Creating Dropzone's Environments with Substance: An Interview with Hugo Beyer
Dropzone has admirably combined the MOBA and RTS genres into a single free-to-play game. The classic RTS feel of the game is paired with impressive, clean visuals. One of the challenges of this game was to create the huge amount of environments necessary for the game’s numerous arenas. To learn more about it, we had the chance to interview Hugo Beyer, Senior Environment Artist at Sparkypants, who tells us how Substance Designer sped up the environment creation process on the game.
Hey Hugo, thanks for taking your time for this interview. Could you introduce yourself to the community?
Hello, my name is Hugo Beyer, I’m a Senior Environment Artist at Sparkypants Studios. In the past, I worked on many titles, like The Order 1886, Kinect Star Wars, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and others. At Sparkypants, I worked alongside an amazing team of talented people, many of who played key roles at the original Big Huge Games.
What is your background?
I was born in Brazil and came to the United States around 10 years ago. I started doing graphic design and jumped over to games around 16 years ago. Four years ago, I became fascinated with procedural textures creation and modeling. Nowadays, I can’t get enough of the amazing power of procedural texturing, therefore I use Substance Designer/Substance Painter constantly. I’ve also turned a number of my fellow Sparkypants art team members on to it.
You have been Senior Environment Artist on DropZone: how would you describe this project?
Dropzone is a fantastic combination of MOBA and RTS-style games. It’s hugely competitive and features plenty of content. It’s pure adrenaline when playing Dropzone.
Could you describe how you implemented our software in your pipeline?
Sparkypants artist Stephen Stone was the first to implement Substance in our character pipeline, and he convinced the studio to go that route. Basically, we need only various masks and normal maps. All the other details like wear marks, colors, gradients, scratches are plug-and-play and easily implemented into our pipeline. After Stephen and the team established this early pipeline, I arrived at the studio and began creating a library of materials. We also recreated our game shaders within Substance Designer to help us visualize it all. We usually start our conception process by creating vertical slice paint-overs with simple materials. The benefit is that when we feel we can improve our textures, we can come back to the .sbs files and easily tweak without breaking anything. Therefore, we improve our materials constantly without losing any work.
The environments of Dropzone are very different from each other, jumping from hard surface sci-fi walls to organic jungle: What are the challenges behind the creation of textures for each of these genres?
We wanted to create a variety of thematic locations, so we always separated the organic parts from hard-surface shapes. This made it even easier to divide work between artists. The moon of Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) has a wide range of colors in its atmosphere. We also created the idea of biomes that humans built there in the future. The biggest challenge I had was to fit things into scale without making the rigs (our units) feel too small or too big. Every detail in the textures had to be subtle and diminish the noise to fit our style. You will notice that the textures are not supposed to look realistic, but they still get better values of composition (here and there). I focused on bigger shapes first and started scaling down after modeling iterations. Sparkypants doesn't have many environment artists, so we had to get things going fast, and the way we work is through constant experimentation and iteration!
Also, reusing substances was a big help. We created our own nodes for metals and organic to speed up the process. All of our hard surface maps are ribbons, meaning we modeled and applied UV’s using those, and we were able to reuse them.
You have made some great tutorials for Substance Designer. Are there any tips and tricks you could share with the community?
Start with overall shapes. Don't go crazy on details first. Make something quick, apply it to your models, and see if that’s what you need. You can always iterate quickly and not go too far down the wrong path.
Start with heightmaps, make sure you have the correct height so you can also use them for blending materials later.
Create your own custom nodes. Even if it’s simple, it will save you tons of time. We have our own rock maker, mask generators, and much more.
What is your favorite feature in Substance Painter? And in Substance Designer?
In Substance Painter, it would be the fantastic baker, easy to use, apply normals, and export. In Substance Designer, it would be organized graphs, easy prototyping, quick iteration, and export.
What is the next feature you would like to see in Substance Designer/ Substance Painter?
I’d love to see the possibility of masking the tile sampler (fx map) elements into specific ID colors and using the max blend on it.
Also, I would love to have an obj importer into a node. That way, if I have a sculpted shape I could rotate it on the thumbnail and use it in many ways.
Check out one of Hugo’s Substance Designer tutorials on his YouTube channel:
See more of Hugo Beyer’s art on Artstation.