As you have seen with some of our art from previous blog posts, our game takes place in an elaborate cave system. One of the most important parts of building an environment is having good references. Luckily for us there is a wonderful cave close by. In order to get the best and most realistic depiction of what a cave may look like we went and visited Crystal Cave in Spring Valley, WI. We had all of our art team come to make sure they each person could experience it firsthand, and have good visual representation of the cave in their head. Along with the art team we had most of the design team and some of the programming team come as well to help them get an idea of what we are aiming for the future of the game.
Research is a really important part of game design. It helps to get a greater understanding of how these environments function in real life, as well as giving us visual references. Even if your environment doesn’t exist in reality, it’s still important to look at what does. This helps ground your creation in reality. Our cave isn’t photorealistic, but starting with real geology and cave structures was important to make sure we abstracted it in a way that was easy to believe.
While at Crystal Cave we took numerous reference photos both to use as examples of how to build our environments but also as texture references. The cave itself is quite large with 3 different levels of elevation and is very winding, switching from very tight spaces to larger areas that are roughly 600 sq feet. The deepest part of the cave is roughly 75 feet underground. This is actually not that large, especially in comparison to the gigantic Han Son Doong cave system, which was an original inspiration.
We made sure to take lots of photos from the the perspective of an owl, trying to get low to the ground instead of from the height of a human. There are ton of wonderful small little spaces within the cave, each with uniquely formed structures. The most notable feature is that these tight spaces are filled with lots of mini stalactites and stalagmites.
While there we were able to get some really great panoramic pictures in the cave, as well as full HDR images. These images may eventually be able to use for lighting in the game. We would be using these HDR image as skyboxes. These skyboxes are large images that use the color information to light the scene as if it was the actually sky/ceiling.
While there we also ran into many small bats, as it’s getting closer to winter and they are coming to the cave to hibernate. We have bats in the game too, so it was helpful to be able to observe their behavior (even if they were fairly still most of the time).
Our last task was to do some sound recording to absorb the feel of the cave. There is a real good sense of ambiance which we will use to help the creation of future music.
Overall Crystal Cave was the a really great experience and we got lots of very useful references that we will be using heavily in future development. I also want to thank Crystal Cave for giving us time in the cave, If you want to see more from Crystal Cave you can check them out at acoolcave.com
-Mitch, Strix Studio Design Lead