SmashOut Arena: Level & Character Development

SmashOut Arena: Level & Character Development

Former students from New3dge talked about their game prototype SmashOut: Arena with the Overwatch style.

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A few more projects inspired by Overwatch

Introduction

Hi! We are the team behind SmashOut: Arena which is composed of two Characters Artists (Thomas Lafaurie-Bianchi and Jerome Bascher), one Environment Artist (Gabriel Hanna) and one 3D Animator (Wilhem Durand)
We have all found jobs after our graduation, respectively at Keos Mason, GFactory, Airborn Studio, Lightbulb Crew.

This project has been done in ten months, starting in September 2018 until July 2019.

About New3dge

New3dge is a Game Art & VFX school located in Paris and directed by Michael Baratian. Education there lasts five years: one year of training in traditional drawing, modeling, and sculpture; two generals years of perfecting traditional drawing, modeling, and sculpture, introduction to 2D and 3D digital art techniques, enhancement of knowledge of 2D and 3D digital artistry, and choosing a specialization for a targeted professional orientation. Finally, two years of specialization to master techniques and constraints linked with the world of Game Art or 3D Animation and VFX.

SmashOut: Arena

SmashOut: Arena is a third-person character type Sport/Action game. Two teams fight each other in the arena. The objective is to capture an orb and drop it into the enemy's goal. The point was to create a fake game. Given that we had no devs in our team, making the gameplay was not essential for us, instead, we made an in-game trailer.

Our main references are Madden, Boubowl, Rocket League, and BloodBowl. We liked the mix of nervous and dynamic gameplay.

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We took our inspiration from Overwatch, which means very unique, different and recognizable characters in their shapes and design, a colorful environment that mixes sci-fi and rustic styles and finally animations that correspond to each personality.

Environment (Gabriel Hanna)

“Petite France” is the playing field of SmashOut: Arena. We chose Strasbourg (It’s a French town in the region of Alsace ) as our reference. We really like the mix between rustic and sci-fi style and felt that it would be interesting to explore. The map is composed of two parts: the town where the champions spawn and the arena part where the orb is. For the town, the idea was to find the Strasbourg feel mixed in with a futuristic design. For that, we used colorful half-timbered houses which are the typical Alsacienne architecture, a water canal, paved roads, etc. and added a layer of futuristic props that would show the town's technological evolution throughout the time.

Like said before, Overwatch was our Art direction which is characterized by strong shapes, color gradients, and heavy roughness information. What we did is spend the first month analyzing the maps, textures, colors, lighting and try to narrow down the routes we wanted to take. With the help of some online documentation and experimenting in Custom Games, we were able to understand what we needed to do in order to achieve this design/style.

We first started with a general concept and blockout that we used to pose the layout of our map. Then directly after that, we decided to create 1 finished asset that would help us nail down the workflow that we could follow for the rest of the scene.

Level shots

At this point, we were kind of ready for the production phase.

We worked with modules. We used Blueprints in order to build these modules and create unique variations for each building. We also used a lot of SplineMesh for roads, sidewalks, chains, etc. that helped us going faster.

90% of the modeling was done in Maya. Some assets had a ZBrush pass, but most high poly models were just clean subDs, and the rest of details was done using Painter. That also allowed us to go faster and avoid going through one more software. With all this Import/Export/Decimation, it can get a little bit time-consuming just waiting for stuff.

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After that, I have spent at least another month experimenting in Substance Designer/Painter. Since this was my first stylized project, I had to experiment a lot in order to achieve the Overwatch style, which has a great ratio of detail information/cleanliness and color variation which can be very subtle but makes a huge difference.

We worked in tileable textures and VertexPaint in Unreal mainly on the ground and walls, the rest of the textures were unique since they gave a bit more control on variation, plus we didn’t need to optimize everything. With that, we were able to create a Library of Materials that we could use on the whole scene.

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For the Unreal part, we used 2 different Master Materials: a General one that was applied to almost everything, and a VertexPaint one that we used where VertexPaint was needed, obviously.

We also created some very simple particle FX which adds a bit of life to the scene.

Lighting is mostly baked with some point sources that don’t cast any shadows. We used a Directional Light/Skylight as our main source and then added some spots/point lights to create points of interest where we wanted. Also, we used volumetric fog to add atmospheric depth to the level.

A small trick is to use point lights that don’t cast a shadow which can help emulate skylight only where you want it to be specific. Also, by turning cast shadow off you bypass the 3 stationary lights max next to each other. Sharp shadows play a huge role in the stylization of lighting. If you have soft shadows, they will feel more realistic and less cartoony - crank up the shadow sharpness for a cartoonish effect.

