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Thread: New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

  1. #1
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    Default New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

    Hey guys, the devs just posted this update on LOTV's tilesets. They've updated the textures of a couple of the current maps and have previewed a few new tilesets, one of which is supposedly within the Void:

    http://us.battle.net/sc2/en/blog/19938589

    It got me thinking, I noticed a trend with some of the new environments, and maybe this is (probably is) my feeling a little off these past couple days, but I think on the new tilesets they seem to have tried to make them look a bit darker and grittier. The thought came to my mind that these changes were similar to how the D3 team for Reaper of Souls wanted to make the environment much more gothic, and while they did up from the original D3 (in my opinon) they still face a lot of restrictions to revolutionize the look and feel.

    So, my question is, do you think perhaps LOTV might be taking heed to some of the criticism of the art/story over the years? I've personally talked to James Waugh (minor interactions) on twitter, and he seems to be receptive and open to feedback, I feel like the team might not swing the pendulum far enough however. Nonetheless, I like how the Purifer tileset feels cold and a holds a tiny bit of the "darkness/emptiness of space" vibe.

  2. #2

    Default Re: New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

    We're going to Hell to kill Diablo on his own turf!... Wait a minute...


    I'm guessing the epilogue campaign, Into the Void, will depict the Protoss survivors leaving this universe for the Void... until they're needed again in StarCraft III / the MMO. (Perhaps Amon will be as big and bad as they say he is, and the only way to keep him from consuming the galaxy is for the Protoss to engage him in an eternal war in the Void, mirroring Zamara's eternal struggle with Ulrezaj in that crystal.)

    The Void reminds me very much of Meridian from Halo 5, or any glassed planet for that matter.
    Last edited by Visions of Khas; 11-02-2015 at 05:00 PM.
    Aaand sold.


    Be it through hallowed grounds or lands of sorrow
    The Forger's wake is bereft and fallow

    Is the residuum worth the cost of destruction and maiming;
    Or is the shaping a culling and exercise in taming?

    The road's goal is the Origin of Being
    But be wary through what thickets it winds.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Visions of Khas View Post
    We're going to Hell to kill Diablo on his own turf!... Wait a minute...


    I'm guessing the epilogue campaign, Into the Void, will depict the Protoss survivors leaving this universe for the Void... until they're needed again in StarCraft III / the MMO. The Void reminds me very much of Meridian from Halo 5, or any glassed planet for that matter.
    I remember reading/hearing something about fighting Amon in the Void, so maybe that's a reason as to why a tileset inside the void exists.

  4. #4

    Default Re: New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

    I love the "Endion" tileset's colorscheme and grass, it reminds me of a true successor to the muddy/grassy parts of the old Brood War ice tileset.




    It does feel less cartoony than say, the original WoL jungle tileset, but to me a lot of the SC2 cartooniness comes from the chunky way the edges of cliffs and plateaus are modeled, and all we see are doodad rocks here, not terrain cliffs. So the cliffs might look the same as ever. This is some good looking patchy grass though.

  5. #5
    Gradius's Avatar SC:L Addict
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    Default Re: New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

    ^---agreed, that one is absolutely amazing

  6. #6
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    Default Re: New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gradius View Post
    ^---agreed, that one is absolutely amazing
    How do you think the art style could become less cartoony? Sandwich_bird brought this up to me: http://www.moddb.com/mods/project-revolution and I liked it a lot. But I wonder how/if one could introduce elements of physics and lighting beyond the WC3 engine this was made in (Reign of Chaos) and still make it visually impressive. I'd like for it to still be deep without becoming cartoony like SC2 sometimes is.

  7. #7

    Default Re: New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

    How do you think the art style could become less cartoony?

