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02 November 2014

GameCity - Lumino City

In the ground floor of the main GameCity space, on Carlton Street, Nottingham, is an exhibition dedicated to the production of the sumptuous puzzle adventure game Lumino City by State of Play. Over three years in production, the game is a beguiling blend of realworld model sets and 2D character animation.

 

 

On Tuesday lunchtime two of the creators, Luke Whittaker and Daniel Fountain ran a short tour and talkthrough of the installation, detailing some of the finer aspects and anecdotes of their labour of love.

 

Instead of regurgitating their talk verbatim, I'm going to instead pick-up on a few particular areas of discussion and try to highlight how they might be useful for creative projects irrespective of the medium or means of delivery.

 

Experimentation and pragmatism are best buddies

A striking aspect of making a game in this fashion is the tension between wild, playful experimentation, offset against the technical requirements, inertia and overhead of labour that hand-made sets and cinematography requires. When you're dealing with such a painstaking and slow process the potential cost of mistakes in either execution or design are huge.

 

To this end State of Play had to find working methods that allowed them to experiment, whilst also maintaining a level of pragmatism that would allow them to ever finish the game at all.

 

Bringing this into sharp relief is the fact that they could only afford to hire the motion control camera rig for a single day. All of the shots, of all of the sets, with all of their various lighting and states, the focus pulls and transitions, everything, had to be shot on that day. It goes without saying that a shot list was worked from, however it's worth considering the preperation required in achieving this. Going back to the start of the project they were working with carboard mock-ups of the set and handheld cameras, with similar lenses to that which they would be shooting on. This allowed them not only to refine the framing of shots to accomodate the game design, but also meant that they could be experimental during a phase of production in which the costs of doing so were cheap. That one day of shooting was not the time for sweeping new creative ideas, all of that had to come first, in the months and years leading up.

 

 

I think this approach has carry over to more traditional strictly digital game making. Creating workflows and methodology that allows and encourages innovation, whilst maintaining a productive and efficient pipeline once those ideas have been formulated and refined is for me a holy grail. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's damn near crucial if you ever want to finish an original piece of work.

 

Working with experts in their fields

State of Play also made a point of working with experts outside the realm of games. That is not to denegrate any game-based professions in which there is crossover (for concept art and architecture), but rather provided a catalyst for ideas by forming a group of people whose cultural and educational experience had a large range of variance. Not only does this amount to a broader creative input, but you are introduced to the working methods of other crafts. For example, the cardboard prototype sets that proved so vital were inspired by an architect working on the project who is used to having to build such mock-ups and has experience of what materials and tools work best for this.

 

 

Other craftspeople involved in the project included specialist model makers from the film props industry and a silversmith. Once forged, these relationships can carry over to other aspects of the games development and marketing, for instance the awesome lit-up Lumino City that overlooked the exhibition space was made by the same model makers who worked on the game.

 

Icing - digital artefacts for simulation

Though this is only a brief tour of the production of Lumino City I did want to touch on one unforeseen and technically difficult challenge that the game faced: that of integrating the light-in-the-lens cinematography with the digitally realised 2D characters. Obviously there were requirements such as mapping the space to allow characters to walk along surfaces and such, but there was also the subtle but significant problem that the characters weren't subject to the same photographic effects as that which had been filmed. For instance, a focus pull would softly obliterate the foreground with the noise associated with depth of field. This then needed to be modelled digitally and applied to characters within the frame in order to place them within the same phenomological space as the background image. Similarly, film grain needed to be applied to the characters for the very same reason. The distortion that different mediums apply is a vital consideration and tool, one that I am having to consider when working on the Friendship Club sound design and music when trying to imitate the manner and quality of recording that you hear in 1950's cartoons and films.

 

 

Digital workspace versus realworld items

One final point, one which was not discussed during the talk but was noticeable in the photographs dotted around, was how much of the game's production took place in the real world. That is to say on concept boards, walls, desks, floors, ceilings (probably). There are numerous benefits to working this way, and detriments too no doubt, however what I wanted to raise was the idea that the immersion into a game world that for me is a vital aspect of good design practice, is amplified by allowing the game to leak back into your physical space. So, if you can afford it, print things out, work on paper, stick things up around you. Look at pictures before you fall asleep. Go deeper into your creation by surrounding yourself with it. Honestly, it works I swear, and if nothing else it makes it look like you've done a lot more work than you actually have!

 

 

Lumino City comes out in November for PC and Mac and I shall be curling up with it at some point this winter. There is also a great dev log on State of Play's website that's worth checking out: http://www.stateofplaygames.com/blog/

 

- Nick