3D World

The art of Torch­light III

Dmitriy Golovi­nov at Ech­tra Games takes us be­hind the scenes of this ac­tion RPG’S level de­sign

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What’s it like build­ing lev­els and en­vi­ron­ments for an ac­tion RPG?

From VR to next-gen con­soles and be­yond, the gam­ing world has un­der­gone a huge amount of change over the past decade or so. How­ever, if one thing re­mains con­stant it’s the in­cred­i­ble pop­u­lar­ity of ac­tion RPG se­ries like Torch­light, which has at last gained a new in­stal­ment – Torch­light III.

Re­leased Oc­to­ber 2020, Torch­light III is a light-hearted and fast-paced dun­geon crawler for ca­sual and hard­core gamers alike. De­vel­oped by Ech­tra Games and pub­lished by Per­fect World En­ter­tain­ment,

Torch­light III is set in a high fan­tasy world filled with epic weapons, magic spells, mon­sters, loot and land­scapes.

En­vi­ron­ment artist and level de­signer at Ech­tra Games, Dmitriy Golovi­nov, guides us through cre­at­ing the art of Torch­light III – from sto­ry­telling to scale and playa­bil­ity.

BUILD­ING FROM SCRATCH

Dmitriy’s first course of ac­tion in de­vel­op­ment was to de­cide an aes­thetic style. His team wanted to stay true to the es­tab­lished Torch­light se­ries, but also use re­flec­tions, light­ing and new tech­nol­ogy like Un­real En­gine to in­tro­duce high-fi­delity art and bring this beloved fran­chise into the 21st cen­tury. This meant cre­at­ing most en­vi­ron­ments com­pletely from scratch.

“When build­ing an en­vi­ron­ment from scratch, you first need to gather some ref­er­ence ma­te­ri­als,” says Dmitriy. “This helps you build a ba­sic idea of what the scenery should look like – whether that’s a bustling me­dieval town, a pic­turesque beach or a rugged moun­tain top. Af­ter you get the ref­er­ence, you’ll want to talk to the con­cept team, who start mak­ing loose sketches. Then we’ll start up a back-and-forth, it­er­at­ing on those sketches, then we pick cer­tain sketches and build a full art piece.

“At this stage, you’ll make a block-out to make sure ev­ery­thing lines up in game. Es­sen­tially, this is a grey, to-scale out­line of the en­vi­ron­ment which testers run around in. It’s im­por­tant to as­sess at scale, be­cause some as­sets might look re­ally great in con­cept but won’t work as a prac­ti­cal el­e­ment in game. Now, you can slowly start putting in de­tails and tex­tures that bring the en­vi­ron­ment to life. Ev­ery­thing goes from big­gest to small­est. Start work­ing on the larger pieces of the en­vi­ron­ment first, such as ter­rain and tow­ers, then you can fill in props and ter­tiary de­tails. Fi­nally, there are light­ing passes, qual­ity checks and con­stant it­er­a­tion based on tester feed­back.”

Torch­light III’S de­vel­op­ment typ­i­cally in­volved a lot of dis­cus­sion and it­er­a­tion. When try­ing to make an ex­cel­lent new en­try point into the Torch­light uni­verse, as well as the spiritual suc­ces­sor to an es­tab­lished game se­ries, you need to be open to feed­back from de­vel­op­ers, pub­lish­ers and fans alike. In short, the cre­ative team were re­view­ing each other’s art­work con­stantly to meet ex­pec­ta­tions of the game.

“One of my favourite lev­els is one I didn’t even work on,” re­calls Dmitriy. “It’s called The Gob­lin Caves – a huge sys­tem of cav­erns that de­scend fur­ther and fur­ther be­low ground, with lights dim­ming as the player pro­gresses into its depths. That omi­nous at­mos­phere is the ex­act kind of artis­tic achieve­ment that can only come from feed­back, it­er­a­tion and team­work.”

Al­to­gether, the process of build­ing a game en­vi­ron­ment might take about four weeks for a sin­gle map. A key con­cern for Dmitriy was to op­ti­mise time and pro­cesses wher­ever pos­si­ble, be­ing mind­ful of tools to save time and money. This is of­ten the case when pro­duc­ing games, TV, film or any kind of long-form vis­ual con­tent.

“In de­vel­op­ment for Torch­light III, my big­gest suc­cess was in­tro­duc­ing a more ef­fi­cient artis­tic process, us­ing Sub­stance De­signer and Sub­stance Painter to stan­dard­ise some of our ma­te­ri­als and ways that we work,” says Dmitriy. “With the Sub­stance suite, I was able to look at ma­te­ri­als that other artists on my team have made and ap­ply them across dif­fer­ent scenes. Th­ese smart ma­te­ri­als un­der­stand edge treat­ment, am­bi­ent oc­clu­sion and more, so they in­stantly work when ap­plied to a new en­vi­ron­ment. In this way, we were able to make as­sets at high qual­ity, but also at a rea­son­able speed.”

EN­GAG­ING AU­DI­ENCES

Now that we’ve cov­ered the ‘how to’ of build­ing game en­vi­ron­ments, it’s time to dis­cuss how that art is brought to life. As an en­vi­ron­ment artist and level de­signer, Dmitriy was en­gag­ing with the player in a very unique way. Gamers have the free­dom to run around a lo­ca­tion, rather than fol­low a lin­ear story. There­fore, artists and de­sign­ers need to weave lots of sub­tle ref­er­ences into the en­vi­ron­ments.

“There are so many in­ter­est­ing lit­tle sto­ry­telling pieces in­te­grated into the en­vi­ron­ment if you just know where to look,” ex­plains Dmitriy. “For an ac­tion RPG in the style of Torch­light III, we might add a mon­u­ment into a land­scape – the area around it over­grown with fo­liage and the skele­ton of a war­rior nearby – all of which adds up into a story all its own.”

Try­ing to work game lore into any en­vi­ron­ment is a very in-depth process, es­pe­cially as many props fore­shadow events later in the game. A whole set of en­vi­ron­ments need to flow to­gether cre­atively. In Torch­light III, there will be ac­tual lore books you can pick up in the game that will play au­dio de­scrip­tion as you run around. It’s a de­sign choice to help play­ers truly un­der­stand the vast new world

The game is based in No­vas­traia, and re­quires the player to tra­verse the wilder­ness and bat­tle through dun­geons, col­lect­ing weapons and ar­mour to aid in bat­tle against in­vad­ing forces

The ac­tion role­play­ing ad­ven­ture is avail­able on Win­dows, Playstatio­n 4, Xbox One, and Nin­tendo Switch

“FORTS ARE LIKE A BIG SAND­BOX WHERE YOU CAN PLAY WITH ALL OF THE ART”

Dmitriy Golovi­nov, en­vi­ron­ment artist & level de­signer, Ech­tra Games

they are ex­plor­ing, to sup­ple­ment the story and art.

“Torch­light III will also have cus­tomis­able forts – a big area where play­ers can col­lect var­i­ous items through­out the game,” says Dmitriy. “All of the beau­ti­ful props that we’ve made, some of which only ap­pear once in the story, can be brought into this space. That’s the best part of forts – play­ers can com­bine a huge range of as­sets to cre­ate a space that’s unique, in­ter­est­ing and per­son­alised to their game­play ex­pe­ri­ence. Forts are like a big sand­box where you can play with all of the art that we de­vel­op­ers have spent so much time on.”

BAL­ANC­ING ART AND PLAYA­BIL­ITY

Game artists have a great deal of scope to bring a whole new world to life, but they don’t have end­less cre­ative free­dom. They must also con­sider game bal­ance – ad­just­ing game el­e­ments in or­der to make a co­her­ent and en­joy­able game­play ex­pe­ri­ence. Me­chan­ics, aes­thet­ics, story and tech­nol­ogy must all sup­port each other.

“A key pri­or­ity for our team was scale,” says Dmitriy. “Ev­ery­thing in the en­vi­ron­ment needed to make sense in ra­tio with the player’s avatar. This is a good rule of thumb what­ever genre of game you hap­pen to be work­ing on, whether that’s a dun­geon-crawl­ing ac­tion RPG like

Torch­light III or a sim­ple 2D plat­former.

The per­spec­tive of a gamer is very dif­fer­ent to the au­di­ences of film or TV – any dis­crep­ancy in scale can take them right out of the im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. There­fore, be­ing con­scious of scale is al­ways vi­tal to the artists. It’s our job to en­sure the game is ac­tu­ally playable, as well as beau­ti­ful.”

An­other thing to con­sider when bal­anc­ing the art and playa­bil­ity of your game is the hard­ware lim­i­ta­tions of your au­di­ence. “In de­vel­op­ment on Torch­light

III, I’ve been blown away by the power of Un­real En­gine,” Dmitriy com­ments. “It’s so ver­sa­tile. You can quite lit­er­ally make a film with this game en­gine, which is what a lot of Hol­ly­wood stu­dios are cur­rently do­ing. How­ever, be­cause the scope of artis­tic pos­si­bil­ity is so wide, you have to re­ally reign in cre­ative de­ci­sions. You don’t want to make a game un­playable by in­tro­duc­ing painfully long load­ing times or graph­ics that a gam­ing con­sole just can’t sup­port. You need to think about what you’re do­ing, why you’re do­ing it, and hard­ware lim­i­ta­tions.”

By util­is­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy – and by keep­ing in mind key rules for scale and sto­ry­telling – Ech­tra Games was able to cre­ate a new in­stal­ment in the Torch­light se­ries that all ARPG fans can truly be­come im­mersed in. Art, an­i­ma­tion, mu­si­cal score and the whim­si­cal na­ture of the game it­self all com­bine to make Torch­light III a breath of fresh air in the ac­tion RPG genre.

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 ??  ?? Above: Con­cept art for one of the lo­ca­tions in
Torch­light III
Above: Con­cept art for one of the lo­ca­tions in Torch­light III
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 ??  ?? Left: Con­cept art of a Voltura Gun­ner, a en­emy in the game that is a bird­ma­chine hy­brid
Left: Con­cept art of a Voltura Gun­ner, a en­emy in the game that is a bird­ma­chine hy­brid
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