Winners announced for Rookie Awards 2021
Harbinger of Spring
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Harbinger of Spring

Harbinger of Spring is a first person multiplayer FFA shooter. Gameplay is a mixture of old school arena mechanics and modern mobility systems. Set in an ancient alien temple, players compete against each other to find and secure energy sources stolen from the tree of life itself. This student project took six months.

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Introduction

Harbinger Of Spring is a first person Multiplayer FFA shooter made at SCAD over the last six months by a group of dedicated upperclassmen. The game includes both Multiplayer arena play and a single player training mode with AI. The game is set in an ancient temple built by an alien race known as the Aeonians who created nature itself and spread it throughout the universe. This once great temple contains their legacy; the Tree of life. But now, various mercenaries are fighting to collect power from the Tree as a precious energy source, unknowingly destroying life itself in the process.

Design

Harbinger of Spring is an Arena style shooter which takes great inspiration from older shooters while infusing a more modern gameplay pace and additional mobility systems. HoS is a mixture of old and new mechanics that create a unique experience in a quick to play, difficult to master gameplay environment. Additionally, the victory condition is met through successfully obtaining and depositing the Container to the correct locations before time runs out.

One of the design challenges we faced was to create an objective-based system that didn't become overly static. We didn't want players to sit still and camp specific locations. To combat this, we designed the game with randomized pick-up and drop off locations. Each of the pick-up locations has a corresponding selection of drop-offs, so players who have experience with the game can strategize their movements. However, only the Container carrier knows the exact drop off location.

Other players are given HUD information that helps them navigate to their objectives. If there is no carrier in play, all players HUD's inform them of the container’s location. Once a player has the container, other players HUDs update in real time with the location of the carrier. The carrier knows the exact drop off location, and is rewarded points based on how quickly they deliver the Container. Carriers can die, but this doesn't reset the container- only a successful drop off, or the containers time expiring will reset the container. Then, one of the possible container pickup locations is selected at random and the players begin again until the max score is reached.

The container is not the only pickup on the map. As an arena shooter weapons, ammo, and health pickups are all available throughout the game. Health doesn't replenish automatically, (though the player shield does) so players will need to find health packs to keep themselves going. Additionally, no weapon has reload capability, as to encourage players to stay in the action and seek ammo pick-ups. Lastly, there are weapons available for pick-up. Players start with a pistol and SMG, and the carrier uses a specialty pistol. Non- carriers may find and use the shotgun and the heavy laser.

Although we loved the sleek and simplified feel of many arena games, we wanted to keep some of the mobility features of modern shooters. Not every feature we tested fit well within the balance of the game, but we increased the base speed, added sprint and double jump, and a jetpack dash. One of the most important mobility changes is the dash, which gives players the flexibility to pivot directions both on the ground and in the air. The dash has a short recharge, but players can use it early in exchange for some of their shield. In other words, if players want to increase their speed, they may sacrifice defense. Players use this feature both to reach destinations quicker, and to dodge more effectively in firefights.

Environment

From ancient temples to science fiction structures, Harbinger of Spring blends influences from a variety of sources. The environment features themes and motifs found in early civilizations from Mesopotamia, Asia, and South America. To create contrast, human structures feature traditional science fiction elements. This is seen in the metal and plastic equipment, and day after the tomorrow technology. In contrast, the alien race developed its future-tech in conjunction with nature. Large stone monuments are framed by moss, lichen, and root structures; vastly different from the human's cold, metal, constructions.

One of the goals of the environment team was to create a universal monumental style that resembles early human civilization. Because of the narrative that the Aeonians came before all other civilizations, we attempted to reverse engineer a single style designed as if human civilizations took various elements as their own. This is reflected in the use of gold, stone, geometric, and monumental architecture throughout the rooms of the map. Patterns, glyphs, and fractals were also important motifs that we integrated into the environment in different sections.

We took inspiration from early African and Indian holy site architecture's emphasis on elevation. Almost all the areas of the map have multiple stories, and the map itself has four different levels. Each of these levels have their own style of walls, props, and lighting to help differentiate them but are still cohesive to the overall map. This was important to give players the ability to recognize where in the map they were without feeling like each level or room was from a different game.

When studying ancient religious sites, monumental structures and pyramids are common throughout the world. From South America to Asia, these motifs were present, and in the narrative of the game the Aeonians would have been the singular inspiration to all those cultures. To reflect this, there is an elevated pyramid in the center of the map that the rest of play rotates around. Inside the pyramid is the temple to the Tree full of sci-fi runes covering the wall that seem magical in nature. Above this temple is the Tree itself and the basin of the elevated temple was once full of water to sustain the Tree.

Although there is little water remaining the moss, lichen, and mud are important indicators of what once was. We wanted to illustrate the sense of age in the entire environment. The temple has survived the extinction of the Aeonian race and has been left to decay. Much of the foliage is now growing out of control, walls are crumbling, and the once polished stones are cracked and worn.

This environment is no longer just Aeonian, there is a noticeable human presence. When humanity first found the Aeonian ruins and the Tree, they were able to use the bountiful life force of the Tree as a power source. However, taking from the Tree eventually led to a shortage and a decline of human civilization. Now, humanity fights itself in these once holy sites to gain control of what little remains of the Trees life force.

