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Psychonauts 2 Devsplanation - Finding the Look

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Listen. Sometimes it's late in the evening and you really need a catchy title for a detailed, technical forum post about games development, and "Devsplanation" seems as good a name as any. You know that in the morning there will be better ideas, and you also know it will be too late by then, and the late night one will be the one you have to use forever onwards, you'll shrug and think, sure, let's just go with that.

So here we are with a quick Devsplanation (ok i'm already starting to regret this choice, but maybe it will be fine?) from Psychonauts 2 Lead World Builder Geoff Soulis, which is part of Psychonauts 2 Fig update #3!  

If you haven't seen that yet, this post will make far more sense if you head on over to fIg and read the full update!

As part of the update, we talk about how we learned to build the game, and find it's look. How to balance the new technical fidelity we can build to, with the more painterly look and feel of Psychonauts. This is a detailed look into that process... Read it? OK let's do this!


Geoff Here! First we start with the mesh in maya, here we’re making sure the platform fits our metrics and setting up the file for eventual export. From here we export this file so we can bring it into Zbrush.


In Zbrush we sculpt the rock platform surface while making sure to not deform the edges too much, being wary of how Raz is going to hang on the side of this object. We don’t want too much interpenetration with Raz and any surface he’s attached to. 

Then we are going to marry some of the painterly aspect of the original game to the Zbrush sculpt, sculpting in small details like the concentric spirals or anything else that you would want to interact with light. To put this in terms of a painting, anything you would paint light and shadow into should be sculpted. 

Once we’re happy with the sculpt we export a high and low res .obj for re-import into Maya and Substance painter. Kristen Russell, our texture artist, creates a smart material using the photoshop brushes Bagel uses on his concept paintings. This allows us to break up our surface in a painterly way and make the edge detection look more artistic.  Once this smart material is applied we export the textures.


To answer the question “If you’re using Zbrush why don’t you start there?” Well, we start in Maya because there are additional things we’ll have to do there. On top of the mesh we’ll need to create level of detail meshes and collision, and in most cases we’ll have to make a shadow mesh as well. Coupled with this we have to make sure the model is still conforming to the metrics so it will be the proper scale in the world and Raz will be able to interact with the platform properly. From here we take the final step of importing it all into Unreal and getting it into the game!



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This is great!

The biggest thing I wanted to try and do since I started learning Substance Painter and Unreal recently was how to approach doing painterly textures (my usual style when I'm working in Maya is hand painting textures and using Surface Shaders). I really wanted to see how I can translate that into Unreal while taking advantage of the cool stuff that Substance Painter has, like edge detection.

This actually gives me a clue about where to start! So thank you!

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10 hours ago, Spaff said:

Lead World Builder Geoff Soulis

Now there's a good sounding title, if I've ever seen one. 

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Looks beautiful, Geoff! 

Just curious, do you guys ever use Substance Designer for your workflow? I've tried a couple times to mold that program to make more stylistic decisions, but I end up defaulting to Substance Painter + Zbrush (even for tiling).

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It's interesting seeing more steps from the process. Hope you plan on using some of the assets from the art tests in the final product. Lots of great looking work so far.

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Thanks for the update! :) I love reading these kinds of work process updates, and I hope we get plenty more from the other team members as well. (And I don't think the title of the post is bad at all. ;))

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