Phoenix Point : Art Test Postmortem

Well I finally got around to posting and sharing my experience with Phoenix Point. I went through some big life changes and this post had been placed on the back burner for a good amount of time. But now that the dust has settled a bit, here is my experience with their Art Test.

Not to long ago [ Mid-january. Told you, it has been a while. ] I was given an art test and instructions to create a small environment in less than a week. I needed to create heavily modular buildings that would fit a top down tactical game while dwelling in the universe of Phoenix Point. Focusing on a specific faction I had to make at least three buildings with various ground elements that could be arranged into a small environment and rendered in their preferred engine, Unity. I also had to utilize PBR and the metallic workflow. Deliverables included obj files, textures in Targa format, and a rendered fly through camera of the build. [That should have been my first red flag.]

Now given the allotted time, this is more than enough time to generate a small amount of assets to create a good base environment. Something just pass a blockout mesh or simple stand-ins. What actually happed however is that I unwillingly turned it into my own game jam. Going 20 hours straight to produce three buildings the day of the turn in.

As expected, it did not go so well. I highly recommend never to rush Art Tests.

But before we go into details and showcase my result. Lets go through and breakdown the art style. Including the faction design I was tasked with recreating and a general “rule-of-thumb” for top down modularity and asset specs.

All images of Phoenix Point used in this blog can be found in their press kit, various social media sites, and Trello pages. Nothing presented here was contained in the Art Test Package.

What’s the Purpose of an Art Test?

Now when you are given an art test, it’s usually done so to gauge whether you can work with little to no guidance and to determine what your work process is. If you’ve gotten an art test, it generally means they like your portfolio. So give yourself a pat on the back!

The art test will generally gauge how fast you work, how you pace yourself, and how you prioritize your work. Essentially they are testing how well you can perform without any micromanagement. Most art tests come with tight deadlines, which is there just to gauge if you can meet deadlines. So if you don’t finish an art test, at least submit what you have.

“Every shot not taken, is a shot missed.”

Some old saying my parents taught me.
Google credits hockey player, Wayne Gretzky

Lastly, don’t be shy to ask for compensation for your time. [ Something that I myself don’t do much of. ] For freelancers, dedicating time towards art tests means taking time away from paying gigs. Or if you work in a different industry, taking time off work to focus on the art test. [ Which I have done while working at TRU.] Your time is valuable and you should be compensated for it. Especially if the test requires you to submit source files. NEVER submit source files. [ For this case I only handed in three out of twelve assets, as they wanted source files to “review” my topology and modeling. Why do you they need all of it? ] One way or another the company will use it in a stage of production. If source files are required, politely ask for compensation. Until then just send rendered watermarked images. In my own experience I did a lot of art tests when I graduated college. Pouring hours of work and complete weekends [ had a regular 9-5 retail job at the time ] into art tests to never hear anything back.

Lastly, always ask for feedback. Most companies will ghost you, but there are a handful that will provided reasons and breakdowns as to why. One case it was simply another candidate had better traditional art skills than me. My art test was great and well done, but the other candidate had a better traditional foundation. [ Yes, that did hurt a little. ]

Art Style Background

My art test focused on the Disciples of Anu, one of many Phoenix Point factions. Now according to their Trello and Website, the Disciples are an impoverished zealous group that worships a sun like god. Demonstrated by a pristine and imposing temple amongst the slum like dwellings. This sets up some great contrasting themes with the rigid, hard edge, and structural tones of the temple to the organic, lumpy, and filth of the worshipers.

Generated color palette

Per usual, I run the concept images through some color generators, and create a simple color pallet to base my texturing off of. So the art test should contain these color elements within three buildings that demonstrate organic modular shapes. These buildings also need to invoke a feeling of filth and squalor. Simple to do with the darker colors in our pallet. As a bonus building, we should also include a temple to completely incapsulate what the Anu faction is.

Modelling

Again, the genre that this game is aiming for is a top down turn based strategy game. Which falls in line with games like XCOM, Into the Breach, Banner Saga, and Battletech. So taking a look at how those games are built along with provided concept art will help establish a solid conceptual foundation to create our modular assets.

So first thing first, we want to knock out the easy tasks. Allowing us to focusing most of our time on assets and components that will be seen by the player. For example, trash models can be done quickly as the player wont spend much to any time thoroughly analyzing the garbage textures and mesh.

Before we even begin modeling we need to determine the relative size of the assets. Most turn based games rely on a grid system. As shown below. So most if not all 3D assets need fit within a certain grid space. Whether it be a 2×4 or 5×3. We don’t want to create abnormally large assets like 16×8 grid spaces, as that will take away the modular use of the asset. With tactical games there is also a lot of elements that allow for stealth and cover, as well as vertical travel, so we also need to incorporate that into the design of the village.

In order to create buildings that would fit into their world we need to match their scale and determine the grid spacing. For Phoenix Point it’s very easy to see that scale in their more human environments. By looking at their tiles, we can approximate their grid spacing. We can determine rough height and width ratios, as well as the complexity of meshes and transfer that info into our own representation of the Anu.

This link is to the XCOM 2 Art Dump that has great examples of how the props and components where broken up and made.

ArtDump

Tasking

We need to first create a set of Modular assets for the Anu dwellings. By either creating smaller unique buildings or environment elements like guard towers or houses. The other option is to create individual components like walls, floors, and barricades. We need to prioritize less important assets [ which generally are the quicker ones to create ] over more crucial assets that take up more visual real-estate.

A list of tasking would look something like this.

  • Background and ground elements.
    • Something that can be generated very quickly and is then hidden by our created buildings.
  • Modular Building Components.
    • Simple Wall, Floor, and Roof components.

At this point we don’t have to worry about texturing. We just need to quickly generate meshes and get them into the scene to determine silhouette and composition. This pass would focus on the Anu Dwellings at the time, given that was the first requirement on the Art Test. Focusing on the temple components last. Once everything is in the scene, we did a quick lighting pass, and a good base is generated, we can then focus on textures.

  • Simple Props.
    • This would be assets like trash, small decorative components [ like a string of lights or potted plants ] and other components that helps break up the silhouette and composition of the building but isn’t paid much attention to by the player.
  • Larger Props.
    • This would include buildings and features that are more recognizable, used frequently by the player, or complex. This would include barricades, level defining props, or any intractable components.
  • Clean Up.
    • Then lastly we would want to clean up and get some good lighting done and set up our fly through camera.

My Submission

Now that we went over how to do it, here is an example of how NOT to do it. Now this was a pretty bad submission. My priorities and tasking were backwards due to very poor planning and not much forethought for the outcome. I created three texture sets for the whole thing, attempted to create a ground level, and cobbled together three building from twelve static meshes. [ It’s one of those “do as I say and not as a I do” kind of hypocritical moments. Really should listen to myself more. ]

I reached out after submission [ as I was put in direct contact with a member of the hiring team ] and inquired of any feedback or comments on my submission. As of April haven’t heard back yet. [ And pretty sure I won’t ]

Post Mortem

So what could I have done better with my test?

  • Don’t cram 7 days of work into a continuous 20 hour sprint.
    • You overwork yourself, don’t get a break from it, and really loose track of how things are going.
  • Good Lighting
    • This is pretty bad lighting. Doesn’t set a mood, doesn’t evoke a feeling. It’s pretty bland.
  • Nothing screams “filthy”
    • Need to push more on the silhouette of these buildings. They are too rigid and clean, for the “hovels” of the Anu.
  • Silhouette & Composition
    • Again, this obviously screams “rushed production”

To many errors were made on this one that culminated into a final product that was other than what was needed. Doing this has allowed me to identify my mistakes, and as soon as the dust finishes settling I will come back to this and make it a proper portfolio piece.

