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April 5, 2011

Orcs Must Die preview part 3 – Art & Design

In part 3 of the Remember ES Orcs Must Die preview we look at the art style and UI design of OMD. Any Ensemble fan will quickly realise that Orcs is something very different compared to games developed at the late Ensemble Studios where many employees of Robot Entertainment have migrated from post closure. Not only is Orcs not an RTS, the game is also based off a different engine than the one used for Age games in the past. The result of this is a completely new art style and user interface, not to mention the new genre of game of course!

Art Style

Lets take a look at the art style first. With Orcs Must Die, Robot are going for a casual art design, almost cartoony in some places but not to the same level as say Age of Empires Online. The benefit of having a casual art design is that animations and character features can be more pronounced, this gives the Orcs a sense of personality (mindless personality that is!) and the traps are clear and obvious. The art style helps make the game approachable and it is easy to pick up and learn about which traps do what and which elements of the landscape can be used against the Orcs.

The physics engine in the game is good, allowing players to interact with the environment such as knocking down chandeliers, releasing huge wooden logs or throwing Orcs into pools of lava. The art style helps make it clear as to which types of level objects can be used in battle. Having these types of interactions available means you’ll always be looking closely at each level before you start as you discover new and interesting ways to kill Orcs using the landscape.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Charecter models are detailed as are the textures and lighting which help set the mood.  The War Mage went through a number of design iterations but I think Robot ended up choosing a winner on the final character design:

A number of character design ideas.

As Orcs are slain points and combos pop up onto the screen in a almost comic book like fashion:

In summary I think Robot did a great job with the art style, promoting usability and eye catching graphics. An appealing art style definitely helps make the game more enjoyable to play overall.


The levels we played as part of the Robot Community Summit were good and well designed. From a studio specialising in the strategy genre the result is Orcs levels crafted with strategic elements such choke points, environment traps, elevation advantage etc. Players who prefer to take out Orcs utilising the War Mages own weaponry can position themselves in different areas of each level to determine which spot is most effective. A mini map is available in the top right corner showing the location of Orcs and the number of waves remaining. The mini-map is useful to see just in case an Orc manages to sneak past you un-noticed (especially those pesky small speedy Orcs!)

The mini map shows the location of Orcs, yourself and the rift. Dont let any Orcs reach the rift!

The typical overall UI looks like the below screen shot. This shows how the UI looks on a mid-game level and shows the features you would expect to see on a typical level:

(Click to enlarge)

The first thing which sprung to mind with alot of people at the community summit was that the game’s UI and overall art style looks very similar to the kind of design and style used in World of Warcraft. Personally, I havnt played World of Warcraft myself, but I have seen it in action and yes the overall design and style looks slightly similar. This is by no means a bad thing, after all the WoW style is very much a tried and tested formula! For a quick comparison and similarity check you can play spot the difference below:

Orcs Must Die World of Warcraft

It is important to note however that the UI design we see today may not be the same design that we see at launch. After all, look how different the Halo Wars development screenshots differed to the production version of the game:

Halo Wars development UI Halo Wars production UI

As development of Orcs continues it is very possible that aspects of the UI change between now and the version that ships. At the moment as it stands I found the UI to be very functional everything a player needed to see was in the right place and was easy to get to. Not much clicking takes place on the UI as weapons, magic and traps can be selected using the keyboard keys or mouse wheel. Players primarily use the mouse to set down traps or click objects in the landscape, such as releasing further traps onto the Orcs.

Trap placement with the mouse was a breeze, just select the trap and players move thier mouse over a location where they want the trap to be placed. If the area goes green its good to go, if the area shows red you need to find an alternate place to put the trap. Translucent boxes show clearly where the trap will be placed and how big the trap is in scale:

Showing the correct placement of a trap

Right now the game is completely playable in its current form. Perhaps a small few tweaks are needed here and there but I feel Robot have a good core structure to make a great game. They have already achieved gameplay which is truly pick up and play. At the community summit we had no lengthy tutorials, we just sat down and everyone knew how to get stuck in the game after just a few minutes of getting to grips with the controls. People will feel right at home playing Orcs Must Die, theres no complicated controls, no complicated game play manual, just choose your traps and weapons and your good to go. As players get to the later levels they will really start thinking about tactics in order to get the best scores. Robot have promised later levels to ramp up the difficulty introducing two more rifts and Orc flows.

Thats about all for Part 3, and there is still more exciting Orcs coverage to come. For all the latest Orcs news be sure to keep following @Remember_ES on Twitter and the new @OrcsMustDie twitter feed where all the latest news about Orcs is posted.

Until next time.. don’t be afraid of the Orcs!


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