Blog 439: Form Defined By Function Y4

This kind of explanation is probably long overdue. You’ve probably witnessed my fluster as you criticise the RDZ Industries design philosophy; I’m not very good at responding under pressure or fast-talking, so I am usually unable to marshal the true backstory.

So here is the carefully constructed and reasonably complete account of why RDZ Industries looks the way it does.

Modernism

I was switched on to this after watching a series about modernist architecture by Dan Cruickshank. There was one phrase in particular that jumped out at me, and has remained with me ever since — “Form defined by function.”

RDZ Industries is so completely characterised by this. Take the Delta mech: it has legs, for locomotion; it has blast shields, for protection; it has a cabin, for the pilot; and it has guns, for offence. You might notice that it has very little else. No cruft, no extras — its form has been defined almost entirely by its function as a modular, mobile, all-terrain assault platform. Efficiency of design.

Further to that, I have always been drawn to the clean lines and sharp angles of modernist buildings. This has fed directly back into the hard, geometric shapes of RDZ Industries. They appeal to the precise, deliberate, perfectionist side of me. The side that is rarely exercised in the real world, in favour of the flighty, wishy-washy romantic.

The RDZ Industries Delta mech is the archetype from which all else springs.

The Three Cs To Success: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

Custom artwork in the Warcraft community has always annoyed me. There’s this vaunted ideal of “original” artwork, holding things made from scratch above models edited from in-game material regardless of actual quality and utility. While the original piece may be more beautiful, more important to its maker, when placed alongside the raft of Blizzard-standard cartoonised game materials it can do nothing but stand out like a sore thumb (except in the extremely rare cases where people have actually managed to make complementary resources in the same style). The background is as important as the foreground — we are modding a game here, not making one.

Total conversions are naturally exempt from the above, as they are free to redefine the art style (I would show you some car-crash screenshots of the original Operation: Twilight here, if I had any to hand, to illustrate things going wrong).

With This Wreckage and all the other Warcraft-style maps I ever made, I used only edited models because they had an entire existing framework to live within. The overall look, the consistent style between custom and non-custom, was paramount and overcame any notion of individual model “quality”. And the best way to make matching resources was to recombine what was already there.

I digress.

With RDZ Industries, it’s important to me that the models are consistent. Most obviously with the likes of the Delta and Alpha, this boils down to repeatable, modular segments — the same cabins, the same cannons, the same feet or leg units, the same textures — that are used across many models. They have to look like they’re all made by the same company. Modular construction also continues the underlying utility/versatility vibe.

Now, this is flouted somewhat by some of the “older” and “experimental” units; the idea here is that the older chassis were made before the company really knew what it was doing, and the experimentals are cobbled-together prototypes that will eventually be folded back into the modular setup once the raw technology has been finalised.

The Alpha is much bigger and needs a third leg to supports its weapon racks and heavier shields.

Triangular World

Fundamentally, the polgyonal world is one of hard angles and sharp edges. The computer-generated universe I work in is built of triangles, and I embrace this rather than fighting it. Trying to add curves to a jagged world is, to me, the height of engine fighting — trying to force the universe into a configuration it simply isn’t designed for. There is room to fight a little bit, yes, but I feel that it’s better to work with what you have, not against it.

Maybe that’s a little bit extreme; I do make judicitious use of rotation during animation, and those triangles can be orientated any which way. But the geometry itself is limited to a collection of straights. The perfection demanded by the grid is king.

The grid is king.

Old Machine

This influence is probably quite out of date, but it remains even so. Remember that RDZ Industries was born in 2004 or so — back when I was still smarting from running WC3 just off minimum specs, back when I first created RDZ’s All-In-One Micro Map to make everything accessible in a small enough way that it wouldn’t judder all the way through. I hate games that judder.

So naturally, RDZ Industries models need to be as streamlined as they can in terms of the triangles that form them. But this feeds into the need to satisfy the angular world and the straight edges of modernism; it is quite natural to have a lower-than-average triangle count in the face of a style that embraces it.

There is another advantage in that it frees up more triangles to play with in the rest of the scene. Overblown particle effects, more industrial junk on the ground, more individuals on screen… And if a design, a function, requires more triangles, then they are there to be used.

“Awesome system:

  • Pentium III 500 or AMD Athlon 550 or faster PC.
  • 128 megabytes of RAM.
  • 3dfx Voodoo3 / Riva TNT2 class 3D accelerator.”

— From Unreal Tournament ReadMe.htm

Dazzle Ships

I go on about Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark quite a lot in relation to RDZ Industries, because everything comes back to Dazzle Ships. It comes back to my fascination with industrial architecture, the “machine aesthetic” side of modernism. Dazzle Ships is the audio equivalent, with its Cold War short-wave radio samples and clunks and whirrs and pistons that form music much better than Kraftwerk ever managed.

Though the only visual impact on RDZ Industries that OMD have had is the use of dazzle camouflage paintwork schemes (and let’s face it, they didn’t invent dazzle, they just turned me on to it), they have had a collossal shaping influence on the spirit of RDZ Industries. They articulated the romance of technology?

The Rule of Cool

I am capable of overriding any and all of the above design principles if I believe the compromise to be worth it.

But by and large, this is why I roll.

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