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Angry Birds maker Rovio ‘Plunder Pirates’ featured on App store

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Midoki studio’s latest release ‘Plunder Pirates’, a strategy game melding 4X exploration with tower defense, set in the Caribbean, was picked as ‘Editor’s choice’ on Apples iTunes app store. Art director Daniel Martinez-Normand has been instrumental in bringing the team to use Blender alongside their more traditional Maya workflow and is keen to share his and his studio’s experience of this transition.


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November 2013, looming deadlines for their Crazy Taxi project and frustration with aspects of UV handling with the texture paint tools in Maya sent Daniel on a hunt for an alternative

tool for the job. He quickly found Blender tutorials that drew him in leading to a swift download and install of the package. The speed of this process impressed him further, especially when compared to the lengthy procedure to get Maya onto a machine and while he continued to have some initial trouble with naming conventions in Blender as well as the unique ‘right click’ methodology, he was enamored  enough to implement techniques learned from video tutorials into the team’s workflow.

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Chief among these was the use of the Ocean’ modifier, used to generate wave surfaces for pre-rendered action sequences. They had initially abandoned plans for these sorts of shots, believing that while they could achieve the look they required in-game, the setup and render time needed to produce an equivalent set of was too much for their four week schedule. However Daniel managed to get a working ocean scene up and running in Blender within a few days so they re-upped their expectations and went ahead with the sequence.

Workflow

  • Most models are made and exported to the game from Maya LT using FBX. Plunder Pirates uses Midoki’s own engine, and the model converter was designed to read FBX files with the 2012 specification.
  • Midoki do a lot of marketing images for social media, so once a model is finished they import it into Blender,  re-apply cycles materials, and subdivide the mesh with extra details if needed. Setting up a scene doesn’t take long and they can easily produce a couple of renders per week while carrying on work on the game.
  • Any UI assets that require pre-rendered images (such as buttons) are also rendered in Blender.
  • Finally, all the latest  characters are fully modelled and baked in Blender, and only exported to Maya for rigging and FBX export. Blender is much faster than Maya baking the textures and the quality of the bakes is stunning, adding Cycles baking to the mix has improved that further.

Testimony

“Blender is a solid and powerful professional tool, with an incredibly fast update cycle. And more importantly: in Blender you feel that every new tool and feature has been designed by someone who actually needs it. These are not tick boxes on a sales brochure as we are sadly used to. These are tools designed for a real purpose, and they work. And that’s something any studio, big or small, can benefit from.”   Daniel Martinez-Normand
He also says that if he had been as literate to the benefits of Blender three years ago, Midoki would be likely to have a Blender only pipeline as their use of Maya stems from their previous roles in the industry and its integration in their pipeline. Their long term goal is to improve the model converter so it can read FBX with different specifications, from either Maya or from Blender.

Studio

Midoki are a small games studio based in Leamington Spa in England,  as small town in the middle of the UK long associated with video game production being home to Pitbull, Radiant Worlds, Sega Hardlight and Codemasters among others. The company was created around three years ago with a dream team line up of staff and management, from it’s chairman Ian Livingstone (Games Workshop / Eidos) to company director Ian Hetherington (Psygnosis / SCEE) the company has brought together some of the industry’s leading talents. In their short history they have collaborated with Sega on a ‘Crazy Taxi’ title, produced a 3D explorations app (Recce) of three major world cities (London, San Francisco and New York) and subsequently used that technology to gameify those urban environments in their title ‘Go Deliver’. Plunder Pirates, their first global release, has already racked up more than 4 million downloads since launch

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