Earlier this year, Crytek launched a creative competition for students in association with the British Library and GameCity. The Off the Map challenge invites students from participating universities and colleges to draw inspiration from a selection of British Library maps and then turn that inspiration into interactive environments using our free CryENGINE 3 SDK. Participants in Off the Map must choose between one of three maps as their source of inspiration: The Pyramids of Giza, Wiltshire’s Stonehenge, or London around the time of the Great Fire in 1666.
Both De Montfort University (DMU) and the Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies have been actively participating and produced great projects. Most teams are now finished with their work and their school year.
FdSc Games Technology course leader at Confetti, Rob Hoare, explains that his students have a busy time behind them. “They have completed their studies for the year, displayed their work as part of the Confetti Student Showcase, and taken part in the Confetti Student Awards which were actually sponsored by Crytek UK this year. Very much like the real world of games development, teams have gone through many experiences including disbanding, merging, and people being headhunted!”
Senior Lecturer in 3D Visualization at DMU, Heather Williams, is also proud of what her students have achieved in the past year. “A group project like this helps the students understand that their individual contributions need to work cohesively to be truly credible. The research on this project has been lots of fun: we visited the British Library and were extremely inspired by what we saw there. Working on such an imaginative project has made the students think outside of the box, and they’ve done a splendid job at recreating the atmosphere of 17th century London. I’m very proud of them all.”
A fly-through video from DMU's Pudding Lane Productions. Footage from the two other teams are at the bottom of this page.
But, as with all creative projects, the groups all had to overcome difficulties and face certain challenges. “Initially we opted for a narrative-heavy game which focused around treason, loss, and betrayal,” says Rob Laird from The Old Robots, a Confetti-based team working on the London map. “We already had most of the story and had mapped out gameplay segments ready for production, when we realized that we weren’t using all the resources that were available to us. The story was too fictional and didn’t quite have the historically accurate vibe we were aiming for.” The team followed up new ideas by visiting the British Library for further inspiration and for help in maintaining historical accuracy. “After a lot of research, we found that Fleet Street was exactly what we were looking for in terms of how much the new mixes in with the old,” teammate Sam Johnston chimes in. “We thought the contrast would be great and beautifully represented through the power of CryENGINE.”
The same challenge seemed to appear with team Pudding Lane Productions from DMU. “From day one the group set out to achieve as much historical accuracy as possible, but it proved rather difficult due to the lack of visual reference available for 17th century London – we had to use a reasonable amount of artistic judgment during the concepting stage,” says Luc Fontenoy, technical artist. “Towards the end of the project we also had an issue with achieving the right atmosphere in the level. Because CryENGINE 3 has such a wealth of possibilities when it comes to lighting, color grading, or weather conditions, it took a lot of trial and error to get the balance right. Lastly, one challenge was to make the streets feel lived in without using actual characters in the level, so instead we added atmospheric cues like general clutter, falling leaves, and market stalls.”
Concept art from Sam Johnston of Confetti's The Old Robots.
Regardless of the challenges they all faced, the (semi-)final projects are a stunning combination of the students’ talents, creativity, and their work with the CryENGINE. Rob from Confetti’s Old Robots says: “By having the opportunity to work with the Free SDK, we have really come to terms with how powerful this engine is; it made it possible for us to achieve a realistic-looking environment which even includes a real-time lighting system.”
According to Luc from DMU’s Pudding Lane Productions, many skills were learnt and enhanced. “One of the key elements for the project was being able to work in a team; we all had to work to the best of our abilities, so constant communication was vital throughout, and our critical feedback of each other’s work also improved things a lot. But the main skill we gained was learning how to prepare 3D game-ready assets to be imported into a real game engine, in that we had to learn specific skills in order for the assets to function properly within CryENGINE 3.”
“CryENGINE is a very powerful engine and is exceptionally easy to navigate,” Luc continues. “Working in real-time is a huge benefit, and the import/export process is very quick and easy.” Sam from Confetti’s The Old Robots agrees: “We have learnt so many things that we didn’t know were possible, but support has been great from the Crytek community and we wouldn’t even have known where to begin without the references we obtained from the British Library.”
Both course leaders agree that the students have gained valuable experiences through Off the Map and working with the CryENGINE. “The students’ excitement for the project and drive to learn further skills in the CryENGINE means teams are continuing to work on their projects, which is a great reflection of their commitment and clearly indicates how important they find succeeding,” says Rob Hoare. “One of the best things to come out of Off the Map – aside from the fantastic quality of work – is witnessing the students’ professional attitude and approach. Off the Map allowed them to experience the day-to-day realities of working within a team and facing the restrictions of having to work towards milestones.”
Angular view of the Big Ben Tower by Confetti's The Old Robots.
The Old Robots have had another positive to come out of the project with the team being asked to speak at the launch event of this year’s GameCity Festival. “It was fantastic to see the students present themselves so professionally to an audience made up of members of the game industry,” Rob continues. “I was very proud to see how far the students have come and see how they represented both themselves and Confetti in an extremely positive way. Off the Map has definitely helped the students develop skills that will benefit them in future careers.”
Stay tuned for the second part of Revisiting Off the Map, which will feature Birmingham City University and the University of South Wales. To find out more about our CryENGINE 3 SDK and download it for free, please visit www.mycryengine.com.
Top image displays work from Confetti's The Old Robots.
Fly-through footage from DMU's Triumphant Goat.
Fly-through footage from DMU's Optimistic Pessimists.