It’s been over a month since players began venturing across the frozen north in The Great Ranging!
As we continue our iterative work on the feature, we asked our Art team to give us a behind-the-scenes look into designing the first phase of Battlegrounds.
We started with concept ideas that were not tied down to how we display our original map. We would work towards the concept, rather than concepting based on pre-existing limitations. 3D decorative objects, elaborate set pieces, and a different way to visualize the player’s Keep were now all possible with the decision to go full 3D.
The goal was to see how close we could get to these concepts, taking the art farther than the original map’s visuals. Breaking away from the convention of north always being top of the screen, we also changed map orientation by creating a landscape layout with North being on the right side.
North of The Wall is a major set piece on the left part of the map, to give players an immediate idea of where they are, and that north is now to the right of the screen.
Often in visual media, motion towards the right expresses a going to, while motion to the left represents a going home. Invading the area north of the Wall, we saw an opportunity to make a concerted military push to the right. Forward. We wanted decorations to include huts, wagons, along with tree and rock objects that would be appropriate for a far north environment.
With the new environment and deco set used in The Great Ranging, we took this as an opportunity to change up what players would be using to symbolize their Keeps.
In a Battlegrounds instance, we wanted players to have a more tactical feel, so we decided upon having troops represent your Keep. With the characters moving around, and the banners blowing in the wind, it gave off a sense that you were attacking with an army of your own with live troops.
The individual troops were created in a modular fashion, to save on memory. To achieve this, all disciplines in the art department were heavily involved. From concept to 3D, Animation to VFX, and Tech Art, it was truly a group effort.
Hero Card Design
After the creation of the initial card back concepts, the team decided that a clear reference to the iron gate should be used in the final concept. Figuring out the best way to incorporate the flames was a particular process. Do we use fire VFX to portray the flames within the pillars or use fiery gemstones? In the end, we went fairly literal from concept to 3D with some minor adjustments once the team was seeing the 3D asset in context.
As we mentioned in Developing Art of Heroes, we always keep in mind that 3D assets in Game of Thrones: Conquest should appear as if they can be created using real-life materials. For the new Battleground cardback and frame, we went with cast metal, chiseled stone, and fiery gemstone inserts. For the frame, we added points on the top edges and squeezed them in the middle to differentiate the silhouette from the standard card.
Night’s Watch Pawn
A Night’s Watch pawn is an idea that has been floating around the team for a while, and with Battlegrounds and The Great Ranging, it was the perfect time to make this an awesome reward for our players. For our map markers, we draw heavily from the house sigils that they represent. In this case, a crows head for the Night’s Watch.
Landscape Tech Art
The first step was to play around with existing map assets, making simple alterations to existing biome material properties as a proof of concept that we could create a completely different look on the combat map. Once we knew we could make it look completely unique, real work could begin on making refined textures and materials to create a truly bitter, desolate arctic landscape.
One thing we wanted to make clear is that beyond the wall, the environment is much more diverse than just a simple plain of snow. So we created a number of unique areas that give the feel of moving northward into even bleaker territory. Water is frozen, but can be navigated, and is a part of the battlefield. We used 3D meshes for our deco instead of simpler, icon-like images. These decorative objects were meant to make the player feel closer to the ground, closer to the action. Battlegrounds brings the player down to a tactical level, rather than a more strategic overview they normally see on the main Combat Map.
3D Environment Art
Battlegrounds presented us with a fresh opportunity to reinvent how we approach combat visuals in Game of Thrones: Conquest.
Phone hardware continues to improve year after year and in addition to lengthy performance testing, we felt it was now viable to go full 3D for Battlegrounds. This simplified production by removing the step of rendering 3D models to sprites (normally a time-consuming process).
With our Tech Art and 3D team working closely together, we were able to iterate quickly from the graybox phase to creating a library of assets that we could use to easily populate the map.
Visual FX and Animations
Visual effects in The Great Ranging feature a very active blizzard constantly blowing across the desolate landscape of the far north. Localized snowdrift effects are also attached to objects on the map.
For the monsters, we wanted to emphasize the bite of the wolf more than what our figures on the map allow. Working with our animator we got the snap of the teeth together to look very sharp and fast. For the Pale Spider, our VFX artist wanted the attack to appear like webbing or poison spit out by the spider onto the target. The sharp leg hits were amplified with quick stab effects.
We always want to give our players a sense that the monsters they are fighting on the combat map feel believable and dangerous. Animation and VFX work together to deliver a compelling gameplay experience. The wolf was animated using real-world video references of wolves tearing at a dead carcass. The spider was animated using a bit of imagination.
Our artists are always learning new techniques to illustrate new subjects within new environments and types of lighting. For The Great Ranging – spiders, wolves, decay, and frost were the themes for monsters. Though the Wight Wolves were fairly straightforward as they could be (undead wolf), the Pale Spider wasn’t. Many iterations were created as this was a creature that never appeared in the show. Additionally, studying the underbelly of a spider was certainly not the most fun thing to do for our artist.
The Iron Gate
With the release of Battlegrounds, we wanted to introduce a new building to allow players to access the new feature. With all-new buildings, we first take a look at the current city scene and find potential spots where it can be placed, that would fit the city narrative but also be convenient for players to access. The bottom left of the city, next to the troop field, made the most sense.
After settling on a location, we turn to concept art to flesh out what the building may look like, and how it will fit into the scene. Then the 3D artist will translate that into 3D, and render out a finalized sprite. VFX will also be added for an additional layer of life to the building. In addition to the building itself, we will introduce storytelling teases to get the players excited for what new things may be next. For the Iron Gate, we toppled over the statues in the troop field to make room for the new building. After all the art is created, it will be passed over to a Tech Artist for final implementation, to get everything working in-game.
The amazing illustrated key art was authored with animation in mind. Splitting out the Wight Bear, Pale Spider, Wight Wolves, and soldiers let us rig and animate everything separately to create a compelling piece of eye-catching key art. The blustery snow, fog, and glowing eyes were the final touches added by our VFX artist to send it home. For the Map tab within the Iron Gate hub, we wanted to display a stylized version of the Great Ranging map that players could interact with and learn about the creatures they would face.
These Battlegrounds teaser splash screens were created to show the destruction of the old warrior statues and build player excitement for this massive upcoming feature. The process for both illustrations involved 3D modeling and lighting in Maya to help lay the foundation for digitally painting.
The Leaving Battlegrounds illustration had a protracted thumbnailing process. Finding the right balance of Iron Gate, troops marching home, and a battlefield was a challenge. Nailing the lighting model and layout in 3D was at first a messy process, but was an excellent lesson in avoiding detail early and working big to small.
The artist behind iconography for Battlegrounds wanted to find imagery that was recognizable to the player. Referencing the Combat Map Node finder for the concept of “battle travel” was the best solution. When combined with a military banner, it felt like a natural fit.
We hope you enjoyed this look into designing the world of Battlegrounds! To find more information and updates about The Great Ranging, check out the posts under our Battlegrounds tag.
As always, let us know what you think over on Discord in the #battlegrounds channel! Thank you for playing Game of Thrones: Conquest!