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Erana's Peace [ Final ]

Updated 7 months ago
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The quiet and peaceful village of Erana's Peace is visited by the most unexpected guest.
Hail Brethren!
Mutiny Bros. is an indie game studio located in New Jersey, USA. We are a small veteran team who wanted to create something new after our previous studio closed its doors. We are experienced Unity developers, who have worked on many Unity titles such as Deus Ex: The Fall (iOS), 1979: Black Friday, and Space Noir. We take pride in being part of the Unity community and like to surround ourselves with passionate creatives.
  • Anthony Velez - Creative Director, 3D Artist and Mountain Dew Connoisseur Extraordinaire
  • Carissa Isolano - Art Director, 3D Artist, Technical Artist and whatever else needs to be done around here
  • Christopher Dispensa - Animation Director , this guys been making things move since 2008
  • Raymond Hess - Lead Animator, his birthday just passed you should wish him Happy Birthday
Welcome to our entry to the Neon Challenge, a little village in a galaxy far far away, Erana's Peace.

Final Submission

January 15th

Story

Erana's Peace was once a beautiful village and a galactic trading hub for many different walks of life. Over time the village and it's people began losing direction, adopting technology to replace their old ways eventually leading to the decline of their civilization. Until the day when they are visited by the most unexpected guest. Someone that will remind them old their old ways and where they came from.

Screenshots


Concept Art & Inspiration


The world of Horizon: Zero Dawn touches upon a lot of the themes we would like to explore, especially the mixture of spiritual/tribal nature blended with sci fi accents. However, we'd like to push the bar a little further than explored in that game, as most of the races were wary of blending with technology.



A quick paint over of an image we liked to illustrate some ideas on where we can introduce cyberpunk elements. Our favorite was the "engravings" re- purposed as neon etchings on the wood.


Planning & Asset Store
Once we had our rough idea we began by doing some quick searches on the Asset Store. During this time, we remembered the Blacksmith demo, which featured some really nice set pieces in a fantasy world. Combined with the Viking Village pack, which fits great together, we quickly had enough town pieces to start building out sets.
The next most important piece was gathering a large amount of sci fi related props to set this world away from medieval fantasy. We found a sci-fi props pack that had some good materials we could work with. We knew they would be easy to edit to add emissive or tweak some colors and details.

We knew we kind of painted ourselves into a corner when we decided to do a town, as it would require a large number of NPCs. It was a tall order, we needed good looking character models that fit our world, but also that were generic or customizable enough to populate a large space without repeating too much. We looked into a few solutions, such as Mixamo's Fuse, which we have used in the past, but the clothing selection was just not going to work for this project. After a lot of searching we decided to go with the Fantasy Human PBR Pack. I could see the models and textures were perfect, the asset store renders didn't really do them justice. You can read some more details about how we rebuilt these assets in Maya as a huge performance optimization, down below in our blog posts.

Our scene was mostly painted at this point, and we only really were struggling to find a main character. We had some back and forth on who or what he should be. Even after we settled on a robot, we struggled to find the line between cute and realism. We entertained a lot of different avenues, from steampunk to super detailed hard sci fi. In the end we came to purchase a character on CGTrader that we consistently kept coming back to. We knew we'd probably have to rerig and make our own animations but since we had such a huge win on other parts of the projects with Asset Store, we were able to put more time into making the droid work.

Project Setup & 3D Concepting

We used Unity 2017.3 and set up our project in Deferred Rendering. We use Perforce here for source control usually, although we have had success with Unity's Collaborate as well. We decided to stay with Perforce because of the huge amount of files due to using so many 3rd party assets.
Something I usually like to do is bring asset store purchases into a dummy project, and pick and choose what I would like to bring over. Especially with source control sometimes its just easier and cleaner this way. However, we opted not to do that this time around to save on time. In the end I do regret it a bit as the project hierarchy is pretty big and the editor was struggling to keep active with Perforce and Refreshing content by the end. I disabled Auto-Refresh in Preferences and it was a life-saver, which is a great tip for very large projects.
Once we had our scene started I began by using two cubes for scale; a 1 meter cube for the droid, and a 2 meter cube for humans. These approximations allowed me to quickly see how both our hero and our NPCs would look next to all our assets. It also allowed me to quickly figure out our scale for houses and other props.



