SPOILER ALERT.  If, like me, you’re relatively new to the entertainment business and haven’t seen “behind the curtain” many times, there are some things you just don’t want to know.  The problem is, you don’t know you don’t want to know them, until after you know them.  It’s like the point in your life when you learn not to risk drinking that carton of milk that’s a little past its sell-by-date.  Prior to this point, you lived a carefree, adventureous existence where you consumed milk on whim.  Good times.  After this point, each and every time you reach towards that delicious milk, there’s a little voice in the back of your head that’s screaming, “IT COULD BE SATAN’S MILK!  IT COULD BE SATAN’S MILK!”.  And it could be.

While I’m not claiming that learning about greebles was as a defining moment in my life as the milk incident of ’98, it’s still early days and there certainly have been consequences that, I feel, are worth warning you about.  So here we are.

WTF is a greeble?

A greeble is the fine detail that’s added to an object to make it appear more complex and visually appealing than it might otherwise be.  It’s a technique used in games and films to add a higher level of detail to objects to keep them interesting.

Think along the lines of the surface detail on the Death Star or an Imperial Star Destroyer and you’ll be on the right track YOU’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO WATCH ANOTHER SCI-FI FILM AGAIN!

Seriously, I watched Starship Troopers the other night.  All I saw were greebles and bugs.   I caught Mazerunner at the cinema.  Just greebles and a maze.  Battlestar Galactica?  JUST GREEBLES!  I cannot unsee greebles.  They’re everywhere.  I’m literally terrified at the prospect of watching the new Star Wars films.

And who do we have to blame for this?

Our 2D Artist / Animator Sean McIlroy, who joined the team a few months ago and introduced us non-design types to the word “greebles”…

At first it was fun.  It’s a funny word to say.  Greebles.  Greebles.  You’re saying it out loud now, aren’t you?  But don’t been fooled – it’s only a matter of time before you see greebling everywhere.  And that’s how it starts.  You go about your business and you see your first greeble.  Instead of being scared (LIKE YOU SHOULD), you grin and point it out to someone else – a coworker, a family member, a priest, a ninja.  This is the wrong thing to do – you are basically spreading greebles to other people!   Why would you do that?  Why do you hate people?

What can you do?

Well, you’ve come this far, so there’s no hope for you.  But we’ve put Sean “Patient Zero” McIlroy to work on Distant Star: Revenant Fleet in the hope we can salvage some good from this whole situation.

So not only will our (already quite awesome looking) game look even better, but you can be prepared for future greeble inflictions with examples below and some commentary from Sean.

VIEW THESE IMAGES AT YOUR OWN RISK!!

Examples

greeble_test_3

There are 6 ships in this picture. The greebling is preventing you from seeing them.

 

What are you trying to achieve with the detailing work?

I wanted the environment to feel far more recognisable. There was a lot of nice environment pieces, but they were extremely rough and undetailed.

There were parts that didn’t feel connected, and if really in space would probably have just floated off.  So connecting all these and making them part of a larger piece was important.  I feel I achieved this pretty well, and it was great fun connecting everything with rusty girders, cables and pipes.

Because these items have been floating in space for years, I really wanted everything to feel like it had been smashed by meteors, eroded over time and generally damaged by the elements.

 

What was your approach?

The environmental detailings were initially meant to be simple and rough, but as the game developed, it became apparent that the environment had to be far more detailed than originally thought.

I felt many of the terrain pieces didn’t feel connected, or part of an actual object that had been destroyed, so I knew exactly which areas needed to be detailed and more believably ruined.

The approach involved adding pipes, fans, broken girders, and generally trying to make the environment items feel like objects people can relate to.  I also took parts from the ships used in the game and added them to the environment to give a feel that the technology was similar, yet much older.

Some of the environment parts where so abstract and low detail, it was hard to imagine how it would work as an actual piece of machinery in reality.

I had to reimagine angles, and define a lot of surfaces that at times weren’t much more than a block of colour.

Also, these ships and wreckage parts aren’t actually real world objects, so adding things that people would recognise, but at the same time be believable was part of the challenge.

 

greeble_test_2

This picture contains several ships, a green space monkey and seven colours that no one has ever seen. But, greebling…

 

Is it common for indie games to look at this level of detail?

Indie games are very often defined by the team, how many people they have and the resources available.

If it was one person developing a game, he might not have time or ability to create detailed backgrounds.  In our case, we have an art team, and I had time and resources to work on these.  Some games, even with a large team, may have made a decision to have a low detailed art style.

I felt that in our case, the environment really needed to have a little more attention.

 

Any tips for budding artists?

One of the things I’m finding increasingly important is getting feedback on my work.  All feedback is good feedback!

You can easily get stuck in a rut if you just keep working on something by yourself, and I enjoy sharing ideas and concepts with the others in our studio.  It really helps you to develop.

The other thing I have always preached, is to have a sketchbook and pencil case at all times, and use it!  Always sketch, doodle, and note things.  You never know when you need to jot down a great idea!

 

greeble_test

The diamond is actually greebling on a cloaked ship.

 

This level of detail isn’t usually noticeable in games as it’s often not the focal point for your attention.Have a look at the screenshot below which contains the new version of the asset from above:

 

Greeble

 

Is it just environmental background content that you worked on or other things as well?

I worked on conceptualising the characters in portrait forms with Paul Scott Canavan who is the Art Director on the project. Old style paintings for the Orthani, and more action style shots for the Akari.  Recently Ive been getting up to speed with the background painting technique and also gave feedback on the interface where required.

Anything you want to add?

I really thoroughly enjoyed doing the greebling.  I would happily greeble more.

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