2018 Rewind Time

2018 has come to an end which means it’s time to frantically rush through many unfinished projects while reflecting on this years accomplishments. Having started this blog about five months ago there isn’t much for content on here. But I wanted to reflect on some accomplishments that haven’t really been shared publicly.

Big Life Update

So first thing up, Meet Flick! One of the biggest surprises of 2018 was the new addition to our small little family.

Story Time…

Probably the luckiest kitten I’ve ever meet. One night, my significant other and I were driving home. She saw him crossing the road as two [ TWO! ] cars swerved in front of us. Slamming on the breaks, my fiance immediately jumped out of the car into 6 lanes of traffic in order to save him. After scoping him up, she then frantically tried to cross those six lanes to get to the sidewalk instead of, you know, just returning to the car. We ended up taking him back home with us, as all shelters were closed for the night and the only open Vet ER refused to see him as he was possibly feral. [ It was around 10pm by this point. ] After about a week or two of bottle feeding him we ended up naming him Flick [ not for the irony of him being flicked out of the back of a car, which is the only way we could theorize him ending up in the middle of the road. ] but because our senior kitty is named Meeko. Named after the raccoon from Pocahontas. At the time we both thought the humming bird’s name was Flick. [ It’s actually Flit. ] It wasn’t until after we gave the Vet that name did we realize it was wrong. But that name was already on all the paperwork. After that he, well, just stayed around. Although we were “actively” looking for a foster home. [ One Facebook Post made at 3am. ]

2018 Accomplishments

1. Built a PC

After working on and starting my career with a 2014 Macbook Pro, after four years I have finally made the switch to PC. A very basic and somewhat limiting build that has a few hiccups here and there but it was my first attempt at machine building. Which really was just me altering a few parts in a already built PC, nothing to complicated however it did cost more to upgrade the pre-built model than it would have if I had just bought the parts individual and built it myself while crossing my fingers that everything went correctly. But from this experience I learned a lot about PC Builds, subscribed to some cool content creators, and learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes it’s just easier [ and cheaper ] to risk failure and do it yourself.

This right here is my current build [ but covered in random Red Bubble Stickers. ] With a few minor upgrades, which include :

  • A new Samsung 860 EVO 500GB 2.5 Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-76E500B/AM)
  • Additional G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM Desktop Memory (1600 MHz, PC3 12800) F3-12800CL10D-16GBXL. Allowing for 32 GB RAM
  • And a new coating of ARCTIC MX-4 Thermal Paste, as my CPU was reaching 70F while running Chrome.

2. This Blog

I started writing again! After seeing so many amazing artists start blogs and give informative insights to their careers and jobs, I decided to join the ban wagon and do the same. Hopefully in doing so something will come out of this that will give back to this amazing community that I find myself in.

3. Polycount Front Page

A personal highlight and accomplishment for me! One of my projects made it to the front page of Polycount. If you want to see the breakdown of that sword you can do so here -> Induction Blade

Honorable Mentions

  • Throughout 2018 I managed to accomplish a lot for my career as a freelancer, that I yet can’t discuss yet but hopefully soon!
  • Finished one personal Prop from start to finish. [ Better than 0 props! ]
  • Got a little farther on my personal environment. [ Which I really need to wrap up and let go of this perfectionism I’ve indirectly applied to it. Like seriously the project is like 2 years old now dudes. ]
  • Finished Six Books, ranging from Game Design, Autobiographies, and Programming books. [ Mostly for the Pi and possibly cool robot builds. ]

2019 Goals

And of course following traditional cultural practices, going into the new year means creating new goals. [ To later break after a few months. ] Given that this is a “new” blog [ new me ] my 2019 goals are made for the purpose of having small stepping stones. Hopefully in a good direction.

1. More Artwork

Literally anything goes with this simple goal of just making more art. Whether that be doodles, traditional drawing, props, environments. Art is art, and I plan to make more of it.

