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Case Study: Battle Bands

Aerie Digital, 2022

Battle Bands is a cooperative deck builder that takes place in a rock and roll fantasy world. Players assume the role of the guitarist, bassist, drummer, or keyboardist and play with a deck specially tailored for their instrument. Players must work together to defeat outlandish AI enemies or other rival player bands in this awesome title from Aerie Digital.

I was thrilled to work on this project for a few reasons. First, Aerie Digital is a local studio and I was already friends with all of them before production started; working with your pals is always a blast. Second, as a lifelong musician myself, I’ve long wanted to make a game based on the experience of being in a band. And finally, Isaac Hilyard and Zach Cunningham, the two in-house artists at Aerie, are supremely talented. Collaborating with them on the art style was as fun as I hoped it would be.

We zeroed in on an art style that’s a mashup of show posters, late night cartoons, and irreverent teenage notebook doodles fairly quickly. Colorful, energetic, janky. 

Designing a pipeline that Isaac and Zach could use after Chickadee was done was a primary focus of mine. They’re both incredible painters and Isaac had some basic 3d experience at the time, but a pipeline with a heavy 3d component wasn’t a good fit for the team. In the end, I designed a system that used 3d as it’s foundation but leveraged Isaac and Zach’s painting skills for everything the player really sees. Characters are geometry in the rough shape of various outfit archetypes, bound to a traditional bone-based rig. The geometry is loose enough that you can fit an endless array of outfit options within the UV space. And because this approach results in standard animated fbx’s, we could utilize all the stock animation tools in Unreal. The environments are nothing more than a large texture on an inverted cylinder. This might seem too basic to work, but the intentional jankiness mixed with how the camera movement was designed yields great results.

Deckbuilders tend to be information-heavy and Battle Bands is no exception. Despite this fact, the UI came together pretty quickly. The layout for the cards was roughly figured out within the span of a few days. The design allowed all the important information to be immediately visible when the cards are fanned out in a players hand, and we used color to show relationships around the screen. Orange was used for elements related to Hype, the game’s point system, while purple was used for Energy. Blue, teal, green, and lime - an array of analogous colors - were used for the band’s decks, and were meant to subtly show a connection between the various bandmates/instruments. Magenta - the color on the opposite side of the color wheel as the band colors - was used for the opposing AI decks. We never mix or match these colors. Their usage is consistent throughout the UI so as to maintain total clarity.

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