Hi! My name is Lucy, and I'm the Lead Game Developer on Sproutling Grove.
Sproutling Grove was my first game idea and has been something I've been conceptualizing for the past 5 years. It only recently came into full production starting late last year, though.
The game's idea is simple. You live on a farm where you get to raise cute animals, grow crops, meet villagers, adventure through dangerous caverns & mines, cook a bunch of yummy food, fish up unique & fascinating species, and a lot more!
It really boils down to just wanting to give you something fun to do no matter what kind of mood you're in.
While a lot of the code and art behind the game has been made by me, my husband has been doing most of the heavy lifting along the way. He helps me out with concept art, blocking out models, and helping me debug code when I can't seem to figure something out.
It's a very team-based approach, and I feel like that's been the key to achieving an art style I'm proud of.
While designing Sproutling Grove's art, every asset has its own unique challenges.
Unless I have a clear idea of what I want and how to achieve it, I first make some concept art.
The concept art is always intended to be rough and simple. It's usually colored as this gives me a better scope of any extra details needed to help fill out the design and if the model will translate well into 3D.
After the concept art is made, and I'm happy with how it looks/feels, I move into Blender.
When doing my blockouts, I always try to keep looking at a somewhat final result of what I'm making.
I do this by using a toon shader I mocked up (Thanks to this guy!) to ensure the light hits the model in the most complimentary way possible.
Doing that helps me avoid iterating the basic shapes once I'm ready to move things into the engine.
Oh! One other thing. I always measure my scale in proportion to my character. I feel like it helps prevent some parts from getting too confusing.
After the base shapes are laid out, I usually try to stay in "Flat-Lit" mode since this is when color really plays a big part in selling the illusion of toon. I do still occasionally flick back to "Toon-Lit" to make sure things aren't being shaded too dark.
Then I start piecing everything together in a way that fills out the model. In my opinion, the more detail, the better since the only textures here are gradients.
Now it's time to move from Blender to Unreal Engine!
This is when I add my dynamic shading layers. (The layers I have available are Shadows, Specularity, Rim light, and Inline.)
I'll also adjust any shapes and colors depending on how everything looks.
Here's the cinematic. (With a bonus popsicle for your viewing pleasure! 😉)
My art is really dictated by my workflow, not by my shader. The better my shapes, topology, and colors, the better the final result. (You can really see that when comparing the unlit popsicles to the lit popsicles too)
Still, we use a custom shader to give the final touch on the look we are after.
Currently, Sproutling Grove is using a plugin called "Extended Shading," which enables me to inject HLSL directly into the lighting model.
Thanks to that, the bulk of my material is just this:
The code in both the "SelfShadow" layer and the "Shadow Layer" is:
| Target = step(Source, Layer);
And that results in this!
It's not a perfect solution since the plugin doesn't support deferred rendering and doesn't provide full access to the lighting pipeline.
The same idea for this shader could be applied to a custom source engine modification, though, which is what I'm planning on doing further into Sproutling Grove's development cycle.
As far as the shader goes, it's a nice tool, but honestly, a post-processing shader would do just as well as mine would. The only difference is that post-processing takes more effort to gain control over!
To end this article, I'd like to state that I don't ever consider something "Finished."
I'm always making tweaks & improvements to older models. Usually small stuff like color or how the shadows shade it, but I also have reworked entire models before just because I didn't feel like something looked as good as I thought it could.
I really hope this article was useful to you. Thank you for reading it!
You can find more info and art for Sproutling Grove on their Twitter!
I personally recommend you join their discord server too, to get all news related to their game.
Thank you, Lucy, for the time invested in this article. It has been such a pleasure to collaborate on this!