The Beginnings: a.k.a. The Discovery Phase
From day one we knew we wanted to create something cool and worthy of showcasing to all of our clients as an example of what we can do. Keep in mind that this was early 2007 and such games were not the norm just yet.
We've since created a number of experiences that can rival this one – but back then it was a tall order for us. But we love challenges, especially if we're the ones that come up with them. So we got to work.
So we got to work.
After the initial brainstorming sessions with the team, there were some more sessions (which had more to do with testing the drinking part of the concept), which led to the conclusion that we were ready to create the first storyboards.
And that's what we did. Our initial process was all about figuring out the logic behind the game, what we want the user to achieve and not worry so much about the 'how' at this point.
The challenge we faced early on was figuring out a way to bring in photorealistic elements on a stage that was to be 21000 pixels tall, with multiple visual effects running but at the same time keeping the processor speed down to a manageable level, without compromising the graphics.
And this was not all. We are all good drivers, or so we like to think, but controlling the car at the very early stages was quite defiant. But with diligence and many tests we managed to control the mercurial Mini.
Lead Flash Developer
While we were doing the storyboards, a good amount of time went into exploring the technical possibilities of AS3.
Although most of the things seemed pretty straight forward, since, when it comes down to it, we were talking about a basic .hit Test driven game, things did get a bit more complicated.
But eventually we were ready to move on to the next stage of the project. We were excited about all the possibilities and of course a bit worried as well, since we weren't quite sure how we'll pull this thing off. Either way, it was time for the concept.
By the way, did we mention that this was all happening in early 2007? Our creative team meant 5 people. We were trying to balance paid projects with this one as much as we could, so those were interesting time :).
Once the storyboard was in good shape we moved on to some more specific visual explorations (that doesn't mean that we haven't gone back to the drawing board on several occasions...). There was one thing we knew from the beginning: the devil was in the details.
During this stage we also created the identity for the game. We went through a number of drafts, but each one took us closer to what you see today.
Creating the different interface elements was an interesting process. We first analyzed what we could reuse from the club, took some pictures, and then decided to model them as 3D objects. This gave us the freedom to do whatever we needed as far as angle and lighting goes (see glasses below).
Some other hud elements were inspired directly from the Mini's cockpit. These elements went from basic drawings to 3D and then to interactive. It was great to see these take shape and fit into the whole experience.
For some elements we mixed in some other techniques as well. The stain for example had a 'messy' process, while the cocktail imagery used to display the levels is pure illustration.
I started with sketches in pencil and then brought them in 2D, then further on modeled them in 3D, followed by compositing and the final step was to bring each object in Flash. Fun job :).
Another challenge that kept me awake at night was how to make the three compositional layers work best together: the bar (working surface) which has a parallax movement, the car and all the other objects as the middle layer, and the head-up display as the superior layer. All these had to perfectly match graphically and functionally as well.
Senior Graphics & Flash Designer
The elements were coming along nicely. During all this time we also explored a few directions for the initial and in-game interfaces. It was a though process, harder than what we expected, because we wanted to capture the mere essence of the club. Hence, it was clear we wanted to use elements from the club, not knowing for sure how just yet. What you can see below are just some of the many, many screenshots we created during this stage.
These screens are part of the very first draft that was created. The screens are not fine-tuned and you'll probably notice they're in Romanian (the original language of choice).
The idea here was to play a background video filmed in the club, with different things popping to the front.
Then we changed the approach a bit; trying to create a more abstract initial interface based on the logo more than anything else.
The background in this case would have been animated as well, but it would have been more of an atmospheric thing.
The serious 3D & VFX
Seriousness in this respect comes from the realism and dynamism that we had to bring in, as part of the game. The intro is a cinematic sequence where the approach is 3D all the way.
The challenge was to capture the club's atmosphere, very gloomy and with low key like lighting, make it vivid and glowing but in the meantime capture the craziest details in the shadow, being able to emphasize color amongst dark shades as well. Many of these issues were improved in the post production stage. This is the stepping stone in all cinematic parts we have created.
A great win we achieved from a visual point of view was manipulating the 3D object (in this case the Mini) in the most realistic way possible.
The end result we got was that the Mini actually moves very natural, it turns, it hops, it has balance on every wheel - in other words it is governed by common sense and physics laws.
And the 3D world did not stop at the game entrance: we brought it inside as well. We wanted the entire interface to look realistic, and thus the perspective and depth is achieved because of this 3D approach.
And to spice things up a bit, we did not stop with the realism part either. Besides the most common rules of objects' physics and modeling, we pushed things even forward and added some special effects as well.
Each time the Mini interacts with any other object something funky happens: be it fumes, flames, brakes traces, and of course sound which is omnipresent.
The image to the right shows all the objects used in the game as well as other important interface elements, which can give you a pretty good idea of complexity we tried to achieve. Also, the trailer below shows a glimpse of the experience a gamer goes through. There are nine levels you can play, once you've logged in. Did we mention that?
There are a lot of other details (such as scripting, photoshooting, sound, etc.) that we could have included on this page, but it's quite a long page as it is.
So, skipping to the finish line: this is the D'arc Mini Challenge Making Of in a nutshell. Who knows, maybe we'll have a part two coming soon ;).
Ovidiu Bejan, Sorin Bechira, Erik Erdokozi
3D & VFX Designers:
Valentin Neda, Paul Pâslea, Ovidiu Bejan, Sorin Bechira
Oana Pîslaru, Alen Todorov
From my point of view the greatest challenge was the game logic as a whole. It was tough to figure out a way to make a driving game for a bar. It's not your usual piece of cake, but I think we managed to pull it off.
This was a great experience for us as a team. We have learned many things during this process, things we are now applying to all of our work.
We are already thinking about V2 for this game, which will definitely be another great challenge for us.