Substance in the Mobile Game Dragon Land
While vastly adopted by AAA studios, Substance Designer and Substance Painter can fit extremely well with a mobile project, like Dragon Land from Social Point.
Discover why Luis Hostos, the project’s Art Team Lead, decided to integrate Substance Designer to the art pipeline, and which benefits he got from this decision.
Hey Luis, can you tell us about yourself and your background?
I’m a visual artist with a deep love for videogames and technical stuff.
Before working in video games, I had a job in a post-production studio (Motion Graphics, 3D). After that, I worked in an indie studio called Wake Studios: we created an adventure game for iPad called Hazle Dazzle.
Currently I work at Social Point: I started here as a 3D Technical Artist for a first person shooter called Jurassic Hunter. Now, I’m Art Team Lead for Dragon Land, our current project.
“When I personally discovered Substance Designer, I was blown right away. It’s a tool that feels like a missing link in the traditional art pipeline.”
Could you tell us about Dragon Land ?
Dragon Land is a 3D platformer for mobile, with a Free To Play layer on top.
Graphics-wise, we’re using Dragon City’s characters to create a 3D platformer spinoff. You can play with up to 10 Dragons, each with different skills.
The main path is a 7-episode campaign. You travel through different worlds, each with a different theme. We’re about to release Episode 8, an ice world, and already started working on Episode 9.
More content is coming, audiences are asking for it, and they like the game a lot. One of the things that mobile grants you is working directly with the player’s feedback, and being able to analyze it and respond to it.
“Substance Designer gives us the freedom to work without worrying about these questions: “is it tileable; is it seamless?”. Forget about that and be creative, experiment and see the results right away. ”
You decided to rely on Substances for the environment textures: what led you to this choice?
When I personally discovered Substance Designer, I was blown right away. It’s a tool that feels like a missing link in the traditional art pipeline.
I wasn’t always very happy with the idea of creating textures in Photoshop for video games. It can be really useful, but I don’t think Adobe is thinking of video game asset production when they develop each PS version. Try to make something tileable for example: you can do it, but if you decide to go back and edit something, you’ll have to repeat the process.
Substance Designer gives us the freedom to work without worrying about these questions: “is it tileable; is it seamless?”. Forget about that and be creative, experiment and see the results right away. You can start with a 256 texture and then switch to 2048 (if needed) without any issues.
Can you tell us how you use Substance (Designer or Painter) within your pipeline?
We use Substance Designer mostly for our environments, terrains, walls and some background assets. What I do with my team is let them create the textures the way they want, in a placeholder quality. For example, if we need a sand texture, they might use a reference picture, tweak it a bit for the desired result.
Once they have something that works visually, we recreate those textures in Substance Designer. That way, knowing what we want, we don’t lose time wandering through nodes. While sometimes you can do that kind of endless experimentation, we avoid it if there are deadlines to meet.
After the Substance file is created, we add variations – normally 3 – with different details, colors, et cetera... whatever parameter we decide to expose.
“Those 20kb Substance files makes our lives easier, and not only for artists: programmers also love this kind of procedural art. And, of course, the end users with their internet data plan.”
What advantages do you see in using Substances for a mobile game?
We can have really small file sizes, which is key on mobile. Our assets need to be downloadable through cellular networks. We save around 50% of file size per level when using it.
Those 20kb Substance files makes our lives easier, and not only for artists: programmers also love this kind of procedural art. And, of course, the end users with their internet data plan.
Here’s another thing: The App Store and Google Play have file size caps restrictions. Which, if exceeded, won’t allow users to download the game, unless they’re connected to a WiFi network.
Any tip you could provide for using Substances on mobile platforms?
Yes, even though, like I said before, keeping file size low is key, you will also need to be careful with the nodes you’re going to use, check their computation time, and be aware of those red numbers, because you don’t want to have long loading times. Not every device out there is the latest high-end phone. We keep the number of variations per level low – around 3 to 5.
Additionally, our game art style is cartoonish, so we are not using PBR, normals, height maps, et cetera. Just a diffuse output. Most of our graph nodes look really simple, because they are quite simple visually. It’s all about the end result when all is combined.