The Digital Studio Practice module, as part of the MA in Animation at Kingston University London, requires groups of multidisciplinary students to collaborate on a digital media project, in response to an assignment brief. Group 7 chose to create a digital experience platform that will allow gamers to customise their weapons within a virtual reality environment.This report, authored for the role of ‘artist’, aims to detail the investigative research and practical methods undertaken to produce the required 3D assets, and the preparation employed to ensure the final assets’ suitability for use as modular pieces within real-time rendering engines and virtual reality.The group objective was to create a virtual workshop that will allow users to modify their game weapons via interchangeable modular components, using swords for use in The Witcher III video game as a working example.My responsibility as one of two 3D artists was to create the bespoke 3D assets required to deliver the project, to include half of the final number of modular sword components, and various environment props.The name Modular Master VR was chosen, and multiple logo and branding options created to assist the team in visualising the product in its early conception. The final choice, created in Adobe Illustrator, is shown in Figure 1.Figure 1: Modular Master VR brandingResearch Research took many forms, from viewing ancient swords in London museums, researching 3D game weapon design and VR design, to exploring The Witcher games series.The Witcher IIIGame sessions were organised to analyse The Witcher art style, evaluate the geometry of the swords, and identify the obvious characteristics that were to be reproduced. Although the main character, Geralt, is a monster hunter with supernatural powers, the art style was noted as being quite realistic; the weapons are practical and grounded in reality, as opposed to the magical swords with hand-painted textures that World of Warcraft assets are infamous for, as compared in Figure 2.Senior artist for The Witcher III, Jonas Mattsson, describes the art-style as “low-fantasy; dirty, gritty, grimy” (Mattsson, 2015), and technical art director, Krzysiek Krzy?cin, as “realistic but very stylized” (Krzy?cin, 2017).High resolution screen grabs were taken for reference, and colour palettes created for inspiration and later reference when texturing (Figure 3).Modular SystemsModular systems can be defined as the production of a smaller number of assets constructed in order to generate a larger number of whole assets in return (Watkins, 2016). Pipelines for modular systems in video games were studied, notably the modular weapon creation in Borderlands 2. Professional 3D artists involved on comparable projects were contacted for advice; Benjamin Sjöberg in particular outlined his workflow for his modular gun project ‘7 Billion Guns in 21 Days’ which stressed adherence to a strict spatial template when creating the 3D models.Figure 2: Witcher’s swords and WOW sword comparisonFigure 3: Witcher III colour palette exampleMethodologyModular asset workflowThe sword was broken down into four modular pieces: the blade, guard, grip, and pommel, as illustrated in figure 4. Although more modules were possible, this limitation would keep the project aims achievable within the given time frame. Sword types were then broken down into two differentiations: long swords and short swords (figure 5).During modelling a strict template guided by units in Maya was adhered to. Figure 6 illustrates the silhouettes of short sword modules. The pommels range in volume, however the connection point where the pommel meets the grip remains the same size, and the correlative connection point of the grip always remains the same size. As the models were confined to this template, the use of silhouettes also assisted with the creation of divergent shapes so the modular pieces can be identified at range in-game.The programmer required the geometry to meet evenly with no intersections, therefore the assets were created perfectly planar at the contact points to ensure a flush connection. The assets would then assemble end-to-end in Unity through the instruction of coordinates contained within corresponding JSON text files. The exception to this connection rule was the blade, as the physical design of various guards necessitated an intersection, and so the pipeline was adapted to allow the blade to penetrate and connect at the guard’s centred pivot point, as shown in figure 7. These issues highlighted the need for bespoke modular assets, as pre-bought models would not conform to these needs.Figure 6: Silhouettes in MayaFigure 7: Resolved connection issue on long sword guardFigure 4: Four sword modulesFigure 5: Long and short sword typesVisual developmentThe artists’ main goal was to reproduce the aesthetic quality of The Witcher swords effectively; when we deviate from the aesthetic that runs through the assets in a game it can have an effect on the player’s suspension of disbelief (Southwell, 2017). The sword modules were designed to visually assimilate when imported into The Witcher III game, and also designed to offer unusual choices to allow product users to feel that their personally created weapon is more unique than the standard game weapon.Items from the game served as inspiration; Figure 8 shows Geralt’s wolf medallion that influenced Short Sword Pommel 2 (as named in Appendix A). The pommel was given an angular steel clasp and an oversized jewel to weave a fantasy element with real-world materials. Short Sword Pommel 1 was inspired not just by a medieval weapon, but by Geralt’s shoulder studs, as shown in figure 9. Other pieces were interpreted directly from real sword references rather than imagination, or from pre-existing