MagicCraft Character and Weapon Customization Stages
Character customization is one of the most interesting parts of the production. Here at Devoted Studios, we are very proud of our projects and the opportunities we have to support them with beautiful characters. And we would like to share some notes about the production process we made while working on MagicCraft, one of our recent projects.
Before we actually got to 3D modeling, we started with creating 2D concepts to customize characters and weapons. The customization of characters includes two main levels.
Customization Level 1
The first level of customization is focused on the basic parts like colors and patterns, this stage is the early exploration of character looks. In the example you can see our basic character design and some of the pattern variations that we have explored. So this first level will include four different color palettes and two additional patterns as well.
Customization Level 2
In the second level of customization we include the actual new armor design. This is the example for Guild Wars II: as you can see, it’s basically like different tiers and various kinds of upgradable armor. The new armor set will be based on certain topics or dedicated to a certain event. So the second level is actually a completely new armor set or a new tier that the players would desire to get.
Examples of MagicCraft Characters at an Early Stage of Production Stage
These are a little bit more in-depth examples of what we have created at the very early stage. This is basically the first level of the initial design: the color palette examples and some of the patterns. When we were creating these designs we try to emphasize some of the accent colors and keep the overall palette consistent, so the character looks cool.
We also performed some weapon customization for this project. For the weapon customization, we had a little bit more room for creativity. The examples represent the early exploration of how we can actually proceed with weapons. Here we also take two levels of customization, almost the same as for characters. The first one includes colors and decor, but also different ideas and topics.
For example, the basic version of an axe can be rusty, silver, and have some runes, or the more advanced one can have fireballs and poisoned rune packs.
These are the six basic weapons that we had in the first MVP, some of the ideas that game designers came up with.
3D CustomizationBasically what we have here are a lot of variations that can be done with the same geometry and silhouette of the character. So basically if we change the color, the patterns, and some details, we can have a lot of different variations. We can achieve different visual color ranges of the same geometry so basically the process so far is actually based on this level of character customization.If we have an archer character and we want to create some more representative armor or different design staying within the same set of character’s silhouettes, we can also create some new geometry for the character.
The left side represents level one skin and levels two and three can be achieved in the gaming process. At the same time, we can create different color variations of each set of armors, and in the end, we will have much more variations of the same character.
This is very typical for NFT games where players like to customize their favorite characters more. Geometry changes are the best way to achieve this kind of stuff while the character stays recognizable.In order for us to preserve the basic silhouette of the character, we will set the silhouette boundaries so that we can have a recognizable shape.
As you can see, the options are numerous whether we plan to work with colors, patterns, or geometry in order to enable your players to customize their characters in different ways.
Because of the COVID-pandemic we’ve seen a lot of industries that were struggling with the new conditions of today’s world, while the gaming industry was booming. It created a lot of opportunities for many companies to strengthen their position in the market. The question is, how do you do it? That is why we dedicated this episode to learn what the whole process of raising venture capital is and how can one make their company attractive.
What are 5 the most important things to see in a company’s pitch?
Richard: The first thing I’d love to see is a micro-level understanding of what you’re building and what your right to build this thing is. One should ask themselves, what they know about this thing that very few other people do whether it comes from personal experience or personal interests, but it has to be something that keeps you motivated throughout the very difficult process of building a company.
The other thing I want to see is not in the pitch, it is something you get from personal communication and video calls. It is how founders interact with each other because it is so important to have a shoulder to cry on when you’re building those things because of many unexpected obstacles that can punch you in the face. It gives an idea of how founders would go through hard times.
I also want to get a sense of the track record of a team and its ability to navigate all of the challenges of building a studio.
And I guess we need to talk about a market element as well: if it is a venture-backable opportunity because there’s a tone of cool ideas that just don’t have venture-level scales.
The last thing I would like to point out is what your unfair advantage is. The idea can be very rare and unique but it’s quite rare to find founders who can not only find important insights from their experiences but also go and execute them. We have to be convinced that not only do these people sell a potentially very big idea, but rally the people needed to make it happen.
Let’s talk about investing in content. What is the due diligence that you do about content? How do you understand that this particular game would be interesting for users? Is it something that can be predicted?
Sam: Games are interesting because they are unlike films, TV shows, and a lot of other things that we’ve seen. With games you don’t have to make your best piece of content the day you release it, in fact, you almost never will. It is very special because in gaming you have an opportunity to refine, rework, iterate on, and really build the content experience which is going to be forever changing, particularly in the games that we are especially interested in. Games are being operated on and built over time, that’s why you just want to make sure that you’ve got the people that have the creative vision and edge, and experience to create and develop a game, but also ship a game, market it from its release through its lifecycle, build a community, and so on. Those are the things that are not available in other forms of content and are really unique. So we pay a lot of attention to that; we constantly remind ourselves that our specific creative preferences may or may not be determinative.
