/ DeepMotion Creature

Interview: on Making "The Vagrant" using Creature with O.T.K Games

Inspired by the 2008 game Odin Sphere, Beijing-based O.T.K games launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, hoping to fund a 2D side scrolling hack-and-slash game they were developing called The Vagrant. Their campaign requested 20,000 pounds and showcased impressive clips and character art, animations, gameplay, music, in addition to detailing backstories and narrative. The project appeared to be quite ambitious, given that the indie team only consisted of a single developer (Yiran Rong), a game designer/animator (Qiang Wang), and one Concept Artist (Canlin Liu).

The campaign failed to reach its goal, a big setback for the small O.T.K team, already unsure they could deliver on the aggressive development goals put forth in their plan; VanillaWare’s widely popular Odin Sphere had itself taken 3+ years to complete with a team of 7 artists and 3 developers. The proposition of a single artist drawing 300+ sprites, in addition to producing all the technical animations needed to bring the game to life seemed like a nonstarter.

Nevertheless, the O.T.K team persisted, eventually finding funding elsewhere in order to release an early access version of the game in 2017. The game was a commercial and critical success for the indie studio, selling over 400,000 copies on steam with a highly favorable 9/10 rating. Their secret to completing a “gorgeous hand-painted fantasy world” with such limited resources? The power of physics-based animation. With the help of our Creature 2D animation software, the O.T.K team was able to accelerate their production cycles for high quality character animation.

Shortly after the games release, our team sat down with O.T.K to discuss the inspiration behind the title, funding process, and the technical challenges they faced.

DeepMotion: Congratulations on your launch! I downloaded my own copy of “The Vagrant” on Steam, and have enjoyed it a lot. How have players been responding to the game so far?

O.T.K Games: 非常感谢!我们也很高兴你能喜欢The Vagrant这款游戏.目前玩家的反响从我们收集到的反馈上看来总体还是比较正面的,当然也会有一些质疑的声音。但是我们会尽最大努力把游戏圆满的完成。

Thank you so much! We too are extremely elated that you enjoyed playing the Vagrant. Most of our reviews so far on Steam have been very positive. We will definitely continue to improve and refine our current title to please our player base.

DM: What were the games you played growing up – and which games are you playing today?

OTK: 我们以前其实涉猎的游戏种类还是比较杂的,什么类型的游戏都玩,主机上的游戏和PC上的游戏我们基本上不挑食的。最近我们玩了Persona 5, Horizon: zero dawn,其他的也玩了一些但是没有太深入。

We don’t play that many genres of games to be honest but we’re not too picky about what we prefer to play either. Mostly of what we play are on the console and PC platforms. Recently, the games we have been playing are Person 5 and Horizon: Zero Dawn.

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DM: How long have the three of you known each other?

OTK: 我和王强2008年在一个游戏论坛的绘画板块认识的;荣一然和王强是高中同学。所以只有我和荣一然是在我们决定做这款游戏时才认识的。这么算来其实大家认识也很久了。

I met Wang Qiang (Art Director + Lead Artist ) in 2008 at a Games Developer Discussion forum. Yiran ( Lead Developer ) was Wang Qiang’s high school classmate. You can say we’ve all known each other for a while now.

DM: When your Kickstarter did not succeed, your team continued to the finish line. Can you tell us why you chose to use Kickstarter, and what you learned in the process? (Your perseverance will be inspiring to those who also failed to reach their Kickstarter goals).

