February 20, 2019

The Making of the Immolator: A New AI Class

Immolate (verb)

im·mo·late | \ ˈi-mə-ˌlāt

transitive verb

1. To offer in sacrifice
Especially: to kill as a sacrificial victim

2. To kill or destroy by fire

A new AI is coming to Hunt in the next update, and he's lit. Literally. The Immolator represents a new class of AI, one that remains dormant until a Hunter gets close, charges at nearby movement, bursts into flames when shot, and/or makes your life hell in various other ways. Today we'll hear from three of the developers who worked on the Immolator about what it was like to make him.

How it all began

New AI are created to add something that the gameplay or existing AI cast don't offer, so the first step for the team was to figure out what the game was missing, and how a new AI character could fill in that gap.

“We have different AI to fill different roles: some flushes you out of cover, some—for example the hive—have a long-range attack that forces you to react from afar. Basically, we have different AI that complete each other within the map," explained Hunt Character Art Director Abdenour Bachir.

Bence Kovacs, who worked as the Junior Technical Designer on the Immolator, went into more detail: “First I had to come up with an idea for how the Immolator was going to interact with the environment, and like Abdenour mentioned, what role this new AI should fill among our other AI cast. When we were working on the Immolator what we realized is that we needed an enemy that was fast moving. The goal was to create something that feels unique and that adds a new challenge for the players."

From there, Bence took preexisting assets from an earlier iteration of the Immolator, plugged them in, and started trying out different behaviors. Meanwhile, on the art side, the Character and Concept Art teams were fine-tuning the Immolator's aesthetic.

“We use a visual language to distinguish between regular grunts and specials and bosses. Grunts are very human looking in term of shape and behavior, a bit more broken obviously, but still recognizably human. Specials have a very different silhouette and are a little more grotesque. When we realized the Immolator wouldn't just be a regular grunt, we decided to reshape him and make him a bit more unique," Abdenour explained. “The thing with this guy is that he's on fire; he's burned. He needs to look like he's really suffering. We got some sketches from the Concept Art team and straight away some of those clicked with us: a skull face with big almond-shaped, empty eye sockets, skin completely melted and charred. From that point on Hugo started working on him."

Hunt Character Artist Hugo Guerra said he'd already been working on improving some of the charred bodies around the map. “I made a burned body from scratch for that. I kind of went a bit overboard on the detailing; I was having some fun with it.

“Initially it was just kind of a skin variation but as our idea of the character evolved, we added some more bones showing and some more detail on the clothes melted against the body. I had to use some very nasty reference images. The sort of stuff that you don't want to watch before lunch.

“At first I approached this guy as an anatomy study," Hugo continued. “I did bones, then sculpted muscle over it, then skin over that. Just so I would have control over what parts would be showing, and could have some parts popping out or have the skull exposed, for example. We added peeling skin on top of that; it was a layered process. Bones, muscle structure, skin, and then a lot of grisly deformation just to add to that silhouette."

Hugo created the burning effect using an emittance map. “An emittance map is basically a texture that tells the engine what is glowing and what is not. In this case, we used it to show some of the bones under the skin and embers glowing through the cracks of the surface."

Bad behavior

According to Bence, the biggest challenge along the way turned out to be technical. “The problem was tied to his crazy behavior," he explained.

“The Immolator is fast and chaotic, and I had to figure out how to make that fit into Hunt. Our levels aren't designed for a lot of AI movement, but the Immolator needs to cover a lot of ground. The coolest thing about him is the way he interacts with the world.

“For example, if he can't reach your Hunter, he will blow up a barrel or kill other AI. That behavior really adds a lot to the game, though at the time, the technology we had wasn't quite ready for it. But we solved the problem. It was a coding solution. We improved our navigation system and how the AI perceives what's around him."

“He's a tormented guy," said Abdenour. “When he's idle, you don't see how dangerous he is. He's just walking around, suffering… The moment you shoot at him he ignites, and starts running at you, or running around creating havoc."

“When you hear the hive screaming from far away, for example, you feel immediate tension. You know that if you don't take care of her straight away you have a big problem. With the Immolator it can go either way. If you shoot him, he gets worse because he ignites and runs at you, but you can also use him against other players. If you need a distraction, just shoot him from a distance and he'll try to attack anything in range that moves. He definitely adds something interesting to the whole mix of the gameplay. He's spicy. He's unpredictable."

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