Behind The Scenes: Art and Building Levels!

Posted on in Development Post

It’s been 7 months since we first began development under the name of Insert Imagination Ltd. and fully began work on To-Tum, and it has almost been a year since we were Team II with Kuria. A lot has changed during this time, my understanding of companies, how different working remotely can be, but obviously most importantly the biggest changes have been to the game. It may seem like a long time for some but it has gone incredibly fast and the game has not only taken on a new name but had a complete overhaul, from Art to Code to Music to Everything! We have completely started from scratch, as with a new art style comes new models and new techniques, as well as with our move from Abertay Framework to Unity we have had to completely alter and redesign our process.

And it’s here where I introduce myself. I’m Jess, the team’s 3D artist and Level Designer. Aside from our lovely programmers, my role has probably been the most hectic and demanding, having to re-imagine the world of To-Tum whilst still maintaining the core mechanic that we created last summer (and then make it and build it)! The last few months have been fantastic, we all learnt a great deal during our time at Dare to be Digital but as developers these last few months have really shown what it truly takes to make a game!

Firstly I want to start by talking about To-Tum and its art style. We set out at the beginning of the project to take Kuria and start again. Art was the first thing that definitely needed some re-thinking. Having toyed with different ideas, and having a team with 3 artists, art is incredibly important to us. We wanted something that was stylish and beautiful, but easy to create, and as we were aiming for mobile platforms we needed something that would work across the board. After some brainstorming and mood boards we decided upon the idea of low-poly art, having a vast bank of influences across the likes of Pinterest and Google to get our artistic brains salivating at the possibilities of fantastic dynamic low-poly worlds. At this point our 2D artist Shaun set about creating some concepts based of our themes and thus To-Tum was born in a whirlwind of fire and brimstone (or floating islands and clouds in our case).

So Kuria went from this to this in the space of a couple of months:


And at that we left Kuria behind cus. For the new style we went with a low-poly vertex colour based style because of both artistic preferences and ease of asset creation as with the aim to ramp up the game and number of levels we needed fast paced creation! One massive benefit of this method is most noticeable with the pipe creation (which I shall go into further later), the ‘building’ blocks of the levels are all created with a grey-scale colouring, and through a shader we manipulate the colouring to allow us to create the current colouring variations on our models, particularly on the pipes, and in turn avoiding massive number of fbx’s of pipes in various colours – giving quick and easy level aesthetics!


The vertex colouring also leaves us open for when we want to branch out into more detailed models and could then go into possibly using pixel atlas maps like this wonderful example from Ocean Heart.

(see here!


With our style in place is was time to start making our assets! The good thing about our game is that, with it being a puzzle game, the assets remain the same for the core features of the game. Therefore once you have made the main models you get straight into level creation even without added things like level decoration or narrative pieces.

The most important of these models were the pipes; these are undoubtedly the main piece of the game world as everything revolves around them – literally! Having already made the pipes multiple times during our first dev iteration I hoped that this time I would strike lucky and that they would work seamlessly from the offset – thanks to our low poly style this was the case!

The reason for this seamless-ness (new word!) is highly down to us working with a modular system of level creation, whereby the pipes snap together like Lego blocks to allow for fast level creation – Here you can see the pipe modularity in use:


Even with the hopes of seamless modular pipes and quick levels this is not entirely the case at the moment; I only say this as so far there have been many bugs and glitches with the levels. With getting used to new processes and having to working in a different engine there have been a fair few hiccups when it has come to level design, and through the development process it has been quite clear that even though the game concept and level creation should be a simple process, that isn’t always the case.

This has become extremely apparent recently as I move away from my level design role to purely asset creation and hand the reigns to Doug and Robin. It became clear our levels weren’t as straightforward as I had come to believe (or had gotten used to) as I made a lengthy 50 minute epic video to help the guys out as they venture into the world of levels! I won’t delve too far into the level creation of To-Tum but just a small enlightenment into what goes into to making a level.


The levels are made by hand, whether at some point we manage to work in a system with the modularity I don’t know, but as it stands the levels are slotted together. However this doesn’t mean the level is completed, there are a fair few steps to getting the level to its finished state.


Firstly having laid out the level with our ‘building pieces’, considering the placement of collectables, valves (and hopefully future features) and musical triggers. Next my ‘art-brain’ kicks into overdrive and I can start decorating! At the moment we are only working with colour variation but the aim is to be able to decorate the surrounding world, as well as the pipes themselves with themed environment pieces such as flowers and rocks or clouds. Finally, add the hard coded and game play elements; things we need to make sure it actually plays. These include: collision boxes, coin scripts and the correct shaders. Once those steps are completed the level is pretty much there and can be saved as a prefab and added into the game.

Obviously as mentioned we aim to ramp up difficulty therefore the level process may become more demanding as we have to consider more elements to add and work within the puzzles. But for now I am happy with how far the game has come and what we as a team are achieving in creating both an artistically pleasing but also fun game.

Thank you for reading my blog! For updates check out me out on twitter (@jess_magnus) and follow the team on twitter (@team_ii)! x