What does an atmosphere consultant do?
A long long time ago, when the world was still mostly analogue, I came across a board post looking for members for a project to overhaul the graphics of my favourite (role-playing) game: Gothic! The project, which didn't have a name at the time and was first named GIMP (Gothic IMprovement Project) before being renamed GRM (Gothic Reloaded Mod) some time later, was in its infancy. At the time, a number of texture patches had recently been released with the same aim, all of which were, in my opinion, for the bin. Why? Because they were nice to look at but gave me such a different feeling that I always decided to go back to the original textures. (The term "vanilla" didn't exist in this context at that time...) Because this was exactly the problem: beautiful textures didn't fit into a game that didn't claim to be beautiful. Gothic was dirty, it was rough – and dirty pixel mud contributed to this impression in a way that the high-resolution texture patches were not able to grasp at the time. So I approached the founder of this project and shared with him my thoughts on the matter.
And poof, I became part of the team. That was back in 2007, and I've been with the GRM ever since. Hard to imagine! I analyse what kind of impression Gothic has on the players and for what reasons, and I make sure that these are preserved in all graphical upgrades. Because often, especially with textures that are poor in detail, our perception automatically takes over the task of augmenting them. We don't see what is there but interpret context, location, environment of a texture as an overall impression.
Especially in the early days, I tried to find some kind of "design guidelines" and to direct the attention of the 2D artists to be mindful of what they perceive in a texture and less on what they see. This led to suggestions like the following:
"If you're working on textures, like the floor or walls, that you're not really noticing in the game because you're always walking past them and there's nothing special about them, then do the following: Blur your eyes, just stare into the void while looking at the original texture in the corner of your eye so that you don't notice any details. Try to grasp what you can recognise – that is important and has to go into the new texture."
And then there is persuasion and negotiation! Because every comment also means that the 2D or 3D artist has to change, add to or even revise their own perspective a bit – in the worst case even to the point of completely kicking the work of several hours into the bin and starting again. It is quite clear that not everyone is enthusiastic about this. Especially since it is not so easy to abandon a view once it has been taken. Especially not when partly contradictory personal opinions of different people are to be brought together in a common denominator for the benefit of the big picture. Fingers have certainly been typed to the bone in the internal board! For example: Forest portals, tree size/spacing, vegetation and grass.
But even rather unsuspicious details such as the reduction of edges, the preservation of empty areas, gameplay changes through increased distance of view, the changed lighting due to the new D3D11 renderer or the restoration of features such as fog zones were and are always subjected to a critical eye by me, so that the GRM comes as close as possible to what I like to call "nostalgia glasses": The gaming experience as it never was, but as we all remember it – only more beautiful! Back then. In this world that was still almost analogue.