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An all-new, immersive adventure game from the award-winning creators of Myst and Riven.
An all-new, immersive adventure game from the award-winning creators of Myst and Riven.
22,195 backers pledged $1,321,306 to help bring this project to life.

“Making Of” - Part 2

Posted by Cyan, Inc. (Creator)

Hey, all. This is Eric - back with the second of three behind-the-scenes posts about the development of the Obduction teaser trailer. This one will focus on model creation. It’s very unlikely that anything that follows is a real spoiler for the game.... but just in case you absolutely don’t want to hear about how the sausage of video game artwork gets made:

(SPOILER ALERT: We’re going to reveal some things. If you don’t want to know anything - STOP HERE!)

Everyone happy now? Ok, cool.

The Modeling

So... this might come across as remedial for anyone who is familiar with how most modern game development happens... but for a lot of our backers who may not be regular gamers (especially today’s realtime 3D games), some of this might be of interest.

The first step of creating 3D assets for in-game use (aside from the visual design) is usually the modelling. In the case of the Seed-pod exterior, it was modelled in ZBrush, a type of digital-sculpting software made for creating very highly-detailed, organic objects. This technique is very much like sculpting with clay, except the clay is all fake and doesn’t smell like musty feet.

The original Seed design had a lot of flexibility in the exterior surface appearance, so I tried to incorporate different references of real-world seeds and seedpods - including acorns and pinecones - and also some more earthen rock and crystal influences, hopefully ending up with a shape that was both organic and somewhat familiar - but also unique and alien. Here are some views of the finished, high-resolution sculpt (which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-million triangles):

That’s just the start of the process for a realtime 3D game asset, though; and the methods are quite different from the “old days” of Myst and Riven where you could use a whole bunch of geometry to create a detailed object (or a whole scene of objects), hit the render button, and wait hours or even days for a finished image to appear. Modern realtime game engines need to do that entire sequence upwards of 60 times every second... and the only way that’s possible is with some good, old-fashioned smoke and mirrors. Specifically, most 3D game artwork is “dumbed down” to a manageable complexity so the game engine can load it and process it very quickly and easily... then the perceived detail and clarity is re-introduced using a series of shading tricks. Without going into the (suuuuper booooring) details, I’ll just say that the final “game mesh” for the Seed-pod is just a few thousand triangles of geometry, and the surface detail is all added with textures.

Here’s a graphic comparing the untextured, “low rez” mesh (on the left) with the normal-mapped, in-game mesh (on the right).

All right... that’s enough boring, pre-production nonsense for now... I’m putting myself to sleep over here. In the next segment, we’ll be talking a little bit about the Unreal 4 engine, and how awesome it is.

Now for some Real Talk. As if it’s not abundantly clear (it certainly is to us!)... you guys are doing a massive, stellar, awe-inspiring job of getting the word out about Obduction. I just want to take a minute to share something that was posted on the (very active) comments page this week by backer NomadMolly:

How cool is that? Keep kicking butt, y’all. Ryan has asked me to remind everyone that we only have four days left!  So help us by continuing to get the word out!!!  We’re in the home stretch.

‘Til next time,


“Stars are beautiful, but they must not take an active part in anything, they must just look on forever. It is a punishment put on them for something they did so long ago that no star now knows what it was.”

-J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan


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    1. Missing avatar

      Tommy Larsson on

      I'm kinda hoping the pledges stop at 1.299.999 dollars, which is a new experience in my life as a backer here at kickstarter. Oculus rift support is in my view a bad choice as first stretch goal and i'd rather Cyan spend 199 USD on making a better game than 200 USD on supporting a silly gimmick. I would have considered helping out to reach the second stretch goal but with this second goal in the way i've decided against it. Really looking forward to the game though! Huge fan Cyans.

    2. Nila Mu'Hari on

      have you guys seen this? UE4 'Inside Unreal - Character Aesthetics'
      oh man, can't wait to see what CYAN will make out of this...! :)

    3. Ryan Warzecha (Cyantist) on

      @Yannik - Can't say and it was made for the trailer.

    4. Missing avatar

      Yannik on

      Who composed the song from the beginning of the trailer? Is there any place I can buy it?

