The Element was a first person tactical shooter based on the S.W.A.T. franchise using Unreal Engine 3 and was Mad Doc Software’s first next generation console title. I joined the team as their Art Director in the summer of 2005, shortly after Shadowrun had been canceled, and was I immediately tasked with planning and scoping the art effort for the entire project as well as staffing and training a team to deliver a vertical slice within 4 months.

What had started out as a rather challenging undertaking grew significantly more difficult when our recruiting efforts were cut short due to budgetary constraints and I was left with  one intern, a few junior artists whom had never worked in the gaming industry before (most weren’t even artists) and  a modest outsourcing budget. Initially I was a bit concerned about the odds, but we rolled up our sleeves and set out to do the impossible.

The results of the team’s efforts were so well received that the publisher promoted the project to a higher status and increased our development budget to match. What I learned during this effort was that a devoted team with open minds and a hunger to learn can give some of the most experienced teams a run for their money if you are willing put the effort into training and managing them well. I am proud of the team’s accomplishments and gratified by the learning experience.

Unfortunately, The Element was just one of the projects impacted by thethat fell victim to the Vivendi/Activision merger and was canceled in December of 2006.

Concept art by Gerardo Garza and Craig Mullins

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One of the goals for The Element was to deliver a fairly intense experience through suspenseful situations. We believed compelling character interactions would be an important part of achieving this end so we tried to approach our character designs with the goal of giving each of them a distinct personality in appearance, voice and animation.

This proved to be rather challenging since each of the characters needed to be in full S.W.A.T. gear and uniforms intentionally diminish individualism.

Ultimately the efforts succeeded in making each character unique and gave us enough personality to help embellish the experience with compelling and suspenseful moments.

Concept art by Chen-Kun Tsai

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Using FaceFX as a base technology, we designed a system for facial animation that allowed all heads in the game to share a single base mesh and animations, with a simple shader swap to give each head a distinguishing surface. The following tech demo demonstrates the base mesh and animation sharing across 3 radically different head designs, as well as a sub-surface scattering effect for the skin and BDRF solution we created to simulate different types of materials

The most notable accomplishment here is that most of the work was done by the art team with very little support from tech and is a testament to what good tools and inginuity can accomplish.

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The art team was just 3 months from content complete when the project was shelved and we had produced 7 unique environments by this time. The remaining 2 environments were in production and once finished, the team would roll into a polish and optimization stage which was scheduled for a 6 month duration. The above screen shots demonstrate a level of completeness we were referring to as content complete and had not yet undergone a detail pass where decals and detail objects are placed, textures polished and lighting finalized, but even at this stage the game was running within specified budgets and frame rate.