Once the scale was set I started by making a long market block as we knew this would be one of the dolly shots we wanted to accomplish. It wound up being twice the size of the final shot, but that's what white-boxing is for! When that was completed it was easy to fill in the surrounding areas like the bridge and the gate as they were in scale with the market area.
We did a lot of our concepting as trial and error in 3D. Most of our work sessions would involve playing with the assets we had combined with cubes and sending screenshots to each other asking "Do you think this is cool?" It was a very quick workflow, especially since we had two people and 4 shots to split between them.
During the time of building the environments we only had a very rough idea of what direction the cameras would be, and were unsure of their movement. To combat wasted work we did a lot of passes on world building. When we did our first initial camera pass, we had only about 40% of the world built, and a lot of stand in objects were in play. Our droid hero was a glowing blue sphere for more than half the project :)

Assets & Post Processing

Since our foundation started with the Blacksmith and Viking Village assets, we knew this would set the tone for any assets moving forward. We wanted to keep everything PBR where possible, and needed to make sure anything that was close up to the camera could stand the quality test against those assets.
Once our basic models were in place I wanted to start adding our neon elements. We had come up with the idea of Neon Viking carvings, and I quickly made some decals to place around the environment. Mostly on wood or rocks around town. However, quickly after placing them we realized the aura of the town was coming across as much more magical than technological. After a bit of thinking we drew upon our days of working on Deus Ex: The Fall. Human Revolution was a feat on many levels, but artistically they really nailed the details. Every object feels man made, plausible, and they tell great little stories in their set dressings. It was at this point we went back and created the LCD screen assets, wires, and junction boxes. We went into our town and quickly started to place hanging wires around, and instantly it started to make the town feel more plausible. We started to think about how these people would live here, what kind of needs they may have, and how they would make their living. The addition of this layer of props was a huge step foward for our vision, and thanks to prefabs it only took about 10 minutes of work before I started to see the results.
Overall, we were careful to control just how much tech and neon there was. There is a wonderful beauty about the wooden buildings and simple structures, and we didn't want to cover them up too much that you forgot where you were. We also knew it was really easy to go overboard on the neon, which would just become an eyesore. I think we found a great balance with the small LCD screens and tube lights as our "hot spots" of light.
We began our Post Processing by using Unity's Post Processing Stack (V1) available on asset store. I had played around with it a bit, but most of the work I have been doing lately has been mobile, VR, and AR so many of the newer features like this I had still yet to fully dive into. It was a breeze to set up, and I was really impressed with how well it integrated into Cinemachine, allowing me to control shot for shot how the scene looked.
About halfway through, however, I realized there was a (V2) available on Github. It piqued my interest because I was disappointed with our first video render, it looked blurry and compressed, and I felt it may have been due to the Bloom & DOF. I backed up the project and decided to go for it. It was such a great decision. The quality of the upgrades to the package was just what we needed. Our scenes looked sharper thanks to a tighter/cleaner Bloom. And the addition of blending between Post settings with volumes was really great for the few shots we had that blended between still and moving cameras. I've made a few games that require heavy cutscenes in Unity before, and one of the largest struggles as an Artist was always finding "the one" setting for everything that worked for EVERY shot. Those days are long gone!

Custom Asset Creation

We created all our ground textures in Megascan's Mixer application. We leveraged a few textures from their library, and set to work making some really great PBR "wet" terrain materials. There was a bit of experimentation between the gloss maps and Unity's reflection probe setup, and I had to alter some of the roughness maps myself to get the look we desired over "realism."
The LCD screens and wires were made, and both share a material. We only created one screen asset, and made two variations, one horizontal and one vertical. We scale them up and down around the scene as needed, as there's really thing too identifiable about it that it would look weird scaled.
For effects, we kept it pretty minimal this time around as we didn't want to detract from the main character and the already high presence of neon. For particles we created a few small ambient glow/dust effects to give some life to a few dull areas, and create a more magical and unknown aura. We used the Volumetric Lighting package available on Github, and integrated it as one of the last steps. It required us to go back and rework our post processing but it was worth it. The volume lights were easy to use, but they are very expensive. Overall its the most expensive thing in our scene, and if I had to do it again I would probably use less of them and create more fake volumetric lights for some of the more still cameras.
But I wanted to try as many new things as possible in this project, so I'm happy we decided to give the volume lights a go, as I think they do really add a lot in a few key areas.