    This is all imo, but I spend a lot of time thinking about graphics/style, so I'm gonna talk about making cliffs more realistic:


    Project Revolution was an attempt to make Brood War in 3D, not an attempt to come up with a new style or to make Starcraft more realistic. For there tilesets' textures I'm pretty sure they literally copy/pasted Brood War tiles when they could, and edited/remade them when they had to. Sometimes this worked really well, but cliffs were a weakpoint: When the map is made of 2d sprites, a highly detailed rocky cliff face doesn't take more work to display than any other image tile. In 3D however, a crumbling rock face needs a much higher poly count than a simpler wall with a rocky texture. Any WC3/SC map is going to have a ton of cliffs in it, so WC3 understandably had very low-poly cliffs, organic ones with irregular edges and man-made ones with completely flat sides:



    In Project Revolution, applying textures based on some tilesets to the flat man-made cliffs worked really well:



    But a lot of BW cliffs were pictures of these rocky outcroppings made of many overlapping layers, with rubble at the base, and then a flat, crumbling surface at the top. The cracks extending into the flat terrain on the top with the rubble at the bottom made it look like the plateaus of SC1/BW were slowly breaking off and eroding.



    With the low-poly cliff faces of WC3 however, all you can do is stretch that picture of eroded layers over a more-or-less flat surface, and it comes out looking blurry and weird, not like there are piles of rocks at all.



    ^Not Project Revolution's fault, just a limitation of the time and way WC3 was made.

    So let's jump to SC2. In 2007, when SC2 was announced, I was delighted with the space platform/asteroid tileset from the original demos. But then they showed off screenshots from the alpha jungle tileset, and I was not happy:



    The cliffs are definitely the weakest part of the image, the grass and stuff is fine. 2 things to notice about these cliffs:

    1, the textures from the grass on the surface just fades into/overlaps with the cliff texture. This is an improvement over WC3, where you could actually see sharp borders between the tiles sometimes, including in that screenshot above. BUT, notice in BW there were cracks extending from the cliff edges up into the area on the high ground that units could walk on. At this alpha stage, SC2 doesn't have anything like this, the grass at the edge of the cliff is the same texture as the grass in the middle of no cliffs.

    2, the edges of the cliff are very rounded. Well, not round round, because again they're saving on polygons by making the cliffs simple, but between the more-or-less vertical cliff face and the more or less flat high ground, there's like a section at a 40 degree angle. Here's a screenshot from a tileset in the actual released game, with much better cliff textures, but you can still see how the edges at the top of the cliff are kind of 'puffy' and rounded: (this is a good look for something like snow accumulation though)



    And number 1 is still an issue, no cracks from the cliff extend into the texture of the terrain.

    The puffiness makes for nicer smoother shadows on the terrain, but again let's look at Brood War:



    The high ground is really absolutely flat. There might be a tiny bit of a rounded edge on the lip of the plateau, but there's even more variation and rounded-ness and sticking-out bits on the rocks in the middle of the cliff face than at the top.

    Another SC-in-3D attempt, Breeze made some amazing models trying to closely match SC1's graphics way way before SC2, and also ended up with rounded cliff edges, because the sheer detail of BW is really hard in 3D.




    At the time SC2 was announced, there was this other RTS called Paraworld that I compared the cliffs to. You can see they still used a little bit of that puffy rounded edge, but it was a lot smaller, making the tops of the cliffs look a lot flatter. This is obviously also not perfect, and I think SC2's textures for actual flat terrain are better, but it's interesting to see another attempt at a similar thing:




    They still weren't doing the thing of having cracks from the cliff's edge extend inwards on top of the texture on the high ground. I really think that would be a big help.

    Around like 2005ish, some artist made a mockup of "Starcraft 2," which is one of the only times I've seen someone try to go with the 'walls made of piles of rock and rubble' method in 3D instead of just texturing rockiness across a smooth wall like everything else above. It has mixed results, though it's definitely very easy to see where the edge is.



