Founded in 2015 by a trio of Ubisoft veterans, Magic Design Studios is nestled in Montpellier, a haven for veteran game developers near the coast of southern France. Bruno Gentile, Lu Yang and Nicolas Leger set out to build a company focused on creating high-quality entertainment. At the time, the question for these accomplished artists and designers was more “What?” than “How?”
“We want to invite players to be part of some fantastic universes,” says CEO and creative director Yang. And given the core team’s massive experience creating games in the Rayman, Raving Rabbids, Assassin’s Creed, Valiant Hearts, and Ghost Recon franchises, Magic Design has a lot of talent for the top-line visuals, animations, audio and gameplay needed to meet that goal. “We spent a year and a half elaborating, defining, searching for, and shaping the kind of game/story/experience we wanted to offer. It turns out we are video game crafters!”
The team entered full production in June 2017 on their first game release as a studio: Unruly Heroes.
Unruly Heroes takes its inspiration from the classic Ming dynasty tale Journey to the West. “It’s a wonderful story,” continues Yang. “But I noticed it wasn’t really known in the West.” Indeed, Journey to the West is one of China’s great works from the 16th century and tells the tale of a monk’s legendary pilgrimage, along with three companions, to obtain sacred texts while enduring trials and tribulations on the road.
Set in lush and lively environments, the game will spin a version of the tale that is more lighthearted, colorful and funny than the original while still communicating the deeper message of what it takes to be a hero: Trust, determination, wisdom and courage. The players are invited to mix jumping and climbing challenges with high-intensity combat against an army of enemies and memorable boss characters.
While this action-platformer is an allegory for the power of cooperation, and is designed to encourage “couch co-op,” where players take control of one of four unique characters, those not interested in the companionship that comes with shared experiences can instead crush their friends in a local competitive mode.
Unruly Heroes is set to release in 2018 on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
While the Magic Design team has worked on a variety of hugely successful games, many of the most applicable lessons learned for the development of Unruly Heroes have come from their work on Rayman Legends and Valiant Hearts, where they learned about elegant tools for building 2D games.
“The level design tools we’ve created as Unity extensions for Unruly Heroes are conceptually similar to tools we’ve used for some amazing 2D games in the past,” explains Magic Design’s Bruno Gentile. “However, what we’ve done is a bit more complex and works in 3D. We use an editor line to generate art and a collider, and it’s the same data for artists and level designers.”
During development, each level is split into three separate scenes in-editor so that the level designer, artist, and sound designer can work on it at the same time. “Our level designer, Simon, starts with blocks, as you may have seen on #Blocktober [a hashtag that ‘encourages the sharing of “blockmesh” layouts’ during October]. The blocks let us prototype and evolve gameplay, and merge with the other scenes after work is done. This allows us to work with more focus.”
Each of the teams is familiar with Playmaker to aid prototyping, and can build new gameplay scenarios quickly. In fact, they were able to create a PVP mode (a feature they’re proud to include for local and online play) for the game without needing to solicit their programming team.
The tools celebrate the art
Magic Design uses Unity as a powerful base to build their game, taking advantage of several built-in features such as the Audio and Particle Systems, not to mention the ability to bring the game to every console and desktop system on the market.
“But I don’t think our tools are the best part of what we’re doing at Magic Design: It’s the artists who are creating beautiful and compelling art,” continues Gentile.
“All the assets we use are simple, hand-painted textures. Using our tools, we are able to apply real-time modifications over them, such as lights, deformations, animation and so on,” says artistic director Jean-Brice Dugait. This is quite straightforward and makes it possible for any 2D artist to transform a still illustration into a living, 3D environment in Unity.
For a studio that advertises game development and animation as its forte, it’s not surprising that, first and foremost, all of the technical features and tools they’ve assembled serve their artists, allowing them to create a masterful visual experience.