Game Studio Spotlight: Buddy System

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Hey Buddy! I’m Hana from Buddy System. I work on story concepts, writing and 2D art. Our team is very small and passionate about art and the stories we tell through our creative practices. Buddy System is based in Los Angeles and was started by Bela who is a self-taught game designer and artist. The two of us have collaborated on many different projects over the last decade. Until now, those projects have been music and visual art based. Little Bug is our first video game and we have been learning a lot bringing this little baby to life!

Our Team is a Ragamuffin Crew With D.I.Y. Spirit at Our Core.

Our collaborators are scattered across the planet. Some are old friends from childhood and some are new friends we met on the internet.

When we started Little Bug it was just a loose collection of sketches and notes. In fact, Bela had no experience writing code or making games, but curiosity got the best of him and he learned how to use Unity and Blender on YouTube. He had the visual aesthetic and core mechanics figured out early on but not much in the way of a story. That’s when the project started to grow. We reached out to our favorite artists and thinkers and looked for ways they could contribute to the project.

My childhood bestie, Iman Sylvain, who works in a mycology lab and is in the process of getting her PhD in microbiology, teamed up with me on the concept of our game. We modeled our main character, Nyah, after Iman. Like her, she is a curious mushroom enthusiast and mystic raised by a single mother. Almost every element of the game references experiences that Iman, Bela and I had growing up in California.

Nyah chasing a street cat on her walk home from school. This and many other scenes in Little Bug are heavily inspired by our childhoods in Los Angeles.

Our 3D Art Team Gets a Little Bigger.

While Bela is a talented artist, creating an entire game that properly reflects his artistic vision requires some help. Bela connected with Nina Pal and Cherylynn Lima after stumbling upon their incredible 3D work online.

Nina works on environment art and Cherylynn works on character modeling. Bela typically sends them concept art, reference photos and descriptions for assets we need in game. Below is Nyah’s lunchbox filled with collected items all created by Nina and assembled in Unity (and later Sketchfab) by Bela.

Because the atmosphere of Little Bug is incredibly dark, it’s hard to recreate the specific lighting and postprocessing outside of Unity. For this reason, Bela adds each new asset into our Unity project before requesting any changes. Another unique challenge in Little Bug is the position of our main directional light. It’s angled directly at the camera for a dramatic effect that produces gorgeous shadows, but we lose almost all the environment art’s albedo in the pitch black. To compensate, we create our meshes with dramatic silhouettes and exaggerated normal maps to make the most out of the limited light. The exceptions to this are main characters like Nyah, who simply has an emissive material with no normals at all.

Nyah walking through a sparse Joshua Tree forest. Notice how all geometry facing the camera is completely blacked out by shadows. We are left with thin highlights on the edges and tops of meshes, so normal maps and careful rotation are necessary for all scenery assets.

Bringing a Curious City Girl to Life: Nyah’s Character Design.

Since Nyah is our main character and the most central part of the game, we have been constantly updating her look to reflect the evolution of our game’s story and atmosphere.

You can see Nyah’s early model by Cherylynn below.

Bela made gradual adjustments to Cherylynn’s original design until, after many months, we finally settled on our final version below.

Because Nyah was originally made to represent Iman, she became an integral part of the character design process. Iman’s thorough feedback on how Nyah should look informed some of the changes that were made to her character model.

Other changes had to be made due to unwieldy Unity implementation. For example, when we first designed Nyah, we hadn’t committed to an animation solution for her hair. Inevitably, we decided to skip baked animation, meaning Bela had to make major adjustments to Nyah’s hair so that it could be dynamically animated with Unity’s physics engine. There were other things that became clear once she was in Unity, most notably, her eyes were much too small and were barely visible, so we had to go back and make them much bigger. This trial and error is how we eventually arrived to our final version of Nyah. And we’re obsessed!

We love how Sketchfab allows us to share our process and hopefully inspire other amateur creators to ditch their reservations and make something! I believe that everyone has a story to tell and a vision to realize it’s just a matter of having access to resources and the desire to create. Being inspired is easy, allowing that inspiration to manifest outside ourselves is the hard part. Platforms like Sketchfab are so important for artists who want to be a part of a conversation and share their creative output with members of the community in order to grow. The potential for creative growth and exchange through this community is huge and we are so grateful it exists!

Follow Little Bug’s Development!

Little Bug is coming to Steam, Itch.io and Gamejolt later this summer! We are implementing some exciting new features and art as we finish up the game, so following us is the best way to stay up to date on our progress. We post weekly screenshots and gifs of new features on our Gamejolt Devlog and will continue to post new art here on Sketchfab so be sure to hit follow to get those juicy updates.

About the author

Michael

Entertainment at Sketchfab.

Simply, I’m a friend to all 3D artists, game creators and filmmakers. If you're working on a 3d project, don't hesitate to reach out to me.


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