Let’s say I am an unknown founder or I don’t have a well-known team. If I want to go and raise money, should I build my personal brand as a first step?
Sam: We had a case of a project with two founders, one of them was well-known and established within the industry and at the first meeting, he introduced his younger co-founder, saying that with his 20 years in the industry this guy was the most incredible engineer he came across. And this is a very good example that by no means do you need to be a known celebrity but you need to really have the goods as a founder and as somebody that is backable. Even better when you’re somebody that the world doesn’t know yet.
Okay, I’ve decided my product is good enough and I have an audience and other elements to it that I’m going to go out and raise money for. Do I go and google “venture funds near me” or do I go to a consulting company and pay them some percent of how much money they raise so they do the introductions? Or do I go LinkedIn, and then how do I find the venture fund? How does the whole process work?
Sam: Richard and I certainly believe that venture is going to evolve into specialized sector-focused funds and teams of people that really have deep expertise in the particular area that they are focused on. And in the case of interactive content and technology, it is a relatively new thing that they are sector-focused funds. Even 3-4 years ago there hasn’t been such a thing as funds focused on interactive content, and probably this tendency is going to spread to other industries. So if you are a founder in an interactive sector, you probably going to prepare a list of companies that make investments in your sector. It’s still a small enough space in the universe of investors. You can look in Pitchbook which helps you identify which firms have been out there or which deals have been done, or ask your industry colleagues for a piece of advice or intros; make connections on LinkedIn or keep in touch with latest industry news.
As for the agencies, I feel like there are very few early-stage companies that are engaging bankers to raise money for them. There is only a couple of really credible and high-quality interactive-content-focused bankers, around there, so we have actually only a couple of projects in our portfolio that have been introduced to us through bankers. So if the company comes to us from trusted bankers who really have some trusted expertise in the industry, we understand that it is going to be a terrific deal. But the same strategy is not going to work with a pretty random or unknown consultancy firm.
Rhys, in your experience, does the founder have to be all-time on the road raising money rather than working in the business? Especially if you have a long-term product that needs investments and iterations.
Rhys: I believe that a good founder is always making the relationships and connections for the future, they are always having conversations, but they don’t necessarily go out and hardcore pitch to raise the next round until they figured out a kind of timeline. You don’t want to be out of money when you raise successfully your next round either; you want to have a little bit of cushion and you know it is probably a six-months process at least. So you just kind of do the backward maths, that’s what I’ve seen from the guys I work with.
Have you invested during pandemics? And what are the steps that you had before in your due diligence process before the pandemic and what are the steps that have been added to it because of lockdown?
Sam: I think we’ve made 20 investments since March 2020, so we’ve absolutely invested during and throughout the pandemics, the first batch of those projects was discussed prior the COVID-19. Actually, we started working on most of these projects prior to the lockdown. For those that we started working on later, the process depended on how the introduction was made. We either made the first call for real warm introductions to me or Richard directly. And most of the companies we’ve invested in are those we’ve known the founders before. But we also have a procedure that after a short introduction or an e-mail exchange, we give an opportunity to spend some time with our team so that we could have a closer look and evaluate the project properly. The team forms an opinion and shares it with us, and they usually know our tastes and preferences, so it usually works well.
Recently we invited Horia Dociu to our SpeakEasy podcast at Devoted Studios. Horia is a publishing art director at 343 Industries working on Halo remastering. Before that, he was a studio art director for Arenanet, worked as a cinematic director, and also was a part of Sucker Punch and a bunch of other studios. We had a fantastic interview together and have some insights to share.
Horia, the question for you. Do you think that there are a lot of opportunities to build a career in the video games industry?
I believe that now is the best time to be in the game art industry. It’s a huge industry with lots of technical abilities, game software, and instantly growing popularity. We have PCs and mobile gaming, consoles, and on top of it, the Internet is different from 25 – 30 years ago. There’re so many online resources: free engines, 2D and 3D software, as well as every type of learning resource you can imagine. When years ago you had to save tens of thousands of dollars to go to college and get a degree to secure a job, now everything that matters in the gaming industry is your portfolio. The best advice I ever received here was “Make your portfolio look like you’ve done the job you’re applying for”. And you can choose how to learn and improve your skills by yourself, either you take an online course, find yourself a mentor or use free tutorials on YouTube. Another great thing is that the gates in the industry are open for people who are working online, and companies hire people remotely, which means that you can have a full-time contract with any company, regardless of the country you live in, as soon as you are good enough.
You mentioned an interesting piece of advice on a portfolio. Let’s say someone wants to get hired at the Call of Duty team for weapons or hard surfaces. Does that mean that they should do a bunch of CoD fan art for their profile?
