So, the story behind Project Tilt’s main character is a very winding one. Project Tilt was, for a long time, a game without any art, without any idea of theme, and without a character. It was a long process that is, actually, still happening, and we all learned a lot. I’m going to make a series of posts about it, and I hope you guys enjoy it and comment back with your opinions! 🙂
When I joined the Project Tilt team around May last year, the project was going on for about five months but we had nothing more than a big pile of sketches and no idea of what to do with them. So we started an investigation of what we wanted out of our game in terms of language, to start building the beginning of our art direction.
All we knew was that we wanted the game to be fast and crazy, with a kind of explosive humour, but not explicitly violent. Just cartoon-ish explosive fun. Like Team Fortress or Smash Bros, with a bit of nonsensey-ness from cartoons, like Invader Zim, Dexter’s Laboratory or Adventure Time (who doesn’t like that?).
So we made the graph below, comparing the humor and tone that we wanted out of Project Tilt with other similar games. This might seem weird, but it was useful to put everyone in the team in the same place: sometimes each person in the team is thinking something different and we can only find that out in the worst way. That’s why this kind of investigation is useful, and since I was new in the team, I wanted to align my ideas with the rest of the team’s, and also to see if they were all aligned between themselves and if our ideas made sense. Btw, the app I used to make that graph is a very cool web app called Mural.ly. It’s a great way to creat moodboards and communicate visual ideas to a team 🙂
A Starting Point: The Character!
We needed a character to begin with. The character was central to the game’s concept, since the idea behind Project Tilt has always been that every player starts the same: we have no grinding and your level doesn’t change your power in the gameplay. Our character had to be cool enough for the player to like him and want to play with it, but also had to be customizable so players could differentiate themselves and show how much they played by the items they have, and how their character looks. So, we looked first at the requirements of our project:
- The character had to be highly customizable;
- It had to look charismatic on its own, but even cooler when customized;
- The customizations would be other 3D models on top of the character, like in Little Big Planet or Modnation Racers (this is a decision we made early on before starting the design process, since it also involved technical things about the 3D modelling and the way the game would be programmed);
- Our customizations would include garments and hats of any kind, even if very different from the theme of the game (Ex: Pirate hat in a robot character);
- The character had to hold a big and visible weapon – for gameplay reasons, since the weapon had to be readily recognizable;
- The head of the character also had to be pretty big, so hats would be easily seen and become important to the experience.
With this in mind, we took a look at some real-world references that could be useful, like Lego toys, Toy Arts, and Paper Craft. We studied games that used those kind of references and tried to decide which ones we liked the most and fitted our game more.
Nailing Down to One Theme
Then, we chose some options that we liked and started brainstorming and making sketches. From those sketches, I decided to make a presentation to the team. The theme of the game is something that everyone should be excited about, and a short presentation is a nice way to make everyone informed about everything at once, expose your arguments, and make a decision from there.
All the three ideas were loved by the team, the robot one because it was actually the original theme of the game from the beginning, the toy art looked cute, and the paper craft looked very different from what other games were doing. And we wanted to try something different so we got really excited about the Paper Craft theme. And on top of that, we were thinking we could name the game “Paper Crash”and it would sound awesome! And it would! So we decided to take that route, and the characters would be robots made of paper, being made in large quantities in a crazy lab and studied by awkward scientists. All the game could have a low-poly papery look. And so we began a long road of paper-robot drawings!
Some references that we used:
And here is a link for a project with a paper aesthetic that looks really cool: https://www.behance.net/gallery/Power-Giants-lowpoly-paperworld/7890183
The Paper Craft Path
The drawings were going well and during that time our 3D modeller, Daniel, joined the team, and we had him modelling everything we could so we could test as early as possible!
But the problem came when we actually transported the drawings to 3D models and put them in the game. We made simple textures and rigged the 3D models of the new ideas and used Unity 4’s Mechanim to transport all the animations from the old placeholder robot character to the news ones. Then we could rapidly make early tests by playing with the new models. And the result was… Well, not so cool. We tried lots of things, with lots of silhouettes and shapes, but it looked like the pointy corners of a Paper Craft models didn’t really fit into the game. They didn’t look good in the camera, and we weren’t really happy. Of course a lot could change with lighting, shader and more texture work, but it looked like no matter how we tried changing the shape and working a bit more in the texture, it didn’t look the way we wanted.
The Turning Point!
So, we had to make a rational decision to make things work. We decided to make a test in the same way we’ve been doing, but with one of our robot ideas. We all loved the first concepts and would like to see it back anyway, and it would probably work out. So I started drawing some robots and our 3D artist modelled them and we made some in-game tests. And it looked A LOT better from the start. We learned a few things from that too: – First, the rounded corners looked a lot better than the pointy paper ones. Our character is really small in the game, so his shape has to be simple and easy to understand from a distance. The paper pointy corners were not easily readable. – A more rounded head was also much clearer to see in the side-scrolling camera view. Our robot shape right now is actually still not so round, but it is a bit, and it allows some of the character’s face to show even if we are seeing it completely sideways (a pretty common thing in a side-scroller game). We were really happy with the result and started working in the design of our robot non-stop! The only down-side was losing the opportunity to use that name we liked so much — but we can save that for a next game. 🙂 It was still a lot of work to get to the version that is in game now, and even that one is still not done.
In the next part of the post I will be explaining how our design came to life and what we learned with it! Also, if you are insterested in seeing creative process in character design, here are a few links! Sackboy is one of our favorite characters of all time, and our biggest reference in terms of customization. In this link from Media Molecule’s blog, they explain the process behind the creation of this awesome character: http://www.mediamolecule.com/blog/article/from_yellowhead_to_sackboy/ And this is their Flickr with lots of pics from the process: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mediamolecule/sets/72157625338372788/ If you want to see more, this is a video from the Modnation Racers team talking about character customization and how they made it unique in their game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfx0xCHNC70 If you have any questions, tips, feedback, feel free to comment below! 🙂 We are happy to discuss anything with other developers or people who just appreciate Project Tilt and what we are doing. See you in the next post, and in-game!