How to ‘role’ with it.

Life Beyond recently introduced the Expedition feature to the game. The aim is to give players a sense of achievement by helping their teammates and pulling off a collective goal. The Expedition feature actively encourages cooperative play and gives players the chance to make big individual contributions. Keeping this in mind, we are now working towards the different roles that a player can have when they join Life Beyond.

We have taken our inspiration for roles in Life Beyond from classic MMORPGs. In MMOs players usually have to select a certain role like healer, crowd control, support, etc., and then spend an extensive amount of time specializing in it. These roles play a significant part in the success or failure of the group, and we decided to add the spirit of this gameplay into an action game. The one change we made is the amount of time and effort players have to put into perfecting their roles in MMORPGs.
Traditional MMOs require being on the right server with the right team and the learning curve for the role is steep. In Life Beyond your role isn’t your class but rather the gear you choose every loadout, which means you could be The Tank for a 15-minute session and then change out to a healer for the next if you so desire.

In the lore of Life Beyond, the humans on the alien planet are just normal people like you and me. They aren’t scientists from space programs and neither are they superheroes with super strength. The people on this planet are adventurous and well-intentioned, and the purpose of the gears is to make sure that your good intentions are enough to make a difference. This is the reason behind our focus on developing a wide variety of gears. We want to move away from the rigidity of having to choose a role for the entirety of your association with Life Beyond and cater to a wide variety of play styles.

Very soon we will have the animations of the various roles in the game (keep an eye out for announcements on our discord server). So how do we go from concept art to playing as The Tank in-game? We spoke to our Lead Animator, Ludvig Myrgren to get some insights on the journey of concept art to a playable feature.

To start with, tell us who you are and what you did before Darewise?
Ludvig: I worked on The Division and the Avatar project for Ubisoft Massive, and on Just Cause 4 for Avalanche New York!

What is the first thing you do when you are given the concept art for a character? Let’s take The Tank for example.
Ludvig: I might have inputs in the concept art stage itself if some elements won’t work for the end product. Suppose The Tank’s concept art had them wearing very tight sleeves that made it difficult to move their hands, I would add my input there. If The Tank was wearing a long dress that was tight around their ankles, I would know it wouldn’t work when they ran. You could say it is just a video game but I know it will look weird when the character is running and will no longer be readable as a dress and will look broken in the game.

I would then try to find the characteristics that physically define The Tank. For me, it’s the big gloves and I will emphasize that. In general, animators try to overemphasize the body type of different characters to set them apart. For The Tank we broadly know that:

  • They are supposed to control an area around them and deal a lot of damage.

So keeping the narrative and purpose of the role helps in etching out detail and the more typical the gear type is the more you highlight it.

Though we cannot really test how things would work till we have a working 3D model. You can plan what the signature move for a character is going to be. You often have a good idea of how the character should move in the concept stage, but it’s only when you have the final character in 3D you understand what really works. We can then run animation tests and figure out what gears and moves work best and work on the smaller details. It’s an iterative process that takes time. Let’s say The Tank has some sort of a glove that is metal with hinges — I need to make sure that the mechanical pieces rotate correctly and don’t intersect with each other. Pinpointing all those things could mean even changing the design at that stage to something that will work better. So for The Tank, if they can’t clench their fist, it’s worth changing some visual design elements to get the gear working technically.

Do you have to think of a character and the environment they are in while animating?

Ludvig: Yes of course! It also depends on the style of the game. Do we want someone to cry in agony when they get hit or do they spin 360 degrees before falling over stiff as a board with birds flying around their head like in Disney cartoons? Because one is terrifying and the other funny. That’s where the narrative comes into play, it’s something you need to keep in mind and convey throughout the process.

“Animation = Personality + Body Type + BIG VISUAL CUES.”

If someone is supposed to have a goofy personality then it should show in the way they interact in the game. It could be as simple as the way they run. If you have an evil enemy, for example, you wouldn’t want them to have a funny run, you would want them to be intimidating. There is always a need for synthesis between the character’s personality and its visual looks.

Lastly, what software do you use for animating?

Ludvig: We use Motionbuilder and Maya, which kind of covers all our needs of doing animation.
MotionBuilder is a great tool for animating human beings in Life Beyond. Since we need to create lots of content of the same character, this is a tool specialized in doing that.

The Melee Brute is animated using Maya

We use Maya for everything else. It’s a much more complicated program with a lot of tools available to you. If you want a character with ten arms that has a long tail, one eye that is big and shoots lasers and the other a human eye, Maya is the program for you. Anything that isn’t a typical human being, that doesn’t move like a human, Maya is your guy.
(editor’s note: Hey, he had to be super creative to be an animator after all :) ).

Thank you Ludvig!
If you are curious about the different roles we are planning for Life Beyond you can watch our Development Director, John Day, speak about them here.

We are developing Life Beyond, an interactive and socially-connected experience that goes beyond entertainment.