M.A.D - Machines Anarchy and Destruction

A few years ago I received an invitation from a friend in the US, he had begun work on a new indie game title written around the OGRE open source engine and the gameplay was quite well advanced - he wanted me on board for graphics. It looked pretty good, and played well even at an early alpha stage so I agreed.

Another good pal in UK had already spent a lot of time developing and rigging the first functional in-game assets, but lacked the time and inclination to fully develop the large library of current gen 3D assets that a finished title would require. So the next year or 2 were spent developing and testing lots of content, including animated models, tilesets and particle FX - some of which in its current state is displayed below.

Latest in-game renders of a desert environment showing a playable infantry soldier and several of the Antiarch vehicles.

A materials test for a 3D brush library designed to simulate a high tech shanty town set into canyon walls, this section includes a factory bay.

Antiarch scout bike armed with LMG and Scattergun. All vehicles including bikes were enclosed, ostensibly due to atmospheric acidity (or something)...in MAD's world people live in pressurised caves or old mines and only venture outdoors heavily armoured against the elements.

Antiarch construction rig, used to build turrets and base structures using some kind of high tech nano-construction stolen from their foes, the Kautylians. Inspired by Pandemic Studios excellent Battlezone series, MAD is designed to play like a tactical RTS, however unit and base control is via a HUD interface in a FPS shooter style environment.

Resourcing for construction and unit building was dependent on salvage collected by such units as the Antiarch hauler above.

A heavy Antiarch tank unit with black teamskin. This variant mounts 120mm howitzer for use as long range artillery.

Antiarch gunship prototype. Brief was to depart as far as possible from any conventional design (it'd maybe fly I guess...).

The Antiarch faction was defined as being neo-punk anarchic Mad Max style road bandits. Armies of anarchists present the designer with a problem - the more spiky and makeshift (and anarchic) a vehicle or character becomes the better it looks - but in a squad based game, once you start getting mobs of identical anarchists charging about the effect is totally ruined by their uniformity.

The images above are 2 variations on the Antiarch medium ATV. The plan was to allow the engine to swap out wheels and suspension parts and detail geometry from a library of snap-on variations more or less at random, so the anarchic theme of the faction would be maintained.

In order to reduce texture overhead, and provide for easy tribal variations all of the Antiarch vehicles above were mapped back to the same texture, with small seperate textures used for transparent areas.

The Kautylian constructor and WIP attack chopper - the team colours would vary with different camo schemes, Kautylian units share 2 large textures. The Kautylians were described as being slightly more ordered and advanced than the Antiarchs, with technology descended from improvised mining vehicles.

Kautylian Medium ATV, armed with a 30mm rapidfire railgun and a medium mass driver. There are also stripped down "Anarchised" versions of these vehicles (assumed stolen and improvised) for use as random foes.

An early design for Antiarch mobile factory. Mobile factories are a feature of Battlezone that is rarely used in any meaningful way because the player also needs to build static structures which cannot be so easily relocated. Therefore it's inclusion in MAD as little more than a plot device to explain away potential story holes was eventually deemed not worth the effort.

A selection of various nasty weapons is of course essential. The vehicles were designed to accept powerups in the field, each weapon was defined by type and grade to fit specific hardpoints and each had it's own snap on geometry. The Kautylian scout ATV above is fitted with a LMG and a 40mm grenade launcher, each of which could be swapped out for any other similar weapon that fit either of the vehicles 2 light hardpoints.

Medium resolution Kautylian infantry armour used to define ambient occlusion and bump maps for the game rez model.

Game resolution Kautylian infantry armour. Much like the vehicles, the heads and textures would be randomly swapped out to create variety.

Early diffuse texture test of the kautylian infantry armour. The current in-game version has a head and is fully animated for FPS style interaction, although some functions are yet to be implemented.

Unfortunately, development of MAD had been effectively on hold for several months due to external commitments on behalf of the programmer but since progress has resumed recently I am still hoping the game may one day get finished. Current shader implementation is under-developed and there are several lighting issues which mar the overall look, but here are a few screenshots of  in-game assets and terrain tilesets rendered from early dev builds.

Credit for the following images is also due to:

Vehicle rigging, additional UV mapping and some sick hi-res baking - Mark Southgate AKA Lizard
Game and editor programming, project lead - Bob Stewart AKA BSer.
Photographic texture source - CGtextures.com
Powered by OGRE

The OGRE engine supports much better rendering than is apparent in some of these early shots, but even so the results were reasonable. There's no reason why this wouldn't have ended up quite pretty (at least for a zero budget indie) but it's never totally up to the artist.

Programming games is by no means easy. However in addition game graphics in this generation require a lot of implementation at the code end, which is simply inaccessible to development by the artist. Shaders and compositors and materials and shadows and lights and particles all require significant code support - it is unavoidable and this fact needs to be fully understood by the involved code team if they want even nominally realistic results.

It's a difficult and time intensive task to create and animate even a single 'realistic' 3D game actor - and graphics programming is no picnic either - but inevitably the end result is firmly out of the artists hands. Geometry and textures do not exist in a vacuum, realistic scenes are more about lighting and shadows than anything else. The best geometry in the world is wasted if the rendering environment isn't capable of drawing and shading a realistic scene but I know that OGRE can leverage the desired results.

MAD is no longer in production as of early 2011. However Void Destroyer also uses Ogre as the graphics engine, so the asset production pipe that was set up for MAD has made it very easy to recycle a few of these assets.


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