RTX Red Rock Designer Diary #3

In the latest entry, we hear from the concept designer for LucasArts' upcoming third-person action game.

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Entry #3 - 06/16/03

By Ian Berry
RTX Concept Designer

I've been drawing props all week. Things you would find in a mine. Props can be broken down into a two simple categories: obstacles and interactive elements (such as switches, vehicles, equipment, and weapons).

Guns are just some of the many props that are sketched out before they are incorporated into the game.
Guns are just some of the many props that are sketched out before they are incorporated into the game.

Most are just obstacles. Some obstacles are there for you to climb and jump off, and others are there just to fill the space and offer screens for combat. All props are there to help reinforce the illusion of the environment, which in this case is a Martian mine. I spend a lot of time looking at books. My childhood fascination with rockets, astronauts, and all their functional equipment has surged back to life. The level designers have set up the level and filled it with crates and ladders. Nearly all the props I'm referring to are basically crates--some sit by themselves, some are stacked in groups, and some are offset, providing perches and screens for you to jump off or take cover behind.

Crates are everywhere, and the level is conveniently blocked out. You can tell where things are, and it's easy to find the path you're encouraged to take. I use the size and positions of the stacks to dictate what will actually go there to create the rich and believable environment we have been building for Red Rock. I hit the paper. Books are everywhere, offering me ideas and shapes. Props begin to emerge on the paper, and the level modelers wait anxiously to take the drawings and build them. These are all "in-engine" props, so they need to be simple and as solid as possible. The engine needs to calculate exactly where the prop is at all times. Sounds easy, but it's actually very taxing on the engine, especially when you texture and add interactive lights and a myriad of animated characters and effects into the space. Big simple shapes are best. A strong silhouette is extremely important for a quick read, and with aliens shooting, vermin biting, and Wheeler jumping and shooting, most likely a quick look is all you're going to get.

The designs in the game needed to be interesting but recognizable at a glance.
The designs in the game needed to be interesting but recognizable at a glance.

3/8/03
New assignment today: Wheeler's mechanical arm. I dig on robots and mechanics. At one time I really wanted to be an engineer, and before that I wanted to be an astronaut. Now I get to design a robot arm for our astronaut hero, Wheeler. I can barely contain my excitement. This is a nice change from props. I skip down the hall to talk to my directors, Hal and Mai, about it. Heh. There's a catch. Always a catch, right? The catch this time is that this arm is going to need a whole lotta gadgets on it: a pistol, two different types of screwdrivers, a taser, a grappling hook, and a type of grenade launcher. All on one arm. I'm scratching my head. That's a lot of accessories.

EZ Wheeler's arm comes fully loaded for action.
EZ Wheeler's arm comes fully loaded for action.

There are two ways you can do this sort of thing. You can try to make it all actually work, or you can use smoke and mirrors--hiding mechanics, or a lack of, behind a hatch or lid. Need the pistol? A hatch opens and the pistol pops out. Oh, now you need a screwdriver? The pistol goes in the hatch, and the screwdriver pops out. Poof! This is what Hal likes to call "science fantasy." RTX is more in the realm of true science fiction. Things need to work. I find this notion refreshing, and it's probably the aspect of the project I enjoy the most. Still, that's a lot of accessories, and some futurism will need to be applied. Monofilament wires, high-powered batteries, "bullets," compressed air--not to mention the mechanics of a mechanical arm. It's a challenging request, to say the least. I build it from the bones out, trying to leave as much of an inner cavity as possible so the screwdrivers can be placed in there. I add a cowling to the outside of the arm to protect the innards and provide more surface area for additional items. At this point, I take a toy pistol that the animators have and tape it to another random toy, adding toilet paper tubes wherever I can. Items need to spring to Wheeler's hand, so I have to be sure there's clearance for everything to move correctly. I draw my arm with the cardboard tubes and toys haphazardly taped to it, using the shapes to give me some idea of the shape and placement of the arm and its accessories. I look ridiculous.

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