Case #

11.13.14

Researcher

Subject

Moonrise, News, Research

Meta-Gameplay In Moonrise PvP

by Richard Foge, Andy Collins, and Brian Giaime

From the very outset, we knew that we wanted PvP to be a huge part of Moonrise. In this article, we’re going to chat a bit about an important element of PvP in Moonrise. Specifically we’re going to dig into meta-gameplay.

FindingOpponent

Metagame is a term that is used by developers to refer to the layers of gameplay that exist outside the rules and environment of the game itself. In the simplest sense, it’s when you use out-of-game information to affect the decisions you make about playing the game. For example, when you use knowledge about the other players at your table to modify your strategy in a board game, you’re engaging in a metagame activity (because that knowledge lives entirely outside the rules of that game).

The metagame can have a drastic impact on how players interact with the game’s systems and engage with each other inside the game. It can change your strategy, suggest particular tactics, and even alter the play environment itself. A strong, vibrant metagame keeps your game compelling for players long after the initial excitement of “new and shiny” has worn off.

SelectSolari

Design Influences

There are a many ways that the metagame can grow and evolve. One of these ways is design-influenced evolution. This occurs when new systems and mechanics are added to the game and the metagame adapts to incorporate those systems.

Take, for example, Solari Traits. Before these were a part of Moonrise (that is, early in our development cycle), skill & stat builds on each type of Solari were fairly consistent. Your Emberjaw looked pretty much like everyone else’s Emberjaw. Players felt this was a solved issue and didn’t spend time thinking about how to build their individual Solari.

Once we added Traits — such as Primal Health, which healed the Solari whenever it dealt Nature damage — players started building their Solari in ways that took advantage of these Traits. Sometimes players relied on Traits to remedy a weakness, while other times they used them to capitalize on a strength. Suddenly we saw more varieties of every Solari in play, and the set of viable builds blossomed to include a great deal more configurations and combinations of Solari.

SolariDraft

Player Discoveries

Another way that the metagame can evolve is from the discoveries of players. When players find a particular strategy that is effective and share that knowledge, that strategy proliferates among other players. (This can occur in PvE or PvP gameplay, but it tends to move a bit faster in PvP.) But that discovered strategy in turn creates opportunities for new discoveries that react to the newly evolved metagame.

For example, players might discover a particular Solari team build that becomes very effective. (“Good old Stone, nothing beats Stone.”) Observant players adopt some or all of that build, and soon it becomes popular and widely used. At this point, the smart thing to do in PvP is to find a build that works effectively against this popular build. This creates a new effective and popular team build, which in turn leads cutting-edge players to devise yet another counter-strategy. In some situations, this process can even continue until the original build becomes effective again.

This evolution of metagaming can also occur in the tactical space, and we’ve definitely seen that playing Moonrise PvP internally. One area we’ve witnessed interesting tactical shifts is in the opening moves of combat. When a Moonrise PvP battle begins, neither you nor your opponent have any Solari on the battlefield. Because gameplay is affected by affinity matchups, some players start a match by waiting to see who their opponent would summon first, hoping to counter with an ideal affinity matchup. That led to players quickly summoning Solari that had massively damaging attacks with slow boot times so they could punish whichever Solari the other player brought out. Which led to folks immediately summoning one Solari as a counter to the heavy hitters and waiting to summon the second. And so on, and so on.

DraftRelics

Building a Better Metagame

A strong metagame is crucial for ongoing commitment from players. If your game offers only a few optimal strategies, players will figure those out quickly, then come to the conclusion that your game is a solved problem. Since one of the critical attractions to games is the opportunity to solve the challenges provided by your systems, a solved game rarely holds people’s attention for long.

To design a game that supports a robust metagame, developers must create systems that are flexible and have massive possibility space. This is usually done by keeping your systems as simple and clean as you can and allowing interesting interactions between those systems (instead of adding layer upon layer of rules for how those systems can interact). For example, the Trait system described above is relatively simple in concept, but creates a large possibility space for small design tweaks that support different Solari builds and team strategies.

Strategies

The best part of having a strong metagame is that active players in the community shape the game as much as the developers do, by exploring the bounds of the systems in ways that the designers may never have considered. A player-influenced metagame is a sign of a game with flexible systems that allow for a lot of creativity from players. This is something that we’ve put a lot of time and care into for Moonrise.

We’re looking forward to seeing where you take our meta!

Case #

11.6.14

Researcher

Subject

Moonrise, News, Research

Balance in Moonrise

by Brian Giaime

What does “Balance” really mean?

Balance is a misleading term. You might think this means “everything is as good as everything else”. This isn’t entirely incorrect, but it misses out on one of the great things we can create through games: A series of interesting decisions.

If every piece on the board is identical, and every move you make is of equal effectiveness, you may have a decision to make, but it isn’t necessarily interesting. Worse, if one piece is extremely powerful and the rest are weak, you don’t really have a decision at all – you use the powerful piece! Imagine if there are a variety of pieces which have varying levels of power, but that power depends on the situation they’re in, or how you choose to use them. Perhaps one piece goes twice as far if you choose to move it first, while another piece is twice as powerful if you choose to move it second. By differentiating how you affect the game in ways that are varied, with no clear “correct” answer as to what you should do next, we keep the game interesting.

Balance, at least for the purposes of this article, is the act of making the decisions available to you feel both interesting and useful, removing “dominant strategies” (ways to play that are so effective they prevent other ways to play from being used),  and ensuring that the things players find fun are also things that can lead to success.

SSkills

Elements to consider

So what does this mean to Moonrise? Quite a bit, actually. We’ve got over a hundred Solari, each type drawing three skills from a pool of around 65 skills that it can learn (out of the pool of over 200 total), plus their own unique skill and one of a handful of different passive traits, on a team of six total Solari. That’s already quite a few options and combinations to consider!

On top of that, you’ve got your Warden, with their two relics, their gear, and the stats & modifiers that come from gear, presenting even more combinations of stats and skills.

Fun math sidebar:

Combination Without Replacement Formula: nCk = n! / (n-k)!k!

50 major relics, from which we choose 1 = 50
50 minor relics, from which we choose 1 = 50
For all 6 solari: let’s say 6 available passives, from which we  choose 1 = 6
For all solari: average of 65 learnable skills, from which we choose 3, with no duplicates = 43,680

Combination With Replacement Formula: nCk = (n+k-1)! / (n-1)!k!

100 Solari from which we choose 6, with duplicates allowed =  1,609,344,100
Total Combinations: 50 * 50 * 6 * 43,680 * 1,609,344,100 = 1,054,442,254,320,000,000

That’s a quintillion.

If you had a cubic meter of water for every combination of Solari, Traits, Skills, and Relics, you’d have as much water as the Pacific Ocean!

So there’s a lot to consider. As your adventure progresses, you’ll discover countless new elements to try out, and it’s our goal to make sure every single one you discover feels cool and useful — at least for awhile, before another cool relic or skill shows up that might tempt you away from the first.

