#DRIVE: Developing an Endless Driving Game

#DRIVE: Developing an Endless Driving Game

One of the developers of #DRIVE, Karol Miklas, talked about the development of the game: art direction, asset workflow, map generation, and more.

One of the developers of #DRIVEKarol Miklas, talked about the development of the game: art direction, asset workflow, map generation, and more.

#DRIVE is an endless driving videogame inspired by road and action movies from the 1970s. As simple as possible, allowing the player to pick a car, pick the place and just hit the road. Just be aware not to hit anything else.

The game is now released on Android, iOS version will follow shortly after.

Launch Trailer – premieres on 20th March @ 18:00 (CET):

The game runs on Unity Engine.

Introduction

80lv: Karol, could you please introduce the studio behind #DRIVE? What projects have you worked, how many people worked on this production? Where are you based?

#DRIVE is a collaboration between my company Lionsharp Studios and Pixel Perfect Dude owned by Dariusz Pietrala. We’re both based in Poland.

I (Karol) am responsible for art direction and art production, as well as marketing. I worked for several videogames (Techland, CD Projekt RED, 4A Games, PUBG Corp.) and automotive or advertising media companies (Tesla Inc., Quartz Creative, Sketchfab).

Dariusz takes care of the technical, the business and the publishing side of the project, already having a few titles released (Ski Jump being the most successful).

As a core team, it’s two of us, but we cooperate with other people when if need be.

The Start

80lv: How was #DRIVE born? What were the main references and the main ideas that formed this game and made it into what we see today?

#DRIVE started as yet another hyper-casual mobile game around a year ago. During the development, we decided to make it a little more ambitious and detailed, yet keeping the simplicity of the genre. It had to provide pleasure in driving itself while staying available to everyone and not being overcomplicated. Needless to say, it kept growing, as we wanted to create a high-quality product.

Visually, we decided to follow the 1970s road movies theme (Cannonball Run, Vanishing Point, Bullit, Duel to name a few inspirations). Movie-like dialogues with subtitles help us build that desired movie feeling, but also allowing the player to know his current situation (like being low on fuel, for example).

We also decided to create a more unique experience for each of the environments (3 available at start), matching not only the visuals but adding matching cars and proper soundtracks.

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On top of that, we cooperated with extremely talented George Ledoux, who created fantastic voiceovers for both the trailer and the game. He’s one of the voices you just had to hear if you played videogames in recent years.

Art Direction

80lv: Could you talk a bit about the art direction you’ve taken with this project? It has a very striking massive look. We’re wondering if you could explain some of the main principles behind this look and how you chose them.

Following the trends of mobile games, we needed the game to be eye-candy. But we also wanted to create a distinct palette of colors, not overloading the viewer’s eye.

The key ingredient was recognizability, allowing to remember the game at just a glance, but also unique enough so it won’t be mistaken with many other titles. The first concept art was born:

It defined the first color palette for the environment (Desert – named Dry Crumbs) as well as the main vehicle (Das Holzwagen). Instead of creating everything overly colorful, we picked the main color range for each map and defined it’s possible deviations or accents.

Asset Workflow

80lv: What was your main approach to 3D modeling in general, and how did you build these amazing low poly cars and assets? They look outstanding.

Since we’re aiming for mobile games, we wanted to keep the game available and attractive for possibly the largest amount of users, not only those having top-tier phones, but also the low-end ones. So the optimization was a number one priority when searching for solutions.

We eventually determined what it means for us, and a few principles were defined:

  • It had to be pretty low-poly. The framerate had to stay around 30 fps for low-end devices.
  • Texture usage has to be minimal for two reasons: first, it lowers the size of the app, keeps reasonable performance, secondly, it had to be possible to model it by one person (me), having only a part-time availability for the majority of the project duration.
  • Colors from the concept have to be kept 1:1, as we work remotely and we wanted to minimize the feedback & fix aspect to a minimum.
  • Low-end devices pretty much disallowed us to use real-time shadows or too many lights.
  • The quality of the image had to stay high on all screens in all distances. No blurry textures or low-quality shadow maps allowed.
  • The lighting and composition would stay pretty much the same all the time, due to the type of gameplay.
  • Sun is always shining in the face.

It led us to solutions below:

  • Vertices on the screen will be around 30-50k
  • Vehicles up to 5k vertices
  • As few textures as possible – resulting in 1 per car, 1 per environment, set of 4 per road. To mimic the specular light on the road we used distance-related near and far variants, as well as two different types of surface – asphalt and dirt.
  • We went for unlit (shadeless) shaders with only one type of map (diffuse). No light objects were used.
  • The shading is defined by UV mapping an atlassed type of texture, universal for all of the cars or environment pieces on the map. No blurry edges, they always stay sharp and crisp.
  • All the shadows, if present, are modeled (ex. under the car).
  • The assets had to be already optimized, as we didn’t plan a separate optimization pass in any of later stages of production.
  • The shading on the model doesn’t matter. Only the silhouettes, details and colors are important.

The cars, while being low-poly and stylized, keep the crucial details and overall proportions. In the game, they also roughly mimic their real driving characteristics, as a part of understandability and fulfilling the promise created by their looks. What you would expect from a muscle car is exactly there.

Environments

80lv: How do you work on the environments and create the tracks? Are they made manually or did you generate them with something like Houdini?

The track and the whole environment setup is generated procedurally. The road is the main component here, randomly generating curves and turns, but also serving as a spawner for objects around it. We create some variations and define varied parameters for different environments, and a few tricks to cheat the eye.

The 3D objects, though, are of course made by hand. But due to the fact we don’t deal with shading or too careful UV mapping, they can be done in no time. A whole environment set can be done within days or weeks.

The assets for last of the environments – Holzberg, the German forest map – were created in 2 weeks total time. Around the same amount of time is needed to implement and set up the models in the engine and refine the final effect.

Texturing

80lv: You’ve got some absolutely unbelievable materials here. Could you walk us through the way you’re texturing and shading your little world and those little cars? Do you rely on Substance tools to work on them? How is your process organized?

As mentioned previously – there is no materials understood as ‘shaders’, and we use unlit color textures only. The cars use what we call ‘gradient atlas’ to determine shading for various parts of the model with UV mapping only.

Technically – it couldn’t be simpler and more time efficient. Visually – considering the ‘lighting’ conditions in the scene and overall style it worked just right.

The maps were created in Photoshop only, basing on concept arts, from which we color-picked the gradients.

Distribution

80lv: Finally, how and when can we get our hands on this product? What platforms will it be available on?

It’s already available on Android at this very moment! Also, it’s free to play. Check it here.

iOS release date will be announced in the upcoming weeks.

Depending on the performance on mobile platforms we might consider further development for PC and consoles.

Links

Karol Miklas, 3D Vehicle Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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