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Folklore : Specific Shortcutting Strategies

The final article on Folklore, we’ll cover shortcuts specifically used in Folklore. A few of these strategies can be applied to other games as well, but there certainly are a few clever ones specific to Folklore itself, and with that makes me appreciate the thought and effort put into making this game from a small concept to a reality. Looking at the staffing, they had only a handful of artists for environment modeling, yet they had over 20 artists for animations, and another nice handful for character modeling. Obviously, shortcuts had to be taken otherwise the project would not ship on time and on budget.

Jointless Models for Easy Rigging

Unfortunately, I could not provide a picture for the below paragraph at the moment, so you’ll just have to read the description and sort of imagine it for now until I’m able to find some images. This description will be replaced in the next few days once my actual computer is fixed. The Spriggan is basically a hulk-like creature with no head. The entire body is composed of a tree stump. The limbs, and pelvis are also floating tree stumps with giant segmented hands and fingers. All the pieces seem to magically float in space. The Galley Beggar looks exactly the same, but is colored blue. The Gladiolus’ model is much more unique, consisting of black armor parts and glowing pink energy – it reminds me of Alexander from Final Fantasy IX. Like Spriggan, it too is completely disjointed with parts magically floating in the air.

One creature set of particular interest worth mentioning is Spriggan, Galley Beggar, and Gladiolus. Spriggan and Galley Beggar both use the same character model, but with a different tint. However, you’ll notice that neither of them have any joints for their limbs. Their limbs, torso and pelvis just float in space. This saves a lot of rigging time with assigning verticies to bones. Reason being is that the joints (like the elbow and knee, and particularly the shoulder) are very complicated. They bend and flex, and if the verticies are not assigned correctly, the joints collapse on themselves and look terrible. A time consuming process saved. Gladiolus is also built the same way. Because all three of these are built the same way, they can also share exactly the same animation – you’ll notice that even though Gladiolus looks cosmetically different, it performs the exact same animations, from injure, to idle, to attacks, but has a different run cycle, and an additional laser attack. This is a good formula for shortcuts, as it maximizes the reusability of art assets and animations by making it seem like it’s not recycled.

Folklore Cutscenes : A Clever Design Decision

Initial design of Folklore’s comic style cutscenes.

A well integrated form of shortcutting assets is definitely in Folklore’s cut-scenes. Folklore’s cut-scenes are presented in comic fashion. I can tell this was intentional, as a planned way to save art resources. The characters are posed and animated ever so slightly to give the feeling of motion. The cameras are also always panning in one direction to show motion, and to create drama, but other than that, they were pretty much still camera shots.

The final design for Folklore’s comic style cutscenes.

Each character had a few poses that they recycled throughout the game. The camera angles they chose were really cool and dramatic, making very effective story-telling shots. By doing this, they saved a heck of a lot of time with animating characters, and not needing to do voice acting, or movie renders.

The Core of Folklore – Clever Shortcuts with the Game In Mind

The final and most clever way of recycling assets is specific to the core of Folklore itself – and that is the player’s ability to utilize the creatures they’ve defeated for their own attacks. When Keats or Ellen summons a captured Folk to attack, the developers were smart to reuse the Folk’s regular attack animations.

Keats uses a captured Warcadia Folk to fire off a flamethrower

You’ll notice that Keats and Ellen have their own “attack” animations – a maximum of a 5-chain combo. They play these same sequences of animations for every attack that they do no matter what creature they use. You’ll also notice that each creature has two or three different attacks. Whenever Keats or Ellen attacks, they use the same animation of the folk’s attack. For example, the panther-like Folk Ogma, has two attacks – one is a dash forward attack, and another is a diving slash attack. For Ellen, when she uses it, Ogma does its diving slash attack, while when Keats uses it, Ogma does its dashing forward attack. Both attacks are part of Ogma’s regular arsenal of attacks when you fight it. This makes Ellen’s and Keats’ attacks unique, while recycling the Folks’ attacks.

The stages of short-cutting throughout the project

Let’s take a look at how the Folklore team’s morale and production level was by Realm:

Faery Realm

The start of the project, everyone was looking ambitious, and created many unique environments that looked breathtaking. Even the whole UI was created with a faery-like theme to it. There were open valleys with flowers and grass, butterflies and pedals filled the air, lush beautiful forests with high canopies, budding blossoms, and autumn leaves abound, this was a highly impressive level of detail! The large majority of the Folk in this realm were also very unique. There were a few duplicates already, but I’m guessing a few of them were after-thoughts.

Warcadia

Half of Warcadia takes place inside a war-torn city. The detail is amazing, and is mostly unique. The latter half is more barren, with very few props, and more circular style map terrain. I’m sure at this point, a conscious choice was made to proceed with the remainder of the game in this fashion to reduce workload. While the Faery Realm consisted of many irregular terrain and winding paths, the second half of Warcadia and onwards consisted of large rooms essentially.

