Harvey – What is it About?

I am Marisa Malahowski, lead for the Digital Humanities Game Engine/ Design team, today I am making a guest post explaining what Harvey is all about.

For those of you that are just hearing about this now and know absolutely nothing about this project here is a little background information: Harvey Hall is an educational building on the University of Wisconsin- Stout campus. It has been used for home economics classes, English classes, and faculty offices since it’s construction in 1916. The building is currently undergoing a redesign and is out of commission until 2016; it’s centennial anniversary.

The Digital Humanities Capstone class and the Design 3D Modeling and Animation class teamed up to research Harvey Hall and create a physical model of it. Harvey could be described as a game, but it is better described as a virtual environment with game components. We want the user to explore a historically accurate Harvey Hall as it was throughout its years and renovations.Within this explorable virtual environment the user will come across optional mini games to play. These games are located in the rooms and hallways they explore. The user will either be prompted to play a game, or will come across a game on his or her own.

As of November 24th 2014 there have been two games created: the Wasp game and the Hats game. The ideas for these games were inspired by the research the teams uncovered while exploring the University of Wisconsin-Stout Archives, and other research facilities.

For example, many people who have been inside Harvey know of its wasp problem; wasps can be heard buzzing in the ceilings and interrupting classrooms. When the user explores the 4th floor of Harvey Hall, they will come across a buzzing bunch of wasps. A fly swatter will appear in front of them and it is up to them to squash every wasp in the area. Once the user squashes these wasps they will receive an achievement badge to show they have completed the game. Below is a picture of the fly swatter the user will use.

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The idea for the Hats game actually came up as a joke from a team member, Alec. He saw a picture of Lorenzo Dow Harvey in a derby hat and joked about how it would be funny to have the user search for Harveys’ Hat. However, because there was a millinery class in Harvey Hall (when it was the Home Economics Building) we thought, why not actually have the user find randomly placed hats throughout the building? The user will encounter these hats as they explore Harvey Hall and will gain an achievement when they have collected all 10. No one will prompt the user to play this game, they will just come across it. Below is a mock up of the hats the user will come across.

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Mustachioed Lorenzo D. Harvey

President HarveyRecreating and bringing to life historical characters is intimidating. What did their voice sound like? How did they speak? What were their quirks? What was their sense of humor? There are a million-and-one things that could play a role in how we write the dialogue for a historical character, especially one as important has Harvey. Dialogue is one of the most important features of a character. It brings the player in and helps the player relate to and understand the narrative. So how do we give a voice to Harvey and the rest of the cast?

The work begins in the UW-Stout archives, a place where the Digital Humanities students are getting quite comfortable with. Step one is usually to approach Heather Stecklein, the ever-busy archivist, and ask her what kind of content the archives is holding related to the characters we are interpreting and recreating. In Harvey’s case, this means many large boxes of papers, books, files, photos, and articles–good news for us.

The most time consuming portion is the collection and analysis of source material. If we want to create a convincing Lorenzo Harvey, we have to read his papers, speeches, and reports. We have to read the biographies written on his life and pin down his personality and characteristics. After getting really comfortable with his peculiarities, the verbs and nouns he used as well as the structure of his language, we can begin to write.

But we can’t just turn to the sources that surround Harvey and stop there. We can seek reference from other people from his time. Particularly useful to us are audio recordings. The catch is that there really are not many audio recordings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. But since Harvey was regarded as a very serious, accomplished, and stately man, listening to presidential speeches might not be too far off the mark. From these audio recordings from Presidents William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft, we can learn the cadence and manner of speaking. These will help our voice actor recreate the mustachioed Lorenzo Dow Harvey.

All of these elements are drawn together to create the Historical characters you’ll encounter in Harvey. 

Rigging – Making Puppets for a Digital Age

Hello, this is Lead Animator Cody Kruizenga-Weckesser as first guest poster here to explain how characters in our game will be inhabiting our halls and giving life to our game.

In previous posts, we’ve seen some of the 3-D models that our background characters have. Although they aren’t as important as some of our upcoming Historical Characters; Background Characters will really provide a sense of community and interactivity throughout the game. During these past weeks our animation team has been trying to breathe life into these characters.

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to break down exactly how these characters come to life onscreen. For reference, I like to think of animating a character much like a puppet on strings. However, when we first start this process our puppet has no strings. As animators, we receive an empty mesh as shown below, and we proceed to “Rig” it, or put the strings in.

Empty Mesh
Mesh ready to receive bones.

The first step in rigging is putting bones in. These bones are a lot like human bones as they tell the digital model where to bend and where to stay straight. We put them in all the places that our own bones and joints bend. Examples include our knees and elbows.