Newskill

Everyone loves the technical part

Now, let’s talk about what it means to actually do this, to take an impossibly large set of variations and approach giving it a sense of balance, and prevent at all costs combinations which are overwhelmingly more effective than others.

At a high level, we’re going to model how useful the component pieces of the game are. In order to give ourselves a coherent “unit” for comparison, we generally “score” the effectiveness of a given skill, in terms of DPS, or Damage Per Second. We know the cast time for a skill, how long it’ll take for animations to happen in game, how long it’ll take the skill to “boot up”, and how long it’ll take for the skill to “cool down” after being used. This allows us to compute the damage per second that a simple skill can achieve.

Dragtoreplace

This gets more complex when you incorporate Buffs and Debuffs, how many targets are hit by a given skill, any negative impacts which impact the user, and so on. In order to keep ourselves sane, most balance work is done in terms of “effective damage per second”, or just “effectiveness.” Buffs and debuffs are approximated to be about as useful as a given amount of damage, so that altogether we have a single value we can use to compare any two skills.

We have an interval of overall effectiveness that is considered “acceptable” for skills based on how far into the game you are when you receive them; when creating a new one, the first thing we do is aim for a given effectiveness. If that falls within the given interval, we’re probably looking at a “mostly balanced” skill. I say mostly, because at the end of the day, this is just a model. To quote a proper statistician, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”  There’s no substitute for playing the game and testing one’s theories about what is and is not balanced.

Our model is actually much more complex than what we’ve talked about here, but what’s described in this article outlines the core philosophy of the model.

Our model is actually much more complex than what we’ve talked about here, but what’s described in this article outlines the core philosophy of the model.

As your Solari evolve, you’ll find they increase in “tier.” As they do, they begin to learn higher-tier skills, which have higher values for their overall effectiveness. Sometimes these are merely upgraded versions of similar skills from a lower tier. However, you’ll also find that some higher-tier skills do more interesting stuff — maybe stun an enemy and burn them at the same time, or perhaps damage yourself when used in exchange for a super-short cooldown, allowing you to take more risk in exchange for more reward.

This sort of “point allocation” is extremely useful for a starting point on stat balance, in large part because it’s relatively simple.

This sort of “point allocation” is extremely useful for a starting point on stat balance, in large part because it’s relatively simple.

Balance in Moonrise extends farther than just skills and relics – your Warden and Solari have stats which must be considered against one another.

While we’re constantly iterating on stats, amongst many other things, each Solari’s starting stats are scored and considered against other Solari. This means that every Solari is set up with two goals: to have specific strengths and weaknesses in terms of its stats, and to have, on average, the same amount of overall power as any other given Solari.

Graphs are great at taking a bunch of numbers in a table and turning them into something we can more easily understand.

Graphs are great at taking a bunch of numbers in a table and turning them into something we can more easily understand.

An important note: This assumes that all stats are equally useful, at least at the intervals denoted here. Ensuring that a point of Strength, a point of Resist, and a point of Speed are all of equal utility is by far the most challenging part of balance! We’re constantly tweaking the degree to which these stats empower or protect a given character, always on the alert to make sure that no one stat becomes dominant or useless.

As we said at the beginning, we want to maintain as many viable strategies or builds as possible. At the end of the day, that winds up being a huge component of how much game there is to play.

Not losing the forest for the trees

All that being said… even with all of this data in hand, models prepared, balance checks met, it’s important to realize that we’re not looking at “the game.” We’re looking at the component pieces (the leaves on the trees, so to speak), not the actual experience the players are having. It is absolutely vital, when considering whatever certainty we can generate in a spreadsheet, to take it with an awful lot of salt. We’ll almost certainly discover via playing the game that the models were somehow incomplete, the balance we thought was perfect was ignorant of a certain combo or behavior pattern, or worse, that exploits exist which undermine our carefully honed numbers.

All of these, in the end, are far more important than getting a bunch of cells in a spreadsheet to have the same “score.” Sometimes we must break our patterns, or models, regardless of how elegant things seem, because of the innumerable little things that crop up through actual play. Some expert players will select and cast their skills super fast. Others may take twice or three times as long, effectively adding that time to their skills, and reducing their overall effectiveness. Maybe someone just really wants to use their favorite Solari, even though they have an affinity disadvantage. It’s important not to rely on people playing your game a certain way. Instead, explore how all of your players will act, and ensure, to the best of your ability, that they’re all set up to have a great time.

No one number, or system, or axis, or curve — no matter how pretty or elegant — matters more than the player experience.

skilllearned

In closing

That’s all for this week, though it’s certainly a lot to chew on! I hope this and the other articles on Moonrise’s combat and customization have been thought provoking, and thank you for reading this far! We’re super excited to get the game into our players’ hands, and can’t wait to tell you more.

Tune in next week for some insight into PvP from our Design Director, Richard Foge!

Any comments? Questions beyond how to pronounce “Giaime”? (gee-AHH-mee) Would you like to stay up to date? Follow the game on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/moonrisemobile) or Twitter @MoonriseMobile, and click the green tape down and to the right to chat with our small but feisty Moonrise community.

Case #

10.30.14

Researcher

Subject

Moonrise, News, Research

Combat in Moonrise

by Brian Giaime

Combat lies at the heart of Moonrise, and it takes a lot of forms. You and your team of trusted Solari might battle wild, rampaging Lunari. You might fight against another Warden in a friendly duel. Or perhaps you’ll face a truly nefarious villain, with innocent lives at stake! But regardless of the enemy, combat follows the same rules.

How do you fight?
On the surface, combat is pretty simple. You select a Solari to attack with, then a skill to use, and finally, a target for that skill. Seconds later, the attack is launched…but meanwhile, your opponent is doing the same. As this real-time battle progresses, you select more skills and more targets, while weathering your opponent’s assault. A flurry of attacks go off in sequence, defeating all but one of your Solari…but while that happens, your Warden’s relic has become ready for use! Your Warden launches a huge attack against the entire enemy team, taking them down and winning the battle!

All our game’s systems come into play during combat. The affinities and skills of your Solari, influenced by the stat upgrades you’ve chosen for them, guide your overall strategy. As you use your Warden’s relics, you see the impact of the gear you’ve equipped and the stats affected by that gear. Of course, your actual tactics in battle—how and when you use your Solari or activate those relics—make a huge difference in the success or failure of that strategy.

And if that’s not enough, you make all those decisions in real time. If your skills are ready first—thanks to Solari with a good Speed stat, short boot times for skills, or a game-opening Haste buff—you can land a hit or two before I can, putting me at a disadvantage in combat. Of course, your own reaction times are also crucial. A skilled player knows their team’s strengths and weaknesses before battle even starts, with plays and counter-plays ready to deal with whatever challenges their opponents cook up.

