Sawblade megalaser teeth robot: I won a bet so now my son’s robot design is in the new Uber game
It all started as a bet.
I got into an online argument with Uber Entertainment’s Chandana Ekanayake about the pricing of the iOS version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. He said that no one would release a game for over $10 for mobile devices, and I was sure that everyone involved would want to sell the game as a premium app for over $10.
The bet was hatched: If the game was under $10, I had to cosplay as a character from an Uber game during PAX. If it was over $10, Eka would let me design a unit for the company’s upcoming game.
We know by now how this ended up, and Eka gave me some details about their next game, called Toy Rush. I tapped my son to design the character, since I thought it would be great for him to see an idea turned into an actual asset in a game, and to show him that games come from somewhere. So I put him to work designing characters. He came up with a hand full of ideas, and we sent two of them off to Eka.
This is Luke's first sketch of a character we all really liked, called Cyclops. Take a look.
He’s a badass, he has a blade for a hand, there are some circles in there, and I love the mouth. It reminded me of a lamprey, and I imagined that sparks would shoot out when he got mad. We sent this sketch over to Eka, who spent some time with the concept, and came up with his own pass at the character.
Looking at Luke's sketch made me think of a retro robot design which worked really well with the aesthetic I was going for with Toy Rush. Ben had mentioned Iron Giant and I pushed the design to blockier shapes and a big jaw to go along with the cyclops eye. Blocky jaw meant I needed to echo similar shapes on the rest of his body so the arms and legs went in that direction as well. I think the design changed too much from the original sketch so I sent it back for feedback.
Luke and I took a look at Eka's first pass at the design, and it was neat to see some of Luke's ideas be worked on by a real artist. We agreed, however, that a lot of the character of the robot was lost.
I liked the idea of a taller, lankier unit, almost like an art deco sculpture. I sent the notes back, and Eka went to work.
For this revision, I went back to circular shapes as the base theme to work in the cyclops eye and the chest laser. The first revision looks more utilitarian while revision two changed to smooth cylindrical and flowing shapes to capture Luke's intention with his first sketch.
The blocky jaw went away replaced by the teeth from the sketch. I was uncertain he would read well from the 3/4 perspective in game so I was still trying to maintain chunky short proportions. I wasn't completely sold on this look but it was getting closer to the initial vision.
The other thing I wasn't too happy with was the chest laser felt too crowded and the chest in general felt too busy visually. The best thing to do sometimes is walk away from a design and look at it later with fresh eyes. At this stage I sent it back to Ben and Luke for feedback.
We had very few notes for this take on the character, and thought he looked great. He was still a little stubby though, and Luke and I both liked the idea of a taller, more agile robot, where the arms were almost like tentacles. I sent over the notes and Eka did another pass at the character, now in color.
I looked back at the previous pass and decided it needed to have simpler shapes that worked together as a whole better. Also, Ben and Luke wanted to have the character taller so I took a fresh pass on him again trying to find a good look that worked with the initial vision and something that would read well at a distance in the game next to the other characters.
I scaled up the head so that the eye and mouth read better, simplified the chest shapes and pushed in the chest laser. I also removed other minor details off the legs and arms and did a color pass on him to figure out the final look.
This was closer to what I thought would work in game and still work with Luke's original sketch. I still wasn't completely happy with the chest shape and I knew it would be problematic for animation with chest and pelvis attached together as a single shape. I decided this was a good stopping point and sent it off for feedback.
We didn't have any more notes at this point, and loved the design and coloring. It was time for the character to be modeled and animated. The arm was exactly what I was thinking of when I described it as being tentacle-like, imaging a sort of limb that could move and twist in any direction.
During this process, AZO, one of our animators at Uber really wanted to animate a transforming robot. This was gong to be tricky because the robot needed to read well in robot form as well as whatever he transformed into. Initially I tried transforming him into a rolling unicycle cannon with the saw blade as the wheel.
I tried various shapes and either it looked too goofy or the silhouette didn't read well. At this stage, we built a rough 3d model and I used those shapes to figure out his final vehicle mode which ended up working well as a tank. Using a 3d model helped to refine the final design that worked well in both transforming modes.
The biggest change happened with the chest turning into a circular ball which also solved the issue of having enough space for chest cannon. The other change was incorporating tank treads to the back of the legs.
You can see the character in action in this video. It looks great!
This was a fun process, and I got to show my son what it was like to design a unit for an actual, real-life video game. It's hard to have a very distinct idea for a character, and then go through the process of making it work with animation, to make the design work with the game's camera angle and view, but then to have the idea to transform it into a tank added later? Pure bliss.
It was like a crash course on how to work with others, and to get your vision through the restraints, and opportunities, of the game being created.
It was fun to be a small part of the game, and to show one of my kids the collaborative nature of game design. I've won quite a few industry bets, but this is one of my favorites, and getting a story out of it was just the icing on the cake. Also, if you're going to be at PAX Prime, you can try Thunderblade yourself!
This was a fun exercise in taking a sketch by Luke and Ben, incorporating ideas, design, and style considerations we needed to fit Toy Rush, keeping AZO happy with his animation needs, and coming up with an interesting Super Toy for the game.
If you're at PAX Prime, stop by Uber's booth #766 in the Indie Megabooth to check out the game and see Thunderblade for yourself. Thanks!