Conan: Hyborian Adventures, the making of part 3

Conan dungeon design, content creation and conversation

kat: Looking at the Max shots of the Cathedral it's noticeable that's there's a lot of repeat asset use from the point of view of structural items. How do the levels work in relation to that? Are you pulling separate assets from a 'fixed' external library or are the levels self-contained units? Are all the levels are generally built like that?

Mr Lycon: The 'level' mesh itself is completely custom made, although the statues and braziers where pulled from our library. I did make one 'arch' and one 'arch pillar' and duplicated it around, just adjusted the UV on each pillar towards the end so they didn't look duplicated though. So yes, all the levels I made on Conan has usually been custom made all the way through, basically because I'm not a big fan of making 'modules' and duplicating around; I personally think that's a 'cheap' way to make maps as the whole level runs the risk of looking to 'identical' (lot of obvious repeat objects and patterns); I like to walk into a level where more or less every room or whatever you enter feels different. Of course some small sections where duplicated here and there, like if I made a window mesh etc., but overall everything in Conan is 'unique'.

"Lost temple"; normal map render

"Lost temple"; normal map render

kat: The game itself is loading the levels is as one object?

Mr Lycon: When we 'import' our level into the Conan 'database' it will be 'converted' into something called a "dungeon" - which is basically a entity with a flag - so everything that is a part of that 'dungeon' mesh will be a dungeon. We did of course add some statues and such in the Genesis editor as well but doing that means they're not part of that specific 'dungeon' mesh.

"Lost temple"; lightmap render mode

"Lost temple"; lightmap render mode

kat: Speaking of the Genesis level editor, looking at "Dark Cathedral - Genesis" what are we seeing?

Mr Lycon: You're looking at the 'main' interface of Genesis, except our 'media browser' part - that's basically just a folder structure of all objects and stuff that is placed in the map. But what you see in that shot is the rendering of the level - which was around 200,000 triangles - in lighting only mode; I find it easier to work in that mode.

So what you're seeing is the 'grid' and 'entity representation' of objects, in this case lights. On the left you have the main tool bar where all the tools are located; right now you only see a few 'options' like "Skydome editing" - you can select what to have open in this tool bar at any time so you don't have to have a million of options at once. At this point I was editing the sky dome.

"Lost Temple"; normal and diffuse render mode

"Lost Temple"; normal and diffuse render mode

kat: Conan makes quite effective use of normal maps, what processes did you use to create those? Rocks in Max, carved letters on walls, the nVidia Photoshop plug-in?

Mr Lycon: The normal maps where created with several applications; 3DS Max, Mudbox and the nVidia Photoshop plug-in. There wasn't an overall application preference, it was more along the lines of what the artist who made that specific textured preferred using. I made a lot of the textures in Cathedral though and like you say, the rock was made in 3DS Max, ornaments painted in Mudbox and then some plain noise textures where done using the NVIDIA filter. Quite time consuming to make sometimes. All the textures 'per set' were usually the same size, either 1024x1024 or 2048x2048; as there's a lot of content it's meant the installation of Conan is a bit on the large side as a result.

kat: How did you find working on Conan? Fun? Lots of hard work?

Mr Lycon: Well, it's been interesting, not sure if I would call it fun though. I'm not regretting working on Conan, but it was more hard work than fun.

kat: OK.. I think we can call it a night here otherwise we'll go on till the bump mapped cows come home!

Mr Lycon: Heh, OK and no problem, it's been interesting going back over Conan like this.