Interview with the SW:TOR Senior Environment Artist

Star Wars The Old Republic

Bioware / Lucas Arts recently posted a news article interviewing Robby Lamb, senior environment artist behind Star Wars: The Old Republic.  The post goes through the process of how environments in the game evolve and transform into their final product. Mr. Lamb shows off downloadable screenshots of current environments within the game as he describes how the walls, materials, props & lighting are created and how they all come together to make this beautiful new sci-fi mmorpg.

In previous Bioware titles we have been treated to fantastically beautiful 3d environments.  However, what really sets them apart is the lighting and the grandiose rooms & levels throughout the games (see: Mass Effect & Dragon Age).  On the topic of walls & lighting he had this to say:

“As an Environment Artist, I love having time to polish the work that our team has put into the game. Quite often, assets and lighting may be completed months or years prior to the game’s release, so when we have time to polish this allows us to update and unify the game to the ever changing, growing, and evolving demands of development. This is especially true on an MMO like The Old Republic, where hundreds of different elements are interacting to make the multiplayer experience work correctly. When one element of the game changes, it can impact many others, so we may be required to polish the art in a certain part of the game, so that the story still works and the performance of the game is still optimal.”

“Apart from working on environment items like walls, another polish task is the re-lighting and adding of props to an area to help tell the visual story better. Appropriate lighting and props can quickly and visually tell you that an area is, for example, seedy as opposed to crime-free.”

Additionally, the props in any given 3D environment play a huge factor in the atmosphere created for the players.  Robby Lamb had this to say on that topic:

“Apart from working on environment items like walls, another polish task is the re-lighting and adding of props to an area to help tell the visual story better. Appropriate lighting and props can quickly and visually tell you that an area is, for example, seedy as opposed to crime-free.

This is important to the environment artists as well as the writers and designers whose story we are telling through art. Often we are given a description of an area that needs to be built out; let’s take a computer lab as an example. With a few NPCs placed inside, we might start with a computer lab in the simplest terms. However later in development a more detailed description may evolve – describing this area as a computer lab, locked from the outside, with a hacker trapped inside who is enslaved to the Empire. Based on this description we will go back into an area and address it by either building new or reusing more appropriate assets to fit the scene, relighting the area, as well as adjusting the environment settings such as fog depth or color.”

Mr. Lamb closed by giving some light on what they are trying to achieve with the final product and the focus they put on quality.

“Spending time to add polish to the game is extremely important, but it’s also a lot of fun as we see the game improve directly as a result of our work. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into what polish means from our perspective – and hopefully you have a better understanding of how important a simple wall can be in a game like The Old Republic!”

It’s a breath of fresh air that Bioware is taking the time to polish every aspect of how the game looks, unlike some of their competitors. With that said, even a premier developer like Bioware can make a mistake.  We will just have to see when Star Wars: The Old Republic releases.

For the full Q & A take a look at the source post: http://www.swtor.com/news/news-article/20110415

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