Abbey Games is working on Reus, a 2D God Game where you control nature giants to balance human progression. Can you guide humanity to utopia, or will human greed ultimately destroy civilization?
Abbey Games is working on Reus, a 2D God Game where you control nature giants to balance human progression. Can you guide humanity to utopia, or will human greed ultimately destroy civilization?
Following Abbey’s sole nun Marlies and musical talent Joni’s footsteps (or finger presses, I guess?), it’s now up to me, Abbey’s labeled Ninja Monk and Eating Champion, to write an article about my main duty on Reus; the art and animation of the giants themselves!
When I first joined Abbey Games, they’d been working on Reus for some months, but there was very little to show for in the art department and just about zero percent animation present in the game. There were just some basic shapes and layouts, and Maarten (and I think Adriaan as well) had drawn some early concepts of about 8 giants. Yup count’em, 8! Sadly some of them never saw the light of day, but in the end it’s probably for the better.
Now, please follow me through the progress on the Forest Giant (Which I think is still my personal favorite).
|1) Maarten’s very cute initial concept. This little ET/shaman-looking guy just didn’t have it going for him (although personally, I still think he has ‘something’ about him).
I believe he was still called the Wood Giant back then. Which would only had alluded to profanities, so this was changed to Forest Giant later on.
|2) My first take on revamping Maarten’s concept. I know, it doesn’t look like much right now! But you can already see the direction it was going. I tried to keep most of the key elements of the design, like the wood theme, the shamanic mask and the leafs. He did became a little more humanoid in overall shape. Since he became a lot taller, his ‘poncho’ became his skirt.|
|2.2) Here are some more sketches which defined that concept. I came across these when browsing through my art folder (with actual paper/not digital), it was a bit like finding a treasure chest!|
|2.3) The finalized concept. The Forest Giant amazes the humans with his stunning Forest Raising ability! To emphasize his life-giving and peaceful nature, he became a big wooden monkey. The monkey head was actually supposed to be a mask, but gradually it became accepted as his actual head.|
|3) The first version of the Forest Giant how he appeared in the debug builds of the game. Sadly I don’t have any clean images of this iteration anymore, so you’d have to do with an old screenshot. His ‘hair’ and skirt were also separate pieces that could animate. His ‘elbow leafs’ were also separate and animated, but this proved unsatisfactory over time and I decided to make them static (it became a small bush, not a single blowing leaf). He ALSO had animated ‘ chin leafs’ but for the same reason, these were removed in the revision.|
|4) A few alterations, complete reshading and some minor recoloring later, and thanks to trainee-Monk Mitchel, the addition of animating eyebrows, this is the Forest Giant as he’ll appear in the finished game (OR WILL IT BE?). Also thanks to trainee/sensei Rick for the rough reshades!|
|4.2) Bonus art! A nice close-up of the most handsome giant around! Don’t you just wanna cuddle up those big bushy sideburns?|
Now let’s talk a little more in-depth about the art. I was made aware from the start that we’d be using a skeletal-animation tool to animate the giants.
Since the sprites of the giants are very high-res (at least compared to the humans/houses/nature assets), this was completely understandable, since otherwise, if we’d worked with frame-by-frame animation, some PC’s might not be able to keep running at the preferred frame-rate and might cause overheating! With the skeletal animation, this means that every giant’s sprites only have to be loaded into the game once, as there are no actual ‘frames’ of animation. As you can imagine with skeletal animation, the giants had to be cut up into separate parts for limbs, otherwise there’d be very little to animate.
I had to keep this in mind from the very start of drawing the giants; even in the design process I had to deal with thinking how I’d separate certain parts. This actually game me quite some frustration, as I’d never be able to draw one big nicely detailed piece, because the shading and detailing would always be broken up by the animation. So yeah; each body part is shaded with a light source from the top, but when a giant rotates his arm around, the darkened part would be facing up, and the lit part would be facing down!
Being a perfectionist (I’m pretty positive EVERY artist is), I had trouble accepting this and had to think of ways of minimizing that sort of thing happening. But then, we’d be restricting the animation itself! Can you understand my double-sided blade dilemma going on here yet? But, that’s the path that was layed out for me, and I’d just have to suck it up and walk it. In the end I think we did alright.
When I was introduced to our custom-made skeletal animation tool, hilarity ensued. Because the tool was named Boner. (skeletal animation – bones – you bone ‘em – GET IT!?) And yes, you better believe it’s still funny even after nearly a year.
Boner was created by our lead-programmer Bas, with then-Abbey-helper Jacco tweaking and fine-tuning the program and basically making it more user-friendly for me. The fine chap was our Boner-assistant.
