Project Sanctuary – looking back

Towards the end of the year, our team of four spent about six weeks of our student lives turning this:


An orthographic (top-down diagram) of the level – one aspect of the concepting process.

Into this:


Work in progress

How the scene developed as we gradually refined our assets.


Initial block out


Experimenting with some of the shaders/textures


Testing out the lighting


There’s a bit of a jump here where we finalised the textures and refined the lighting. We also added in some atmospheric effects like fog and smoke particles.


A closer look at some of the assets.

Brief thoughts on things learnt:

  • A major limitation of that orthographic reference is the lack of height info. Climbing and dropping through an environment makes a level much more interesting and dynamic. We had to use a grey box model and concept sketches to flesh out that aspect of the design.
  • In a game environment where we have to be stingy about how much data we expect the system to process, the models themselves can be very low in detail and still look great as long as the silhouetted shape looks right against the background. In this case it’s the texture and lighting that makes the most impact on how a scene looks.
  • Textures and lighting go together. It’s pretty hard to test one without the other. Some times it feels a little bit like a chicken and egg situation so a good approach seems to be to test early and often (like with so many other things!)


See more on Behance

Lighting and Compositing

Rendered in Arnold, composited in Nuke.

Interesting that the ambient occlusion pass made the biggest difference to how well the bicycle nestles into the scene. Next time I would probably deal with the shadows separately to the rest of the object. I was trying too hard to get extra shadow on an already shaded area and ended up overblowing the specular highlights. Had a lot of fun with the atmospheric effects, volumetric scattering is beeaautiful.

Converting to mini posts! Otherwise it’s never going to happen T___T

These posts are getting ridiculously long! Every time I attempt to write something it ends up taking the whole day. I’m going to switch tactics for a while and try to keep them under 200 words. That way, I might actually complete a post without trying to answer the meaning of life or tell my life story haha. (Why aren’t I just using tumblr?)

So, for now, let me just pop up any fun little pieces I’ve been working on as well as a few random insights here and there. The posts might not much make sense on their own, but I’m hoping that all those mini posts will eventually add up and reveal a big picture of what I’ve been doing and where I’m headed 🙂 Perhaps it will be a bit more organic than struggling to come up with something profound every time XD

Now then, here is a random animation piece made for college!

Something New – Life Drawing

In an effort to get more immersed in the art community, I’ve started going to life drawing sessions. These sessions have no instructors, you just leave your $5 at the door and enter an artfully-lit room full of people sketching away in front of a live model. The cool thing is that the sessions push you to work quickly and don’t give you much time to criticise your work. The first time I was there, the model started with a series of 2 minute poses that left me scrambling to figure out where to start. In an effort not to freeze up and feel intimidated I decided to just concentrate on blocking out the main torso area. It was a little awkward at first, then you started to get into the flow and slowly lose the self consciousness.

These were some of my first attempts:


Turns out these quickies are a pretty fantastic way to warm up and the speed with which you have to work helps you stop drawing in those furry little strokes that tend to happen when you are being to precious about things. After a while the model moves onto some longer poses that give you more time to explore and hone your style and technique. By the end of the first session I was actually pretty pleased with how comfortable I was getting. I was able to find enough spare braincells to start bringing out aspects of the picture that were interesting to me. (I don’t know how exactly to describe it but I really enjoyed empathising on the weight/balance/grounded-ness of a figure.)


A few sessions later, my friends and I were throwing mini challenges for each other. For example, draw the next pose without lifting your pencil off the paper (again, helping to minimise those furry lines).


The body was done as a single line. Gave up at the head haha.



Another challenge was to do away with lines and concentrate on the tone.

The experiments don’t always work out but it keeps things fun and I think does help you learn faster. One thing I’ve been trying to do is to take more risks. When you always play safe and aim to produce perfect/pleasing work all the time, you often miss out on the opportunity to learn laterally. It seems true in a lot of contexts that some things have to get worse before they get better.