Image result for art meme

2. More Reading & Writing

So far I have managed to keep to about two blog posts a month, but just barely. With the new year reworking and producing more written content would be a huge improvement.

3. Diet & Exercise

Honesty what new year’s resolution would be complete without the foundation of a change in one’s diet and exercise? But we have to start with baby steps. So first things to completely get rid of are soda and fast food. We tried the Keto Diet but it only lasted a few months before we caved. Also things got really busy leading up to the holidays that our will cracked and we got pizza one time. From there it was a down hill slope to pasta and breads. Lots. Of pasta. And bread.

With that and the many other goals and projects I have left, thanks to the Scrum Plugin “Burndown for Trello”, I wont be finishing my goals until around June 20, 2021. Which should be fun to see that time estimate get smaller in 2019!

And that’s a wrap on 2018, cheers!

The BOHM System: Motivation Pt. 4

So here we are, the final part to this four part series. [ Until I update it to a stable Beta Build ]. Only took five months to get here, but we did it. In this mini series I have discussed the serious risks of prolonged Burn Out, tips to stay Organized during production, and how to stay Healthy when you end up sitting for most of the day. However most of these can’t be done without our last step, Motivation. Without a good system or a basic motivational foundation most of the actions we took during the first three steps won’t amount to much. Motivation is the driving force that can help implement new habits as well as keep you focused through the rougher patches of life. Wether it be personal projects, work, or refusing to slam the snooze button one more time. Motivation is the power house for Determination.

Below of course will be some helpful tips and tricks on staying motivated, by tricking yourself into action, and discussing habits that are big motivation killers. [ Like the Playstation that hasn’t been turned on for a month, and well, you just got to check to make sure it still runs. ]

Image result for motivation meme

Motivation Crash Course

There are a lot of tricks to help you keep true while trudging through your to do list. All tasks and projects have rough patches. Wether it be a person, process, or location you don’t like. [ Like my husky’s hatred for the vet’s office but, she absolutely loves car rides. ] There is always going to be a time in which you start second guessing yourself. It’s during these times where most goals go unachieved or projects die. This is where the joy and eagerness you had at the beginning fades away. And to be honest it’s real shitty.

While attending college I spent countless hours on “Rev-Share” and “Exposure” projects that never saw the light of day. Not due to the lack of talent but because there weren’t manageable goals and the vagueness of most milestone where so far down the road, that a lot of teams disappeared because they lost sight of the end goal. [ And I signed NDA’s cause the paperwork looked cool, felt official, and felt that I was really doing something. At least I can keep warm by burning my exposure dollars. ] 

So how can we go about preventing these sort of things from happening? How can we stick to our goals and push through those rough patches that are carelessly sprinkled throughout our lives? 

1. Visualize Your Goals

The first step to motivation is to visualize your goal. To sear a mental image of what the finished goal will look like into your brain. If your goal is to loose weight, visualize yourself thinner. If you want to work at a certain game studio, visualize yourself working in that studio. Visualizing your goals is the first step in achieving them. Don’t let your dreams be memes.

2. Manage Your Goals.

Breaking down your goals into bite size chunks can turn mountains into mole hills. We don’t want to sprint to the finish line. Doing so will cause exhaustion [ risking burnout. ] Or. When you get there, the fruits of your labor are sour and bitter [ unless you like those sort of things. ] So if your goal is pretty hefty, break it down. Jumping feet first into a AAA gaming studio straight out of college is safe to say, a very big and challenging goal. So maybe your first step would be to create a portfolio that matches the art style of your target studio. Maybe enroll with that studios QA Department and work your way up. [ As stated by many accounts and interviews posted over at Gamasutra. ] Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was any AAA Quality Portfolio.