Undersea City

The real telltale sign that environment planning changed. Virtually every single section of Undersea City are circular “rooms” in design. There were on occasion some variations of two “rooms” connected together. Undersea City also featured a lot more open environments showing vast and distant coral reefs, most of which were painted textures, instead of real 3d geometry, I’m sure.

Hey! That’s a texture map! That’s not real!

Endless Corridor

One of the realms that suffered severe change, I’m sure. Virtually every room is identical in design, but created modularly so that it seemed intentional. Perhaps it actually was intentional, but I’m pretty sure they had bigger plans for this realm. It might have been the very last realm on the environment artists’ schedule.

Hellrealm

Most of Hellrealm looks like this.

Yet another realm that suffered severe changes. It’s more fleshed out than Endless Corridor, but perhaps beyond the reason of resource management, a few of the concept ideas looked good on paper, but didn’t quite work out as they had hoped. Hellrealm is quite a mish-mash of various environments that in my opinion didn’t fit well together, but would have worked great on their own.

Hellrealm’s swamp. Where did this come from?

With the exception of the swampy watering hole, each section had a fair representation of someone’s version of hell. This level suffered the most in terms of recycling in the cheapest way with their Folk. It also tried to lengthen the game as well as save on environment art with the repetitive “hellevator” section.

Hellrealm’s repeating elevator tower

Netherworld Core

Without getting into too much detail, Netherworld Core had essentially two environments. The first one seemed like a recycle of Faery Realm with different lighting, the second was an ethereal looking area, but was more or less a bland cold repeating environment.

The first 4 sections of Netherworld Core look like this.

The rest of Netherworld Core looks like this.

It’s a Tough Industry

The game industry is not as glamorous as most people think. Just like any other job, you have deadlines to meet, project criteria to fulfill, and a heck of a lot of staring at computer monitors. The only difference is instead of typing stuff, artists are creating worlds, designers are thinking of ways to entertain their audience, and programmers are calculating physics and integrating systems far different than other software programmers. And like all projects, deadlines are missed, projects go over budget, decisions have to be made, and ultimately, things have to be cut. Folklore is just a small reflection of what the game industry is about. So the next time you play a video game, even if it’s a complete piece of crap, you’ll at least understand why it’s a piece of crap.

Glossary of Terms

  • Joints – in a video game skeleton, any part that bends is a joint – elbows, knees, ankles, wrists, neck, shoulders, etc. Every joint is basically a ball rotation, just like poseable figurines. However, posable figurines tend not to bend realistically. Video game skeletons deal with this issue by weighting vertex points by percentages, and more complicated rigging methods which won’t be looked into here.
  • Bone – a segment between two joints forms a bone. Just like in real life anatomy. In video games and 3d, verticies are assigned to bones in order to move characters around.
  • Weighting – in order for a vertex to animate in space, it needs to be assigned to a bone. But just like in real life, skin stretches. In 3d, this is basically the space between two verticies get bigger. In order for it to work properly, a vertex needs to be assigned to multiple bones. Maybe 30% of it is assigned to one bone, and 70% of it is assigned to another bone. This is called weighting, and is used to give the natural appearance of flexing a joint. Each vertex has to be weighted. In complicated models, there are a lot of verticies. You can imagine how long and tedious it would be to weight a complicated character. When characters such as the Spriggan is jointless, weighting becomes much easier, as there are no visible joints (elbows, knees etc.) to weight.
  • Cutscene / NIS – NIS stands for Non-Interactive Sequence. Usually this is where the story gets told. The player basically sits back and relaxes while the story unfolds on screen. The most the player will have to do is press the button. Not very interactive. Some games allow limited interactivity, such as moving the camera around, but typically it’s still within a canned, limited environment. There are some games that tell the story during a fully interactive part of the game, but it’s usually a closed environment so the player doesn’t do something unexpected that would screw up the story. Half-Life and Portal are perfect examples of that.
  • Environment Map / Skybox – Environment maps are sometimes referred to in two different contexts. The first, more common one is a spherical image used for reflections (reflection map). The other is easier described as a “background image”. Similar to a painted background in a play or live theatrical performance. The idea is two-fold. When the artist wants to create a vast environment, it’s difficult and time consuming to model environments that great distances away. Instead, an image is painted, and placed a bit of ways away from the player to give the illusion of vast distances. (seen in Undersea City quite a bit). This also saves on poly-count as well as clipping plane distance. A Skybox or Skydome is essentially the same thing – a dome that encompasses the environment the player is in. Rather than put a sky out in infinity and populate it with clouds, a small dome with a sky texture is placed around the environment to give the illusion that a limitless sky exists. That beautiful sky and mountains in the distance in Netherworld Core? Skydome.

Jump To:

  1. Development Process
  2. Art Production
  3. Industry Shortcuts
  4. Specific Shortcutting Strategies
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