OTK: 当时唯一决定在Kickstarter上面众筹的原因就是我们也不知道其他筹集资金的方法了,当然我们在Kickstarter众筹失败后就启动了后备方案,就是从家里要钱。整个过程总结下来,其实发现这种众筹的方式只是开发者们把之前积累和建立的玩家社区和支持者转化为现金的一个手段而已,很多Kickstarter上的成功的例子实际上在众筹之前就已经有了一定数量的支持者社区。而我们则之前完全没有想到这一点。
但是归根结底,我们还是想把这款游戏做出来,毕竟从到Kickstarter失败的时候,我们也在The Vagrant上面投入了8个月的时间和精力。我们三个人都是比较固执的,所以反而会有一点不服气的感觉,无论如何也要做出来。当然游戏能做出来也要感谢这几年给予过我们帮助的所有人,正是因为有了他们的帮助和鼓励我们才能走到今天这一步。

The reason why we did a Kickstarter Campaign initially was because we knew of no other way to raise funds at that time. Of course when we failed, we prepared our backup plan which basically involved asking money from our family. In retrospect, we realised that a lot of successful KickStarter Campaigns succeeded because they already had a rather large and loyal fanbase even before they started. We had never considered the realities of this unfortunately. Having said that, we still delivered on our promise despite the KickStarter setback. We were determined to release the game no matter what, given the fact that we had already spent 8 months into developing The Vagrant. All 3 of us have a rather stubborn character and we believe in finishing what we started. We are all extremely grateful to the many people around us who have contributed in many different ways to the development of The Vagrant. The game will not have been developed if not for them.

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DM: Did you know from the start that you were going to use a painterly style, or did you consider other art styles, like pixel or polygonal?

OTK: 我们其实从最开始就打算使用这种手绘的风格,毕竟我们受了Vanillaware作品非常大的影响,而且那段时期市面上已经有不少pixel风格的游戏了,另一方面我们都不会3D,所以自然而然的这种手绘风格对我们来说是最好的选择。

We had already decided from the start that we were going to do a painterly style game. Having been heavily influenced by the works of Vanillaware and seeing that there was a glut of Pixel Art games everywhere, we decided to go the painterly route. Also, we were not too familiar with 3D ourselves so going for a beautiful, painterly style look was the natural thing to do.

DM: Many players on Steam are likening “The Vagrant” to “Odin Sphere” and “Dragon’s Crown” – is Vanillaware an inspiration for your team? What other games inspired you?

OTK: 正是因为有了Vanillaware的作品,才有了我们的这款The Vagrant,主要还是在画面和表现方面对我们影响最大,游戏性方面我们其实也参考了其他的一些游戏比如Blizzard的Diablo系列和KOEI的Dynasty Warrior等。另一款对我们来说影响比较大的游戏是一款叫做Dust:An Elysian Tail,影响最大的地方是这款游戏的制作人Dean Dodrill竟然一个人花了4年完成这款游戏,这份毅力和坚持是我们决定去开发游戏的原动力。

You can say that it is because of Vanillaware that The Vagrant was made! The Vanillaware gameplay and art style has had a huge influence on all of us. Of course, we take inspiration from other titles as well, like Blizzard’s Diablo and Koei’s Dynasty Warrior. Another indie title that has been a big inspiration for us was Dust: An Elysian Tail. The reason is because the creator of the game, Dean Dodrill spent 4 years of his time making this amazing game, and he did it all by himself. The process and determination he had really was a major source of inspiration for us in the development of our game.

DM: Vanillaware has twenty-six team members – how are you able to produce a top quality 2D animation game with a team of only three?

OTK: 实际上有一点要提到的是Vanillaware通常会同时进行两个项目的开发,但是当然了,他们总是有一个主打的,投入大部分人力物力的项目和另一个规模相对较小的项目,而且小规模的项目一旦完成,开发人员会合并到大的项目上去。
对于我们来说,我们能够做出目前这种质量的2D动画首先是我们对于这部分美术资源的投入,另一个非常重要的因素就是我们使用了一款Kestrelmoon叫做Creature的2D动画软件,为我们节省了不少资源而且在表现效果上非常令人满意。毫不夸张的说动画的部分完全是我们的动画师王强一人全部包揽的,而他一个人可以完成游戏主人公,NPC和70多种怪物的全部2D动画Creature帮了很大的忙。
我们聊天时经常会说到如果我们有更多的人手,哪怕只是6个人,我们都可以做出比现在好的多得多的东西,毕竟3个人的精力有限没法顾及到所有的细节。

Actually one thing to note is that Vanillaware normally develops 2 titles at the same time, of which one of them is the major one while the other is one of smaller scope. Once smaller title is done, the majority of the manpower will shift focus to help the team making the larger title. For us personally, the reason why we could do it is two folds: Firstly, we had invested quite a bit of time and effort and getting the art direction/style right before we started. Secondly, we are using an advanced 2D Animation Tool called Creature; Creature has enabled us to reduce the amount of time needed to animate a lot of our characters, enabling us to produce high quality animations from 2D art at a fraction of the time it will normally require a huge team of dedicated artists to produce.

