Smelogs Playground


Hi Unreal Devs,
In Behind the Design, we show insights about how we are designing and creating Smelogs Playground. We will publish a new Behind the Design post every week.

A quick introduction about us: We are Nifty Productions, a small independent company from Switzerland. Our goal is to create innovative and accessible multiplayer games.

What is Smelogs Playground?
Smelogs Playground is a Free-to-Play Real-Time Strategy game with charming aesthetics and a simple but effective gameplay mechanism. The player takes over the playful and rocky Smelogs to compete against each other for fun and honor!

Preview of Features and Visuals
This is only a quick and small preview of the game. We will go more into details in upcoming posts and share our thoughts about each feature.

The Technology Tree
Smelogs Playground utilizes a uniquely simple but clever technology tree, where up and downgrading is key. Units can transform into buildings and vice-versa.

The World / Setting
Smelogs Playground plays in a mystical, colorful Aztec world. Unlike most RTS games, we choose a peaceful and uplifting setting.

The Initial Base Editor
This is our solution for a common problem with RTS games. The base editor not only provides strategic depth right from the start of the match but also helps to shorten down the match time immensely.

We will explain how this is viable in combination with our technology tree.

Map Generator
Fair and simple, but still challenging: Our map generator tests the player’s ability to adapt and provides new obstacles (literally) every match.

If you have any questions or are interested in voting for which insight we should post about next, head over to our Discord! Smelogs Playground


How should a modern accessible RTS game look like?

Hey Unreal Devs,

One of the first design questions for Smelogs Playground was “How should a modern accessible RTS (real-time strategy) game look like?”

And what it shouldn’t look like regarding artstyle, setting, and the overall aesthetic of the game world.

For us, it was clear that we wanted a setting and style that is fun and approachable for everyone. That’s why historical war settings and gory elements are not something we want to include. We also wanted something that feels uplifting, colorful, while being distinct in its style and settings to other RTS games.

This basically describes a peaceful setting/world which is a bit counterintuitive for an RTS game. So we thought about how the game could work in an all-natural setting first and slowly evolved towards the rocky creatures. Since we needed buildings stone buildings and the Aztec architecture were a perfect match as setting and references. Since it shouldn’t represent an actual historical/real-world location, we decided to make it a bit more mystical/fantasy with a floating island on its own world inspired by ancient Aztec ruins.


Artstyle: Stylized aesthetics with hand-painted textures.

Setting: Mystical Aztec world in the clouds.

Concept / Reference

We saw this concept by Annalena Weber which looked exactly like what we were looking for. And she was available and keen to work with us on the concepts for the environment, the Smelogs (Units/Buildings).

We used this concept as the main environment reference.

Annalena had some great suggestions to tie the whole environment together and added some interesting and unique elements to it. Like the wire/root-like crystals that cover the area.

(Reference Image from the Ta Prohm Temple in Cambodia)

She created then two Concepts one of the floating island and one for the playing field, the Playground, which we will cover in its own Behind the Design post.


Besides the fauna, the whole atmosphere has to match. So we first created a mood board on Pinterest. We then used it as a reference for the environment, sky, atmosphere, and the overall color scheme of Smelogs Playground.

You can check the mood board here :arrow_right:

Things we wanted to include in the final world composition were clouds, rivers, waterfalls, and white swallows.


If you have any questions or are interested in the game, let us know on our Discord about what we should post next.

:arrow_right: Smelogs Playground


From Idea to Polished Concept

Hey Unreal Devs,

Today in Behind the Design we show the process of how we got from an idea to a polished concept that can be used for production. We also want to talk about which challenges and restrictions we encountered and what design choices we made.

Start / Idea

Right from the start of the project, we focused on readability, a colorful, distinct look, and an approachable art style.

Stone creatures, powered by crystal energy. The crystals represent the player’s color, so his creatures can be easily distinguished from other players. Where the crystals represent the player’s color and should be easy to distinguish from other players. Gray body color so it’s not blending with the tiled playground color and units have a good silhouette.

The first ballpoint concept was by the Game Designer.

(as good as it gets ^^)

Exploring different shapes and appearances

One of the keynotes for this was that the initial moveable base unit should be humanoid.

A head with two legs and two arms.

The design we selected was 7 (3). We also liked 5 a lot for a different unit type, so it later became the Obsidian Cannon, an artillery unit.

Further exploring selected designs

Then we asked ourselves: How soft/smooth the unit should be and how round? And on which body part the focus should be and the proportions?

At this stage, we introduced this design rule: Roughness/smoothness of a unit represents its upgrade tier. The more upgrades, the higher the tier, the smoother the unit/building.

High-Quality Concept

We created a concept for modeling and texturing reference.

Most important here is to show glow, colors, and the texture details of the Smelog.
The side views help to transfer from the idea/concept to the 3D asset.

More on this in the next Behind the Design of Smelogs Playground.

Summarized Design Rules

  • Crystal elements are colored in the player’s color.
  • The higher the upgraded unit/building, the more polished and smooth it is.
  • Tier 3 units/buildings have gold elements.


  • Moveable (floating, walking, running, rolling, etc.)


  • Static (grid-based)
  • Redbrick elements

The design of some units and buildings follows sub-rules.


Since we have limited resources, we have to be smart with the design.

Early on we decided that some units should share rigs and animations. And we reduced the amount of moving parts overall so we don’t require many or complicated rigs with just a few animations.
For example, we made the base Smelog an egg-shaped unit with no rig and simple floating animation that can be done via the material shader. And the Baller, the cavalry unit, is a rolling dodecahedron with no rig.

We only created one polished concept for the Melee Smelog as a reference for modeling and texturing.

All Concepts by Annalena Weber:

If you have any questions or are interested in the game, let us know on our Discord about what we should post next.

:arrow_right: Smelogs Playground


3D Art Production Units & Buildings

Hey fellow Unreal devs

Today we’re gonna look at the 3D art assets for the Units and Buildings and how we tackled some technical challenges.

Concept → Model, Texturing, and Material → Rig & Animations → Final


For full details on how we approached and worked out the concept, check this previous Behind the Design post: From Idea to Polished Concept - Album on Imgur

Model, Texturing, and Material

For the Art production, we worked with Thunder Cloud Studio (TC).

:cloud_with_lightning: Services - Thunder Cloud

A Vietnam-based high-end 3D Production studio. They’re specialized in stylized assets and have done work/art similar to what we wanted. So we made a (paid) art test to see if the quality, communication, and the whole workflow are good and work for both parties.

We had some technical requirements regarding the textures and materials for the Smelogs. To color the crystals that represent the player, we used an emissive texture mask and a black and white color gradient which we colored via a color parameter in the Unreal Material Shader.

The image above was the note we provided TC with. We tested it beforehand, so we knew it would work.

Rig & Animations

Some units share rigs and animations so only a limited number of units need to be rigged and animated.

We used a 1D blend space from idle to run with no walking animation in between, even though that’s unusual. But for Smelogs Playground we didn’t need a walking animation, since the game’s mostly played from a top-down perspective and units don’t have a walking state. The blended animation looks good enough for a walking animation if the velocity of a Smelog should ever be slower than running.


If you have any questions or are interested in the game, let us know on our Discord about what we should post next.

:arrow_right: Smelogs Playground

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Hey Ikav,

Hope you’re doing great!
Truly impressive work you’ve done here. The model designs for your creatures are super charming and beautifully done. I adore the feature you’ve added with the crystal colors representing which player the creature belongs to. Do you plan on adding more customization centered around player chosen traits?

Also, big thanks for sharing this with the unreal community. :sunglasses:


Thanks, PresumptivePanda,
Players can customize their profiles, their music playlist, skin sets for their Units and Buildings, and the announcer’s voice.

We will share more details about this in the following weeks. :slightly_smiling_face:

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What makes our Technology Tree unique?

