Raw Data (2017)
Raw Data was the first VR project I worked on as an art director with the Survios team. I was initially brought on as a concept artist in order to help establish a visual direction that would drive forward the theme and narrative of the Raw Data setting. As the project progressed, it became clear that the team required a more unified, aesthetic vision on not just Raw Data but also each of the original IP projects moving forward. As a consequence, I fortuitously accepted the role of art director.
Since most of the initial Raw Data VR prototype had been constructed out of a variety of greybox and stock assets, it was my job to collaborate closely with Creative Director James Iliff and develop visual concepts for environments, props, characters, and graphics that would help evoke a sense of a larger world.
The Raw Data single player campaign embarked the player on a path through a variety of environments inside Eden Tower, a monolithic, corporate megastructure designed to evoke the cold, bleak domination of Neo-Shinjuku’s Eden Corp. I’m pleased to say that the overwhelming majority of the work we produced made it into the final release in some form or another.
For a VR combat shooter, the classic trope of endless waves of killer robots could not be better served than by an environment that manufactured them in industrial quantities. This design solved two problems. The first was the question of how to sell the idea of robots respawning infinitely in what was a classic but admittedly contrived shooter game scenario. The second was a narrative one which allowed us to explain away the fact that the player would only be fighting variations of identical robots throughout the rest of the campaign.
The architectural assets produced here would later go on to serve as the basic foundation for several additional levels in the final release of Raw Data.
I produced dozens of sketches, paintings, photobashes, paintovers, and 3D models over the course of production in order direct the environment team toward a stylistically cohesive cyberpunk vision of Neo-Shinjuku and Eden Corp. The vast majority of work was produced in Photoshop. For 3D hard surface modeling I generally prefer to use CAD software like Fusion 360. For organic 3D modeling I prefer ZBrush. Most of my renders for Raw Data were produced in Keyshot.
The next gallery shows screenshots of the environments I worked on that made their way into the retail release of Raw Data. Some of these environments ended up matching my concept art quite closely, while others were the product of intense collaboration between myself and our crew of talented level artists.
Raw Data was all about being the first game to deliver the promise of blockbuster-style visuals and single player campaign gameplay to the VR medium, and as a result, much of the difficulty in producing the game stemmed from introducing a brand new team to a brand new VR production workflow which involved highly stringent performance limitations due to the nature of rendering everything twice for stereoscopic 3D in VR (something that effectively halves framerate performance on modern machines). Given the challenges in pioneering content for a new medium, I think the art team succeeded admirably in this regard.
Screenshots courtesy of Kevin Wilson.
Below is an example of one of the dozens of look dev images I produced in order to aid the environment team in arriving at visually cohesive color palettes.
Raw Data offered a great opportunity for the team to design a cast of cyberpunk heroes inspired by all of our favorite, classic sci-fi tropes. Many of the inspirations for these characters can be found in comics, books, films, and video games from the 60s, 80s, and beyond.
The four playable classes in Raw Data were concepted by Randy Bantog, James Dargie, and myself. Damon Woods modeled most of them with additional prop/rigging work by Keith Bruns, Justin Coury, and Kevin Andersen.
Eden Corp Products
Our array of enemy NPC robots were largely designed by the amazing Trevor Claxton along with modeling by Reed Casey. I helped out with some additional concept development as well as the design of the primary NPC robot, the basic Eden Corp Automo.
ADAM X10 was an idea we came up with for a HAL-inspired, artificially-intelligent, final boss character that would afford us many opportunities to show off parallax and scale, two qualities that were particularly impressive to experience in VR. ADAM X10 also had the production advantage of being relatively simple to build, rig, and animate which was perfect for the lightweight production team we had at the time.
I worked closely with concept artists Brian Higgins and Hadi Jalali to flesh out animated 3D concepts for the modeling team.
Weapons & Props
Below is a selection of environmental assets, props, and weapon concepts I created for Raw Data. I was pleased to have the opportunity to oversee the production of the majority of these designs for use in the final shipped game.
The Ops Terminal was a catch-all device that functioned as a level start activator, a weapon spawner, a turret control, a narrative anchor, a piece of retractable cover, an environment status indicator, and a UI selector all at some point or another during the development of Raw Data. These were ambitious ideas during the earliest days of VR that more or less had to be stripped down and simplified for the retail release. Still, I can’t help but give in to the appeal of the wild functionality of some of these designs.
Marketing & Release
Being Survios’ first retail product, the development and marketing leading up to Raw Data’s release was a formidable effort. By this point in production I had assumed responsibility over all of the visual output of the Survios brand, which included all teaser and promotional images related to marketing Survios products. I spent weeks working closely with illustrators, modelers, and animators to produce dozens of marketing assets intended to promote the release of Raw Data V1.0 on Steam and Oculus. Raw Data officially shipped in July 2016.
Early on in Raw Data’s production, the total number of artists allocated to the entire project was six people, with me being the only 2D artist and concept artist. As a result, all of the graphics for the whole game (which was much smaller in scope at that point) ended up being my responsibility. I’m no graphic designer by profession, but I took this opportunity to work with art director Jim Dargie and develop graphics inspired by iconic styles throughout sci-fi history.
I also had the pleasure of working on several designs for holographic 3D interfaces for use in VR as well as a couple of instructional posters to help fans learn the controls at conventions and trade shows like VRLA and GDC.
Copyright © 2018 Daniel Xiao