Most interesting and inspiring artist on the business.
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Prey For The Gods is an impressive indie game from Brian Parnell and No Matter game development team. This small company of three is attempting to build a very ambitious project – a mix of harsh winter landscapes, beautiful character design and awesome boss-battling mechanics, that reminiscent of Shadow of The Colossus. We’ve talked with Brian Parnell, Tim Wiese and Hung-Chien Liao over the weekend and discussed the main inspirations, the technological solutions behind this project, and the amazing details of this indie action title.
Brian Parnell: My name is Brian Parnell. I’ve been in the games industry mostly doing character art and art direction. I first started at Nintendo doing QA (as a contractor, it wasn’t my full-time job). My first job doing game development was at a great start up in Boston, MA area called Iron Lore Entertainment. There I made art including characters, bosses, and the UI for Titan Quest, Immortal Throne, and Dawn of War: Soulstorm. I then went on to Harmonix to work on Rock Band 2, and Rock Band: Beatles as well GreenDay doing character art. It was at this time I started work on the indie title Grim Dawn with Arthur Bruno, as well as helped on Natural Selection 2.
I then went on to Tencent Boston/Stomp Games where I made Robot Rising and worked on an MMO, which later ended up being canceled. After that, I moved to San Francisco to work at KIXEYE as an Art Director on War Commander: Rogue Assault. Currently, I’m back doing character art at a VR startup called Impulse Gear. Approximately fifteen people are there it’s awesome!
Prey for the Gods
Brian Parnell: Prey For The Gods really was rooted in the yearning of making something with soul and meaning. I know it sounds like absolute bullshit, but at the time when I went to Chien and Tim it was really a response to the frustrations we were all having in the social/mobile space. In Prey for the Gods, I want everyone to have their own unique story to tell when they play and finish the game.
Brian Parnell: There’s actually a number of games, that inspire us.
Deus Ex: My favorite game ever, Deus Ex. I love that you have choices with consequences. You choose your path and deal with the choices you made.
DayZ: The three of us had a blast playing DayZ together. For me, what stuck out was the stories that came from when we played. Every time we played it was so unique and that really impacted me.
FTL: You knew you were playing a space game and that you had to get somewhere, but how you got there was always so different. Instead of merely regurgitating the same moves or the same exact button presses it really made the play-throughs your own personal experiences. I’d read people’s play-throughs as if they were stories.
Bloodborne: Chien and Tim were playing a lot of Bloodborne at the time we were starting work on combat and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that wasn’t discussed as well.
The Game Scale
Brian Parnell: As we’re still in the early build, currently, the game is not open world but large connected areas. The project is still rather small in its scope IMO. There are some large systems for sure, and tricky designs, but the production isn’t too crazy at the moment. Working on MMO’s, ARPG’s, and RTS’s from a content perspective this is much smaller scope. However, there is much more focus on mood, direction and story.
Tim Wiese: To obtain a nice sense of scale with the camera we use a lot of low angle shots, framing the character and the boss. Although the camera rotation is fully controllable by the player, the default position will adjust to give you good angle on the action. The field of view also adjusts quite a bit from the switch into combat and out of combat, enhancing the sense of scale.
Tim Wiese: Starting off, we think of what is the purpose and history of this world we are creating. It doesn’t feel alive unless you give it a history that you can see and feel. Everything should feel cohesive to a core theme of the game. It should also all feed into the gameplay and frame certain elements in ways which will always provide a cinematic experience. The tricky part is doing all that and giving the player total freedom to go about any path they please, getting this right requires us to play through these areas a ton, because it should not only work gameplay wise, but it should make you feel something along the way.
On the more technical side of things, we start sections of the world by blocking it in. It should play great even before you have the visuals to really help it shine. This means blocking in where set pieces and props will go, setting up wildlife in that area, and figuring out what the player interaction will be. Once the block in is agreed upon, we go about replacing parts with set pieces and props that give areas their individual look, while keeping in mind what is the history of this area, why does it look like this, and what purpose can it serve gameplay wise. Then comes much more playtesting and adding that final layer of polish to put it over the top.
Brian Parnell: Unity 5 is working well for our needs. I think all engines have pro and cons and the more you know of them the better.
Creation of Characters
Hung-Chien Liao: For the climbing area on the boss, we have two different meshes, one is climbable and the other is just for collision. We also put various triggers on the boss to let the boss know where the player is and what she is doing, then the boss will react to that, because there are so many different animation possibilities and game logic especially climbing.
We use Unity Mecanim state machine to manage this part. So if her climbing looks strange, then we know we can go to her climbing state and find out what’s wrong. This helps us a lot in our development. For the crazy climbing part, we track each limb on the boss, then blend between animation and IK.
Brian Parnell: Seeing as we have been doing this in our spare time, I would say many of the design decisions were made with its scope in mind. Technically, we had a lot of unknowns so for the first enemy we stayed a little more conservative than we’d like but we all knew that future enemies would get pushed further. Primarily this was to ensure we could quickly prove out the tech. We’ve gotten them to a point where they work and look good. As an artist, I see the areas where we can push the design. The protagonist looked completely different during our initial builds. Once we started work on the trailer I went back and redesigned her to fit better with the story, mood and overall quality bar we want.
With so much blue and cool hues in the game environments I used complementary and contrasting colors to make the main heroine stand out.
I use Zbrush, 3DS Max, Photoshop, and Substance Painter for her. Typically, I’ll start with a sketch and then rough out a 3D model in Zbrush. From there, I’ll take screenshots of the model and do paint overs in Photoshop. I’ll go back and forth between Zbrush and Photoshop until the look is ready to be retopo’d in 3DS Max where it will be rigged and animated as well.
Lighting and Effects
Tim Wiese: The weather in general will have a pretty large effect on gameplay. In inclement weather you will get exhausted faster, eventually forcing you to seek shelter. In Prey for the Gods, keeping warm and keeping up your energy are two major parts to your survival. Your ability to overcome the giants will be directly affected by this. The blizzards use a GPU particle system within Unity, since in a blizzard we wanted the screen to feel like a real life white out, this system is made for looping effects eliminating the overhead of particle birth and death. Using the traditional particle system just wasn’t an option for this, because of the massive number of particles.
Brian Parnell: We’ve been working on this for a little over a year. We’re still sorting out a date. Given how early we are in development we’ll be holding off on any dates until we’re further into production. We don’t have any publisher yet, just us three devs.