Cameras & Timing

This was the most game changing part of the entire project for us. Like I mentioned before, we've had the pleasure of working on a few games that were cutscene heavy in Unity, and as artists we struggled to achieve our visions within a lot. We always hated having to rely on our programmers to make tools for every little situation that could possibly come up in a cutscene, and our team hated dedicating programming resources to make art tools. Cinemachine and Timeline have answered just about every prayer we uttered during those times.
Our team is really made up of artists, so I think we're a great litmus test for the viability of these additions to the engine. These tools were so easy to setup that I didn't even glance at the documentation or videos for the first bit as I was playing around with them. But when I did, I was really blown away by the quality of the tutorials offered. The functionality of both tools seems to go above and beyond what's even been touched upon here, and I can't wait to see what new ways we can come up with to use them in the future.
Timeline was especially valuable as there's always some material property or object we want to move during a scene. My only ask so far is a solution for grouping and moving a bunch of objects together. Unless its there and I missed it, this would have been a great feature as we did cut out a few cameras and shots through development. It was a bit tedious having to move 10 tracks one by one, and our scene was fairly small. I could see a really complex timeline needing a feature like that.
We were able to adjust all our cameras on the fly, and just sat together and moved them as the timeline played. It was a wonderful experience and the most fun I have ever had doing camera work. The tracking and follow features make for the smoothest camera animations you've ever seen. We didn't get to make use of the camera noise for this project, but it did look really cool when we tried it.
You can read some more details about how we leveraged the power of timeline below in our progress blogs. It was especially helpful in saving our animators time.
As I mentioned before the blending between post fx was a great help too. Overall I think Unity is on the right track that in so much of game devleopment we need to make things blend from one to the other, its all a giant lerp! :)

Audio

Having a good soundtrack or score is important, but without the time to create one ourselves the best option for us was to purchase one from MelodyLoops. Once we narrowed down the tone and theme we wanted to have we used Reason 10 to edit the track in order to time it to our short. It took a bit of work but in the end we were satisfied with result and how it felt.


Sound is just as important as visuals and we wanted to make sure we did our best creating both in order to have the best presentation possible. After creating a list of the sound effects we wanted to have we began digging through our own collection and FreeSound to gather what we needed. We did all our editing using Adobe Audition.



Video Recording

We rendered the video out using Unity Recorder, at 4k. It's a fantastic tool, we had zero issues with it. Here's out settings incase anyone is interested.

Scene View Renders


Asset List
  • Post Processing Stack v2
  • Originally used v1 and upgraded
  • Cinemachine
  • Timeline
  • Volumetric Lights
  • Viking Village
  • Village Architecture Models & Textures
  • The Blacksmith
  • Flag Models & Scripts
  • Environment Mountains
  • Foliage
  • Bridge Model and Textures
  • Sinuous Sci Fi Signs
  • Animated neon decal shader
  • Quixel Megascans Texture Library
  • Quixel Megascans Tessellation Shader
  • Fog Volume 3
  • Height Fog under the bridge
  • Realistic Effects Pack v4
  • Shrine Tornado Effects
  • Low Poly Space Rocks
  • Models for floating glow rocks
  • Sci-Fi Objects Huge Pack
  • Sci Fi Prop Models & Textures
  • Rock and Boulders 3
  • Rock Models & Textures
  • Ancient Fantasy Pack
  • Ancient Ruins Models & Textures
  • Trees Pack Vol.01
  • Tree Models
  • Fantasy Human PBR Pack
  • Human Male and Female Models & Textures
  • InfiniGRASS
  • Animated Grass for ending shot
  • Toy Droid
  • Model + Skinning Information
  • HDR Cubemap
  • Mixamo Animations
  • Using a humanoid setup
  • Music Score
  • Sound Effects

