While Blyka has been busy grabbing what time he can to enhance TLT on the technical side, it's my job to keep things moving graphically with new models and whatnot. This post is more about the whatnot. Back when the project first started, we were pretty much newbies in the realm of 3D game creation. Some of the decisions we made at the time have needed revisiting, the latest of which is the execution of the graphical style.
Rather than keep you in suspense while I outline the ins and outs of the decision, I'm just going to say it up front.
Tuttle's Legendary Travels is shifting from hand-shaded textures to dynamic toon/cel shading!
Visually we should be able to stay pretty true to our established style with this change, so you don't have to worry about the game suddenly looking totally different. The development advantages are numerous though, so if you're interested in how this benefits the project, read on.
So yeah, in our early, enthusiastic bliss, we chose to hand draw and shade all the textures for the game. It was a straightforward approach, simple from a technical standpoint, and it's what Capcom did for the original Legends games, so it seemed like a good idea. However, a number of snags have arisen throughout the course of development as a result.
The earliest and most obvious problems had to do with the environment. If you hand shade a side of a building, duplicate said building and change it's angle, you get inconsistent shadows. Also, we decided we wanted to incorporate a day and night system which would dynamically impact lighting in a big way. We countered these problems by deciding we'd keep the characters hand-shaded, and use actual shading in a minimal way for the environment.
We knew that approach meant the direction of the shading on the characters wouldn't always match the direction of the shading on the environment, but we overlooked it as a stylistic quirk. As time went on though, it bothered us more and more, especially with our desire to use realtime shadows instead of blob shadows. Obviously it would look absolutely ridiculous for Tuttle to cast a ground shadow eastward while the shading on his back is facing west.
These pesky considerations sat unresolved for some time, and all the while I was getting more and more tired of shading each new model by hand. While I love 3D modeling, I have never enjoyed the texturing side of it. The hand drawn shading makes the job infinitely worse, as it's not only slow and difficult in its own right, but to do it properly requires a lot more precision work during the UV unwrapping, which if you know 3D modeling, is as tedious as it gets.
It was just recently I had reason to dive into the world of shaders for another project and ended up playing with a cartoony cel-shaded look. That's when everything just seemed to fall into place. We'd considered the possibility of using such a shader on TLT before, but sometimes it's easy to use the right reasons to lock yourself into the wrong decision. The more I played with the cel-shading on TLT's models, the more obvious it became that this was the right decision. In one stroke we enhance the overall visuals and solve all our concerns involving lighting and shadows, while making the texturing part of the modeling process SO much easier for me to deal with. It's a win-win situation if there ever was one.
It will take some work to adjust the current models to work with the new shader, but it's nothing compared to the work that will be saved in the long run. We'll update the model gallery* as those changes are made, but for now you can taste the new visual flavor with the addition of Golbesh! We hope you'll be as excited about it as we are!
* Keep in mind Unity's Flash player displays graphics at a lower graphic quality than will appear in the actual game.