Environment Sketch 01 - Spring Rain

As you may have noticed, last week I added a new category of links on the right side of the page: Environment Sketches. What could those be, I wonder?

Considering that "Environment Sketch" is a term I made up, I should probably explain. An Environment Sketch is neither an animation nor a game, but something in between. It is a scene that you observe. It's like a window into a world.

The idea is to take some piece of my environment that I appreciate, and put it out for other people to notice and appreciate. But it's not simply a photograph - the idea is to capture the mood and feel of a place as it moves through time, not doing anything, just being.

So with that in mind, I present to you my first Environment Sketch!

Spring Rain is my first Environment Sketch, a simple but evocative depiction of a scene or place.

This is not a graphic sketch but a procedural one, a viewpoint generated by code that describes how the scene is to be constructed and how it evolves over time.

Spring Rain is a tribute to plants and rain. Please enjoy.

It's all procedurally generated - different every time - and running a real-time physics simulation. The background is created from blurred particle trails, the plants are assemblages of particles connected by springs, arranged with some amount of randomness, and the background sounds are mixed randomly.

Spring Rain was made in Flash, so I actually ended up reusing a lot of the code from my earlier ragdoll games! :) I think Flash is the perfect medium for these Environment Sketches, because it is so easy to combine hand-drawn art with code-generated graphics, not to mention the huge audience that already exists for Flash content. With any luck, the Environment Sketch will someday become recognized as a legitimate genre alongside Animations and Games. I'll do my best to help it along. :)

I've had many sources of inspiration in defining the Environment Sketch concept and in making Spring Rain. Most significant was simply my appreciation of the world around me, finding beauty in bits of my surroundings which I felt compelled to share with the rest of the world. But there were also some Flash pieces I found across the web that have helped to point me in the direction of these procedural sketches as a way to share that appreciation.

The first one I found was perhaps Ferry Halim's Raindrops. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one out there who loves rain. :D But the biggest influence on me I think has been the Flash developer and artist IvoryDrive. The first time I mentioned my intention to make these procedural sketches in a comment on his excellent interactive piece City. His thought it was a great idea, and guess what - he also really liked Spring Rain! Wow! So I'm very grateful for IvoryDrive's encouragement. :) He's got a lot of other work you should check out too, including his latest, 5 Differences, which is basically a game wrapped around a bunch of little Environment Sketches.

Another nice example of what I would consider an Environment Sketch is this real-time Hogwarts scene. While it looks to me like almost all the graphics in that piece are made by hand rather than generated procedurally, I think the intention behind it is similar enough to qualify as an Environment Sketch. It depicts a place as it exists through time, and while it contains many hand-drawn and animated graphics, they are only used to reinforce a momentary feel rather than to push a story along.

One place that Environment Sketches might find a home is in website design. How about giving your site a more natural sense of place by putting in a virtual window into a dynamic scene? One person on the Fisix Engine forums had the same idea and I've given him permission to add Spring Rain to his site. Looks nice, don't you think? :)

If any of you out there are thinking of making something like these Environment Sketches, or think they might be cool to use on your site, let me know! It'd be great to hear from you. :)