    5. Natalie Manahan

      I actually didn't know all that 3D modeling stuff so it was a nice learning lesson! Just finished watching all of your "Making of Videos" (From MYST to End Of Ages all the way to URU) so seeing part of this "Making Of" was a nice treat.

    6. Ghaelen D'Lareh on

      Beautiful. Like working in terra cotta clay without the broken fingernails and dry skin :) ZBrush looks awesome!

    7. Eric A Anderson on

      @Michael: I'd have to say the final game artwork will be much, much better... And the reason I say that is simply because the elements for this teaser trailer were very limited in scope, and focused primarily on the Seed. The environment itself was sort of rushed, and while seems to work okay as a back drop, it wouldn't really hold up if you were allowed to walk around and inspect it up close. That said, for the finished game, not only will you be allowed to walk around... but also walk over that hill... and into that building... and then down into that tunnel... etc etc. Therefore the visual experience as a whole will feel much richer, and more complete.

    8. Kyle Norton on

      One of the best updates I've seen in a Kickstarter campaign!

      As someone currently in college for a Game Design & Game Programming degree I found this write-up to be awesome. I absolutely love reading/seeing the design process and this one in particular reminded me of my first 2 classes (Video Game Art 1 & 3D-Modeling 1).

      I credit my childhood obsession with MYST & the Millers for being a huge part of the inspiration for my going back to college now in my 30's for this career change. So speaking for myself, please do more write ups about your design process ... I would love to read them all.

    9. Ronald L Kirkland on

      Such vision! Keep on truckin' getting pretty close. <3\

    10. Missing avatar

      Michael Winter on

      Hi Eric: I terms of what you're planning for Obduction, how do the trailer's graphics compare? Can we expect rendering quality equal to the trailer? Better than the trailer? (Not that the trailer isn't awesome), or less than the trailer? Thanks!

    11. Aaron Clausman on

      Wow, that sculpt is really, really, eye candy delicious. The game-ready asset almost looks just as good, too.

    12. Paskarl (k0SH) on

      Nice one NomadMolly ;-)

    13. light487 - Kickstarter Junkie on

      Or even you could talk about the technology you're using.. the methods you are using.. other stuff that doesn't directly relate to game specific info..

    14. Weldy Green on

      and does anyone know what music was used?

    15. light487 - Kickstarter Junkie on

      Is there ever going to be updates without spoilers? You guys should be the masters of saying stuff without giving away anything by now.. I'd love it if you could do one update like the above and then for the next update, do one without any specific spoilers and so on. Thanks.

    16. Eric A Anderson on

      @Dennis: The "layering" technique is something I've been doing for years, albeit not with the "official" UE4 way of doing it. I wrote my own shaders for UDK that do the same thing (blending multiple materials together using a combination of vertex channel information and blend maps)... and it's a brutally powerful way to work... especially on large environment-type assets. We use a similar implementation in the custom game engine we are currently using to complete The Witness. Layering all the way. I look forward to digging deeper into the "official" UE4 way of doing it... tho I suspect I'll end up writing my own custom shaders to make it work the way I want.

    17. Missing avatar

      Dennis Glowacki on

      I'd love to know your thoughts on the new layered material technique. I've not been able to get myself to implement it into my workflow yet but it does seem like it could be quite useful because I've found it a bit tedious to get the right roughness values on assets with several 'material' types and creating masks that seem wasteful for metallic.So i guess it would be easier to get the right values for individual 'material' types and then just blend them together using the new system.

    18. Nila Mu'Hari on

      Thanks Eric! This is awesome! In terms of graphics for the final game, I'm wondering how much you guys will go into the maximum of UE4 photo realism?

    19. David M. Cotter on

      Since i'm a backer, i figured i'd go play the old games, so i bought them all on Steam. However, "realMyst" is just crashing incessantly. I know you're all busy with the new thing, but i need help with the old thing. Can you PLEASE go here and answer my tech support Q?…

    20. Christina 'Riv' Hawkes on

      Love these behind-the-scenes glimpses!

      Also glad to see NomadMolly's use of my flier :D If anyone else wants to post one on the local cafe bulletin board during this final push, you can print it here: