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Characters for mobile VR

The hardest part of the character design process for me was knowing what feeling or emotion I wanted to evoke, and trying to come up with something in a small amount of time. Also, making characters with appeal, and making them work within our performance budget on a mobile headset... okay, so there are a lot of things to consider when making characters for mobile VR.

Here's a rough list that might help you understand my process and develop one of your own:

  1. Know your genre - make sure you know who will be inhabiting these characters in a headset. Are they male, female, non-binary, gay, straight, old, young, etc.? When they look at the hands you've given them, will they be connected to their digital body? A lot of my sketches turned out to be too comical, too cartoony for our intended audience. I had to turn up the intensity and seriousness when it came to modeling the actual characters. They still have fun emoji style expressions, but they're serious enough to shoot at with guns.

  2. Gather reference - I gathered tons of reference on Pinterest for the HAX characters. Boards and boards of robots, weapons, levels, and tech stuff really helped me get a big picture view of what I liked. Consider your audience when gathering reference, I gathered a bunch of AAA game art even if it is beyond your ability to reproduce - you'll still learn a lot from looking at the best.

  3. Don't over-commit - try some designs, even if you throw them away. No one ever got it right on the first try. Just don't spend days developing a character before you know it's the one. How do you know it's the one? Show people. Don't be afraid to show people your art even before it's done. Getting feedback is the fastest way to see your mistakes before you make them.

  4. Know your budget - your budget includes time to complete, tri-count, texture size, and all that fun stuff. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time for the first character, you will get faster on the subsequent ones. If a character takes too long to create it might be too expensive for your game. After all, there is so much other stuff to make. My team let me know through various stress tests how many triangles I could get away with per character, we ended up chopping the characters down to about 12K tris for the hero LOD. It made me said to have to reduce my initial character from around 25K down to half it's tri count, but it literally doubled the amount of characters we could push to the headset.

  5. Ship it - in digital art, and especially in the production of video games, we have a saying, "You're never done, you just run out of time." Digital art can be endlessly iterated upon, it's one of the things I love about it. It's also one of the things that can cause projects to fail, if art doesn't get done. My advice is to just ship it, so long as it conveys the idea, isn't broken, and isn't a distraction, you can fix it later.

I hope that helps you understand a little bit of the process, at least my process, which will forever be incremented upon as I learn and grow in this cool new mobile VR space.

Until next time,


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