Hey Unreal Devs,

Today’s update comes with fewer visuals :pensive: but covers a very important topic: the Technology Tree, and what makes ours unique?

Our goal was to make the Tech Tree easy to understand without sacrificing strategic and tactical depth, which proved to be quite a challenge.

The overall design rule we follow is “Keep it Fair and Simple”.

For starters, we put together a list of what we thought to be the essentials of a Real-Time-Strategy game. These points were what we needed to consider while building the Technology Tree.

:cloud:Fog of War: gathering and hiding information from your opponents

:crossed_swords:Combat: focusing on army composition and counterplay

:hammer_and_pick:Base Building

:chart_with_upwards_trend:Resource Management

:palm_tree:Utilizing the environment

:sparkles:Comeback and outplay potential

Then, we decided on the types of units and buildings we can’t do without.

Aside from the biggest building that can produce units, every good RTS game also comes with towers for vision and to protect areas. (For some: cheese tower rushes or cannons if you are a Protoss player ^^)

For Combat, we needed a Melee Infantry and a Ranged Unit, something like swordsmen and archers.

Additionally, a fast-moving Cavalry Unit is required for raids or catching reinforcements and stragglers.

Lastly, we would need a heavy Artillery unit that, despite being slow, has the range and power to bring down buildings.

When moving onto Economy and its units, we took inspiration from “Battle for Middle Earth II”.

Once the buildings are placed, they don’t require any player action and gather resources on their own. They would also serve as blockage to areas as is the case in Warcraft III, Starcraft or Ages of Empires.

But we wanted it to be easier for the players to spot any gaps. So we decided to go with a square grid-based player field. This fit perfectly into our Aztec setting too!

With that information, we created a big economy building (the Tog) that increases commando points like a Terran supply depot (Starcraft II).

Finally, to make the game more interesting and dynamic with juicy outplay potential, we added a hidden trap building and a teleporter that allows players to quickly move units (similar to the Nydus in Starcraft II or dwarves mineshafts in Battle for Middle Earth II).

Technology Tree Layout

We organized all units with this Technology structure, divided into 3 branches: Utility, Combat and Economy.

There are multiple units that serve as connection points between the branches, so it’s possible to quickly change from one branch into another at any time.

The Smelogs, no matter if they are a building or an unit, can morph into another Smelog and even go back to their initial base form.

This Up- and Downgrading system is what makes our Technology Tree special and unique. With one flexible unit, we keep the game simple with a low learning curve, but still challenging with many possible strategies.

We will go into how the upgrading and downgrading works in the next Behind the Design. Thanks for dropping by our ted talk! :slightly_smiling_face:


If you have any questions or are interested in the game, let us know on our Discord about what we should post next.

:arrow_right: Smelogs Playground


Upgrading & Downgrading

Hey Unreal devs,

Everything’s about upgrading and downgrading in today’s Behind the Design.

Every Smelog, no matter if unit or building, can be up- and downgraded. This is possible at any time in the game. A Smelog has up to two upgrades.


Costs Energy and takes time. On upgrade completion, the Smelog’s health is fully restored.


Refunds some of the previous invested energy and takes time. The health percentage of the Smelogs stays the same when the downgrade is completed.

This is why up- and downgrading at the right time is key to get the maximum value out of every Smelog – saving it from destruction, swinging a fight around, or cutting your losses.

Upgrade Tier

We categorise units by tiers based on the upgrades they have.

Tier 0 is the base Smelog with no upgrades. Basically a clean slate.

Tier 1 Smelogs have one upgrade like the Trap (Utility), Melee Smelog (Combat), and the Tog (Economy).

Tier 2 are all Smelogs with two upgrades from two different branches. Like the Baller (Utility | Combat), Ranged Smelog (Combat | Economy), and the Watchtower (Utility | Economy).

Tier 3 Smelogs are the most powerful. They are upgraded twice with the same upgrade. Like the Cave (Utility | Utility), Obsidian Cannon (Combat | Combat), and the Menhir (Economy | Economy).

The Tiers are also used for the initial base editor. More on this in another Behind the Design post.


If you have any questions or are interested in the game, let us know on our Discord about what we should post next.

:arrow_right: Smelogs Playground

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The Playground

Hi Unreal Devs,

Today we’re gonna show you, how the Playground came to life. Some key notes we had before we started with the concept were the Aztec setting and that the floor should be grid-based on a floating island.
Sketch by sketch, these ideas evolved into the final concept piece.

All concepts by the amazing Annalena Weber.


Dimension / Scale

One of the most important aspects of the Playground is its scale, which had to be chosen wisely. It needed to fit the desired design goals, considering aspects like time to reach an opponent’s base, the possibility for raids, flanking and other tactical maneuvers, the average match time, and so on.

Every match should test the player’s ability to adapt and to utilize the surroundings.

That’s why the map is randomly generated at the start of every match.

In next week’s post, we will give you some insights into the Map Generator.

Tropical Vegetation

The Playground is surrounded by tropical vegetation that took over the ancient Aztec ruins over time.


If you have any questions or are interested in the game, let us know. :slightly_smiling_face:

Fair and challenging Map Generator

Hey Unreal devs,

An empty playground is no fun. Let’s talk about the Map Generator in Smelogs Playground in today’s Behind the Design.

The map needs some obstacles that challenge the player’s ability to adapt and use the surroundings in the best possible way. Creating and using choke points or even blocking whole areas or paths off by correctly placing buildings can be a game-changer. Playing on the exact same maps over and over will quickly get boring. That’s why the map is randomly generated and follows some parameters.


:palm_tree: Obstacles

As of right now, the number of obstacles that spawn is random within a range per type but every type/size of obstacle does spawn. This may change in the future due to balancing and based on player feedback.

The generated obstacles are mirrored in both axes so that all players have the same starting position. This is done to keep it “Fair and Simple” and to ensure competitive integrity.

:classical_building: Initial Base

The obstacles are spawned around the Initial Player Base which requires a 7 by 7 tiles area to be free.

We will go into more details regarding the Initial Base and the Base Editor in next week’s Behind the Design post.

:sparkles: Point of Interest

The Map Generator also allows us to easily add other objects that can be spawned to make the game more interesting. What exactly that might be we have yet to decide. This could be speed/slow zones like in StarCraft 2, creep camps, capture points, and so on. Feel free to let us know what you would like to see!

1 Like

Hey again @lkav (and all of the Nifty team),

Hope you’re doing well and are having the happiest of holidays!

As always, your project is beautiful and phenomenally detailed. I’m completely blown away by the progress and dedication demonstrated with every update. Keep up the spectacular work and I look forward to your next showcase. :slight_smile:


Hey, @PresumptivePanda happy holidays to you too and thank you very much :heart:

1 Like

From Initial Base to combat in no time

Hey Unreal Devs,

In today’s Behind the Design, we’ll talk about the Initial Base and the Base Editor.

It was clear to us that it shouldn’t take long until the action starts and the player needs to make impactful choices.

That’s why we came up with the Initial Base and a Base Editor. This way, the player is in control to define the early game strategy even before the match has started.

Every player spawns with the predefined base layout and doesn’t know exactly how the enemy base will look like.

What is known at the start of the match is the location of the other players. But scouting is still important to ensure there is no rush attack coming or to check whether the enemy is going for a greedy expansion or an economic approach.

:hammer_and_pick: Base Editor

The player can place 12 Smelogs around the initial Menhir and use 12 upgrades on them.

On the tiles adjacent to the Menhir, no Smelogs can be placed and no buildings can be built during the game. This space is the spawn point for newly produced Smelogs.

Every Smelog except for Tier 3 Units or Buildings can be placed in the Base Editor. Tier 3 Units are the Menhir, Cave, and Obsidian Cannon.


Every player starts with the same amount of resources, even if a player chooses to use fewer Smelogs or not all of the upgrades. We are considering changing this depending on how good the Initial Base works. This could make the Initial Base and the Editor a bit more complex to understand, but it could uncover some fancy strategies. Let us know what you think. :thinking:

Happy New Year :tada:

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A strategy game with only two resources?

Hey Unreal Devs,

Resources and Resource Management is a crucial part of every Real-Time Strategy game.

To keep it simple and easy to learn we chose to have only two resources. One that you gather passively (:zap: Energy) which is used for all kinds of gameplay actions.

Having multiple resources would require more upfront game knowledge and more focus on resource management and balancing :balance_scale:. This would increase the overall entry barrier for players which we try to avoid.

And a managing resource for the number of units on the playground (:medal_military: Commando Points).

:zap: Energy

Energy is used for Up- and Downgrades, Unit Production, and to keep certain abilities active, e.g. the Watchtower attack mode. Energy is passively produced every couple of seconds. A fixed amount gets generated by certain Smelogs. The ones that can produce energy are the Menhir, Tog, and Watchtower. The last one only generates energy in economy mode.

:medal_military: Commando Points

The Commando Points are a managing resource. With a current Commando Point count (x) and a maximum possible count (y) x/y. To produce new Smelogs the current Commando Points count has to be lower than the maximum. Every Unit Smelog (moveable) counts as one Commando Point. Buildings like the Tog and Menhir increase the Player’s maximum amount of Commando Points. So the player has to manage and balance the number of buildings to ensure the army limit (Commando Points) is not reached and new Smelogs can be produced.

It’s possible to go over the maximum amount, for example by downgrading a building into a unit. This will stop the production of new units, similar to other RTS games like Age of Empires, SC2, and so on. The difference to other RTS games is that Smelogs Playground doesn’t have a hard upper limit for units. The Player is only limited by the amount of space on the Playground.


Mechanics to generate or use resources can easily be added later in the development process. We prefer to start small and build on a solid base. Later we can evolve the game as we learn from player feedback. This could also mean adding new resources.

If you have any questions or are interested in the game, let us know on our Discord about what we should post next.

:arrow_forward: Smelogs Playground

1 Like

Camera and Navigation


Hey Unreal Devs,
The Camera can make or break a game. Most real-time strategy (RTS) games follow a good standard, which experienced players expect from any new RTS game. So there is no reason to experiment or invent something new.

Below are the details and features Smelogs Playground has for the Camera and Navigation.


Most of the time, the camera’s rotation and zoom won’t change but we know it’s nice to have it. For a better selection angle, a better viewing field, or to just have a close-up of the Smelogs.

Other common features are:
-Zoom :mag_right:
-Rotate :arrows_counterclockwise:
-Center (focus camera) on a Smelog or group of Smelogs or location.
-Saving a location to quickly focus the camera on the location with the press of a button.
-Camera following a Smelog or group of Smelogs.
-Reset Zoom and Camera rotation (no one wants to play with a messed-up camera).



Border Scroll :desktop_computer:

The navigation is mainly done by using the mouse and utilizing the border scroll by moving the mouse close to the edge of the screen. The Camera will then move in that direction.
The speed at which the Camera moves can be changed in the settings.
Alternatively, the player can use the arrow keys.

Minimap :world_map:

A click on the minimap will focus the camera on the clicked location to quickly jump to the desired location.
More details on the minimap in another Behind the Design post.


If you have any questions or are interested in the game, let us know what we should post next.


Hey Unreal Devs,

To perform an action on a unit, like upgrading or moving, they need to be selected. And here’s how that’s done in Smelogs Playground!

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to selection and the selection modifiers. Besides multiple ways a player can select Smelogs, there are also modifiers to give the player even more control – something every real-time strategy player is already used to.


There are two modifiers to add or remove Smelogs from the current selection.

:heavy_plus_sign: Add to selection, by default Shift key.

:heavy_minus_sign: Remove from selection, by default Ctrl key.


