Blade Ballet Devlog: Skins Galore, Dash Effects, Special Abilities, and More

The big news for this week's devlog is... SKINS!

We've wanted to include skins in the game pretty much since the beginning. Blade Ballet did feature skins at one point - players had the option to select from four colors for several of the bots before changes to the UI removed the option. Now, we're working towards getting skins back in, and upping our artistic game in the process. 

Today we're also sharing an updated dash effect for Vanguard, a look at how bot colliders affect gameplay and art decisions, a tease of a new special ability for Ruckus, and more.

Everybot Has Skin in the Game

No longer will players select just between bots of a different color. Our artists are diving into skin design with gusto, exercising their art chops to the full extent.

Below is concept art for Catbot, DropJaw, and Riot skins. (No guarantees that all of these will make it into the game, though they do represent the spread of ideas we're working with.) There are plenty more where these came from - so stay excited for lots of content to customize your bot appearance.

Amazing how fast that went from cute n' quirky to soul-devouring demon.

Running the gamut from brains to brawn.

Now you're working with steam!

Our artists aren't stopping with concepts - they're already working on models to get the art in the game.

Here's one of the Riot skins - Steam-Powered Riot, to be exact - in progress. Notice how the level of detail changes from one iteration to the next.

Next comes the textures and materials.

 With Original Flavor Riot for comparison.

With Original Flavor Riot for comparison.

Some cool animations for good measure.

 The spinning steam dials totally sell it.

The spinning steam dials totally sell it.

Creating skins represents a unique challenge of collaboration between artists and developers - artists need to build their ideas within the bounds of colliders and mechanics already in the game, and developers need to communicate what those bounds are, and decide when and if they need to be changed. Our developers and artists are also working together to build systems that simplify the process of getting visual changes into the game, allowing everyone to make more changes faster, and with fewer mistakes.

When Bots Collide

Speaking of colliders...

The bots in Blade Ballet have come a long way since their first iteration (solid cubes with flat rectangles for swords). We're now approximately 537 art passes into the future, and our roster of bots (and bot skins) continues to grow and improve.

The bots need to perform mechanically in predictable ways, no matter what changes are made to their appearances. That's where colliders come in. Colliders are the conceptual, invisible shapes recognized by Unity that determine how bots interact with the world - with the walls of the arena, powerups, obstacles, and each other.

The more complex the shape of the collider, the more processing power it takes to figure out and display the interactions of that collider. More complex colliders also have more room for error. Part of the early stages of developing Blade Ballet involved determining a collider shape for the bots that balanced simplicity with functionality. (By functionality, we mean that when a player plays a character, the in-game interactions need to be predictable so the player understands the gameplay and feels in control.)

Having the same collider shape for all the bots means that every new bot we design needs to fit within those parameters. It's a careful balance between form and function, and our team is navigating it in interesting ways.

Bot colliders in Blade Ballet.

Bot colliders highlighted in purple for greater visibility.

These colliders are works in progress, and will continue to evolve and improve as our game evolves and improves.

My, Don't You Look Dashing

The right visual effects can make a huge difference in how it feels to play one of our bots. For example, making DropJaw's Ground Pound effects bigger and brighter made the bot much funner and more interesting to play. DropJaw's effect success inspired us to explore and update the special ability effect for Vanguard.

 Motion-blur trail only.

Motion-blur trail only.

 Smoke-cloud trail only.

Smoke-cloud trail only.

 Motion-blur and smoke-cloud trail.

Motion-blur and smoke-cloud trail.

This series is great because it shows how much work goes into making even a small change to the game. Here's 3D artist Paul's explanation:

"We take a square piece of geometry and place a 2D design of what we would like the trail to look like onto the material (that cool blue effect). Then we place a normal map onto the light refraction node to give it a ripple effect. The two gradients at the end control the opacity of both the design (in this case the squares) and the ripple so that the end of the trail fades out. When we put it through the script, the character draws out a stretched out version of this from the start and end point."

Trail rendering in Unity for a new Nix dash effect.

Once the effects are prototyped, it's time to discuss and test. Our team shares a lot of gifs in Slack to get feedback. Based on gifs and in-studio playtests, we make decisions about what is best for the game.

Tongue Bugs

Ruckus is getting a new special ability!

In the beginning, all the bots were intended to have the same special ability - dashing. As we playtested and tweaked the gameplay, we experimented with new special abilities for some bots, and the reaction was incredibly positive.

Ruckus is one of the last bots to hold onto that vestige dash ability. We've known for a while that the dash doesn't really work with the mace, and are experimenting with a much improved ability.

Of course, things don't always work out on the first try...

 Go home, robot frog, you're drunk.

Go home, robot frog, you're drunk.

New Level Concept, Coming In for a Landing

It's that time again - time to test out a new Blade Ballet arena.

There are two main current philosophies when it comes to level design for multiplayer games. Some games keep mechanics simple, accessible, and consistent across characters, and create many different levels to keep gameplay fresh and interesting, often grouping those levels into classes or zones (Towerfall, Starwhal, Skyhook, for example). Other games, such as Rivals of Aether and  Brawlhalla, provide fun and freshness in the form of characters with unique abilities, and tend to have fewer stages or levels to choose from. We're currently trending towards the latter camp.

It is important to us, though, that players have enough variety in arenas, so we're implementing new levels as time allows. Here's the concept for our latest:

Tweaking AI Core

We weren't yet giving AI Core all she's got, so pumped up the effects to the next level of insanity.

 Too much?

Too much?

Creepy STEVe

Just when you thought STEVe was the cutest and most non-threatening of the bots, Neil went and made some truly terrifying graphics.

Thanks for checking out our devlog! Always happy to answer questions or listen to feedback if you have anything you'd like to share.

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