Designing an Enemy: From Concept to Model

Hey, Dominic here, artist and level designer for There and Back. I’m here to bring this blog back to life and to talk a little bit more about our enemy design (glimpsed in the last post!) and how I’ve been attempting to bring Oscar’s (our much better primary artist) horrifying enemy concepts into 3D.

First concept art of the Shambler.

Our basic enemy in the game is the Shambler. It works similar to the well-known Goomba of Super Mario fame, but with one difference. Patrolling back and forth on platforms in a predictable pattern, it is fairly easy to avoid and more or less acts as more of a mobile obstacle; unless the player lands in front of it. At that point, the Shambler will arch up, screech, and charge at the player, attempting to devour them.

As you might imagine, it’s a somewhat unpleasant thing.

Early enemy concepts and designs, by Oscar. I know this was already posted, but it's still relevant!

Our overarching goal for enemy design was to stick to a simplistic, but creepy look. Since the rest of our art (player character and environment) is going to stick to a dark and muted, but colourful style, we decided that making the enemies stand out would be best achieved by making them composed of thick, inky blackness. This also fell in line with our thematic goals, as the original concepts for our monster design sat in the area of what a child’s imagination transforms the shadows around him or her into.

For the Shambler, we wanted something that looked weak, perhaps a bit oafish, but definitely not unthreatening. We wanted the player to know that this was an enemy, and that it would kill you given the chance. The wide grin and glowing red eyes were distinct, unnerving and stand out from the rest of the game’s palette, not to mention the silhouetted appearance.

Initial blank and UV-mapped models.

The early version of the model definitely stuck pretty closely to the presented concept art, but after some feedback from the guys I realized I’d made one crucial mistake; our game is played on a 2D plane, and when the current Shambler model was viewed profile, the smile and eyes were barely visible. After some talking we decided the best way to correct was to tilt the face towards the screen; it might not look completely sensible, but neither does Goombas crab-walking everywhere, does it?

Close, but without a cigar.

So, with this goal in mind I began to tweak, tilt and twist, readjusting and stretching verts and faces, and re-mapping the model. I found these changes were actually an excellent decision (not that I doubted my team for a moment!) and really helped to increase the overall size and intimidation factor of the monster, while giving it more character at the same time. The face was suddenly more visible, and almost instantly our enemy had way more character. Even better, the Shambler’s ‘lil buddy from the concept art was part of the model now!

Way better, right?

I was far from done though. The 3/4ths perspective on the face just didn’t look quite right. It made the Shambler appear as if it was moving forward, yes, and its appearance was more defined, true but it still seemed a bit off. One big problem was the objects on its back. Composed of extruded squares with a different face painted on each side and transparent backgrounds, these objects didn’t have enough room on the UV and came out blurry, tiny, and quite frankly ugly. For now, I got rid of them, and focused on the core of the model.

"Heeeeyyy buuuuuuddy..." - My friend Jamie's opinion of this image.

By now I’d reached the full-on tweaking stage. Nothing remained now but to adjust here and there; moving the odd vert, merging some others, correcting 5-sided polygons (those are very bad for games, apparently!), and readjusting the UV map as needed. The ‘lil buddy became a little less smashed, and the mouth and eyes became more defined, as well as mobile and stretchable.

This still kind of creeps me out. So I guess I succeeded?

Of course, we’re still missing a crucial bit of character for the Shambler at this stage, if you notice from the concept art. Where’s all the stuff in his back? Why isn’t he all goopy and bubbly? As you saw in my earlier works, I had trouble making this look good. So Oscar gave me a really good (and really obvious) suggestion: Just take a flat plane, and attach it to the model’s back along the main “spine” edge up the middle. Make it transparent in the UV, and then draw in the objects sticking out.

And voila.

As you can see, it worked out really well! Suddenly our slimy little pile looks bigger, meaner and has a lot of character. One plan we have is to make four or five different UV maps for this character, with a different set of objects and patterns in the back for each one, giving this (fairly common) enemy a little more visual variation. We may end up changing this character more, but for now it’s reached a stage we’re all content with. Next up will be our second enemy, the Maw. Be on the lookout for that, as well as other posts by the rest of the team!



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