Designing a Student Game Based on Tales

Designing a Student Game Based on Tales

The Forgotten One team talked about their student project that mixes Rapunzel tale and horror elements: level design, asset production, materials and more.

Introduction

Hi, everyone! We are The Forgotten One team. Our team is composed of four members, we all come from France and we each have different capacities and ambitions. We all studied at New3dge Art school specializing in Game Art.

Here're our member and specializations:

 

The only experience we have in the video game industry is what we learned and realized at New3dge. During all these years of study, we were trained in all the steps of game creation and in the last year, we had the chance to apply everything we had learned in the project “The Forgotten One”.

The Forgotten One: Rapunzel

We wanted to make an original project with a mixture of universes rarely used together (horror and tales) while making a playable game as a final objective.

We also wanted history to be of great importance in our project. A large part of the elements created derives from this history, for example, the overall design and small details such as dialogues.

We had 1 year to make the whole game so we went into production quite quickly which allowed us to have something solid early on. However, it caused us some problems later on as well (we will see it later).

In a project like this, everyone had to have a role and predefined tasks:

  • Marvin Boutrin: Concept 2D Environment, 3D Environment, VFX, Gameplay, Shader, Integration, Planning
  • Pierrick Le Texier: Concept 2D Character, 3D Character, Sculpting, Texturing, Rigging, Skinning, Animation, Video Editing, Visual Communication, Lead
  • Alexandre Mijoule: Concept 2D Environment, 3D Environment, Level Design
  • Gwendal Refort: Concept 2D, Illustrations

 

We wanted to make a game where the player goes through several levels. Each level represents a tale but the further the player goes in the game the more tortured and turned into horror the tales get. In order to preserve this starting point despite the constraints of a student project, we have ensured that the player follows the same progression in horror within a single tale: Rapunzel.

Screenshots from The Forgotten One - Rapunzel

Level Production

We chose this tale because of the possibilities it gave us for the environment with a mix of nature and manmade area in one level (the famous tower we all know from Rapunzel integrated into a set of medieval ruins). This allowed us to make the player visit a great variety of consistent environments.

We wanted this level to be a large open level where the player can explore as he wishes. At the same time, we wanted it to be very narrative, so the whole level consists of several micro dioramas, each with its own mood and its own story, for the player to visit. Together, they allow the player to understand all the events that have occurred in this tale.

First of all, we made an approximate map of the level to have the first draw of the level design and distances between the mains areas of interest.

Using this map we made a very rough blockout of the level using mainly free assets from the Unreal Engine Store (mostly for the ruins and the foliage). This allowed us to test our level design very quickly and rectify what was wrong before starting to produce assets.

Then, we made the final map and the final blockout using only our assets in their first shape. Once everything was in its place we started to work on the mood and lighting while progressively replacing each blocking asset with its definitive form.

Working with Assets

With the level being quite large we had to work with modular elements for the architecture as much as possible. Nearly all assets are reusable, only the biggest assets like the tower and the bridge are unique. For most of the assets (especially the tower since it has lots of plain surfaces), we used vertex paint to give some variation in the material and reduce the feeling of repetition due to the modularity of the assets.

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The performance was our main challenge for this level. To minimize the number of assets in the level,  we had to group the assets as much as possible and find a balance between performance and enough variety of objects in the scene. As an exception, a few natural assets were placed by hand for better control over how they affect the lighting and the storytelling.

With a large number of assets to produce in a short time, we had to find a way to produce them quickly, so we choose a workflow without a high poly, doing all the details directly in Substance Painter using only a low poly. To save more production time, we used some photogrammetry to produce a few assets like piles of debris or a lion statue photographed in Compiegne Castle. Photographed assets may stand out a little too much next to “classic” assets so we had to correct them a little in Substance Painter. In Unreal, we made sure they are only used to add more life and detail to the environment without going in the foreground.

Materials

All the materials were made in Substance Designer. We made a few base materials with some declinations, for example, the stone tiles have a clean version, a broken one, a broken version with just puddles and with big puddles. Each material follows the same process: first, the base is made and then variations are created by tweaking the parameters in Substance Designer.

We wanted this level to be very dark so we made materials with reflective elements (especially the ground materials) like puddles so that they could interact with the lights and bright spot in the scene to create some interesting visuals and lighting possibilities.

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The vertex paint was the main tool to assemble all the textures, so we created a specific shader for it. It allowed us to choose the number of textures, the maximum being 5, as well as the tiling of each texture.

We divided the terrain into several parts which allowed us to have different textures in the forest, in the ruins around the tower, etc. and use several variations of the same texture.

Character Production

In the game, there are four characters: The Teller, The Witch, The Abomination and The Aegis Knights.

For most of those characters, we followed the same process and used the following software:

  • Photoshop for concepts
  • ZBrush for sculpting
  • Blender for 3D modeling, blocking, hair card, retopology, and UV
  • Marvelous Designer was used when necessary, for The Witch and The Teller in particular
  • 3ds Max for rigging, skinning, and animation
  • Substance Painter for baking high res details to the low res mesh and making textures
  • And finally, Unreal Engine for the shaders and the game engine

 

This process could be integrated thanks to the different experiences we had in character production.

To match the universe of the game, the characters were made with the idea that each of them should be a representation of a symbol through the design, outfits, colors, etc.

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The Abomination was one of the most difficult characters to create. We have a lot of trouble finding a design that we liked. We had to recreate it at least twice from scratch. However, working on it brought us the biggest pleasure, and we are very proud of this character.

Many elements of the game, especially the gameplay, derive from The Abomination. For example, the size of some doors was adjusted so that the character could pass through them. Fear was the feeling we wanted to transmit to the player when meeting this character, and it was really great to see the reactions of the people who were testing our game for the first time.

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Shaders

The most difficult part with the shaders was to achieve a convincing result. We had to do a lot of testing and a lot of versions of the hair shaders, for example, before it really satisfied us. Paragon's shaders and their textures were a great help in the process.

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The skin shader is quite simple. The purpose was not to do something too complicated, we just needed to be able to add skin details with the help of several masks.

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Feedback

Now that we have finished the project and can take a step back, many things seem obvious to us. Some things could have been done differently or earlier in the year to avoid problems in the middle or at the end of the production. One of the global problems in this kind of a school project might be the organization and rhythm that we had to keep up to.

Also, because we were all students, it was even more difficult to manage the team where everyone is at the same level without an officially designated lead. To solve this problem, we set up meetings twice a week to review what has been done and what remains.

One of the main mistakes we made was not spending enough time on the pre-production stage. The art direction was not very well established and some parts of the project were not necessarily precisely conceptualized. Spending more effort on choosing a preciser and more specific artistic direction for the whole project would have saved us a lot of time, even if it meant that everyone would have had to develop their own part of the project while following the same artistic guideline established from the beginning. This would have prevented us from going back on certain things that had already been finalized.

In conclusion, we are very proud of what we have done. We have been through a lot but our main objective has been achieved - a playable game created in a given amount of time that showcases our technical and artistic skills.

We hope you liked this article!

The Forgotten One Team

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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