The Ambient Sounds of Etheria

Blog - July 10, 2014 - By Zack Donovan, Audio Implementor

Greetings, Defenders!

So far we’ve given you quite a bit of insight into how our levels are developed visually from start to finish. There is, however, one final element that greatly contributes to the atmosphere of our beautiful maps: audio. Once our level designers have finished building and scripting a map, and our VFX artists have gone through to make sure everything is appropriately shiny, it’s finally time to implement sound.

When a map is ready for sound, my first step is to generate an audio asset list for our talented sound designer, Afshin Toufighian. It is during this process that I decide which environment pieces and effects will require an audio element and which areas of the map will require their own stereo ambient sound waves.

Stereo Sounds

Unlike mono sound waves, stereo sound waves utilize both your left and right speakers to create one sound, and as such are not spatialized. This means that they don’t seem to come from any one direction in particular, which makes them useful for establishing an ambient backdrop to a given area. Most indoor maps like Siphon Site D only require one stereo sound spanning the entire level. In contrast, outdoor maps like Nimbus Reach can have a variety of environmental settings that each require their own stereo sound.

With Nimbus Reach, we wanted the starting area near the main cores to sound windy and devoid of wildlife. As we imagined the player approaching the forest area towards the back of the level, we wanted the sound of wind to fade out as the sounds of wildlife faded in. Of course if the player were to approach the waterfalls and rivers on the sides of the map, we wanted the sound of rushing waters to fade in. You can see how this was achieved below.

Stereo_Zack
Yep, with circles. Mystery solved.

Here you can see I’ve placed a stereo sound wave on each side of Nimbus Reach. The inner and outer blue circles surrounding each sound indicate its minimum and maximum attenuation, respectively. When inside the inner minimum attenuation circle, the player will hear that sound at full volume. As the player leaves the minimum attenuation circle, the sound’s volume will dynamically fade out as the player approaches the maximum attenuation circle, beyond which the sound will no longer be audible. By fine tuning these attenuation values, I am able to make these stereo ambient sounds fade in and out as the player traverses the level, giving the sounds a sense of 3D placement.

Mono Sounds

After the stereo sounds are in place, it’s time to start adding in mono sounds for singular environment details. Mono sound waves only utilize one speaker channel, so I set them to be spatialized. This means a player standing near the sound will hear it travel from speaker to speaker as the they turn their camera and experience a direct audible link to where the sound is coming from. In Nimbus Reach, I’ve implemented mono sounds for things like rustling grass, glowing plants, and single crickets chirping throughout the level.

Crickets_Zack
All my single crickets, chirp your hands up.

The Big Picture

When used together, mono and stereo sound waves can create a complete and convincing soundscape for the player to experience. For example, while the water areas in Nimbus Reach do have a stereo water sound encompassing them, each individual waterfall also has a mono sound associated with it as well. These mono sounds communicate to the player’s ears that each waterfall is indeed making its own sound, while the stereo sound communicates the reverberations of water sounds a player should expect to hear that close to the base of a few waterfalls. To put it simply, the stereo sounds function as my broad brushes, while the mono sounds function as my detail brushes.

The finished product can look a little messy…

AllSounds_Zack
It’s ART, okay?!

…but we think it sounds pretty good. You don’t have to take our word for it though. Check out the video at the top of the post for a tour through Nimbus Reach and hear for yourself!

The random winners of our previous blogs are:

Enemy Tiers: Holliewood
Enemy Tiers: xFuNz
The Concept Art Process: MyGoldfish
The Concept Art Process: Alih789

What did you think of the ambient sound process? Tell us in the comments below, and you could win a pre-alpha code for Dungeon Defenders II! You have a full week to leave a comment. We’ll pick TWO random posters and reveal the winners next week. Don’t have a forum account? It takes less than a minute to join the community!


New Reveal: Enemy Tiers

Blog - July 2, 2014 - By Steven Collins, Level Designer

tiers-Blog

In the original Dungeon Defenders, we used different colors to designate enemy difficulties. This was a clear way to show that one enemy was harder than another, but it didn’t allow for variety in the way enemies were presented during each wave.

