Making Small Games with Big Potential
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Making Small Games with Big Potential
8 June, 2018
Environment Art
Environment Design

The student team behind Minors talked a little about the way they’ve created a small indie project with Unity.


Hi everyone! Our game “Minors” was created with Unity by 8 university students from Montreal, Canada. We represented our university, UQAT, in the annual Ubisoft Game Lab Competition in which we had a total of 10 weeks to create a working prototype by following a given theme and constraints. This year the theme was “change the world”. Our team consisted of 5 designers (Alex Battista, William Homs, Lydiane Beaulne-Bélisle, Sijia Mao, Félix Liberali), 3 artists (Nicolas Crevier, Eva-Léa Longue Ngambi and myself, Delyan Farashev) and our composer Léandre Monette.

Alex was involved in the whole design, he was focused on the UI/UX, the VFX, the shaders and the lighting. Lydiane had a key role where she had to integrate the elements into the game while working on the game design and the level design. William and Sijia were both helping on the design while they were programming the game at full-time. And then not the least, Félix helped us to reinforce the thematic and was deeply involved in the game and level design.

Nicolas Crevier and I oversaw bringing the environment to life while Eva was responsible for the characters and the animation.


This year, Ubisoft has organized the competition around a social theme and the mandate was not easy because we had to create a fun experience without sacrificing the core message. Also, there were multiple other requirements that we had to respect carefully like creating an online multiplayer mode, integrate an element that is influenced by the player’s behaviors, etc.

As conscientious people, we have thought about diverse social topics and we perceived the potential around child labor situation on the planet with a focus on the mining industry. The biggest challenge was to represent the reality of this issue in the gameplay as well as in the art direction. We also wanted that players should not be indifferent to this situation after playing our prototype by creating a parallel with our occidental overconsumption.

We came to a gameplay idea by inspiring ourselves with games like Papers Please, Overcooked and Darkest Dungeon. These games may seem completely incompatible, but we tried hard to create an original experience that could embrace everything at the same time. To summarize, our goal was to reflect the daily life of young miners where they must risk their lives for almost nothing. Additionally, we had to cover the sad reality of children who must subsist to the family’s needs.

In terms of the art direction, we knew from the start that we wanted to go for a PBR Stylized look since I’m specializing myself in that style. It also meant that we could have more fun with the modeling of the props and not be that much restrained by things like the poly count. We wanted to get the right atmosphere for the mine, so the players could feel themselves underground, isolated from the surface, but at the same time to keep it interesting and stylized.


This year, Ubisoft has organized the competition around a social theme and the mandate was not easy because we had to create a fun experience without sacrificing the core message. Also, there were multiple other requirements that we had to respect carefully like creating an online multiplayer mode, integrate an element that is influenced by the player’s behaviors, etc.

We were influenced by the visual styles of Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm. I’ve put a workflow that helped us throughout the whole production. It involved a mix of Zbrush, Maya/3DS Max, and Substance Painter. I was mainly responsible for the creation of the nodes, rock walls, and textures for the game. Nicolas modeled the machinery and props that are scattered all around the mine. Since we knew that our goal was to try and match the amazing visuals of Heroes of the Storm, we used the work of Michael Vicente (also known as “Orb”) as inspiration and reference for the sculpting of our assets. The biggest challenge was to get the right shape and silhouettes for them. We had to keep in mind that our game camera has a 65-degree angle which means that we had to constantly check the readability of our meshes. It meant that we had no choice but to keep things big, exaggerated and without too many unnecessary details.

For our walls and nodes, I knew that I had to sculpt modular pieces which could afterward be used by our level artist. I started directly in Zbrush, with dynamesh on, without worrying about the polycount. The goal was to get some interesting shapes that are easily readable as a rock surface even with the camera angle that we have. At this concept stage, I mainly used the masking tool and the move brush. Once I got something that had a nice silhouette, I went from there and started to detail the assets. I used the brushes in the following image. From there I imported my high rez in Maya, did a quick retopology and imported both my high and low into Substance Painter.


For the rest of the props and machines, as you can see below, Nicolas modeled the low poly versions in 3ds Max before exporting them into Zbrush, where he sculpted on top of them the high rez versions. Once that was done he sent me both the low and high versions for the texturing.


I used Zbrush for the creation of our ground textures. Once the high poly of the sculpt was done, I imported it in Substance Painter and baked it on a plane. We used 2 variations of it, one with rocks and one without. This way we could vertex paint rocks wherever we felt we needed them.

For texturing the props it was pretty much straightforward. Once the modeling was done, I started the baking. I had to keep in mind that we are going for a stylized look, so I tried to keep the albedo clean, without too much small and unnecessary details. However, I allowed myself to put some in the roughness map so this way we can still feel what kind of material we are looking at. It was super important that I made sure our PBR materials had the right physical characteristics.

I used a combination of smart masks and hand-painting to get the edges of the assets to look the way I wanted. By adding a gradient in my textures, it gave our models a really nice feeling of physical presence in our scene. It was even more important in our game since our camera is top down, so it facilitates the distinction between the lower and the highest parts of our assets. In some cases, I had to go to Substance Designer and create a tileable material, which I could then use in Substance Painter to apply to certain parts of my textures. This way, by masking the molten texture, we had the option to visually show whenever our smelter was working and when it was turned off.


As we wanted to create a heavy atmosphere, it was especially important that we get the right mood. In order to do that, Alex settled the ambient color of the environment and the fog with a dark brown. We used practically only point lights because they served to guide the players to different points of interest (nodes, stations, etc.) with their specific color, so their use was really only more of a gameplay purpose. It is important to know that almost every object that had a point light was movable or generated procedurally, so it was hard to get a perfect balance. Despite these efforts, the atmosphere was bland. Therefore, he implemented volumetric spotlights into the scene and it helped a lot to reach our desired ambiance.


We decided to use Amplify Shader for the creation of our shaders, which allowed us to create the ones we needed the most. We didn’t have to create complex shaders because the most challenging ones were about changing between two states as for the smelter. Also, we used ARM textures to optimize our workflow. Amplify Shader enabled us to work the same way one would work on shaders inside Unreal Engine 4, this way I could export the texture maps with the config “Unreal Engine 4 (Packed)” inside Substance Painter.


The minors have two different states throughout the game: they are either in a regular condition or out-of-breath. We needed them to be visually distinct as the out-of-breath state affects the gameplay. So, using Maya, the main trick was to work with animation layers which spare you from remaking all the animations by hand and facilitates the looping management. The second step was to polish the animations, pushing them to be more expressive and readable while making sure they’re not over-the-top!

If you have any questions, feel free to reach us Delyan, Nicolas, Alex. Thank you for taking the time to read our process and hope that it will help you!

You can download the game here.

Delyan FarashevMinors

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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JanKevin Breault Recent comment authors

It was created with Unity, not UE4.

Kevin Breault
Kevin Breault

Take a look at the profile we wrote on our colleague Sijia, who describes how it all happened!

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