There is a saying that one shouldn’t judge book by its cover. But hey, let’s be honest, everyone checks the cover first ;) . That means that whether it’s a book cover, a movie poster or game box art, the cover is really important piece of the first impression you get from a new product. Even though LoG2 probably won’t be published in physical form, it still needs “box art” that will be used everywhere from web page, digital marketplace and game reviews to desktop backgrounds. In game business box art is also sometimes called key art. That means that the one image should reflect pretty much the whole game, its mood, story, setting, characters and on top of it all it needs to look really good to stand out of thousands of other images. Not so easy huh? The key art was finished about a half a year ago, so it’s about time to let it see the day light.

We started planning the key art when we got the LoG2 setting finally settled down and felt certain that it was the direction we wanted to go. In our case the key art helped us to focus on the chosen theme and gave us a good vibe and direction to follow. As the game is very oldschool flavored, I wanted it to be reflected in the key art also. So I started thinking of the things and mood we wanted to portray. It took some iterations of sketching to get to the core of what we were after. I didn’t want to use any photo based techniques or 3d rendered assets. What I had in mind, was the book covers that got me interested in fantasy art and painting in the first place: Larry Elmore, Keith Parkinson (r.i.p) and Brom. They are my all time greatest heroes and I wanted to give my humble tribute to their art, like Grimrock gives to games of that era. In perfect world I would’ve wanted to do the image in oil paints, but after reality check, the digital medium was the only logical choice. It has many benefits and one doesn’t have to wait for the pixels to dry. I tried to keep a painterly feel to the image and didn’t use “too perfect” tools that Photoshop offers.

I started sketching with the traditional book cover or poster aspect ration and then expanded the sketches I liked to horizontal format. Legend of Grimrock 2 will be on a couple of different digital stores that all have their own graphical styles. Some are leaned more towards horizontal images and some have more traditional vertical images. The different aspect ratios also gave some challenges to the composition of the image. I wanted to try to come up with an image that would work well with both horizontal and vertical images.


The painting took close to five full packed days to complete. It’s painted in Photoshop around 6500 pixels wide to help the brushes work better, but still maintain good enough computer performance. The image was a really fun little project to complete and we hope you guys also like it. We feel that it captures the feeling of LoG2 pretty well. I also recorded some painting stages to better illustrate how the image came together. Now go on and check out the big version of the final image.

 
Quick word about the current development status. We’re busy polishing the game based on the great feedback we are getting from the beta testers. I just completed the game the other day clocking about 22 hours of playtime with 48/74 of the current secrets, even though I knew the solutions to the puzzles of the first quarter of the game. So there should be plenty of exploring to finish the game 100%. In other news, Petri has been busting his ass off and he’s managed to optimize the game roughly 40% faster. So now the game doesn’t necessarily need super highend game rig to play. But I have to say that the minimum system requirements are going to go up a bit compared to LoG1. Stay tuned, next week is going to be exciting ;) .

 

Creating graphics for games can be quite technical at times. A game artist needs to keep in mind that there’s a finite amount of memory available for graphics in the game. In essense the less an individual art asset takes memory, the more of them you can have which results in visual diversity. Basically that means more varied wallsets, monsters, items etc.

Textures are real graphics memory hogs. That’s why in game art we use all kinds of tricks to keep texture count and sizes low. In this post I’m going to be talking about a method of using the same pieces over and over again to create multiple different assets without any new textures. Sometimes this is called kitbashing.

Exhibit number uno: Wooden supports for the mine environment


(click on the pictures to enlarge them)

I was tasked to create a wooden support structure for our mine wallset. The environment required multiple kinds of configurations ranging from a fence like wall piece with support pillars and beams to a bridge piece for connecting over chasms.

It wouldn’t have made much sense making every asset unique, meaning that every asset has it’s own set of textures, since that would have taken a lot of memory. The assets needed had also pretty big surface areas which means that to keep texel resolution (size of texture pixels in the 3d world) consistent, the textures would’ve had to be big. In grimrock we’ve aimed to keep our texel resolution 1024×1024 pixels per 3x3meters. (our grid size)

So with these limitations in mind I set out to design the assets needed. First we made a simple sketch of what the assets and the environment might look like with Antti. Antti described requirements from a gameplay standpoint and dished out some environment artist wisdom from his Alan Wake days. I also looked at some reference pictures of how supports like these are usually built.

