The team of Incineration Productions was kind enough to talk about the production of their game Third Omen in Unity.
Incineration Productions is a newly founded independent game development studio. Our headquarters is located in Sofia, Bulgaria. Currently, we are 11 young and passionate people each one of whom with a different professional background and personal skill set. Our average age at the studio is 27 years, we aren’t veterans from the game industry, neither do we have any famous published games behind us, but what we are most proud of is our unwavering enthusiasm to create the single-player, narrative-driven experience that we all as gamers deserve and want to play. Third Omen is much more than a game for us – it will be the first released game of our studio which will show the world who we are as game developers and what our core values and beliefs are.
Gergana (Co-Founder, CEO) and Yuriy (Co-Founder, CTO) have been working together as a team from 3 years. The previous company they were developing offered mobile and physical games and gamified educational training for children and teenagers in the sphere of entrepreneurship, financial literacy and the development of personal skills. In 2016 Gergana was nominated for the most influential woman in entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bulgaria and designated as one of the successful young Bulgarians in Forbes Bulgaria’s 30 Under 30 list.
The initial idea for Third Omen occurred to Yuriy in May 2017. At that moment Gergana and Yuriy had another business together and were in a feverish preparation to close a deal and make an exit from it. The way Yuriy was talking about Third Omen and the initial story behind the game, however, was so inspiring that there was no other way but making Gergana think about the realization of the project. To be honest, It didn’t take long Third Omen to become a passion of Gergana’s as well and from a side project, they had started working on it on a daily basis.
Yuriy has a very strong vision for the realization of Third Omen. As a hardcore gamer, he often complains of the recent practice of studios and big developers exploiting their fan base for easy profit, integrating microtransactions into once beloved and respected franchises or shoving out an unnecessary sequel every year. He truly believes that adding pay to win or pay to play mechanics to games adds no value for the players, instead, it only treats them as a piggy bank. These beliefs became the core values of Incineration Productions and we have started looking for people who have the same understandings and share our passion of creating an old school game with an easy to learn but hard to master gameplay.
One of the major reasons we chose Unity is very simple: experience. Our co-founder Yuriy has had many years of both professional and personal experience with the engine and at this point, he knows it in and out, as well as its specific quirks. Now on the development side Unity offers three things that we think no other game engine offers: modularity, easy multi-platform development, and editor extensibility and customization. On the first subject, Unity allows us to have the exact functionality we need at the right time in our project without the whole environment being bloated. The new package management system is a key feature here. Now for extending the editor, we can simply share an amusing anecdote from the office. Our art director George, who had previous experience with Unreal, complained that he can’t place a light source in the scene with a certain key combination. 10 minutes later Yuriy added that functionality with little to no effort and improved his workflow.
From the very first preview of the HDRP, our whole team was very excited by the possibilities it brought into Unity. The start was a bit rocky with the release not really working, having compilation errors and so on. But soon all that was smoothed out but the team behind the pipeline and at this point, we are pretty much using it out of the box.
One of the most valuable things from the new High definition render pipeline is the move towards using Physical light Units(PLU). This allowed us to set up our lighting in a convincing way and have our materials look awesome with just the basic maps. These being the Albedo + Opacity map, the normal map, and the new Mask map. The mask map is a so-called multichannel packed texture map. This means that you pack 4 actual textures into each separate channel of the mask. The red channel is used for the Metallic mask, the green for Ambient occlusion, the blue for the detail mask and the alpha channel is the smoothness. Smoothness being an inverted roughness map.
A mistake that we made:
Using the new volumetric fog system in HDRP we managed to achieve a really realistic and thick fog that amplified the creepy atmosphere in our level. However this kind of fog, just like in the real world, basically extinguished all the shadows that the sun was casting in the level. This resulted in people thinking and saying that our graphics were bad. This just goes to show that achieving maximum realism in a game is not always desirable. You need to sacrifice realism for the sake of the experience of the player.