To reflect these changes, we added three series of human props to environment. The first round were small unobtrusive props like boxes, monitors, and tools to show a small human footprint. These archeologists and scientists were dedicated to learning and preserving. That changed quickly when humanity discovered the energy potential and so we added large structures like the Gate and the Crane. Finally, after the fall we added in barricades, graffiti, and blast marks to indicate the struggles that have stained this once holy place.

We also felt it necessary to mix tight and open spaces for the benefit of game flow and because of the inspirations we took. Many ancient religious locations were open air while buildings are tighter and narrower. Large amounts of the map retain this open-air design with large arching walls with capped foliage. We did this to elevate foliage just like the Three above the pyramid in the basin. This theme is only broken in the map by the humans once they begin to disregard the importance of the site with their large crane and gate structures.

In addition to the human structures is the old human command post that has fallen into disrepair as well. This area is more claustrophobic than most and is heavily sci-fi. Additionally, we added a small second story catwalk to the command post to keep the varied elevation that is a fundamental design tenant. Lastly, the use of metal and blue light was chosen to contrast with the feel of the rest of the Aeonian temple. 

Due to the scale and changes of the environment the team employed a variety of different development methods to complete the environment. Much of the environment is masked instead of painted on allowing for parent materials in the engine to do the heavy lifting and allow for easier tweaking. These materials were combined with specialized substance designer files that were made to fit within the pipeline for easier use. Set dressers took the various modular kits and would then rework materials in each section to match lighting requirements, tone, and feel of grunge. UV's and masks were all made with this outcome in mind so that tiles and seams would be less of a problem. Where such problems did occur, modular kits had ample trim pieces to fix such problems. Additionally, thanks to this pipeline GPU performance was substantially improved which allowed the team to push poly count, lighting costs, and texture resolutions in many places.

Here are just some of the projects modular kits:

Each of the environments in the game followed these ideas and adhered to the technical pipeline. A lot of the iteration work on the project was done in lighting and in material work as part of the pipeline plan. 

Here are some additional environment locations:

Hero Assets

Throughout the map there are several focal points to help create both narrative environmental storytelling and map flow differentiation. Multiplayer shooter maps must have identifiable markers so that players can communicate effectively. Not every identifiable marker is a hero asset and not every hero asset serves as the room’s marker. However, regardless of their marker importance they are story elements and are large pieces of the environment.

The Aeonian face, as shown above, is featured three times in the basin area of the map. These faces serve as the only depictions of the Aeonians throughout the map. The large and imposing carvings face the Tree watching over the legacy of their race through the eons. Above the heads are open platforms that function as narrative worship areas and gameplay high grounds. Some of the faces have received some defacing but each has some erosion around the eyes and general stone wear.

We also wanted representation of human involvement in the environment. One of these hero assets was the gate which is covered above. The other human hero asset was the crane. The crane was used to remove rubble and destroy areas by the humans looking for more access to Trees root network. The green paint is part of the prop color scheme to reflect the militaristic expansionist age of the narrative, during the end of the golden age. Climbing over the outer part of the wall while destroying the fractal image of the Tree it serves as a reminder of the human destruction. Additionally, the crane makes the large room easy to remember and name for players moving through the map quickly.

The Tree itself is one of the most important elements of the map. The tree above the pyramid is not reachable by players but the inside of the temple is open for exploration. We also decided to place one of the pickup locations here to make this a central conflict area to keep players coming back. The twisted center of the root glows with the life force that the players have come to steal. This area also received custom particles, it is one of the only areas in the map where we use particles and emissives that are not related to direct player action.

Since this is set on an alien world the mercenaries need a way to get to and from it. For this purpose, we place a ship in low orbit near the basin. During the golden age people came and went through the large gate, but now without the Tree able to power it ships must be used. This hero asset adds to the science fiction elements of the game and helps layer the skybox with more elements.

The last, and certainly not least, of the hero assets were the character and weapons. The character is a sci-fi mercenary hired by a faction of humans to enter the temple, steal the remaining resource, and kill anyone who gets in their way. We blended sleek design with layered armor and a fabric under layer to showcase the importance of both protection and mobility to the mercenary.

Each of the weapons serve a distinct gameplay purpose and have their own feel. Players start with the SMG and the smaller pistol by default. The Pistols both have unlimited ammo. When a player grabs the Container, they unlock the carrier pistol which is larger and more powerful, they must use only this pistol for the duration of carrying the container. Players who are not carrying the container can find and pick up the shotgun or find one of the rare heavy laser weapons on the map.

From left to right; starting pistol, carrier pistol, shotgun, SMG, and Heavy Laser.

Additional Photos

Here are some gameplay shots:

Here are some additional cinematic shots:

Here are some additional environment shots:

Thank You

We here at iX Game Studio have spent the last six months working on Harbinger of Spring as our largest and final collegiate game project. So, we would like to first thank Autodesk for hosting this competition and creating a space where we can show our work. We would also like to thank the judges, fellow participates, and you the reader for taking the time to look at our game. We sincerely hope that you've found it at least partially as enjoyable to read about as it was for us to make it.

Lastly, we wish to thank the people who made the game possible despite not being a part of the team. Thank you to our friends, families, and mentors who encouraged us to pursue the project and our passion as game developers. 


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