This is not an exaggeration, but Creature has enabled essentially one person, Wang Qiang, to produce the animations for the main character, all the NPCs as well as over 70 different types of monsters/enemies in the game. This is a rather impressive feat by itself and the animated results coming out from the tool have also been very satisfying.
Having said that, there is a limitation to what 3 people can do. We often have discussions among the 3 of us where we postulate having 6 people since it will enable us to produce an even more amazing content and gameplay.

DM: How long was your development cycle?

OTK: 因为The Vagrant目前还在Early Access 阶段,但是好在核心的内容比较完善了,所以我认为开发周期算起来的话,应该是从2014年的7月到现在也已经3年了。

The Vagrant is currently in Early Access on Steam, but we think the core gameplay mechanics and content are appealing enough at this point so we will say it took us about roughly 3 years of development time since 2014.

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DM: What was the single biggest challenge you faced during the course of production?

OTK: 最大的挑战其实是对整个开发过程的管理。毕竟我们三个人在The Vagrant之前没有任何游戏开发的经验,中途推翻重做了2次其实也是因为发现有一些问题在前期我们没有准备好。这就像一把双刃剑一样,我们能够把游戏做出来是因为我们前期没有顾虑太多,直接就开始进行开发;缺点同样也是因为没有一个非常详尽的方案,所以在开发期间吃了些苦头。

Our biggest challenge was actually the project management aspect of game development. We are basically 3 guys with no prior experience in developing games. This is both a double edged sword: On one hand, it gives us the confidence to move forwards and get the job done since we do not know what hurdles we will be facing. On the other hand, we have had to rewrite the core game 2 times because we had encountered various showstoppers and design issues along the way. This has definitely been a learning experience for all 3 of us.

DM: What is the most important thing you’ve learned during the development of “The Vagrant”?

OTK: 前期的构思设计,规划以及对游戏规模的整体把握。说实话,The Vagrant对于我们三个人来说确实是野心大了一些,也正是因为3个人要照顾到这么一个规模的游戏,我们认为对于现阶段的我们来说其实还是有些力不从心的。有一些不得不妥协的地方也是因为工作量和工期的综合考虑才会以现在的样子呈现在玩家面前。当然,好处是,我们挑战了自己的极限,也对自己有了更清晰的认识,开发中我们也学到了很多可以取巧的地方,那句 no pain no gain我们认为说的非常好。

We learned a lot of things during the development of The Vagrant. One of them is that we might have been a bit too ambitious in tackling a title as large in scope as this. The flaws in the game are mainly due to the lack of time and the huge amount of work needed to produce a title like this. The good thing is we grew much stronger from this whole experience. Game development is a very difficult process and we think the term “No Pain, No Gain” definitely applies.

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DM: Why did you choose Unreal over other game development engines?

OTK: 最初使用的是UNITY引擎,当时认为The Vagrant主要卖点在好看的2D画面,所以对引擎没有考虑太多。但是在制作2周后发现UNITY引擎的操作反馈完全不能满足我们的制作需求。开发开始陷入纠结中,因为这个问题荣一然试了很多种方法完全没办法解决。
某日看到了GuiltyGear Xrd的游戏视频,得知这款游戏使用了UE3进行开发。我们立刻开始搜集相关的信息材料,最后的到的结论是,如果UE3能开发出对操作要求极高的格斗游戏,那么动作游戏的需求肯定不在话下。讨论后,决定放弃UNITY,使用当时最新的UE4引擎进行开发。
更换引擎的成本很高,当时来看就是时间成本和学习成本,好在我们之前花掉的时间不算太多。所以最终就用了Unreal engine.

