Michela Rimensberger – CEO, Producer, Co-founder
Michela is the CEO and co-founder of Sycoforge, a Swiss game dev studio working on a transmedia universe called ‘Arafinn’. Her affinity for stories and video games started at an early age, and by the time she first set foot on the hyrule fields in ‘Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’, she knew that one day she was going to create her own fantasy world in a video game. As a logical consequence, she studied Computer Science at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and added a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Business Administration to her degree. At Sycoforge, she wears many hats and works in different fields.
The studio’s first video game instalment set in the Arafinn universe is called “Return to Nangrim”, a dwarven adventure – and a highly ambitious production for a small indie team. To stem the workload of such a big project with few resources at hand, the team has gotten creative and developed streamlined workflows and pipelines using Reallusion’s ecosystem including Character Creator, iClone, AccuRIG and ActorCore assets.
“We stumbled upon Reallusion’s Character Creator and iClone and let me tell you, it was a game changer! At first, we were a little sceptical – could it really be that easy? Was it truly possible to simplify a workflow that much? It just seemed too good to be true, so we downloaded the test versions and deep-dived into them. By the end of our evaluation, we were amazed to find that it can be done!“Michela Rimensberger – CEO, Producer, Co-founder at Sycoforge
Q: Greetings Michela, and welcome to the Reallusion Pitch & Produce program! Kindly introduce yourself, your background and Sycoforge Studios.
Thank you very much! We are incredibly excited to be part of this program and to share our game, Return to Nangrim, with the world. My name is Michela and I have had a passion for video games since I was a child. I grew up playing games in the early days of the industry, where graphics were not as advanced, and Mario’s princess always was in another castle. However, it was when I first played Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time that I knew I wanted to create my own game one day. This dream stayed with me throughout my life and greatly influenced my career choices. I started learning programming and eventually went on to study Computer Sciences at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. After completing my studies, I worked at various universities, including ETH Zurich.
My co-founders and I began developing our idea and universe for Return to Nangrim while we were still students, and in 2017 we officially founded Sycoforge.
Q: Sycoforge is currently working on a transmedia universe called Arafinn. Could you go more in depth about this universe and the collection of assets behind it? How important is it for a small team like Sycoforge to be able to create and utilize transmedia assets to use across projects? Please elaborate on the effectiveness of generating shared content.
Our goal has always been to create not just a game, but a fully immersive world that players can truly feel a part of. We’ve been huge fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and his ability to create rich, alive worlds that have inspired us to spend around 9 years creating our own universe, complete with its own lore, history, and even four languages with its own grammar and vocabulary.
We understand that the stories we want to tell don’t fit into just one game, and that’s why we’ve created a shared content base that extends beyond the game itself. When you finish playing Return to Nangrim, there will still be books, comics, and short stories to dive into and explore the world of Arafinn. This shared content, including thousands of written pages that describe and define everything from units of measurement to family trees dating back to the gods that created Arafinn, has given us the freedom to think beyond the boundaries of just a video game and to choose the right medium for each story.
In short, we have put a lot of time and effort into creating a world that is rich and alive, and we can’t wait for players to experience it. We believe that the level of immersiveness we have created will truly transport players into the world of Arafinn and keep them engaged long after they put down the controller. And personally – I really love Easter Eggs, so the idea of having e.g. a talisman that was written about in a book, and that can be seen sitting on a table in a comic and then can be found in the game is something I’m very passionate about.
Q: Please share with us how your original manual workflow evolved into a highly streamlined pipeline, and how Reallusion software and assets contributed to this.
As a small indie team, creating humanoid characters for our animation pipeline was a real challenge. We don’t have the resources of bigger studios, so we tried to avoid having humanoid characters as much as possible. The workload generated by a process that involves so many steps, fine-tuning and creating everything by hand – (especially at the point where the whole animation process comes into play) was just not feasible and way beyond our project scope and budget. But as engineers, having a clearly and clean defined pipeline is a big urge that we have. It has to be 0 or 1. So when we evaluated possibilities for our animation pipeline we we’re not really confident to find a solution that would work out.