What does your team do best? Will you deploy a wall of defensive Solari while your Warden hurls attacks from afar? Will you rely on Resolve and Erosion to increase your offense and lower your opponents defenses? Perhaps all you need are a handful of Fire and Electric Solari to deliver damage quickly, ignoring your own well-being as you race to defeat your enemies before they can deploy strategies of their own.

There’s a lot to take in here. Fortunately, we’ve crafted the content in Moonrise to ensure that these elements are delivered with gentle pace, alongside instruction and plenty of opportunity to practice before you need to master them. You’ll develop strategies as you recruit new Solari, experimenting with various combat approaches until you find one that’s fun and effective.

Getting combat to feel right

Combat in Moonrise is fluid. There’s a real sense of back and forth, as every skill “moves the needle,” shifting momentum toward you or your opponent. I charge a buff for both of my Solari while you charge an attack. Your attack lands first, and now I’m behind: advantage you. Meanwhile, did you set up a block? Do any of your passive Traits prevent damage? Did you Dispel my Solari’s buffs? If not, my souped-up Solari will come crashing down on one of yours, clearing them off the board: advantage me.

Every decision made in combat matters. That’s a bar we set early in our design. No attack is small enough to ignore, and none is so important that one error will ruin the fight. You’ll find yourself testing your enemies, trying out various strategies and skill combinations. Not everything will work, but when you find patterns you like, you can to use them time and time again.

But that just describes the environment of player versus the AI of in-game enemies. Player versus player combat is a different ballgame: here it’s all on the table, with every second and every skill selection of paramount importance. Watching two experienced Moonrise players duke it out competitively is quite a spectacle, as each person must plan their moves and countermoves with split-second timing, never leaving a Solari or Warden to dawdle when they could be selecting their next skill. It’s a rush.

Affinities: the juicy details!

Each Solari and each skill has an affinity: a special connection to one of the elemental aspects of the world. Solari are most effective when using skills of their own affinity. A Solari deals significantly more damage with skills of its own affinity than with skills of another affinity. Of course, limiting your Solari to use only skills of their own affinities makes it easier for your opponent to guess your strategy, so many players vary up their skill selections a bit.

Affinities also interact with one another on the battlefield. Each Solari’s affinity renders it “strong” against a subset of affinities, and “weak” against some other affinities. Solari that are strong against a particular affinity deal more damage to Solari of that affinity and take less damage from skills with that affinity. Conversely, Solari that are weak toward a given affinity deal less damage to Solari of that affinity and take more damage from skills of that affinity.

Each affinity also brings certain specializations to the battle, such as speed, defenses, control, healing, or even typical stat distribution among its attacks. When your opponent lines up an array of Stone Solari against you, you have a good idea of the likely strategies and tactics they might use.

Now for some more details:

A quick note on stats: Strength-based skills derive their damage from the attacker’s Strength stat, drawing on their physical prowess. Spirit-based skills derive damage from the Spirit stat, relying on the innate energy that a combatant brings to bear.

Basic: The safest of affinities, and an exception to the strong/weak affinity details you just read. The Basic affinity has no strengths or weaknesses, at least against the other affinities listed here. Basic Solari wield Strength and Spirit skills alike, and they use a few buffs and debuffs to increase their damage output or decrease that of their opponents. Some basic attacks damage the caster as well as the target, but these often grant extra damage or other benefits in exchange.

Gruffon has a Basic affinity.

Gruffon has a Basic affinity.

Fire: Fire is all about damage! Between up-front hits and Burning debuffs, Fire has fantastic single-target and AOE (Area of Effect) damage potential. Fire has some access to Stun attacks, and like Basic Solari, Fire Solari occasionally damage themselves as a part of particularly strong attacks. Fire Solari tend to favor Spirit-based skills, but some utilize Strength attacks as well.

Fire is strong against Nature and Electric. Fire is weak to Stone and Water.

See if you can guess what Pyromane's affinity is.

See if you can guess what Pyromane’s affinity is.

Stone: Stone is the 800-pound gorilla. Big, slow, and tanky, Stone Solari are built to weather enemy attacks, then come crashing down with their own, often stunning enemies in the process. Stone Solari tend to have high defense stats, especially Armor, and they favor Strength attacks rather than Spirit attacks. Stone wields one of the more unique debuffs, Petrify, which interrupts an enemy, leaving them unable to use skills and unable to be dismissed (so their controller can’t easily replace them on the battlefield). On the plus side, your Solari are immune to damage while petrified, but that’s a small consolation when you’re one soldier down for several seconds.

Stone is strong against Fire and Electric. Stone is weak to Nature and Water.

Toddlerock and roll.

Roll with the Rockhound.

Electric: Electric is all about speed and gaining the upper hand in a hurry. Quick boot times, quick cooldowns, Haste buffs, Stuns, and direct attacks against the enemy Warden add up to give Electric the tools it needs to take the momentum in a fight. Electric Solari excel at applying quick pressure, wielding a wide set of skills within seconds of being summoned. Electric Solari specialize in the Chain Lightning debuff, a risky maneuver that zaps the entire enemy team with a random number of lightning bolts. Electric Solari have an even mix of Spirit- and Strength-based skills, though their attack stats are rarely as high as their Speed.

Electric is strong against Nature and Water. Electric is weak to Fire and Stone.

Zigawatt will electrify you. Sorry. It was the best caption joke I could think of on short notice.

Zigawatt will electrify you. Sorry. It was the best caption joke I could think of on short notice.

Nature: Nature has an answer to everything. Toxin deals damage, Slow and Root control your enemies, and heals and Regeneration keep your allies in the fight. Nature isn’t great at dealing direct damage, but it makes up for that with all the other utility skills available to it. Nature Solari generally have a higher score in their Strength stat than in Spirit, and they feature decent defense stats and middle-of-the road speed.

Nature is strong against Stone and Water. Nature is weak to Fire and Electric.

babyjin_01

Ryzo is ridiculously cute. LOOK AT IT! Rub its belly!

Water: Water is about the long game, manipulating the board until everything’s just where you want it. Water wields the Erosion debuff, increasing damage received by an enemy (with an extra damage increase for water attacks). If that wasn’t enough, water is master of both Dispel and Cleanse, allowing it to remove buffs from enemies and debuffs from allies, respectively. Water has access to a few heals for emergencies, but specializes in turning fights around and keeping them locked down, often setting up big attacks from allies that wipe out enemy teams.

Water is strong against Stone and Fire. Water is weak to Electric and Nature.

I want to swim with Slithy.

I want to swim with Slithy.

There are more affinities to Moonrise than these six. As for these advanced affinities, we’d like to not spoil anything yet — to discover them you’ll have to play the game!

Our affinities help build a world full of Solari with varied strengths and weaknesses. These in turn provide differences in play style, strategies, and tactics. All together, this variety provides you with the tools you need to experiment with different ways to win fights, and in turn keeps combat fresh for many hours to come.

What combat must achieve

Combat in Moonrise has some important responsibilities. It must reward skill, first of all: a player who knows affinity matchups and their team’s capabilities must see that mastery rewarded by victory over those with less information or less practice. Combat must also reward your time investment. Your carefully trained, wisely upgraded Solari should on average find more success in battle than those upgraded randomly.