Next step was trying to figure out what kind of pieces I’d need to create them in 3D.

I tried to keep the number of pieces to a minimum, and to figure out how to accomplish that I used a technique we call whiteboxing. It’s essentially just another type of a sketch, but in 3D and placed in game. Using this technique has the advantage of seeing very early on how the asset might appear in game and what kind of dimensions it occupies. Later after the high detail modeling is done, it’s usually difficult to make changes if problems like intersecting with other objects in the environment arise. For example, some of our bigger monsters might intersect through the asset while prowling through the caverns of our mines if the assets are not carefully measured. This technique also helps with making sure the pieces have correct proportions. It’s easy to make planks, nail heads, etc. too big so that they appear cartoonish in game compared to the surrounding environment.

My solution to making multiple mine assets from a single set of textures (diffuse, specular and a normalmap) was to make a collection of different sized planks, beams and some metallic binders I’d use to attach the wooden pieces together. It’s probably what you’d get from a trip to the hardware store in the grimrock world! To create the textured assets I took the whiteboxed pieces to zbrush and sculpted them into what I needed and then created game resolution meshes and textures from the sculpts.

After that it was just a matter of assembling the pieces into what I needed.

When I was finished with assembling the assets we could let Antti off the leash and create our exciting environments!

The added benefit of this techique is that these pieces can then be used elsewhere also!
… and in the case of this collection of hardware store material, everywhere. :)

Aaaand that’s it. I hope this was an interesting read and if you have questions just post them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them!
- Jyri

Aug 132014
 

As a ratling you may seem weak and disease ridden on the surface, but you are actually one of the most adaptable and hardy creatures in the world. You are hoarder in nature and greatly enjoy fiddling with mechanical contraptions…

As some of you may know, we’re introducing a new playable race in Legend of Grimrock 2. There is no place in the Northern Realms without them scurrying around. They have spread all over the lands as they seem to wander around endlessly and seldom stay in one place for a long time. Those creepy rodents are sometimes hated and feared for their scruff looks and contagious diseases they bear. But hardly anyone denies the fact that they find their way around the realms and that they are known to be some of the most seasoned creatures there is.

When you pick a ratling in the game’s character generation section, you get to choose your looks from the portrait gallery, done by our friend Emile Denis. Read more about the creation of the new portraits in here. In game terms ratlings have Strength -4, Dexterity +2, Max Load +15kg and are immune to diseases. Ratlings also get a chance to pick a special racial Mutation trait which boosts one randomly chosen ability score by 1 at level up.

But ratlings are not only found in your party. Like mentioned above, ratlings are everywhere and I mean everywhere, even on the Isle of Nex. Ratlings often enlist to ship crews and pirate galleys to roam the seas of the realms and some of them have shipwrecked and get stranded on the Island. On the Isle of Nex they have nested in the western parts of the island, but they often wander about the island but carefully avoid “The Boss”. Whenever you smell gunpowder in the air, you’re sure to know there’s ratling pirates around.

 

Hello everyone! The year is nearing its end but we still have some very exciting news to share! The Legend of Grimrock live action series is now on Kickstarter! This has been an amazing opportunity for us here at Almost Human and we couldn’t be more excited. The project is super ambitious but since it is helmed by the super talented guys at Wayside Creations and Chris Avellone (Obsidian Entertainment) is attached to the series as a writer, we’re certain that the results will be awesome. You can get all sorts of great extras and swag, or even Legend of Grimrock 2 keys, by pledging on the Kickstarter. Needless to say we’re really hoping that the campaign finishes successfully and if you want to give us a hand in it, please pass around the link in twitter, forums and anywhere else where there might be people interested in seeing a high quality live action fantasy web series! And a million thanks to you all who have already given your support!

But hey, since the holidays are soon here, all of us here at Almost Human wanted to bring you some seasonal cheer! We decided to devote half of today for creating Grimrock-themed Christmas cards (with the word “card” interpreted very loosely here)! Take a look and feel free to pass these around as well (for sake of fairness, I sorted these according to our seating order).

Olli:

Jykä:

Juho:

Jyri:

Pete:

Antti:

Taneli: (This is a Windows game, click here to download!)

