The Assassin materializes and strikes before melting back into a swirling swarm of insects on the floor, only to reappear in another part of the room and make yet another deadly hit. He is quick, savage, and merciless, bringing something new to the line-up of bosses in our online multi-player bounty hunting game Hunt: Showdown.
But what players will see of the Assassin when it hits the Hunt: Showdown test servers this week and what it was when the development process started are two very different creatures.
“The Assassin was my first big character assignment at Crytek," said Lead Concept Artist Artem Shumnik. “The Assassin was meant to be a creature that creeps from the shadows to kill you. The idea was that there would be some rags and some insect swarms and he would be a kind of spirit that formed out of these insects and rags."
That much, at least, has stayed the same through all iterations on the Assassin's aesthetic and behavior. Everything else has shifted and changed.
“In some of those early sketches, the Assassin looked like a witch doctor with a mask, kind of like the plague doctors from medieval times," said Shumnik. “But a plague doctor doesn't fit into Hunt's setting. We didn't just want to have cool looking monsters, we wanted monsters that looked cool and fit the world of the game. So I did a realistic take on the character with lots of details that could fit into Hunt's version of Louisiana in 1895."
When it was time to add another boss to Hunt: Showdown, the team decided to return to that early Assassin concept and build from there.
“We had that concept to start from, but we had to do a lot of groundwork," explained Junior Technical Designer Robert Green. “It's been a super interesting challenge. We needed to look critically at the existing bosses and use our experience with them to define exactly what we wanted from future Hunt bosses. Hunt is unique in that a boss fills an important role in the game, but the boss fight is not the main event. It's quite interesting to build something that fits around the PvP element of the game."
The very first prototype started with a Grunt and a Spider, two of the creatures in the existing game.
“In our first prototype, we were just trying out movement," said Green. “We used a Grunt model with some of the Spider's movements as a very early prototype, so we had a Grunt moving on walls like a Spider, with no real animations, just what we had for the Grunt. It was pretty fun to watch. But we didn't just want a reskinned Spider. So we started testing various behaviors."
It was at this point in the process that the Assassin's behavior became less slow and subtle and more fast and vicious.
“Sneaky AI in Hunt would be hard to do because you could have PvP interaction at any moment. So we tried to make it more that he would try to bamboozle you a bit. I think it was one of the character artists who suggested the cloning thing," said Green. Thanks to a bug, the developer in question had thought he'd seen the Assassin in two places at once, and the effect was so cool, that the team decided to try it out. “We started doing prototypes based on the Assassin spawning decoys so you didn't know which one to attack. We did one where he spawned five clones that would spread out across the entire compound, but then you had to be running constantly. We ended up going with two decoys, with the boss itself circling around you. You have to correctly read the moment, otherwise you'll get burned."
At the same time, Senior Character Artist Chris Goodswen was prototyping and polishing the Assassin's look on the 3D model.
“I started my work on the Assassin by making a technical prototype, just to see if we could make the character work with the crawling bugs," said Goodswen. “We start with the white box phase, which is the testing phase. Then we do more of a complete white box, which is also a low-poly model, nothing fancy. At that stage the model is still rough looking, but good enough so that we can really start testing it. From there I then move to the high-poly model, and that's where we start finalizing the overall look. It's an iterative process between myself and Artem, with input from (Character Art Director) Abdenour Bachir and (Lead Character Artist) Florian Reschenhofer. I would do a rough model, and give it to them. They would make changes and give it back to me. I'd sculpt it in ZBrush, and send it back to them and on and on. We did that over and over and over until we got to where we were all happy with it."
Throughout the process both the look and the feel of the Assassin morphed from that first vision of a slow-moving plague doctor grunt into a fast and deadly boss.
“The original idea was that he's slow. He comes at you from shadows and kills you quietly. Now he's really fast and brutal," said Schumnik of the Assassin's evolution. “We also changed his weapons quite a bit. At first he had these long knives, which I based on bayonets. But for me that left the question of: when he disappears, where do the knives go? Do they fall on the floor and make a loud noise? How does he get them back? Since we wanted him to be realistic, I decided to ditch the knives. They looked cool, but instead we went with something that comes from his body. He's made of insects, so the knives became stingers. Then, because they were doing all this bending with the rig, having him hunched over, we extended his limbs and neck to give him longer proportions to give the right impression."
Meanwhile, the Assassin's coat was causing technical problems—it was colliding with the geometry and with particles—and the team were debating whether or not to have him in the coat, or leave him in his birthday suit. Ultimately, they decided to keep the coat, but even so, they ended up seeing more of the Assassin than they bargained for.
“There was a time when I argued for getting rid of the coat because he's freaky looking without it," said Goodswen. “Because of that, the model is completely sculpted. We decided to keep the coat, but there was this bug... So sometimes he walks around on all fours like a dog, which is really creepy, but we had this bug where he froze on all fours like that, with his bottom up in the air. The coat had flapped off and well," Goodswen paused to laugh, “you could see that I did sculpt some details on the bottom."
References for the Assassin came from both expected and unexpected places.
“For reference, I've got lots of dead bodies, dried bodies, dried corpses, mummies. Bugs. Ripped out intestines, guts," said Goodswen. “I did the Butcher as well, and I did one of the Grunts where the organs is hanging out, so I'm so desensitized to it. I can sit through a horror film now and go ahh that's nothing."
But Shumnik's references—at least in part—were not horror or gore. “I was working from a pre-existing concept, so I didn't need a lot of references for that. I was looking for nice textures mostly, and the process can be kind of random. For the Assassin, it was the American Wood Stork, this strange bird with weird textures and wrinkles on its neck. Nobody will see it in the image really—it changed a lot and that part isn't really visible, but those stork textures sparked some ideas for me."
Shumnik continued: “Everyone assumes that we have lots of disgusting references for Hunt in general, and with the Assassin I used lots of bugs, insects, and mummies because he's kind of a dried out body. But he also is covered with mud, so I looked at mud references a lot: images of people covered in mud, so like rugby players and mostly mud football players."
A team effort
The Assassin was truly a group effort, Goodswen said. “This character took a lot of departments. More than usual. Concept Art, Character Art, VFX, Game Design, Tech Art, and Animation were all heavily involved in the process. So that was like a seven department collab."