We initially started the development process in Unity since we thought it would be suitable for The Vagrant’s 2D animation and art style. However within 2 weeks, we found that Unity could not produce the visual fidelity for a title such as The Vagrant. It was then we started to do some research into other engines. Yiran looked extensively into this issue. One day, we saw the game GuiltyGear Xrd and found out it was developed using the UE3 engine. Our conclusion was that if it could produce that quality of animation and visuals with UE3, then surely the brand new UE4 ( at that time ) will be capable of much more. It was then that we decided to switch engines from Unity into Unreal Engine 4. Switching Engines is also an expensive process. Thankfully, we were willing to put in the time for it and learned a great deal from that process.

DM: Why did you choose Creature over other 2D animation solutions?

OTK: 因为在当时Creature是唯一一款我们能找到和UE4对接的2D动画工具,我们其实也对当时市面上的其他工具进行过尝试,综合下来,Creature对我们来说是最佳的选择,而且Creature非常好用。再加上Creature在之后的技术支持上对我们非常有帮助,很多问题Creature的开发者都会很耐心的和我们讲解,这让我们感到非常的被重视。

At that time. Creature was the only 2D Animation Tool that provided first class support to UE4. We had of course tried the other tools on the market as well. However, we decided in the end that Creature was the only solution that could produce the visuals at the quality we were satisfied with. The creator of Creature also personally provided us with amazing support during the game development process. He was both patient and helpful in adding the multiple features we needed to make this game.

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DM: If you didn’t have access to Creature, how long do you estimate “The Vagrant” would have taken to produce?

OTK: 至少肯定达不到现在的完成度,我个人认为在削减一半角色动画的工作量之后,可能在内容上还不足以达到能在Early Access发售的程度。否则就只能用表现非常差劲的动画来凑数了,但是这并不是我们想要看到的结果。

In short, we will not have been able to deliver the game in any form, let alone early access if not for the Creature Animation Tool. We would probably have had to resort to cutting down the amount of content, characters and gameplay if not for Creature.

DM: What features of Creature have proven to be most useful to you?

OTK: 我们认为Creature中的马达功能是非常强大而且有效率的。这个功能的厉害之处在于,动画师可以直接套用Creature中现成的各种马达来达成各种非常出色的效果,这让我们的工作效率大幅度的提升,而且马达的种类也多达十多个种类来对应不同的动画需求,不管是复杂些的角色动画,或者是背景素材可能会用到的动画都可以用现成的马达或者只需稍微调整一下就可以做出非常理想的效果,这个也是Creature的魅力之一。

The most powerful (and amazing) part of Creature is what its creator calls, a “Procedural Motor System”. This allows the animator to very easily and quickly generate secondary motion for all types of complex animation. In particular, effects like flowing cloth, hair and flesh/muscle effects can be authored and animated very easily in this tool. This enables us to produce some very intricate motion without having an army of animators at your disposal.

DM: How challenging would a tool like Creature be for a new animator to use?

OTK: 我认为对于新的动画师来说Creature在一个好的意义上比较有挑战性,因为对于部分2D动画师来说,使用Creature也会在某种程度上开拓动画师的一些对于动画本身的思路。但是同时,Creature会把一些最枯燥无趣的部分自动处理并且得到一个很好的效果,比如对于布料的物理模拟等。

There is a learning curve to Creature since it is a new tool but in a good way. It actually makes you rethink a lot of concepts regarding animation in general. Once you grasp the basic concepts of the too however, the results are quite astounding both in terms of efficiency of use and the quality it is capable of producing. Cloth and hair animation in particular is very easy to animate with Creature.

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DM: Who is your target audience for “The Vagrant”?

