Hades Machines: How Students Build Games?
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by vijaykhatri96@gmail.com
3 hours ago

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Hades Machines: How Students Build Games?
21 July, 2017
Interview

We’ve talked with some talented graduates from Scream School and discussed the production of their debut UE4 title.

Introduction

Katerina Zinovyeva – graduated as graphic designer and launched several successful governmental promos, but always wanted to work for gaming industry. In pursue of her dream began her studies at Scream School and was hired by Mail.ru Games during her second year!

Maria Kokova – graduated as a philologist and was lucky enough to join Blizzard Localization team in France where she lived happily ever after, until it became clear that working with texts is not enough and she can create visual worlds of her own.

Alexander Chuiko – graduated from Plekhanov’s University as economist and worked in a bank for 4 years. One happy day he decided to change his life and become a game graphics specialist, a decision that made him enroll for Scream School studies.

Oleg Bekker – graduated from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, but has always been interested in games and visual arts. Contributed to a government project of cultural objects restoration as architectural visualizer and entered the Scream School to hone his skills.

Yaroslav Kostin – an engineer who took part in building the Olympic Center in Sochi. As the rest of us he always had passion for games and decided to become a game artist with the help of Scream School.

Hades Machines

This game is our graduation project at Scream School, Moscow. We began looking for concepts and ideas about a year ago and after a bit of consideration decided to create an arcade racing. Our main inspiration was good old Rock’n’roll Racing and BlazeRush in terms of gameplay and Heroes of the Storm in terms of artistic style. We wanted this game to rock and blow the minds!

Choosing the game setting was the first tricky task. We have considered a toy store, a garden with racing insects and some other types of environment, and each of them offered a rich pool of design ideas. Strangely as it may seem, we stack to the idea of a hellish landscape hosting a race of mortal sins. It may look sinister at first sight, but the underlying thought has always been ‘make it fun, not gore’. The racing cars were supposed to represent this or that sin and promote its ‘benefits’ to the spectators in the colosseum, thus earning the popularity and reputation among the hell dwellers. And then again we were facing the choice whether we should base this environment on Dante’s poem and 9 circles of hell, spice it up with rockabilly spirit, or even go with green flows of lava and make it all look outlandish.

As long as we were planning to make only one level for starters, our choice was more or less generic: a hot and waterless wasteland crossed with lava flows with no attribution to any particular universe. As soon as this became clear, we began to plan out the list of assets. Rocks and chains were totally implied, then we thought about traps and impairing devices that would make life more fun. We also had in mind this image of a gigantic colosseum, going up and down for who knows how far, hosting millions of spectators and enveloping the hell itself, but the camera angle and other restrictions brought us back to senses and the colosseum hadn’t been implemented at full.

We created several environmental concepts to make sure we are all on the same page in terms of lighting, proportions and atmosphere. We’re a hell of a painters, so don’t laugh too hard at these pictures.

Asset production

Having finalized our gameplay and environment, we created a list of required assets. It consisted of 30 items or so, including different types of rocks, traps, cars and imps, visual and sound effects. Everyone has chosen his preferred chunk of work, plus a racing car for making.

We didn’t paint our own concepts for props. Instead we relied on those made by Blizzard artists: Thiago Klafke, David Harrington, Fanny Vergne, and, of course, Michael Vicente. We never stopped sharing our progress with each other and our tutors, were giving each other feedback and struggled a lot to reach the perfection.

Making good concept for cars was the most challenging part, and no one can tell now how many iterations we went through to achieve their final looks, which could of course be upgraded and polished even further.

We’ve been constantly checking how well everything fits together in the engine and what needs to be added or smoothed to look consistent. To optimize our workflow, we created a couple of smart mats in Substance Painter for the main types of physical materials: stone and metal. Sometimes we reused pre-baked trims for different types of assets like cages and metal parts of track.