    The problem with this method is, as you can see from the breakdown on the right, each cliff or corner piece actually has more polygons in it than some of the unit models, more than a hydralisk or zergling. I guarantee it's a performance choice by Blizzard to have alll their unit models be higher poly than the terrain, but it makes sense, since the units are more what the game's about and what you should be paying attention to than cliffs. And this doesn't really look any more realistic.


    This got kind of rambley, sorry, but I hope it's of interest to you. Basically all this boils down to: To make it less cartoony I'd like to see flatter cliffs with cracks and signs of erosion extending in from the edge.
    Last edited by Robear; 11-02-2015 at 10:51 PM.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

    That wasn't rambling at all, in fact, I found this VERY interesting, thank you for putting in the time to bring out all the images and give commentary on each one. I honestly didn't realize the struggles that came as a result of switching from 2D to 3D environments in terms of cliff texturing. I also was not able to find more stuff from Project Revolution as I could only find their 2007/2008 updates.

    I REALLY appreciate that you took the time to put in your two cents, and this was a great post response. To be honest, I even thought to myself that this was article-level quality when I first started reading it. I know that may seem like excessive praise but I really did not know that much about cliff-surface environment texturing specifically and I was already very interested in SC2s graphics versus SC1.

  9. #9

    Default Re: New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Undeadprotoss View Post
    I REALLY appreciate that you took the time to put in your two cents, and this was a great post response. To be honest, I even thought to myself that this was article-level quality when I first started reading it. I know that may seem like excessive praise but I really did not know that much about cliff-surface environment texturing specifically and I was already very interested in SC2s graphics versus SC1.
    Hah, thanks! Glad you appreciated it. (Also re: Project Revolution here's a TvT video on the Shakuras tileset you might not have seen, which looks pretty good)

    I have a lot to say about a lot of texturing and modeling style choices between SC1 and SC2, and how some stylization is necessary and all that, but I can't write them up as an article yet. Basically I feel like I have to be able to prove my 'theories' about what I think might look good by making my own 3d models and see if it actually works in practice, because otherwise I might just be suggesting something Blizzard tried and decided didn't work for a good reason. A couple years ago I started to make a terrain mockup, but aborted it halfway through because at the time I was new to Maya and was making a lot of mistakes and didn't really know texturing/lighting. But sometime I'll try again.

    The same goes for other aspects of the art direction / style, I have a lot of thoughts I'm happy to share, but I don't have my own visuals to actually try them out. At some point I want to make my own "Starcraft III" mockup the way that guy did a Starcraft 2 mockup, and get my aesthetic ideas out there, but until then, no article, just talk. :P
    Last edited by Robear; 11-02-2015 at 10:57 PM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: New Map/Tilesets - Art Direction?

    SC is not cartoony, because at the time it was not possible to create cartoony sprites of such small units...

    Even with a "Cartoony" concept, the alpha of SC looked detailed and surreal, but very crappy. I believe Blizzard wanted to take SC into a new direction that would be different to WC and C&C.



    Through feedback, they went through with the classic way. They added a wider variety of color values by playing with shadows in 256 color. They also added a lot of details, like in the alpha.



    Back in the day, there were just so many ways to make an RTS.

    1992 Dune II:


    1996 Warcraft II:


    1996 Red alert 1:


    1997 Total Annihilation:


    1999 C&C 2 Tiberian Sun:


    2000 Red Alert 2:


    When 3D models started to pop out, the genre started to differentiate really well (aside from thinking how many pixels were needed to design an asset). Company of Heroes stuck with the grit look of reality, and so did the original C&C franchise. Red Alert suffered what StarCraft did. While Warcraft got a beautiful sequel. WarHammer 40K Down of war got the fantasy and sci-fi together into a single game. Supreme Commander's scale of battle was silly... etc.

    The brightness level in SCII and the lack of color hue/details is IMO what makes it look so cartoony. You can see the same features in RA3:



    You can see how these features kick in on the development of the SC2 engine:



    Edit #1: Grammer...

    Edit #2:
    @Robear: That's a very good point! Loved the cliff analysis.

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