OTK: 我们的目标用户群体是所有喜爱2D横版动作游戏的玩家,但是游戏中成长和培养的元素所占的比例还是不小的,所以这个游戏说到底是一个ACTION RPG。所以我们认为喜好带有日式元素的RPG玩家也是我们的潜在用户。另外就是喜爱Vanillaware作品的玩家也有可能是我们的目标用户,但是从目前的反馈来看,喜爱Vanillaware作品的玩家对The Vagrant的评价比较两极化。

Our target audience for The Vagrant are mainly fans of 2D action side scroller games. However, we also believe it caters to people from all walks of life. We look at The Vagrant as an Action RPG title. Anybody who is a fan of japanese style Action RPGs and in particular Vanillaware fans will definitely enjoy playing The Vagrant. A lot of our current player base are Vanillaware fans and they have given The Vagrant rather high praises in the reviews.

DM: Looking at Steam, there are a lot of indie games using an “8-bit” throwback pixel art style, but very few using the painterly style seen in “The Vagrant”. Why don’t we see many developers applying the painterly style?

OTK: 说实话,我也不知道具体的原因,但是从我个人的猜测来说,应该还是美术资源的制作成本吧。我们也都非常喜欢Pixel art,好的Pixel art更需要创作者有独特的创意,想法和美术功底,但是从另一个角度来说,像素画的入门门槛相对更低,灵活性更强。而手绘风格的美术资源必定在制作成本上更加高昂。

To be honest, we are not quite sure ourselves why that is the case either. Our guess is that maybe the perception is Pixel Art takes less art investment and time but we all know that is not the case in reality. Good Pixel Art takes time and investment, just like any genre of art. You need a lot of imagination and creativity to produce a high quality Pixel Art title.

DM: How did you tune the difficulty? It can be tough to simultaneously satisfy long-time fans of 2D action games AND those new to the genre.

OTK: 我们为玩家准备了三种难度选择,对于此类型游戏的新玩家我们推荐EASY难度,这样可以没有压力的进行并且完成游戏。NORMAL难度是我们对于这款游戏应有难度的标准。HARD难度则是为此类型游戏的硬核玩家准备的。当然,在玩家完成一遍游戏后我们还准备了HELL难度来满足部分玩家挑战极限的需求。我们认为在有这些难度选择的情况下,应该是可以满足不同种类玩家的需求的。我个人其实玩的就是EASY难度。

We have 3 modes of difficulty for our game EASY, NORMAL, HARD. These are pretty self-explanatory and we did it to make the game as accessible as possible to the widest range of players. Of course, we are also preparing a HELL mode for the truly hardcore players out there.

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DM: Why did you choose to launch as an Early Access game?

OTK: 尴尬的讲,是因为我们的钱用完了。毕竟我们也希望能把游戏完整的做完,然后以这款游戏我们认为最好的状态呈现给玩家。但是财政上的困难确实是一个我们无法回避的问题,如果我们把The Vagrant以Early Access的形式推出,那么我们自己也不知道什么时候才能完成这款游戏了。在这一点上我们只能妥协了。

This might be a bit embarrassing but we basically ran out of funding . Of course we wish the game was released in am more polished state to our fans. However, the issues of finance have unfortunately forced our hand in releasing the game on Early Access. If we did not do Early Access, we will probably have no idea when we could have released the title in full since we have had lots of fans wanting to experiencethe game for themselves.

DM: Who is your favorite character in “The Vagrant”? Do you all agree?

OTK: 我们三个都非常喜欢在第一个村子中的三个淘气的小孩子。他们非常粗鲁无礼,而且十分邪恶。但是正是这种明目张胆的trouble maker的感觉让我们都非常向往。我认为不少人都会有时候突然有一种想要“作恶”的冲动。但是正因为人是社会性的,所以我们会克制压抑这种冲动,并用一种更为合理的方式自我消解。所以这三个“反社会人格”的坏孩子反而是我们在这个游戏中最喜欢的角色。

Our favourite characters in the game are the 3 village children. They are rude, violent and have a bit of evil streak in them. In a funny way, we see them as troublemakers trying to disrupt a genre. This is a bit like 3 of us actually, embarking on a crazy idea to make a full scale Action RPG.

