Visual Style and the Vertex Chameleon Maya Plug-In

So Eric, game artist extraordinaire, has been cooking up some ill visuals in Maya…as part of our never-ending quest to nail down our visual style, and setting up the right tools and workflow. His three main rules for making assets:

  • RULE ONE: They must be easy / quick to make (we’re a small team so we need to be able to generate a lot of content without spending too much time on each piece)
  • RULE TWO: They must be performance-friendly
  • RULE THREE: They must look amazing! and fit coherently into the overall game design.

Roman suggested he explore a plug-in for Maya with some very cool functionality called Vertex Chameleon. While it’s a very old plug-in (only compatible with 2014), it was worth rolling back 3 versions just to use it!

With Vertex Chameleon, Eric was able to manipulate a mesh’s vertex colors in a lot of ways. For those unfamiliar, it’s a similar tool to Photoshop because it provides a lot of the same functionality. It’s built on top of Maya’s vertex color painting toolset, but goes well above and beyond Maya’s basic toolset. Eric primarily took advantage of its layers and gradient features to create these gorgeous crystals for the game:

Crystal

  • Virtual Chameleon enabled Eric to create a gradient with any number of colors and apply it along any axis or on a sphere. Here, he first used the sphere so that the center of the model would be the lightest color, and the outer tips of the crystal would be darker. He colored over the default coloring with this new gradient:

Crystal Default Crystal Layer 1 - Gradient

  • He then added a little swirling in the center to add some flavor, setting the gradient to “loop” many times within the small middle space.

Crystal Layer 2 - Swirl Crystal Layer 2 SOLO - Swirl

(Right) The gradient swirl layer isolated.

  • For the third layer, he baked out Ambient Occlusion (AO), using a separate Maya function that integrates nicely into Vertex Chameleon. He set the layer to subtract so that the AO would be inverted, creating an inner glow effect.

Crystal Layer 3 - AO Crystal Layer 3 SOLO - AO

(Right) The AO layer isolated.

For the final layer, in order to create a frosted look on the tips of the crystal, he painted onto the mesh by hand.

Crystal Layer 4 SOLO - Frost Crystal Layers

(Left) Isolated frost layer; (Right) Final crystal.

When working in vertex colors, it’s important to understand that each vertex is what holds color information and the faces of the mesh are colored based on that info. Therefore, unlike when you’re using textures, which allows you to have color information vary across individual faces, you can’t get very complex detail when using vertex colors.

However, the tradeoff is that vertex colors are very performance-friendly! (RULE TWO) Since our overall visual style is a more cartoony style, we don’t necessarily need all the detail you get from using textures which is more necessarily when a game aesthetic leans more toward realism. (RULE THREE)

Furthermore, another benefit of using vertex colors is that it enabled Eric to bypass a lot of the time-consuming work needed to texture assets in Maya, such as unwrapping, painting textures, baking normal maps, and so on…(RULE ONE) Saving time is always a primary concern for tiny indie game studios like ours.

Here are some of the final crystal color variations Eric came up with. Each only took a few minutes:

We’re looking forward to integrating these beauties into the game!!

Yiyi Zhang

Apprentice rodent programmer & marketing

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