Narrative Through Environment
(Featuring the pixel art of Eddie Einikis)
Something as minor as a Latrine says a lot about a community. How much spare time it has, what materials are available, how much they value privacy, how clean things are kept. These things only begin to skim the surface (seriously, no pun intended). In order to build a successful universe, for even the smallest details, levels of thought and practicality need to be applied. So yes, even a Latrine has to make sense and has the ability to break a piece of the universe. Leaving it floating there in still waters (…This is a very serious analysis).
When constructing the buildings of this makeshift community, there has been and continues to be a lot of tweaking and revisiting. Partially due to new design information, but also due to the art team’s determination to really push the level of informative detail. Sometimes we put too much in, over building objects and making them a little to advance for the initial levels of the game.
(I was excited about Eddie’s first iterations, but it was pushing the construction a little too far for level 1. I asked for something a bit simpler and primitive, we ended up with something that better fit the level of advancement found in the first level of the game. The old asset is kept on ice, ready to be used for later levels if needed.)
We just don’t want to create your typical post apocalyptic shanty town, we want it to feel unique and representative of a world that is a little different than the norm. In the first level things are pretty straight forward, but as the levels roll out more and more twists will be revealed. Revealing more and more of the malleable character that is the survivor camp grounds.
Not only do we want the buildings to actively and interestingly inform the player of the game’s universe, we want them to seem practical. We want each phase of upgrades to make sense and not feel like a magic button turned wood into bricks. They need to exist on the border of disbelief in order to create a sense of discovery and wonder. So there may be a moment of disbelief, but through design we can bring the audience back in and have them rationalize what they are seeing. The way we went about this was establishing a style guide early and the process deconstruction.
In a way we stumbled upon our approach. One of the first buildings we made was on target but a bit too advanced. So in order to make sure things didn’t get out of hand we worked backwards. Stripping the building down to make the lower levels. This helped create a nice blueprint. So even if future buildings were built up the chain of levels, it established a mindset on how to make the buildings feel natural and connected.
Visual Hierarchies and Handles
We also need the buildings to serve the game functions as well as the platform. The primary platform at the moment is the iPad and iPhone. The assets are a low resolution art style on a high resolution platform, they need to be designed to make the leap. The buildings need to read clearly, in regards to their function, status and position on the map. The player has the option to zoom in and out a good amount. So players will want to keep tabs on all the game elements at once. This creates problems with even more details lost at the most zoomed out state. We approached this with a few layers of detail, hue and saturation coding. I was also told this can be referred to as a visual hierarchy so now I’m saying it’s that thing. VISUAL HIERARCHY (credit to Matthew Board, professor at Columbia College for the additional vocabulary).
(The logos for cooking and hunting will probably change. After so many generations of games, player’s develop a preconceived notion for certain icons. Looking at those logos makes me think, archery and potion. We may also push the color saturation to make that distinction pop more.)
The base layer is saturation in context. So the ground detail, like rocks, grass and dirt, are a little less saturated than the buildings (not seen here as the ground is under construction). This provides a foundation that will help with the initial pop of detail. The next tier of identifiable detail is color and familiarity. There are a series of tents that serve different functions. In order to translate that they serve a similar purpose in a larger context, (perform fundamental functions for running a community), we made them share a general structural design, but varied them a bit. So they don’t look exactly the same, but are familiar, maintaining uniqueness within the larger context. Similar to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers or Swedish people.
On top of that, each tent is color coded providing a player sort of a visual handle bar. So rather than trying to remember what the Lumber Mill looks like or it’s location, there eyes can scan the screen and grab onto the color. This has been a bit of a tricky process so far, color balance against the colors of the environment poses some challenges. An additional UI icon system is being developed to further assist with this system.
The third tier, serving as an accent, is key items with in the tents. We tried to design and layout specific items that pop visually from the other tent details. This not only helps create uniquness amongst similar tents, but also helps clearly and quickly translate the different levels. Again, it is kind of like another handle for players to grasp. The more handles, the easier it is to…….HANDLE.
Artist of the Week
This weeks artist was inevitable considering the entries topic, Eddie Einikis. He is an extremely talented concept artist with some tools in the 3D realm as well. His adaptation to pixel art has been incredible, producing high quality, unique art in a short amount of time. He works as our primary environment/structure pixel artist.
(Some early iterations of buildings. These are not to scale and are sized for presentation purposes.)
This concept process is usually through description, reference photos, conversation and iteration. Most of the time I give him the designer’s description as well as my interpretation, sometimes with a few specific details I would like to see, and he get’s to work. He has done a stellar job at not only building assets but also contributing effective ideas for visuals and production pipelines. In short, he is good and a artist who I imagine will continue to create really cool stuff. Below is a bit of what he has to say about the process.
“I was not familiar with pixel art when I first joined the BoZ project, but I’m glad to have experienced and learned it. I’ve enjoyed creating buildings with function and personality, and it’s cool to see them implemented in mockups and early builds of the game.”