Sadly Jacco left us to focus on his studies and the two-thousand hobbies he has and I was left with something I could work with, but wasn’t perfect. There were a lot more features and short-cuts I’d have liked to have, but alas. Bas did answer my occasional plea to fix and/or include one or two features, just so I wouldn’t dive through the window in utter agony.
One of the biggest changes I suggested early on was the inclusion of a separate timeline for each joint, so the animations could be a lot more dynamic (It’d take another 4 months before I was granted with an additional feature to insert a keyframe on a specific point for all the joints simultaneously. But hey whatcha gonna do (I STILL DIDN’T GET ONION SKINNING THOUGH!!)).
There were a handful of tweening features, but to be honest they all didn’t work that well, so about 99% of the animations are a simple Linear tween. The Giants are enormous creatures though, so I think it works best for them. Can’t have them moving too swiftly or you’d lose the idea of them being, well, giants.
Looking back, I think I didn’t do to bad, keeping in mind I was working with a custom-made tool and I’ve never really done skeletal animation before (I highly dislike Adobe Flash. Yeah I’m one of those people).
Well that about wraps things up, hope you enjoyed my little insight on how the giants came to life!
Sometimes, dreams come true. With the completion of the soundtrack for Reus, one of mine has. I think we were about 8 years old when Adriaan and I created our first game-concepts, albeit on paper. We shared a great love for games and had plenty of day-long Super Mario and Sim City sessions. Later on, our ways parted, but we always kept in touch. When I found out that Adriaan was actually living his dream and was starting up a game studio, I was eager to join in the action, of course!
My dream to make games had long faded, though, but I had taken up a new one: music. And I loved the idea of creating music for a game. I had no experience and little musical education (I’m a homegrown band musician), yet the Abbey guys still gave me the opportunity to create the soundtrack for their first game: Llamapalooza (2011). As the game was about frantically whipping llama’s with Dutch, Peruvian, Mozambican and French folkloristic characters, I tried to make a frantic folkloristic soundtrack with some heavily accentuated pan-flute. It came out sounding something like this:
Early 2012, Abbey games took on a more ambitious project: Reus. I applied for the job of composer once more, loaded with more ambition as well. The guys described the basic principle to me as “an empty planet, which the player has to make into a prosperous world full of shiny, happy people, using omnipotent nature giants.” This time, before actually creating music with the single thought “It needs more pan-flute!” in mind, I wanted to have a clear vision on how I thought the music to this giant god game should sound.I came up with the “empty planet music” concept. Since there were no people on the planet before the giants made it any kind of livable, there couldn’t have been any cultural background other than the culture the inhabitants created for themselves. With this in mind, I thought the music had to be simplistic in arrangements with an ancient set of instruments. The focus, in my opinion, should be as least as much on rhythm as on melodies and chords, since people were probably drumming way before they were playing classical compositions, right?
Conveniently, this approach came close to the music I had recently made with my band OIIO. We had created an acoustic EP filled with six tracks that might sound folky, but were really groovy and rhythmical in approach. There weren’t many chord-changes in the songs and most of the time simply adding and removing layers provided the necessary dynamics, like in the song below.
I rather liked this folk/house/afro/samba style of making music, so I decided to try and convert it into game-music. I recorded some chords with a harmonium (an indian mini-organ) and on one evening in the spring of 2012 invited two of my bandmates – Timo and Jasper to record a little bit. I owe these guys some big thanks, by the way. Their style of playing the banjo and percussion respectively, hugely inspired me in the entire process of creating the Reus soundtrack. Anyway, that night in 2012, this is what came out:
First Reus music
The first reactions of the upper-monks were a bit sceptical. Since back then it seemed like a big chunk of the game would be played when zoomed out far from the planet, they had a more of a spacey soundtrack in mind. I cornered this scepsis with an (awesome) compromise: the music would be my proposed style of folky beat-music when zoomed in, but spaced out when… zoomed out! This meant I had to make two versions of every song: a space version and a normal one. The game would automatically crossfade between these two versions when zooming in and out, like it does in this early trailer
Cool, right? Yep. But it didn’t make it into the game. Why? Well, the importance of zooming out from the planet was later taken out of the game and it was just too darn annoying to have a musical switch every time the player zooms in or out. Another aspect of my initial vision also crashed along the productional road to Reus: recorded music. I thought it would be nice to have every tracked played by a small orchestra of banjo players, fiddlers and drummerboys, but I soon came to the conclusion that doing the soundtrack would actually take more work than all the other aspects of the game combined, which is a bit out of proportion. Maybe next time, though… In the process of killing these two major darlings, I had accidentally created an ideal working set-up for the soundtrack of Reus. Within Ableton (an amazing music-making program) I set up some sort of digital orchestra of midi-instruments that I used to get close to the sound I had in mind for recording with actual musicians: a bass drum, a snare in different settings, a darabuca, a tambourine, a shaker, an oud (it’s the closest thing to a banjo I could find), a ukulele, a violin, a cello, an upright bass, a piano and… a harmonium! That’s it! I decided this array of instruments had to do and well, it did.
