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Ricardo Teixeira with the rest of the Amplify Creations team discussed their new indie title in progress Decay of Logos set in a fantasy world and based on Unity. It’s a third-person action/adventure RPG with an emphasis on player exploration with minimal hand-holding and challenging combat. The team weekly updates their development blog, so make sure to keep an eye on it if you want to follow the news.
Hello! We’re part of Amplify Creations, a game dev middleware company based in Portugal. We’ve actually had the luck of seeing our work featured on 80.lv before with the release of Amplify Shader Editor and Amplify Impostors. You can the articles here:
It’s great to be back and this time talk more about our first game as a team. Amplify Creations was originally founded by Diogo Teixeira (Brink, Rust), a developer with a background in games technology and rendering. Now we’re 11 people in total, and most of the company is dedicated to R&D and asset development.
The game team composed of 4 core developers and a small production team, works independently from the rest of the company but reaps the benefits of our in-house technology. Having our tech developers just a couple of desks away often contributing to the game helps speed up development.
We initially focused solely on Unity-based middleware development but soon ventured into game development after the Decay of Logos original creator, André Constantino, joined the team. Luckily, we were able to grow our team shortly after by hiring Filipe Pichel (Under Siege), Ricardo Tomé (Rimworld), and Iuri Monteiro. Technically speaking, there are 5 of us now; our sound work was done externally by another developer, Renato Martinho, who recently had the chance to join us full time. Full credits, however, often go beyond the core team and span the entire company, from business development to production, QA testing, VFX and optimization.
We all come from different backgrounds. I would say that our traditional education was fairly standard given the lack of specific game-related courses in our country at the time. We mostly went for the usual Computer Science, Engineering or Art related degrees, we even have an Architect turned into a video game artist. Self-learning and online resources played an extremely important role in our game development education. With so many educational services to pick from nowadays the hard part is deciding what you want to do.
Decay of Logos: About the Title
There’s no specific game that we would hold has the main reference but Decay of Logos was definitely influenced by all of our unique tastes and our common love for older action-adventure RPG games. We’re avid gamers at Amplify, be it with quick Overwatch matches after lunch or harder challenges such as Dark Souls and nostalgic games like Contra and Castlevania. There’s always time for gaming at our office!
Our game is story driven, it’s a third-person action/adventure RPG with an emphasis on player exploration with minimal hand-holding and challenging combat. Players will get to immerse themselves in the high-fantasy world of Decay of Logos through the eyes of a young adventurer named Ada accompanied by a mystical elk. Both are fatefully brought together on the day her Village is burned down by Crimson Knights bearing the Royal Crest. Motivated by revenge, she sets out on a journey to unveil the truth behind the attack.
One of the key features is our companion system that will have you interact with the elk in different ways. Ada has limited inventory space, you can actually see what she is carrying in the game model. This is not by chance as you will have to plan your battles using your companion as a secondary inventory. Before you can actually mount the elk, you will have to gain its trust by feeding it with berries. Without spoiling too much, we’ll just say that your companion will be able to help you more further into the game with specific environmental puzzle solving or in a few other interesting situations.
Combat plays a big part in our game, each weapon has its own class and move set or even elemental state. Our approach is more geared towards “tactical combat”, although you’re free to slash your way to victory it’s often best to lock onto your enemies and keep an eye on your stamina bar.
We want players to feel that their playstyle influences the way Ada develops but without being too intrusive with overly complex progression paths and skill trees. We achieved this by automating the leveling system in order to simplify character progression. For example, you can increase Ada’s Strength stat by defeating enemies, while solving a puzzle or finding a key to a locked door will increase the Intelligence stat which in turn affects Magic usage.
It’s a semi-open world set in a high-fantasy environment that will have you face off with varied foes. There’s no mini-map or quest indicator, players are free to explore as they so choose aided by the NPC’s they’ll encounter along their way. One moment you’ll be sliding under the legs of a giant creature, the next you’ll be fighting a steam-powered brute with a “jetpack” on top of an ancient tower.
Interestingly enough, Decay of Logos started as a side-project that André developed after work. At the time, the team at Amplify saw its potential and it was then that we decided to take it on as a full-time project. As a team, we were able to improve and mature the original concept into something far more evolved.
André had previously worked in such games as Ildefonse and Trapped Dead: Lockdown but his love for challenging, yet rewarding, action-adventure games steered him into developing his own game. With the genre in mind, he began by crafting the overall story and mythos of the game world. Not one to shy away from a good story, he focused on developing enigmatic and unique characters. It’s one of those games that will leave you guessing from beginning to end; in some ways, it’s almost reminiscent of a stage play.
Defining the Art Style
Before diving into full production we decided that we needed to find our own style. Thankfully, we had a few months of pre-production allowing us to try different styles and techniques based on our initial prototype style. The pipeline we adopted initially was somewhat experimental, we even used Mari for direct texture painting at one point, there was a bit of trial and error until we arrived at our current look and scope. Our artists even changed software during production but it was all for the best. Our pipeline now consists exclusively of Blender/Modo and ZBrush for modeling, Photoshop for texturing, and Maya for animation.
One of our biggest challenges was our small team size, we needed to find a style that could help us reduce our production times while maintaining its appeal and quality. One of our first decisions was to move away from the pseudo-realistic brush heavy look of the first prototype. Due to budget constraints and ambitious production goals, we started experimenting with using low-poly meshes and low-detail textures with high-contrast until we arrived at something along the lines of what we have today, practical yet aesthetically pleasing.
Current Game + Old Art Test:
Finding a unique style is never easy. In our case, we think it was a matter of phasing out unneeded details, simplifying shapes, improving silhouettes, and color mood. Readability is extremely important to us, our game relies on environmental cues instead of on-screen indicators or maps.
I think one of our most distinguishing features is the actual mood of the many environments in the game. Even in presumably grim situations, we try to make it as vibrant as we can without going overboard. Our game is carefully color graded from beginning to end, our own Amplify Color as proven to be one of our most valuable tools when it comes to adding variation or even making minor tweaks that make our visuals pop.
Ultimately, we learned that good art direction and passion for experimentation is essential; it’s important to let go and try new things.
Even though we use a lot of different software in our game the heavy lifting is really done by the artists and, for the most part, they use common tools. I think one of the things that make our texture work stand out is the clever use of shaders that complement our stylized look. Having our own shader editor and the developers under the same roof helps us get the most out of our work.
We also use custom shaders for our particle-based effects.
We actually used Mari in the early stages of development to literally paint our terrain textures. We’ve since moved away from that specific workflow but it definitely helped us find our own style after many iterations.
Terrain textures are currently made with ZBrush and Photoshop while the actual painting is done in Unity. We start by making highly detailed ZBrush based tileable textures, complete with Albedo, Normals or even Height maps, which we can then tweak to match our style if necessary.
After the concept stage, our characters are also first created in ZBrush, and additional texture painting is usually done via Photoshop. Everything else follows a similar path with the addition of Modo, Maya, and Blender use when required.
Building the Game World
Decay of Logos is set in a semi-open world, with over 8 hours of gameplay, connected by a Hub Village. Players are free to explore at their own pace after the first act of the game. One of the biggest challenges we faced was finding a good balance between large open spaces which you explore with your mount and spaces that you must venture on foot; and of course, making it fun and interesting to explore. In adventure games like ours, it’s really important to give players room to explore but not so much that it feels like a chore to traverse the world.
Our approach to the world design began on paper, so to speak, as we laid out each major section of the world informed by the story itself. We made sure that everything the player encounters is somehow related to the main storyline and how each of our antagonists influenced the world around them. Once you establish clear rules of what your world allows for it becomes much easier to iterate and develop additional ideas such as adding caves or dungeons for additional exploration.