=Single Click=

Hover over a Smelog and click the Left Mouse Button to select it.

=Window Selection=

This is an old classic. Press the Left Mouse Button down, draw a window and release it. Everything in that window is now selected.

There is one difference in Smelogs Playground compared to similar games: our window is considering 3D space and not screen space. (As seen in the GIF at the top).


Double-click a Smelog to select all Smelogs of the same type that are currently visible on screen. (Shown in the GIF above)

=Control Groups=

Selected Smelogs can be saved as a control group to get reselected easily.

=Brush Selection=

This is an experimental selection method. It allows you to brush over the Smelogs you want to select or deselect holding the Right Mouse Button down.

We wonder if players like this selection method. It allows for a more specific/precise selection (shown in the GIF at the top).


All Input Keys (Hotkeys) can be changed in the settings.

Do you have the moves?

Hey Unreal Devs,

Today we’re gonna show you how to control your units in Smelogs Playground and how we improved the system similar games use.

To perform a movement order, the player has to select the units that they want to move. Read more about selecting units in our [previous post]. (We covered the Selection in a previous post.)

There is a range of movement modes and combat actions that can be executed and even sequenced to make more complex maneuvers.

Radial Movement Menu

To make it a lot easier for all players and especially genre newcomers, we added a radial movement menu. When the Right Mouse Button is pressed, the radial selection shows up. By moving the mouse over the desired action, it gets selected and executed on the release of the mouse button.

Center = Move order

Right = Attack Move order

Left = Patrolling order

Top = Stop orders (Selected units will go into the “None” mode)

Bottom = Hold Position

This feature can be turned off in the settings. Also, all Movement orders have respective keyboard hotkeys.


With the Shift Key, you can give multiple Movement orders to sequence them. You can add different types of movement orders, e.g. Hold Position and Attack. Also, ready points/movement orders for newly created units can be set in sequence this is something most real-time strategy games still don’t have. This is great to make sure that reinforcements or the new vulnerable units take a safe route or don’t ignore and go past enemies.

:running_man:Movement types


A simple move to a location. Action units in this mode will not attack nor chase enemies. All the Smelogs with this order have only one thing in mind which is to get to the target location.

=Specific Attack=

This order is a bit special since it’s initiated by selecting an enemy with the Right Mouse Button to attack that specific unit or building. This attack ignores all other enemies. It’s indicated by the mouse cursor changing into a sword.

=Attack Move=

While Specific Attack ignores other units and only focuses on one target at the time, with the Attack Move units will attack and chase any enemy in sight and prioritize close enemies.


As the name says, the chosen units will patrol the given path forth and back in an endless loop and attack enemies in sight.

=Hold Position=

With this movement type, you can order your Smelogs to guard a position. They will not move but attack anything that is a foe and in attack range.


In this state, the Smelogs just stand around idle until an enemy gets in their line of sight. Then they engage in combat and start chasing them if needed until they lose vision or the enemy gets destroyed.

Minimap :world_map:

You can give movement orders directly on the minimap. This makes it easier to move units over long distances.


Hotkeys for Movement orders can be changed in the settings.

If you have any questions or are interested in the game, let us know on our Discord about what we should post next.

:arrow_forward: Smelogs Playground

Hey again @lkav,

Hope you’re having a spectacular week so far!

I’m always impressed with your updates and new features. The amount of control you’re giving the player with moving their units is such a fun and innovative decision. Can’t wait to play around with it myself someday!

PS: I’m a huge fan of the art style. Its stunning. :slight_smile:

Looking forward to your next update. Keep up the brilliant work! :heartpulse:

1 Like

Hi @PresumptivePanda resumptivePanda thanks hope you have a good week too. :slight_smile:

Glad you like it. The goal was and is to have an artstyle and setting that is fun and approachable.

The next update will cover one of the most important feature if not the most important one and challenging to develop. :eyes:

1 Like

I’ll be eagerly waiting for the next update then! :smiley:

1 Like