From september 2012 until now I visited the abbey on a not-so-regular basis to work alongside the guys and girl who did the art, programming, gameplay and all kinds of other things I don’t understand. It must have been a pretty funny sight. Entire days I could be sitting in the office, completely zombified behind my headphones, banging on my MPD32 (drum pads) and my tiny midi keyboard. It might have been a bit weird for my co-workers, but creating music in an office environment seemed to work out pretty well for me. Within little time I made more than enough material, from war-themes, to uplifting tunes, and of course some very, very empty planet songs. Below is a small selection of songs that actually made it into the game. I hope you like it as much as I like the game (a lot!).
“Coderus Artus” (rare specimen) - (used from QIV – MMXI until QI – MMXII)
|“Primo Visualis” (used from QI – MMXII until – Unknown)
Just when I thought I couldn’t encounter anything flatter in perspective… Maarten drew the early versions of these houses, where the perspective of our game was not even an option just yet!
|“Flattus Perspectivus” (Unknown)
Here’s where the artist spent more time on the details! A nice and stable home, I’d say! But still flat as hell, we can hardly fit one villager in there – so they started to make modular blocks (the central part of the building can grow more floors) – upgrades!
|“Minimus Perspectivus” (Unknown, used until QII – MMXII)
A specimen which has been used for quite a few ages! Perspective enough to fit some villagers, but still modular in height. The first specimen I encountered alive…
|“Upgradus Perspectivus” (used from QII until QIV – MMXII)
The first design I helped to create. I was leaning heavily on the older designs, feeling limited by the game’s graphical limitations of perspective and flat coloring. We had a modular way of building our villages, so there was almost no freedom in the designs height-wise and perspective-wise. Still flat as hell, so to say…
|“Upgradus Perspectivus Additius” (QIV – MMXII)
We found the specimens to be quite common and lonely… We needed some other buildings, props and happy things to make it more of a village. Once we started to create these, we wanted MOAR!
|“Finalus Homus Erectus” (used from QI – MMXIII until present)
Our living specimen! A very colorful one, and has enough perspective for a happy family! Modular building is out of the picture, so we could go all out on the design.
|“Homus Erectus Neighborus” (used from QI – MMXIII until present)
The happy family now needs shops such as bakers and carpenters to provide them with everything they need. Designs go all over the top through these, and I absolutely love to think about the villagers that come shop for bread or medicine at these buildings. I think they will feel right at home!
|And with that, we’ve come to the end of this post on art – hopefully you enjoyed this trip down the ages!
In Nomine Tapirs, Filatelis et Spiritus Alcoholis! Cheers!~Marlies
I don’t know if it was something boiling in my heart for a longer time, or if it was inspiration that struck while watching this video, but Reus is a game that had to be made. It went with lots of ups and downs, so making it happen was, and still is, a crazy ride. Please embark with me on our journey of making a game out of nothing, and with virtually no money.
Bas and I were both students at the University of Utrecht (famous for Game Maker). Bas was an ace student, while I was an average one. See, the course was very technical, and while I’m extremely happy that I learned how to code (relatively well) there, programming was not my passion. Those were games, of course. I’ve worked on a few student games before, but nothing that interesting. Now Bas, he was the King of the Course, arguably one of the best programmers dwelling the university.
We met each other through DGDARC, the Dutch Game Development and Research Club, where I was that year’s chairman, in the second half of 2011. I picked up a lot of organisational skills on the way, and we first started working together in a game jam I organized with DGDARC. See, I had a rare skill (at least, rare on the university), and that was my ability to draw something decent-looking. We created our first game (Momo and Mia, a co-op platformer) that I thought was pretty fun. From that moment on, we kind of knew that we shared the same goal (make original games), and we could REALLY use each other’s skills.
In the background, we also met Maarten, who was a member of DGDARC, and Manuel, who also participated in that game jam. After a few projects together (most notably, Llamapalooza which still hangs around here on the website), Bas and I decided to do something a little bit bigger. Reus was born. We could live from the student loans our government provides, while we make this game in like half a year in the basement of the university. Of course I was a complete idiot to think we could do this in 6 months with only 2 guys working for free. Luckily, we quickly realized this, and added two of the most talented people we knew to our team: Maarten and Manuel.
