Windigo – Development
Client: Affordance Studio
Type of projet: Interactive Experience
Production dates: 2019-2022
Narrative-driven video game focussing on the different visions of the same environment by two very different individuals.
We are in charge of the 3D visuals for the environments and the characters on this wonderful cultural project.
Images to come throughout production!
The Game’s Website: https://www.windigo-game.com/
2018-2019 | THE FIRST STEPS
The team at Affordance Studio approached us for the “Windigo” project for the first time in the fall of 2018. The concept of the project instantly won us over and we worked together on a first prototype in the winter of 2019 in order to prove the feasibility of the project.
At this point, we had only worked on the creation of the two playable characters, and since the game was played in first person, we did not create the heads in order to keep the costs of production as low as possible.
* All 2D concepts on this page have been created by the talented Tara Miller via Affordance Studio.
Here is Maïkan, an Innu from Quebec and Jeanne, a European newly arrived in New France:
2020 | DEMO & GLOBAL PANDEMIC
In the spring of 2020, our mission was to present our prototype at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco as a first market test. Obviously, with the global pandemic, all of that was canceled, but we still created a “Teaser” video that demonstrated the difference between the two perspectives of the protagonists, who travel the same environment but do not perceive it at all from the same way:
The “Teaser” was made very quickly in Unity Engine from a combination of 3D objects purchased online and objects created by hand in addition. We knew that no object would be reused for the real project, the priority was really to release a result quickly to prove the potential and stir curiosity around Windigo.
2021 | VERTICAL SLICE
The Vertical Slice is a “slice of the game” that allows us to present the intended end result for artistic elements and game mechanics on a very small portion of the game – which allowed us to create the main elements of environments and the main characters of the game. In order for us to do that, the Affordance team has provided us with a new version of the protagonist concepts and the concepts of two additional characters.
A young hunter-gatherer from the Toutouskak (Tadoussac) region, the Innu boy Maïkan has never known what life was like before the arrival of the white man. He has had very limited experience dealing with the Europeans, but has heard stories of both their misunderstood customs and horrific practices. As a result, he holds them in contempt, deeply afraid of what they might do to his people, and hating them with all his heart for the damage they’ve already done to their land and way of living in harmony with it.
Orphaned at five on a peasant’s farm and left to fend for herself on the streets of La Rochelle for years, Jeanne learned at an early age the importance of survival. At nine, she was rescued and put into a Catholic orphanage, where she learned to be a caregiver and developed an unshakable faith in God. When presented the opportunity to travel to the colonies of Nouvelle-France, Jeanne saw this as a sign to leave France and start a new life overseas – one where she could make a difference in the lives of others.
A long-time resident of Nouvelle-France, Pierre craves fame and fortune, believing his career as a Coureur des Bois will someday make him a folk hero, or, better yet, rich. While certainly not the most morally upstanding ally our heroes will make, Pierre has a kind heart and rarely hesitates to help others in need…Especially if it means he can earn a few treasures doing it. Compared to The Fur Traders working for The Jesuit, he’s practically heroic, even though he is a bit TOO pragmatic for his own good.
The mistreated pet English Shepherd of the captain piloting the ship destined for Nouvelle-France, Capitaine has spent more time confined on boats than able to roam free, seeing new sights and meeting new people. As a result, Jeanne’s contagious excitement and curiosity resonate with the normally disciplined dog, and the two of them are quick to form a strong bond, finding comfort in their mutual loneliness and willingness to do good.
At this point, after several styling and performance testing, the team determined that the game would be created in Unreal engine rather than in Unity.
While both engines are very powerful and perfectly suited for the type of game we want to create, Unreal made it easier to achieve the visual look we were looking for. We did not regret that choice along the way.
These decisions having been made, we were able to begin the environment work – one of the most important spheres for the communication of the two distinct perspectives between the playable characters.