Alright, that’s it. I hope you liked these! Next we’ll be taking a short Christmas vacation so we’ll see you next year and we wish all of you happy holidays and an awesome new year! :)

Sep 122013
 

This week I’ll talk about the creation of the gui for Legend of Grimrock 2. Let’s get rolling!

From the past experience with graphical user interfaces (GUI) we know that creating a gui that not only looks great but is also effortless and intuitive to use is hard work. For LoG1 we did many, many iterations before settling down with the final design (by scanning older blog posts you can see various incarnations that evolve to the final version). We are pretty happy with the original gui but as always there is still room for improvement. So, we spent a week with Juho furiously working on the gui and this is what we got:

The changes are not just eye-candy, some of them make the gui more usable. For example, you can now cycle through the characters by clicking on the arrows on the left and right side of the portrait. Also, the main statistics, experience, food, health, energy, protection and evasion are always visible on the upper half of the character sheet. With a quick glance you can now see whose character sheet is open regardless which tab is active.

On the visual side, the little drips of brown and green here and there remind of the new outdoor environments. A little feature that we wanted to do for Grimrock 1, but didn’t have enough time, is race and gender specific inventory panel backgrounds. Naturally now that we have moddable races (did I mention this feature already?), mods can define new background images for new races.

Like before the stats tab shows the remaining statistics, such as ability scores and resistances. We improved the layout a bit and grouped left and right hand statistics in their own boxes. As a new feature the percentile chance of scoring critical hits is now displayed in the stats tab.

(For the technically inclined, the gui elements in Grimrock 1 were manually packed in a texture atlas and the coordinates and sizes of every element were painstakingly entered in the code. For the new gui, I coded a simple texture packer that spews out a big texture atlas containing all the bits and pieces and a Lua file with the coordinates. The texture atlas has currently 192 pieces, so needless to say, making new iterations is now a lot less painful than with the old gui system!)

LoG2 will have many new harmful and beneficial conditions that your characters can have. The conditions used to be seen only in the stats tab, but the tab was getting a bit crowded, so the conditions are now indicated on the portrait. This is a very natural place for them, so I don’t know why we didn’t realize this earlier. Anyway, if you have any harmful condition the portrait rectangle turns red and by hovering on the portrait with the mouse you get a detailed list of all active conditions and their effects on the character.

Perhaps even more important than the character sheet is the attacking interface on the lower right corner of the screen (see below). We have also redesigned the attack frames so that the rune panel fits on the screen without hiding the little portrait and health and energy bars. It’s a lot cleaner now, especially with multiple mages. As a side effect the attack buttons are now a little bigger making it easier to hit them in the heat of battle.

Observant readers may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the Skills tab of the character sheet yet. I actually skipped that on purpose, because the skill system has went through a major redesign and I reserve the subject for another blog post! Ha!

There you have it, until next time! …And back to coding! :)

 

Alright, this has been a long time coming… I’ve worked at AH for about a year now and haven’t written anything to the blog! Naturally I should introduce myself before I start blabbing about other things so the guys threw me some interview type questions and I went on to answer them.

Please introduce yourself!

Hello everyone! My name is Jyri Ullakko and I’m an artist here at Almost Human. I’ve previously worked on games like Trine 2, Shattered Horizon, and on some mobile games back in the day when I was at Fathammer. I’ve also spent a number of years working at Fake graphics creating graphics for advertisements.
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Couple of months ago we posted to our blog that we were looking for an artist that could help us create brand new portraits for the LoG2. We received tons of applications, 234 to be precise, and I went through all of them. One artist stood out pretty early on. He had just the right style we were looking for and his communication was great and with reasonable rates, it wasn’t that difficult to select him to do the work. So, without further ado, let me introduce Emile Denis to everybody. -Juho

Several months ago, I heard about The Legend of Grimrock via some websites and several reports on tv. I was immediately intrigued by this game with an old-school and Modern side. After testing it with a friend, I really enjoyed it!

Then, last April, a friend who works in the the video game industry sent me a link saying “hey look!, I saw this and thought you would be interested in it!”: It was an advertisement from Almost Human who was Looking for a freelance portrait artist for the Legend of Grimrock 2!