Together we started thinking about a company, which started with the name “Martian Flytrap” but was quickly turned into “Abbey Games”. We wanted the name to reflect our care and craftsmanship, just like abbey wine. Behind the screens, Bas was already actively trying to get a spot at the famous Dutch Game Garden. The Dutch Game Garden is an incubator that hosts a few of the coolest Dutch Game studios, like Vlambeer and Ronimo. Surprisingly, we got a spot in April 2012, which was a very big step for us! Spots for the Dutch Game Garden were extremely limited, and we were super lucky that the folks there saw potential in us! We collected some money from our savings to pay the rent and officially start the company. In April we moved into our new office…which was directly next to both Ronimo and Vlambeer! Awesome!
In this time, we made a big shift towards being more than just some fanatic students. We started working with other people, who joined us in our goldrush. They, just like us, work for free, in the hope that we would sell something. Of course, we had no money for computers, so everyone had to bring his own laptop. Our art got a lot better, and we had to think about agreements, profits and the market. People were now officially counting on us!
From there on, it went really fast. The Dutch Game Garden helped us become better game-developers and better entrepreneurs. The game got up for testing several times, and we went to Gamescom in Köln to speak with big distribution parties. The game became better and better, while we learned from our mistakes regarding taxes and organisation. After 8 months we started with PR, with a less than optimal teaser. We learned a lot from the mistakes we made there, and it’s super fortunate that we started out so early. We were backed up in our endeavor by a team of creative artists, crafty coders and talented interns.
Finally, it was January of 2013. From that moment on, things went amazingly big. We could not have hoped for the attention that we got. All in all, we now are super excited about the future of Reus and Abbey Games, even though we started with practically nothing. However, it’s all very scary too. Can we make it true? Are the anticipations running too rampant? I have to work harder to make stuff happen! It’s a mix of joy, anticipation, anxiety and stress. But I’m absolutely loving it.
Thanks for reading, and we sincerely hope that we can create something awesome for you!
How is it that in two days time we created four games, while Reus is already taking more than a year? Last week we threw our time-consuming aims of polish and quality temporarily out of the window and hosted the Abbey Jam. The Abbey Jam is meant as a creative burst where everyone who normally works on Reus, instead works on something new, only constrained by three things:
Indigo is the Dutch game festival which runs this Friday and Saturday. We are invited to show Reus and it will be the first time that we’re showing Reus to the public, consisting of you and everyone else that wants to see it. You can imagine our excitement/nervousness. We try to convert these emotions into hardcore dev-hours, so we haven’t been updating the websites for a while. So let’s start fixing this with our 17-seconds teaser.
Our goal for Indigo is to have Reus stand on its own two feet. Between the start of the development and today, quite a few people have seen and played Reus at our office through playtests or unexpected visits (you may or may not interpret this as an invite). However, we were always there to support Reus’ lack of interface and feedback. Occasionally we were unable to stop ourselves from defending Reus against honest and critical opinions. Now the time has come for Reus to walk the rope without security lines. Naturally, we hope people will be amazed.
What about the content? What’s going to be in the Indigo build?
The demo is going to feature the first three giants, which will be Forest Giant, Rock Giant and Ocean Giant. Even though Reus is meant for play sessions of at least one hour, we’re trying to stuff a lot of it in the 5 to 10 minutes people will play at Indigo. This means you will have time for exploring some of the giant’s powers, as well as having your first encounter with humanity. Depending on how fast you pick up the controls, you will have some spare time to create a few different biotopes.
We’ll finish with a wallpaper of the demo’s cast. And if you want to see more, come join us at the Utrecht city hall at Saturday ;)
Ever looked at someone playing a game, and thought:”What could possibly be fun about that?” It could be a game that hardcore gamers seem to have a grudge against, like football managers or a horse game. If you’re more of a casual gamer, you’re more likely to say this about hardcore games like Civilization, Call of Duty or Starcraft. You might put this difference down to a matter of taste. There is a kind game for everyone. This is true, but I think the thing that decides this is not the gameplay, but the theme. Theme can even turn games that look dull and boring on paper into blockbusting powerhouses, like Football Manager. So here are some reasons why you as a designer should absolutely care about theme!
Tell me more…
We’re back in hardcore development for a week now. Gamescom strengthened us in our belief that people are interested in liking our game. Bas, Maarten and I ran around in the business and entertainment area for three full days to tell as many people as possible about our game. We went to distributors, publishers, developers, interviewers, marketeers, booth babes and random people to talk their ears off, just leaving enough time for taking in all the feedback.
We don’t have a picture with all three of our faces, so here is a picture of Adriaan.
Actually Nisute did make a picture of Bas, Maarten and me :p
To give you a feeling of what our conversations were like, here is how they usually started:
Oh yes! We are actually working on the game as well. This is what we mean with terrascaping: