Development of KillSquad: VFX & Animation

Development of KillSquad: VFX & Animation

The team of Novarama talked about the development of their game KillSquad inspired by Diablo III.

The team of Novarama talked about the development of their game KillSquad inspired by Diablo III. The game is available on Steam and is currently in the Early Access.


We are Novarama, a Barcelona-based independent studio. We have been a third-party developer for Sony for around 10 years with the Invisimals IP on PSP. After the collaboration with Sony concluded, we have been doing work for hired projects for a few publishers and our own internal independent projects.

Idea of KillSquad

We have always been gamers and loved games like Diablo III, which are even more fun if played with friends. That’s why we were looking to create a cooperative gaming experience that would allow playing together with friends, configuring the skills tree, equipping weapons, etc.  From the beginning, we wanted to create an identity of our own which would be noticed during the very first minutes of KillSquad gameplay. Therefore, we decided to implement a character control system with immediate feedback and response. When you play KillSquad, you will get the feeling of being the character at all times. We did not want to limit the player to just point and click mouse attacks since this is the standard way of playing for most isometric RPGs.

Start of the Development

We began to prototype the game with relative ease thanks to Unreal Engine and in a matter of weeks, we had our first results. Although they are quite different from the final product, in terms of quality and details, we were able to test the ideas and iterate until we had the result we wanted.

During the pre-production phase, we focused on defining what kind of game we wanted to create and what were the most important things in it. The design team and the programming team worked as one during this phase. We were mainly developing two things – the combat system and the procedural level creation system. The combat system is inspired by the ones seen in Mobas as we wanted to get the players to cooperate as a whole team in order to survive and accomplish the mission.

At the same time, the art team was concepting and exploring different styles that could fit for the game. Several iterations passed until we have found the one we liked best and which is currently seen in the game.

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In VFX, we try to achieve harmony in the chaos of lightning sparkles and explosions to make everything work as an expressive painting in movement. We take special care of different color palettes that are designed to represent each effect in the most realistic way possible and at the same time be functional and make it clear what’s happening on the screen.

To make the particles, we use UE4’s Cascade because although Niagara existed when we started, it was still experimental and we did not want to risk future changes.

Speaking of the explosions, no matter how spectacular your explosion os, if the enemies do not show the correct feedback, you haven’t finished your job. To throw enemies back when an explosion happens, we used Unreal’s concept of root motion forces combined with animations of our artists. In our case, we have a BlendSpace that we use depending on how far we throw enemies. At the same time when enemies die, we can do two different things: either ragdolls or destruction of the enemies which we do through destructible meshes or breaking the constraints of the bones. All of this allows us to create a cool effect.

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All animations are made in 3ds Max. The characters have two skeletons, one to animate and the other one to export. In most cases, we use BIPED to animate, and a custom skeleton made with dummies to export. This way we can use the advantages of BIPED on skeletons that meet the export requirements. Some non-biped characters require more sophisticated skeletons made with BONES and additional controllers.

Before starting to animate we wanted to do some research by playing games and watching movies which belong to the category or theme of our game. Of course, we also discussed the specific timings and other important aspects of the animation which affect the gameplay with the design department. With this information, we started prototyping the animations in order to meet the design requirements first and then we polished them. We did not use motion capture. All animations are made by hand.

Take Helldörren for example:

Here we have a case where biped was not enough to satisfy our needs. There’re are two big mechanical arms plus a pair of chains that we were going to apply physics to, so we decided to combine both, custom bones and biped, to create the main character rig.

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After this step is made, we create the second set of bones that will be attached to the main rig so it can mirror it, functioning as our “export rig”. Once this is done, we skin our mesh to the export rig and send it off to Unreal to implement the chain physics.

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Future Plans

We have planned a set of content updates that we will be releasing during the Early Access. We have published the Roadmap with all the upcoming content and patches. In addition, we will use Early Access for bug fixing and balancing.

We have no plans to bring the game to other platforms during 2019, but when we are done with Early Access on Steam, we would like to do the port of the game on consoles. At the moment all our resources are focused on adding more content and after Early Access is finalized, we will allocate our resources to that particular task.

Novarama Team, Developers of KillSquad

Interview conducted by Daria Loginova


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