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Hi everyone! I’m Jeff Miller, Environment Artist on Neverwinter, here to talk to you about one of our new zones for Neverwinter: Storm King’s Thunder – Bryn Shander.
Working on Bryn Shander was a challenge, but a great one! This map has two major areas, the inside section of the city and just outside the southern gate in the tundra. Before starting the map I gathered as much reference and lore as possible. Bryn Shander is a very iconic town in Icewind Dale and it was important to get it right. We had very little actual imagery to go from; most of it came straight from the official playbook as well as working with Wizards of the Coast.
(Official WotC Image: Brynshander Market)
Once I had all my lore and reference in the bag and our story for Storm King’s Thunder figured out, it was time to start working on the zone itself. We knew that a big part of this zone was magic ice created by the Ring of Winter. So I took some time in developing a new material shader that would bring in some realistic qualities of ice but still keep it within our art style within Neverwinter. This was a great challenge! I wanted to achieve a sense of depth in the ice while keeping that clear-colored look. Below is a shot of a test case to show off what the shader can do.
The next step was to start working with our concept team in coming up with a magic ice shape language to use across all the magic ice going forward. Here are some early thumbnails of those ideas.
(Early thumbnails for magical ice shape language)
Once we finally settled on the shapes I started to create the in-game geometry. This process started by figuring out how many different unique shapes I needed and then creating those in Zbrush. Zbrush is a 3d sculpting program that allows the user to work geometry much like you would a piece of clay in the real world.
(High resolution sculpt of Magic Ice)
As for the map itself, like I mentioned earlier, it was split up into two sections. The first section is the town and the second is the tundra just outside the southern gate. While working with the content designer, we decided that most of the gameplay will take place in the tundra portion of the town, so it wasn’t crucial to create the entire town. I created just enough space to help tell the story we wanted to convey. Below is an early version of the map while we were still figuring out size and game play space. The multi colored discs you see in the world are rough ideas for specific gameplay.
(Early Work in Progress layout of Bryn Shander)
Both the town and the tundra had some challenging hurtles to overcome. The tundra, based on the lore, is barren and empty. It’s all snow and some elevation changes. Also the town is built at the top of a big hill. So there is a slight incline across the entire map with the town at the top. The challenging part to this was figuring out how to make this vast openness feel exciting and cool. By exploring the use of elevation changes and natural elements such as boulders and outcroppings of snow covered grass, the tundra feel was achieved. The next step that would help break up the landscape more was the inclusion of story elements. Something happened in Bryn Shander that left huge shards of ice crashing down in the surrounding tundra.
(Image of the tundra south of town)
The town of Bryn Shander also had a couple challenges. The first comes with building any town and it has to do with composition / layout while thinking about gameplay space. The other was incorporating the story elements into the city. The GIF below swaps through a few different stages I went through while creating the city.
(Stages of town construction)
(Shot from one of the streets in Bryn Shander)
Working on Storm King's Thunder has been really awesome! Working on bringing Bryn Shander to life was exciting and challenging at the same time. I had a great time trying to figure out what the zone would be and I’m very excited for you all to get in and experience the new locations we have brought to life from the frozen lands of Icewind Dale!
See you in game!