What we plan for the future:
In the future, we plan to utilize the functionality of HDRP more fully in our scenes. For example, we have a scene where the interior of a cathedral is lit by candles. The new pipeline allows us to easily add translucency to the candles for that extra bit of visual candy. However, it is easy to go too far when using something as powerful as the new render pipeline. After all, games need to run with at least 30 fps with 60 being the preferred norm. So you have to be careful when and where you use computationally heavy effects such as Sub-surface scattering etc.
Even in its current preview state, the HDRP is a powerful new way of achieving high graphical fidelity in Unity. Using it requires a slight shift in the texturing workflow. Overall the future is bright and physically accurate.
We are a small indie game development studio and our art department is composed of five people. The challenge that we undertook from the beginning was to create an indie game that does not look like a typical indie game but rather has a AAA quality. Before we started work on the game we saw what the Unity demo team was doing and that gave us hope that a small team can create a product that looks good. We tried to avoid the trap that is starting a project that is too ambitious for the capacity of the team.
We decided that a modular approach would be the best fit for us, despite working with a tight schedule. This approach worked especially well for the main enemies in the game. It allowed us to have a bigger enemy variety. For the enemies, we decided to have two base meshes and then develop different sets of armors, but out character generator allows us to use any mesh as long as the bone hierarchy matches the base one. The character generator also buffs the zombies’ health based on the random amount of armor pieces they have received, thus creating an easy visual link between enemy health and appearance. One of the challenges was to combine different types of armor so that they don’t look mismatched or out of place. We separated them into several modules (head, arms, torso, and weapon). For the bosses, we changed it up and decided to go with a more creative approach, where their rigs and geometry are unique.
The modular generator code works by copying the mesh renders from an array of prefab objects and then copies the bone hierarchy into the instance of the part. Sadly we are currently re-writing the whole thing to work with the new prefab system in Unity and will be able to share it later on.
The combat system in Third Omen is special in a sense that simply spamming inputs will get you nowhere. The player has to get a feel for the attack moves and time his inputs accordingly in order to proceed in the combo. This creates tension during gameplay similar to a fighting game, as well as achieve a real sense of accomplishment in the player. Our entire gameplay design revolves around the mantra: easy to learn, hard to master.
We split our design process for sounds in two categories. Music and in-game sounds. For our music, we really wanted to use it as a tool in the atmosphere building. For that, we developed an adaptive music player that can layer different intensities of music. For example, we can have one main battle them with varying degrees of intensity that we can dynamically mix together during combat depending on the specific situation.
Another important system we developed was our material based footstep system. This allowed us to easily tie a sound bank of footsteps to certain materials right in our scene. That way one leg might be stepping on mud, the other one on snow and it will sound correct.
For the demo level, we focused on three separate zones, every one of which had its own specific architectural distinction (a graveyard, old ruins, cathedral). The first zone is a graveyard and here we decided to have gravestones and sarcophagi. This was the easiest part since they are rather simple elements. For the ruins and the cathedral, we tried to reuse the same assets, as we just “destroyed” the cathedral assets for the ruins. As a whole, we have a rather small number of unique assets. The environment proved quite a challenge for us. This is why we are deciding to implement Houdini in our workflow as one of the most powerful tools for creating procedural assets. Overall our workflow does not differ from other studios. We proceed from a concept phase to greyboxing, to modeling and texturing the assets and finally placing them in-engine.
One of our goals is to have the maximum number of modular assets in our environment. For this, the new prefab system in unity is proving to be an invaluable tool to be able to mix and match modules in order to create a varied environment.
Our final goal is to create a great single player experience that features both a deep story and engaging gameplay. As a whole, our plan is to put our studio firmly on the map and create games for many years to come.
We want Third Omen to be an old-school third-person action-adventure video game. In Third Omen you will play as Eve, a primordial force, the very concept of humanity. Together you will seek revenge on the demons of her past and make a choice to avenge the evil they did to her or keep the balance. As a player you will immerse yourself into a mind-blowing, shattered world, populated by powerful and distorted enemies, that seek to destroy you. To deal with them we have created a precise fast-paced timing-based combat system that gives you full control of your actions. This combat system is at the core of the Third Omen experience.