Disco Elysium - From Render to Paintover

It's been a while since we heard anything new about ZA/UM Studio's upcoming detective RPG Disco Elysium. As such, this developer blog post dedicated to Disco Elysium's unique visuals may be of interest to those of you following the game's development. It sure would be nice to learn something fresh about the game's innovative mechanics in the near future, but for now, here are the text parts from the latest update:

In this post I’ll show how we give more life to our world by mixing realtime objects with the hand-painted background.

Everything that is animated, is possible to pick up, or appears only in certain times will be added to the game in realtime instead of being painted into the background. That includes NPCs, vegetation, collectables, particles, etc.

Since our backgrounds use rendered heightmaps, we can use a flat plane that uses a special shader for sea. That gives us a nice coastline with some fading on the edges. But it still looks bland! It looks the same in both in shallow and deeper areas, so we’re going to add more detail on it.

Since there’s a tiny creek, we should separate the the sea from the creek. By adding and extra layer on top of the seaplane we get a warm gradient (nr 1), which color can be changed. Adding an orange tone there makes it look shallower, murky and more rusty from the surroundings. The new plane will also contain a flow map which fakes the effect of water flowing in desired direction.

By adding plants like weeds (nr 3), kelp (nr 4), or moss, we make the sea look more welcome and give it a feel of depth where taller plants like kelp fade into the abyss. Since the camera angle is always the same, the plants are hand-painted on a transparent background. I have made sets of plants with different density and colors. So every plant thats in the water is basically a transparent plane with some distortion effect to make it look like the surface is bending the photons of light. I also use the same shader to create colored ripples and flowy lines (nr 2).

For the final touch I will add swarms of fish circling (nr 5), creating ripples on the surface of water (nr 6), icebergs that wobbling in the waves, and seagulls flyings over the scene.

Same goes for the land. By adding different variations of reeds, bushes, trees and even garbage like empty bottles, tin cans or trashbags that rustle in the wind, we get a movement in the static background.

This method is applied to all over the Martinaise, but every area has been manually composed and thought through to distinguish it from one another.