The Art of Play: Students, Alumni Help Local Developer Bring New Steam Game to Life
Gaming is undeniably popular amongst students in Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) Digital Art and Design program. So naturally, when opportunities arise to move from playing games to creating them, there’s no shortage of takers.
Students in Assistant Professor Susan Bonner’s Professional Studio and Concept and Production courses have spent the last few semester collaborating with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Underbite Games on Super Dungeon Tactics, a top-down, isometric dungeon crawler came that was recently released on the Steam platform.
image courtesy of Underbite Games
Working within an existing art style from a previous Underbite Games release—Super Dungeon Explore—the students created a wide variety of assets for Super Dungeon Tactics, including concept art for the game’s characters, buildings, and props. They also worked on the 3D development of characters, environments, and weapons within the game; created the concept of a “backpack” to display a player’s equipment inventory during gameplay; and even developed the language the game’s user interface uses to express characters’ emotions.
Senior Dani Daniels says Underbite allowed she and her fellow students to let their creativity run wild by keeping assignments open-ended. “I’ve never worked with a group that’s this open before; it was interesting to just give Underbite a bunch of options to consider. I would grab some visual references, see what kinds of prompts the game was giving me, and then mix my own style in there.”
(above): Character concepts created by alumna Gab Schwall; (below): Item concepts created by 2017 graduate Dani Daniels
Though the students worked on different aspects of the game, their efforts were united under a common style, something Daniels says generated a highly collaborative environment.
“As people would figure out different rendering styles and brushes that fit nicely within the style, they would share them with everyone and show everyone how they were using them effectively. There was a lot of back-and-forth and I enjoyed that.”
In addition to Underbite Creative Director Cory Heald and Underbite 3D artist Brian Olmstead—who both teach in the Digital Art and Design program as adjunct instructors—students also got to work with Digital Art and Design alumni Gab Schwall (’16) and Jacob Becker (’16). Schwall works full-time for Underbite as a 3D and 2D artist, while Becker was hired on as an intern to work on Super Dungeon Tactics and other projects.
Schwall contributed heavily to the game, creating 3D environments, working on character models, illustrating 2D assets, painting character portraits, retexturing existing assets, and designing UI assets in addition to creating some concept art. Having also collaborated with Underbite on other projects as a KCAD student, she sees the industry interaction as a key component to helping students evolve and grow.
(above): 2D concept art created by 2016 graduate Mikayla Taylor while a KCAD student; (below): 2D concept art created by 2016 graduate Jillian Warsco while a KACD student
“As a student, [Underbite] improved my art, and it was interesting to have actual art direction from another individual, rather than just taking a project where I personally wanted to take it,” Schwall says. “I think it’s better that way, because as a student you can get stuck in a niche with your own personal style. Having a company like Underbite come in encourages the student to break out of that comfort zone and explore a new style.”
Becker modeled and textured all of the weapons in Super Dungeon Tactics and a few of the game’s environment assets. He says the experience was a great introduction to what life working in the industry is like.
“The workflow was a bit different. With school, you would have critiques maybe once a week, but with Underbite, it was all about constant updates constant refinement. That feedback was nice. It’s also been amazing to see the work come to fruition. It’s one thing to make an asset and see it in your 3D program, but it’s another thing to see it in game being used by characters.”
As he looks forward to future professional opportunities, Becker now boasts a launched title under his belt. “I’m hoping to land a job at a different studio, so to have this kind of accomplishment on my résumé so soon after graduating is really nice,” he says.
Daniels, who will be her own journey into the industry this spring, has already secured other freelance opportunities thanks to her work on Super Dungeon tactics. It’s results like these that drive Bonner and the rest of the Digital Art and Design faculty to fuse classroom learning with real-world projects and industry interaction.
“We’re thrilled to continue collaborating with Underbite Games to provide our students with immersive and challenging learning experiences,” says Bonner. “We all grew an incredible amount working on Super Dungeon Tactics, and we’re very excited to see the game released.”
Click here to learn more about KCAD’s Digital Art and Design program.