Hi my name is James Mielke and I’m the creative director of Tigertron. Our studio was founded in Brooklyn, NY by industry veteran Sam Kennedy and I. Between the two of us we have spent some 40+ years in the editorial, development, tech, and marketing facets of the game industry. We’ve worked on games in Japan, at Q Entertainment, such as Child of Eden (Xbox 360, PS3), Lumines Electronic Symphony (PlayStation Vita), and others. We decided to form our own company with the dream of developing games that present fascinating settings inspired by the natural world and the challenges it faces. Jupiter & Mars, in development for Playstation 4 VR (PSVR), is the first example of this effort.
Jupiter & Mars
Jupiter & Mars is set in a near-future world where mankind has disappeared, leaving behind bleached coral reefs and still-functioning machinery, resulting in an industrial legacy that the world’s sea creatures must still contend with. Jupiter and Mars are two bottlenose dolphins tasked by an ancient race of whales known as The Elders with defeating these machines and myriad remnants of man’s past excesses. Players play as Jupiter while controlling her A.I. partner Mars, and use each one’s distinct abilities to solve puzzles and mysteries, free sea creatures trapped by plastics and oil, and enlist the help of the ocean’s animals to help them on their way.
We wanted the sea creatures to have common, unified elements, in this case traces of bioluminescence, to showcase how sea life has transformed and evolved in the future, due to the chemicals and metallic elements that have been dumped in the oceans. The most sensible way to create a unique look for the game was to give each creature glowing characteristics, which also brings each underwater environment to life.
We worked with the Wicked Witch team (based in Melbourne Australia) who have been making games for over 19 years. Their initial experience was heavily weighted in traditional pixel-pushing pipelines making Gameboy games which naturally evolved into the booming mobile/cell phone market. As their team grew, so did the variety of projects with more emphasis on 3D asset creation. From handheld to modern consoles their artists have grown with the industry embracing all the growth that comes with it.
Wicked Witch lead developers on our project can explain a bit more about the process behind the Giant Jellyfish:
An initial Biome idea is set in place between Tigertron and Tantalus (design team from Melbourne). All parties would then gather a vast collection of reference to serve as a melting pot to create the experience and story needing to play out. For example, one Biome is based on the central area of London following The Thames via various key landmarks. We narrowed the landmarks down to an achievable number (ensuring we could meet the deadlines and not drag the development out to 20 years or more). Various level maps were drawn out (on paper) with the teams before initial landscapes were sculpted within the Unreal Engine to swim around for testing and further iteration. Props, landmarks and buildings were modelled within 3DS Max, rocks and underwater decoration sculpted in Z-Brush, textures painted in Adobe Photoshop, sequences and cut-scenes developed via Maya and within the Unreal Engine, etc. Obviously multiple passes over each Biome have seen them grow over the development process with iteration still happening right now.
The environments and sea creatures in Jupiter & Mars reflect our vision of a future ocean, after the disappearance of mankind, where the chemicals and hard metals that have saturated the seas have caused its occupants to take on technological characteristics (glowing bioluminescent markings) reminiscent of the machines and materials responsible for this.
Reference points for our visual designs were movies like Blade Runner, Tron and Tron: Legacy, and even things like Yellow Submarine, for their high contrast highlights and trippy, futuristic visuals. Of course, for Jupiter & Mars, this needs to translate to an underwater world, where flickering remnants of civilization’s past remain powered up.
Wicked Witch continued:
In Jupiter & Mars are the ancient ‘Elder Whales’ that not only dwarf everything else with their immense scale, but also serve as a major gameplay factor for exploring the story (you will have to play it to find out how). After initial concept drawings created by the Art Director, the team got to work bringing them to life. Loosely based on a Humpback Whale, we started with a base 3D model (created in 3DSMax) to then build upon. Alterations were then made in Z-Brush, adjusting proportions of the Whale’s body to fit unique and aged armour plating that these creatures have developed over the thousands of years roaming the oceans. Once the general shape was correct and an initial texture was painted in Adobe Photoshop, a lot of time went into the style of the armour. Created entirely in Z-Brush the armour was slowly sculpted into shape. Each plate, similar to a shell found on Sea Turtles was hand crafted into place – xtra details around the edges, open plates across the body. Due to the sheer size, we wanted to ensure there was enough detail in it for a standard sized Dolphin to swim alongside, and feel the scale. The Clay-Build-Up tool (in Z-Brush) came in very handy for developing knuckle style details. The Clay-Polish brush helping sharpen up edging etc.
Using a flat 2D turtle shell pattern that was created in-house, we ran it through the normal map creation program called ‘Xnormal’ to generate the height details from the texture provided. Once the creative side of the process was complete it was time to prepare the actual in-game mesh, which in most cases requires a drastic reduction of polys. This was also achieved within Z-Brush by running the model through ‘Zremesher’ to create a suitable exportable mesh. One of the last touches was to apply ‘Bioluminescence’ which heavily features within the Jupiter & Mars universe. This was achieved by hand painting each dot or stroke via Substance Painter to create a mask overlay which suited the pipeline for the Unreal Engine! From there the Elder Whales were born!!
How We Use Sketchfab
Sketchfab is a great way to share dynamic, visual content with our community, especially as we’re partnered with globally active environmental groups, and this is a useful tool for both them and us to showcase the artistry going into the game, without requiring the viewer to put on a PSVR headset, or even own a game system. In the near future we will be adding some of these 3D models and settings to our website and marketing efforts.
Jupiter & Mars is slated for a summer 2018 release. You can follow the game’s progress at our website and on our Sketchfab account.