The Art of Crafting: Making a Web3 Crafting Feature
Many modern gamers have had experiences with crafting features, whether in Fallout, Skyrim, or the most obvious example– the pixelated pinnacle– Minecraft. Those who’ve endeavored to complete the eye-drying game loop of gathering resources to craft their most sought-after items know the risks and rewards of what a well-made crafting system can bring to a game design.
So, it was with great enthusiasm that I learned we would be implementing a crafting system into our game, Mighty Action Heroes.
The following is a window into how the Art Team and I approached the art direction and production by highlighting a few key moments in our creative journey, namely: how I used generative AI to enhance my workflow, and the unique challenges of creating a feature that spans both the Web2 and the ever-evolving Web3 space.
Crafting the Vision
When ‘crafting’ the creative vision for the feature, one factor was different from the start: these craftable gadgets would not only be usable by players in battle royale matches but would also be tradable in the Web3 marketplace. This meant that the usual MVP (Minimum Viable Product) requirements — allowing the team to move fast with rough assets for iterative testing– would be replaced with MAP– Minimum Awesome Product (read: these assets needed to look good).
The reason: in the typical production pipeline we’d be able to improve upon and update assets as desired. These assets, however, would be minted on the blockchain, meaning the team would have a harder time updating the NFT metadata than would be the case if they were sprite textures in Unity. This required planning for a higher level of polish, and the best way to align on a final look is through setting benchmarks in pre-visualization.
In addition to quality, it was also about quantity: we needed enough content to make a meaningful collection offering. With assets like Blueprints, P.A.R.T.S. (Pretty Awesome Repair Type Stuff), and Grenades with rarities, we settled on a scope of roughly 40 crafting elements.
With the scope defined and with the recent surge in accessible generative AI tools, what better time to both ideate on the feature and dip our toes in these new AI waters? Enter Midjourney.
How We Used (and Didn’t Use) AI
Navigating a conversation about the use of generative AI in art production can feel like traversing a metaphorical minefield. This powerful emergent technology has taken the art world by storm, and the ethical framework is struggling to catch up. In consideration of the perils of using tools that are trained on data sets that include copyrighted materials, we had to approach this topic with care. The following is an explanation of how we used Midjourney to accelerate our concept development.
GenAI for Pre-visualization
I approached Midjourney with skepticism; I’d only ever drawn or painted concept designs in my years in the gaming biz. The idea of generating the exact visuals I wanted with the click of a button was unheard of.
I had, however, pitched plenty of ideas using the photobash method wherein visuals were mocked up using existing assets (Google Image, Pinterest, etc) — this method being the fastest way to align with clients on the final look before putting pencil to paper. Midjourney felt, somehow, like a sharpened evolution of this process.
So, armed with this new tool, I started generating images, learning more about how the prompting syntax translated to visuals (and learning very quickly that Midjourney does not know what a grenade is).
I took all the images into Photoshop and cut, pasted, and painted over until I arrived at an icon set to present to the stakeholders. Then, after a kickoff meeting and obtaining greenlight, we proceeded into our usual concept art phase, using the mockups as loose guidance and putting AI pandora back in its box…for now.
Upon reflection, I think the biggest value-add that Midjourney offered was to accelerate the creative briefing stage. When you’re pitching ideas, you have to think tactically about effort and ROI– how deep do you explore in any one vertical slice of a project to demonstrate the proof-of-concept to your client?
Midjourney allowed for more robust visualization of each major feature element while keeping within our tight pre-production schedule – and allowing for more time to make ‘actual art’ in the concept art stage.
Skulls and Unicorns: Designing Rarities
Now that the pitch was approved, the concept artist’s task was clear: create a variety of grenades with different rarities that players will want to buy. So, we started with the Uncommons and worked our way to the Legendaries, managing the level of sophistication carefully so the evolution in value would be clear.
I recall one piece of advice from Ben, our Head of Art: if you want to show icons evolving, it’s not about adding ‘more stuff’, it’s also about the complexity of the idea. Case in point: our Boomdust (the gunpowder ingredient in Grenade crafting) goes from a big pile of powder to a teeny-tiny little radioactive particle. Which one sounds more powerful?
Then we got to the fun part: Legendary Grenades. We started ideating skulls, dragons – the more metal the better. But, when you’re managing a collection set, it’s best to cover a range of thematic options. What’s the opposite of a flaming skull of doom? I give you: the Rainbow Blitz Grenade.
How do you justify a unicorn head-shaped deathball that spawns rainbows in a game about action movie toys in a fight to the death? It’s simple: once you give players the core experience (standard Grenades), it’s good to add a dose of spontaneity to keep things fresh. Not just for the players, but also for the dev team. Every project needs some unexpected quirky element to surprise and delight. In the Web3 space, this is especially true as community engagement is vital to early product adoption & hype generation– if your team is having fun, the community can tell. It’s infectious. Every project needs a wild card. Every project needs a unicorn grenade.
Brand Consistency in Icon Sets
One area we focused on for art direction was how our visual language tracked across collection sets. In these situations it’s necessary to float from macro to micro view– make sure you’re hitting the level of detail and quality needed for each icon, and monitoring the brand consistency (color palette, story, style) across the entire set.
When we were designing a set of Boomdust canisters, we paid special attention to ensure each icon was interesting enough on its own and consistent when viewed together, making sure that the color palette, visual style, and motifs were aligned throughout.
Our Concept Artist Venty even introduced the idea of a fake brand label on our Boomdust icons to reinforce the story– our very own Acme brand.
All these small decisions go a long way in building a layered and complex brand universe.
Crafting the VFX
So players can craft Grenades, but what happens when they use them? This is where our team needed to work their magic in translating fantastical craftable goods into badass motion elements.
We began with storyboards. Each item’s rarity (color, theme, level of sophistication) needed to be reflected in the explosion VFX. What does an Uncommon explosion look like versus a Rare? A Rare versus an Epic? We broke every detail down into trackable elements to be applied in scaling complexity:
- Standard explosion
- Slightly bigger explosion, more sparks, color-themed to the grenade
- Even BIGGER explosion, more sparks, color-themed, custom audio
- All of the above plus environment shards, animated character showpiece
For the higher rarity explosions, our question was: what does a Golden Dragon grenade look like when it explodes? What about a Skull Blazer? Luckily, these are the types of questions artists love to answer.
The 3D Team got to work modeling, rigging, and animating CG dragons and skulls, working in collaboration with our VFX Artist who spent the better part of a month blowing stuff up. Then, the Tech Art team worked their magic in making our exploding balls of hellfire and sparkly rainbow bubbles performant on potato-grade devices. Truly a talented lot.
The Final Destination: Web3 Marketplace
After finishing the art production for the core feature it was time to composite all our pre-rendered CG icons to be minted on the Treasure platform / Arbitrum network as on-chain collectibles. The feature was divided into various sets, all available in the Treasure marketplace.
What makes this special is the interaction between gamers in this shared ecosystem. Players who successfully craft grenades in-game could then export these (and other items) as on-chain collectible NFTs, and trade using Treasure’s native MAGIC tokens.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most difficult challenges in addressing Web3 that fell on the UI/UX team: the cross-platform integration of importing/exporting assets from your game to the marketplace. But, dear reader, that’s a story for another time (and better told by our mighty UI/UX designers).
One Feature Down, More to Come
With the successful shipment of our first crafting feature, one thing became very clear: this was just the beginning. While it’s easy to get distracted by the fun visuals of craftable items, the core of the crafting feature is, above all else, the system. I believe we built a strong and dynamic foundation upon which we can continue to add more and more imaginative collections to give depth and the continued opportunity for real ownership to all of our growing playerbase.
Thanks for reading. I hope it gave some insight worth thinking about.
To experience the crafting feature, go to https://app.mightynet.xyz and give it a try!
The Art of Crafting: Making a Web3 Crafting Feature was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.