Characters (Thomas Lafaurie-Bianchi & Jerome Bascher)

We started by defining the story and abilities of each character and then designing their shapes in relation to who they are and what they do. Then, we focused on the shapes more, so that their size is recognizable and unique.

Jet

He is a striker, he’s fast and stands out from the others by a strung, aerodynamic silhouette.

Working in low poly helped us establish shapes quickly while being able to modify them at any time. Jet was the character test that enabled us to find our workflow for the rest of the characters and animation.

Following the art direction of Overwatch, we used 3 dominant colors.

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Bob

His role is to slow down enemies and his gameplay is centered around positioning. Knowing that we had to give him a heavy feel to be able to translate that to the player.

Here, working in low poly was also key. A lot of testing and tweaking has been made to make sure everything worked well from design to animation. Being a drunk sailor, this character needed to have a balance between metal and leather with a heavy dirt effect.

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Agatha

She has a defensive role. We decided to create a contrast between her feminine anatomy and massive armor. Working in low poly has enabled us to always be in control of the design throughout the process. We created a small alpha library that we shared amongst us to be able to keep a homogenous feel in all the textures.

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Quiet

Quiet’s role is to silence enemies. The challenge was to give him a design that reflects his abilities without losing his human feel. We decided to give him a little companion to add a personality to the character. We used emissive lights for the sci-fi parts and gradients for the stylized effect. 

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Naidraug

Naidraug is obviously the tank, his role is to protect his teammates. We wanted to have a massive robot but that would still look cute and peaceful. For that, we used round shapes to give him a more reassuring look. A simple color palette was key to keep his design relatively clean. We used roughness information to create variation in his texturing.

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Faya & Smiley (both are DLC characters)

Faya has a defensive role. Just like Bob, her role is to incapacitate enemies, so we also had to give her a heavy feel while making her differ in design from Bob. Faya was created by reusing some assets from different characters.

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Smiley is the second striker and a notorious street artist and free runner. We needed him to look agile with an underground style. He was also one of the first characters done in the blockout phase for the animation tests.

Choosing to have a low poly workflow throughout the project was a clear advantage. Being able to swap and reuse assets between characters helped us going faster.

Animations (Wilhem Durand)

It was the first time I was doing animation as I was more oriented to be an Environment/Props Artist. However, I wanted to try animation! So I was almost an autodidact on this project. I was responsible for rigging, skinning, animations, integrations of all characters, plus all the cameras and their animations present in the trailer. And I helped our environment artist with lots of props.

All animations have been done in 3ds Max with keyframes.

By working in low poly, we could quickly add a skeleton to each character, tweak it and explore different poses that define the personality of the character early on in the process.

Finding a special walk to each character would really help understanding its personality just by looking at it. The movements had to be credible and identifiable from afar by quickly looking at it, just like the shapes and size of each character.

We had a lot of fun with all that the character could offer us: his identity, weight, mass, stuff, etc.

And like in Overwatch, we made highlights for each character. It was the most fun part! They accentuate the character, tell us a little about his state of mind, and glorify him!

Character animation & highlights

For the highlights, the camera animations were done in two steps: first, in 3ds Max to see an idea of ​​what we can give in motion and rendering. Then, once the blocking is over, we do pretty much the same camera in Unreal, and then we play with the focal.

Once integrated into Unreal, we create a BlendSpace for the character, which allows us to mix the animations from the idle pose to walking and finally running.

We mimicked and filmed ourselves to better understand the motion of each movement and enter the mindset of each character.

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After animating the bonus character Smiley, Tom was able to visualize the character's personality and improve the character. This was possible thanks to our low poly process.

Naidraug's highlight was the most fun and rewarding goal to achieve. We modified his skeleton so that his arms were independent like in Iron Man.

We wanted to give an emotion to that quiet drone which would reinforce the friendship between the two characters. The rig is pretty simple but sufficient for the animations we wanted to make. 

Even if the orb is just a ball, we wanted to make it feel alive, just like the Golden Snitch in Harry Potter which is the symbol of the game and also a synonym of victory. 

The essential thing with the animations was to bring life to the characters and give them a unique personality.

Production/Render

Very early on in the process, we started laying out our ideas and merging all our work into a blockout video. That helped us seeing the advancement and marking sure everything was coherent at all times.

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All shots are in-game in Unreal. The animator took care of finding the plans, animating the characters and the cameras, then the environment artist came to make a lighting pass. Once the plan was made, the editing was done with Premiere Pro.

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In our opinion, the most important thing in a group project is communication. We organized two meetings every two weeks. The first Monday was for the planning, talking about what we were going to do and what we had to do, plus new ideas that we could find and use. In two weeks on Friday, we got together to see if the goals achieved were validated or not.

Here you can see the trailer and our presentation in more detail:

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