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nobby’s concept album part 4: The Double Album

Hi there folks. As the Christmas season kicks in, our thoughts inevitably turn to giving, and so with the spirit of charity coursing through my being I've cobbled together a quick blog. It's all down to the season of goodwill and all that, and in no way aimed at stopping Sim from kicking me in the nethers every time I pass her desk to remind me I promised an end of November blog in the last update a couple of weeks ago that I then FAILED TO DELIVER.

Aaaanyway. Today I'd like to talk about Bleak City, which we plan to spend some taxpayer dollars on giving a major facelift in the new game. You'll probably remember the city looking like this in Carmageddon:

Yes, built in a previous era of fiscal austerity, Bleak City's planners were limited to only 10-12 tri's per building, and all features and decoration had to be repeatedly tiled across each building to save on time, paint, and imagination. Buildings were painted using a limited palette of colours, set by State statute after consultation with experts in textural paucity technology. Small wonder the citizens of Bleak City would rather throw themselves into the path of oncoming cars, than spend their lives unable to actually get through any of the doors in the buildings, that were all inexplicably sealed up. Yep, them was hard times.

And so to the plans for a brave new Bleak City. A Bleak City of The Future (no Patrick, I know… not too far in the future, and not too dystopian or post-apocalyptic. No no, I promise we won't be like every other game out there. It'll be like Carmageddon. Promise.)  Moving on… You'll see from the screenshot above that Bleak City featured some architectural oddities, which were just simple geometry forming ramps where it was useful to have a ramp – in this instance a big wedgy lump allowing access to a route across the city rooftops. So one of the things I'm very keen to update in Carmageddon: Reincarnation is replacing this sort of strange unidentifiable feature with stuff that actually looks and feels like it would be found in a real city of the not too distant but just enough to be interesting future.

With this in mind we gave our concept art man Doug Telford a call, and explained that we'd like another scene concept, that updated this part of the city and turned the structures into a more interesting and at the same time logical set of features. I suggested turning the block in the screenshot above into a Mall or shopping centre, which featured decorative/structural buttresses that just happened to be wide enough to drive on. I even built a prototype example of what I was getting at – admirably demonstrating the modelling skills that had made me the perfect architect of the original game's city levels:

Armed with this brief and frankly stunning reference material, Doug set to work. And in what seemed only a matter of a couple of days – because it took a couple of days – he sent us his image:

It was another fine piece of work. It has the right sort of lighting level to reflect the original game's City night-time scenes, and shows how the advertising billboards and roof-top furniture will add interest and hints of tomorrow's city. Well, maybe a bit more in the future than tomorrow, but not too much.

I spent some time tweaking the image to be more to my liking, changing the scale of some elements, re-jigging the building/road layout a little and recomposing some of the action, and we ended up with this image:

The cars aren't quite so in-yer-face, the "Mall" block is enlarged and the buttresses become escalators to take shoppers up to the rooftop restaurant. The traditional traffic signs have gone and in their place we have some anti-gravity traffic lights and a man about to be landed on by a ten ton digger. So there we have it – a vision for Bleak City.

Fast forwards to very recently, and an old friend and long-time colleague from the original Carmageddon team got in touch, expressing an interest in getting involved with the new project. Terry Lane – a.k.a. Tezman – was our original concept artist and texture specialist extraordinaire at Stainless, when we first started the company. His tremendous art skills were largely what turned my 10 tri boxes into something resembling buildings.

Tez has been working in Australia for some years now as a senior art director on games. Currently between jobs, I suddenly found some very nice renderings dropping into my email inbox – Tez had decided to submit some "fan art" to me! This quickly developed into a loose briefing/feedback loop, and discussion about the direction for the game's reimagining of the City environment. Tez went back to look at the original Bleak City in Carmageddon, and had some interesting recollections of the art direction on the original game:

"I looked over the original 'Rooftops' track, did a grab and filtered it with mosaic. There is a lot more saturation in that grey brown track – but it comes from the crazy orange windows and the bright yellow HUD, rather than the track – unless you catch the emerald grass! :) We had to get everything out of those 256 colours and did a pretty good job considering, but man, it was hard to coordinate that look! I think we used a lot of warm colours to hide the saturation levels between them.

We were influenced by Quake and Doom too. I realised that our tracks had a real unearthly and kind of macabre/gothic sci-fi feel (obviously from quake and doom) and I wonder if that juxtaposition (against the comedy voices, animations and powerups) isn't what made it feel so unique? I remember using the Judge Dredd movie, bad as it was, along with Death Race 2000 of course and Bladerunner as visual references, all pretty dark and gothic looking. I think the Minority Report reference was pretty good actually, though again I like the dichotomy of the slick future stuff with the grotty downtown old city – soaked in a good deep bath of colour grading."

Films are always a good source of reference, and we'd previously discussed Minority Report as an excellent example of how "the future" will inevitably integrate with the old and current; think of the the suburb where the movie begins, contrasting with the future highway system and the urban environment festooned with holographic individually targeted advertising …

After a couple of back and forths, our discussions led to this Bleak City image by Tez:

This is a daytime scene in one of the more run-down areas of the city, where the authorities didn't really care that the monorail system was directly over the head of the community cutting out their light… And they turn a blind eye to the Carmageddon racers setting their race up to run right through the area. The image contains some neat detailing: I really like the holographic signage, especially the hovering Checkpoint with its information graphics projected across the road. The dynamic vehicle action is good (although anything that looks even vaguely like there might be "racing" involved makes Batwick come out in a rash). All in all though, the image captures the correct sort of visual tonality that will make the new game feel somewhat like the original and therefore uniquely "Carmageddon", while bringing the game's setting up to date in terms of detailing.

Although I don't think either Doug or Tez's image completely encapsulates "Bleak City", I really don't mind – for starters, a single still image will rarely perform the task… and both artists have only worked on one scene for a couple of days apiece. But together, I think that both scenes help us to start to get a feel for the City.

Okay, so that's it for this blog entry. We'll get on with designing and making the game here, and look forward to your comments and discussion on this latest little snippet behind the scenes over in the forums HERE!