lead design | 3D design | environment design | simulations | 3D modeling | texturing
Bull Run Raceway
What is the ideal race track for a hard core racing simulation?
I left a career in Architecture, having spent several years professionally and two degrees, to discover the future in architecture for the virtual world. Real time 3D games were just hitting the big time, and I liked the idea of being one of the first real designers to leap in.
Living in Boston, I found Papyrus Studios in Watertown building NASCAR Racing and IndyCar Racing. These were hard-core simulation games, targeted to true racing fans. The were trying to replicate the experience down to every detail, including spatial and visual, and my advanced experience in digital architecture and building proved very useful.
Papyrus was perhaps 60 employees at the time, independent and in the process of being bought by Sierra On-Line. Papyrus also had exclusive rights to NASCAR and IndyCar racing simulations. Most of the engineers were racing fans, and evenings were spent multiplayer racing/testing, with leagues and standings, etc.
The art team of ~15 was somewhat walled-off from the engineers, and there was not a lot of collaboration. I joined the art team as a CGA and was already years older than the rest of the artists.
Build a "fantasy" racetrack for an upcoming IndyCar release that is beautiful and fun to drive, but is also especially interesting to hard-core drivers.
Note: As development was nearing completion, management decided to include the track in a NASCAR Racing expansion pack instead. Driving a stock car on a track designed for Indy and Formula One is not a good idea.
When I joined, there was no real art pipeline. Track surfaces were not built by artists but instead generated from centerlines. Artists then built models to place around the track using text scripts of coordinates, texture u-v references, and surface sorting trees. Painful.
Because the game POV was either inside a car or above and looking down,, and because NASCAR tracks had high walls, there was seldom need to model the ground. Hills were added when need as separate humps some distance away. Horizon art was very important to creating the illusion that his trace was some place in the world.
In respect for the seriousness of the simulation and its appeal to true racing fans, my first priority was make a great racing experience. I interviewed all the avid racing fans in the office for their input.
It wouldn't be a typical NASCAR oval, but a road course like Watkins Glen and Sonoma. I included a bit of everything - long straightways, chicanes, hairpins, and high banked curves - and sequenced them in a way for maximum drama and key passing opportunities.
make it beautiful
With the track geometry generated, I set about to locate it in some beautiful and engaging context. I've always loved the irony that this is the reverse of what happens in reality - you build to suit the context.
The track's elevation changes suggested a dramatic terrain. I decided it should be in the Scottish Highlands, in part to honor F1 legends Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark and in part for personal reasons. I crafted hills, locs, cattle, and castles and other structures along critical vista points to create a breathe-taking visual experience.
When it was decided that this would be a NASCAR track instead, just after I left for LEGO, another artist modified my art to look more like Colorado.