Behind the scene: the Gibberlings
Alexander Gorbatyuk , Lead character design with Astrum Nival, is in charge of the look and feel of all creatures, whether big, small, NPC or player controlled in Allods Online.
One of the main challenges for his team was ensuring that the Gibberlings looked and acted the way the development team wanted.
Gibberlings are small, furry and humanoid creatures that are in stark contrast to many of the other strong and dangerous enemies that feature in Allods Online. Despite their cute appearance, Gibberlings can look after themselves in pretty much any situation. Their look has not changed that much from the first draft to their appearance in the game now, although there have been some tweaks by the development team. At first they were tough, sturdy fellows a little bit taller than they are now. Their arms and legs were longer, and they had no fur on their hands or faces – a little bit like Ewoks from a very cold continent.
From the beginning, they were always meant to be very curious and inventive, with their tribes ruled by a Council of Elders. They want to travel around, and are ingenious beings that are quick at learning a variety of different technical mechanisms. The 3D Art team had a lot of different concepts to start with, bdut quickly decided to make them cuter – “We tried to make them like plush cats, dogs, hamsters or ferrets. We wanted the players to have a nice furry little creature that people will want to hug.” After a number of iterations, Gibberlings shed their Ewok-style look and are now more like the characters from Chip ’n Dale .
Figuring it out for three Gibberlings
It is no secret that Gibberlings were conceived from the beginning as a trio of characters, or a “sprout” as they are known in-game. This means that unlike the other races, at the character creation screen, you get the opportunity to customize three separate characters individually instead of just one. You can separately choose their gender, hair style, face and the color of their fur, as well as other options to make them stand out. The character creation in Allods Online is very deep, offering players lots of options to make their mark in the game.
However, this was not always the case for the Gibberlings during development. It all started with the Orcs, who the Allods Online World Bible clearly stipulates are the Gibberlings main foe. It makes sense that the brutal Goblinoball fans and the cute furry creatures are natural opposition.
The Orcs view the Gibberlings as nothing more than hairy goblins which only serve to be enslaved or to be used as a ball to score a goal. They can also serve as a good snack. Gibberlings on the other hand certainly do not see it that way, and are always on their toes, ready to protect themselves in a variety of ingenious ways.
Orcs in Allods Online are tall at over 2 meters in height. Anyone would tend to agree that a 60cm furry creature would be hard pressed to win a fight with an Orc, and the developers quickly realized that to maintain the coherence of the story and the immersion within the game universe some changes would need to be made. Their solution was to make fights plausible by having the Gibberlings travel and fight as a group. This idea of triplets came from Daniil Shpitsin , the Lead Animator on Allods Online.
At first the team thought it was a crazy idea and it wouldn’t work in practice, but Vasiliy Syrkov, the Art Director, became inspired by the idea. Alexander Mishulin, the Creative Director, entered the loop and started to provide lots of ideas and backgrounds on the triplets which would allow the rest of the team to make them work in-game. They discussed how the trio would act, interact, communicate and travel through the Allods Online universe. Eventually, three main roles for the sprout were suggested: attack, defense and magic.
It was important that the Gibberlings were a success, so programmers were also involved in the formative meetings to discuss their ideas and the creation process. The team knew that nothing beats team work. Creating the Gibberlings and bringing them to life was not an ordinary task, but the engineers relished the challenge and set out to work.
When it came to putting them into the game, the Gibberlings did not fit the requirements of the game’s 3D engine, because they suddenly tripled the number of characters that would be displayed on screen. In the Gibberlings home territory, this problem became even more apparent, until Alexander Mishulin suggested that the three characters should act as a single unit, with their animations following this principle.
Some of the great ideas had to be thrown out, such as the three carrying a staff as one, or travelling together as a pyramid with two Gibberlings holding the third on their shoulders. A decision was taken that each Gibberling within a triplet should be specialized with their own set of actions, and this allowed them to look and feel more natural.
For example, an attacker would attack the enemy, a defender would protect the team, and the third would take out their magic staff when any of the three required healing. When asked where to go next, they climb onto each other and the Gibberling on the top would show the way. The result of this was that each individual Gibberling would have individual animations. This meant that they could finally be placed in the game. Engineers, animators and character development team members could now work towards a common goal and bring them to life whether they were communicating, eating, drinking, fighting or dancing together.
There were a number of passionate discussions during the development process on how the Gibberlings would be integrated into the game and how they would end up wearing armour. The main issue was that each item that a player can get in-game, whether by looting or crafting appears as a single item to players. If a player gets an item such as a helmet, it will appear in their inventory bag as a single item. With three Gibberlings, the question was raised as to how it could be distributed among the three.
The first idea was simply to give one item and give it to each of the three Gibberlings, but this would cause problems with their individually tailored looks, and no one on the development team wanted this to happen. The second idea was to give one item to one of the Gibberlings, but at higher levels, some of the Gibberlings would have been left without items, while others would have all of them.
In the end, a solution was found thanks to the Gibberlings skill in crafting and tailoring, and they were given the proper skills to make three items out of one. Weapons and armour are distributed among them according to their role in the sprout. So one Gibberling would carry a sword, another could carry the shield, and the third would carry the staff.
The lone Gibberling: The story of a mocap session
Motion Capture (also known as mocap) is a specific type of technology that is used in CGI to integrate movements from the real world into a video game or a film. With ping-pong like balls spread in strategic locations around a human body, the computer scans and interprets the movements and turns them into animations such as jumps, falls, hands waving or any other types of movement the team could think of.
In Allods Online, mocap technology was used for each race, and the Gibberlings were no exception. Like any other character, they need to interact with the world around them, eating, drinking, running, walking, sitting, falling, jumping, dancing, gesticulating and anything else that was required for perfect integration and coherence within the game universe.
So how do you do that for a two and a half foot creature that looks like a giant hamster?
The team had trouble figuring out how to capture the mocap for the Gibberlings. While specific suits are used for mocap with the other races, none were fitting for the little Gibberlings. The solution was to find an actor with short legs, arms and hands. The developers looked everywhere; asking their friends, calling around to theatres and hobby groups, but in the end a staff member of the mocap studio found the perfect actor for the role.
His name was Olim Godoev, a promising actor who came to Moscow from the southern borders of the Russian Federation. While he could hardly speak or understand Russian, and having no prior experience in mocap work, he still jumped at the opportunity to become Astrum Nival’s Gibberling. The next issue was to find the right mocap suit for him to wear, so the studio found their smallest female mocap suit and shortened the arms and legs to fit.
While the actor wasn’t quite sure of what Gibberlings were, and playing a Gibberling isn’t exactly the easiest first role you can get as an actor, he took on the role assisted by Irina Zhernovenkova , one of the members of the animation team. Using her talents to convey the nuances of the Stanislavski acting system , she showed Olim everything he needed to know to pull off the role.
After a lot of hard work from everyone involved, the development team had enough material to work with. After a mocap session that lasted three times longer than those of the other races, they had three times the amount of material to work with. This allowed them to convey the trio of Gibberlings independently and bring their vision to life.