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The Cartographer
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The Cartographer

Nicole Ong Jing Wen
by Calista Lee Min Fen, Jessabel Teng Sheng Hui, Lydia Lui Liang Hui, and nixart on 24 May 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

The Cartographer is a single-player, 3D action-adventure game developed in Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) and playable on Microsoft Windows. "Join Eljinn as he sets out on a journey, seeking to become the world’s finest Cartographer. Will he eventually succeed, or will he be stopped by the precarious Miasma?”

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"A young boy sets out on a journey of a lifetime, seeking to become the world’s finest Cartographer. In his journey, he discovers a greater need that is to save the forest. Join him as he traverses through lands fraught with dangers and excitement, struggling against the precarious MiasmaWill he succeed in living his dreams, or will the Miasma stop him in his tracks? Only time will tell."


Project Details:

The Cartographer is a final year student game project. It is a single-player, 3D action-adventure game developed in Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) and playable on Microsoft Windows. The game is heavily focused on exploration and third-person role-playing elements. Set in a fantasy world, the player controls a young boy named Eljinn who aspires to become the World’s finest Cartographer, and is accompanied by his companion hawk, Muninn.

This game project is designed as a game demo of the entire world, where the player will be able to experience a projected playtime of 60 minutes; as a portion of the game and story.

Project Involvement:

CJLN Studios is a team of 4 comprising of Calista Lee Min Fen, Jessabel Teng Sheng Hui, Lydia Lui Liang Hui and Nicole Ong Jing Wen.

The roles are as follows:

Calista Lee: Lead Rigging Artist, 3D Texture Artist, Motion Graphics Artist, Scenario Writer 

Jessabel Teng: Lead Game Programmer, UE4 Blueprint Artist, 3D Modeler & Texture Artist 

Lydia Lui: Lead Concept Artist, UIUX Artist, Scenario Writer

Nicole Ong: Lead 3D Modeler, Level Designer, Game Programmer & UE4 Blueprint Artist, Animator

As the team is well versed in 2D and 3D Animation and Modelling, all members had a hand in different aspects of asset creation and development.

Software used in the creation of assets and game development:

Autodesk Maya, Adobe Photoshop CC, Adobe After Effects (Premiere), ZBrush, Substance Painter, Unreal Engine 4

Gameplay Trailer:

Characters:

We have 6 characters in our game - Eljinn (the main character), Munnin (Eljinn's pet hawk), and 4 forest creatures.

Maya and Zbrush were used for modelling and Substance Painter and Photoshop were used for texturing.

Eljinn, the Cartographer

He sets out on a journey to become the world’s finest Cartographer, and aims to chart maps of lands yet traversed.

Uses a device known as the Cartolabe, which enables him to chart and record maps.

Eljinn and Cartolabe concept by Lydia Lui

Base Model by Lydia Lui

ZBrush details by Nicole Ong

Munnin, the Hawk

The main character’s trusted companion, and aids the Cartographer with charting maps using magic.

His senses are akin to a Global Positioning System (GPS) and help to foresee the geography of the land. 

Muninn concept by Lydia Lui, Model by Calista Lee

Gremlin

Non-Playable Characters (NPC) which reside in The Bygone Forest.

Player can interact with them and gain insight on the Miasma’s impact on the location.

Gremlin concept and model by Jessabel Teng

Creatures that appear in The Bygone Forest

Due to the effects of the Miasma, they have become increasingly hostile.

Will attack any living creature unaffected by the Miasma.

Creatures concept by Lydia Lui

Deer and Boar models by Jessabel Teng, Bunny model by Nicole Ong

Environment:

There are 2 levels in our game - Steppe of Recrudescence (House Level) and The Bygone Forest (Forest Level)


Steppe of Recrudescence

This is where the player will start their journey

House level concept by Lydia Lui

Level Design, lighting and foliage by Nicole Ong 

The Bygone Forest

The forest is shrouded by Miasma and the player is tasked to save it. Glowing crystals can be found around the forest and by placing them at their respective ruins, the player will clear the Miasma in the area. 

Forest level concept by Lydia Lui

Trees were later changed from purple to red for a more foreboding look.

Level Design, lighting and main foliage by Nicole Ong 

Draw overs were done on our forest map to plan out routes to guide the player in the game as well as strategically placing crystal clusters, creatures, and hiding spots.

Game Mechanics:

Major Unreal Engine coding was done by Jessabel Teng 


Crystal collection

As cartography is the main aspect of this game, players will need to chart a whole map (excluding the starting level - The Steppe of Recrudescence) to complete a level. This aspect has been ingrained in a ‘lock-and-key’ system. Players will need to fetch crystals and place them in their respective ruins to unlock a section of the level map. Players can access the map via the ‘M’ key to check their progress.

Players will be given an outline of a blank map to begin with. Only the crystals’ locations will be indicated on it. They will have a choice to use Markers to mark out locations (e.g. Ruins spots) as they venture in the game. This is to keep track in case they need to navigate back to a previous spot. A section of the map will be revealed once the player places the crystal on the ruin.

