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MODO is locked and loaded in Farrah Rogue: Zero Hour


As more indie game developers are gravitating to MODO, they're finding The Foundry's modeling and animation tools are a great fit to suit their needs on a wide range of projects -- both big and small. At independent game dev operation Epsilon Studios, founder James Guard has put MODO front and center in his animation pipeline across multiple games, animated trailers, and related design projects. The end result? A wide variety of awesomeness.

"I honestly really love every aspect of animation and games," says Guard, who's been an enthusiastic generalist since studying 3D at the Academy of Art University. "It would be hard to just stick to one [discipline]." While he's worked at Viscira, a medical animations studio in the phamra industry, and done contract projects for other clients, Epsilon Studios is primarily a creative outlet for publishing his own art, animation, and gaming projects -- many of which have a distinct sci-fi vibe and span a broad range of formats.

From still art mockups and 3D models to animations and full-blown game releases, just about everything on Guard's eclectic project roster was created and animated with MODO. Like many game developers who use MODO, he commonly takes the 3D art and animation assets he creates with MODO and brings them into Unity's engine for game-specific coding. Guard finds the programs pair incredibly well together, and they make his job a lot easier, though he's also put MODO to the real test as the workhorse in his game production pipeline.

Nothing else touches MODO right out of the box, says Guard. "The modeling tools in MODO are first class as far as I’m concerned," he says, adding he appreciates the sheer depth of the package's capabilities without having to dip into third-party plug-ins. "This is super important for me since I’m always moving around from project to project and workstation to workstation. I need something that has very little maintenance and reliance on third party software."


"MODO is everywhere in this project, from cinematics and models to baking, animation, and texture work. Basically it's the heart of Farrah. Without it, I don't think I could have done as good of a job as I have."


From screen to controller

Guard's latest work, Farrah Rogue: Zero Hour, got its unique start as the beginnings of a short animated film done in MODO, but it soon transformed into a very different creation. After developing an elaborate story for his laser-toting space heroine and doing quite a bit animation work on the project, he realized it'd be more marketable as a game. The short film quickly grew into a multiplayer focused first-person shooter game, retaining some of the original film cinematics he created.

"I think MODO is super capable as a cinematic tool," notes Guard, who says he uses it both for cutscenes and in-game assets. "MODO is everywhere in this project, from cinematics and models to baking, animation, and texture work. Basically it's the heart of Farrah. Without it, I don't think I could have done as good of a job as I have. All the animation is through ACS, which, by the way, is an amazing tool for auto rigging." 

Shifting gears from creating an animated short film to fleshing the project out into a fully-fledged game wasn't an easy decision for Guard, but it proved to be the right direction for the project. After experimenting with different prototypes, he settled on the first-person shooter format and brought two other team members on-board -- programmer Jonathan Chien and illustrator Steven Celiceo -- to dive into development with.

The creative independence and flexibility of working on a small indie teams has its benefits, but it can also be challenging to juggle development of larger projects with only a handful of people carrying the weight. "One of the biggest obstacles is staff size. We're just three people," says Guard, noting MODO is a real life saver. "I do all of the 3D work, and MODO helps in that respect by being a super fast tool to get stuff done with and rework things that aren't working design wise."



"More often than not... I have to tweak and make serious model changes. This is where MODO excels. [It] does such an amazing job keeping UVs intact that it's not even a second thought if I need to make changes since it won’t be much of a pain."


MODO on the level

Farrah's 3D character design was rotopo'd, animated, baked, and polished using MODO, though Guard found it to be a particularly instrumental tool for developing and testing inventive stages for players to battle across. In one diabolical level lovingly labeled "The Incinerator," the main floor of the room features a huge platform that rotates a full 360 degrees along a horizontal plane, dumping unwary players onto lethal grinding gears spinning away in the pit far below.

Like with many of his stages, the design process often begins with simply coming up with a cool scenario that Guard would like to play in. "For example, the Incinerator level came from the idea of having a huge trash compactor at the bottom of the GARL facility," he says. From there, it's a matter of blocking out some rough level geometry, playtesting the area, and making changes until he's happy with the level.

When most of the kinks are worked out, he moves on to visual detailing and texturing the environment in MODO, and then digs in for another run of play tests. Throughout the level testing phase, however, Guard frequently uncovers elements he wants to overhaul, and MODO makes that process so much easier handle.

"More often than not, I either start to become unhappy with something in the level or see that players aren't enjoying it, so I have to tweak and make serious model changes," he says. "This is where MODO excels. [It] does such an amazing job keeping UVs intact that it's not even a second thought if I need to make changes since it won’t be much of a pain."

For a lot of projects, the pipeline itself is where a lot of the headaches can come from, says Guard, but that's not the case with the MODO to Unity workflow. The two programs plays nice together, he adds, which makes tweaking design elements and implementing updates a breeze. "All your setup stays intact inside unity," he says. "This frees the designer to make drastic changes without the worry of losing work or redoing work. Simply put: it's an awesome way to work."


Looking ahead

Work continues on Farrah Rogue: Zero Hour, which is slated for an initial launch on Ouya and computers (PC, Mac, and Linux) before eventually getting an updated console launch for WiiU and Xbox One. Because he's still developing the project, Guard is on a version lock to ensure switching to the latest edition of MODO mid-production doesn't inadvertently introduce any problems that might delay release. That said, he's eager to check out MODO 801 and plans to use it for his next project.

"There are a ton of awesome features that I want to play with," he says. "The dynamics with fracture have given me so many ideas, but I just have to wait to open 801 and its killing me. I want to play with all those new tools."