The teams working on the games such as Call of Duty operate like the whole ecosystem connected one to another. And if they need to replace someone who resolved a bunch of tasks, they will be looking for a person who has the work they need in the portfolio. You may be an amazing character artist but your portfolio would be skipped if they are looking for someone who creates guns. On the other hand, if you make your portfolio look like you managed to cope with the tasks that need to be resolved, and the results you’ve got match their requirements, the chances you get noticed are certainly higher.
So how to build a career in videogames industry nowadays?
A lot of people don’t completely realize that they are in the driver’s seat, and the choices they make on an everyday basis can lead them to their destination point or take them far away from that. Try to imagine where you want to be in 20 years from now. Of course, your initial goal may change, but it can become a North Star in your career. Let’s say I want to become a Pixar movie Director in 20 years. Now I can ask myself where a Pixar movie Director would be 10 years before that, and then where should I be in 5 years, year, month, or a week from now to reach this goal. If you can work back your goal like that, you can define what should you be working on today or this week that will help you to reach your goal in 20 years. That’s how you eat an elephant – one bite at a time because obviously, you can’t become a movie director all of a sudden, you need to take those tiny little steps.
Another mistake people tend to do nowadays due to the Internet and Social Media growth, is that they set up a goal to become famous. One of my friends, who is a teacher, says that all of her six-graders say they want to become famous, whether they want to make YouTube videos, Social Media blogs, or create video games. That’s a little bit mind-boggling because instead of asking yourself what you want to be good at, you make your goal vague. You never gonna get that fame without a clear understanding of what you want to bring to this world, what skills you need to master, and what sphere you’re really into.
All of these don’t mean you can’t change your destination point or career path. I’ve got a buddy who was not an artistic type and signed up for the programming degree, and then he switched over to art, and now he runs his own animation studio working for Netflix and huge companies. This is a very inspiring story about the success that comes after you figure out what you want and what are you able to do.
That’s true, your school degree and even your first jobs don’t have to design what you want to be and what you’re passionate about, and you can switch your career path any time in life. At the same time, you can use all the skills you’ve got and apply them as your background whatever career switch you make.
Exactly. And another important thing here is to set input goals, it is about changing your goal from the result you want to get to the work you need to do. For example, instead of saying “I want to lose 50 pounds” you set an “I make 50 push-ups per day” goal. And if you can reach that goal every day, you eventually may lose those 50 pounds or feel happier and healthier in general.
Well, there’s a system called OKR, meaning objectives and key results. According to it, the objective can be aspirational like “I want to run the stairs like a butterfly”, but then you define the key results that allow you to get to it.
I think that a lot of people have to work hard to achieve their goals, but what does it really mean? It’s not necessarily that you dedicate your whole life to your goal, cutting off your private life, giving up on your friends, and locking yourself in a room in order not to get distracted. I truly believe in sustainable work rather than in hard work. It means that you take one step at a time and do it on an everyday basis. It’s all about being realistic and setting the goal you can obtain, and growing those goals naturally.
As well as you can’t make a billion sit-ups at the gym one day and have a perfect body the next day, you can’t become a great artist all of a sudden. Some artists wait for inspiration to come and fail working daily, but if you want your success, you need to be dedicated to your goal and make one step towards it every day. That is why we establish those input goals and make small steps to get to your North Star, and with time that develops into a kind of a lifestyle. People may avoid doing something because their goal is too big to comprehend, while in reality when you split it up into everyday steps, you finally can go even further than you planned.
For art it’s like: do pieces, finish the pieces so you’re really doing the whole process, get your feedback, do it again.
Also, if you have the objective, you need to figure out what skills can help you to reach this goal, right? Meaning, that you can choose your own path to reach your goal and use your strengths instead of following anyone else’s path.
Yeah, I love this idea. Actually, there is a story about Milton Kahl, who was one of the greatest Disney animators of all time and an amazing artist. He claimed that he couldn’t draw really well. He just had high standards of drawing and remade his art as many times as he needed to achieve those standards. And he told that he struggled kike hell to make his drawing look good.
When you look at someone’s brilliant work, you only see the result. What you don’t see are all those attempts when they failed to do things right. On social media, YouTube, TikTok, or ArtStation you can only see a tip of an iceberg, the result which these people were happy with. You don’t see all the rough drafts of that piece and years of hardcore practice to get to be this good.
I think we should be careful with how we interpret the stuff online and remember that to do anything well means to do it many bunches of times.
What about feedback? Is it important to get feedback on your work and react to it?
I think it may be tough for many artists because we are very emotionally connected to the art we make. And when you’ve got a job with a boss who was previously a real estate employee, and they are not an artist, their feedback might be not as professional but it might hurt you. That is why I developed a kind of approach to how I relate to feedback. Even when people who are not professionals say that something is wrong with my art, I accept it and try to figure out what I can do with it. However every time I get negative feedback I tell myself that it is not about me being a bad artist, it’s about them being bad communicators.
