Archive for the ‘Art Direction’ Category

Drawing The Dark Knight

July 19, 2010

Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum seems to be (to my knowledge) one of the first games to address the ethical problem that comes with the high body count and you, the player, being the supposed good-guy. The fact of the matter is, in this game you don’t kill anyone, you just knock them out, including the main villain. Even when you push a guy into an endless-looking abyss, you hear a reassuring splash of water whispering soothingly into your ear: “He’ll be okay, don’t you worry about that, big boy.” But that’s a minor and more or less trivial detail of the game.

More interesting detail is the fact that B:AA isn’t visually anything special… until you hit the pause screen. When doing so, the game renders the screen as if it’s been taken straight from Sin City or alike. The effect is eye-meltingly good and makes you wonder what if they would have made the whole game look like that. Now the pause screen is like a nod to the player that “Yes, we could have done it this way, but we didn’t. Sorry.”

Ok, the effect in question is a bit extreme and perhaps it would have rendered the game unplayable by making it too hard for player to make sense of. This comes actually back to the problem of freedom the player has in video games, in contrast to non-dynamic mediums, like movies and graphic novels. When working with old mediums the director/artist has the absolute control over what the spectator sees and hears, which enables highly stylistic and even abstract ways of depicting things, but still keeping the viewer on board what’s happening. Samurai Jack’s certain stylistic scenes are good examples of that.

I’m a big fan of cel shading, and I consider it as one of the biggest breakthroughs in history of real-time image, especially the outline effect. I truly think there’s something magical about seeing something like B:AA’s pause screen to be drawn in real-time knowing that you can affect the outcome by rotating the camera or adjusting the character’s position. It’s like having a personal Frank Miller at your disposal, but not quite.

Madworld, Borderlands, and not to mention cel shading grand-daddy Jet Set Radio, already have proven that a stylistic rendering method can work and add a lot to the experience. Would the cel shading made B:AA a better game then? Perhaps not, but it would have made it definitely more interesting looking game, that’s for sure.

Brown Is The New Black

June 18, 2010

I recently played through Doom 2 at ultra-violence –level. It wasn’t the easiest task to do, but it was the most pleasurable gaming experience for a long time, I can tell you that. This playthrough was one of those rare cases, when I wasn’t playing a Doomgame with cheats on, and it strikes me how different game can be with a little bit of challenge (really?).  And at the same time, it saddens me how I spoiled the game with cheats when it first came out back in 1994. But that’s beside the point.

My point is, look at how brown Doom 2 is. It’s far browner than its predecessor Doom ever was, or any other its contemporary. This got me thinking, if Doom 2 was the very first of so-called “brown games”? The thing is, there has been lately this tendency to see brown as dominant color in every other game, the most iconic example being Gears of War. Why is that? Some say, in GoW -case, it’s the Unreal 3 –engine, but engines generally don’t make such artistic decisions. People do.

Color management in visual arts is a tricky business, and it can get frustrating quickly. All those different colors which don’t match… what to do, what to do…? One obvious solution is the color grading, that is to tint whole color-scheme with one particular shade of color. That’s easy and effective way to make a unified and coherent visual look, no matter what the underlying colors are, just take a look at The Matrix.

So, I believe Doom 2 is a victim of this easy way out. But why brown? Let me ask you a question: what color do you end up with when mixing complementary colors?

Brown. It’s like a meta-color!  Brown is the least decisive color, a compromise, a safe bet and in paper it should irritate people the least, at least that’s how they must be thinking:

“Guys, we need a unifying color to save this mess, now!

– How about Red?

Not everyone loves red!

– Blue?

Same thing!

– Brown?

Is it even a color?

– Yes, but it’s the least color-y color.

Then brown that is!”

I bet this kind of dialogues have been taken place at Codemasters lately (Race Driver: GRID, DIRT, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, upcoming Formula 1 –game). Boys and girls at NeoGaf refer to Codemasters’ current visual look as a “piss filter”.

But why Doom 2 particularly was so brown? This is just speculation: Doom 2 was a cash-in release to be sold in retail to complement shareware-Doom’s sales figures (which, however, were great alone), so the passion and creative fury, which were present at making the original Doom, just wasn’t there anymore. Still, Doom 2 had to look different than Doom, so the brown-look was the way to go.