Week 5 – Quarters Walkarounds

This week has been packed with a many important milestones for our team.

  1. We finalized the underlying story of our experience with the results of a paper playtest.
  2. We officially declared the development and direction of our preproduction package for next semester’s studio.
  3. We presented our progress so far during faculty walkarounds this week.

Story Development

We realized that in order to make much more significant progress in any sort of efficient manner, we needed to lock down our story. We ironed out two versions of the story, both of which had been a rather loose compilation of ideas until this point.

Top row is more based on the original myth. Bottom row is more our interpretation of the myth. The Land of Night and Land of Day were largely the same for both stories, and the layout of the Judgement Chamber also remained the same.

We realized the largest difference between the two stories was whether we wanted our characters to rely on the rich/poor fairytale level archetypes or not.

After we clarified this difference, we conducted a paper playtest to gather data and opinions from our peers about which elements of each story brought them closer to our intended emotional goal for the story; a self-reflective feeling.

Looking at the results of our playtest and the suggestions we had gotten from our playtesters, the final version of our story ended up being somewhere in between. We’re looking forward now to building an art style guide and further refining our environments to better reflect the intentions of our finalized story.

Testing our prototyped environments in the CAVE

Preproduction Package

Over the past couple weeks, the team has been developing a few preproduction pitches based off of various combinations of technology and mythology. The one which was chosen by our faculty advisors is the origin story of the mermaid, Sirena.

We will be developing this story’s preproduction package (concept art, preliminary art assets, art direction) for traditional media delivery.  There are exciting technical challenges that we will begin to think about in seeing how this kind of story can be produced for this platform.

Quarters Walkarounds

Over the course of this week, faculty have been visiting project rooms and providing feedback on the progress that teams have made so far.

To prepare for our walkarounds, we spent much of this week organizing and preparing what we had done so far. Each person on the team took a minute to talk about their role in the project, and we worked on making sure that we could clearly present our goals and our progress.

This seemed to go well for us, and we will learn more about how the faculty received our presentations next Monday (2/19).

Week 4 – Layouts and Story

This week, we laid out a plan for quarters and setup a scrum board accordingly. Given our goals from last week, we spent most of our time this week producing low-poly assets for the environments. The main factor in deciding which assets to produce was asking how necessary it is to convey the story to potential playtesters next week.

This allowed us to design, preview, and iterate environment layouts both in Oculus and CAVE in pretty quick succession this week. Ironically, this also helped us realize that many parts of our story still have holes, which is currently preventing us from making some more specific decisions regarding the guest experience.

Static Art Assets

While we work on ironing out story details, we’ve made good progress on the assets that we have decided to move forward, keeping in mind that the myth itself is static so there are some elements which will not be changed regardless of the story nuances.

wood texture for the guest’s boat
lapis lazuli texture for the jewelry of the gods
sandstone texture for statues and obelisks


rough sculpture of Anubis in ZBrush

Environmental Assets 

Working on the layouts of the world have revealed changes which we need to consider, and the resolution of many of these changes will be dependent on locking down the presentation of the story.

updated Land of Night experience design
updated Judgement Chamber level design
Discussing the textures in the Judgement Chamber


We are running into a question of how we want to present the traditional myth, going back and forth between two particular ones.  There are many questions still to be answered with both approaches, so we are planning on filling those out and collecting opinions from our peers over the course of the next week.

This playtesting is to be done in conjunction with playtesting the timing through the rough environment layouts.


We also began working with Yutian Zheng to create music and SFX for this piece. As we iron out the story and the specific events that will go into the guest experience, we will be working with her to create sounds and music that suit the intentions and emotions of this piece.

See you next week!

Week 3 – Building Foundations for Rapid Testing

Discussing version control and scene scale

A large part of this week went into carrying out our technical goals, and discussing how the story needs to be adjusted to fit the needs of the project.

We spent a large portion of this week working on prototyping the environments for our experiences, and testing out our technical pipeline for creating and implementing art assets. We also made sure that Perforce is being properly used in order to ensure version control as we move forward.

The biggest win for this week is that prototyping these environments has given us a solid base to start rapidly testing these environments and designs moving forward. Each environment has a target emotion that we are designing them to provide for our guests, and these emotions must be conveyed across two very different platforms.

Setting up our team room’s Oculus Rift

Early Environmental Concept Art 

These rough mockups helped us begin visualizing the layout and build asset lists of each environment so we could start mapping out the virtual space.

Concept Art: The Tomb
Concept Art: The Land of Night
Concept Art: The Land of Day
Concept Art: Judgement Chamber

Using these pieces, we started mapping out each environment in Unity to start testing our sense of scale and placement from the guest’s perspective in our experience. We also started running into frame rate issues, so we are moving ahead with the awareness of that limitation and researching ways in which we can work around it.

Rough Unity Layouts

In building out these environments, we’ve discussed how they feel and how they fit the role that each environment plays in the guest’s journey through this experience. We were able to test our digital assets pipeline, and have proved that our team’s roles and communication channels are solid enough that we are able to make rapid changes while we are still in this highly iterative stage of story.

Our concept for the Land of the Day changed from the concept art to create a greater contrast between the claustrophobic design of the Land of the Night.
Testing scaling and layout for the Judgement Chamber in Unity.

Character Design

We have also begun visualizing the characters that will inhabit this environment. As story and narrative are still in discussion, we are putting our focus on the character we know will be present regardless; Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead. Maya files containing humanoid figures with joints were presented as part of the pre-production package, so character design has gone largely into how his head will look.

We have also established expectations for modeling and rigging from the animation perspective, which carry over into other characters as well.

Concept Sketch
Low-poly modeling

Next Steps

As we start building more detailed environmental art assets, we are securing our SFX/music (because we have no sound designers on our team!) and we are ironing out what sort of narrative experience our guests will have while traveling through these environments we are building. We know we want our guests to come away with a feeling of unease caused by some level of self-reflection; the moral of the original myth is that the goodness of one’s heart, not worldly wealth, will be judged by this journey through Duat and by the gods inhabiting it. We need more discussion on what exactly we can do and what we need to test to ensure the myth’s emotional essence is conveyed to our guests through our environments in both platforms.

In the spirit of this, we’re aiming to begin playtesting how these environments feel for guests in both the CAVE and in virtual reality so we know what kinds of changes we need to make to our designs for our guests to feel what we intend them to feel.

See you next week!

Week 2 – Hello, world!

We are Studio Duat, a student team of five artists and two programmers at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center.

This semester, we’ve been tasked with bringing the mythology of the Egyptian afterlife to life in Oculus and the CAVE.

A large portion of our week has been reworking the production package we were provided with from last semester’s team. It had been designed with a heavily technical team in mind, with limited art capabilities.

The myth takes the guest from a tomb through the Land of Night, the Land of Day, and ends in the Judgement Chamber. Hearts are weighed against a feather on a scale; if hearts are heavier than a feather by the wrongdoings performed in life, the heart and its owner are eaten by a monster, and if the hearts are lighter than a feather, the soul lives for eternity in an idyllic paradise. Given the composition of our team, we are searching for ways to exercise the considerable environmental art talent of our team while remaining true to this concept and story provided for us.

We’re in the process of:

  • Developing concept art for each environment
  • Building asset lists for each scene
  • Developing test scenes in Unity
    • Determine scale of our scenes and art assets
    • Produce a 360 degree animatic to test timing of the guest experience

We recognize that bringing a narrative experience told across four distinct environments to life in two different platforms is an extremely ambitious goal, and we’re excited for the challenge.