How would you recommend working with feedback from a manager’s perspective and also how to build that communication between both parties? When one of them is not able to explain the mistake properly how to encourage both parties to partner and deconstruct the problem?
I think that you should start with a brief and make it really comprehensive with a bullet-point list of all the details that the work needs to have. And then an Art Director should come back to a client with a set of questions, such as “How should a player feel from the character?” “What is the emotional vibe the character should have?” because at the end of the day the art is all about conveying emotions.
Horia, please give some final pieces of advice for the artists.
Well, there’s something that helped me and I’m trying to do in my career subconsciously at first and very consciously now, which is trying to align three things: “What am I good at?”, “What do I want to do?”, and “What do I actually do every day?” It might sound kind of obvious, but it helps you to better understand your strengths and your goal, and your current position towards it. And if you want, for example, to be a character artist and draw superheroes, and you step up on a team and suddenly find out that you’re extremely good at technical stuff, don’t fight it. It means that you’ve found a new superpower. The technical stuff can actually help you to work on the game where the superhero story would be told.
And remember that if you are a hard-working person and a good team player, you might not be the most talented, but you’ll be able to get a high position because nobody likes to work with broadcasters.
Tramell Isaac is a VP of Art at IllFonic who worked on a Predator franchise released in 2020. We interviewed him about his job, projects, and character customization that sells.
Tramell, please tell us about how you started creating the game. Guide us through the first day of work. How did you decide to make Planetside 2?
This literally starts with people saying “Hey, we have an idea”. In my own experience, I have never been in a production where all of the pre-pro was done before production started. In theory, pre-production should be done to get all the things concepted; when you go into production you’re just making staff. But it never happened to me in reality. This particular project was made in 18 – 20 months from 0, so there had to be some concessions on how we went about building things. The engine itself was built while the game itself was being built. A lot of the things were made upon assumption because with this particular type of game having 5 – 6 hundred people on the server, you can’t test it internally. So we had to make a lot of assumptions about how the game would work.
What were the things you’ve learned on this project that you would never do again? Or otherwise, some things you wanted to bring to other projects?
Character customization is things that we have learned about the implant side. Without that experience, there would be no basis for it in Predators. This experience is a part of my story, I have learned how to construct things this way.
Let’s talk in detail about character customization. What are the key elements of building factions in the game? How do you design them visually so that certain people could relate themself to one or another faction?
Actually, it is a combination of psychology and visual style. The first thing that matters to most people is not a visual component, it is more about who they identify themselves with. Each one of the factions we created was neither evil nor good, each of them had its reasons for acting a certain way, and depending on the personality type people could imagine what they relate themselves to. One faction believed in science, the other one strived for freedom, and the third group trusted the government to find the answers and protect the citizens.
In the beginning, we had a really good split across the board, there were 30-34 members of each of the factions because each one of those people playing the game identified with the ideas of the group. And then we had to visually identify every group so that the players could immediately distinguish a friend from an enemy.
Creating the concept we decided that we basically identify every group with basic shapes – triangles, squares, and circles. We just took those shapes and expanded them to the vehicles, and armor, and that was how it all was born.
We ensure that we maintain those look sets within, and they might be completely blurred and eventually, those shapes start to round themselves out, so we start using “kind of a triangle” or “kind of a circle”. Besides, we used different color combinations for factions, and there are millions of other ways to do it.
How do you customize the characters so that you feel the difference when you pay money, that you have this armor or weapons that feel royal to you, that you either earned it or paid for it?
You start with making sure that every piece of content that you create makes a difference. I mean, you can sell badges and stuff like that, but if you have a jacket with a circle on it versus a square, it doesn’t really matter, it is still the same piece of clothing. Sometimes it needs to change a silhouette, sometimes it needs to be enough coverage. In Planetside 2 you would be able to change the armor on top of a character, and then add things on top of that: change the colors, camo patterns, etc. It was accumulations of the things you could do to make a meaningful change because in fact it’s a fashion show – I’m showing off my things to the other player, and if it’s cool enough, they want to get it. But it’s also important to make these items rare, some of them can be received only at special events, which will make them even more desirable.
And for me, as for artists, it is important to understand that even though I personally would not want some items myself, other people might desire them. For example, I would not buy a pink gunskin, but some other people definitely would do that.
How do you know that? Are there any methods to estimate if certain items will look attractive to others?
You should listen to what people say, this is one of the reasons why we did it inside the player studio. We made an effort to outreach to the community and find out what they want. And nine times out of ten they would come up with “I would like this”, “I want to see this in a game”, and then we would put it out and that would sell. So my point is as long as you pay attention to your clientele and to people that are actually playing the game, you’ll easily figure out what they want.