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Pitch & Produce | YOUXIA: Tech Noir Action Adventure Game uses Artificial Intelligence for 3D Character Creation

Stephane Biesse – CEO of Aardwolf Interactive

Stephane Biesse

Stephane Biesse, is the CEO of Aardwolf Interactive. He studied network security and business management in France and the United Kingdom, before working as a business developer for different companies.

Since his childhood Stephane has been in love with console and PC video games. As a teen he started coding and modding games as a hobby, and kept doing it until 2018 when he decided to quit his job as head of sales for a big company and funded Aardwolf Interactive to make his passion his job.

Since then, Stephane has hired 5 people and are developing their first video game YouXia – which is a tech noir action adventure game that is being developed in Unreal Engine with Character Creator‘s artificial intelligence-based plugin Headshot to create realistic characters, combined with AI generated photos from Generated.Photos to create crowd characters.

“It is truly remarkable how Character Creator, and Generated.Photos are shaping the future of game development with artificial intelligence, by providing a way for indie game studios and solo developers to aim higher than their initial budget, while producing visually stunning games.”

Stephane Biesse – CEO of Aardwolf Interactive

Q: Hello Stephane, and congratulations on being part of the Reallusion Pitch & Produce Program! Please tell us about your game YOUXIA, the story behind the game, and what makes your game unique.

Hi, and thanks for the opportunity to talk about YouXia.

YouXia means wandering vigilante in Chinese Mandarin, and it is a PC/console third person action/investigation game set up in a Tech Noir universe inspired by Akira, Judge Dredd and Blade Runner. A dark future where Earth has been devastated by wars and climate cataclysms and where humanity remnants are crowded into shantytowns and overpopulated megalopolis. AIs are now sentient beings, and genetic engineering is as common as pain killers and democracy is on the verge of extinction.

The player switches between Nick, the YouXia – a private eye end bounty hunter who investigates and fights in the real world and Mariko – a teenage hacker who can project her mind into the virtual world called the Dream, a drug induced collective hallucination where she battles against AIs to break computer countermeasures. The story follows Nick’s search to find his sister’s murderer in Babel, a  200 millions inhabitants megalopolis. Following the clues, Mariko and him will unravel a conspiracy threatening to destroy the last shred of democracy in the city.

I started developing YouXia in 2018 as a solo developer, at the time I was in charge of business development for a multinational company and had been quite active on the modding scene for about ten years, especially modeling and texturing characters. During the pre-production phase I soon realized It wasn’t a one man job and I would need talented people to help me develop the game. So I quit my job so I could work full time on the project and funded Aardwolf Interactive in January 2019. Since then we have been developing YouXia.

What makes YouXia unique is the Tech noir/biopunk universe we created, the possibility to switch between two characters with different skill sets to advance the story and the players’ ability to follow different paths leading to 8 very different endings.

Q: During the development of YOUXIA you were looking for ways to create realistic real-time characters. What made you choose Character Creator 3, and what advantages do game developers find with this software?

Since I started the project as a solo developer, I needed a quick way to model, rig and texture realistic characters. YouXia has a lot of NPCs and even with a team I knew it was impossible to model hundreds and hundreds of characters in a short period of time and a tight budget. As I was wondering about switching to a low poly aesthetic which was something I definitely didn’t want to do, I read about Character Creator (CC) on the Unreal Developer forum. I tried it and was impressed by the visual quality of the models, how user friendly it was and the huge assets library which we could use for secondary characters. 

Each and every character is created in Character Creator, outfits are edited in ZBrush, using CC’S GoZ feature, and automatically skinning in CC to texture using the appearance editor. When further texture editing is needed for main characters for example, we use the Substance Painter pipeline, to export our character to Painter, texture it and get the textures automatically updated inside Character Creator 3.

Last but not least, after exporting to Unreal Engine 4, the iClone Unreal Live Link plug-in automatically sets up the materials  which is a huge time saver especially with skin shaders. 

Character Creator 3 integrated perfectly in our workflow making tedious tasks, like skinning, rigging and Unreal materials set up… a thing of the past.”

Stephane Biesse – CEO of Aardwolf Interactive

Q: Your game YOUXIA is unique as you are employing a couple of artificial intelligence tools to create both your game protagonists and your game crowds. Kindly tell us more about these tools you are using, and how you feel this is shaping the future of game development?

With a team of 6 we have many challenges to meet in order to make YouXia a game worthy of a big production. One of these challenges is to populate the main city of YouXia, an overcrowded megalopolis with hundreds of NPCs (non-playable characters). 

To generate crowds of NPC we use the website, which is a free resource for hundreds of thousands of artificially generated human faces.

After choosing the sex, ethnicity and age of the character we want to create, an AI randomly generates realistic digital human face images that we can simply drag and drop into Character Creator, using their Headshot plug-in which is another artificial intelligence based tool that can create realistic digital humans in a matter of minutes.

Recently we needed a crowd for a night club scene. There are 30 different character models in the scene, with texture variations we got more than a hundred character models. 

“Thanks to Generated.Photos and Character Creator‘s Headshot plugin these characters were created, textured and all imported into Unreal Engine in a single day!”

Stephane Biesse – CEO of Aardwolf Interactive

Learn more about using artificial intelligence tools Headshot + Generated Photos, to create an unlimited amount of NPCs in a very short time.

Q: Aardwolf Interactive is developing the game in Unreal Engine, while using iClone face mocap with the Unreal Live Link plugin. What benefits does using iClone and the Unreal Live Link bring to your studio when working on game projects?

When I started developing the game I had no prior experience with animation and was quite intimidated by other animation software, with iClone I was able to quickly create animations and edit others to suit our needs. Since then, we’ve been using iClone for animating characters and props.

YouXia is dialog heavy game project and we had to find a motion capture solution that didn’t cost ten of thousands of euros and needed hours of cleanup. Recently we bought an HD Smartphone in order to capture dialog performances as well. We capture the actors performances with an iPhone linked to the iClone LIVE FACE plug-in, edit them in iClone and then check how they’ll look in Unreal with the Live link. The setup is done in a matter of minutes allowing us to focus on the performance, rather than on technical issues.

After animation with iClone we could then connect directly to Unreal Engine via the iClone Unreal Live Link plug-in that allows us to see in realtime our animated characters in Unreal. Inside iClone we can directly modify animations, lighting and cameras angles to get the perfect rendering for our cutscenes in UE4. There are no trials and error, and no time wasted exporting and importing assets. What we see in iClone is what we get in Unreal.

Q: Now that your studio has won a grant for the Pitch & Produce program, what are your future plans for YOUXIA and when can the community expect to play your game?

We are now entering the alpha phase of YouXia. We have a lot of work left, especially with cutscenes and dialogues, and the Reallusion grant will help us purchase body MOCAP gear so we can make great animations for these cutscenes.

Our big news is that we are about  to start a crowdfunding campaign at the end of 2020, in order to boost the development. YouXia will be released Q4 2021 on PC and Q2 2022 on console.

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