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We are a small studio based in Northern Indiana. Before working on Morels: The Hunt, we were working on a VR title called Out of Time. It’s a simple game about search and exploration, and we ended up pushing that one back to work on Morels. There are four of us, and we are all brothers. It really made the whole experience that much better by being able to do it with my brothers, who are also my best friends.
Selling assets with TurboSquid StemCell
We were just starting out, and this was the first game we were going to release. We weren’t really sure if there would be any interest in a game like this, so we did not want to try crowdfunding and fail. I knew I had to be able to support my family, but I needed to be able to work on the game full-time. So we decided to start selling models that were made for the game on TurboSquid.
One of the hardest things about selling 3D models is deciding what to model. This completely took that away. We had to make specific models for the game, and we figured if we needed them then someone else would probably need them too. The responses to selling the 3D assets were very positive, and they have sold well. Since we were creating assets specifically for use in a game engine, we were able to take advantage of TurboSquid’s StemCell program. This helped us to get more sales and an added bump invisibility. We used a combination of Blender and Substance Painter to create the assets, then converted them into a 3ds Max file for the final upload to StemCell.
Gathering the Reference
The idea for the game was there for years. My brothers and I loved morel mushroom hunting growing up. We still do it every year. One of the greatest things about mushroom hunting is just being out in nature. We take a lot of photos while we are hunting, which is how the game came about. We wanted to create that feeling of being out in nature, mushroom hunting, and photographing the beautiful environment around you into a game. Some of the maps in the game are inspired by actual locations where we would mushroom hunt.
We went with a realistic direction because we really wanted to try and get that feeling of actually being out in nature. Originally, we were going to do the game in VR, and we are definitely looking at getting a VR version out.
We purchased some of the forest assets (like the trees) from Mawi United. They use photogrammetry to create their assets. Making a game of this size with just a few people is challenging, so purchasing some premade assets definitely helped. We just had to modify and optimize the assets to be able to use them how we wanted.
We have two dynamic directional lights that we used for the primary lighting: one for the sun and one for the moon. The color also changed according to the time of day, and we use a skylight that adjusts the ambient lighting between day and night. Post-processing and volumetric fog also help a lot with the overall look of the lighting. The weather changes each and every day in Morels, and there is a big difference in settings going from a sunny day to a stormy or cloudy day.
There were challenges trying to get the right look for each type of weather. Luckily, Unreal Engine gives you a huge amount of settings that can be changed in real-time. On a cloudy day, we rely more on the skylight and exponential height fog to achieve the look we wanted.
Working on the Animation
There are between 40 and 50 different animals in the game. This was quite challenging for us.
We are a small team with basically no budget, and we began modeling, texturing, and animating everything by ourselves using Blender and Substance Painter. The animation process was extremely time-consuming, and we were not getting the results we wanted. We decided we needed some help and contracted out an animator. We loved the results but, in the end, it would just be way too expensive for us to do this for every animal.
We had a decent amount of animals from the work we had done ourselves but felt we still need some more. We ended up purchasing some animals from 3D marketplaces like TurboSquid and the UE4 marketplace to fill out the rest of the animals we needed, then we added additional animations to most of them. The whole process of exporting from UE4 to Blender, animating, and then importing back into UE4 also presented many challenges. We ended up getting the process down after a while.
About Camera Work
This was also an area that was pretty challenging. Again, we wanted to have the feeling of personally being out in nature. In most video games, you walk up to a pickup item and press a button to take it, or you sometimes just walk over it. Those options would not work for Morels.
We didn’t want the player to be able to simply walk around pressing a button and picking up mushrooms, we wanted them to have to find them and actively pick them up. Trying to create a pickup that – as far as we know – had not really been done before was difficult. In the first gameplay trailer, we have a third-person pick-up camera view. We felt like this broke the immersion for the player, so we decided to make the switch to all first-person view.
To keep the feeling that you yourself are actually out in nature picking mushrooms, we had to have the camera animate with the character animations. So when you press the pickup button, and the animation of the character goes down to pick up, the camera gets animated down as well. We still have an option in the settings to switch to a third-person pickup view, but we felt that keeping everything first-person is a better experience.
The game was finished and released with version 4.22. I want to say we started back on 4.15 (maybe), and we updated all along the way. That created its own challenges, with never knowing what was going to break between versions. The majority of the game was created with blueprints, and this is the reason why we went with UE4. None of us were really programmers, so the use of blueprints made everything possible for us.
The Biggest Challenges
We had many challenges. Making a type of game that had not really been made before has its benefits, but also poses many unique issues – we did not have much to reference. Not giving up was probably the biggest challenge. Game development is tough. You run into so many hurdles along the way, and sometimes you just think to yourself, “Is this really worth it?” But you stick out.
Morels was in development for around 2-3 years, but it’s a game we thought about for years before we started the development process. For us, to actually see it through and finish it is just a huge accomplishment.
It can be purchased on Steam.