Case study: Morphite
Crescent Moon Games is a well established publisher on iOS and Android that focuses on premium games with a huge emphasis on good quality graphics. They leaded the game development followed by the game development team at We're Five Games, who took care of the programming side and animations, Blowfish Studios a game development company that published the game on consoles, various freelancers for level design and music and us, Polygonal Mind, who were in charge of making the 3D content of the game.
Morphite is a casual atmospheric FPS mainly inspired by Metroid prime and No Man’s Sky.
The premise was to have a main story with fixed planets and a procedural universe, meaning, endless planets to visit and explore filled with different animals and vegetation that you can kill and scan, oh and it had to run on mobile.
Morphite took us a year and a half since the first art test that we made for the game to the final game release, there are tons of problems we solved and dozens of stories to be told about the game, but this time we are going to focus on.
The lowpoly look and colors
One of the reasons this game is made by big flat polygons is optimization, less polygons, less draw calls, also most of the models of the game doesn't have any textures so every color you see is a material, and every material changes its hue based on the planet you are visiting.
This is applied to animals, items, characters, trees, environment, dungeons,.... probably everything except the weapons and main characters.
Here are some examples of the same animal in different planets:
The procedural levels
One of the most ambitious features of the game, being able to visit an endless number of planets was also one of the most challenging ones, we started by creating boundaries on the exploration, meaning, inside a planet you can just walk or use land vehicles and the only way in or out of this planet is by using your drop pod, this allowed us to use a procedural level system like you would see in games like Diablo.
We had to be careful to make the terrain chunks connectors look natural so the player could not see them easily, but also they had to be fixed so we could add doors, walls and caves between them.
We also separated the terrain from the walls, allowing us make walls variations for each terrain chunk.
Thanks to this we could use the same terrain piece various times without feeling repetitive and also repurpose them as caves some times.
The procedural creatures
If you play Morphite you will find that there are dozens of different creatures, critters, enemies and animals, this is mainly because we made a huge ton of them, but, also because the way we made them allowed us to mix between creatures and create easy variations.
After deciding what need to be done we used Zbrush to make the basic body shape.
Used ZSpheres to make a quick topology.
Maya to separate the body parts, fix the topology, add materials and ready for Unity!
Having the animal broken down into separated parts allowed us to make new animals out of already done animals parts, make body parts variations and also saved us some skin weighting time.
Most of the wild life in Morphite has at least 6-7 head variations 4-5 body variations and different limbs.
The feline has up to 17 head variations!
The fixed main story levels
Morphite has 16 handcrafted story levels, most of them planets that are a result of a collaboration between the whole team and a well defined workflow, even though we all worked on remote.
First the awesome level designer Mike Madden, made a blockout of the level with cubes inside Unity.
Then we took those cubes into Maya, and organise them into regions.
Afterwards we take every region to Zbrush, and using Dynamesh we are able to sculpt the terrain out of those blocks.
Using Decimation Master we reduced the polycount of the terrain to a desired amount and export back to Maya
We used Maya to fix the non-good looking topology that polygon reduction tools like Decimation Master usually make, plus adding some special details that are easier to be done on a polygonal modelling software.
Also adding materials and exporting all as separated FBX files.
Now time to import the terrain into Unity so the game designer and the programmer can add functionality to the level.
Morphite went out on iOS on 20/09/2017 as a premium game. With a great Appstore feature for 2 weeks.
Having a total of 41000 purchases that generated more than $200000 in revenue.
Months later it was released on Android as a free game with in app purchases.
Having more than a million downloads that generated more than $40000 in revenue.
The game was also ported for Steam PC by We're five games team.
And it got ported to Xbox, PS4 and Nintendo Switch by Blowfish Studios.
Morphite is a huge mobile game, not just because it has an open world to play, but because it has an endless amount of them!
On this case study I focused on the most relevant parts when it comes to the visual side of the game but there is way more to cover like procedural space stations, vendors, ships, humanoids, side quest...
This game was made by a remote team, working on different time zones and continents through collaboration and dedication, and I'm really proud of all the work the managed to ship.
Daniel García is the founder and creative director at Polygonal Mind.
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