As development continues on future content for Sanctus Reach, Straylight decided to write a bit about themselves and how they work, as well as their passion for strategy games and Warhammer 40,000! We hope you'll enjoy this Developer diary.
Hi! We are Gordon, Mark, Kim and Alex from cheerful Elgin, Scotland, and we are Straylight Entertainment. We’re a passionate team of artists, game designers and programmers. When we started we had two goals.
The first was to make games that are easy to pick up but hard to master, games that are so fun to play you lose yourself in them and give you all the right feelings. We love turn-based strategy. We grew up playing classic turn-based strategy games, it’s our creed.
Our second goal? Bring the authentic Warhammer 40,000 atmosphere to PC. We are all huge 40k fans and tabletop players. Gordon and Mark love and collect Eldar, while Kim and Alex spent countless hours painting models for Chaos. Most of all we love the setting, the stories and the lore.
It was only natural that we’d put the two things together: a Warhammer 40,000 turn-based strategy game: Sanctus Reach!
Making a turn-based Warhammer 40,000 strategy game is not easy.
When we started developing Sanctus Reach we knew we wanted to take inspiration from the tabletop, but also aimed at making our own game, with our rules, our mechanics. It has always been extremely important to us to do something original and unique.
We didn’t have to reinvent the genre, but we wanted to innovate and make Sanctus Reach a perfect mix of the things we always loved in other turn-based strategy games. We wanted to retain a sense of familiarity with other turn-based strategy videogames, so new players wouldn’t feel themselves at a loss, but we knew to succeed that Sanctus Reach had to have its own style, character and atmosphere.
Mark loves Orks. A lot. Maybe too much?
We spent weeks just studying the gameplay of several amazing turn-based strategy games, both classic and modern. We knew we absolutely wanted one key factor: each unit had to be and feel absolutely unique and had a very specific role.
We had to carefully pick and choose what units we wanted in the game to start with. We wanted to keep versatile units that were good at everything “rare” and “special”. We wanted every unit to play a role with none of them being “useless” (even Gretchins are the right level of annoying!). Any game developer will tell you balance is a tricky thing, but we always default to making sure the units and their weapons have the right feeling that fans would expect.
Another mandatory goal for us was making sure that there would be a lot of variety, and that the game would offer many different types of tactical situations.
In short, all Sanctus Reach mechanics revolve around those concepts: variety and depth.
We humbly think that with Sanctus Reach we hit our target, and we’re really happy with it
It’s easy to get into but there’s a lot going on underneath the surface. We produced two tutorial videos if you want to learn more of the gameplay – and pick up some really useful tactical tips.
Gordon pondering if the Ogryn life would suit him.
Of course as Sanctus Reach is a Warhammer 40,000 game, ensuring that the atmosphere felt and looked right was extremely important.
We wanted to head in the direction of the war-torn traditional Grimdark look. We designed our own basic terrain like rocks, trees and so on but took a lot of what already exists in the 40k universe to flesh it out like concrete blocks, barriers, wire traps. We wanted players to feel as if they were actually on the real Alaric Prime, fighting for the glory of the Emperor, and retain all the right aesthetics.
It’s actually harder than how it sounds. For instance, the Administratum building took a long time to put together because there’s so many different sections which are covered in detail. Each section was carefully observed and replicated in the sculpt.
On the plus side the modular design of the building fits perfectly on our tiles which saved us a lot of hassle trying to figure out how it would fit together. Telling it to use the right parts in the code when generating a random map was trickier but we’re really happy with the result.
We also knew that we’d want players to be able to make their own battlefields and scenarios, so we made sure to include an editor. It’s really easier to use than you might think - just watch Mark’s awesome tutorial if you don’t believe it
We were absolutely certain of two things. First, we wanted to make our models look like gorgeous hand-painted miniatures. Secondly, Space Wolves are incredibly detailed and have a lot of decals and ornamentation that make them really distinctive as an Army and as individuals. This is something we really wanted to get across in the game.
Before we started the process of making a Unit or Character, we’d gather as much information and detailed imagery as we can and evaluate the model. If the Unit was part of a Squad, we would pick what variations (such as different helmets or shoulder pads) we wanted and made all the appropriate parts which the Engine would swap out randomly.
We researched every single unit with extreme attention to detail.
Obtaining the right look wasn’t an easy task. The following steps give a summary of the process:
- Evaluate Model
- Make High Poly model
- Retopologize Model + UV
- Bake High Poly onto Low Poly Model
- Add details on Height Map (vents, studs, decals) Rebake
- Texture Unit
- Animate Unit
Some miniatures were more challenging than others. For example, Logan Grimnar needed some interpretation, wielding his Axe of Morkai with his luscious waving hair.
Another was Ragnar Blackmane as his model is a bit dated now, so for him we used a lot of his recent Illustrations and took what we’d learned from more recent Space Wolf miniatures to bring him up to date and in line with the others, while keeping true to his original miniature.
Units like The Gorkanaut and Deff Dread were challenging because they’re big models and looking closely you can see they’re oozing with detail in the form of decals, studs, wires, vents and cables etc. All of this was painstakingly replicated to the best of our ability.
After evaluating the model carefully we’d then go on to produce a high poly model. This is where most of the detail would come from, like the Weird Boy’s brain and his wrinkles or Logan Grimnar’s ornaments. We’d then Retopologize that model, basically making it low poly so it can actually work in game. After UV Unwrapping the low poly model, the details would then be “Baked” onto it. Additional details that were too fiddly to go into the high poly were then added as the initial part of texturing, like vents, studs or details like the cracks in Logan’s Axe, before finally we could apply colour.
Special care was put in to recreate the materials and paint colours that you’d find on the Miniatures. After watching a lot of Duncan Rhodes’ videos we did an initial texturing test at the start of the project based on his painting process and found that we really liked the end result so continued with it.
Kim said that her experience with the hobby helped her immensely in creating the models for Sanctus Reach. The moral of the story is clear here. If you want to get into videogame developing you’d better get into the hobby!
The Units would then go off to be Animated, which brought it’s own set of challenges.
Quite a lot of the models were never made with animation in mind, they were designed to look good standing still on the tabletop. Some chains or cables would have to be left out due to animation limitations. Animating two units together like Grukk Face Rippa and his Squig presented additional difficulties and was one of the main reasons we chose to have Logan Grimnar on his own and not on his Stormrider with his two Wolves (that and that Stormrider with Wolves wouldn’t quite fit on a tile).