Of course, combat must carry the weight of making your gear and relic choices matter. Your Warden and their stats must be a big enough part of combat that the way you build and equip them meaningfully impacts how you engage your enemies and how you respond to challenges. For more on on the topic of gear, check out our previous article on customizing your Warden.

Finally, combat has to work with the overall constraints of the game and its mobile platform. Fights can’t drag on too long, or it stops being a game that’s convenient to play. Combat can’t be too fast, or the key player skill moves from strategic to twitchy, which makes the game less accessible. It’s on us to make sure that Moonrise holds up as a compelling experience for a wide audience, while still captivating players willing to put a lot of time and thought into it.

Why we did it this way

Moonrise aspires to be your next hobby. We want to build a compelling set of game elements to chase after, experiment with, mix up, and master. Done right, that means you’ve got loads of content waiting for you and plenty of stuff to do. All of that only works if there’s real value in that content, and combat is how we establish that value. You bring your achievements and your mastery to bear as you conquer dungeons and quests, in turn gaining new gear, learning more skills, and finding new Solari to recruit and fight alongside.

We also support competitive play, such as Solari Draft and Unranked PvP. What you’ll want to know is that each skill, relic, and Solari is crafted and designed to be compelling in PvE and PvP. This desire for exciting, engaging competitive play also informs combat, and demands that we keep battles understandable. When you show the game to a friend for the first time, we want them to find it just as cool as you do.

Most importantly, Moonrise has to be fun for the people who play it. We’re here to provide a rich and fulfilling experience, both for core gamers and for mobile game players craving something with a little more depth and agency. We want to make games that, regardless of platform, respect both our players and their time.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the next article, where we’ll dig into some details on game balance!

Join the conversation by clicking the green tape down and to the right – or be one of the first to follow the game on Twitter @MoonriseMobile, or like it on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/moonrisemobile

Case #

10.23.14

Researcher

Subject

Moonrise, News, Research

Warden Customization in Moonrise

by Brian Giaime

[Meet Brian. He has gaming in his pores, starting with building with the Warcraft III editor as a kid, to setting his sights on video game design in college, to shipping Marvel Super Hero Squad Online while still in college, and from there becoming a designer at Glu Mobile working on several games, the best known of which was the incredibly successful Deer Hunter 2014. The back of his car contains every RPG handbook known to man, as far as I can tell. Certainly there is no room for actual people to sit. We love his enthusiasm, and how much he cares about our future Moonrise players. — Sanya]

One of our favorite aspects of Moonrise is the way in which your character (your Warden), participates in combat. You’re right there with your team, hurling fireballs, doling out heals, and actively engaging with powerful foes.

Every player will play their Warden differently. Some players will build their Warden into an artillery piece that slings powerful attacks from behind tanky, defensive Solari. Other players will bring healing and buffs to support and strengthen their already formidable offensive Solari. Some players may equip relics with unusual effects like:

  • Restoring all Solari on the battlefield to full Health
  • Petrifying and healing your team to protect them from defeat
  • Simultaneously setting an enemy aflame, poisoning them, and rooting them to the ground.

How will you build your Warden? What tricks are up your sleeve?

Under the Hood

Before getting into the meat of how our game systems work, you’ll want to know a few things about stats in Moonrise.

A Warden has six stats, just like their Solari: Strength, Armor, Spirit, Resist, Speed, and Health.

  • Strength improves the damage of your Strength-based attacks.
  • Armor reduces the damage of Strength-based attacks used against you.
  • Spirit improves the damage of your Spirit-based attacks.
  • Resist reduces the damage of Spirit-based attacks used against you.
  • Speed reduces boot times and cooldown times of all skills.
  • Health determines how much damage a Solari or Warden can withstand.

A note on Skills and Speed

A skill’s boot time determines how long a Solari or Warden must be active in the battle before that skill can be used. The cooldown determines the length of time that a Warden or Solari must stay in combat after using a skill before using that skill again.

Increasing your Warden’s Speed, through leveling up or by equipping the right gear, will decrease boot times and cooldowns on your skills.

Your Warden’s Arsenal

A fully equipped Warden has five pieces of gear in their kit. Each one serves a different but important purpose.

First and foremost is your major relic. All relics empower wardens with skills, but major relics provide skills that turn the tide of battle. We’re talking waves of fire cascading over combat, big damage-enhancing buffs for your active Solari, or bolts of lightning that stun your opponents. Major relics are your most prized possessions, often hiding in deep dark corners of dungeons, guarded by powerful boss Lunari.

Skills don’t have to be earth-shattering to be useful, though, and minor relics prove that point. Your minor relic is your handy toolbelt: a low-cooldown Regeneration skill, a simple fire bolt, or even a dizzying strike, causing enemies to sometimes hurt themselves while attacking. Major relics are great at doing one thing particularly well, but minor relics supply valuable tricks that let your Warden prepare for the challenges you’ll face.

Just like your Solari, your Warden’s combat potency relies on your Strength, Spirit, and Speed. These stats automatically improve as your Warden gains levels, but you can equip an offensive item to push them even higher. These items come in three varieties:
prism_totem_orb

  • Prisms improve Spirit and Speed.
  • Totems improve Strength and Speed.
  • Orbs improve Spirit, Strength, and Speed.

Totems and Prisms don’t offer as many different stat boosts as Orbs, but they tend to have more modifiers. Modifiers produce powerful effects, such as Fire Boost, which improves damage dealt by a Warden’s Fire skills. Rarer items feature more powerful modifiers, such as Cleanse Chance (which offers a chance for the Warden to gain the Cleanse buff when any debuff lands on them).

Every Warden enters combat knowing that they’re exposed to the same dangers as their Solari. To prepare for this, each Warden equips one defensive item to bolster their survivability. Like offensive items, defensive items come in three varieties:

Chain_torc_amulet

  • Chains improve Resist and Health.
  • Torcs improve Armor and Health.
  • Amulets improve Armor, Resist, and Health.

Defensive items can also provide modifiers, just like offensive items. As with their offensive equivalents, Chains and Torcs tend to provide more modifiers than Amulets in exchange for bolstering fewer stats.

ringThe final gear category includes the elusive Utility items. These offer no stat boosts, but instead are purely about modifiers, with the best of the best reserved for the rarest utility items in the game. We’re talking about stuff like Toxin Immune, which prevents any Toxin debuff from afflicting the Warden, or Destructive Warden, which grants the Warden a small chance with every damaging strike to deal huge extra damage. Modifiers like these can be so powerful that some players build their entire team around the single utility item their Warden equips!

Looking Your Best

Stepping away from stats and skills, Moonrise also features a wide array of clothing and hairstyles for your Warden. Throughout your adventures, you’ll find a huge variety of pieces to try. Fashion in Moonrise is varied, drawn from what’s in vogue in various towns, cities and local cultures. While some locales value traditional garb, high fashion, or practical working gear, others lean toward edgier fare such as mohawks, bright colors, and buckles galore.