game assets, such as the guard shown in Figure 10. This guard was based on The Witcher’s original sword, but given alternative texture options, as shown in Figure 10.Figure 8: The Witcher’s medallion (left) and Short Sword Pommel 2 (right)Figure 9: Geralt’s studs (left) and Short Sword Pommel 1 (right)Material choicesIt was agreed that Substance Painter by Allegorithmic would be used by both artists to texture the assets. Substance Painter facilitates a physically based rendering (PBR) pipeline, and with the introduction of a PBR system to Unity 5 in 2015, our texturing workflow was established. As CD Projekt Red, makers of The Witcher, used an in-house game engine that uses PBR shaders to achieve the realistic look of in-game materials (Krzyscin, 2015), the aim was to mirror this workflow to achieve similar material results.Multiple texture options were created for each sword asset, therefore dramatically increasing the number of possible modular combinations (Figure 10).Work in progress renders were posted on the team’s Trello board, which was used for project management. Feedback from game design detailing how the models and textures affected the game-play through the weapon statistics was mutually inspiring.Prop creationIn addition to the modular swords, bespoke items for the Modular Master workshop were created.The workbench model shown in Figure 11 is based on a vintage bench found for sale online, listed with full dimensional measurements. The dimensions were important as the model will be interacted with in VR, and the size will have an effect on the user – the height in particular was discussed with the UX team, and the bench was created with the same dimensions as the original. The model’s levers are animated and can be interacted with in the VR environment, as requested by game design. The book on the workbench, designed by UX and game design, contains the instructions for component choice and sword assembly.The welcome sign was created at the request of UX – for this asset I was given specific 2D images to translate into a 3D design. The web-friendly font for the buttons was sourced specifically by UX; having group members’ expertise to guide aspects of the design was a beneficial factor of the team work. Figure 12 shows the reference images from UX and the final 3D sign. Multiple text colours were created to indicate functions of the Vive VR controllers.Figure 10: Long sword guard and alternative texturesFigure 11: Modular Master workbenchFigure 12: Welcome sign with guide imagesDeliverablesThe artists’ goal was to create four full long sword sets and four full short sword sets in total, each comprising of four modules, with two texture choices for each module, which was met. This created x many possible long sword combinations, and x many short sword combinations.Personal DeliverablesDuring the first sprint the second team artist and I each created one long sword set and one short sword set. In the last sprint I then created the remaining short sword collection and the second artist created the remaining long sword collection.Therefore my personal deliverables for the sword modules is one long sword set and three short sword sets, with two textures sets for each singular asset.Renders for all assets are included in the appendices, and a breakdown video is included with the deliverables.Deliverables breakdown:1. Modular sword assets? Sixteen 3D modular assets in total, with two 2D texture sets per asset. Responsible for all concepts, modelling, and texturing.2. Prop assets? Workbench: 3D model and 2D texture set. Responsible for concept, modelling and texturing.? Book: 3D model and 2D texture set. Responsible for modelling and texturing.? Welcome Sign: 3D model and 2D texture set. Responsible for modelling and texturing? Rack and levers: 2D texture set. Responsible for texturing only.3. 3D asset breakdown video. Responsible for all aspects.ConclusionThe experience of working with a multi-disciplinary group was invaluable; working with another artist had the benefit that 3D issues and problems were not mine alone to overcome, working with UX allowed certain design issues to be shared, working with games programming made me approach my workflow differently, and working with game design allowed me to view my models as part of a larger storytelling device.By having team members to rely on to complete their roles and give advice and feedback when needed, I was able to exceed my expectations and create more content in less time than I presupposed at the beginning of the project.Further DevelopmentTexture maps have been used within Unity in a way the artists didn’t intend; in future the artists should be given access to the Unity scene file to ensure the materials applied to their 3D assets are correctly assembled.The pre-bought Modular Master interior asset was not chosen in consultation with the 3D artists; with further development the artists could create something more fitting and aesthetically pleasing to match the modelling and texturing pipeline of the bespoke 3D assets. The lighting within the Unity scene is also in need of improvement, which the 3D artists could help with.Feedback from user testing suggested that the text in the book was too small, although the book was created at an enlarged size it could be enlarged further, and propped up on a stand for easier reading.During research for VR 3D model production it was found that glossy materials can create artefacts known as ‘sparkles’ (Kinney, 2016), which presented difficulties when creating the metal materials required for the swords. This was overcome with the use of dirt and grunge maps to add roughness to the shiny assets, however, some sparkles are still visible in the prototype and requires further refinement.