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Ghost of a Tale

by SeithCG
The studio
Down the mouse hole with Seith

Before beginning work on Ghost of a Tale, his first game project, Lionel “Seith” Gallat had an extensive career as a motion picture animator. Getting his start in movies as a junior animator on The Prince of Egypt (1998) animating Moses, Seith then worked on a long list of high-profile films, including The Road to El Dorado, Shark Tale, and Flushed Away, before rounding out his career as animation director on both Despicable Me and The Lorax.

Having grown up playing games in the 80s and 90s, Seith left the big-studio life to try and recapture the sense of wonder and discovery he felt playing games in his youth and to share those experiences with a new generation of players.

Seith’s time as an animator gave him a very rounded background in art and technology, which was perfect for his foray into game development. Almost a one-man shop, he has done around 90 percent of the work, leaning on a talented pool of collaborators for development tools, story, quests, and original sound and music as necessary.

The project
A medieval minstrel on a fantastic journey

While Ghost of a Tale has been in the works for over four years, the time hasn’t been wasted. The game sports some truly brilliant attention to detail in character design, animation, and world construction. Already in early release on Steam, GOG Connect, and Xbox One, it’s an action-RPG set in a fantastical medieval world populated by animals years after being ravaged by an apocalyptic event known as the War of the Green Flame.

The game emphasizes immersion and exploration rather than combat – in fact, fighting isn't an option. Players have to guide Tilo, our mouse and minstrel hero, as he awakens in a cell beneath a rat fortress known as Dwindling Heights Keep. It’s a game where players have to use stealth, agility, disguise, and their wits to get past guards and complete quests.

Watch the Ghost of a Tale trailer
The reveal
The gameplay is in the details

Given Seith’s impressive film laurels, Ghost of a Tale is a highly polished game with a cornucopia of details that dazzle the eye and surprise at every turn. An incredible amount of imagination and design effects such as IK rigging, tessellation and dynamic vegetation bring the adorable Tilo, his anthropomorphic friends and enemies, and hyper-realistic flora to life.

 

IK rigging brings characters alive

Aside from the hand-animated (no motion capture here!) characters trundling, dashing, or skittering along, clothes and body parts animate to give the characters a real sense of weight as they move. Ears flop, tails wag, and jackets jounce pleasantly along while IK rigging (courtesy of Final IK from the Asset Store) makes characters feel truly connected to the world at large. When the denizens of Dwindling Heights Keep run up or down hills or stairs, their bodies shift weight and act correctly for the pitch of the environment. It’s the kind of detail that often goes unnoticed in games, which usually means it’s the best kind of detail.

Tilo's sphere of influence is finely tuned for collisions and animation.

Tilo's sphere of influence is finely tuned for collisions and animation.

Tessellation gives a natural feel

Every nook and cranny has a highly natural feel to it, thanks in part to the heavy use of tessellation. Tessellation here is used to create a huge amount of physical detail from very sparse, boxed-out environmental meshes created in Maya. Creating environments this way – extruding geometry based on depth maps that are part of the tessellation shaders done with Amplify Shader – means a very high level of detail computed through the GPU rather than the CPU.

Tessellation allows a huge amount of detail from low-density meshes.

Tessellation allows a huge amount of detail from low-density meshes.

This particular technique works especially well for natural surfaces like bumpy rock, which can be found pretty much everywhere in the game, whether you’re looking at castle stonework or underground tunnels carved of dirt and rock. This system, when set up with a proper LOD, can also save a huge amount of resources when those details only extrude in the immediate vicinity of the camera view.

Simple bones move vegetation

These environments (see the screenshots and videos) are beautiful on their own but even the most lovely setting can end up feeling a bit lifeless when static. One of the many ways Seith has tackled this problem is through dynamic vegetation that moves whenever a character brushes against it. The branches and leaves of these objects are outfitted with a simple bone structure so that when a piece of an actor (body parts, clothing, weapons) makes contact with a collision point of vegetation, it reacts and moves in the correct way.

Plant models are rigged with bones for dynamic movement.

Plant models are rigged with bones for dynamic movement.

To save computing resources, two nearly identical assets are created. One rigged with bones and the other totally static. Only when an actor gets close does the asset switch to the rigged version for interaction. This allows the majority of the interactive vegetation to remain static at low cost without sacrificing Tilo’s very believable world.

Unity’s tools for artists and designers helped create Ghost of a Tale.

Interested in building tools with Unity’s open and flexible architecture? Check out our latest version.

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