Mesh With Bones
Mesh with Bones

After inserting bones or our “Strings,” we need a way to control our puppets. As animators, grabbing the specific bones is tedious and inefficient. So what we do instead is build controls to manipulate multiple bones in order to speed up our process.

Mesh With Controls
Our mesh with controls ready to animate!

I hope this gives a simplified insight to one of the main components in bringing our Harvey game to life. Later I hope to shine a light onto our characters that we’re using, from rigging to actual movement.

Many Programs, One Product

What are we using to make Harvey? The game engine that we are using to compile Harvey‘s virtual environment is Unity. Before they find their place in Unity, though, our characters, animations, and models spend countless hours incubating in many other programs. The programs under the hood of Harvey are Autodesk Maya, 3D modeling and animation software; ZBrush, a 3D digital sculpting and painting program; Adobe Photoshop, for texturing and image creation; and Quixel Suite, a program that helps to create more realistic looking textures.

We’ll start with Maya. If you take a look at our first post, you’ll see an exterior image of Harvey Hall and a model of the library. These models were created using Maya. In case you missed it, here is another example. This is the 4th floor of Harvey Hall.

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Art created by Sarah Benson

So this model looks great, but that is definitely not what tile floor looks like. Enter, Adobe Photoshop and Quixel Suite. We use Photoshop to add textures to the model and make the details in a process called UV mapping, which is essentially transforming a 2D image into a 3D model. During its creation process, the model is broken down into a 2D image, which is then overlaid with a UV map that supplies all the textures. We also use Quixel to help give our models texture and create the illusion of depth when you’re really looking at a flat plane. All of this information is then brought back into Maya before it can finally be exported as a .fbx file and dropped into Unity, where it finds a home in the game.

ZBrush, like Maya, is used for 3D modeling. Z-Brush is a lot better with organic curves and models than Maya is, so we use ZBrush for our character modeling. Here’s what an in-progress ZBrush character can look like.

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Art created by Kalan Tix

After the character is modeled in ZBrush, it is brought back into Maya, and brought down in the polygon faces. This model is using millions of polygonal faces, which cannot be used in our game because there is simply too much information. Sadly, this means that we usually have to say goodbye to all of those very smooth lines and curves because Unity can not feasibly render a model with millions of polygons in real time. We also bring the models back into Maya because our animators use it to make our characters walk, talk, and dance.  Here’s an example of how a ZBrush model is handled in Maya. There’s much fewer polygons here, making the model easier for Unity to handle and render.

Art created by Kalan Tix
Art created by Kalan Tix

After models are created and textures are mapped, we let Unity–and our game mechanics team–take it from there.

The Inspiration and the Art

For this post we’ll be discussing Harvey‘s character art style, some of the choices the artists have made along the way, and also the inspiration behind those choices. Because we have many artists working on the same project, we had to decide on a general style to work with, and more or less standardize it for this project. The first step was to cast our nets into the waters of already existing games and animated films. The art team came back with dozens of possible styles and scenarios, but–more or less–the first two images shown below depict our inspiration in a nutshell. The first image is a shot from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is an animated T.V. series, and the second shot is from a game called Back to the Future, developed by Telltale Games.

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We chose to build from these styles for several reasons. We wanted a style that we could use to create a character in a relatively short amount of time but also something that looks semi-realistic and something that can still portray facial animations and emotion effectively. The decision to create simpler, more stylized characters also helps to keep the characters in Harvey from becoming dated as game development technology moves forward. Next, you’ll notice that the eyes are a bit enlarged. This will help our animators bring out facial expressions and emotions more effectively. The above examples mostly influenced how our artists created eyebrow shape, nose shape, the chin, and hair.  The chiseled nose and chin gives the character a distinct style and clear definition while simultaneously keeping the model simple and easy for the game engine to render. The hair is handled in chunks for the same reasons. Keeping those features in mind, the artists moved forward onto the concept art for Harvey.

An example of concept art is shown below. The man featured here is the star of the show, Lorenzo Dow Harvey. We anticipate that the player will have a good deal of interaction with Harvey.

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Concept art created by Kalan Tix

Moving on from concept art, then, the artists began to create and model generic background characters. These are characters within the game that the player will see from a distance, performing daily activities like reading, walking around in the halls, chatting with others, sewing at a sewing machine, etc. We don’t expect the player to have very much up-close interaction with these background characters. The model shown below is finalized for the most part, but it is still basic enough that the artists can go back and change certain features without too much hassle if necessary. Keep in mind that this shot was taken before the animators could get their hands on the model to really bring her to life with a casual wink and a smile.

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Model created by Kalan Tix