When it comes to creating art, models, and assets for a game, you’d be forgiven for thinking that science fiction and fantasy would be the most difficult to create for. But they each deliver their own challenges. And with something like a Railway Empire, a historical and realistic train simulator, you must deliver on that realism.
Railway Empire boasts more than forty trains from the 19th Century, each travelling a rail network that players create in a variety of locations. We were delighted to work with Gaming Minds Studio in creating this immersive and realistic experience.
Ringtail on Track
Our teams worked on quite a significant amount of assets in the base game as well as helping to create and cover parts of the DLCs. Adding in new areas such as Scandinavia and Japan, meant creating new assets to fit the locale. Japan was the largest DLC due to the significant departure in style from its predecessors. We created some Japanese cultural sites to fill out the landscape as well as the trains and buildings to surround the player’s growing rail network.
A job like this has its own challenges. We had to be pinpoint precise to deliver the appropriate realism. The point of pride for Railway Empire is the level of detail available on these incredible pieces of history.
We were given a range of references for the original trains we had to create. In some cases, some of the older engines, we were working off old blueprints for reference. These, of course, present unique difficulties down the line in terms of texturing. In those cases, we relied on our team’s intuition and experience.
There are three steps in the process of creating a model.
In modeling, the first step is always size and proportion. In this case, the references and blueprint diagrams offered a mixed bag. Some were very helpful, while others provided a challenge. Some photos were accurate, allowing us a great degree of accuracy. Whereas some were very old and low-quality. In that case, our team would be working off their own research to fill in any gaps left by these reference images.
Next is taking those measurements into a program, for example, Maya Autodesk. With these measurements in place, we can start modeling the base shapes of the train. And then it’s simply a matter of distilling that block into shapes. Starting with simple shapes, our modelers would usually include the reference image on a 2D plain in the same space.
With the level of detail and precision required, the reference must be used constantly. Each shape is put in place using the reference and once the main body is complete, they move onto detailing. This is a time intensive process as these models are incredibly detailed. A single train could easily be two hundred individual objects combined.
Once we have the full model made, it has to come to life. This is where our artists get involved with a program like Substance Painter.
When the model is introduced, it’ll be completely plain and white. Like a blank canvas. And we have a large library of textures and materials that can be applied. The library is comprehensive but often, we have to create our own. Which involves taking an existing material and tweaking its values. While this might sound simple, it’s a precise work in creating the exact texture or material required. And in some situations, we may have to create our own materials from scratch. Here, we’d use Photoshop and Substance Designer.
With the textures and materials prepared, we would assign them to different parts of the train according to the references. Simply put, matching the textures to the references we’re working off. It’s a step-by-step process of taking the train to a realistic state.
While it hasn’t been mentioned, the team involved in each step is in constant communication. This is because each step is heavily informed by its predecessor. And at the final stop, we have animation. By now, the train will look realistic and as close to the reference as technology will allow. And for the animating process to go smoothly, the model must have been created with animation in mind.
Each object that moves must be its own separate part, so that the animator can actually manipulate it. For example, the wheels on the train can be spun and rotated rather than being a fixed entity. These moving parts must not pass through any other element either – just like in real life. The detail we’re pursuing can’t be compromised by a chunk of metal disappearing in and out of another. In animation, this is called ‘clipping’. Which is why the modeler and animator will have worked together to ensure it could move smoothly and realistically.
Animation in this case is done by creating a rig controller with different parts assigned to different controllers. Effectively, almost like physical engineering, the rigs allow our animators to connect these parts and control them together. Thus, allowing the parts to be animated in a much more realistic fashion.
A Successful Journey
This process takes roughly around three weeks, with the majority of this time typically spent on modeling. And due to its precise nature, a lead artist is required to ensure communication is smooth. Coordination in every stage is key in delivering the quality we strive for.