Update 4

January 14th
Big big big update. Much to write and share very soon. Here's a WIP of where we are at. Hope to finish final submission + write up tonight!
  • Ripped out PP v1 replaced with v2 and volumetric lights.
  • Base audio laid in (sfx, ambience, music) needs timing adjustments and further tweaks
  • Post processing profiles per shot need some extra tweaking, really happy with first shot, market shot seems washed out.
  • Ending is there!
Update 3
January 14th
We had to go quiet for a day here because we have really been working hard to further our submission along.
We've got a lot to cover this update!
Ok let's start with our very first video render WIP preview. This is all in Unity, as you'll see in the notes to follow.

WIP Video 1


Now let's get into the details. While my partner was hard at work on the final two shots, I decided to take a stroll through performance lane. We seemed to be running fairly well for a while, but then suddenly I was getting some pretty drastic fps issues.

Skinned Mesh Renderers

As I dug deeper I noticed almost all our rendering time was hung up on skinned mesh renderers. I know we have a few characters, but the numbers really weren't adding up. I was reporting something ridiculous like 900+ skinned mesh renderers. (Props to Unity for even pushing that!) Besides our main character, the only skinned meshes we have currently are our human NPCs. I had purchased a pack off Asset Store to use for time sake, Human Fantasy Pack PBR. The characters were pretty well aligned to our needs artistically, and they were already PBR which was great. Oh and the best part, they were customizable so I could quickly make a few variations.
However, in the rush of prototyping this together so quick I didn't take a close look at the prefabs themselves. Although the pack is probably very well suited for a Main Character in a fantasy type game, I soon came to see where all our frame rate was going to.
Every single part of the equipment was a separate mesh, which meant a separate skinned mesh renderer. Here's a Maya outline view so you can see what I'm talking about.
Well, you can imagine how quickly those added up in our market scene where i had at least 10 characters on screen most of the time.
I had some work ahead of me to rectify this.
The solution to fix it wasn't bad at all, since we're on PC I was less concerned with merging materials, and more concerned with just getting that renderer count down first. I set to work importing all the meshes for the male and female models into Maya. I recreated all their materials, and reassigned them. Now I had a base to work with, and from that base I created 8 variations of NPCs, 4 male and 4 female. I then merged each one to be it's own mesh.
I then uploaded all 8 models one by one to Mixamo and used their auto rigger. I was then able to bring them back into Unity, set their import settings to use Humanoid, and replace the old characters.
Our skinned mesh renderer count went from 900+ to around 14. And our framerate doubled in that scene. Win! I just wanted to share that story because sometimes you do have to put in a little work to make a purchased package work for your situation, and I think that's something that can always help take your project to the next level.

Ground Materials

Next up, lets talk ground textures.
I wrestled with how to do our ground for a while before arriving at our current solution. I was studing a lot of what was out there, and, importantly, what would look best for the type of challange we were entering into. We wanted something "wet", because, hey let's be honest, seeing the neon lights reflecting on a surface is just so important. I also knew that I had a lot of "ground" to cover, and was worried I wouldn't have the time to dedicate to hand sculpting all the terrain we would need. Plus, terrain may solve a lot of problems, but most terrain solutions are fairly limited in the rendering department, its always a trade-off.
After much research and trial and error, I gravitated towards Megascans. When it comes to High Quality PBR materials, you really can't beat what they've got so far. I was blown away by the quality of materials, and quickly started to experiment with a few. I want to share my process with you here, as I think it was such a great workflow, and a very quick and easy implementation.
Here's the megascan material I started with. It's already got some good details, a mixture of grass and mud, and a fantastic normal map. I knew I would want to tweak some things like the color, and displacement, but that's where Megascans Mixer comes in.


Megascans subscriptions come with Mixer, their own software to customize their material library. I started by opening up my selected mud material. You can see here what I tweaked my settings to. There's sliders for just about anything you can imagine.


This was the best part. Mixer has a button that literally "adds liquid" to your material. It uses the normal/displacement map so the liquid actually will sit in the crevices and valleys of your material. Its amazing. I shared my settings again so you can see some good values. The gloss took a bit of playing around with to get it to look right for muddy water.