TWO DISTINCT PERSPECTIVES WITHIN THE SAME ENVIRONMENT
For Jeanne, the region is unknown and mysterious. The forest is unlike anything she knows, she finds it disturbing and lonely. The elements to be constructed for her perspective therefore had to be cold and redundant, even confusing.
Maïkan being a native of the region, he is comfortable in the forest. He finds it reassuring and sees life all around him in it. We therefore had to build vibrant elements for his environment.
The challenge is to communicate to the player that they are walking through the same environment despite these two different perspectives. The most optimal solution has been to use the same 3D “meshes” for the main environment objects such as rocks, soil, plants, etc., but to assign them different materials in order to give them a different appearance. It saved us from having to create duplicate objects for everything.
We managed to create different looks on the same 3D models by using very simple “height maps“:
For Jeanne, we work with sharp and very pronounced edges on objects.
For Maïkan, we work on rounded and soft faces.
The same distinction needs to be applied to all elements, including vegetation. There are no “height maps” on the vegetation, so we had to find a different approach, which turned out to be the “alpha masks” this time.
For Jeanne, vegetation contributes to the mystery and austerity of the environment. The trees create a verticality that closes the forest all around her and creates a claustrophobic effect. The leaves appear sharp and there are very few curves in their design.
Maïkan sees vegetation as an inportant part of his surroundings. It is overflowing with diversity and appears to him abundant and full of health. The foliage is formed by gentle curves and the trees leave large openings allowing you to see further out.
As trees are the most important part of our environments, they have received special attention, and unlike other environment elements, they were created independently for the two visions, meaning that they do not share the same “meshes”.
On Jeanne‘s side, the trees are long and very vertical. The leaves are often sparse to allow the sharp branches to be seen and create a feeling of discomfort.
On the Maïkan‘s side, the trees are more natural, without perfectly right angles. Their foliage is very dense, creating a soft and reassuring environment all around the player.
VISIONS EVEN FARTHER FROM EACH OTHER
Despite these stark differences, the Affordance team felt that the two perspectives were not yet different enough and that users might not necessarily understand their intricacies. They therefore returned to the drawing board and guided us to explore different avenues to move Maïkan’s perspective away from Jeanne’s.
Jeanne‘s environment is very monochrome, the colors are very similar to each other and we feel a certain closure in the environment. You can never see far ahead, thanks to the thick fog and the proximity of the trees between eachother.
Maïkan‘s environment is very colorful, going from one side of the chromatic circle to the other and creating a vibrance in the environment which shows nature’s life and the diversity. We can usually see further and anticipate what is to come.
Besides the dark colors and the thick fog in Jeanne’s environment, we did not feel the worrying side enough. We therefore explored two avenues:
1) Faces hidden in the knots of the trees, that we see when we are far away but which disappear when we approach them:
2) Silhouettes of animals creating strange or threatening shapes in the distance, subtle enough not to notice them on the first pass, but which give the impression of being watched:
For the Vertical Slice, we kept the faces hidden in the knots, but not the silhouettes, which were ultimately too subtle. For the full game, we want to explore adding moving figures rather than static ones, creating abrupt movements around the edges of the path and adding stress at certain points in the gameplay.
MAÏKAN’S INNER FOCUS
Capitaine and Pierre have are guides for Jeanne, they help her to find her way and to survive in an environment that she doesn’t know. Maïkan, on the other side, is alone; and even if he knows his environment well, the player doesn’t. The “guidance” mechanic on his side is called “Inner Focus”, which demonstrates Maikan’s important connection with his nature. He can activate this vision when he needs clues to understand where to go to achieve his goals.
The intention is to remove colors and lights from everything, except elements that help communicate the clue, which turn white and bright:
Thus, we have a full Vertical Slice and we are very proud of the result obtained with such a small team (less than 10 people!).
[MORE IMAGES TO COME!]
2021-2022 | FIRST EPISODE
[Informations to come]