Greetings! As you may have heard we recently pushed out an update featuring a new world, a new monument to build, non other than The Great Wall of China. This is our first world update since the release of Monumental Failure. From a development standpoint, this makes it the first world that wasn't developed simultaneously with other game features. The creation of the great wall was a start to finish process, and creating it has been my sole focus for the last month.
I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about this process. and give you a peek into how a world in Monumental Failure is composed.
Before we hop into Unity and get game making, we start by collecting images for our art reference and do some designing of the world on paper. I have notebook pages and sticky notes with ideas for different levels, I try and select several that I think would feel good and write out a general plan for what the world's ten levels should feature. Meanwhile we use Pinterest to gather our references for the world's aesthetic features.
With an idea of what we want the world to look like, and what we might want the levels to be, it's time to head into Unity.
I had decided that I wanted the Great Wall to ascend up a mountain as the levels progressed. I started by creating an approximation of the final mountain using Unity's terrain tool. One of the brushes allows you to change the terrain to a fixed height. I created a "mountain" that was a staircase of plateaus each one 5 - 10 units higher than the previous. I then used ProBuilder to model a prototype for the guard towers, both the target base and the pushed piece. I placed 10 of these prototypes on the mountain steps I had created and then used ProBuilder to "build" walls connecting the guard towers.
I use a plug-in to export these prototypes so that Jess can import them into her 3D modeling program and start creating a detailed model of the monument.
Meanwhile I get to prototyping the gameplay features for each level. I generally am able to use Unity's simple prototype objects to get this done, occasionally I will need to model something with ProBuilder. When I implement mechanics, I am actually able to reuse and iterate on levels from worlds before. For example, in the Great Wall you get to drive a vehicle very similar to the one from the Bayon Temple, but this time you also get to control the movement of the crane component. I copied the vehicle over, made it wider to allow more controls, and changed the crane to a controllable fork. Simple reuse.
Once all the levels are prototyped, Jess and I do a playthrough together and try to figure out how we are going to go from prototype boxes to good looking levels. For the bigger stuff we tend towards modular props. Scaffolds made of bamboo and logs are easy to mix and scale allowing me to conform them to my prototypes. Other props require more individual models, like the spike ball mobiles in the Great Wall.
The playthrough process also reveals elements which require more polishing. As Jess makes the props, I will be working on adding sounds, particle systems, and any number of other elements to provide additional feedback to the player.
With the levels figured out I can next attempt to set up the environment. Knowing where the "level stuff" is, the process starts with sculpting and painting the terrain.
The terrain here was looking a little empty, so i created a second terrain to act as some distant mountains.
Convert it to low-poly Polyworld terrain and enable fog. That's looking better.
Finally, add on some trees and we have an environment.
The Great Wall introduced a unique problem in that the scale of the environment meant we needed bigger trees in distant spaces. This lead to a lot more work as I couldn't rely on Unity's auto tree placement.
Our final step is getting out colours good. When we started working on the Great Wall we had designed with a pretty generic, green trees, green grass on brown mountains colour.
By keeping our materials specific to the world, we can easily change colours around. Trees, sky, and terrain are all easily editable in Unity. Jess also does the lighting for the world. Most of the time we only use a single directional light (the sun) and the global illumination, usually using the gradient option to get a bit more dynamic lighting.
Finally we use Amplify Color to color correct the whole scene. With the great wall we specifically wanted to draw attention to the reds in the terrain and trees, and contrast that against the grayer colours of the mist and scaffolds.
I think the result is quite striking!
That's the gist of how a level comes together. I've certainly neglected a few steps: making the little vignette where you customize your team, animating the gods, making sure the hats look good, images for menus... there's a dozen little things that need to get done. Even more, while the process for designing each level is pretty much the same, all 10 levels are unique creations. Not only does each one have a set of mechanics and props, each one needs to consider camera work and scoring mechanisms. It adds work time, but it is pretty necessary for achieving the level of quality we have.
That said, I feel like we really have established a process for world creation and hopefully that means more world updates in the future. For now, go enjoy constructing The Great Wall!
Greetings! Monumental Failure v1.1.0 is our first world update. There is now a 7th unlockable monument to build. World number 7 features 10 new levels that challenge you to construct The Great Wall of China. Not only is the Great Wall a huge addition of content to the game, but it's also our hugest monument yet! You'll feel a difference in the size of this monument. The levels and environment are all bigger. At times you'll even be asked to control 8 characters at once. Good luck!
We're really excited to get this new world out to our players. Thank you all for your support on our game. We sincerely hope you enjoy constructing The Great Wall. Cheers and have fun!
Feature - Added new world, The Great Wall
Monumental Failure utilises a low poly aesthetic, a look that has risen in popularity over the last few years. I wanted to take some time and collect my thoughts on employing this art style. It would be nice if I could organise this as a discreet list of pros and cons, but in the process of collecting my thoughts, I've realised that the work of employing the aesthetic is not broken down that simply. There's a lot of grey area, there are a lot of small decisions along the way that informed the final look. So, instead, I'll be writing about these decisions, and you'll infer the pros and cons from it. Sound good? Well, anyways, I'm probably a bit ahead of myself! First I should define what I mean by low-poly aesthetic.
Low poly can be literally understood as low polygon count. When I say low-poly, I mean models where the geometry is obvious. This is consistent through the world. We have hard edges. Light hits the models' faces at one angle only, creating big blocks of colour. No textures. When you see a rock, a brick, or a log, you know an artist spent the time modelling it and placing it. That's it, that's our starting point. With that in mind, let's get going!