On top of all that, you’ll also find various dyes you can apply to your outfits. In certain cases, you’ll be able to dye different materials or elements of your clothing independently, creating a genuinely unique look to help your Warden stand out in a crowd – or blend right in, whichever feels best to you.

Why We Did it This Way

Zooming out from the details of how these systems work, next we’ll talk about why we landed on the system that’s in the game right now.

You’ve probably played plenty of games that use RPG elements such as stats, gear, modifiers, custom looks, and level progression. We’re big fans of how these systems give players a feeling of ever-increasing power while also supplying designers with an infinite supply of rewards to give out. Players can build up their prowess, empowering their Warden to overcome challenges that provide memorable moments of triumph, then move on to even stronger opponents in the next encounter.

With that in mind, designing a robust, “full-assed” RPG-style game for mobile platforms requires us to be honest with ourselves about how games are often played on mobile. You’re on the bus … waiting for a meeting … or even in the restroom. [Editor’s note: EW. — SW] These are situations where people can’t devote all their attention to the game, and that’s okay! This play pattern is part of what makes mobile gaming appealing to a lot of people, and we all win if we build an experience that manages to feel rich and interesting without demanding full immersion for long stretches of time.

For that reason, we settled on a “light but rich” set of equipment for the Warden. We’re not looking at ten slots with seven lines of text and a bunch of stats on each, but we’re also not simplifying to the point of having our gear be meaningless or so simple as to be uninteresting.

We want to give you the tools to build a character and combat strategies that are YOURS, and for you to be able to learn where the strengths and weaknesses of those strategies are, with the power to change things and iterate on your strategies. Moonrise aims to give you the tools to express yourself through the way you play, but in a way that won’t make you miss your bus stop or the fact that class has begun.

We’re having a blast with it so far, and we feel confident you will too.

Case #

10.16.14

Researcher

Subject

Moonrise, News, Research

Welcome to the World of Moonrise

by Andy Collins and Ian Adams

Meet two more of our designers, Andy Collins and Ian Adams. Andy, the lead writer on Moonrise, is an old-school storyteller. He was the lead story designer on the Marvel Heroes ARPG, and he also spent 14 years at Wizards of the Coast as a designer on D&D and other RPGs. Most importantly in my book, he’s been a DM — that’s dungeon master, if you never played D&D — for more than 30 years, which means he knows how to spin a yarn that keeps people playing. Ian is a content designer and a writer on Moonrise, and an inspiration to any gamer who ever dreamed of going pro. He started in customer service, worked his way up until he was running a QA team, and transitioned into design, where he eventually became the lead designer on Battle Nations. He knows what works, and what only works on paper. These are great guys, and great designers, and we hope to continue this conversation on the forum in the future! –Sanya

The people in Moonrise — the average citizens of a town like Gateway or Kijang Village — probably wouldn’t call their lives dangerous. And they’re not, not really. Sure, there are places you avoid, precautions to take. But it’s odd how quickly people start treating the most precarious, marginal survival as acceptable. Even normal.

It wasn’t always like this.

Once, so we’re told, the world was more than safe. It was peaceful. Wondrous creatures called Solari inhabited every corner of the land. People and Solari lived in harmony. Some Solari lived in the wilds, and others were tamed as pets or employed humanely as sources of labor or energy. Thanks to this symbiotic relationship, the world thrived.

Nearly a century ago, this peace was brutally disrupted by a celestial event called the Moonrise. Suddenly all Solari, from cute woodland creatures to trusted companions became violent and destructive Lunari. People fled their homes, abandoning towns and cities, and civilization teetered on the brink of destruction.

But then came Warden Marguerite, who showed us how to subdue Lunari and cure them of the Moonrise corruption. Soon hundreds of brave souls flocked to her side, fighting for our survival. These brave people formed the Wardens Guild. Thanks to their efforts, humanity was able to put up a resistance, and little by little, carved itself a new place in the world.

From that day, the Wardens Guild grew dramatically. Today there is a guild member in every town and city across the land. Eager students vie for entrance to the Warden Academy, where they will spend a decade learning everything they can about Solari, the corrupting effects of Moonrise, and how to safely engage and cure Lunari. In fact, with a job description that most kids read as “go on hikes and play with animals while learning super powers,” the guild has more recruits than it needs!

Generations have passed, and today few of us can even claim to remember the world before that first Moonrise. This is the only world most anyone has ever known. The Moonrises continued, every decade or two, and through it all, we learned to adapt. We know there are dangers in the world, and we’ve all had times where a Lunari got closer than we might have liked. But thanks to the tireless efforts of the Wardens, Lunari have become something that most of us forget about while dealing with our normal day-to-day problems.

In fact, this attitude has begun spreading even to some Wardens, particularly those in the younger generations. With a new class of young Wardens graduating each year, the population of highly trained guardians continues to grow, leaving many graduates without prospects for employment. And with not enough towns and farms to protect, some young Wardens grow lazy…or bored…or desperate for any opportunity to put their skills to use.

You are one of those new graduates of the Warden Academy. After years of training, you finally have the chance to prove yourself, to make your mark on the world. But what opportunities will you have to prove yourself with the world in a place of relative calm between Moonrises?

Funny thing about the calm. It has this well-established relationship with the storm.

************************

ANDY: Hi there, I’m Andy, lead writer for Moonrise.

IAN: I’m Ian, content designer and writer on Moonrise.

ANDY: When I joined the project-to-be-named-Moonrise, the game’s world and backstory were effectively nonexistent. We knew what the core gameplay was about, but not why it happened. My earliest task was to create several different versions of why your character (and many other people’s characters) would wander around fighting the strange creatures that our artists were already creating. Those early drafts explored various character motives, creature origins, world designs, and even overall story tone.

In reviewing my old proposals recently, I was struck by how different they were from one another, and yet also how similar. Certain key elements, such as the protective aspect of your character and the responsibility you have due to the powers you possess, stayed relatively true across all my proposals. On the other hand, the early story drafts varied in their approach to tone (from friendly to eerie) and in whether we were telling a fantasy tale or a sci-fi epic. My goal was to provide a variety of choices that explored different directions, so that together we could choose which one we liked best.

As so often happens, no one proposal was the right answer. Instead, we ended up cherry-picking elements from all of them! Then we blended these bits with concepts and tones from other stories we liked, from the movies of Hayao Miyazaki to the amazing tales of The Legend of Korra. After a lot of discussions and rewrites, we had the outline of a world that we liked, with a guild of Wardens protecting people from once-friendly creatures that had been corrupted by a mysterious celestial event. We were still some distance away from having a story, but the world was taking shape.