DM: Given the art-intensive nature of the game, how difficult was it to ensure that “The Vagrant” could run on a wide range of machines?

OTK: 为了节省系统资源,我们在不少地方都下了功夫。我们首先在背景美术素材的格式和数量上就做了比较严格的限制,因为我们会用到大量的美术资源的sprites贴图,所以为了使得显存在整个游戏的运行中不出现溢出的情况,在这方面我们是比较小心的;同时我们还做了动态读取的相关优化,来进一步在保证在合理占用显存的同时,读取速度和关卡切换速度都能都不影响游戏体验。所以到在系统资源的分配上,我们的技术负责人荣一然投入了很多心血,以至于头发都掉了不少。
另一个地方就是我们为了能够让The Vagrant能够在配置较老旧的电脑上流畅运行起来,首先我们做了高中低三种图像方面的适配,这样在比较老旧的电脑上The Vagrant也可以达到60FPS刷新率,稍微极端点的情况我们也受到过在古老的笔记本电脑上也可以达到40FPS以上的表现。这点首先要得益于Unreal Engine 4新版本对于渲染的优化,而且在发售之后我们也做了针对抗锯齿的优化,这点当然也多亏了Unreal Engine 4性能的提升。在针对低配置的PC上,我们在光影效果和画面的后处理两个方面做了些调整来保证运行效率,这样就确保能在极小幅度牺牲画面质量的情况下,大幅度的提升运行效率。
另外就是在动画部分,Creature为我们节省了非常多的系统资源来保证游戏更流畅的运行,我们实际上在某些地方也会用到传统的序列帧动画来达到特定的一些效果,但是不管是在动画制作的效率上还是对系统资源的占用上,Creature明显要表现的好得多。

We spent a lot of time optimizing the game to play on a wide variety of devices. We are happy to say that The Vagrant runs at 60 FPS on most modern PCs. Even on very low end notebooks, it can run fine at 40 FPS. We invested quite a bit of time in optimizing the texture assets and animations to run on such platforms. The optimization process involved both the asset pipeline ( compressing Sprites, Textures etc. ) as well as the actual code base in UE4. In addition to that, employing Creature meant that we were not deploying frame by frame animation. Creature produces high quality 2D animation by deforming our sprites as meshes, reducing the amount of texture memory that is required for such a title.

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DM: Are you planning to release on additional platforms?

OTK: 是的,我们计划在游戏完全制作完成之后,在XBOXONE平台发售The Vagrant, 对于其他的平台,我们自然是希望能够将这款游戏在越多的主机平台上推出越好,所以在正式完成The Vagrant的制作后,我们会尝试与其他平台联系关于发行The Vagrant的相关事宜。

Our current plans are to release The Vagrant onto the XBoxOne after our PC launch. Regarding the other platforms, we have plans as well (We are interested in the Nintendo Switch ) When we have formally finished The Vagrant, we will be looking into ports for other platforms.

DM: What’s next for O.T.K Games, and where can we follow you?

OTK: 对于O.T.K Games来说,下一步最理想的情况是扩大我们的制作队伍,并且吸取The Vagrant的经验来制作一款更加好玩的游戏。The Vagrant这款游戏实际上也算是我们向Vanillaware致敬的一种方式,也是我们从玩家到游戏开发者的一个转变的过程,更是一个学习的过程。不得不承认的是,这款游戏有着太多Vanillaware的影子,我们希望在下一款游戏中我们可以做出一款真正属于O.T.K Games的,好玩的游戏。
我们在社交媒体上并不是非常活跃,但是我们还是会不定期的更新我们的Twitter 以及我们的网站
谢谢!

Our next step is to grow our production team. We have learned a lot from making “The Vagrant”, we plan to build a better game. “The Vagrant” is our tribute to Vanillaware. It documented our journey from game players to a game developers. We have to admit that Vanillaware have deeply influenced the game. We hope that our next game have unique O.T.K Games identity, a really fun game. We are not very active in social media. Please follow us on Twitter or visit our website,
Thanks!