Est. reading time:
Let’s make a monster!
How does a monster come to life in games? Does it require a laboratory and a strike of lightning? Or perhaps an occult ritual in the name of some ancient deity?
In this series of blogs, we’ll be disclosing how we made our ‘Claw Slug’ monster. From the first brainstormed idea and sketch to a fully realized 3D model with animation, AI, sound and more. This monster is the bread-and-butter enemy of our upcoming game, Project Tumble, and we are really happy with its design and looks.
Just look at this charming fellow!
Step by step, we’ll go through each stage of developing the ‘Slap Slug’. These stages are:
Brainstorm & Ideation
Animation & Rigging
AI & Behaviour
Along the way, you’ll find our tips & tricks as well as what pitfalls you can avoid to save time and reduce frustration, if you were to make monsters for games yourself!
Now – time to go Frankenstein this thing!
Finding the Monster’s foundation
Fleshing out Project Tumble as an ominous, yet kid-adventurous 80’s-inspired universe, we took inspiration from the sci-fi & monster movies of that time – E.T., Gremlins, The Thing, and even The Blob to name a few. But also video games such as ‘Heart of Darkness’, where the young boy, Andy, uses his own machinery inventions to save his dog from Darkland, a world of evil shadowy creatures. In other words, there was plenty of creatively made monsters to get inspired by. And before making any of the multiple monsters we have in mind, it is wise to define the general visual style of the whole ‘genus’, so-to-speak.
Now this is nostalgic!
We then discussed the type of animal to base our monsters on. Most 80’s movies had an alien creature as the monster, often being disgusting, grotesque and toothy in its design. But we didn’t want it to be as disturbing and gory as the one in The Thing. So, it had to be something ‘alien’, but not too disturbing.
We went back and forth, and ended up with a ‘invertebrate slug, but predatory and alien’ as the base for our designs. And since our game is kind of light-hearted, we wanted them to be both dangerous AND lovable. As in, they not only had to have a hunger for human blood, but also have personality! Emil, one of our visual artists and a human encyclopedia of movie trivia, began concepting the base look for our creatures. As is the case with basically all concept art; it’s an exploration phase, where ideas get brought to light. First, he made this moodboard in PureRef of inspiration with material both from other IP’s and from real life.
What kind of ‘mood’ does this make you feel?
As you can see, there are a lot of strange-looking creatures. Some horrifying, others kinda cute – like the Axolotl in the bottom left. The goal is to gather all kinds of shapes, appendages, features, etc, that can inspire a great design, and having real life creatures as examples helps keep your own design grounded. Let’s zoom in on the art in the top-right. Those are the concepts Emil produced:
The purple-yellow colour combination, and the rotund-ish bodily shapes accompanied with spiky appendages became our monsters visual foundation. Now, we can focus on the ‘Claw Slug’ itself!
Concepting the Claw Slug
Alongside this process of concepting the monsters as a whole, we had been designing for the gameplay. Our game ought to have a generic foe. One you’ll be beating up continuously. The “Koopa-Trooper”, so-to-speak.
In our design notes, our game designer Sune succinctly wrote: “The Claw Slug is a weak mob-type melee slug that will stalk and chase players down to attack them. Their goal is to apply pressure to players”.
So – Emil was put on the task to show us what the Claw Slug looked like.
The goal was to take the early design shown above and take it even further, nailing down the precise shape language, features, personality, etc, that fit the monster and its function in the game. All before you actually begin making it for real. This eliminates possible time-wasting as you get a clear outcome to aim for before you commit yourself to do all the time-consuming stuff, such as 3D modelling, texturing, etc.
Through a combination of our analysis of inspirations and our knowledge of game design, we agreed on some defined goals:
The monsters must be clearly dangerous and look the part.
The monsters must immediately communicate their in-game function through their visual design.
The monsters must be personable, recognizable and unique.
Emil delivered these concepts – in chronological order:
First concept was about a simple idea: take a slug and slap a huge, spiky tentacle on it. But tentacles can be hard to animate, and the visuals were perhaps a bit too grotesque.
The second concept took more inspiration from both snakes and mantises, featuring a worm-like body and huge protruding claws. The only issue was the amount of details & the silhouette of the creature, where we agreed the claws could be more prominent.
It ultimately ended out in this design (with a silhouette & size reference to the player to the right):
There’s a saying that perfection is reached when you cannot cut any more away. And this is the Claw Slug in its most simplest form. For games, details can quickly become noisy and disrupt the readability of the gameplay, which would be detrimental to the experience – as the famous mantra says: ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’ (K.I.S.S.)
The creature also clearly signifies its function via its form. Two huge and clearly distinct claws immediately tells you that this creature is dangerous and ‘attack-oriented’. So players won’t have to think twice about what the Claw Slug is going to do. The silhouette is also unique and very readable – making it a recognizable design, both in-game and outside (you saw it here first!)
With the visual concept done, it was time to model it in 3D. We’ll go over that, as well as the texturing and animation in the next entry.
To sum it up, we’ve made this cheat sheet for you.
Feel free to copy-paste this picture, drop it in your company’s Slack, or whatever.
Hope you liked this small window into our process – and perhaps feel a bit inspired to make your own monsters?
Interested in more blogs like these? We write on game development, running a startup, and designing for the social human.
Subscribe to our mailing list, you beautiful bastard 🙂
See you ’round the block!
Jonas Lauridsen, Community Manager & Audio Designer