Sharky Games: Presently, Rogue is in the development stage of Alice, where I’m told you’re working with Zach Hall on ambient model skins. Can you tell us a bit about this? What does this particular task involve?
Rich Fleider: It’s hard to refer to “skinning” without sounding vaguely sleazy or sinister but I’ll try anyway. Basically, we wrap a 2d texture map around every 3d model in the game. We spread out all of the surfaces flat on one or more images (24 or 32 bit TGAs in this instance) so that they can be worked on with a minimal amount of stretching. The tricky part is that there is finite space on each TGA so it’s important to maximize the coverage on each surface area. If the skin has poor coverage the completed object will look pixilated and unnatural, especially if it’s supposed to be organic. You can make the .TGA larger but then it eats up more precious memory. To maximize memory usage, smaller or less important models are given lower resolution skins while models that the player will see more often or investigate in greater detail have larger or even multiple skins. Add to that the dizzying variety of shader effects that can be layered onto a skin at the cost of a higher memory and a more noticeable frame rate hit and you’ve got quite a balancing act on your hands.
There is such a long list of ambient models in “Alice” that Zach Hall and Ben Hall who normally do concept art and both of our texture artists, Chris Greenhaw and Steve Hornback have pitched in to help out. That doesn’t even take into consideration all of the character skins that are being handled by Aaron Smith. There’s so much work that we contracted out additional skins to Lee Dotson. Even with all those talented artists on board, the skins were one of the last artwork assets to be completed in this project.
Sharky Games: When you’re not being the Vice President or Lead 2D Artist, what sorts of things do you enjoy doing?
Rich Fleider: Sleeping. 😉 I try to get in as much time with my girlfriend as possible and she’s pretty outdoorsy so I wind up doing some swimming, roller-blading, boating, and fossil hunting. We’re currently also shopping around for a house so we’ve been spending a lot of time poking around in other people’s homes looking for foundation damage. I still make an extra effort to squeeze in quality time with my girlfriend whenever I can. Crunch time has been the ruin of many a developer’s relationship and it can be a strain on even the most accepting people. She’s been really understanding about it all though.
I’m still a geeky gamer at heart though because I really need my fix of pen and paper RPGs. For me, that’s actually one of the harder things about ramping up to crunch time. The RPG night is usually the first thing to go. All outside distractions get cut down to working and sleeping.