IAN: When I came onboard at Undead Labs, my start date was actually delayed a week while we moved into the new office. During the week of downtime, I stopped by the old Lab, and checked in with Foge. During the meeting, I shared my number one concern about the story in Moonrise: how do we make sure you’re not just some psycho wandering around the woods punching animals? I had developed some ideas, and I was hugely relieved to find that the Moonrise team had already arrived at a lot of the same concerns, and solutions. Hence Moonrise, the Lunari, and the whole Wardens Guild.

With Moonrise, one of the goals is to give you a goal and motivation with a little more weight than the Shonen Manga “train to be the best!” plotline. We also wanted to make the world and story of the game have some real weight. The thing about that is that once you start asking players to take some parts of your setting more seriously, and require a little more critical thinking, the more incongruous things like the hero wandering around the wilderness starting fights with random creatures so they can be captured start to stand out. We needed to create a world where the player’s actions not only made sense, but were actually heroic. We also needed to make sure you could still wander around the wilderness starting fights with random creatures.

Moonrise (the celestial event, not the game) solved both of these problems. If the player was out there to cure these creatures, engaging them in battle so that they could get close enough to remove whatever dark force was causing their violent behaviors, we’ve not only given you a motivating reason to get into random fights, we’ve also made sure you’re not just a sociopath who likes making animals fight.

The second item on my agenda that was that we make sure that we had a threat that could drive us toward some big, satisfying story moments, but also one that felt natural to the world, tied in to the rest of the setting and mythology, and that arose logically from the story and world. I even had some ideas about how we could connect that threat to real world struggles and concerns our players could relate to.

But that’s almost entirely spoilers.

ANDY: And we promised Sanya we’d hold off on spoilers for at least another week!

But seriously, we have plenty to talk about regarding the story of Moonrise, and we’ll be back soon enough to share more details.

IAN: You’ll get a little more background, but for the most part, from here out, you’ll be learning about the choices we made, and why we made them. Why the quest system we have? Why relics to use skills? Why travelling companions? We’ve spent a ton of time thinking about all of these, and we’re looking forward to sharing all that with you.

ANDY: Ian, would you say that our readers have just taken their first step into a larger world?

IAN: Only under duress, Andy. Only under duress.

Comments? Questions about the story thus far? Hit the comment thread and join the conversation!

Case #

01.16.13

Researcher

Setting the Tone

As we get ever closer to release, we’re immensely enjoying the way the music and sound pulls everything together. Sound Guy Kevin, and Jesper Kyd, have been kicking a lot of ass. Today, we’d like to share three terrific tracks composed by Jesper. But why just share them? Let’s have a contest!

There are three Jesper Kyd tracks below for your enjoyment. If you’d like to be eligible to win a State of Decay t-shirt, here’s what you do after you listen to them.

1) Choose ONE track.

2) Click on the forum link under the track. Tell us a one paragraph story about what you hear. (You may write longer.) I will choose a winner randomly from each thread — and allow you all to choose your own favorite story. So, a total of four winners.

3) You must enter by tomorrow, January 17, at 3 PM PST/6 PM EST/Midnight CET.

That’s it! All right, check out the music… and come back Friday for the Day By Day Q&A (barring the unforeseen).

 

Track One

Tell your Track 1 Story here.

 

Track Two

Tell your Track 2 Story here.

 

Track Three

Tell your Track 3 Story here.

Case #

08.24.12

Researcher

Subject

News, Research

Doing What We Can

Today’s guest post is from the fabulous Annie Strain, a survivor well known to the Lab. She had a Survivor Cell before it was cool, y’all, and she’s here today to share the disaster planning that she has done for her family. Read on:

Hi Survivors!

I’m Annie and I’m married to Jeff Strain, the founder of Undead Labs.

While I’m not an official member of the development team, my love of both the company and the game is passionate and I have had so much fun watching the Survivor Cell pictures roll in. You guys get us!

In that train of thought…I wondered if you guys might enjoy seeing our own personal survivor cell, right here in Seattle, at the home of the company founder?

Now, I could bore you for literally hours with an analysis of survival techniques and supplies and why I have what I have on this table. After Jeff left NCsoft in 2009, before he officially launched Undead Labs, we spent months reading every bit of material we could get our hands on about survival and tools and disaster preparedness and, of course, we brushed up on our zombie lore.

I loved it. I effing LOVED it!

I wish I could tell you that this was new to us but the truth is that early on Jeff gave me a copy of Alas, Babylon and we talked about it for weeks afterwards and I think that really triggered our ongoing fascination with what the world looks like when you wake up and the world’s gone to hell and your friends, co-workers, and maybe even family are gone.

What does the world look like when you strip away every bit of civilization? What happens when your degree means nothing, when your status car, your bank account, your business cards means nothing?

Who’s got the grit to fight and survive and rebuild and where would you fit in?

(One of our kiddos, ready to rock with his Nerf gun.)

Anyway, while this is officially a “disaster/earthquake” preparedness kit, I continue to add to it when I see things on sale.

I thought I was complete but, damn, all these Survivor Cell pictures are making me realize that I’ve only scratched the surface!

I would love to have more light sources that are rechargeable, and collapsable water bladders for hauling water. I’d also like to have water purification tablets, an ax or two that’s small enough for me to swing easily, and some lumber to reenforce doors from zombies…uh, I mean looters.

(Now that I’ve unpacked everything, I also need some long nails and a few hammers. I’m light on tools, aren’t I?)

When I found it on sale, I threw in comfort items for our children like candies and things that can be mixed with water and taste good.

Some comfort items for adults too!

Can you see the can of red spray paint there? I want the helicopters, if there are any helicopters, to know folks are ALIVE INSIDE!

I bought these water bottles with handles so we could move quickly.

And tarps. Got to have tarps in Seattle. Zombies or not, we’re going to have rain.

So…there you go, fellow survivors! Many (most?) of you are seriously ahead of things with your bad-assed survivor cells but I’m doing what I can a little at a time.

And thanks again, all of you. Undead Labs is a small, independent studio and we’re pouring our heart and souls and our future into making a true zombie survival experience.

We’re grateful for your support and your friendship as we move toward releasing the first wave of this experience. You are awesome!

Your fellow survivor,

Annie

 

Sanya here: Thanks, Annie! All right, Zedheads, discuss your own plans using the green comment button (down and to your right).

By the way, I can see the future. If you’ve registered an Official Survivor Cell and you’re looking forward to the next challenge, you just might have to send in pictures like Annie’s next month…

Case #

07.3.12

Researcher

Subject

News, Research

Society Is Not Ready For An Apocalypse

If there is an actual zombie apocalypse, we’re screwed.

On Friday night, there was an epic storm in my area, sweeping from Indiana to Delaware. I do not use the word “epic” lightly. Five hours of unremitting, strobe-like lightning that never let up. Winds that hit 70 MPH (that’s roughly 113 KPH, for those of you in places that teach the metric system). Torrential rain.

Basically, it was like a hurricane with one important difference. With a hurricane, you get lots of warning.

Four hours before the storm hit my town, the weather report said there was a 10% chance of isolated thunderstorms.

