The Impossible Heist Art Develpoment

Making Of / 31 January 2021
Heist was the last game project I made during my time at the game assembly in spring 2018,
we were a group of 5 people with 8 weeks to make the game, and for the first time - no restraints!
We decided to make a Co-Op time based game, inspired by time mechanics like "The sexy Royale" and "Minit",
but with the idea of planning the perfect break-in - like in heist movies.
You would play the same level in a time loop until you had solved all the puzzles, where you needed the two players to coordinate, and be at the right spots at the right time.

A screenshot from the game

--- C O N C E P T ---

I was in charge of the art direction, characters, and tech art, with Johannes Bengtsson doing environment art.
We decided on an art deco style, which both looks refined and expensive but also is a bit more square and with repeating patterns than some other exclusive styles - which made it easier to work with during a short development time.

A quick moodboard I made in the very start of development so we could start getting environment pieces in.

At The Game Assembly we always had to choose a reference game that we took a lot of inspiration from, and we went with "The Sexy Royale".
We especially took inspiration with their camera movements and placements - it is custom placed in every room, which meant we always knew exactly what the player would see. That's a nice tool in a time based game, where you don't want the player to use unnecessary time because their camera is placed in the wrong direction from their objective.
The open room view also gives everything a bit of a diorama or toy house feeling, which works well with the stylized art. 

Some of the trouble we had with this view, was that it could quickly become very confusing, and you had no idea where you were at on the map. We fixed this by making sure each room was very different - and most importantly, had very different colours. 

↓ Early mock-up of the view  ↓

For the character design, I just had two gameplay elements to think of - one of the characters should be a "Charmer" that could go past guards unnoticed, and the other one a "Lockpick" who could - you guessed it - open locks!
When doing the quick concept sketches, I was both thinking of common heist movie character tropes, like your common thief, the bomb expert, the sexy lady, the charming casino goer, while also taking the time period into account - around 1920's.
We ended up going with a bit more artistic sexy lady for the charmer, and a ww1 bomb veteran for the lockpick!
A small challenge was that I knew I only had time to make one humanoid rig, and that i would reuse the animations for all characters, so I had to make sure the characters had the same base body.
It worked well in the end though, and my love for using the same skinny body type came in handy for once during this project!

we decided to use concept (A) for the charmer, and concept (C) for the lockpick - normally i might have used a bit more time and done another iteration on the characters after consulting the team, but since i was in charge of the modelling and tech art on this project too, i hurried on!

--- T E C H - A R T ---
(and modelling)

When it comes to making models in a limited amount of time, i like to just jump straight into the low poly, and make sure the topology is good from the start. I made a quick front and left reference based on my concepts, as you can see above, and started making a base mesh in Maya
that I could rig and animate. I did end up suffering to the curse of making the rig too advanced, adding a lot of face controls that you would never see in our view... 

I modelled the characters and we tested them out in unity - everything looked promising.
Somewhere along the line, the face controls broke, and there aren't any "emotions" in the final game - we decided it wasn't worth wasting time on, since you can't see them in-game anyway.
The only thing this means is that all the shots of the models will look stupid, with their death blank stare and mouth agape...
For my poor artists heart sake, just imagine a beautiful and expressive face on top of them! 

it worked in unity once...

With the modelling and simple test animations done and working in unity, it was time to work on the texturing and shading!

↓  ↓  ↓

I knew i wanted to have some fun with the art style, working a lot with shaders to do some interesting lighting, and the textures themselves to get a painterly feel - the new unity shader graph had also just released, and i was eager to try that out! The image above is an early concept of how i wanted the shader to work - The lightest areas should become saturated with a halftone pattern, and the shadows should be striped and desaturated, i both tried having a fresnel as the lineart on the character, and putting in a painterly texture in the shader, but i found that it worked best to do that in the texture itself.

first iteration of the shader

Before doing too much more work on the shader, I made the textures for the characters, so I could view how the shader would actually look on textured models. After some more work, this is the result i ended up with for the final game.  

With a single or very few lightsources, the shader worked like i wanted it to, but as soon as we added more lights in the scene, it started having some issues - looking back at it, i suspect i might not have clamped enough places in the shader, but the shader graph had also just come out, and was very unstable - plus there were little to no documentation for it, and the different nodes. none of our lights moved though, and it only started looking really funky if we moved them too much around. As it turned out, the shader often just ended up giving some surprise textures to our objects, and we decided to go with it, as it kind of tied it all together. If we had more time though, i would definitely have liked to work more on it.

Here's how everything ended up looking together in the game!

--- F I N A L - W O R K ---

One of the last steps for me was to make a menu, and we had the idea in the team to make them into interactive posters in one of the rooms.
I had a lot of fun trying to capture the Art Deco / 1920's poster style, but at the same time making it option and menu screens!
I wanted to incorporate the imagery of rooms you had to move through, since it was such a big part of the game - you can both see it at the game icon in the start, and at the top of the menu poster - it also looks like the map when you open it in-game!

Here's how the posters look and interact in-game!

And that's about it! I really enjoyed making this project, and the added freedom we had during it.
This was also the only project at the school were we worked full time on it (normally it was half day lessons, half day game project), so that meant we could be fully dedicated to it.

Thanks for reading!

The Impossible Heist was made together with:

Johannes Bengtsson - environment art

Joshua Christiansen - Code, Game Design

Albin Nilsson - Code

Sebastian Madsen - Level Design