So the project is done! It did kinda plan out like I thought and it did not veer too much of the schedule. There was a week in between that kind of stretched my project time but since I didn’t do any work in that time, I was still on my “4 weeks” so it doesn’t break the allotted time. That said there was a lot of elements that did come together the last week. (Oh crunch, how strong your powers are..)
I would personally say that the project is 30% done, though. There is a lot missing, but I did manage to get a working prototype up and running in 4 weeks time and I have to say it doesn’t look that bad. It certainly is a functional build that I can continue on in the future.
The following is a postmortem where I will break down some good things and some not so good things about this project.
The Not So Good Things:
- Timekeeping – I would say that I truly worked “full time” on this project for about 30-35 hours straight. (Given that, 4 weeks should be 128 hours if you dedicate 8 hours a day) I do work outside of this and there was much distraction along the way as expected. I also didn’t time myself properly so I loose a lot of valuable info from there as I don’t really know how long a certain task takes. I do believe a Gant Chart of my own would help tremendously for my next project so I have estimated time per task.
- Motivation – This one ties itself into the project naturally. While I didn’t really struggle with the motivation on this project, there were times where I was unsure about what needed to be done. This again could have been combated by some sort of priority list (which I had but didn’t really use) and perhaps more people on the project to help with tasks. The point was to do this solo so quantify my workflow and speed. I did receive a lot of help from both friends and online that helped steer the project in the right path.
- Scale and units – By far the one thing that did set me back the most. I am useless on scale and units and I have always eyeballed things. Unreal is quite forgiving and you can simply “just scale up” said asset, but throw in different variations of an asset and couple this with my whole map being tilted slightly. This really fucked with my object-coordinates, making it really hard to simply move things around. Next time I have to make sure the scale is done from the get go and perhaps keep everything in the same scene.
- Bugz – I encountered not that many bugs, to be honest. I think UE4 crashed on me 2 times and that was after me just leaving the project on for days so it was minor stuff. The biggest was with my Max view settings. As I am running a newly installed HD and 3ds Max (2017) there wasn’t a lot set up and there was also some new bugs that I had to read about and apply hotfixes where needed. The biggest one being that Max crashes after the first time its run. Autodesk was soon out with a patch that fixed it. It did screw up my main toolbar making it impossible to see. (I modelled the roof in the blind, haha).
UE4 had a small annoyance where if you place a camera in the viewport then the Pain/landscape tool doesn’t respond to mouse clicks anymore. I solved this by jumping back to a previous build and just leave the virus infected camera alone.
- Lack of references – As big as the Moomins are, it was really hard to find good references. The best one being Moomin and the Comet released in 2010. I really wished I could find some HD version or an Art Book for instance as a lot of the art online contradicted placement and angles making it hard to find out exactly what was needed. I didn’t look that since it was just a 4-week project and most of it I eyeballed from the references I collected in the first two weeks and a healthy dose of artistic licence.
The Good Things:
- UE4 is God! This engine… Its really awesome and particularly the Landscape Tool couldn’t be easier to use. It took me some reading up as I have never actually used this tool before. Some tutorials and my tongue firmly placed in cheek but I managed to get the hang of it. It`s incredibly easy to create detailed scenery and vistas, however making simple shapes that adhere to cartoony/highly stylised look is still not perfect as I am quite fresh. I feel I learned a lot of the different settings and the material setup that you can use. (More on that later)
- Foliage Tool is a breeze – Again another tool of UE4 and it is dead easy to use. Having never used this method outside of tests etc, I got the hang of this quite quickly. I recommend reading up on this so you don’t spray your map with foliage as its easy to get lost in the polygons, but man is it fun covering the level with grass, trees and shrubbery! I still need lots more training with this tool as I currently only had a few assets to play with.
- Materials – While working on the grass, I found it incredibly easy to swap out materials and do changes within them. I only really added some normal maps on top of solid colours but I could instantly see the changes in the editor and it helped really finalising the look. (I also just grabbed a bunch of online Normal maps and tried them all on with a slight variation in texture coordinate to hide the worst seams). It also showed how freaking important proper material artists and pipelines are. I just scratched the surface with this and it took my level from “bleh” to “Okay..That kinda looks like wood” in just a few hours. I really would want to fix this properly but I would rely on others more skilled people for this one.
- PR/Help/Encouragement -While I have been working on this and show it in various forums and facebook groups I got quite a following. It seems I have struck at a very special and quite nostalgic feeling within people as my posts were quite active. People even posted items in their house that was from The Moomins!I started getting quite good feedback on the forums and lots of friends were quite impressed with the speed and results per week which just fueled my need to improve and make it more cohesive. I have a list of places I post and check on it as often as I can. It’s a big hard to say: “Hey, come check out my blog without any prerequisites” so I started posting the pictures directly in the thread. This is not ideal but since I am not Tim Schafer or some fashion blogger, I had to make due. Steadily more and more people seems to be anticipating updates and are following me on twitter and the likes. I even got followed by Moomin themselves! (Hopefully, it is not because they want to sue)I also got some friend requests and messages of artists that help to help out on the project that I would gladly accept. It was important for me that only I did a 4 week stretch on a project as its the first time I have done this (Outside of GameJams) so now that the first project is done, I will definitely start planning with others as they would be a fine addition to the project. A small break now and we shall see. =D
Going forward I have to be better at scales and units. This is really a big hindrance and I know handing this over to others will be difficult since I eyeballed everything on my end. This will make it really hard for anyone to take over/add. The best option here would almost to be making every asset again which is highly time-consuming and a real pain. Luckily, most of my assets are labelled and not that many so it wouldn’t be “that” hard to swap out my little “Frankenstein’s” with some proper assets.
I also did some blueprinting and a custom game mode so that I could run around the level. I added sprint and ahead wobble to simulate a little person moving around. I will take the weekend off but should record a playthrough soon so you can truly appreciate the place and scale of things. Im sure I will make it playable soon as well but as I mention above, I have some people who are interested in helping out with proper art and music making the whole thing way more complete. I will share it then so you can waddle around the valley at you own leisure. Until then thank you so much for the continued support and stay tuned for my next project. =)
“One has to discover everything for oneself. And get over it all alone.” –Moominland Midwinter