An hour before the storm hit, I was hitting refresh on my brand new forum like a deranged lab animal in a Skinner box. My priorities were in line with my day to day life, not the apocalypse that I didn’t know was coming.

Hundred year old trees were uprooted and flung by the wind.I lost power almost immediately, so I sat in my living room and watched the weather instead of the forum. The wind threw my grill into my container garden, which I thought was a problem right before I watched the wind pick up two, hundred year old, tulip poplars by their roots and fling them… away from my house, a lucky break I’ll never forget. A total of six gigantic trees were uprooted from my backyard alone.

Saturday morning, we discovered the damage wasn’t just in our neighborhood, or even our county. The power was out everywhere. The only stores open for a twenty minute drive in every direction were running on generators. McDonald’s was literally the only food place open on a fifteen mile stretch of a major business route. The wait to order was 45 minutes. They cooked everything they had and shut down.

Probably for the best, since there wasn’t a single working traffic light for miles, and people turning in to the parking lot were causing near-wrecks.

Gas ran short. The heavily computerized gas stations simply couldn’t open.On Sunday, things were getting a little… sketchy. No traffic lights had been restored, and the cops were stretched too thin to handle everything. (They blocked every intersection to prevent left turns. Clever. Inconvenient, but clever!) Grocery stores in my town were only open in the sense that their doors were open so their employees could throw away thousands of pounds of unsaleable food. We tried to make calls, but between downed cell towers and everyone in the state trying to make calls, it was a challenge.

Generators were running dry, and the heavily computerized gas stations simply couldn’t open. Only the most antiquated pumps could function at all, and the stores with those were charging premium prices.

With no power, no internet, and no cell service, I actually found out the extent of the damage from a newspaper. Like, the kind on actual paper. The storm hadn’t just hit my town, or my county, or my state. That’s also how I found out the power might be out for a week.

(I promptly decamped to my mother in law’s house. She doesn’t have internet and her power is still sporadic, but the generous neighbor’s wifi works when the power does and at least there’s some power every few hours… and when the temperature is 97 degrees with 60% humidity, sporadic air conditioning is a damned sight better than none.)

Things are getting back to normal (assuming this pressure system doesn’t shift and we don’t get hit with another storm before the grid is back up), so I guess this isn’t the apocalypse, after all. But it made me think. What would you do with a disaster that comes with no warning? Like… right now. You have to survive with what you’ve got and nothing else.

The problem wasn’t really the conditions. The problem was humanity.The problem wasn’t really the conditions. The problem was humanity. Gas was briefly scarce, but people were still using it up to run their cars so they could sit in air conditioning. No one really believed the scarcity would last and burned gas accordingly. The folks with generators were just as insane – they didn’t just power their freezers and fans, but their AC, their DVD players, and reading lamps all night long.

Where do you get the gas for your generator when the pumps don’t work and the trucks stop coming?

Never mind the shortsightedness, there were some people that couldn’t think at all. With my own ears, I heard a grown man ask how he was supposed to eat with no frozen/refrigerated food and no microwave to cook it in.

Don’t think going country is a total solution. Being at the rural end of the county wasn’t an advantage in this storm – they were at the bottom of the power restoration priority list, and most of them are on well water. With electric pumps. No toilet flushing for them!

How would you survive? Are you ready?Also, while yes, knowing how to shoot and butcher a deer is a post-apocalyptic advantage… what do you do with a few hundred pounds of deer meat when it’s 97 degrees outside and you don’t have a freezer?

I’ve got a small garden. Not only did the storm flatten everything, but nothing was ready to harvest anyway. So what do you eat when the vegetables are still growing?

Canned food is nice. I’m actually the only person I know on my block who has a manual can opener, one that doesn’t plug into the wall. How do *you* open your cans?

Rice and pasta and beans in storage are all very well, but have you ever tried cooking them over an open fire? (Trick question. You don’t. You cook over coals. But do you know how long it takes to create a good bed of coals with gathered wood? Do you know how fast you’re gonna run through wood? Twigs won’t cook anything but s’mores.)

Let’s say you heat with a woodburning stove in winter. You have, therefore, a stock of seasoned hardwood stove lengths and a place to burn them. What do you do with all the neighbors who are not so equipped?

How do you get in touch with family members to find out who has a shelter and a food supply when the phone lines are down and the cell towers are out?

How do you make water safe to drink when your upstream neighbors are rinsing out their deer carcass and their filthy hunting clothes in your shared river?

How would you survive?

Case #

03.9.12

Researcher

Subject

News, Research

Scoring The Apocalypse

Film soundtracks are amazing things. One of the things I like to do when I’m thinking about the musical choices a film makes is to swap out a piece of music from a completely different movie — or even some of my own music — over a key scene, just to see how it changes the feel of the moment.

I love the idea that a piece of music can support, enhance, skew or even subvert the emotions on display.

I believe game scores can do the same thing. With games, though, you have the additional challenge of the player being able to do anything at any time, particularly in an open-world game like Class3. To support the emotional tone of the game while taking into account the constant variability of gameplay, I’ve chosen to work with the overarching themes and tones in Class3 as a palette for our music.

You will be able to work with others to stake your claim in a new society, one where your family is created by bonds of trust instead of a common bloodline.

What are the themes that will comprise the cornerstones of the musical palette in Class3? First and foremost: survival. Your friends and loved ones have been mauled, murdered, and reanimated. You’re constantly searching for water, food, medicine, and a safe place to sleep. Sorrow, danger, despair, and fear wait around every turn. The world is broken.

Secondly, of course, it’s about zombies. The wretched, rotting, soulless creatures that haunt your every step. Always on the hunt and never tiring, they constantly seek your flesh. When the zombies are closing in, the music isn’t about a world robbed of it’s humanity, it’s about the immediate danger of an approaching horde.

Finally, the music needs to support the theme of rebuilding our world. You will be able to work with others to stake your claim in a new society, one where your family is created by bonds of trust instead of a common bloodline.

Musically, it’s a genre defined by the sum of parts. Our Faded Americana style takes cues from Country, Western, Rock, Folk, and even Blues music, but it lives somewhere in between those genres without belonging to any of them.

Those are the thematic pillars of Class3; but we still need a framework to deliver the score. That framework is defined by two elements: The first is a style we call Faded Americana, defined by our art director Doug Williams to describe the setting and visuals of the Class3 world. Musically, it’s a genre defined by the sum of parts. Our Faded Americana style takes cues from Country, Western, Rock, Folk, and even Blues music, but it lives somewhere in between those genres without belonging to any of them.

Along with those elements come suggestions of instrumentation: rondo, slide, resonator, and acoustic guitars; dulcimers, fiddles, and percussion of all types from a traditional drum set to ‘musique concrete’. Inspiration comes from popular artists like Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, and The Black Angels as well as composers like Carter Burwell, Gustavo Santaolalla, and Dave Porter. Each of these artists have already tread the ground of Faded Americana, and it’s my hope to deliver a similar emotional intensity to compliment the art and feel of Class3.