But we were in luck! We stumbled upon Reallusion’s Character Creator and iClone and let me tell you, it was a game changer! At first, we were a little skeptical – could it really be that easy? Was it truly possible to simplify a workflow that much? It just seemed too good to be true, so we downloaded the test versions and deep-dived into them. By the end of our evaluation, we were amazed to find that it can be done!
As Reallusion offers a variety of 3rd Party integrations, it was as easy as plug-and-play and we were really amazed! Together with the Rokoko Mocap Suit and the Unity Engine we found the perfect solution enabling us to produce high quality content that indie’s otherwise usually are withheld. We couldn’t be happier with our decision and we are excited to continue using this solution for our future projects.
Q: When first creating a character, could you share with us the process from conception, rigging, to base shape, sculpting, and texturing with all the different software you used?
As a first step, our artists create the concept art for the character. This is all done by hand, just as traditionally.
Whenever possible, we start with a base character in Character Creator (CC) and roughly form the character according to its concept. In case we need an already existing character, Reallusion’s AccuRig does an amazing job! It not only reduces the amount of time spent for rigging to MINUTES, it also allows to neatly integrate proprietary characters into the ecosystem!
As soon as we’re satisfied with the base version of the character, we export it from CC to ZBrush and sculpt the details there. When it comes to texturing, we usually export the highly detailed textures from CC and use them as a base in Substance Painter. As the Reallusion suite is compatible with all these softwares, feeding our character back into the system is no problem at all. And having a CC character as a base also means no manual rigging needed!
Q: Once your characters are ready, how do you go about searching, adding animations for your game? Please also share when you decide to create your own motion capture, and how the mocap cleaning and animation verification are done?
We begin by using the ActorCore library, which provides a wide range of high-quality motion capture animations. This library is also useful for creating prototypes of new animations if we choose to record them ourselves.
Most of our humanoid animations are captured using a Rokoko suit, and the software, Rokoko Studio, includes built-in cleaning algorithms that produce great results with minimal additional editing. In some cases, we use iClone to blend or tweak our animations to achieve a final polished result.
Q: ‘Return to Nangrim’ is using the Unity Game Engine; once your characters and animations are ready how easily do you export them over to Unity to use their rig and retargeting system?
The process of integrating models into Unity and retargeting animations using Reallusion’s tools is incredibly simple and straightforward. Even without using the automatic setup tool provided by Reallusion, the process typically requires only a few clicks.
“The process of integrating models into Unity and retargeting animations using Reallusion’s tools is incredibly simple and straightforward. Even without using the automatic setup tool provided by Reallusion, the process typically requires only a few clicks. “Michela Rimensberger – CEO, Producer, Co-founder at Sycoforge
I am particularly impressed by the compatibility of the Reallusion ecosystem with a wide range of third-party software. For instance, when recording animations using the Rokoko suit, I am able to livestream the motion data to my character in both Reallusion and Unity, allowing me to get a real-time preview of how the final animation will look on the character. This feature adds great value to our production pipeline and streamlines the animation process.
Q: Thank you so much for being part of the program. We are looking forward to the launch of ‘Return to Nangrim’. When can audiences expect to play the game, and where can they follow Sycoforge Studios’ progress?
Thank you for being a part of our community. To stay informed about the latest developments for ‘Return to Nangrim’, make sure to add the game to your wishlist on Steam (https://store.steampowered.com/app/860210/Return_to_Nangrim/) and subscribe to our newsletter on our website (https://sycoforge.com/en/).
This year is going to be filled with exciting new developments as we are putting all our effort to create a new demo that will showcase new features and content that you won’t want to miss! Join us on this journey to the world of Nangrim, and be the first to experience it!
very cool and inspirational. Its awesome to see what your doing with a small team.