Health System

To give the player a challenge and a sense of danger in the game, a health system is included. The health bar will be present on the screen at all times, reflecting whether the player has taken damage. Creatures that are under the influence of the Miasma will attack the player if they are nearby. Each creature is allocated a section of the map to patrol. To counter them, the player can hide in hiding spots until the creature passes them before they continue to venture on.

(The health bar shown in the image below is temporary and only used for testing)

Sample hiding spots (top 2 and bottom left) and ruin (bottom right) by Calista Lee and Jessabel Teng


Entering the Miasma without holding a crystal will also deplete the player's health.

Herbs are scattered around the world where players can eat them to restore a portion of their health. Different herbs have a different amount of regeneration points. If the player dies, they will respawn at the previous checkpoint. The previous checkpoint is determined by the last interaction of the placement of a crystal on a ruin.

Herb models by Lydia Lui


Hawk Cam - Flying with Muninn

The player can also switch between Eljinn and Muninn via the ‘H’ key. However, the player will not be allowed to control Muninn. Rather, they will get a bird’s eye view of the level through Muninn.

UI/UX Design:

All UI/UX elements were designed by Lydia Lui

We designed a user interface with the use of minimalism and refined elements to stay within a theme. The font Alata best suited the clean look that we were aiming for and a neutral colour of pale yellow was kept as the main theme throughout different UI/UX elements of the game.


Menu Interface 

(colour scheme is not final)

Systems Menu Mock-up

Journal Menu Mock-up

Icon and Marker Designs

A motif of a diamond, symbolizing magic crystals, are worked into each icon to provide an ongoing theme across the UI design.  

Map Icons

Menu Icons

Rigging:

All characters were rigged by Calista Lee

Rigging for the models was done in Maya 2018. A combination of quadruped rigs and biped rigs, coupled with customisations tailored to the model’s needs were used. While rigging, it is important to prioritise certain sections (e.g. sections which require greater mobility or customised movement) and combine rigs for usage. As such, it is also essential to learn about the difference between rigging for a game and for animation, for the latter requires much more control and accuracy for the rigs.

The Boar was the first model to be rigged due to our team’s inexperience with quadruped rigs and would like more time to explore and experiment with. The main issue with the rig was the ability to complete the IK/FK switch, as it is a lengthy process to do both an IK and FK rig while connecting it to the switch-set of bones to blend the pair together. As such, we decided to stick to a predominant IK rig, while having FK controls for greater control on the more delicate details such as the ears and tusks.

Boar's rig

Eljinn’s rig was done primarily on a low poly count mesh, to which a normal map will be projected onto the mesh for more efficient rigging. The reduction in poly count reduced the loading time during rigging. It, however, also caused paint weight problems due to the lack of faces to capture sufficient weight data for each control. As such, it is important to consider a balance between having a higher number of faces for better paint-weight control, whilst not having too high a poly count to prevent additional loading time.

Eljinn's rig

Muninn’s rig is a customised rig of quadruped (for the legs) and biped (arms and body) for the wings. For better control of the wing’s bending, FK controls are opted for due to their range and accuracy of how it mimics bird wing bone movement in real life. A control is also added to each wing feather to aid in animation later on. 

Muninn's rig

The rigs for each creature is unique, and it is essential to consider the way they move; the range of movement for a hopping and running creature, a four-legged (quadruped) and a two-legged (biped) creature is vastly different. 

Cinematic Cutscenes:

We opted for 2D cutscenes for the storytelling of the more important events within our game (e.g. Introduction) in order for the narration to have a more fantastical tone. The cutscene is animated similarly to how a motion graphic is done; with keyframes and generally fewer in-betweens. The flexibility of such a style enables a deeper narrative to be presented on the world’s lore.

Sample motion graphics cutscenes by Calista Lee and Lydia Lui

The foreground, middle ground and background layers were separately painted in Photoshop, to which they were brought into AfterEffects to be animated. It is done so in order to control depth within the frames to allow the presentation to appear less flat and more interesting to the eye.

Reflection:

It has been an interesting experience attempting to create a game based on all the specialisation of the group members (with animation background), as all of us have next to no experience in actual game creation. We also managed to explore programmes such as Substance Painter and UE4 on a more in-depth level and pushing the limits of what we can achieve with our knowledge and tools.

Some of the challenges faced were:

The scale and workload of the project

We had to drastically cut down on the amount of content we initially hope to achieve, as the previous goal was too ambitious within the given time frame.

A proper workflow and game pipeline

Coming from an animation background, it took us a bit of coordination amongst ourselves to figure out a more efficient way of working due to the foreign nature of the game pipeline to us.

Game creation knowledge (coding)

Due to the team’s inexperience in coding, the combination of blueprinting and troubleshooting the code was unpredictable and had expended a bit of time, throwing off our initial schedule. Hence, we had to be adaptable and play to our strengths to be as efficient as possible.

All in all, we would like to thank our professor for the guidance and advice rendered during the period of this project, as well as all the relevant staff in providing feedback for the improvement of the game demo as a whole.

It has truly been an enjoyable and riveting experience. 


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