The second major element to our score comes from the darker side of film. The pulsating drones of John Carpenter, the haunting discomfort of Jerry Goldsmith, and the textural tones of Vangelis all play a role in creating the sense of unease and intensity that plagues you and drives you through Class3. Together these two styles will constantly interweave to bring you a soundtrack rife with fear and despair, but also a sense of hope, exploration, and the potential to rebuild a world on the brink of destruction.

That’s where Jesper Kyd comes in. For years, I’ve admired his ability to create scores that are emotional, dense, and driving while still keeping a sense of sparse openness that’s crucial in supporting a reality where society has collapsed. With his proven ability to understand the complexity and diversity of game design, I believe Jesper will help us present a singular and unique experience for our apocalypse. I’m thrilled to work with him and ecstatic to have him as a key contributor to Class3.

-Kevin

Case #

12.9.11

Researcher

Subject

News, Research, Studio

Capping Off The Week

This week, Phinney, Reid, Kevin, and Scott (who you’ll get to meet soon) piled into a car and took a trip to Vancouver, Canada. Their destination? Animatrik, a company that specializes in motion capture animation. If you’ve ever seen behind the scenes footage of people running around in tights with little reflective balls all over them, that’s mocap, and it’s been used in movies for years. As it’s evolved over the past fifteen or so years, though, it’s also become an important tool for game developers.

To give you guys some insight into what motion capture is, how it works, and how it’s going to apply to Class3, I sat down with Reid to learn more about what our recent session was like. Read on to see what he had to say!

What is mocap and how is it different than traditional animation?

Motion capture records the movements of a live actor onto a set of controls called a rig. The rig controls the movement of the character model. You know those tight suits the actors wear, covered with a series of markers? The markers are what actually gets recorded and through a lot of crazy math, gets translated on to the rig.

Mocap is a great way to get realistic motion in a short amount of time. While hand-created keyframe animation can create realistic movement, the process is really consuming, and you still wouldn’t capture all the subtleties that you can get from mocap.

Traditional keyframe animation is very good for stylized movement and stylized characters, and for the “realistic” motion of fantastic creatures like dragons. Obviously, you can’t mocap something that doesn’t exist!

A lot of people recognize the mocap suits that actors wear, but how does the process actually work?

A bunch of cameras track the position of the little white markers on the actors’ mocap suits, which are used to triangulate the position of the actor’s actual joints. The data is then converted into rotational joint information that’s put on the skeleton. (A lot of markers and a lot of math are involved because they haven’t figured out a way to put the markers inside the actors yet. :) ) Once this  motion is on the skeleton, we translate it again to the character’s animation controls (which we refer to as the “rig”).

In the end, the animation ends up on the character in the same format as it does when I keyframe it. The only difference is that mocap data puts a key on every frame (that’s 30 keys per second of animation), which requires different animation techniques and tools to edit the dense amount of data that motion capture gives you.

For cinematics, if you plan correctly, get a good performance from the actors, and get good motion from the mocap studio, the animator shouldn’t have to edit much. Gameplay motion is a whole different thing — that requires a lot of editing.

What do you look for in a motion capture actor?

Since we were shooting both cinematic and gameplay styles for this session, we were looking for people that were both good actors and had strong physical and athletic skills.

For our cinematic shoot, the actors just ran through the scenes like they would if they were on stage performing a play, and we captured their motion in large chunks. For these sequences we’re primarily looking for acting ability.

On the other hand, the gameplay part of the shoot required the actors to perform specific actions in small pieces, which can feel pretty counterintuitive or unnatural. For example, if a character picks up an object and then throws it, the acting sequence might be broken up like this: the character is standing still (one shot), the character picks up an object (second shot), the character stands with the object in their hands (third shot), the character throws the object (fourth shot), and finally, the characters returns to a casual standing state (fifth and final shot). For an actor who’s used to following typical stage directions to just pick something up and throw it, that can be a jarring experience!

It sounds like mocap is pretty specialized. How do you go about finding the right actors?

Well, in our case, one of the actors we used was highly recommended by Animatrik and the other was recommended to Animatrik by someone who had worked with him in the past. Most mocap studios will know talented local actors from past projects, and they’re usually happy to recommend them. When that approach doesn’t work, you can hold casting calls where actors and their agents can send you resumes, demo reels, and things like that.

Once you find someone that looks good, you typically hold auditions to make sure they’re a good fit for what you need. (Since our guys came highly recommended from people we trusted, we actually skipped this step.)

What’s a mocap session like? Tell us what you guys did when you were up there!

The session started out with breakfast provided by the studio. While we ate, we got acquainted with the team and the actors. We also went over some of the scripts for the acting portion and some of the action for the gameplay portion. Once the actors had their suits on and everything was calibrated, we had them go right into the acting.

Phinney and Kevin took turns directing the storyline scenes. Before each scene was recorded, they prepped the actors on things like where to be on stage, how the characters they were playing should behave, what their personality and state of mind should be during the scene, and how intense or subtle the scene should be. I chimed in a little bit on some logistical things, like the placement of the objects they were interacting with. The actors also had some great ideas and added a lot of personality on their own.

After the acting section of the session was complete, it was my turn to direct gameplay stuff. I coached the actors on the speed and strength in which they should perform an action, judging the motion on if I thought it I could easily make it loop or not. I also tried to get them to start out in an idle pose, do an action in place, and then end the motion in the same idle pose. That will make the animations blend much more smoothly when you actually put them in the game.

How long do mocap sessions usually take?

Our day consisted of two 3 to 4 hour blocks. In both cases, we started with cinematic scenes and moved on to action sequences.

The morning session started with breakfast, paperwork, and studio and actor set-up at 8:00 am. We started shooting at 9:30, then broke for lunch at 12:30. After talking zombie games, guns, and Skyrim with cast and crew, we went back into shooting at 1:30 and were scheduled to start wrapping up at 5:30. Things went quicker than we’d expected, though, so we finished our full list — plus some bonus recording — around 4:30.

Since we have a lot to do back at the Lab, we drove back to Seattle the same night. We were a bunch of zombies the next day, but hey. It fits, I guess. ;)

When we get back mocap data, what format is it in?  How do you get the finished characters into the game?

We get video first so we can choose the takes we like best. Once we’ve picked these, we send the details back to Animatrik, who  cleans up the files we requested and sends them to us as skeletons with the motion attached to them.

The animations we get back are in a lot of different pieces, so to get them ready to use, Scott translates the motion from the skeleton to the rig. When he’s done, he sends them to me to do the necessary edits and get the pieces organized and exported. Once we’re finished, they are usable for the designers to put into the game.

Thanks for giving details about your trip, Reid!

I hope you guys liked this inside view of how our characters are being built! Next week, we have more game information coming your way — Phinney is preparing a design article on multiplayer in Class3 to close out 2011, so be sure to check back in on Friday.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Emily