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We’re Morteshka and right now we’re working on Black Book — a deck-building RPG based on Slavic mythology. A player takes on the role of Vasilisa, a young sorceress who wants to revive her beloved one. In order to do that she has to uncover the seven seals of Black Book — a demonic artifact, said to be powerful enough to grant any wish. Thus begins her adventure across the rural countryside, as she helps the common folk in need by confronting demons and performing exorcisms.
Our team is rather small, and that’s the reason why we decided to focus on simple (low-poly) but stylish visuals — they turned out to be surprisingly well-suited for the atmosphere we wanted to convey.
In this article, we will look at the scene building pipeline which we have developed throughout the creation of Black Book. Long story short, all our locations have been assembled based on the principle “from complex to simple”.
If a scene was a layered cake, we would use the following ingredients to cook it:
- Main 3D objects
- Trees with LOD and trees made out of billboards
- 3D boxes of the distant objects
- Forest sprites
- Clouds and moon sprites
That’s how it looks in the editor:
And now we’re going to tell you more about the core ingredients.
Working with 3D Objects
Our work with an object begins with the search of photo references which we find either in the public domain or within our own photo collections such as, for instance, pictures of the famous windmill and bell tower taken at the Architectural and Ethnographic Museum Khokhlovka.
At first, we assemble the object according to the sample and then age or modify it depending on what the story requires:
Low-poly models are placed in the background. Since the visibility area and the player’s movements in the game are always limited and the objects are often hidden by the fog and particle effects, this method is enough to get the required scene depth:
The background and the 2D image effect are built from the sprites of clouds, forest and other features of the terrain:
Initially, we placed gradients on the plane to display the sky because there was just one option for the camera positioning:
When we added camera movement in several levels, we decided to use a cylindrical arrangement of the terrain objects; the 2D effect remains, but working on the location becomes easier.
This method allows us to optimize the scenes efficiently: the terrain is simple and low in detail, and the trees remain only within the player’s movement zone.
The development of a scene begins with a simple sketch and discussion with our writer on what will happen in this level.
Then we assemble blocking and set up the main light sources.
For further work, we make a more detailed sketch and create a general concept for the atmosphere:
Now, let's talk about the actual filling of the scenes and the way we compiled 3D objects in immediate proximity to the player. We decided to compile the objects as a construction set.
The elements of this construction set had fewer polygons; when necessary, the elements were replaced with higher-polygonal counterparts:
First, we assembled the objects including the floor and then added the walls or removed everything if that was required:
The same goes for the doors:
An interesting feature of the assembly of our levels: sometimes we create duplicates of the objects in the scene so that the player could explore their interiors - this makes the positioning of the cameras and gameplay objects (points of interest) easier.
We used the light mine sprites or similar particle systems to build the atmosphere.
Removal of the walls for free access of the camera to the scene:
Greater detail is reached with the aid of the decals:
And frequent use of the Cloth component:
Sprites for the background:
Creation of artificial shadows for the atmosphere:
We hope that the information we provided was helpful or at least interesting. By the way, Black Book is currently live on Kickstarter — the campaign is running pretty successfully, and we managed to get 100% funded in just 4 days. We also released a free prologue on Steam the same day our campaign started — it is still there, and we would be really happy if you checked it out and gave us feedback in the review.
Thanks for your attention!