Ares Dragonis shared more details about his game THE SHORE inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's stories, talked about his approach to creating monsters, and how he manages to handle all the tasks alone.
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Ares Dragonis joined us on the new episode of 80 Level Round Table to talk about his project THE SHORE that started as an environment and then evolved into a full game. The developer told us about his Lovecraftian story, its success, and how he managed to get so many people interested in it.
Black Sand Material
The very first thing was the black sand material. I gathered photos of black sand, studied how black sand would look in moody weather, then combined the photos in Photoshop and made them seamless. I went through 4 different black sand materials until I got the correct one that would fit in with the color theme of the rocks. I also had to change the color of the rocks and the sand several times in order to match them – it was very important to me to keep them within the same color theme so that they could fit in with the sea and the sky.
Placing the Rocks
First, I placed the big boulders around the island, then the mid-sized ones, and finally the small ones – each one of them was placed manually since I enjoyed the whole process of it. I used the grass brush in UE4 and replaced it with little rocks, then placed them all around the mid-sized stones to create the feeling that the boulders were decaying into smaller rocks.
The big ships were taken from the asset store as I had to focus on important stuff rather than spend 2 months creating ships. That sacrifice was a necessity because as a solo developer, I had to work smart and not hard.
The sea and the foam are 2 different objects. I had to place foam planes on every shore, each one of them was placed by hand. Mostly, the whole island is arranged by hand, even some of the smallest details.
It took me 2 weeks to create a correct shader for the sea color and I sacrificed at least 8 hours a day for it; good things do take time. With a lot of patience, I finally got the right color of the water that would fit perfectly with the sky and the sand.
All of the characters/creatures are made in ZBrush, my whole modeling and polypainting process takes place within this software alone.
Let's take one of the creatures as an example. First, I thought through what the creature would look like, how it'd affect the environment around it in the game, how it'd fit in with the theme of the game events. From the theoretical perspective, the creature I want to create must belong to the world around it, I don't want it to be just another spooky monster. After I chose the concept for the creature, I start modeling it in ZBrush. However, I never have a complete understanding of how the creature would end up looking and I leave myself some space to go along with the flow of my subconscious ideas during the process. I've learned to trust myself and just let it go while modeling – it's important to trust yourself when you acknowledge yourself as an artist, otherwise you are not too much of an original creator. Sometimes though, I do take inspiration from other creatures I've seen on the internet.
When my model is complete, I start polypainting it with the spray brush. When I have the desired skin color texture, I use that to paint all over the creature's body, Retopology follows after that using ZBrush retopology sphere + ZRemesher. I use ZRemesher to save as much time as I can, then use xNormal to bake my creature into the low poly and Photoshop to tweak the baked textures and create spec and gloss.
After that, I use Akeytsu to rig and animate my model. It's a standalone program just for that and it's really fast.
Solo-Developing a Project
I have created my own pipeline within ZBrush to make any content a lot faster than a regular 3D modeler. For example, an average 3D modeler would need at least a week to create a creature and then polypaint it, while I can do it within 2 days as well as rig and animate it. Sometimes, I can finish a model within a day, if I work for 12 hours straight – and I work on the environment around it on the same day. Using my own techniques, to polypaint a creature, I need a maximum of 4 hours. One of those methods is the method of masking (as I call it); it involves using masks allowing me to paint only on cavity areas or smoothed areas. It's a complicated technique but it is up to 10 times faster than regular polypainting.
When developing something alone, an important thing is to sit down and tell yourself: first, I will finish the environment, then – all the creatures (well, most of them since you never know if you are going to need more), then I will work out all the game events, how they are going to happen and why based on the script. When I had the foundation of these 3 things, I began adding something new to each one of them. The first thing I made for the game was writing the script and the story, and based on that, I started making the island.
Other Things to Know as a Game Developer
If you want to make a game, you must have some help from your family because you will need support to get through all those hours you are going to spend in front of your PC – and you'll have to focus all your energy on the game you are making, not other jobs.
Always believe in yourself and MOST IMPORTANTLY trust yourself. When you are making something, let it flow and see if you get any rewards from it.
Do you have a dev team? That's great. Who's the artist in it? If this person is skillful, make them the leader of the team and listen to what they have to say, follow their ideas because they come from creativity. Games are made by artists, and a game turns out awesome if everything in it is made with creativity. Such a game would reach the gamers' hearts (it's the secret and the truth that nobody wants you to know).
Ares Dragonis, 3D Character Artist and Creator of THE SHORE
Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev
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