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Unreal VR Game Developer creates NPCs with Character Creator & iClone

Myron Mortakis – Founder of Helm Systems

Myron Mortakis

Myron Mortakis is the President and founder of HELM Systems, a South Florida-based software development company, specializing in interactive and virtual reality software development.

He carries over his expertise and experience of over 13 years in structuring, organizing and directing development teams. Myron has led his company to international recognition, in the form of award nominations, mainstream world-wide online and print publications, as well as to the creation of HELM’s proprietary 3D rendering engine.

Helm systems is now developing their VR project – The SoulKeeper VR where they used Character Creator and iClone for their Unreal game project.

Reallusion’s products are an essential component in our development toolbox, as they facilitate and expedite a lot of complex processes that are involved in a character’s production cycle, without sacrificing quality.

 Myron Mortakis / President-Founder of Helm Systems

Q: Hello Myron! And welcome to our feature stories, please tell us a bit about your studio and your current game The SoulKeeperVR.

Hello, its a pleasure as always talking to you, thanks for having me! HELM Systems is a small, independent game and interactive software development studio in South Florida, more specifically in the Fort Lauderdale area. It has been around since 2005, and through the years it has received worldwide recognition through mainstream online and print press coverage, such as IGN, PC Gamer and more, as well as awards and nominations such as Epic Unreal Dev Grants in 2017, an IGF 2006 nomination and more.

While our work can be found in other industries such as aerospace, our main focus has always been and will always be video game development. We are best known for our The SoulKeeper IP, more specifically for VR iteration of this IP.

We released a first Early Access version of The SoulKeeper VR back in August 2017, and we are currently working on the second Early Access of the same title. For those unfamiliar with the game, The SoulKeeper VR is an open world, dark fantasy RPG, in VR. What sets it apart from other games in the genre, is that we have a variety of weapons and combat modes, rideable dragons and horses, and a rather large world, filled with adventures, specifically designed for VR gameplay.

The SoulKeeper VR is an open world game, that requires a large amount of NPCs (none playable characters) for the player to interact with, and HELM Systems being a small independent development studio, doesn’t have the required human resources to produce such a large number of NPCs at a small amount of time. At least not through the traditional pipeline of base modeling in a 3D application, sculpting the details in a highly detailed 3D sculpting application, retopologizing and optimizing into a low-poly version which is then imported in Unreal Engine.

Traditionally it is a time consuming process, which these days we reserve only for main characters. Yet our fictional world needs to be filled in with all sorts of NPCs, which have to look just as good and believable as the protagonists – and this could have not been achieved without Reallusion’s groundbreaking product lineup for character creation and animation.

Q: Everyone has romantic ideas of what its like to be a full-time game developer. What is it really like?

Much like everything else in life, it requires a lot of passion, determination, dedication and patience. A lot of people like video games, and there’s that notion that being a video game developer is a “cool” and fun job. And in fact it is, but there are a lot of difficulties that most people outside the industry are unaware of.

First of all it is a very competitive industry, both on the individual and the collective/corporate levels. So you need to keep innovating, you need to keep bringing new ideas, better ideas, and that constant evolution at great speed without a break, can take its toll on individuals as well as teams.

Secondly, even if a development team puts all the hard work that game development requires, most of the time a lot of that work might go unappreciated, so a game developer always needs to be prepared for both ups and downs as far as interacting with their audience is concerned.

And let’s be honest. Game development is not a 9-5 job. It requires way more than 8 hours a day, and pretty much everyone being a professional game developer has put a lot of work and has made a lot of sacrifices to be able to be called a game developer. Hopefully the traditional “crunch time” -which seems to be a never-ending grind will change, and we can already see an effort to provide game developers with better quality of life. That would be a huge victory and would certainly make being a game developer one of the best jobs to have, at least if you are a creative person!

Q: What are the most important elements to get right about game development ?

There are so many, but I would say first and foremost is to know what game you want to build, and communicate that idea clearly to your target audience, regardless if it is a small or large audience.

Being well organized in pre-production, production and post-production stages is certainly a must, but you also need to be agile as there are always unforeseen problems getting in your way, no matter  how well you have been planning development and no matter how well you have been following this plan.

The other thing that is really important, is to have a dedicated and trustworthy team that are there to work together and support each other, not just to advance themselves in some way. Having key people not dropping out of a project due to lack of dedication, or a lack of team spirit in the middle of development can be quite a negative and back setting experience, no matter the size of a development team or the available resources.

Q: In your game projects, what software do you use?

We are using so many, but mainly Nevigo’s articy:draft for our game design documentation, 3ds Max and Maya as our core 3D applications, ZBrush for high-poly sculpting, Photoshop, Quixel Suite and Substance Painter for all our 2D/texturing needs, Nuendo and a bunch of sound and virtual instrument libraries for our audio needs.

And of course we are using the entire Reallusion product lineup, with the most important tools being Character Creator and iClone. Lastly, but certainly not least, everything we create with all these tools, it all comes together in the Unreal Engine.

Q: Can you describe what is your workflow with Reallusion tools?

We usually start with Character Creator, which allows us to get amazing results rather quickly. With all the parameters available in there, we can produce virtually any type of character we could ever need, always with high-quality results. Once we are happy with the anatomy of a character, we proceed to dress them up with the necessary clothing and accessories which we can create or acquire from the online Content Store.

“Reallusion’s products are a great way to save time and effort in your 3D character production pipeline. Take for example Character Creator, where with a couple of clicks through a very intuitive interface, you can create some amazingly believable and realistic looking characters. The amount of detail and the array of possible combinations is simply mind bending!”

 Myron Mortakis / President-Founder of Helm Systems

From that point on, we send the characters directly to iClone, where we start animating them, both their body and faces. We will often import our voice over artists’ recorded lines, and then start fine-tuning the character animation through the usage of a Perception Neuron mocap suit, or through the iClone compatible Faceware plugin for facial animation.

Once we are happy with the results, we then export with settings compatible to the Unreal Engine, and finally import the assets in-game.

Q: If you were to design the perfect tools(s) for game development, what would it (they) have? 

In truth, we are very happy with all the tools we have been using. Sure, they all have their weaknesses and there’s always room for improvement, but we are accustomed to them, and for the time being we are very comfortable and productive with all of them.

We feel that the biggest challenge for us at least, has always been animation, and I believe that Reallusion is getting very close to providing us with the perfect tool for this aspect of game development. Any tool that offers speed and ease, without sacrificing quality, is certainly a tool worth having, and is a tool that reaches closer to perfection. At least from a game developer’s point of view – Reallusion’s tools are getting easier to use and yield higher quality results with each update they have.

On top of it all they are fully compatible with the Unreal Engine, and I certainly could see a future in which they are fully integrated within the engine, therefore expediting the workflow through the pipeline even more!

“All in all, we find that Reallusion’s products allow us to quickly populate our open world environment with high quality characters that never look repetitive and the best part is that using these tools has cut our production time and budget by 1/5 if not more. Whenever we are asked by other developers what tools to use for character generation and animation, we always recommend they look at Reallusion’s reasonably priced, easy to use, yet qualitative tools.”

 Myron Mortakis / President-Founder of Helm Systems

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