September DevLog | Game Development Summary
It’s been another mammoth month here at Project Gamechanger. New enemies have been sculpted, new VFX have been created and new skills have been animated – but that’s not all! In case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of switching game engines – so stick around to find out more about that huge change!
3D Character Modelling
September was all about the Daggerclaw Harpies in the 3D Modelling department, a race of fierce enemies notorious for their enormous wingspan and razor-sharp talons. Native to the rocky peaks of Erendorn’s westward mountains, these NPCs swoop down from the skies to capture unsuspecting victims.
There are lots of different classes of Daggerclaw Harpies in Depths of Erendorn, so we decided to start with the Slayer class. These are particularly lethal and predatory enemies, capable of cutting through the skies at incredible speeds to reach their prey.
Using a standard male base mesh as a foundation, we resculpted the body in order to give it more unique and relevant features:
- We added some “plating” to the forearms for a more bird-like, reptilian appearance.
- The brow ridge was elevated and extended backwards to give more of a birdlike and streamlined appearance.
- The face in general was made to look more angular by adding things like more prominent cheekbones and slightly pointed ears.
- The legs were made to look more muscular, since Harpies are going to need to do some powerful jumps if they’re gonna take off and shoot through the sky!
- The male human’s feet were replaced with sharp talons, which were sculpted separately before being fully integrated into the sculpt mesh.
After all of this, we blocked out the wingspan and sculpted two different types of feathers for the wings. The feathers and their central stems (rachis) were then painted different colours in order to simplify masking when texturing in the future. Finally, to create the overlapping feather effect on the Harpy’s wings, our Character Artist layered all the feathers at varying sizes and deformations.
While the feathers themselves are sculpted meshes, our Artist decided to model the wings as planes. This means that the actual geometry for them are single-sided faces that will have double-sided rendering, which is useful because it reduces the overall polycount.
Next up was preparing for the future texturing of the body. Rather than have these creatures look more humanoid than birdlike, we decided that their bodies should be covered in feathers:
- We made a tiling feather material for texturing the Harpy’s body because this would most successfully achieve the overlapping feather effect.
- To do this, we took an image of a single feather and used Substance Designer to multiply, rotate, position and scale the alpha image.
- This created the tiling pattern that we will use to texture the Harpy’s body with in the future. We decided to do this during texturing rather than sculpting because it allow us to adjust the texture more easily.
Once this was all done, we started sculpting the clothes for the Slayer. The first piece of clothing we sculpted was the leg armour. To create this, we modelled a flat version that was then bent into shape around the Harpy’s shins. Before we could do that, though, we added some details like decorative studs and thread-holes, which we actually had some issues with:
- They weren’t maintaining their position when the leg armour was bent into a cylindrical form.
- We attempted to solve this by making the details and the leg armour separate objects.
- This allowed us to give different bend values to each of the pieces instead of using the same one.
- But when trying to shape the overall form to fit the legs, the details were becoming too warped.
- It was then decided that it would be better to add details to the armour after the shaping process.
A few migraines later, we added some under-armour socks to the Harpy’s legs, a design element that we thought would make the armour appear to be more comfortable and authentic. We also added some shorts to the design so that nothing too scandalous would be revealed if someone happened to look up while this Harpy is flying… it’s the little things, right?!
We could then start detailing everything, like folds in the cloth. Once the low mesh was done, we retopologised the sculpt and hey presto – the Daggerclaw Harpy Slayer came to life! Next month we’ll be working on other class types from this race, like the Wanderers – so stay tuned!
Switching Game Engines
A lot of exciting things were created and figured out in September, but the biggest decision we made by far was to switch our game engine! We wrote an entire blog dedicated to this topic, so if you want to hear more about the why, the how and the what, then head over to that now. Otherwise, read on for a brief overview.
Our current game engine is actually holding us back in a number of ways, from unreliable documentation and lack of a terrain system to features that are incompatible with other features. Basically, it just doesn’t provide the amount of flexibility we need – and while some of these issues can be solved, they will take too much time to fix, especially when better alternatives exist.
Even still, this wasn’t a straightforward decision and we are still in the process of identifying which game engine would meet all of our needs for Depths of Erendorn. In particular, we’re looking for a game engine that will offer:
- Better Terrain Systems so that we can create a variety of landscapes and scenes.
- More advanced rendering systems so that we can push our graphics to the next level.
- More flexibility in terms of varied game systems or more integrated tools available to use.
In a nutshell, our future game engine should have an extensive, flexible tool kit that will empower our developers to create large amounts of content as efficiently as possible. We are also researching graphics technology in other game engines in an effort to determine which would best suit the world of Erendorn.
Since we’re planning on switching game engines, it was important to carry out tests in all departments so that we could make an informed decision based on the needs of our team. We started by running a few animation tests to see which engines they function best with.
To do this, we generated a new rig that would be more compatible with the respective game engine we were trying out. We then transferred the skins and animations used in our current engine over to the new rig before carrying out the animation test. Most of these have gone really well, save for a couple of issues, and this reassures us that changing game engines is the right decision!
