March 2, 2012 3:00 PM | John Polson
IGF Student Showcase finalist Dust takes the trimming of a traditional side scrolling game and makes it magical. Players assume the roll of a moth that must escape from an old attic, collect its fallen moth brethren, and find its way to the ultimate source of light and its greatest attraction: the moon.
Visual attractiveness was important to Team Dust's eight members, who all wanted their game have a storybook feel. Through Dust's development, the team actually derived more inspiration from Trine than classic Disney movies. Even after Team Dust found its inspiration, the game never became a laborious nor mechanical for its members. Dust remained their "art".
Here Dust's environment and world building artist Patrick Sullivan explains how the game was intended and remained to be a tool to better the developers who worked on it. He also discusses how Dust's enormous environments come to life and even how the team avoided having a moth, who possesses the power of light, be attracted to itself.
What development tools did you use? How long was the development cycle?
Our engine was Unity, we all used 3Ds max as our modelling program, and Photoshop. As a school project, Dust was technically done after 6 months, but since then the team has been making minor adjustments here and there.
What inspired you to create Dust?
From the beginning we decided to go with a storybook feel and I think we pulled that off. Our earliest inspirations were from Old Disney references like Lady and the Tramp, and colorful and exaggerated art styles like Matt Gaser's work, but I think our implementation of those styles was pretty off.
Where I think we succeeded was when we started looking at Trine for inspiration. The environments were vibrant and had a lot of contrast in the lighting. We did our best to make the game feel like a child's fantasy world, and for the most part I think we pulled it off.
Why a game of dust and moths? Where are the moth balls?
The initial idea for Dust came from our concept artist, Alexis Boyer. We wanted to focus on the game as an art piece, and her idea was the best fit. We wanted to make a unique game with an unusual perspective, and building the world around a small bug meant we could make a new and interesting environment. Down at a tiny moth's perspective, chairs and tables became like massive buildings, and small objects like books, balls, and teddy bears became enormous obstacles.
The base mechanic for the game was pushing, and we wanted to give the main moth the ability to move progressively larger and larger objects. So we gave him a little zombie moth army (or marmy) to do all the grunt work. We called the game Dust because it was such an appropriate fit. The player is in a dusty old attic, resurrecting dusty mini moths, and is guided by bright particles of dust.
Unfortunately, moth balls didn't make it in the game because of time and resource constraints. There's a lot of stuff we had to cut out. We wanted enemies and interactive NPCs, and we wanted to be able to light your little mini moths on fire as they flew through candles. At one point we wanted essentially a Super Saiyan (Dragon Ball Z) moth, but the scope and scale would have gotten out of hand... Plus we were afraid that the game might have exploded from too much awesome.
A moth with the power of light: does that mean it is attracted to itself?
We had to make the moth blind so he didn't just fly around in circles trying to catch himself. His little zombie marmy is also his seeing eye marmy.
Why do you think your game deserves to win the Student Showcase?
Dust, as a project, was intended to be a tool to better the people that worked on it. Each team member was very passionate about making a fun and beautiful product, and getting a meaningful experience out of the process. It was never just some task to be completed. Dust is our art, made just because we wanted to create something awesome and unique. Dust deserves to win because it's an accurate representation of why we all wanted to be in the game industry to begin with. We just wanted to make something cool.
Why should the average gamer play your game?
Part of Dust's appeal is its simplicity. All that you're doing essentially is collecting enough resources to make yourself awesome enough to knock over big items and dominate the environment. It's fun for the average player because you get to explore a familiar world through an unusual perspective. It's also not that bad of a game to look at. It's very shiny.
What are some interesting things about your game that you haven't talked about before?
If you take the time to look for this, one of our Environment artists, Brian McClain, made caricatures of the original 6 team members, and we placed the portraits all over the level. Along with the portraits are little notes to the team that Brian left around the attic. Also, one thing that we're proud of is the music. Our composer, Blake Allen, joined the team after last year's GDC and wrote the music specifically for Dust. His contribution tied the game together perfectly. It's pretty cool that our game has its very own music.
Could you tell me about the team who worked on the game?
Team Dust was a group of artists that wanted to paint a pretty picture and evoke a sense of wonder. Even our lonestar programmer, Alex Burley, was engaged in the art process to make sure the mood was set exactly how we envisioned it. The majority of our artists label themselves as Environment Artists, but during the whole process we filled the roles that needed to be filled.
Chris Wilson and Paul Poff were our prop artists. Chris also filled a project manager role, and Poff tried his hand at Dust's animations. Alexis Boyer, Brian McClain, and I were the environment guys. Alexis also did character work and props, Brian established the environment concepts and in-game 2D illustrations, and Pat did a lot of world building and technical implementation (spearheaded by Mr. Burley).
Later on we added Blake Allen for our audio and Jessica Burg for our graphic and web design needs. This is Team Dust's first project, and at the moment we don't have plans for any others. We've all moved on to new and exciting prospects, but who knows where the members of our team will go next.
Were there any notable advisors or external sources of help for the project?
We had four advisors working with the team to make sure it stayed on track. Our academic director at the Art Institute [of Phoenix], Jim Haldy, acted like our producer, and made sure we didn't veer off course or undertake too much. RC Torres and Thomas DiCosola were our art advisors. They critiqued our work all the way through development and helped us nail down the mood. In fact it was Mr. DiCosola that came up with Dust as our title.
Helping out our programmer was David Koontz. He really helped to get us acquainted with unity. All together they were there to give us as much of a professional experience as they could. They were all amazingly helpful, and Team Dust's appreciation can't be overstated.