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Low-poly style: What makes game characters unique?

This developer post gives insights on the character development of a low poly game quite unlike others (called POLYCRUSHER). In our short article we explain how we start modelling our low poly characters in detail and the interesting tricks we discovered.

THE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT OF A LOW POLY GAME QUITE UNLIKE OTHERS

BY JULIA ANGERER

After going on Steam Greenlight with our game POLYCRUSHER, which will release there in Summer this year (if they let us through), we now want to share what we learned about low poly 3D characters, their development process and the specific workflow we use to create our very unique-looking and -feeling characters in the game. POLYCRUSHER is a local multiplayer twin stick shooter made for couch gaming. In our game you have to fight against unlimited hordes of enemies and angry chicken bosses in order to climb up our online highscore - a better description gives our trailer for sure.


 

I am working on POLYCRUSHER as Technical Artist, being responsible for the design and development of our characters and enemies along with our other 3D Artist, and also working on the technical side to support our core programming team. This was my first time supporting the game development team on both sides with designing and programming, and it turned out to be a very interesting task all along the way.

The starting point

We wanted to make a game for our 4th term’s project, so we sat together and started out on it. First things first – a twin stick shooter in humorous low poly style it should be, like the old couch games, back in the good old times when four friends sat at their console at home, playing a good match of Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers and destroying friendships game-like. So we started out with Unity and a bunch of concept ideas. Those ideas were made up with the whole development team, so the character’s design, their mechanics and special abilities were heavily discussed. This really gave us a great overview and made the balancing a lot easier in general.

Character sheets

A good structure is always a good start. Trello helped us a lot with this, sorting and assigning tasks was an easy thing. We as artists had a brief overview of what to do, the character’s body features and abilities were roughly described already. When the time came to switch to 3D modelling, we made a quick workflow that helped to keep the poly count low when working out shapes that define the characters. There are several ways to do that, but we chose to do kind of wireframe sketch on top of our characters to define shapes before modelling them out at all. Sometimes this was very hard and often it occurred to take a lot longer than the actual modelling of a rough prototype. To get a basic idea of it, here are a few of our first-draft wireframe concepts – they changed due to modelling itself but helped more than anything else in the process.

Birdman_CharacterSheet

Timeshifter_CharacterSheet

The characters were now modeled after these so-called character sheets, altered to fit better into 3D space, textured and rigged to get them animated. It was also very important to us to differentiate them very clearly, giving them different shapes, exaggerating body attributes and giving them a background story that we could visualize. For example, the last character sheet shows our sniper called the Timeshifter - she is based on an oriental looking girl that wears an hourglass as a headdress. She can manipulate space and time and conjures up bubbles that slow enemies down. Her terrific weapon which shoots off energetic impulses was a prize from a funfair. The first character sheet shows our Chicken-Mafia boss called Birdman - he has a chicken on his head and can use it as a bomb that attracts enemies in gameplay. His weapon shoots rather fast and small bullets.

Other design choices

We chose to give different colors to the characters, which we display in the HUD as a circle around them, as their blood when they get hurt, as bullet colors and as their identification color in our character selection menu. Also, our characters are connected with a line system, that has a lot of different applications but will be (a very interesting) topic another time.

Character_HUD

We also decided to give our characters voices (all recorded by the development team), which gives feedback to the players and helps to build up a connection to them.

Technical choices

In order to make the characters distinguishable in gameplay, we have different bullet shapes and, of course, fire rates. Also, the spread of the bullets and the time between shots differ a lot. For example, the Timeshifter has a slow, but very efficient weapon, when Birdman has a very fast weapon that doesn't deal so much damage. Additionally, as I already said, every character has a special ability. Those are centered on teamplay and get very effective when activated tactically. The abilities have their own loading time and use different amounts of the energy bar too, all due to the balancing we did. Our character balancing turned out to be fair, as two huge playtests showed so far.

To conclude

We are working hard now on getting the game greenlit soon and are looking forward to presenting you the finished product! In the meantime, we are very happy about feedback or any questions about POLYCRUSHER (we could write an interesting story out of them for you) - so just contact us on Facebook - Twitter - IndieDB, write us a mail to [email protected] and, if you like our game, vote for us on SteamGreenlight! :)

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