The first thing I want to point out is definitely a pro, and was a huge boon in developing Monumental Failure in the time we did. Simply said, there are tonnes of freely available assets for low poly environments. A quick search through the asset store will reveal plenty of low poly models ready for you to drop in your game. If you find models that aren't low poly, It's pretty easy to edit objects to look low poly, otherwise the plug-in Polyworld has a utility to do it for you. Saving time on producing assets, especially generic stuff like rocks and trees is such a huge plus. The only stumbling point here is ensuring that these free models are cohesive with the rest of your aesthetic.
Speaking of sticking to aesthetic, one of the questions you'll have ask is what do low-poly effects look like? Things like fire, dust, smoke, or water, what are their low poly versions? A strict approach, i.e. producing something that has the obvious geometry like we described above, would have required a wealth of additional time and knowledge. Custom mesh based particle systems for fire, custom shaders for water, and custom cloud models for smoke, are a few examples of things I would have had to consider. Instead, for Monumental Failure, I decided that people generally wouldn't find a regular looking flame or smoke poof out of place, and trended towards "realistic" looking effects. For water, in the end, I think there are 3 unique takes on water in the game, and each one of those probably took a good 3 attempts before I settled on something I liked. It's not trivial!
On the theme of natural things, lets talk terrain. A feature of low poly artwork with respect to landscapes is there is typically more geometry in the foreground, less geometry in the background. As your eyes move from rocks to hills to mountains, the amount of polygons that describe each object decreases. The problem we run into, is of course that we're creating a video game, not a static image. We have a moving camera, meaning the area we want rendered in high detail, near the camera, will be changing.
The obvious solution is to have the parts of the world the player will be near be detailed, and keep backgrounds less detailed. This is probably feasible for something like a fist person game, where the spaces the player occupies will be relatively constrained. This is harder top do with a game where the environments are larger and less constrained, or when the camera's zoom frequently changes. Both these issues occurred within Monumental Failure.
I'm beating around the bush; there's a bigger problem. Fully modelling every environment vertex by vertex would be too much work! There's no way I have all the time to custom place an entire environments worth of ground. I need a tool like Unity's terrain engine to easily sculpt and paint terrain. Polyworld is that tool. Polyworld also has the advantage of providing flat surfaces with a low poly "texture", again saving us time modelling terrain.
For me, the Polyworld terrain was definitely an imperfect solution. It looks algorithmic, detracting from the "hand crafted" nature of the low-poly aesthetic. I was able to reverse some of this affect by manually placing rocks and buildings and other details where possible. Additionally, foliage helps distract from the repetitive nature of the Polyworld terrain.
These before and after screenshots highlight another aspect of achieving the low poly look. Your colour game has to be on point. The colours of the scenes your game renders out have to be cohesive, they should tie everything together. This starts with the colours and textures of all the models in the game. We then had the skyboxes and fog settings to play around with. The lighting was key to pulling this all together. Finally, we throw on some post process color correction to get all the previous work looking just a little bit better. With Monumental Failure, it would be nice to say we had this all figured out from the start, but truly it was an iterative process, adjusting and readjusting until we were happy, or at least complacent. 😛
The last thing I need to mention are the models our artist Jessica made. I can't specifically speak to all the challenges of modelling in a low poly style, though I'm pretty sure I can say that Jess never wants to model another brick again. I will however, speak to the aesthetic quality of the models themselves.
I think low poly really helps achieve a look of mystery and majesty. It's surprisingly good at communicating material property, those towers are made of stone, you know it! On the organic models it works great too. Trees and grass are trees and grass, no doubt about it. Our human characters too, even with their super low amount of detail convey huge amounts of personality. Jess knocked it out of the park!
That's pretty well the summary of how we got Monumental Failure to look the way it does. Perhaps you're wondering, would I employ this aesthetic in a future project? Short answer: maybe! I think in a game with less camera movement and more constrained environments, you would reap more reward from the aesthetic. The low poly look can save a lot of time and effort realising environments, producing a great looking game to boot. I also think it has potential to be combined with other aesthetics, maybe your environments are low poly but the characters are toon shaded. Ultimately, this experience will help me going forward to inform any other aesthetic choices, and maybe this devlog will help you too.
Thanks for reading,
This will be the fourth installment of a series of posts on tools that helped bring Monumental Failure into existence. If you like this post, make sure to check out parts one, two, and three.
Amplify Color. Amplify Color is a color correction package for Unity. The store page speaks for itself as far as what Amplify Color does and which other games have employed it. I will say, Amplify was invaluable in pushing Monumental Failure across the finish line. It really gave us an extra boost in making the game look finished.
Draw Call Minimizer. This plug-in reduces draw calls in Unity by combining meshes of many objects in to a single mesh. This was particularly useful to help reduce the rendering load caused by the trees. This worked in combination with my own tree tool.
Stylized Water Shader. This shader was instrumental in achieving the water and lava in the "Raft Adventure" levels in Easter Island. Frankly, I don't think we do this shader justice, I definitely had to constrain it to fit with the style of rest of game. It was flexible enough to turn water into lava. Definitely recommend if your game needs water.
Well, that's it for today. Maybe you'll find use for these in your own projects, if you do, let me know!
It's the Hat Update! Monumental Failure has added 7 new hats available immediately. There is a special 8th hat that only the most skilled builders can unlock.
Based on some feedback, we have changed the way worlds are unlocked. Now, 1 star earned in a world will unlock the next world. This should make it easier for players to see all of Monumental Failure's content.