The last step that really took the ground to the level we needed was getting Megascan's Unity Shader. It's free on the Asset Store. You really can't go wrong with that!
The thing that sets this shader apart is the displacement and tesselation parameters. Check out the comparison screenshot below where you can see the value this shader brought to our ground.

Animations

You can see in our WIP video our little hero is finally animating. We've gone ahead and done all the basic style walk, runs, turns, and idles. But we needed a few animations to give him a little bit of character. One of our favorites is his little curious peek animation during the market scene.
We hope to be able to really have his adorable nature come across in subtle ways throughout the story.

Neon Signs

We've had our neon signs in for a bit, and they've gotten some updates, but we really took it up a notch on the last pass. We're using Sinuous Sci-Fi Signs , an asset I really can't recommend enough. However, one of the shortfalls we saw was that his shaders needed animation work done to them in order to make the transitional effects work. We created a small script to help streamline this process, and kept it generic so it could be used for other shaders down the line.
The jist of the script, is that it allows an artist to select any mesh renderer, and animate any shader parameter quickly with a few preset options. (A lot of this functionality can be done in timeline now, but the ease of having it on the prefab and ability to instance or not made us lean towards using this method for now) Here's some of the fruits of our labor;

Cinemachine & Timeline

I don't even know where to begin with how amazing using Cinemachine and Timeline have been for us. We are all really artists here, with minimal programming experience between us. We have always been drawn to Unity because it places so much control and power back into the artists hands, and we appreciated that. Cinemachine and Timeline both just further this mentality, continuing the legacy of a great user friendly editor Unity has set forth to achieve.
I followed along with the Cinemachine Video , which is one of the best tutorials and overviews I've ever has the pleasure of following. I was up and running so fast. The ability to use only a single camera and have as many shots as you want is such a great workflow, its so much less cumbersome than many ways we have dealt with this in the past.
One of my favorite features is the ability to have a custom post processing profile per virtual camera. I've gone ahead and shared our Gate Profile, in case it could benefit anyone out there.
I have been really busy lately with Timeline. So much of our cut scene is handled in there, and its so refreshingly easy to use. Not to mention the ability to quickly move around timings and shots has been a blessing, as we like to prototype and rehash work as we go, as many people do.
The ability to keep objects grouped in the timeline is a life-saver, and I recommend it to everyone to give that a try. You can even use sub-groups.
I mentioned previously we were using an improvised root motion style setup for time purposes. You can see here how I've set up our main character. His parent mover positions him around the scene as we need (which is great for blocking out shots!) and his own animator handles his animation loops as that happens.


If you check out our latest video, you can see we have a lot of material work being started at the end. We plan to do more, but here's a shot of our timeline which handles all of the awesome emissive turning on during that last shot. Not to mention, the rise of the rocks are done here as well.


Update 3

January 10th
Today we focused on really grounding as much of the objects as we could. Previously, we had blocked in where many of the neon elements would be - but they appeared to just kind of float, and were almost too magical looking.
To start to combat this issue, we created some small screen models. The additions of wires to the scenes were really helping sell the technology aspect, so we made sure to include those as well. Here's what it was able to do to our first two shots;
For our transitional shot, we are still working on blending together the two different vibes. We have some interesting elements around the bridge, hinting at the change from a neon power to something more magical and spiritual. (Or is it?)
We found a great grass solution, as we wanted to use something to contrast the muddy, vegetation-lacking exterior of the previous shots. InfiniGRASS comes highly recommended and we can see why, we really look forward to using this on future projects. The shrine needed to feel peaceful, and whats more peaceful than a sea of meadow grass!

