Terror Chasm Development Recap 2: Environment -
Quite a lot of thought went into planning the aesthetic look and atmospheric feel of the environment in Terror Chasm. We like to think of the game as PvE (player versus environment) to the extreme. The entire environment is very literally your enemy when you consider all of the traps, puzzles, and deep dark pits that you must platform over (not to mention the man-eating plant that rips through the walls to come get you!).
The idea is that in many ways the temple itself is a character and arguably even a literal antagonist in the game. This is why we wanted to make sure it had a certain amount of distinctiveness and personality. In a sense it is "alive" due to the fact that it constantly changes, offering new combinations of deadly obstacles to traverse every time a new level loads.
The basic premise for the game was inspired by the opening to Raiders of the Lost Ark with Indiana Jones and we decided very early on that we were going to keep the temple as a setting. But we didn't want it to look too much like a standard "realistic temple" that you see in many other games with a similar premise. We wanted to make it a little more stylized, while still being recognizable as being an ancient temple. Part of this was also for marketing because we wanted to be sure that there would be no confusion whenever anyone saw screenshots from the game; we wanted it to be instantly recognizable as being from Terror Chasm.
In order to make it more interesting we decided to take inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright's textile block "Maya Revival" style of architecture. I've always felt this had a very unique look and I'm quite fond of it. Originally the plan was to make the surface gray, but after a lot of feedback about the first concept art, it seemed that everyone unanimously said it needed to be a different color so we made it brownish beige instead. Technically this color scheme is probably more accurate to what actual temples looked like.
Certain other elements of the temple, such as the wall sconces which hold fire to light your way, were also roughly inspired by some of Wright's work.
One of the many aspects of the art that we still have a lot of work to do on, are the many props in the game. In fact I'd say most of the ones that are in there now are going to be either updated or completely replaced as development continues. But one idea that we've been playing with is this notion of sort of a "temple punk" kind of aesthetic where we take certain objects and other items in the game that may not have necessarily existed during the time of the Mayans or Aztecs (or any ancient civilizations), but we give them a more "temple" kind of feel, in much the same way Steam Punk does with its Victorian take on some modern technology. I'm not sure how far we're going to take this yet, but it's an idea that we are considering and will likely implement to one extent or another.
The lighting of the temple was something else that we struggled with. Originally we were just going to go with very realistic lighting, but that seems kind of boring and once again not distinctive enough for what we wanted. Eventually we decided to go with "comic book" inspired lightning, to make the entire setting seem a little bit more vibrant and colorful. The main idea here was to use various in-engine lighting tricks to make the dark or shadowy areas of the game appear blue lit, instead of black. This is the kind of thing that you will see in comic book art. In some ways I think this also helps with gameplay a bit, because it allows the game to feel dark while still allowing you (the player) to see what you're doing. This is especially important for things like puzzle solving and platforming.
Another thing that we really wanted to do was to have sort of a black light effect on the players as they went through these dark areas, making them appear to glow as if under a black light when in these blue lit sections of the game. We thought this would be kind of cool and surreal as well as have a potentially positive impact on gameplay, and the player's ability to see what their avatar is doing. It's also another thing that would make Terror Chasm more visually distinctive. The parts of the game that are not shadowy blue are lit by the torches which run along the walls of the game. When the player is in the vicinity of these, the character reverts back to their more normal lighting scheme and ceases to glow. The idea here is to try and replicate the same thing that happens in real life when you have something glowing under a black light but then introduce a normal light or candle to that object. The glowing either stops or diminishes.
Since the player is running down these mostly linear and somewhat claustrophobic hallways of this structure, the end result is that they periodically stop or start glowing depending on their vicinity to the torches. This is not meant to be a gameplay thing, but just a cool aesthetic. As if the characters themselves are phosphorescent in this bizarre, almost otherworldly temple that they have been inexplicably teleported to and are now fighting to escape.
- False Prophet