Enter the Rovots

There are some ideas that are immediately exciting. These are the types of ideas that, once shared, snowball into even bigger and better ideas as collective enthusiasm builds around them.

Indeed, this is one of my favorite parts about working on creative projects and on games in particular. The Unearth Initiative (@UnEarthGame) has spawned several such ideas, and I’m thrilled for the opportunity to share one of these with you now – a character concept we call the “Rovots”.

My name is John Lally and I’m the Character Lead for The Unearth Initiative. It has been my pleasure to work alongside Lesley Mathieson, Peter Hastings, and Janice Chu on this project – just as it is now my pleasure to share in the progress we have made on the Rovots to date, as well as the plans we have for them going forward.


A Rovot – from The UnEarth Initiative.

The name “Rovot” is a derivative of the words “Rover” and “Robot”, and the design of these characters draws directly from the rich lineage of both of those names. Six-wheeled and waist-high, these robotic assistants will be wandering throughout our game in order to help misfit Colonists settle their alien worlds.

For the finished Rovots, it is our goal to combine the utility and reliability of a Mars Rover with the fun and creativity of a sci-fi android. The Rovots are going to be great at performing repetitive tasks and their metallic construction will make them ideal for jobs that are just too dangerous for organic Colonists. Cartoon physics will also allow us to pack their cargo bays with as many tools, gadgets, and attachments as imagination allows.

And to keep things even more interesting, we intend to give the Rovots minds and personalities of their own. Scrappy, feisty, and loyal have all been tossed around as motivating words for the Rovots in design meetings. We may also include a dose of stubborn independence, so that interacting with these characters may sometimes feel more like bickering with R2-D2 than switching on a Roomba. But don’t worry – they’ll always have your back!

Just like any other character, Rovots will need to go through the production process before they can be fully realized as game characters. And like all of our other characters, the Rovots started out on the digital drawing board of our talented Concept Artist, Janice Chu.

UEI’s Rovots went thorough several iterations of concept sketches before we settled on some final designs. Here are some cool close-to-final color studies that Janice drew for us a few months back. Although we will probably have several Rovot color schemes in our final game, we are currently working with a version of color scheme #6 in this image:


Rovot Color Studies.

After concepting came the modeling and texturing phase of our first Rovot. As you can see, we made some changes to the eye design and have also added several interchangeable tools. Here, the Rovot is shown with the various attachments that will deploy from its service bay.


Rovots with Radar Dish, Turret, and Claw Attachments deployed.

After modeling the Rovot, the next task was to rig it for animation. Rovot rigging will be an ongoing process as more tools and attachments are added. I really got to appreciate creating robot rigs during my years of working on Ratchet & Clank series. Setting up mechanical appendages to deform is generally much less time-consuming than preparing organic ones, and that leaves more time for adding bells and whistles to a rig that might have otherwise been too costly to put in.

Pictured below is the Python UI that I wrote to go along with the Rovot’s rig. I’ve found that these types of UI’s can vastly increase efficiency, while simultaneously reducing artist frustration in selecting controllers during the animation phase. So far, I have yet to meet an animator who doesn’t appreciate a solid character UI (even if that animator winds up being me). 🙂


The Rovot Python UI.

And here is a character study animation that I’ve been working on. Along with being something fun to animate, this study has helped me to test the functionality of the Rovot’s and Colonist’s rigs, models, and UI’s. It has also helped me to identify bugs and to improve the functionality in both characters as they are being phased into the game. Moreover, it’s been a great way to explore the personalities of the Rovots and the Colonists as we prepare to go live with our demo. It may also serve as a cautionary tale to warn against teasing those smarter than oneself. 🙂



Finally, as anyone familiar with game development knows, making the art is only part of the battle. The best character models and animations in the world don’t mean a thing if they aren’t implemented into a well-designed game by a talented programmer. In our case, finished animations go to the capable hands of our Lead Programmer, Peter Hastings. In a future blog post, Peter is going to not only share the Rovot programming process with you, but will also discuss how you’ll eventually be able to program Rovots of your own.

Watch this space for continuing updates!


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