3. Make it Fun

Set goals that interest you. Basically making sensible goals, as life shouldn’t be a drag. For example if you want to loose weight but don’t want to get involved with weights or power cleans, then just stick to the dieting and running. Or if you don’t like running then just the dieting. Essentially your goals should be enjoyable because, if you hate the notion of your goal you won’t reach for it or stick to it. For myself I like the nature parks, so my [ monthly ] exercising involves walking around national parks and reserves. Sometimes even taking the dog, if it’s cool enough.

4. Set Rewards

Who doesn’t like rewards? We have them everywhere. From Games to Movies, to even grocery shopping. [ With most stores you can download an app and get points for buying food. ] So why not add a reward system to your goals? Maybe you land that large goal of getting in with a studio. Go out and treat yourself. If it’s a smaller goal then take a day off, play a video game or travel. Really the goals should be something you will want and motivating enough that you will work for it. You carrot [ for me, french fries ] on a stick.

Related image

5. Make Your Goals Public

Team up or find a social network. Maybe you need that extra pressure to reach your goals or an extra hand to make something great. Team collaboration or even a mentor is great to have as support. Two great support groups on facebook are Level Up! and 10k Hours. The are great groups of people that always provide great feedback and helpful tips. Also of course there is Polycount. Another great site to seek help and support, as well as motivation to keep improving.

6. Complete One Task A Day

Completing one task a day is progress. Even if it’s a small task it’s one more task than yesterday and one more step. The best habit is to jump straight into work and limit the amount of distractions you deal with on a daily basis. One example would be to not check your emails until noon, instead focusing most of your morning on breakfast and work. This should be catered to you. Some people aren’t functional until noon while others are most productive after the sun goes down. You want place the bulk of your work during the time where you are the most productive.

7. Be Flexible

You know, shit just happens in life and you need to be flexible. Frequently adapting your goals to whatever life throws at you is a great habit to practice. If you can’t adapt your goals to fit within your circumstances, they become stagnate and eventually forgotten. For an easy example if your goal is to run every morning, but it begins to get cold outside or even snows. The goal is now difficult to do. Running in snow isn’t fun for most people. So in order to keep with your goal change it to run in the afternoon [ when it’s hopefully warmer ] or change it to a treadmill until it starts getting warmer. Having the idea to wait out the cold, is a slippery slope. As a day without running, turns into two, which then turns into week. So by the time it is warm outside again, you have either gained weight or hate running.

8. Make a list of reasons

Last tip is to write out reminders as to why you are setting these goals. Sometimes the reasons you set a goal often get forgotten on the road to achieving them. So whip out the sticky notes or set phone reminders. Plaster your reasons where you can, like the fridge, mirror, or on-top of your game console. Share them with friends who can keep you on track or share with your parents or significant other [ as both of them wont ever stop nagging about it. ]

Motivation Killers

Now for two biggest things to avoid when trying to achieve your goals.

1. Negativity

Negative thoughts and people are the worse things to keep around yourself when you are trying to achieve your goals. [ And in general. ] But don’t get negativity confused with criticism. As good criticism can serve as a reality check and actually help steer you back towards your goals, if you start to wander. However, in order to achieve your goals and to stay motivated you will need try your best to remove negative thoughts and even people on your way to achieve your goals.

Image result for good vibes man kelly's heroes

2. Imperfect Scenerios

Focusing on the negative and mentally creating the most unlikely of scenarios only feeds into the sense of hopelessness. Causing you to feel defeated before even taking the first step. Imagining these negative outcomes can be very debilitating. A lot of goals I started off for 2018 never come to fruition because I focused on the worse outcome, so they never made it past the sticky note phase.

Wrap Up

To keep motivated you need to be positive in many situations and cut out the negativity. Setting fun and manageable goals will remove the dread that is sometimes associated with “setting goals”. Helping you take the first steps towards major life changes or even smaller changes. Like repotting plants or upgrading the coffee table from a alcohol and fast food stained, cheap college grade plywood table to a elegant mid-century modern heavy duty table, with matching coasters.