Character Design and World Building for VR

Dance Collider is nearing our Q3 release and, as my ten year old son would say, it’s looking savage!

As a concept artist, it’s always an exciting time. Ideas that had once only been inside your head are now playable and in motion. Characters that existed only as sketches are now dancing and emoting. It’s a fun time to ‘go meta’ and look back at the inception of some of these ideas.

After we progresses passed initial prototype phase we began to invest a greater amount of time into concept design and world-building. We had a strong dance/music mechanic but wanted to go beyond this. In early discussions, Tim and I felt that many VR experiences, whilst fun and novel, had often missed the opportunity to add another layer of story and character to the experience.

Adding this to Dance Collider became a priority of ours. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, some of our most memorable game experiences did this amazingly well despite limited means. They combined keen game design with stories, characters and places that remain vivid in my memory to this day.They were immersive because we connected to the world on a personal level!

Sonya Dance Collider Character

The legacy of the street fighter series owes much to its brilliant fighting mechanics but arguably just as much to the unforgettable characters that challenged you.

dance collider virtual reality

We made the decision to add a line-up of characters to our experience. The game had already taken on a Cyberpunk feel that we liked and wanted to develop further. In the tradition of games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, we wanted some cool, unique and potentially dark characters to dance-battle against. This decision also meant the game started to go in a more ‘arcade’ direction which we very much liked.

During early brainstorming sessions we latched on to a key story idea that drove the look and feel of the characters. In the future, artistic expression, music and dance are considered a waste of resources. Our augmented, ‘trans-human’ characters would fight (or dance as it were) in resistance to this idea. In the 24th century, the human spirit is not dead yet!

Yuri and Pyro were the first two characters I designed. I wanted to start the process with a male and female dancer that would set the tone for further characters (and the game for that matter). I had previously lived and worked as a game artist in Japan for nearly seven years. The incredible design and fashion sense of the Japanese had left an indelible mark on me and I knew that my first character was going to herald from Tokyo.

A funky,  fashion-conscious girl from 24th century Tokyo seemed like a good start. Like all Dance Collider characters, Yuri is transhuman: an augmented human body with an augmented human mind. I wanted to suggest this through seams in her body and face separating the real from the manufactured. Her colour scheme contrasts vivid hues against a dark base: a metaphor for Tokyo itself :) Yuri’s dance style was to be pop with a hint of trance.

Yuri artwork japanese

Yuri’s counterpart would be known as Pyro, a hot-headed gambler from Manchester, UK. For Pyro’s design I decided to forgo subtlety and convey his personality with a lick of fiery red hair. For his suit cut I researched a variety of disco and lounge suits. It was clear Pyro was out to impress. His augmented component would come as a bionic arm that he wore with pride. Pyro’s dance style hinted at his preference for clubs and cabarets, a classy addition to our line-up. Each character would also feature an element of omissive glow on their design. We use this throughout our arenas and in our lobby space to bring attention to them. Beyond this it also became a common design thread running through all characters.

My task was to come up with a cast of characters both varied in appearance and unique in personality. Each would hail from a different place in the world but all would be drawn to the Dance Collider competition to compete. Each would challenge you with a different kind of dance, some more intense than others. Lais, from South America, was designed with her Capoeira roots in mind. Dre is a life-hardered rapper/breakdancer from L.A.

The remaining character concepts were done over the course of several months in tandem with our talented 3D character artists from Amsterdam, Patricia and Daniel. Many an email chain grew long and winding as we corresponded back and forth to refine each characters look. In terms of style, we made a conscious decision early on to aim for a stylized, painterly touch in our characters textures. We’re all huge Overwatch and Street Fighter fans and both served as great inspiration for a 3D style that retained a hand-crafted touch.

Having come full circle now and to see the characters in full motion 3D I feel grateful to have had the chance to work with these amazing artists. The conversion from 2D to 3D is never a guaranteed deal but I’m fortunate that Patricia and Daniel were able to totally capture each character’s personality and then some!

Dance Collider Characters

With less than two months to go, all 8 of our characters are almost ready. From initial concept, through to modelling, texturing and now rigging. In a few weeks time a generous sound pass will be done which includes professional voice acting for each character. We are also enlisting pro dancers to help us mocap bespoke dance animations! Each pass brings the characters more and more to life. The culmination of many talented hands!

For a peek at more character art head over and check out our instagram!