In the past few weeks, we’ve talked about different warriors in Breakaway. We dived deep into damage dealers like Spartacus and Anne Bonny, and we’ve talked in depth about tanks like Thorgrim. But we haven’t really discussed how a support warrior would function in the game. So this week, we’re going to take a look at Alona, a healer in Breakaway.
When the game team was coming up with the idea of a healer in the game, they wanted something that thematically aligned with the sun. Something that gives life, something that gave hope. So the team came up with Alona, the sun-priestess. Today, we have Lead Tech Artist Bryan Lentenbrink here to chat about what makes Alona special.
Hey everyone, I’m Bryan Lentenbrink, and I’m the Lead Tech Artist on the Breakaway team. I work on all of the technology that goes into the warriors. So that means character rigging, hair and FX, which include cloth simulations. I also work closely with the animators and modelers to make sure our warriors can perform in the game the way the animators want them to. I collaborate closely with game designers, like Chris Corey, to ensure that gameplay mechanics they design can work from a technical standpoint in Breakaway. Basically, I make sure that the tools we have can met the goals of our designers.
Right now, Alona is the only healer in the game. Her job is to sustain the team in combat. In most games, you have this trinity of damage-tank-healing characters, and I think she’s the foundation of any team comp at the moment. Interestingly enough, she’s actually a pretty good Relic runner. With her defensive ability, Sun’s Grace, she can evade through enemies or Buildables. It’s basically a teleport. I wouldn’t say she’s the best runner, but a lot of scores happen with Alona during our playtests.
A good healer needs to feel like they are replacing the damage dealt to their team. That is one of the core components of what a healer is: when a teammate is injured, you can bring them back from the brink of death. So when we were balancing her, we had to make sure she wasn’t healing all the damage, otherwise she would be overpowered and no one would ever die. You know, with only four slots on a team, she has to feel significant. She has to feel like she is a major part of the battle, otherwise players won’t use her.
When we’re balancing warriors, we want to make the player feel like a hero. As a healer, you’re not really in the action, you’re usually in the backline. You’re a part of the support cast. They don’t get a lot of kills. So we really struggle with how to make playing her feel awesome. One thing we do is to make sure that there are a lot of interesting decisions to make while you’re healing with her. With impactful options, playing Alona feels like you’re making a huge difference during battle.
Alona is special to me because she’s the first character we wanted to do simulations on. Before Alona, the engine wasn’t capable of doing hair and cloth simulations. Even from her early designs, we knew that flowing cloth and hair were going to be one of her key reads. She always had light beams emanating from her headdress, she always had some sort of sash or dress, so knew right away that these elements of her design shouldn’t be hand animated.
A simulation is when we let the engine do animation for us. We don’t want animators to hand animate things like hair, dresses or cloth. It’s very cumbersome and takes a lot of time to create something that just doesn’t look authentic or as real as a simulation could make it look. So with this tech, a tech artist can set up parameters for what a particular animation should look like; what does their hair look like if they flip it back, what does fabric look like if they are sprinting across the map? We let the computer handle that animation, and it creates a simulation for these objects in the game.
I worked closely with the Lumberyard team for a good chunk of time to get these features working in the game engine, and Alona was our test character. She went through a lot of iterations and we spent a lot of time refining this technology. And now the simulation tech is on almost every warrior in Breakaway. That’s why Alona is so special to us and the team.
For example, think about how long hair sits on a person’s shoulder. Even at idle, there’s a little bit of movement. But you don’t want that movement to look the same every time you see it. There’s a little bit of chaos when you use simulation. This way, the animation team can work on the high-level performance and epic poses, and they don’t have to worry about the minutia of the warrior.
When it comes to defining what a good simulation is, you’re looking for whether or not a simulation can augment the performance that the animation team has already created for a warrior. You want that “wow” factor. For Alona, the animation team did a full nav and combat moveset and then we did simulations on top of that. And it’s tech art’s job to ensure that the sims that we have jibe with the animations the animation team created. So if it’s a slow, purposeful animation, our sim has to match that tempo and pace. Likewise, if the warrior is running, the sim should make cloths flap quickly in the wind and so forth. And once you hit the benchmark where everything looks organic, you can identify that “wow” factor we’re looking for.
Almost every warrior at this point has some sort of simulation on their character model. Morgan Le Fay’s feathers and dress have it, Spartacus’ tassel and skirt have it, Thorgrim’s beard and his armor. I think the only warrior right now that doesn’t really use sim is Rawlins, his design just doesn’t really need simulation, and we’re not going to force it if we don’t need it. When we designed Alona, we knew she was going to be special, and now because of the iterations we went through with her, each warrior’s look and feels benefits from the tech that came out of her design.