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08 June 2023

Skywatch #3 - The Wildlife of Foundation: Part 1 - Oh, Deer

UPDATE: Please note that due to some technical issues with our website, we have replaced any animated gifs with static images within this post for the time being, so don't be concerned if you see any references to gifs only for the images to display as static. We'll try to use video clips in-place of gifs where possible going forward.

In this weeks Skywatch, we want to focus on introducing you to one of the creatures that you'll encounter in Lost Skies - The deer. You'll encounter a range of unique and interesting creatures on your journeys, which we'll feature in future Skywatch's, but our deer is quite far along in-terms of development, and we feel now is a good time to showcase them in all their glory.

They do move in herds...

Today we want to take you through the creation process we followed for our deer, from the earliest concept sketches, right through to the modelling, animations and VFX work that are now well underway.

You've already had a glimpse of this majestic animal in all her glory in one of the Steam screenshots, which has been used for the header image of today's blog post. The deer in that screenshot is the female variant, but we've also been working on a male stag variation, too, which we'll show off below! Let's start with some early concept work by one of our artists, Rebecca. In the pieces below, Rebecca wanted to concept a land-based herd creature.

In the concepts above, you can see how the basic deer shape was already apparent even in the earliest sketches, and how Rebecca developed the concept, right down to the colours that will be used for both the male and female deer. The last pic above shows some variations on the deer design, that may yet be used for a different deer creature in the future!

Once the concept is locked in, it's over to our 3D team to render a sculpt of the animal whilst staying as close to the concepts as possible...

After iterating on the sculpt of the stag to hone the finer details (in this case, the ears were made less "elvish" and less pointy, as well as moved further back on the head, and the nose was narrowed to better match the original concept pieces), the model is then ready to be handed off to our 3D animators, who begin work on rigging and animating the 3D model.

In the clip below, you can see our first test run for a deer herd on an island with the run animations that have been applied to this point (disclaimer: this is much older work as you can see from the rough island terrain and old character model, this is not representative of actual gameplay).

With the greybox model now rigged and basic animations applied, it's time for shader and texture work to begin!

Our deer is starting to really take shape now! Next, it's time to iterate on the animations and movement controllers. In the comparison gifs below, you can see how the AI movement controller was updated to support better behaviour pathing and terrain tracking for our deer - other land-based creatures also benefit from this improved tracking.

And in the clips below, you can see further iteration and refinement on the deer's pathing and movements.

With the basic animations dialled in, it's time to work on AI behaviour and perception patterns and animations, which dictates how our deer will react when encountering players. In the first clip below, you can see the first implementation of AI perception and how our deer will behave in different states of alertness: green means that the creature is unaware of the player and so will follow its standard behaviour patterns, amber means that they're suspicious and are starting to become alert, they may start acting skittish at this point, and red means that they're aware of the players presence and will react accordingly - in the deers case, they'll either flee at this point or charge the player. This perception behaviour can be applied to all of our creatures, each of which will react differently to the player character.

Our deer is quite skittish by nature, which is demonstrated below in our female deers flee animations.

Whilst our deer can become frightened and flee when caught unawares, they can also behave aggressively if you upset them. Below is a look at the charge attack animations for our deer. The bottom clip demonstrates the full attack loop, note that the VFX are not final - for example, the lightning effect that's applied to the antlers will most likely be removed as we feel that it could give players the wrong impression that the creature has an electrical elemental attack, which isn't the case for our deer.

And there you go! All of this work culminates in the beautiful animal that you see in the header image for this post. There's still work to do on our deer: at present they have a tendency to throw themselves off the side of islands a little too easily and can still occasionally get stuck on objects, so their pathing needs some adjustment, but they've come a long way from those early concept pieces, wouldn't you agree?

We hope that you've enjoyed this deep dive into our creature design process and can't wait to share more with you. There will be a range of unique creatures that you will encounter on your travels in Lost Skies, some of them will be passive or timid by nature, others will be more fearsome and aggressive but we hope that all of them will offer rewarding and engaging interactions for our players.