In Dungeon Defenders II, we’ve thrown out the color system, and we’re now using a tier system. A tier is basically an “upgraded” version of an enemy. We’ve shown you different enemy tiers in previous blogs from Javelin Throwers to the nightmare-inducing Ogres. These enemies and almost every other enemy in the game will come at your defenses in different tiers. Below, you can see a Tier 1 Orc, a Tier 2 Orc and a Tier 3 Orc.

orctiers

As you can see, each tier is not a new enemy, but there is a visible progression between the three Orcs. The first Orc can be pretty threatening when first encountered, but then you meet the second tier of Orc. He’s stronger, hits harder and can withstand more damage from towers and heroes. Then you move on to fight the Tier 3 Orc. Basically a walking tank, this armored foe is no joke. If he’s not dealt with, a Tier 3 Orc can do some serious damage to your defenses.

Using this system, level designers will have more fine-tune control on how the difficulty of the game ramps up. We’re able to introduce enemies early on in the game like the Orc and the Kobold for players to learn how to respond to that type of threat. The higher-tier versions of those enemies allow the level designers to generate harder difficulty late game without needing to send out hundreds of Orcs and Ogres.

wrecking_gifOrc

New Tiers, New Fears

Some tiers aren’t just stronger versions of an enemy. Many Dungeon Defenders fans are familiar with the tower-busting enemy known as the Kobold. He’s back in DD2, and by utilizing the tier system, we can vary the gameplay of the Kobolds to generate different difficulty from one enemy type.

The tiers of Kobolds progress not from the front, but from the middle. We have a standard Kobold or Tier 2 Kobold in the center. This run-of-the-mill exploding menace makes his return as he was in DD1. But his tier setup goes down to a smaller and faster version, the speedy Kobold. Upon setting off his wick, this Kobold skates his way at high speeds towards his target. His speed comes at a cost, though, as he does a smaller damage amount than his medium-sized compadre.

speedy_gifKobold

On the other side of the scale, we have our Heavy Kobold. This third tier of the Kobold is the heavy hitter. He packs a harder punch than the regular Kobold but at the cost of speed. He moves much slower, making it easier to take out before he is able to blast through the towers.

This new tier progression is a way to generate a much smoother and enjoyable ramp in difficulty for players. It also allows a variety of enemies to challenge the players without creating too much confusion when trying to learn new enemy types.

Do you have an idea for an enemy tier? Tell us in the comments below, and you could win a pre-alpha code for Dungeon Defenders II! You have a full week to leave a comment. We’ll pick TWO random posters and reveal the winners next Tuesday! Don’t have a forum account? It takes less than a minute to join the community! Also, there’s still time to enter The Concept Art Process blog giveaway, where we’ll also select two random winners!

Instead of our usual two blogs per week, we’re going to post one dev blog a week moving forward. Don’t worry: We’ll still giveaway four pre-alpha codes per week — two on each blog and two on each Facebook post!


The Concept Art Process

Blog - June 27, 2014 - By Enrique Rivera, Concept Artist

concept-Blog

Greetings, Defenders!

Before any of the lush environments, gnarly villains and dashing heroes step into the third dimension, we need to make them look like something — preferably something cool! So how do we create concepts for new additions to the game? I figured we could go back to one of our recently revealed enemies, the Javelin Thrower, and see what it took for this abomination to come into fruition. (I also want to use this blog post as an excuse to melt your eyes with tons of art.)

javelin thrower_A

Design, Reference, Brainstorming

So where do we start? Usually there is a to-do list for each development milestone for things that need art — animation poses, VFX, environment paintovers, and weapons to name a few — but my favorites are the enemy concepts. Usually we work on those that need priority first, but most often we pick the fun things! So when we first start, we need to know the enemy’s role in the game. At this stage, a design document has already been approved by the higher-ups with the information we need. Below is just a brief excerpt from the Javelin Thrower’s doc:

Design Goals

  • Ranged, smaller version of the Orcs
  • Uses massive javelin that pierces through targets and damages them
  • Varies minion wave composition
  • Switches to melee on close range

Makes sense. After we have a clear grasp of what our goal with this guy is, we start gathering reference and spend some time thinking of our design goals. Our main job as concept artists is to solve visual problems, so in this instance we ask ourselves a few questions: What would a heavy ranged enemy look like? How do you throw a javelin? Is he intimidating, or can we inject humor? At this point my mind is already brewing with endless possibilities. I start going through the list of ideas in my head, exploring different shapes and personalities while still keeping in mind the design goals.

Our initial goal is to generate enough ideas and concepts to get people talking. Sometimes we hit the nail right on the head, and the first concept we make is the one that everyone likes. We celebrate, shake hands, and party. Unfortunately, this is not one of those times. After we’ve exhausted our brain and poured our initial concepts onto digital paper, we usually gather with our Creative Director Daniel Araya, our Art Director Rusty Drake, and the rest of our art team, and pitch ideas back and forth until we are clear on what the game needs.

Form Follows Function

One of the great things about games is the amalgamation of so many talented folks coming together to illustrate a single idea. Oftentimes, if done really really well, you know what that idea is by glancing at it, without guessing or having someone explain it to you.

With the Javelin Thrower, we really wanted that to be apparent. We wanted the player to have a sense of what this character was just by looking at him. Hopefully we did our job right. In the initial concepts, everyone really latched on to the idea that his throwing arm is all he uses, so it’s ripped and huge! If this guy throws something at you, it will obliterate anything in its path. We wanted that to be the focus, so he is extremely out of shape, disfigured and malnourished in certain parts. He has basically neglected everything else… but that arm, though.

javelin thrower_B

We are getting close! So at this stage, we couldn’t decide what to go with exactly in terms of personality. Should he be angry like the Orcs? Alarmed? Mysterious? Perplexed?

Ultimately, we agreed to have him be a little more fun and show more personality than his angry and intimidating Orc counterpart. B3 (see illustration above) was definitely the way to go. He seems super excited to get into the map and just throw things with wreckless abandon.

javelin thrower_C

So there he is: the Javelin Thrower! He is perfect, the kind of enemy Etheria deserves — except we are not quite done yet.

javelin thrower_D

Tiers and Tears

So here is the part where we take the design and break it only to mold it again into perfection. Most enemies in Dungeon Defenders II have tiers, which means this guy goes from tough to tougher to ridiculous. Visually, one of the things we really care about when it comes to tiers is the character’s silhouette. Will you be able to tell this guy apart from the others? If so, how much will his silhouette change when he is in a higher tier? Is he still visually interesting, or is it boring?

Normally enemies need to look more aggressive and intimidating. With the Javelin Thrower, it needed to be that plus we had to maintain his essential dorkiness. There is a lot of back and forth in this stage. We move things around, try a lot of different shapes, armors, colors, and horns, lots of horns, until ultimately…

javelin thrower_E

Like Brad Pitt in Troy

Bear with me here! We have a bit more time just before our deadline. Now after the design and the tiers have been approved, we need to make sure that all of our ideas are clear for everyone to be on the same page. We make a call out sheet to go over a few details and ideas we might have missed to make the 3D modelers and animators’ lives easier.

Now this little guy is ready to step into…

javelin thrower_F

The Third Dimension

Our buddy Dan Pingston made sure of that, and he turned out very presentable, wouldn’t you agree? After this comes rigging, animation, materials, and finally those ones and zeroes can run through their veins. We have a ton of cool things to show you, so until the next one! Cheers!

The random winners of our previous blogs are:

  • Early Access Blog: Wyldbill
  • Early Access Blog: Ramzilla
  • Concept to Creation Blog: TehOwn
  • Concept to Creation Blog: xPi
  • A Bold New World Blog: Basston
  • A Bold New World Blog: Ratiasu

What did you think of the concept art process? Tell us in the comments below, and you could win a pre-alpha code for Dungeon Defenders II! You have a full week to leave a comment. We’ll pick a random poster and reveal the winner next Friday. Don’t have a forum account? It takes less than a minute to join the community!


Important Message About DD2’s Early Access Launch

Blog - June 20, 2014 - By Darrell Rodriguez, CEO

Greetings Defenders,

We have decided to delay Early Access to Dungeon Defenders II. This was not an easy decision, and I know many of you are disappointed.

Let me explain.

Originally, our plan was to follow the recent Early Access trends and release the game in a rough “pre-alpha” state with many features missing. Over the past couple of months, our team has been playing with our Councillors, analyzing their feedback, and a different conversation started. Simply put, we discovered that Dungeon Defenders is not the kind of game that benefits from a super unfinished early access like DayZ or Rust. To focus on delivering you a more complete, high-quality Dungeon Defenders experience from the beginning, we’ve decided to hold Early Access.

This will allow us to create almost every feature we and our Councillors believe is important for a AAA quality Early Access experience before going wide. These features include the new tavern, solo play, bosses, item upgrading, new enemies, more missions, more loot, a refined UI… plus a ton of polish and tweaks that our Councillors have suggested to hero abilities & defenses, mana distribution and so much more.

In a few weeks, we will also have an exciting announcement that will fill the gap between now and the Early Access release of Dungeon Defenders II. This will provide a different means to test our Playverse server architecture, which will allow us to iterate on the technology without jeopardizing the stability or ultimate quality of the launch of Dungeon Defenders II.

Thank you for understanding. I want to reiterate my commitment to empowering the developers here at Trendy to realize their creative vision – and my commitment to you, our loyal fans, who are patiently awaiting your next visit to Etheria. Keep an eye on this blog for more DD2 updates. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak at someone familiar:

TavernScreenshot

Darrell Rodriguez
CEO, Trendy Entertainment


From Concept to Creation

Blog - June 17, 2014 - By Zack Smith, Environment Artist

forge-Blog

Creating 3D art is so cool! Okay, I had to get that off my chest because it’s the truth! Turning a flat 2D painting into an object that you can walk on, interact with or marvel at as you run by is truly rewarding.

When a concept is given to a 3D artist, or at to least me, I am flooded with so many thoughts that are usually instantaneous. The main thought is, “How will I create this thing?” I begin to break down the shapes that I see in a given concept and ponder how I will translate that given asset into the third dimension.

forge

Creating the Forge for Dungeon Defenders II was an exciting task to complete. I thought to myself, “I get to create a cool design that opens up, emits cool VFX, has glowly parts, and the Council helped design the concept!” This asset had a bit of pressure for sure, but a little pressure never hurt anyone.

Like any model, it all begins with a primitive geometric shape. I usually start off with either a cube or cylinder. Who would have thought that in high school I would literally work with geometry all day? It’s a good thing the math is behind the scenes; I just work with the shapes. A given triangle count limit is given. This is the max limit of how many Tris (cool people say Tris instead of triangles) that can be used to create that given model. I try to not think of it as a restriction, but rather as a nice number that I have in the back of my head that will sometimes whisper to me: “Hey Zack, your Tri count is getting a bit high! Try lowering that number, okay?” I’m always happy to oblige to myself. Creating models efficiently as possible is one of the many factors that help regulate how well a game runs.

ForgeScreenshot02

When creating the Forge, I broke the model into different parts. It was easy enough to do because the great design has very distinct landmarks that made it painless to figure out shapes and spatial relationships. This is crucial in my thinking process to get the model to look as close to the concept as possible.

Before the process of painting the Forge, I had to completely lay out the model to be flat. This is the process of creating UVs. The letters U and V are just the axes that a texture will be placed. Creating UVs is like unfolding a cardboard box completely flat. To save as much space as possible, UVs are overlapped and flipped in all kinds of ways to be snug tight. The better the UV layout, the easier it will be to paint the model’s texture.

UVs

Texturing is one of my favorite parts. This is when the model really starts to come together. About 98% of my painting is done in 3D-Coat. This program allows me to paint directly on the geometry. Photoshop is used to do any minor clean-ups or color adjustments. The Forge involved painting lots of metal. The first part of the painting process involves putting down those nice base colors. Once that is done, I begin to paint the overall form a bit more. Little nicks and dents are added to give the overall piece an interesting look. Unlike realistic textures, not every minute detail is put into the painting. Implied paint strokes can be just enough to let the viewer understand what the material the model is made out of. We also do not want the model to become noisy with detail.

ForgeScreenshot01

After hours of painting, the model is done. I do a quick visual sweep of the model to make sure I’m satisfied and to ensure there are not any technical problems before it’s checked by the 3D art lead and art director. After critiques are given and changes are made, it’s handed off to rigging and animation!

forgegif_1

Are there any other models that you’d like to see from concept to creation? Tell us in the comments below, and you could win a pre-alpha code for Dungeon Defenders II! You have a full week to leave a comment. We’ll pick a random poster and reveal the winner next Tuesday. Don’t have a forum account? It takes less than a minute to join!

The random winner of the Javelin Thrower Boogie blog is TezNyanCatLipoca! There’s still time to enter the Bold New World blog giveaway!


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