By: Meleah Maynard
What do you get when you combine the game play of Atari’s Asteroids with the graphic sensibility of Japanese Anime? It’s called Astro Slayers, and it’s the second game app produced by C4DGames, a sister company of Italian 3D and motion graphics house Digital TRX. Astro Slayers took about 9 months to complete and is powered by the Torque 2D engine.
“Asteroids made history and marked all of us,” says Paolo Lamanna, co-founder of Digital TRX with Marco and Mad Bertoglio, explaining why he and six other artists on his team decided to create their own take on the iconic game. “I spent a lot of time playing it as a child and, at that time, those few lines of light were enough to carry us into space to live incredible moments.” Powered by the Torque 2D engine and created with Maxon Cinema 4D, After Effects, Photoshop and a bit of ZBrush, the Astro Slayers app took about nine months to complete.
Building on the simple structure of Asteroids, C4DGames modernized the look and added a cast of characters and basic plot. The date is 2050, and the galaxy is being pummeled by a destructive and seemingly unstoppable meteor shower. To protect the earth, the World Union of States launches the Astro Slayers program, which is headed by Dr. Azama, who is known for discovering the Astroparticle, a kind of spatial energy that gives human beings extraordinary abilities.
Azama begins by building an Astrobase and three Slayer Machines: Freccia, Queen-Star and Turtle. All three spacecraft are powerful enough to destroy meteorites and they’re flown by the only three pilots deemed qualified to fly spacecraft armed with Astroparticle-fueled engines and weapons. Players must help the three pilots, Khan, Luna and Ron, succeed at their mission to save the galaxy by taking out stray asteroids.
A Passion for 3D
Lamanna, who started out as an illustrator and cartoonist, has worked for many Italian and foreign publishing houses over the years. In addition to contributing regularly to Disney USA, and occasionally Disney Italy, he has also worked as a digital colorist for publishers and agencies in France and Belgium.
For Lamanna, making the move to 3D felt like a natural progression. “It was a short step for me because my curiosity to explore the world of 3D was so great,” Lamanna recalls, adding that after considering different types of software, he chose Cinema 4D. “I got my first release, which was maybe R6 or R7, from a magazine and then it was love.”
It was Lamanna’s desire to get more involved in 3D that inspired him to launch Digital TRX in 2011. The venture allowed him to bring together a Cinema 4D team made up of many of the talented artists he had collaborated with on past projects, including two popular short films based on Grendizer, a super robot created by Japanese manga artist and sci-fi author Go Nagai that they all loved as kids.
For both films, Grendizer Returns and Grendizer Arch-Enemy, the Cinema 4D team worked closely with Ufo Robots.net, a website dedicated to all things Grendizer. Widely praised by Grendizer fans all over the world, the shorts were made with Cinema 4D and After Effects and edited in Final Cut Pro. “This year is the 35th anniversary of the first Grendizer episode in Italy, and for 35 years I have followed Japanese animation with interest and admiration,” Lamanna says.
Saving the Galaxy
With Astro Slayers, which is available at iTunes for iPhone and iPad, the Cinema 4D team was going for graphics inspired by artists, including Go Nagai, Masakazu Katsura and Steambot Studios and Dylan Cole, explains Lamanna. The app brings together two different techniques to look like one, and all of the 2D characters were made using Manga Studio and Photoshop.
After Effects was used for animation. All of the game’s structures and technological gadgetry were created in Cinema 4D. “Cinema made it easy to model things like meteorites and the spacecraft in a way that could be implemented in 2D,” he continues, “and with R14 we now have the sculpting functionality we need within Cinema 4D.”
The team used BodyPaint 3D to get the cartoon-like graphics they wanted. Anime-style surfaces were painted directly onto UV maps in order to give them the control and freedom they wanted. Outlines were reinforced for effect in post-production. Renders were exported with several passes and then composited in Photoshop or After Effects so they could be imported into the 2D game engine. “Cinema4D's internal render engine was indispensible because it allowed us to produce high-quality work in such a short amount of time,” Lamanna says.
Having the game objects in 3D allowed Lamanna and the other artists on the project to achieve a level of sophisticated kinematics at particular moments in the game, such as spacecraft coupling. “With XPresso we could control the mechanical movements of the spacecraft with just a few sliders,” he explains.
While new games are definitely in Digital TRX’s future, they are currently porting Astro Slayers to a new version of Torque 2D and working on updates. Look for features, including better player control, as well as new bonuses, weapons and levels. “We’re also studying the integration between Cinema 4D and two other game engines, Unity and UDK, so in the future there will certainly be a new 3D game made with those engines,” Lamanna says.
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Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor. Contact her at her website.
Watch the Astro Slayers trailer here: