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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.

Endnotes
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

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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.

Conclusion

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.

https://www.artstation.com/artwork/NB3Ld

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.

Atmosphere

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: https://pin.it/611Y2ey

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

Endnotes

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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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.

Units

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

Buildings

  • Static (grid-based)
  • Redbrick elements

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

Endnotes

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: https://www.artstation.com/annalenaweber

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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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

Concept

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.

Endnotes

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

1 Like

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:

Endnotes

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