Hello, my name is Kristen Altamirano and I am a Senior Environment Artist on the Titanfall art team. I personally have been a huge fan of the series and the Respawn crew since Day 1! ‘Colony’ is my second favorite classic map and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work on the Remastered version. It has been an honor working directly with the original developers that brought us so many fun maps in Titanfall 1 where we could tromp around in giant robots and enjoy shooting stuff for the first time in these fields.
For starters what does it mean to remaster a map?
When first given this task we had several major things to think about, but one of my personal goals was to pay tribute to the talented people who worked on it before me. We have a lot of respect for our fellow teammates here at Respawn and this map had a lot of nostalgia. I wanted to make sure changes I made were going to improve the look of the map so that we were happy with it, but that it stayed true to the original.
How could we make this level look cooler by matching our new standards and stay within tech limitations?
Titanfall 2 pushes to have good performance so it can keep that smooth flow of gameplay and high framerate. We try to be as efficient as possible when building our levels (by using tileable textures, similar or duplicated assets in different positions called instances, creating modular sets, making visual blockers so you don’t have to render the entire level all the time, to name a few). We used these same methods when creating maps in Titanfall 1, however our materials and lighting tech have evolved since and became more complex for Titanfall 2. Those tech improvements impacted our original levels from the first game making them a lot heavier to run. One would expect for them to run faster than Titanfall 2 maps but this is not the case and as a result we needed to be very careful and make smart decisions about any additions to the existing classic level.
You may hear this term used an awful lot when people talk about how games look nowadays, but what is it to have or use PBR? My coworkers tell me that it is not only the drink of choice for budget college students, but it’s also short for Physically Based Rendering (much more exciting!). This explanation can get way too technical too fast and there are plenty of sites online for you to check out if you want to know the extended answer. But I like to think of it in simpler terms–it’s an advanced rendering system that allows games to show off more accurate surface detail and material break-up on objects. For instance, things like metals can actually look shinier or matte like different real metals you’d expect to see in the world. In games, they don’t have to all look and shine the same as if there is only one type of metal. Wet concrete floors won’t look like that same shiny metal texture you just saw either because they have their own set of calculations in their materials to look more accurately like concrete.
The original ‘Colony’ map didn’t have the PBR rendering system, so now that we added this tech for Titanfall 2, us artists had to upgrade the old textures and bring them up to our new standard. My coworker for this map was Senior Environment Artist Austin Arnett. Austin was also one of the original artists on ‘Colony’ for Titanfall 1, so it was neat getting to work with someone familiar with the layout. He and I were able to take the older textures and mix them in Quixel Suite to get the new proper gloss and specular textures we needed. We were then able to add our own artistic tweaks and fit them into our PBR materials so all the assets in the level could have some extra attention and shine. Several of the artists on our team contributed to the PBR phase on ‘Colony’ since some of the textures were shared on other levels.
Time constraints are really important!
Wish there was more time in the day, or unlimited budget and time to do everything right? Well, most of us know that’s not usually the case.
We were given about a month and a half to remaster the level and had to prioritize which tasks were the most important to tackle first. In this timeframe we factored in changing the lighting, the PBR texture process mentioned above, play-testing the level (yes, we love making games we want to play!), and fixing bugs that show up, etc. At each point we had to evaluate our production schedule and see if we had enough time to complete everything, which leads me to our next point…
Reworking it–Sometimes you have to ask yourself is it worth it?
The ‘Colony’ roof textures on the buildings are a good example of this scenario. Some of the older roof textures were a bit too low-res or blurry for us to keep. At this point we could either replace the old one with a different texture that looked better if it existed or remake the texture from scratch which can be time consuming.
Our main designer for ‘Colony’ was Multiplayer Geo Lead Geoffrey Smith. He had also worked on the original version and returned to help with the Remaster. Geoff had always really liked small European towns which served as early inspiration for making this map. When our Pilots were given the ability to double jump in Titanfall 1, he envisioned them jumping across lots of rooftops and having firefights. It reminded him of one of his favorite animes called ‘Ninja Scroll’.
I think the rooftop gameplay is what helps make this map fun! And it’s where you spend most of your time. The art team felt it was very important for this area to get a lot of our attention so we could stay true to our designer’s vision. I remade a bunch of the rooftop textures but stuck close to the formula that was already there, while Austin added groups of neat solar panels, and skylight windows to make things more interesting and differentiate some of the surfaces.
Austin took care of making new variations to the ground terrain and we both touched up textures and meshes for the interiors and exterior structures throughout the level.
Geoff also wanted to experiment with new lighting in the ‘Colony’ Remaster. The original version had been lit darker to match the Campaign in Titanfall 1.
Here’s an early concept painting:
Titanfall 1 ‘Colony’:
Titanfall 1 ‘Colony’:
Geoff felt that darker lighting in MP maps stressed your eyes a bit too much when looking for enemies so for the Remaster he wanted to try out a brighter lighting set-up and his hope was that players could see Pilots easier.
Austin was in charge of doing the final lighting for the level along with the help of our Lead Environment Artist Robert Taube, and Environment Art Director Todd Sue.
You may notice the addition of the ‘Big Rig Repairs’ yellow neon signage added to the big garage building on the edge of the map. A lot of us who play the game felt that ‘Colony’ could use some better art landmarking so when we played with our teams we could call out locations to our friendlies and they’d know where we were. Since the garage building was the location for Hardpoint C in Amped Hardpoint, and the Flag location in Capture the Flag mode we felt that it was a good place to update the original signage and make it a more unique structure to call out.
So after some discussion with Todd Sue, Austin, another one of our Senior Artists named Brad Allen, and I–we came up with an idea. ‘Big Rig’ just happens to be the nickname for one of our FX artists, so we decided to use the name for the garage and make it a neon sign. It stuck! Brad provided a really cool concept painting for the sign and logo, and I was able to whip it up in 3D. After adding the meshes to the building it wasn’t enough, so I added in some yellow paint accents and color stripes to push the design of the walls and it was done.
Clean up your mess!
The last part of the Remaster phase… When making changes to a level you can create bugs or introduce new problems unintentionally. Texture seams, objects clipping into each other, collision problems are just some examples. Austin, Geoff, Multiplayer Designer Alex Roycewicz and I all played clean up crew while playtesting the game with our amazing Quality Assurance team and the rest of the Respawners. We tried to fix as many things as we possibly could with the time left.
The ‘Colony’ Remaster was a huge combined team effort from many Respawners in multiple departments. Some special shout outs to the original crew who worked directly on ‘Colony’ and helped make this remaster job easier by answering my questions (whether it was looking for their textures or digging through their old files)–Todd Sue, Lewis Walden, Mike Altamirano, Tu Bui, and Austin Arnett, for art environments. Our designer Geoffrey Smith made Colony so fun to play. Robert ‘Robot’ Gaines and Ryan ‘Big Rig’ Ehrenberg made the scene come alive with their FX magic. They all contributed and developed the style of the town, the dress settings, and made the map welcoming to work on.
We really hope you guys enjoy the new update and have fun with the new Titanfall 2 mechanics in ‘Colony’! If you’re still reading at this point, thanks!! Now, see you on the Frontier!
Senior Environment Artist