Nequinox Studios.

Turbo Tanks


Video game developer Nequinox Studios is working on a new IP, Turbo Tanks – an arcade racing game featuring customisable tanks. They wanted to speed up development and discover the overall look, feel, and flow of what would be the tank customisation sequence.

Pre-vis is a cost-effective way to quickly understand how a game sequence could work without pumping unnecessary resources and budget into code and design. It’s an art that features heavily in the film industry and a growing trend in video games. Pre-vis is the perfect way to conceptualise the direction and features of a game quickly, as well as discover potential issues and solve them along the way.

With our founders’ and core team’s background in video game development for the likes of Disney and EA, we knew exactly what was required, having gone the through full game development cycles many times, including early-stage prototyping and pre-vis tasks. This means we understand the challenges and constraints involved in realising a dream, including the requirements to ensure all assets created would be sympathetic to the game’s polygon and texture budgets and restraints, as well as cash budgets.

Nequinox Studios loved the final concept. The sequence went beyond a blueprint for the development team as the assets we meticulously crafted were passed over to be included in the game, while design and art decisions helped inform other areas of Turbo Tanks.


Pre-Vis Services


The Brief

Nequinox Studios wanted us to work on a pre-vis concept for how a customisation sequence could flow from beginning to end. This would include the player journey into and out of the tank customisation area, the UI and UX flow, what the icons and UI could look like and how the cameras could work.

How we started

As the game is early in development, there were few materials to work with. We had a few basic shots of the garage environment from within the game to use as a reference and a small selection of in-game assets to play with. Still, it was a blank canvas in terms of functionality, look and feel.

An intro to the tank-tweaking area was the starting point. A simple menu scene was crafted within a junkyard environment. The idea of having a crane swoop in with a giant magnet to carry the selected tank from a junkyard to a garage where the tank could be customised was arrived at quickly. Considering the game is set in a post-apocalyptic, industrial world, it felt fitting. Different potential blueprints and animatics were drafted to try to capture the correct vibe before we decided on the final direction. It was then down to our CG animators to block it out in 3D.

This process started with a basic form created in Blender – no colours, no environments, etc. – before screenshots of every main keyframe were painted in Photoshop to add life to each one. Once the timings of each keyframe were polished, it was time to refine the animations and environment in Unreal. This added depth and colour to the world. Once it was looking how we liked, we delivered a cinematic feel for the tank moving into the garage with the camera smoothly transitioning from full screen to letterbox and reversing the process on exit. This also provided further visual language to players around interactivity. Now, it was time to decide what happens inside the garage.

Nailing the mechanics

With slick transition animations pulling players and their tanks into the garage, working out the customisation options was next. Outside the junkyard was straightforward. There was a significant backstory to Turbo Tanks that we were privy to, so littering the area with broken machine parts fit the “feel” of the game. The interior would feature more technical and functional challenges as this is where significant player interactions would happen.

First, we built the wireframes of the main customisation options we wanted to show. None of these assets existed. That meant we had to design our own potential upgrades – imagining what they could look like and how they’d be presented, with inspiration taken from the limited assets we had received and background information about the game.

We played around with many different style options as there are unlimited ways to show off customisation options. Everything was on the table, so the team employed a strategy of rapid iteration in order to fail fast at things which were not working so well and arrive at the desired direction.

Once inside the garage, we needed unique boosters, guns and more crafted in Blender before being brought to life as renders in Unreal Engine. We also added placeholder text and stats (running ahead of development) like range, accuracy, damage and reload speed as examples parts to give players the info they expect as they modify their tanks. This approach adds extra depth to the pre-vis, as these intricacies make it feel genuine.

Upgrading the upgrade sequence

Initially, we thought about having tiny robot mechanics come in to weld each new piece onto the tank, and although this worked well, we know how important it is to get players straight back into the game. We sent the robots to the scrapyard and instead we selected fast transitions and a weighty and satisfying thud as the selected part was placed.

Throughout the garage sequence, our designers subtly set the prompts and cues that guide the player instinctively. We took inspiration from racing game garages such as Need For Speed – titles with a heady modding aspect. We dedicated time and resources to ensure the menu functions with flourishes, such as fine-tuning the camera angles and tracking so they snap to areas of the tank in a fast and responsive fashion. Highlighting each customisable spot also aids the player. A clumsy or counter-intuitive menu is a fast way to ensure someone is turned off your game, so ensuring the visual language guides the player as they interact in this scene is crucial.

As we zoom in on the tank, we leave only space for customisation options such as bespoke paint jobs and mods, which keeps the player locked in on what they’re supposed to do. Visual clues such as symbols on the current colour selected for the tank help players navigate the area swiftly. Everything inside the garage is fast-paced and can be toggled easily, which aligns with the Turbo Tanks ethos. We applied nuances to highlight the menu options when equipping options so the player knows explicitly what they have or are about to choose. Flourishes such as the boosters spitting flames when you select them again give a real feel and flavour to the chosen parts, as well as keeping the player locked in. Some players might click through quickly and make mistakes, but these intricacies reduce the chances of this happening.


A menu in motion

Every aspect of the garage plays a part, and we left no bolt unturned. We honed the placeholder text to make sure it appeared legible onscreen, played with hundreds of colour swatches to ensure everything inside popped and removed dead space from the screen so every pixel counts. The timing of everything also had to be entirely on point. The pre-vis gives a sense of constant motion because nobody wants to see a static, lifeless screen. We’re left with a minimalist menu that works efficiently, avoiding overcomplications.

Audio exploration

As the visuals were finessed, the audio team was busy composing the sounds that would pull it all together. Audio is essential to the pre-vis experience. Without it, the whole project feels flat and isn’t able to demonstrate the potential atmosphere and excitement. The audio team took the animation beats from the visuals, delved into the game’s lore and then provided the sounds that generate energy.

Those heavy thuds as the parts are stuck to the tank are carefully measured to give a sense of weightiness. Mechanical flourishes keep the player locked into the world, too. While visuals paint the pictures, the audio anchors the experience and adds value to the pre-vis creative, and a real demonstration of how the sequence will feel for players.

The finished article

“It looks sick!” – Nequinox Studios.

The developer was so delighted with our work on Turbo Tanks that they requested the assets we produced to use in-game and we were informed that our work would inform the overall development of the game. This is always the ultimate goal of our pre-vis work – to give clients a cost-effective way to see how their game could look and feel and be so blown away with BTC’s work it becomes part of the finished product.

Our experience allows us to deliver the concepts you’d expect to see in a real game but delivered in video form. This is incredibly beneficial to clients across all budget sizes.

Do you need pre-vis help with your upcoming project? Join the likes of Nequinox Studios, EA and Natural Motion by choosing Big Thursday Creative to help solve development questions and accelerate production with our range of pre-vis services.