Godzilla has enjoyed something of a revival thanks to the success of the recent Hollywood blockbuster movie, but if you ask the Internet at large to nominate its favorite fictional beast, Cthulhu, the horrible hybrid squid-dragon-god from H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu, might receive the most nominations.
At Turtle Rock Studios, Cthulhu is also revered in a way, because it served as the basis for Kraken, the latest monster character in Turtle Rock's upcoming squad-based shooter, Evolve. It's the second monster to be revealed, following the Godzilla- and King Kong-inspired Goliath. Compared to him, a strong and straightforward melee fighter, Kraken is an intelligent and calculated warrior. It can move on the ground and attack with its tentacles, but the most interesting aspect of Kraken's character is its ability to take to the skies and cast elemental magic upon helpless hunters.
Concept artist Stephen Oakley explains how the two different creatures came to be. "Originally when we started, we were pulling from superhero characters or villains, like Whiplash. We were trying to think of ways to incorporate lightning into Kraken's design, pulling originally from electric eels, but as soon as we started to push him into a darker direction, Cthulhu just became a no-brainer. Just like how we pulled from King Kong and Godzilla for Goliath's design, we figured we should look at other dark, wizard-like monsters, definitely pulling the vibe of this intelligent thing, and there's not much more intelligent down under the sea than squid and octopi."
Phil Robb, the co-founder of Turtle Rock Studios and the creative director on Evolve, elaborates on the team's process: "One of the things we like to do with all of our monsters is look for these archetypes that people are familiar with. In general, those kinds of things, they allow the player to connect more easily to the character, or the monster as the case may be. A lot of our characters early on were super f****** weird. It wasn't anything you'd seen before, and you'd go, 'What is that? Where's its face?' And it made it really hard to empathize with the character, which is something you want to do no matter what, and that's why we started pulling back on that and giving them recognizable human features or animal features. It makes it a lot easier to connect."
Connecting with Kraken, as Oakley points out, comes from subtle touches that breathe life into the digital monster. "A lot of it comes down to sound and animation--like the design helps give you a good base, but really, the animation helps bring him alive. Every little twitch of his tentacles, every pained groan, and even though his eyes don't have pupils, there's expression in them that really helps you feel for Kraken."
Creating the concept for Kraken is one thing, but then it was up to lead animator Dave Gibson and his team of artists to put Kraken's wild design in motion, which was no small task. "When we were animating Kraken, we were trying to have all of his motions be intentional, and I guess you could say there's intelligence behind everything he's doing, and he's a little more calculated and precise, whereas Goliath, sometimes he swings wildly. He throws a giant rock, you know. He breathes fire without any kind of accuracy to it. Goliath just runs in and wants to hit everything, no matter what."
Every little twitch of his tentacles, every pained groan...that really helps you feel for Kraken.Stephen Oakley, Concept Artist on Evolve
"We wanted Kraken to seem a lot more intelligent, so he can back off, sort of, assess the whole situation, then choose the best thing for that specific moment. Not only can he; he should. And a lot of the other things that we kept in mind were his long, slender design. We always wanted him to feel kind of heavy, like he's a wizard in a heavy robe, and you'll never see him open up too much. He doesn't lift his hands above his head, or anything like that. It's just, as soon as we started doing that, he started to fall apart and became too animalistic. Whereas Goliath does a lot of crazy things. He lifts his hands over his head, and does 'Hulk smash' kinds of things. So we tried to keep Kraken a little reserved in his motions and a little more precise."
"We've been in tentacle hell for a while with Kraken. When we were coming up with designs for him, I didn't want the technical challenges and problems to get in the way of the design. For a while, he had long tentacle arms, and at one point, he had an arm that was made up of four or five tentacles, all wrapped up to form the arm, and they could unwrap. The guys would ask me, 'Can we do this?' and I'm looking at it like, 'That's a pain in the ass.'"
"As far as the current design, there were two big challenges: one is that he's a quadruped, and I actually really wanted to try and do that because a player-controlled quadruped is really tough, and it requires a lot of transitions. He also posed another problem, where he has these melee attacks; 'how does he attack, and can the player still move?' At first we thought the player could hit with his arms, and that posed a lot of problems with the player moving [because] he's a quadruped, and he has to stand up and then put his hands back down on the ground, and then that's when the wings sort of came about. 'Oh, we could use those to do the melee attacks so he can keep moving on all fours and be able to hit everyone around him.' And then the wings were also used to help him fly and sort of accentuate other abilities."
Even though Kraken is more calculated, his wild appendages required a lot of complex and time-consuming work for Gibson's team. "Tentacles were really tricky because there were so many. We had some internal tools that sort of helped us, but a lot of it was brute force to get it to look good. None of it was scripted. We have some dynamic rope physics [tools] in the engine, and it's applied very slightly on Kraken's rear tentacles, and you can see that motion when he's running around, but for everything else, he's got four tentacles around his mouth, and four on his head, and two on his back. Unfortunately, that's all animated by hand. It's difficult, but more so, time consuming."
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Has Turtle Rock's hard work creating Kraken paid off? So far, the answer seems to be "yes." It's a technically impressive character and complex as a combatant. It excels at staying hidden, but when push comes to shove, Kraken transitions into a fearsome squid-wizard that's pleasing to control, and from a hunter's perspective, difficult to topple. As enjoyable as Kraken is to play, it doesn't replace Goliath; it offers an alternative for players who want something more than brute-force combat.