Wait, what ?!
Don’t worry, I’m not here to give relationship advice. This is not a warning to hang tight to your controller whilst playing against a game developer.
Let me rephrase: when it comes to their craft, game developers cheat big time.
Want to fake 3D perspective? Use isometric 2d.
Want to improve performance? Use LOD groups.
Want to create a creepy monster sound? Record a baby crying, slow it down by 300% and reverse it (ok I haven’t tried that last one…)
You could say that cheating is part of the creative industry as a whole. Filmmakers often change the lights and the position of actors between shots to play with the perspective. Sound engineers will record all kind of sounds to create fake soundscape. A friend of mine actually recorded himself jumping on his bed and used it to fake the sound of a sex scene in a film… (Which apparently was not porn).
But I believe that game developers are the cheat masters. This is because we can cheat at so many levels: the art, the audio, the game design or the code.
My latest “cheat” involves the art direction of the action phase of Rise of the Elders, an upcoming indie game that I’m working on. It’s a turn based tactical RPG in the universe of HP Lovecraft.
We’re a small team: two coders, a 2D artist and a superman designer / producer / marketer. We don’t have the 3D modeling know-how, so we decided to stay away from 3D. However, in order to juice up the game, we still wanted to use some fancy 3D VFX in the unity asset.
So we looked into paper art.
The idea was to start from our concept art and arrange it in a 3D scene (obtaining some cool parallax effects in the process). All the characters and the environment would be 2d sprites but the ground would be a 3D plane.
Some early concept arts
However, after a couple iterations, we could not get something that we liked…
It just looked… flat.
You’re probably thinking 2d sprites in a 3d environment? Of course it’s going to look flat! The 3D ground completely broke the perspective of the 2D concept art. I tried normal mapping to add volume, but it did not work well with our art style. In my opinion, for paper art, you either need a cartoon art style or paper textures.
So there we were back to square one. We started considering 3d assets on the unity store and a 2d top view. At this point, I was just banging my head against the wall. I spent a solid afternoon staring at my screen in despair. The 3D ground was ruining the perspective so in a moment of anger I just deleted it.
And that’s when the magic happened: the fake perspective was restored.
The developer rage quit: Removing the 3D ground
At this point all my sprites were just floating in a 3D space (the brown texture is just a vertical plane). But by playing with the scale, y and z axis of each sprite, I could cheat with the perspective. And since we’re in a 3D space, we can easily use 3D VFX !
We’re still iterating on the scene, adding layers of grass and working on the composition but we have something a lot closer to the concept art with sweet parallax.
Work in progress
So why do I call that cheating? Well have a look at my unity editor:
Behind the scene
It looks nothing like what you see behind the camera. But what matters is not what is in front of the camera, it’s what the camera sees in front of it :
And that’s why we’re allowed to cheat !
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