I didn’t think twice and immediately sent an email with my portfolio, then, after a few days, Juho Salila give me the definitive answer: I am selected! It’s such a pleasure since I love everything related to portraits and characters! I was even happier when Juho gave me as a reference the Baldur’s Gate’s portraits (one of my favorites games)!

So after receiving the brief, I started to work:
At first, I started with the “Human” race, keeping in mind the realistic style and the fantastic atmosphere of the game. By default, when I start an illustration or a concept, I gather a lot of documentation. In this case, since they are characters, I always start to think about the character in question: “What is his class?, is it old or young?, male or female?“, from there I like to imagine an actor or a famous person who could “impersonate” the character, just to get a clearer idea of the portrait. I always try to have at least two references (like two actors, for example) for each character to ensure that the resemblance will not be too flagrant in the end, and sometimes I use some photographic references in black and white or with a special light to give more life and volume to the portrait. From there, I started the first sketches always in black and white, then I set aside my references, I refine the drawing, and once it’s completed, I color them.

When I started working on the “Insectoids” race, the approach was a little more complex: As usual, I gather a lot of references, and then I tried to build portraits with great variety of different insects. Then, I finalized the illustrations by adding some textures and playing with the blending modes of Photoshop to find the scaly and rough effect of certain insects.
I still have a lot of work, and I know this will be truly rewarding and fun!

I would like to thank the whole team for choosing me and I look forward to seeing the final result ;)

-Emile DENIS

Check out more of Emile’s work in his blog Here.





 

Editor’s Note: For the next couple of weeks we are going to feature a set of articles that should shed some light on how Legend of Grimrock was made. The articles range from graphics and animation to sound design and programming. For gamers or hobbyists we hope to give you some idea what game development is about. If you’re a fellow game developer hopefully these articles will give you some ideas for your projects. Without further due, let’s give the floor to Juho! -Petri

Legend of Grimrock has a storyline running under its hood and to help it get it moving we needed an intro sequence in the beginning of the game. Naturally some fancy big money cinematic was out of the question, so we had to come up with some more down to earth type of solution. Pretty quickly we narrowed our options to still images with overlaid text. That was relatively easy and fast to do, but allowed more freedom for the player to watch the images and read the texts in his/her own pace. Intro sequences’ main purpose was to set the mood and setting for the game with the help of iconic tune by Stakula (which we talked earlier in here).

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Wait, what happened to release candidate 2? Well, we have been busy working day and night and we actually did two releases this week. :-D The latest build or “RC3″ as we like to call it has now been sent to testers and if any issues are not found in the next couple of days this will be the gold build! Fingers crossed!

So, what has happened this week? Juho has been working on the trailer and it’s progressing well. Next week we’ll hand it over to Stakula, our man in charge of music production. Besides starring in a super secret video, Antti has been working on the installer and he has also been making so many builds this week that we lost count. I actually had to do a dubious deal with Antti, saying something along the lines of “if we have to do yet another new build before releasing the game, I owe Antti a beer, not just any kind of beer but some really nice imported beer.” Antti actually forced me to write this down on paper with my signature on it and he stored the paper somewhere in a secure place.

Aaanyway, back to the report. Olli has been doing paperwork for the launch and it now seems that things are finally nearing completion on that front. He would much prefer to work on animations but someone got to do the dirty work! Me, I’ve been fixing the remaining issues with the game and improving game balance and playtesting. Nothing big but things like adjusting the damage of spells and such.

Oh, oh, and we have a game manual now and some extra goodies too that we’re going to ship with the game. I don’t want to reveal what they are but it’s something you can print and it looks gorgeous :)

Some people have been asking about the key art made by Juho some time ago. There’s no reason to hold it back, so here you go, behold the magnificent almost default party (one of the characters have been exchanged, can you guess who?).

Ok, that’s enough rambling for now. Stay tuned for next week!

 

Adam wrote us and asked some insights of how we design and create our dungeon environments. I thought this would be a nice opportunity to demonstrate our asset creation methods.

First we of course need an idea of what we want to depict. In this case it’s some old mossy brick wall dungeons. At this point I search for reference material and maybe scribble something on paper like how the bricks are divided or the pillar silhouette. Color palette is also thought out to get the right mood and feel.


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