Drone On: Creating Environments and Mechas

Drone On: Creating Environments and Mechas

Nick Iacobbo talked about the way he produces levels and assets for his upcoming game.

Nick Iacobbo discussed his upcoming game – Drone On. It’s a very interesting UE4-project, which has some awesome  environments and an epic game-character Shift Bot. A little look into the production of the world and the assets.


My name is Nick Iacobbo. During the day I run my own plumbing business; at night I’m a hobby game developer and 3D artist. I’m from Providence, Rhode Island, USA, and I studied briefly at Rhode Island School of Design as a part of their Continuing Education Program starting around 2001. They had a couple courses for Maya, and ZBrush which helped me understand and develop a passion for 3D modeling. Back then learning a program like Maya felt a lot harder than it is today, as we didn’t have YouTube to look up tutorial videos so it was a slow process.

I never thought of seriously making games until 2012 when I joined up with a coder I met on Reddit. Within two months we had made our first game in Unity 3D: a free space multiplayer dogfighting simulator called Aeos Rift.

I worked on art, models, special effects, animations, and map design. It was gratifying to put together a game quickly that looked so good and worked as fluidly as it did. I now had two available paths and a decent portfolio. I could either go work on games for someone else, or invest in my own creative pursuits. At that point I decided to start making the game that I always wanted to experience myself: Drone On!

Drone On!

Drone On is a 3rd person exploration game that transitions into a 1st person (VR) fighting melee game. It takes the player to an alien world where you must kill everyone and destroy what has been built by the intergalactic settlers who arrived thousands of years before you. You play as the character Endgen, a shift bot drone soldier. You are essentially a human head in a life helmet attached to a robot body that has multiple abilities such as flying, skating, and grappling hook forearms. Since the protagonist is partially robot, they can think and move faster than their enemies, which slows down time as you’re fighting off hundreds of humanoids, procedurally slicing your enemies in a theater of blood and carnage. All while serving corporate masters that control things from thousands of light years away.


I built the landscapes in World Machine 2 and used textures and materials I mixed and matched from different assets acquired from the UE4 Marketplace. Purchasing the right assets was the key for development; I couldn’t have figured out how to make such complex materials without buying one first and seeing how it was all connected. From there it was all tweaking and adjusting. I have changed the textures on the landscapes over 30 times by now in an effort to explore a variety of suitable looks.


Everything you see was acquired from the UE4 asset store, except for the landscape meshes. I’m working on this project alone, thus designing all of them by hand would have taken years. For example, the grass is made from three different asset packs. I’ve spent about $2000 USD or more purchasing assets, some of which are not found on the UE asset store. I am a graphics enthusiast and want an immersive aesthetic so I add as many details as I can. Finding a proper balance of how many complex objects can be in a given area versus “okay, now my frame rate is crap” is the constant challenge.


In Drone On you will be flying across the sky at times, so introducing volumetric clouds was a main priority. Luckily I found out about the TrueSKY plugin, and it was exactly what I needed. For the most part, it took care of my lighting needs. As the time of day changes, light and color throughout the world respond accordingly—which can dramatically change the mood of scenery. Somewhere cloudy with a pretty glow at 10:00AM can appear to be warmer and drier when it’s noon and shadows aren’t there to make the scene pop. All realistic lighting is between the orange and blue spectrums. Tuning contrasts in lightness and darkness through color is what I usually focus on to establish dynamic senses of warm and cold.

Shift Bot

The Shift Bot is my vision for an ultimate character. But I could barely rig a model when I started developing him four years ago. It was unlike any character I had seen rigged, as there are a lot of moving parts. I never sketched a specific concept before beginning the design, I just started with the mental image of what I wanted in my head and from there I started modeling in Maya. It took me 2 years to model Shift Bot, including texturing and rigging the character from scratch. I had help with rigging from a teacher I had at RISD who I paid to tutor me.
1 of 2
1 of 2
The character has several modes in which they can engage with. Designing with a myriad of abilities built-in as opposed to adding them externally to the model was a challenge. I started by designing piece-by-piece. For example, the arm is made up of 20 different separate models. Once I had a rough base mesh finished, I would then start rigging the model. This helped me visualize what was colliding or just not looking cool in general. Posing the Shift Bot in each “movement” mode brought on a lot of changes that were key to making it all blend together. I took everything that I thought was fun to use in combat scenarios and then made the Shift Bot out of it. Such as the Grappling Hook Gun built into the forearms (a la Spider Man). Jet packs built into the torso, back and legs. Wings that could be retractable, tank treads hidden in feet and hands that give you ability to “skate” or “drive on all fours,” and other cool stuff I won’t disclose about just yet.

Right now I’m still in very early stages of the game. I’ve been working alone for last 4 years and I am currently looking for a coder to partner up with. I plan to have a playable demo by summer 2017. I would love to get this game on steam for the demo and or early access. 

Nick Iacobbo, Developer of Drone On

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

Follow 80.lv on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Join discussion

Comments 1

  • Noah Zuo

    What about optimization? Sometimes the lighting and shadowing can be really expensive.


    Noah Zuo

    ·3 years ago·

You might also like

We need your consent

We use cookies on this website to make your browsing experience better. By using the site you agree to our use of cookies.Learn more