Inside Gaming - Shift Happens

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Hi everyone! Hope you’re all well. My name is Simon and I’d like to introduce the game me and my team are working on: Shift Happens! (No spelling mistake)

The People behind the Scenes

Shift Happens is a 2-player cooperative platformer currently in late development by German indie game dev studio Klonk Games. We’re a team of ten former game design students who founded Klonk Games after our graduation and Shift Happens is the project we’ve put our upmost work and effort into. The project started with the working title “Mercury Shift 3D” according to a flash game of similar name we created during our study in 2012.

Gameplay & Plot

Shift Happens has a variety of gameplay features typical for Jump’n’Runs which are all in some way connected to our core mechanic: the shift (surprise? :D)
It’s a simple, yet versatile mechanic that lets our characters switch sizes, from big to small or small to big. But keep in mind: If you switch sizes the other player inevitably does the same. Which means each of the two players has control over both of the character’s sizes.

Due to an inconvenient lab accident our two protagonists Bismo(red) and Plom(blue) are now unseizably connected, resulting in their ability to shift each others sizes. Both big and small size have their advantages and drawbacks:
Small can run faster, jump further and can pass small tunnels or cracks. He’s also far more lightweight than big.
Big is slower but a lot stronger than small. He can lift small crates, push and pull big crates and can even carry and throw the small character.
After finding out about their strange condition clumsy Plom and energetic Bismo team up to find a way to get back to normal.

Shaping the Art

Getting our final art style took a lot of iterations (yeah, it’s typical for game development ;D). We went from hand-painted jungle setting to a more realistic but simplistic company/office type of setting until we ended up with our highly stylized textureless geometric look for the environment.

Our characters had a similar number of iterations: they went from being a blue and a red box to industrial robots to colored blobs made of mercury and orange juice (you read right).

The workflow we used differed a lot as well between all those settings.

For the jungle theme we used hand-painted textures which were based on rough sculpts inside ZBrush and Mudbox. Some of the bigger assets also had normal maps to not look “cheap” when being lit and to keep up with the level of detail that the smaller objects achieved just with their meshes. After some prototyping we discarded this look. It took to much effort to produce single assets, it was pretty error-prone due to the complex workflow and the overall look just didn’t match the quality we had in mind.

In the company setting we used a different approach: All objects didn’t get a texture but just a plain color from a pre-defined color sheet. We got a certain level of detail using decals and did some coloring and ambience using lights and lightmapping.

Still we weren’t satisfied. The quality of the overall look was kind of better but we didn’t like the direction it was heading to. Its overall mood was a bit too gloomy and dark for our taste and we felt like the look didn’t tap the full potential of the gameplay. So we started all over and finally got to our geometric low poly look we have now.
Not only did it look pretty unique with well-defined color patterns, the polygonal shapes and an own shading we developed for the coloring of the objects, the workflow was agreeably simple and we got a pretty straight look dev process since we didn’t need to switch between programs to change colors or textures. They’re all done by the shaders and post effects inside Unity so we can change everything on the fly.
We didn’t initially have the look ready as it is now. A lot of polishing and even more iterations than before were involved to get to the current level of quality.

One of the things I made during this project is the shading of the whole game which means essentially how objects look inside the engine and how they react to visual influences like light or the angle from which the surface is viewed. In a more regular workflow you’d use diffuse textures to get some basic color and detail onto an object but in our case that wasn’t what we wanted. Our objects worked with their polygonal shape alone and didn’t need any more detail like cracks or dirt. The only thing missing was the coloring and that’s where my work is at action 🙂
The default Unity shading didn’t really fit our objects. It looked kind of boring and worked “too realistic” the way it did the highlights and shadows, not matching the stylized look of our assets. The shading I developed for Shift Happens is different in that matter. It works by blending a couple of colors in a more unique way than what the default shaders do. That way we have better control of how our levels look and we can put design decisions over realism. Another thing on the plus side is that the shading makes the shadows and polygonal details of the objects much better readable:

Upon developing it I looked at various concepts of computer graphics like BRDF, Fresnel and PBR and also drew inspiration from the works of illustrators like Timothy J. Reynolds ( and JR Schmidt ( who do a lot with this low poly style and are still one of our main source of reference due to their awesome work. I really recommend everyone to check them out if you like this look 🙂
Now after the shading for the game is long done (at least for most cases that we need) I’m mainly working with the rest of our artists to get all of our remaining levels visually done so that we will be able to get Shift Happens ready for early access release. We’re targeting mid of 2015 for this.

Sketchfab and Shift Happens

Finally I’d like to explain some ideas we’ve been thinking of using Sketchfab for future updates on Shift Happens. In my spare time I’m currently trying to re-create our look inside of Blender (derivating the stuff our shaders normally do inside of Unity) to bake it onto a texture. That way we’ll finally be able to upload assets or even small scenes to Sketchfab for everyone to take a look. A 3d turnable scene of a level you’ll be playing inside the released game is much cooler than a screenshot of it, isn’t it? 😉
We also thought about uploading animations of Bismo and Plom for everyone to enjoy as soon as animations are possible with Sketchfab (and we have a lot to show).
Here’s a little scene I made while gearing to our shading. I’m pretty satisfied with the result so you might see more of Shift Happens on Sketchfab soon 😀

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Sketchfab Team

Sketchfab Team

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