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GearVR Experience
Self-Authored in Unity 5

Intergalactic Planetarium

Where do you want to go in VR?

Intergalactic Planetarium is the result of spending many nights and weekends finding the answer to that very question.  Being an [amateur] astronomy nerd I didn't feel I had much of a choice in the matter;  I wanted to go to  outer space, I always have, and you know what?  I'm going to do it!  And so I set off on my very first VR adventure.

Unity 5 Capture // Click for Full Size

I started Intergalactic Planetarium by collecting reference images of interesting celestial bodies.  I found myself deep in NASA's online archive searching for the cosmos' best kept secrets.  In fact, if you look closely you may recognize one of the nebula formations as one of Hubble's most famous discoveries, The Pillars Of Creation.  A dozen high-resolution images later, I began painting the base-layer of the skybox, comprised of gaseous undulations (deep blues & indigo) and all the stars in the universe. 

Skybox Detail

32:9 Aspect Ratio

After testing the preliminary skybox on an Oculus DK2 I noticed something was off with the stars -- they were lifeless.  They needed motion, variation and depth.  I made the decision to create the stars from geometry (quads) rather than relying on the skybox or a massive pool of particles.  The stars are in fact just 3 [combined] meshes,  each with a unique (shader-controlled) color, intensity, pulse behavior, scale range, and texture (alpha sprite).

End Result in Unity 5 

Original Starfields in Unity

Icosa Sphere w/ Displacement in Max

The location of each star was generated from a 20-sided geodesic icosa-sphere with a displacement noise modifier (above).  A Max Script was used to replace each vertex location with an instanced mesh, mapped to 1 of 3 possible sprites.  This process provided valuable transform information (directional normal of each star quad) automatically positioning each star to point directly at the player/viewer.  Additionally, each star-field's children objects were then merged into a single combined mesh.  So rather than rendering thousands of billboard'ed particles (on a mobile device no less) the same result was achieved with just 3 meshes, each requiring a single draw call to render.  This of course means all stars are being drawn at all times, no occlusion culling -- which sounds less than ideal, but actually turned out to be the best option for both fidelity and performance -- Bingo!

(One of the color graded variants)


iOS/Android & PC/Mac

A Brave New World

Literally every mesh, vertex, prefab, material, texture, probe, volume and light source of The Atrium was delicately and painstakingly authored or composed by my mouse hand.  I take pride in being able to say that now that it's all over, but The Atrium was more work than I ever could've imagined; from the very beginning to the last detail, this scene was a challenge which I was not sure could be met with a mobile device (i.e. iPhone 4S).  Note: The gallery below is for PC/Console; for the mobile version just keep on scrolling.)

The Mobile Version

...In fact, The Atrium was sufficiently optimized [with the performance constraints of the iPhone 4s in mind] that no additional geometry detail was necessary to hit console-quality fidelity during the port from mobile to console (i.e. iPhone to PS4). I was finally getting somewhere; my efforts to reach console quality visuals on mobile were finally being realized!

The mobile version of The Atrium isn't physically-based, and in fact it's almost exclusively diffuse-only shaders (i.e. no Normal maps, no Specular maps) and all lighting was baked (or light probes for dynamic objects); these were the graphical sacrifices we had to make in order to create the scale and fidelity of a true console experience on an iPhone 4s.

During production of the first three installments of the RÉPUBLIQUE series, we didn't author assets of any kind with PBR in mind; in fact PBR wasn't even possible with Unity 4.x -- not until the Unity 5 beta, more than a year away from release [at the time].  In this situation (i.e. a mobile-to-console port) the ideal art pipeline would begin with high-resolution source material(s) and then subsequently down-sample those materials to mobile-friendly values -- but that (clearly) wasn't possible with a mobile game which had already been designed and optimized from the ground-up to be a killer mobile app.  It was clear to us all, RÉPUBLIQUE's transformation from a cutting-edge mobile title to a  "next-gen" console title was going to be a hairy beast to tame.

And so we were tasked with the immense challenge of up-scaling all of RÉPUBLIQUE's  thousands of materials and their supporting textures to physically based standards -- and it had to be finished in just 4 months time!  Thankfully, and to great relief, it turned out that the original Atrium scene was sufficiently optimized (due to initial mobile constraints of the iPhone 4s) that the number of vertices didn't need to be increased for the PC/Console versions; i.e. additional geometry detail was not necessary to hit console-quality fidelity during the upgrade. 

The only difference between the mobile version and the PC version, at a high level, is the implementation of physically-based shaders and lighting -- that's it.  This discovery was a (very welcome) reaffirmation that my efforts to reach console quality visuals on mobile were finally being realized, to some measure.

Ornate Wall detail

Source geometry for ornate wall  CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

And it was worth it.

The Atrium is some of my very best environment artwork, and I am so proud to finally share it with the world!  This scene was especially challenging due to a lack of concept art - which was intimidating at first - but in turn I was given the opportunity to design and prototype in realtime.  

My love of version 1 prototype work is in large part from the creation of The Atrium.  It was a pain in the ass to create, but it's also one of those projects you'll never forget. Although arduous and sometimes frustrating to execute, ambitious projects like The Atrium are the most direct path to "leveling up" in my experience.  

I am proud to announce The Atrium has been featured & released as an Official Unity 5 Tech Demo!  This means [an older version of] my work on The Atrium is available for free download on the Unity Asset Store!  

Unity Tech Demos are great learning and teaching tools for developers, artists, designers, sound engineers or anyone interested in learning more about Unity.

Ornate Wall Diffuse (Mobile)  CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Ornate Wall Normal (PC/Mac) CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

The Brig

iOS/Android & PC/Mac

The contrast [of these two environments] reaches a polarizing new height when the player discovers the only way out is, in fact, a doorway leading straight to hell.

Welcome to 1984.

The Brig - a utilitarian, oppressive, and dare I say drab  environment which housed the undesirable residents of République - was intended to be the antithesis to the palatial beauty and grandeur of The Atrium.  

The contrast [of these two environments] reaches a polarizing new height when the player discovers the only way out is, in fact, a doorway leading straight to hell.

This clashing of worlds is inextricably woven in to the story of République. The entire series is based upon the idea of "lifting the veil" of a beautiful facade to reveal the dark seedy underbelly of a totalitarian state of oppression.  

As with The Atrium there was virtually no concept art available for visual reference. I went through multiple color and lighting schemes until I landed on what you see here.

Garbage bags created with Marvelous Designer