Our Animator also spent September adding more animations to the Twilight Elf Assassin. Animations were created for standard movements, like turn left and right, as well as for a couple of generic skills:
- Leap: This lets the Assassin leap from three tiles away, allowing them to both escape enemies and move swiftly towards them.
- Impair: With this skill, the Assassin can choose an adjacent 1 tile enemy to impair. The target then loses -2 Movement Speed for one turn.
We also created a spell channelling animation for the Parakaw Astromancer, one of the most intelligent spellcasters in Erendorn. In the future, VFX will be added to this animation in the game engine to really give this character a sense of power and magic. Until then, we think it’s looking pretty cool against the Swiftstrike Jaguar – what do you think?!
September saw the water material we had previously made for Erendorn’s landscapes get converted to triplanar, a method of texturing that allows for the easy resizing of water. Refining our water material in this way is beneficial because it gives us the ability to maintain texel density, regardless of the mesh triplanar is applied to. This will mean that our textures will look clean and crisp!
Furthermore, our Environment Artist also had to carry out a few tests to see which game engine would be most suitable for our environments. For these testing purposes, a new terrain material system was created, and it included:
- Height blending between materials.
- Slope-based material auto blending.
- Tessellation based on camera distance.
So far, we have used five different materials – but more materials and functionality (like procedural puddles) will be added at a later date. We also made our first pass on initial outdoor scene lighting, fog FX and post-processing setup. As well as this, a pine tree was created in SpeedTree, which offers a variety of software products to program and model all types of plant life with. We loved how everything turned out and will be using SpeedTree to generate multiple variations of pine trees for use in the new engine!
More visual effects were created in September for various abilities in the game, including:
- Frostbolt: This is a generic spell that can be used by any playable character to deal Frost Damage and reduce an enemy’s Movement. A frost cloud VFX was made for when this spell impacts an enemy.
- Poison: This is another generic spell that we created a poison cloud visual effect for. Poison has a lasting effect on enemies, causing them to take 1-2 Nature Damage every turn for three turns.
- Starblast: This is a class spell for the Parakaw Astromancer. While it can only be used when four enemies or less remain in a room, it deals a considerable amount of Arcane Damage to all enemies and is very powerful.
- Black Hole: Another Parakaw specialty, the use of this spell creates a 6×6 area that also deals high amounts of Arcane Damage, as well as giving each 1 tile enemy a 30% chance of getting stunned. The VFX for this had to really do it justice – luckily, we think it looks awesome!
- Magic Chains: Another generic spell, Magic Chains allows a player to root a 1 or 4 tile enemy for three turns. This spell is particularly useful when getting attacked by a group of Lionmen, for example, and can be used by any playable character.
- Nature’s Shield: This is a class spell of the Forest Druid that grants it, or another player of the Forest Druid’s choosing, a Resilience buff for three turns.
- Earthbloom: Another Forest Druid specialty, this ability does nothing on the turn it’s cast – but on the next go, it will actually restore a little bit of Health every turn for three turns.
We also made some VFX for generic skills, like Spinning Kick and Heaving Blow. The active player of a game now also has a visual effect that appears around their character. We decided to represent the active player by making an illuminating white circle that rotates and pulses on the tile, creating a simple yet ethereal look.
In a continued effort to switch game engines, our VFX Artist also spent a lot of time last month reading various bits of documentation and getting to grips with the differences between our old game engine and the ones we’ve been exploring. This meant, for example, that they had to quickly relearn the different particle systems in different engines so that we can, in the future, make an informed decision on which engine will most benefit our team as a whole.
With this in mind, we also spent a lot of time transferring textures and meshes from our current game engine in to new projects. We did this so that we could test how well they worked in comparison to others, as well as to identify any potential issues that would make a specific game engine unsuitable for VFX.
While we have already started to rework some of our pre-existing effects so that we can test everything out properly, they’re still in their very early stages and don’t quite look the same just yet – but the basics are there and we’re confident that continuing to do things like this, in every department, will allow us to choose the most suitable game engine for Depths of Erendorn.
Following on from all the UI work we carried out in August, we continued to refine this aspect of the game at the beginning of last month. However, since we’re changing game engine, a lot of this work will be continued when we make the switch over. In fact, that’s the case with a lot of the work we began early in the month, from refining abilities to adding free movement to players inside settlements.
In regard to free movement, our plan is to eventually have the settlements in Erendorn act as player hubs that update in real-time. To achieve this, we’re looking at what new potential methods and technology we can use to create a better out-of-dungeon experience, all the while taking into account which alternative game engine would best achieve this goal.
Towards the end of September, our programmers managed to narrow down our list of potential game engines. One that we’re looking at in particular is Unreal Engine, and we started running some tests with it last week to determine its suitability for us. These tests went well – though there are still a few more aspects of it that we need to look into before we can start trying out another engine. Once we do move on to testing in other game engines, we will carry out similar tests until we have found an option that best suits our needs.
We hoped you enjoyed this monthly summary! The next few weeks are going spiral away from us as we continue our efforts to switch game engines and rework Depths of Erendorn – and if you’d like to get a head start on what we get up to, then check out our weekly devlogs!