Other strats for making progress: Focusing on one area at a time. Each model is different and sometimes it’s more fun to concentrate on something that is unique to the model. For example, week 1’s model was curvy and it was fun studying tone on her back and belly. In contrast, week 2’s model was lean, long-limbed and flexible, spent most of the time studying her legs.

Legs2 Legs

Week 3’s model had amazing ways of angling her hips and shifting her weight around. In the words of a friend “she’s like a freaking greek statue!” (Dynamic was a word of praise I heard thrown around a lot by the other people in the session.)


Hips1 ShadowNegativeShapes

I’ve really enjoyed these sessions so far. Apart from expanding my skills and giving me a newfound confidence for capturing the moment, they are also very soothing. You are able to cast all your thoughts away and just focus on the task at hand. Later you can go back, reflect on your progress and make plans for what you want to practice next session.

So that’s something new I’ve been trying. What about you guys? Anything new obsessions?

3D! A whole new can of worms

After three weeks at AIE we’ve covered quite a bit of ground. We whizzed through a good block of fundamentals such as modelling, texturing and lighting. Here’s my first attempt at a scene. It’s something of a cross between an apothecary’s cellar and a tavern.


Look who is trolling the scene. (Mel has been playing too much harvest moon)

Going Digital – Brushes, textures and colours

Playing around with water colour has been interesting so far. Getting the colour you’re after can be a bit of a challenge. I had to do a lot of experimenting with mixing colours before I could get effect even close to what I was going for. Sometimes, mistakes and surprises can actually create a nice effect.  



Eventually though, I’d like to take what I’ve learnt through the traditional media and apply it to digital art. Erm… Easier said than done. Floundering so much X_x


So here I am repeatedly trying to recreate the effect (in spirit) on the brown-ish tree (bottom-middle) of the water colour image. Hmmm… After a while I semi-gave up and started playing with other styles. The water colour was definitely a source of inspiration but I’m not sure I can or even want to exactly replicate that water colour effect in the digital versions. While I was experimenting though, I encountered some interesting lessons.

Two things I learnt:

  • Colour is tricky in digital art because you have TOO many choices. In traditional media, your pallet is sort of limited by which colours you start out with and how you mix them. Having a limited pallet keeps a cap on your choices and helps keep all the parts of the image in harmony. When you’re doing digital stuff though, you can go choose as many garish hyper-saturated colours as you want. Sometimes it works if you want particularly bright statement effects but a lot of the time, you end up shooting yourself in the foot with careless choices. I’ve been following some interesting guides on how to keep your colours scheme sane.
  • Texture is also tricky. Custom brushes are amazing for getting that elusive texture but I often get carried away, resulting in a mess of brush stamps. I hope to get a better feel for it in time. For the moment, blocking out the general shape out first reminds me of what I’m actually trying to represent.



There are lots of downloadable brushes by awesome artists to help get one started. I’ve been picking and choosing my way through the sea of options. Drowning slightly but very grateful for the variety of resources out there. Phew…



Moving On From a Major Project – New Year Plans

Hello, I have been a terrible slacker and deserve to be on the wall of shame. Apologies for halting the chain! I was pretty burnt out after the release of Regency Love and took a proper break to catch up with some very neglected friends and  family. Thank you guys for all of your interest and support! It has really got us through some anxious days.

It’s a new year and I’m at one of those strange junctions in life so I thought I’d share a few thoughts, hopes and apprehensions. 

Currently, my main hang up revolves around whether I want to continue with Regency Love and how much effort do I want to dedicate to it in the coming year? Judging by the reviews and customer comments, we definitely have a good thing going but it’s no where near reaching its potential yet. Despite the overwhelmingly positive feedback, we are having a lot of trouble continuing to promote to our niche audience. Emailing online magazines and blogs is a time consuming and often emotionally draining task. Out writer has been holding the fort admirably on this front but I often feel bad that she’s probably not seeing results to justify her efforts. On the other hand, simpler payed advertising is consistent but terribly inefficient for a low cost mobile game. We have had some success building a following but we have a long way to go in terms of building a sustainable marketing model. 