After laying down the basics we started by greyboxing the entire game in order to determine what worked and what didn’t. I believe we used ProBuilder and Blender for fine tuning at the time. This not only allowed us to balance the actual size of the game but it also allowed us to test our method of environmental storytelling. Instead of using maps or indicators, we try to guide the player with visual cues such as landmarks at a distance or even specific visual details that guide you to specific paths. This approach proved to be quite beneficial as we were able to get a more accurate idea of what the game was going to be and how much work would be involved.
If you see a major landmark at a distance, there’s a good chance you can get there.
Building a somewhat large and varied semi-open world is not without its own unique challenges. We noticed early on development that this type of world would be very hard to pull off using standard techniques so we decided to implement our own streaming process. Players can literally go from the beginning to the end of the game without a single loading screen. Provided that they don’t die along the way. We also opted for a mesh based workflow for our terrains instead of using the default Unity system. It may seem counterintuitive but with the added control we were able to create our environment much quicker. From the height based terrain painting to the actual vegetation, everything is made and placed by our artists.
Once we had everything tuned we started replacing the old greybox models with proper art created with ZBrush, Modo, and Blender.
Our animations are currently all done by hand, we decided to avoid using motion capture after the prototype phase in order to best match the style of the game; over-realistic animations seemed really out of place. Luckily our animator also dabbles in tool development so he was able to greatly improve his production speed and overall quality.
It’s always hard to balance how stylized a character should be but, given the fantasy-based nature of our game world, we were able to try some pretty interesting things. A unique example being one of the main bosses which is literally a puppet controlled by another character.
As with asset creation, it’s really the artist that does the heavy lifting. Our animator puts a lot of time into refining his animations, it’s an iterative process mostly limited by the time we have available.
Tool Choice & Cutting Down the Production Time
Our engine of choice is Unity for games and middleware development. It’s easy to take it for granted but engines such as Unity or Unreal save developers countless months of work when it comes to making sure your game runs on all major consoles including the Switch and PC.
ProBuilder proved to be one of the best tools in our toolkit during the early stages of development as it allowed us to quickly layout our game world for proper testing and planning. Blender also came into play around this time, it was a great way to quickly tweak and test new ideas without remodeling everything with ProBuilder.
The Unity Asset Store saved us quite a lot of time and resources during the early stages of development. We’ve since added our own art but using store-bought animations and VFX was crucial during the early stages of development. By using affordable placeholder content we are able to best estimate the real production costs involved before committing our artists to a fixed production schedule. Asset stores are also quite resourceful when it comes to unique solutions, we still use NGSS (PC only) for soft shadowing, and Dynamic Bone which allows to easily add physics-based effects to our characters; it’s great not having to reinvent the wheel every time you need something more specific.
Sound also plays a very important role in our game. We leveraged the flexibility of FMOD to provide a varied and immersive experience that’s carefully crafted to each area of the game. It’s an extremely efficient way to cut down on production times without compromising the final result.
Last but not least, it’s important to keep track of who is doing what and to ensure that your team has the necessary resources to complete their tasks. Defining realistic goals with clear dependencies and deadlines is one of the most critical steps. We use Slack, Jira and Bitbucket/Git for all our projects at Amplify Creations.
Even with all our planning and tool aided development, our resources were still quite limited and our marketing reach almost non-existing. We set off to find a publisher that could help us push our game forward and aid us in getting into the proper channels. It’s thanks to Rising Star Games that we’re now able to bring Decay of Logos to all consoles and PC. Together, we’ll be able to deliver a far more polished and matured experience than we ever could by ourselves.
Be sure to check our weekly development blog for the latest updates. We post every Friday!
Decay of Logos is coming to Xbox One, Playstation 4, Switch, and Steam during Q1 2019. Developed at Amplify Creations, published by Rising Star Games.
Team of Amplify Creations
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev