of sharing of animation across the cast of characters. The creature with the most animation under the hood is the Sorrow fragment. This many-tentacled quadruped had to not only navigate but engage in combat with multiple attacks.
@ Concept Artist: During your work were you closer to the writers, or Monte Cook?
Monte Cook provided direct feedback for all aspects of the game, but for most of the day-to-day work the writers were our source for those critical details that were based on narrative or the lore of the Ninth World.
@ Storyboard Artists: Did you ever come up with any crazy angles or shots during conception that the director shut down in less than 2 seconds?
On this project, there were not many opportunities for crazy angles, etc. because we use a camera that is fairly standard for RPGs. The one place where we could be more creative with composing shots was in our mere illustrations that are peppered throughout the game. In those cases, we avoided conflicts by having the same person play both roles, storyboard art AND director... problem solved.
How did you cooperate with Monte Cook Games to find the particular Numenera art style and make it fit into Torment?
We frequently made our work-in-progress available to Monte Cook Games for review and feedback. From those exchanges we began to develop a visual vocabulary for what makes sense in the Ninth World. We were also constantly referencing several Monte Cook publications about the world of Numenera that helped to guide us about all aspects of the world of Numenera.
How has the team taken inspiration from real world cultures to develop the aesthetic of a world as conceptually far out as Numenera?
Developing a game based on Numenera was extremely freeing and enriching, considering the rules we were working with. The nature of humanity one billion years from now meant that we would be looking at some combination of elements from just about any ancient and modern culture you could think of from the world we know, and then using that as a launching place to imagine technologies and customs no one had ever seen before.
For one thing, we knew that it was important to depict humans as having evolved over the millennia to have fewer racially distinct features. We borrowed from a broad range of races and cultures to accomplish this. Alternatively, when it came to story or gameplay elements, we took the approach that anything that seemed too reminiscent of a culture or practice we'd heard of before would automatically pull us out of the ultra-futuristic tone of the Ninth World, so we made a special effort to avoid those familiar themes.
What was the most challenging piece to produce?
Great question. There are several levels of the game that take place in a The Bloom, described as "an interdimensional slug beast that reaches through time and space." From an art perspective, this meant creating environments that were made almost entirely of flesh. Besides making sure that all the important areas of The Bloom had their own characteristic aesthetic, we were also challenged to make sure these large areas of "meat" didn't look like just a solid mass of indistinct muscle tissue. We eventually struck on the right balance of interesting (some would say disgusting) biological features, an appropriate color palette, and lighting solutions that help the player understand where they should go and how to get there, even if they are feeling uneasy along the way.
Could you explain or try to describe your workflow/pipeline in level/environment design?
Design is a term that has different meanings depending on the industry or even on the context of discussion. Since these questions are asked of the art team, I'll focus on the art pipeline, but I can say a little something about the story and gameplay design along the way. Initially our lead game designer gathers all the requirements of the story - events that have to happen in a zone, characters and factions who need to be introduced, and themes that we want to emphasize. Brainstorming yields ideas for conflicts, locations, and quests, and eventually these get honed into a document called a zone brief that is a high level walkthrough of the zone. From this zone brief, a full zone design document is created that describes the important elements in enough detail that the next step is a top-down sketch of the zone and even a 3D blockout of the area. In this state, the general dimensions of the scene can be tested in our actual game engine (Unity). Even initial scripting of key moments can begin, while the artist begins building the actual level.
The blockout provides a base upon which our concept artist can do a paintover, essentially a fairly rough sketch that captures the general look of the level, including ideas for color palette, lighting, and important physical features. This part of the process requires feedback from quite a few people, since the art director will want to speak to the aesthetics of the concept, the level designer will verify that the important gameplay elements are represented, and engineers and producers will want to check technical and practical feasibility of the design.
With a final blockout and concept image to work from, the level artist then begins the process of building and texturing the level in a 3D package (3Ds Max or Maya, our studio uses both). In a typical game engine, the next step would be to bring all
this 3D geometry into the engine, but on this project we used the Pillars of Eternity (PoE) engine by Obsidian. This PoE engine gave us the opportunity to generate very high fidelity renders from the 3D packages I mentioned above and to use those renders in engine, instead of relying on the game engine to render ALL geometry in real time. The engine uses height map data to determine how to sort dynamic elements like characters, visual effects, lighting, and other 3D elements that aren't in the render, so the end result is a seamless integration of animated 3D objects with a rendered 2D background.
Finally the work of the level artist and the level designer is all pulled together to make an environment ready for visual effects, sound effects, and testing!