Farpoint: How to Make a Game with Substance
This week we have the chance to look at one of the most interesting games announced for PSVR with Randy Nolta. We will talk with him about Farpoint and then dive in a more detailed tutorial on how Impulse Gear used Substance.
Hey, Randy! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hey there! I’m Randy Nolta, Co-Founder and Art Director of Impulse Gear.
I’m primarily a generalist, but I have a focus on hard surface modeling, asset implementation, shaders and lighting. I also do weapons modeling/materials/animation, environment modeling/sculpting, environment/character lighting, world building, in-engine shader creation, UI implementation, marketing art creation and more.
At Impulse Gear, we’re a 15-person studio developing Farpoint for the PlayStation VR headset. Our team consists of seven artists. We have one concept artist, one animator, one character artist, one VFX artist, two environment artists and myself. We’re such a small team trying to create a large experience for an entirely new platform, so our team members must be multi-faceted self-starters.
How did you discover Allegorithmic and the Substance software?
I’ve been following Allegorithmic since the first GDC where Substance Designer was shown. After watching a short demo on the show floor I was instantly intrigued about what Substance could bring to the industry over time, and I’ve followed development ever since.
What is your favorite thing when working on Farpoint?
I really love how ‘fresh’ it can feel when actually trying out a newly created space in virtual reality. Farpoint’s use of the PlayStation VR Aim controller really places you into the world of Farpoint in a way that I just haven’t felt before. Turning a newly created weapon over in your hands for the first time feels really special. I can honestly say, even after developing Farpoint for nearly 2 years, that I can’t wait to play to the final product.
What are the challenges/different approaches when texturing for a VR game?
Details matter. In virtual reality, you can move your head so much closer to surfaces than you can typically in a regular game. We’re really still just exploring the surface of this topic at Impulse Gear, but things like fading in higher levels of detail as the player moves their head closer to an object, can go a long way in adding to the believability of the world.
How do you achieve such great visual quality in a VR world?
During Farpoint’s development we went through multiple stylistic stages. We ended up arriving at a fairly vibrant color palette with high contrast lighting. From the distance we wanted the large shapes, colors, and lighting to be strong. It took some time to arrive at the right look for our target platforms resolution. We’ve made it a point to try to control when high frequency details are presented to the player as details at a distance can become very noisy.
What is the biggest challenge when working on projects?
Our biggest challenge working on Farpoint has been building a large multi-hour game with such a small team. We’ve had great success using custom Substances to produce utility maps specific to our UE4 shaders and we’ve saved large amounts of time using material presets.
Tell us more about your workflow between Substance and your other tools. How do you integrate everything?
For Farpoint, we’re primarily using Substance tools for creating our materials and masks. The majority of our material and distance-based blends all come together in Unreal with the masks and materials that we generate from Substance.
What did Substance bring to you compared to previous workflow?
Substance delivers tools that allow us to quickly iterate on materials while also maintaining a level of consistency between artists. We currently make use of masks and material presets to quickly and efficiently texture assets that should share similar materials or wear patterns throughout the game.
Do you have some cool Substance related tips and tricks you want to share with the community?
Many of the enemy types in Farpoint require multiple aesthetic changes to their textures and geometry, to reflect events that are triggered by gameplay and story. Substance Painter makes this enjoyable with custom smart materials creation and particle brushes. Before we discuss those two topics, I wanted to give you a very brief overview into our unique character creation pipeline for Farpoint.
Character Creation in Farpoint
We work fast. As a character artist, I usually have an initial concept to begin sculpting from that is provided by our concept artist. It is extremely important to note that this initial concept will change as development continues in order to accommodate needs from other departments. Once the initial concept has been blocked out in a sculpt, I evaluate how the sculpture’s silhouette, forms, and contours are communicated in 3D.
Next, I immediately focus on creating a proxy mesh that I deliver to our animator so he can build the rig and get the character in-engine ASAP. This proxy mesh must be resurfaced and unwrapped before I hand it off. I do this because the team needs to see the character represented in-engine with proper values, colors, and materials to further determine if changes are needed in any aspect of the design.
Each character will receive this treatment before I go back and put the finishing touches to the final in-game model. In fact, the boss shown in our E3 announcement trailer (above) was still in its proxy form. Since there was no initial concept art for the boss spider, we asked our concept artist do a pass on what the final in-game model would look like. You can see the results below.
Here, we can see that there are some major changes in the character’s form and silhouette, but care was taken to not alter these areas too drastically since this character already had a rig and animations.
After receiving the new concept art, I revisited the original sculpt and make the needed changes. Last, I resurface, unwrap, and texture the final in-game model as seen below.
A good concept artist will push you to your limits. The concept from above has foliage, hair, and open wounds dripping with blood. Thankfully Substance Painter has my back with particle brushes, so flowing blood is easy to create and edit.
I wanted to share how I easily create dripping liquid, like blood, that looks good. Adding something like liquid to a character is the last substance I will apply to a character. This layer will be on top, so not to be affected by any others. First, we will start with a fully textured character. Then we will add a fill layer at the top with a red base color, with a blend mode of multiply, with a positive height, and a roughness close to zero.
Next, I will add a black mask to this layer. Followed by right clicking on the mask and select Add Paint. With the Paint layer selected, we will then use the Liquid Stream particle brush to paint white in the black mask. The default settings on the Liquid Stream particle brush do not need adjustments.
At first glance, our results look OK, but we need to tweak some things. To do this, I will add a new fill layer below the blood layer so we can see what is really being added. Once we can see the results, there are some obvious quality issues.
Next, I will right click on the mask and select Add Filter. Select the Blur option. Now, I drop the blur intensity to about .24, or until I don’t see the stepping artifacts. Next, I will right click on the mask and select Add Levels to tighten our streams of blood a bit.
Next, I remove the temporary white fill layer. I’ll then add a new paint layer on the mask and manually paint out areas where I do not want the blood, and add to areas that I do.
An appealing material takes time to create. In our current pipeline, we only need to make a few tweaks to the application of our well designed, and lean, smart materials to maintain consistent looking textures across multiple characters from the same faction. These smart materials are easily saved and shared amongst our team. Bellow you can see just a few of the smart materials we use when authoring our characters’ textures.
Is there a 3D artist that inspires you a lot?
There is multiple: - Andrew Maximov - Clinton Crumpler - Tor Frick