Hello, I’m Ryan Dao an environment artist on the Neverwinter team. I’ll be going over my thoughts and process in reworking the leveling dungeons as well as creating the Arm of the Delzoun, Old Dragon's Lair, and Araj Tower environments.
Being relatively new to Cryptic and Neverwinter I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of understanding the visual language of the game and general lore of Dungeons and Dragons. I did a lot of research before starting on the look development stage.
Re-lighting the leveling dungeons was one of my first tasks, the goal was to update the look and give the dungeons more mood and atmosphere. For Karrundax in particular it originally had a lot of red and blue lights, which really didn’t make sense at all. On top of that a lot of the lights had no real believable light source. So I deleted all the old lights and re-lit it from scratch. I made sure to have lights come from believable light sources as well as going for a yellow/orange color palette as opposed to the red and blue of the original.
Here are some before and after shots:
I would also break up “man made” lighting like fires and torches with natural lighting, such as a crack in wall with natural light shining through. I always try to break up lighting between natural and artificial. I’ll usually start with natural light sources then compliment it with artificial light sources after.
For the new environments Arm of the Delzoun, Old Dragon's Lair, and Araj Tower I started with paper maps and concepts. A lot of these initial paper maps and concept paintings look different from the final look as things change and evolve over the development cycle. In general I like to start with painting a concept that gives a sense of mood and motif for the environment. For Arm of the Delzoun I wanted to juxtapose one side of the map being dwarves and the other being more natural underdark. Araj tower was to be a mostly natural underdark environment juxtaposed by the tower built by Vizerans family. Initially I came up with my own idea for what this would look like but was later provided image reference by Wizards of the Coast.
After pre-production we go into full production. Content designers first block out the maps with “white boxes” and encounter combat pogs. As the environment artist I take these white box maps and set dress the environment while retaining the flow laid down by the content designer. Set dressing is like having a box of Legos, taking pieces and constructing an environment. I aim to tell a story through the set dressing from big things like a massive bridge with gears and steam pipes around it to a sleeping bag on the floor with a mug and book next to it.
These environments were made in phases:
Arm of the Delzoun
Old Dragon's Lair
Even though these environments share a lot of the same motifs and themes I still wanted them to feel unique. So Araj Tower has yellow crystals and Arm of the Delzoun has blueish crystals. In addition they also serve a story telling purpose. Arm of the Delzoun is mostly natural with drawrven elements. So I was able to create a nice cool vs. warm color lighting contrast. Dwarf lighting being warm and natural lighting being cool. With Araj Tower the yellow/orange lighting is accented by the small bits of purple lighting from Drow elements such as the Drow braziers and windows from Araj Tower itself. For Old Dragon's Lair it was a lot more straight forward as it is pretty much all naturally lit with a warm atmosphere.
In between those phases we also create collision and any new and unique art assets such as Araj tower.
For something like Araj Tower it has a very specific look. I had to do a lot of research and was also provided image reference from Wizards of the coast. I generally start off with a high poly sculpt. This model is millions of polys but it is used to bake down details to a lower poly game model. After baking down the details I create the textures and materials and import that asset into the engine.
After hitting all the major production points I spend some time polishing the work and refining what has been done. This can include reworking lighting, feedback changes, and overall just pushing it to be the best it can within the constraints of the engine.
Here are some shots of the finished environments:
Hope you all enjoyed this post!