In Inside Gaming, we invite Sketchfab game developers to talk about their work. We asked Winston Powell to tell us about his project Sprout, his workflow, and his inspirations.
My name is Winston Powell and I am a game developer, an artist, and the co-creator of a game project called Sprout. I have released several games, the most recent being a CN Games mobile game called Time Tangle – Adventure Time. I’m really happy to have the opportunity to share a bit about myself and my current project with everyone. I hope you all take something useful away from my experiences!
How It Started
Plenty of the games you play and see coming out now started at a humble game jam. For those of you who aren’t sure what that is; a game jam is a set period of time where a single person or groups of people jam out small scale games. Some participate to learn new things, some are testing out mechanics for larger projects, and some just want an excuse to make games! Many of the games created at game jams become the foundation or prototypes of full games you might see coming out today and that’s exactly how it started with our game called Sprout.
I have an okay time with game jams because they are a good change of pace but I’m always a bit reluctant to participate because once you start working, time seems to fly and before ya’ know it, there goes the weekend. However, this game jam was a bit different. The Greenlight Jam took place over the course of a month and was divided into three parts. Each part focused on a different stage of game development and the hope was to have a much more substantial game by the end of it all. I doubt anyone worked the full month straight, but the idea of it had everyone setting their scope much higher than they would have in a standard jam, leading to some very ambitious projects.
At the beginning of the jam, I spent some time expanding on a vague idea I had been thinking about for a little while but didn’t wait too long before making the assets. I wanted to relax during this jam so I never spent too much time on anything. Even the artwork for this concept was designed to be quick and easy to produce yet aesthetically pleasing at the same time. The result was a very low detailed, colorful, and varied set of assets that created a minimalistic nature environment for the player.
Once the design and the assets were complete for the most part, my very good friend Alex Bascom, aka Ali Ababwa, aka Grandmaster Wizard, was all set to jump on the project and put everything into action while I was away at PAX East showing off Time Tangle! When I returned, we spent the rest of our time implementing the assets and getting all the objects to behave properly in the game. We even had a bit of time to add in a fancy tutorial at the last minute which added a bit of what might resemble polish to our jam game.
For our presentation, I put together this short gameplay trailer you can see below. Also for anyone interested in getting a closer look, they can download and play the Sprout Playable Prototype from the game jam right now!
When we presented the game and let people play, everyone responded very positively and their enthusiasm for the project fueled our own. We were being asked how we would expand on the game and if there were further plans for it. The notion of continuing with the project was on both our minds and we eventually sat down and started planning a full game.
The core game itself has undergone plenty of changes. After the feedback from our tests and our own considerations, we decided to rebuild the game from scratch for this new Sprout. This way, we aren’t dealing with old game jam code and we have the freedom to expand into new territories with much more ease.
Where the art is concerned, the new Sprout has been a chance for me to refine the minimal style and add loads more content! The old art was so minimal that it started to feel lazy the more I looked at it so I decided to come up with something a bit more complex. The models have been updated to be more intricate and interesting and our lighting and image effects have more appeal. I did a bit of research on lighting techniques, image effects, and materials to see what we needed Unity to do to reach our visual target. Now, after a bit of tinkering, I feel like we are closer but things will most likely change the further we get in development.
Because this has been more of a passion project for the both of us, progress has been very slow. One of the biggest challenges of working on a game like this is it doesn’t pay the bills so we are both having to spend more time away on other projects instead of laying right into this one. On the upside, taking things slow is really relaxing and allows us to refine and build out ideas for the game as we go. We don’t have any deadlines so we arent rushing our work. Everything that goes into the game has been given the amount of time it needs and I think that leads to more solid creations.
However, as nice as it is to take it easy, I’m really anxious to show people more of this game and start working towards release!
Before starting this project, I had stumbled across a game another team did for the 7 Day FPS that really piqued my interest. The game is called Watashi Wa… and it’s all about exploring the world and finding out ways to make things grow. As someone who grew up among the forests of New England, many of my interests lie in nature so this concept really stayed with me. The idea of a world that reacts to your every action and discovering things for the first time on your own puts me right back into my shoes as a kid when I would explore the woods and uncover the new and wonderous things that lived there. The game jam version of Sprout borrows heavily from the ideas in Watashi Wa while taking them in its own direction. Since then, our designs have become much more ambitious and the Sprout we knew from then has changed quite a bit. I’m really excited to see how people react!
Now that the game is in full production, we have been able to expand on things that we didn’t quite touch on during the jam. It’s an awesome opportunity because much of what I believe really brings a virtual world to life are missing in our prototype and I think a lot of our new content fixes that.
For me, some of the most immersive and inspirational aspects of a fictional world are the small touches creators give to the environment. One example is the Kaznan Jungle in Killzone 3. The developers at Guerrilla Games have a very keen attention to detail and it shows in all their environments, however the Kaznan Jungle is the one that really captured my imagination. From the moment the player enters this area of the game, they begin to discover a whole new world of sights and sounds, plants and creatures, actions and reactions. It is very reminiscent of our first plunge into the mystical jungles of Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar. Suddenly our mind expands with new and wondrous forms of life and the instinct to explore takes over. This kind of energy is something very important to me and I think it will be there to enthrall people when playing Sprout as well.
Regardless of how many people are on a project, it’s always important to have a place to keep track of all your thoughts and plans for the game as well as share important files and assign tasks. Where Sprout is concerned, there are only two of us so it lets us keep things really simple: We use Google Drive as our main storage for game assets, documents, and reference material. As for task managing, we use Trello. All of my projects are broken down and managed through this deceivingly simple bulletin board program. Everything from Google Drive integrates easily through this system and it’s a great place to visually organize all documents and tasks for the game as we progress through development.
For actual asset creation, my number one program is Maya. When I started learning 3D art, I was told it was the industry standard, so I just went with it. I’m sure you can do just about everything you can do in Maya in most other 3d programs, but because it’s the one I work fastest in, it’s the one I dedicate to. Further solidifying my allegiance to Maya and adding to my repertoire of tools is Dennis Porter’s custom workspace for Maya. My friend Dennis doesn’t settle for any of Maya’s shortcomings; instead, he learns MEL script, rewrites the program, and adds new tools! He was kind enough to share his workspace with me for testing and I owe him my gratitude. For anyone working in Maya and hoping to save time and energy, I would recommend sending Dennis a message and getting more information about his MEL scripts.
Speaking of invaluable resources, finding out about Sketchfab was a revelation for me as an artist. For anyone who has built a portfolio or tried to show off their work in any way knows how rough it is taking a fully realized 3D model and reducing it to some turnaround screenshots. It’s like making a Krabby Patty and serving it without the patty or the bun! There is always a sacrifice and the feeling that someone looking won’t be able to appreciate all the work and detail you added.
There is nothing that sells a model better than being able to show it in its full 3D glory and that is one of the great aspects of Sketchfab. Really, my favorite thing is being able to send the actual model I made to my friends and family so they can fully appreciate it. As we develop Sprout, it will be wonderful to share bits of the game with others through Sketchfab, as you see here, so people can have a better idea of what the world is like before exploring the game for themselves.
The Road Ahead
Sprout still has a some time to go and is sure to be a project that changes and grows as we continue our work. I’m excited to see what happens along the way and I welcome all of you to follow along with us. I will always be posting in-depth updates on Acornbringer.com about Sprout and the other projects I’m involved with and you can follow me on on Twitter @acornbringer. And of course, you can follow me right here on Sketchfab for a much closer look at my 3D work!
Thank you all very much for your time and take care!