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Unexplored 2: Art Style & Controllable Shadows

Ludomotion Team, the developers of Unexplored 2, briefly talked about the art style of their indie title, the way they control the colors of the shadows, and level generation.

About Ludomotion

Ludomotion is based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The team is spread out across the country and we mostly work remotely. In the past, Ludomotion released Unexplored 1, Sumico, and Bezircle, and individual team members have also worked on other projects at different studios.

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How Unexplored 2 Started

A few years ago we started a project called Unfated. It had many design goals similar to the ones Unexplored 2 has: focus on adventuring, content generation, generative narratives, and so on. But at that time, it proved too difficult to get funding for the game as we didn’t have a track record. This forced us to replan.

While Unexplored 1 was conceived as a solo project by Joris Dormans to prove the technology, Unexplored 2 is a big step closer to the original vision. As Unexplored 1 was successful enough to attract investors for the sequel we were able to bring the band back together.

Art Style

The graphics of Unexplored 1 were made to the best of Joris's abilities. But he’s no artist. When Hendrik Visser joined the team again for Unexplored 2, we started with investigating what could be achieved technically by switching to Unity and 3D. Hendrik already started developing a style based on his previous game development experience with Joris and the way he likes to generate content.

Unexplored 2 Concept Art

From the get-go, we decided to go for flat colors and flat shadows plus a clear line. This style made it easier to fit very diverse objects and landscapes together, plus it reads very well and saves a lot of time when making and matching textures. It was also very important for us to have control over the shadows and their color. We didn't want them to be the result of 3D lights. Controllable shadows were an enormous tool for creating the needed atmosphere. Heavily inspired by artists from the early 20th century and Shin-Hanga movement, Hendrik challenged himself to use low poly modeling and at the same time avoid a very angular look. The style required using simple shapes with delicately chosen colors to instill a sense of enigmatic calmness. To make this possible, we needed some smart and versatile shaders. Those shaders were made by Rosa Corstjens, the most recent addition to the core team.

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Since Unexplored 2 is set in a 3D world, we use GPX to compute the shadows, however, instead of using standard lighting techniques to render them, we opted to swap out the palettes where there is a shadow. This gives us complete control over the shadow colors. There is a cost, though. We can only work with a limited number of colors for light, within a single scene.

Level Design

For Unexplored 1, we pioneered a technique called Cyclic Dungeon Generation, which is a particular approach to the content generation where cycles (and not branching trees) are the core structure the generator works with. As this process tries to emulate how a human Level Designer would work, this creates a much more natural feeling flow for the levels (and far fewer dead ends). 

As for the map, it was generated procedurally. Joris has recently written a blog post on this subject, you can read it on Gamasutra.

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The demo of the game is available to anyone who cares to back us on Fig.co. We really want to bring in an active community of players early on as we need player support to make this game. And since it is a generative game, you don’t have to worry about spoilers. 

We plan to release the full game on PC and consoles, however, at this stage, we cannot say which platforms and consoles exactly.

Ludomotion Team, Developers of Unexplored 2

Interview conducted by Daria Loginova

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