This in itself would not be a problem for there are many business ideas and directions that we have barely explored. The problem is more a matter of time, commitment and enthusiasm. The project was born from our passion for story telling but now it feels like we’re just doing what needs to be done to get things released. I know it can’t all be fun and games but where do you find the energy to make long term plans when you’re even not sure that people are still enjoying the work? 

Both my colleagues were engaged in formal study while contributing to the game where as I was working on this full-time for almost a year. I felt rather unbalanced by the experience as I wasn’t sure if I was growing or learning much from coding and toying with the game design on my own. At the same time I wasn’t sure how dedicated I could expect my team to be since they all had other commitments. However, I have a history of starting projects that never get finished so I was determined to see this one through.

Now that I have “finished” the project, those fears of loosing steam are starting to be realised. I’m not sure how I want to continue. We are thinking of going on hiatus and placing Tea For Three Studios work on the back bench as something we do for fun. I realise that this may mean Regency Love will never get the exposure it deserves and my colleagues and I may grow apart as a team. On the other hand, perhaps a break is exactly what we need. We can go and grow as individuals while retaining our contact with each other and maybe we’ll regroup at a later time with a bit more experience.

I know many of you guys are trying to create your own products and start your own businesses. What keeps you going on a project? When do you pull away and move on? Do you have any regrets?

My aim for the new year is to grow independently of Tea For Three Studios and be less of a hermit. I am going to go study game art at AIE. I hope to develop some new skills while meeting lots of people in the industry. Peggy and I are going to Game Jam! Another effort to get over introversion and work with cool new people. 

Holiday season: Mel spends time away from the computer. Still messing around with water colours.


Regency Love – Sprint to Release

Hello guys, this poison post is going to be a shameless plug.

I have been trying to use these poison post deadlines as a motivator for exploring things that are not directly relevant “work”. However, these past few weeks I really have been head-down working on Regency Love with little time for anything else constructive (procrastinating and floundering not counting as constructive!). Since the project has played a really big part in shaping my learning as well as my sleeping patterns this past year, I thought it only fair to tell a short story about it.

Early Regency Love Concepts

Early regency love concepts

Regency Love is a romance game inspired by the novels of Jane Austen. The project has been incubating, evolving, hibernating and reviving for the better part of two years now. It started off as a hopeful collaboration between a writer, artist and programmer who were obsessed with Dragon Age, not because of the dramatic battle scenarios or nifty tech trees, but because of the romance-able party members. We wanted to make a game with romance at its core.

Period romances have always been popular in movies and TV dramas but never so much in games. We were very taken with the idea of creating an interactive experience, centred around life as a Regency lady, Jane Austen style. We were also somewhat confident that we would have an audience who felt the same.

So, with little experience and a lot of blind determination, we muddled our way through, doing what we could with game design, development and marketing. We’ve actually started to get the hang of some things, like running play-tests. Gathering busy volunteers, getting their feedback in time for next sprint and wading through Apple’s provisioning admin procedures were some of the things we didn’t even know would be hard until we tried to do it. Between TestFlight, Wufoo forms, and a dropbox full of pre-prepared instruction and thank you emails, running our last play test was almost painless.

Still, this is only the beginning. We will be releasing the game in a month or so and I am hoping we won’t loose steam after the initial release for that would be cutting the journey short. After all that research on app store marketing and hoarding of potential PR contacts, we’re finally going to get the chance to try things out for ourselves. It will be interesting to see what works for us. Many of you have been sending me great articles on related games and app store strategies. I really appreciate it, thanks very much for all the leads.

Follow us at Tea For Three Studios if you’re curious. We could certainly do with your support. If you know of anyone who might be interested in this genre of gaming please pass the word on.