You can notice that our world is inhabited with little imps, who keep messing around on the racing track. The imp model has been carefully sculpted in Zbrush, retopologized and painted in Substance. Those little bastards appear very tiny on screen because of the chosen camera position, and that is why they needed a very expressive yet laconic animation states. The default rig proved to be fine for their animation and their movements look exactly as we wanted them to, thanks to this character’s design.

Sculpting

We were trying to achieve the iconic Blizzard look for our assets as best we could. The formula that we stack to was ‘make the silhouette readable, don’t add too many details but let them stand out’. That’s the approach we used while sculpting cars, imp, architecture and rocks. Beveling edges, using Orb’s brush pack and our own custom brushes helped a lot to get to the desired look. Wrap mode proved very useful while sculpting tileable pieces.

It wasn’t that hard to make assets work well in game, we only needed to heavily retopologize them and stick to a very low texture resolution inside the engine. Luckily, the silhouettes are speaking for themselves, and the dim lighting leaves so much for imagination!

Modularity

We created a custom tool letting us tweak the splines for meshes like chains, track pieces, border rocks and fence by many parameters. And yet we manually placed meshes here and there to make the whole picture look more natural. Sometimes we reused materials and textures on background props to save time.

Materials

We’ve decided to introduce two main materials in the scene: reddish rocks and blueish metal for architecture. Therefore, two smart materials were created in Substance Painter. Their main purpose is to use ambient occlusion and other baked maps in order to distribute color nuances in similar way on each asset, although they still need a manual tweak to create unique roughness and metalness for every piece. This approach helps save some time yet lets one add individual traits wherever they are needed.

Camera

The camera position is defined by local multiplayer game type. All cars must be seen on the screen at all times, therefore our camera follows the leader using its own spline and moves backwards in case the gap between the leader and the last car becomes too big. You cannot zoom in or out or change the angle, and that’s a game design decision.

We’re using a depth of field feature in post process, and it’s been causing some issues when the camera was moving back. We solved it by adding a second post process in camera actor, identical to the first one in everything but the DoF setting. The two post process units are blending in depending on the ‘Target Arms Length’ of Spring Arm component.

Lighting

Proper lighting setup has been one of the most important tasks. We started working on it while painting the environment concepts. It’s clear that lighting should add up to the whole ‘infernality’ of the setting without making it look gruesome and leaving the racing track well lit.

We put the main light source in the sky, added blazing lava glares coming from the depths, and turned some spotlights here and there to highlight the road. We used lava light source as ‘Atmosphere sun light’ and played with exponential fog to create a vertical light gradient which should be natural for lava filled canyons. Lava falls, sparkles and VFX also contribute to the lighting and make our hell look vivid.

Challenges

Dealing with other people’s opinions and firm beliefs is always difficult, especially if you have to work for a common cause. Finding proper words to describe the idea you have in mind is not easy, too. Listening to others and finding visual references definitely helps here!

In the beginning it’s been hard to sort out our priorities and establish a proper work coordination within a team. While our tutors helped with the former, it was our common sense that helped us coordinate our tasks. Poking team mates in order to make it for the deadline was painful but necessary. Scheduling, planning and creating common delivery standards proved a must have, as always.

All in all, we’re happy with how the project turned out and was accepted by the audience, even though it could’ve been better if we had more free time and experience.

Many thanks to our wonderful teachers from Scream School who never ceased to support us and push us towards development and growth. This is only a short list of our venerable masters:

  • Dmitry Smirnov
  • Viacheslav Bushuev
  • Georgiy Podshibiakin
  • Victoria Shamykina
  • Evgeniy Kopalov
  • Vitaliy Lesnykh
  • David Alakhverdyan

You’ve set a standard that we’ll never betray!

And we’re so, so very proud we’ve earned a page on 80.lv!

Katerina Zinovyeva / Maria Kokova / Alexander Chuiko / Oleg Bekker / Yaroslav Kostin, The Team of Hades Machines

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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