Rakit Studios

Home of Rakit Studios : Creators of Convenience Wars

To CG or not to CG

11 Comments

It’s been a little whilst since we last posted an update on here as to how the game was progressing, particularly related to the topic of graphics. The in-game sprites are progressing well and Friday will most likely see the inclusion of yet another Character Friday to the blog. We are in fact nearing the end of the character updates, but that does not mean that we are finished with generating the assets. It will just signify that the majority of character design is complete.

We have a large number of significant characters and that in itself has been a challenge. It was also key to the story and something which wouldn’t have worked with a smaller cast. Recently though, the backend development team, including myself and sbx34 have shifted our attention away from scripting and coding, and focussed on something much less to our strengths. Background art.

We did post a while back that the background art was in progress. Due to circumstances beyond her control, our BG artists time has been very limited. The other problem was that our demand for BGs only seemed to increase. Mix a decrease in resource with an increase in demand and you are left with a recipe for disaster.

So we were left with a choice. Find another artist, use photos, or find some other way to generate backgrounds.

The first was not really an option. For this game we wanted to keep the staff a) local and b) in the family, so to speak. The second didn’t leave us with a good feeling. When you are putting beautifully drawn characters over photos, no matter how well they are manipulated in Photoshop, it never quite seems to hit the mark.

So option three, find some other way to get backgrounds was chosen. Given that it was the most difficult of the three we weren’t hopeful of a solution. I had spent a reasonable amount of time looking into the prospect of using CGI for the backgrounds, but hadn’t had great success finding something that fit well with us.

Blender was the obvious choice for the modeller and renderer, but making the models look toon shaded, or like they had been drawn, was difficult. We found out about the Freestyle addition to Blender, but me being me, I wanted to use an official Blender build and not have to worry about compiling the darn thing every time we wanted to upgrade to fix a bug and ensure that both sbx34 and myself were in sync.

Looking around further I found the blog of StudioLLB. In there, Light described a way they had put together to detect and draw edges using a compositing technique. I downloaded the files and had a play and was suitably impressed with the results. After a little tweaking, we had a test scene which we were happy with. It wasn’t perfect and still had some artifacts on it which needed to be removed, but overall it seemed to function well. Some early feedback from some Ren’Py IRC channel users who are close to the team suggested to us that we were pretty close to hitting the mark. The backgrounds worked and were accepted. This was a huge step.

We have a reasonable number of models from another project we worked on, but there are still a few scenes that we are going to have to model ourselves, unfortunately these are going to be the most difficult, namely the two convenience stores themselves.

Below is a screen shot of our modified version of StudioLLB’s Edge Detection Technique. Once we have tweaked a few things a little further, I would like to release a Blender file to allow others to piggy back off the technique. We added a bloom type filter into the mix to give the dreamier feel to the scenes. As a result of my technique for doing this, it increases the contrast of the image dramatically, so we compensate for that by adding a levels node to adjust the contrast. In the top right hand corner of the setup is a simple switch allowing the CG artist to turn the entire compositing block either on or off. As compositing adds extra render time, it allows the artist to work quickly but still flexibly see how the end result will look.

NodeEdit

The next screen shot shows a locker scene. The models were from a set which we had purchased previously and all we really did was to light the scene. This required little effort and the image has had no post processing done in an external application. Everything you see here was done in a single render pass with compositing included. It shows both the outlining from the EdgeNode system from StudioLLB and the bloom effect that we added in ourselves. The scene took probably about 20 minutes to light. There are improvements to be made. We are under no illusion that it’s perfect, but it serves as a good enough test to prove that the technique is successful. I should point out here that there are no textures used in this at all.

Locker

We now have a classroom scene. Again, the models were provided from a third-party set which we have purchased previously. sbx34 was responsible for lighting this one and we made use of the volumetric lighting to give the scene that dreamy anime look which I’m personally a real sucker for. We’ve lightly textured some of the items in the room, but not so much as to make the useage of CG overly obvious. There are actually three lights in this room. One is a hemispherical light to give an ambient level so that things which are in shadow are not jet black. The other two are coincident and are used for the sunlight and volumetric effect respectively.

School

The last scene is unfinished, but is the beginnings of the outside of the Yuudai-Mart store. This is our own model. I’m responsible for most of the modelling at the moment and we will see this scene unfolding as we move forward. Putting tons of products on the shelves is going to prove troublesome, but hey, we’ll give it our best shot. You will notice in this render there are some artifacts on the roof. These are as a result of the edge detection routine in the EdgeNode system, but with a little tweaking, we can remove them.

Shop

So please, give us your feedback on how you think these early renders look and let us know if you are interested in learning more about the technique once we have finalised and tweaked it.

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11 thoughts on “To CG or not to CG

  1. Those scenes look unbelievably awesome dude it’s going to add that extra layer to the game

  2. I like how all of it is turning out so far. Rendering is a good solution to needing background images.

    The heavy use of bloom and the cell style and palette remind me a lot of No More Heroes. I really want to see what they look like with actual character sprites in front of them, though; I’m not sure how it will look with alisavegas’ usually very bright and cheery coloring.

  3. Nice job on the renders! I wonder how you came up with this style, was it all experimentation?

    I’ll check this edge detection thing, though I’m not sure whether it wouldn’t be more efficient to just go with Freehand.

  4. Looking good. I like the overall look of these a lot. Though the issue I’ve always had with things that have a cell-shaded quality to them is that the move items/models are on-screen the more jarring it looks overall. There’s something about scene density that is a detriment to the artificial look. But with backgrounds, I expect this won’t be a problem.

    Also, it’s not uncommon in some visual novels (especially in exterior shots) to apply a light blur to background that would likely mask smaller artifacts and soften the hard edges that make dense scenes suffer. Keep up the fine work, kids.

    • Thanks dude. Yeh I think as the BGs will just be static images we won’t have that problem. Also we could if required render the objects that moved too.

      I’ve always been a fan of bloom effects in anime.

  5. the images look great not meaning to be picky though but the shop appears to be lacking a door

  6. Good works. If the lines are not black or too dark (something like brown), they will blend into the scene much better.

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