Designing the vehicles and landscapes of Heavy Metal Machines
Published a year ago
…or how we’ve learned to love the bomb.
Conceiving a visual identity for a competitive multiplayer game is a fundamental aspect of its creative process. From concept art to actual level assets, everything must be crafted to both adapt to gameplay demands and create identification between the community and the title’s lore.
As its name suggests, Heavy Metal Machines has deep roots in a certain musical style’s culture and trends. In this piece, I’m going to talk about how our references have permeated different facets of our art direction and which were our objectives during its inception and maturation.

Influences and goals

Heavy metal is a rich source of visual styles. It contains a vast universe that really shows its diversity when we focus our sights on its different subgenres. For Heavy Metal Machines, we drew a lot of inspiration from its most theatrical acts like Iron Maiden, Ghost and Alice Cooper. Since we’re developing a vehicular combat-based title, bands like Judas Priest and Motörhead — which often resorted to elements of the hot-rodded way of life in its concerts and music — also have proved themselves important for our art team.
It’s natural that action games which featured vehicles as a key factor, like Twisted Metal and Rock n’ Roll Racing, also were a huge inspiration for HMM. Another important reference for us is the Mad Max film series, especially for its post-apocalyptic setting.
The greatest challenge here, though, was to combine and transform all this material to create something unique and renewed. We were often reminded of the importance of character design and art style in the most successful games made by Blizzard — a company that we hold as a model. Think about how people got connected to the heroes in Overwatch. That’s the kind of thing that is crucial to the growth of a healthy gaming community.
In this sense, one of the goals for our art direction was to captivate the player not just with visual choices that could intensify the most interesting aspects of the gameplay, but also with memorable machines and characters with distinct styles.

Setting a course of action

Creating new characters and designing assets has demanded previous studies. First of all, as we’ve discussed around here before, we were revamping our game: once a MOBA, now it was an action-driven experience. The art had to reflect these changes.
The most noticeable difference between the two versions is that we went for a more fantasy-influenced style in the current game, stepping away from the realism we were trying to achieve before. This has given us more possibilities to create new, instantly recognizable vehicles.
The fantasy element gave us more freedom, but how could we make the most of it? One of our main concerns was to create machines that would be really different from one another. In this sense, Jungian psychology was a rich source of knowledge for us with its personality archetypes. For example, Stingray — who is based on characters like Goku (Dragon Ball) and Spider-Man — fits the archetypal figure of the hero. On the other hand, Metal Herald, “the ayatollah of rock n’ roll”, was based on the ruler archetype.
We also resorted to visual stereotypes during this process and we’d always ask ourselves what kind of vehicles were missing from the roster. For instance, Photon, one of the latest machines added to the game, is widely based on clean dystopia sci-fi. The Formula 1 influence on Black Lotus’ car is definitely eye-catching. We were able to avoid redundancy by combining both visual and personality archetypes.
I cannot forget to mention that the results of this process could only be achieved through dialogue with the other parts of our creative team. In this sense, music plays an important role in characterizing each vehicle: every machine has its own team based on different subgenres of heavy rock.

Art and gameplay

We’ve talked thoroughly about how we’ve created our character roster so far, but another fundamental aspect I should address regards the exchange between art and gameplay.
On a previous occasion, we’ve mentioned how our visual style had to drastically change to fit our brand new mechanics. Consider that Heavy Metal Machines has become a game based on car pursuit and combat — there are many more actions going on simultaneously on-screen now. We had to make every element, like the vehicles and its abilities, more distinguishable from the scenario.
Our previous arena was a desert, mostly based on tones of yellow and orange. We’ve changed this palette for the current stage, preferring darker and colder colors, like blue and black, above the previous ones, so the ground would better contrast with the fast-moving machines and their weapons — the last ones often feature particles with brightness effects. Players have to have a clear reading of what is going on during a match and that was the solution we’ve found.
Also, we decided to apply more complex shaders to elements of the new arena — like stones and debris — to make them more visually pleasing to the user. The ground still is composed of a simple texture with its own color scheme while these complementary components make use of shaders with effects of sephora and other factors that add visual refinement to the stage.