With such a limited amount of time to meet the launch deadline for Couch Heroes vs The Dungeon for the new Apple TV, we had to look into Unity’s Asset Store to be able to quickly assemble our ideas for art style, gameplay and overall feel. The Asset Store is a marketplace for Unity developers to create and sell their creativities, but for us it was a gold mine of useful tools to rapidly prototype and assemble a new game.
Here are four things that we did to make Couch Heroes vs The Dungeon happen.
Know your needs
The Asset Store can be daunting with thousands of “free and paid-for 3D models, editor extensions, scripts, shaders, materials, audio files, animations, and more”, but knowing what your game needs to get things started makes the search a lot easier. For us, we knew Couch Heroes would be in a dungeon, so we found a modular dungeon set that allowed us to piece together our dungeon the way we wanted it to look. We also knew we needed our heroes and some monsters, so once we decided they should be low poly caricatures, finding the right assets was simple. With those asset packages available, the game went from prototype “programmer art” to an almost finished looking game.
Customize to make them cohesive
Original downloaded assets pieced together
Almost looking like a finished game and actually looking like one is still a big leap for an artist. The asset models may work together, but because they were created by different developers, the texture work didn’t flow together as well as if one art team had made it. So after a few retexturing tests on some dungeon walls and floors, we decided the direction to go for everything else. Not everything needed to be retextured, mostly larger objects that had a lot of screen real estate; there’s no need to spend time on redoing something that is hardly noticeable after its been changed, so pick carefully. For the Heroes we went with a 5-6 color palette to simplify their texture and pop them off of the environment, as well as make the silhouette of the models do most of the work.
Assets after retexturing
Bang! Pop! Wow!
Lights, particles, screen effects and flashy animations are all awesome to have and really add to gameplay and experience. We used one main Directional Light casting shadows to set the basic mood, then small Point Lights for additional effects for when a monster is destroyed, or for when a player turns into a ghost; they work really well as little flashes of light, used with particles. Our screen effects only consist of a Vignette, blur/depth of field around the edge of the screen and screen overlay to make the center gameplay area more vibrant. This allows focus to be brought to the character and add a little more depth to the dungeon. As for particles, we used the Unity Asset Store again to find a cartoon pack with a lot of great FX used for enemy impacts and deaths.
Optimize for performance
Mage with 512 simplified texture (left) vs 2048 detailed texture (right), a 2.5MB difference
Because we used a lot of purchased assets, not everything was as optimized as it’d be if we had made it in-house. But there’s also not much you can do without spending a lot of time reworking the models and their UVs. What you can do, though, is make sure your static objects are being batched properly and objects and lights that don’t need to cast shadows aren’t. Also, we found that Unity’s default frustum culling didn't seem to benefit our performance stats, so we set up an LOD Group on objects to ensure that they aren’t being rendered when they don’t need to be.
Visualization of how the LOD Group works with camera distance
With more simplified texture style, we were also able to lower the texture resolution on a lot of the environment and characters. The best way to do this is keep your original source file large, but change the import texture setting size in Unity to be smaller; this will be a personal preference to find the best quality for your game, but lowering the texture sizes can greatly increase performance.
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