We also made a big jump with our main character, and got to use Timeline as well. We were able to make HUGE savings on our animator's time with Timeline. Instead of having to hand animate our little hero through the entire scene, which would involve exporting a blockout from unity and slowly animating him in Maya, we decided to take some shortcuts using Timeline.
The basic idea was we had our animator create only animation loops - like you would normally use in a game. A walk cycle, a run cycle, idles, etc.
We then created a parent game object, and placed our hero underneath it. We use the parent object as a stand in for root motion, and animate that around the scene where we need to.
Meanwhile, underneath, the hero handles his own animations, blends, etc. It works surprisingly well. Obviously for a long term project we would want to move to a root motion solution, but for time's sake this worked out very well for us!
Here's a gif of where our opening is heading, using the above mentioned Timeline method;
Also, we started to add in some more NPCs, and have some walking around as well;
I'll be finishing up the night working with Cinemachine which has been absolutely incredible so far. There have been quite a few times my jaw has literally dropped to the floor at some of the features, and the tutorials out there have been top notch.
I've got two basic shots set up (and even a camera fade, oh my!) I'm almost lamenting I only have around 4 to 5 shots to work with in the first place, because its just so damn cool how you can blend between them.
Must get back to work.. must catch up, sleep can wait... there's always more coffee.........

Update 2

January 9th
Made a lot of progress on the first two shots. You can really start to see the blending of two very different worlds.
We also finished first pass / blockout on the last two shots. These are missing more details, but overall the important elements have been picked, laid out, and a basic camera has been chosen.
You can also see how the shots are really contrasted from one another. Erana's Peace is full of loud, hot orange colors, and the shrine area is much cooler and quieter.
Here is a shot comparing out Post Process work. It really shows just how crazy some of our assets look together without something to help ground them all in the same reality.
We also have our main character chosen, and the animation and rigging has begun. He's super cute!
We really wanted to go for something that would seem out of place in the rest of Erana's Peace. The little robot is definitely something that would cause the tribal people of the village to stop in their tracks.
He'll have some more character in his face, but he's supposed to almost be "child like" in his look, movement, and curiosity.
It was a delicate balance between finding something that may seem "out of place" but still using something that looks like it could fit in the universe of our story. Honestly, that's been the overarching theme of most of our artistic decisions.

Lastly, here's some gifs of our townspeople NPCs hanging around talking, and a little shrine action.
Thanks for checking out our progress, I hope to post some more soon, but its so hard to pull away when the deadline is looming so close!

Update 1

January 8th
We're a little late to the game here, but we're determined to catch up.
Our story focuses on the Village of Erana's Peace, a market town far away from Earth. The people here resemble what we know of as Vikings, Nords, etc. They build beautiful wooden structures, and worship gods of both sea and land. However, because trade is so prevalent, the citizens of Erana's Peace have access to technology that otherwise may have never been discovered by their own people. It lends for an interesting blend of old and new, rough and sleek.
Although all manner of trade items may pass through the town, today a visitor has appeared that clearly is more out of place than anything else that has ever stepped through the gates. As he makes his way through the town, with a sense of purpose, we follow him and watch him bring to life an ancient structure that has long been dormant.
Inspiration

The world of Horizon: Zero Dawn touches upon a lot of the themes we would like to explore, especially the mixture of spiritual/tribal nature blended with sci fi accents. However, we'd like to push the bar a little further than explored in that game, as most of the races were wary of blending with technology.

Concept Art

A quick paint over to illustrate some ideas on where we can introduce cyberpunk elements. Our favorite was the "engravings" re purposed as neon etchings on the wood.



Unity Process

Mutiny Bros
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Contributors
Indie Forge
Game Developer - Other
Chris Dispensa
Animation Director - Artist
Anthony
Creative Director, Co-Founder - Owner
Carissa Isolano
Art Director - Artist
Comments
KL
Klajdi Lami
2 months ago
Wow all these games i've seen are so amazing! I was wondering someone like me with no idea on how to even start up as a game dev would go about as to do that?
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Alberto Luviano
4 months ago
Indie game developer - Designer
The game looks incredible and the info is super helpful, thank you very much for sharing your asset list, tips & techniques, planning & design decisions, all in this one post.
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Indie Forge
9 months ago
Game Developer - Other
Tsuyoi RaionVery nice work!
Thank you very much :D
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Tsuyoi Raion
9 months ago
Game Developer - Programmer
Very nice work!
0
Indie Forge
9 months ago
Game Developer - Other
Ugur IsterI like this one a lot =) The little fella is adorable, the story is well told and visually and on the audio side it is very well done, nice work =)
Thank you! We appreciate the support :D
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