Arriving at your Art Style


Last week we talked about the announce trailer as an important exercise in defining the vision for Röki. Remember? Of course you do, but just in case you've forgotten all about it you can read it again here!

This week I'm going to talk about the art style, and how we used the creation of the announce trailer as a proving ground to test it out. It's something that seems to have been very well received (high fives all round) so hopefully you'll find it of interest.

Now, you can come at defining the art style for a game in a number of ways:-

Firstly you can come at it from a purely aesthetic standpoint: What feelings are you trying to evoke? Who are your audience? Does it look appealing, original? Will it stand out? You should define an art style and aesthetic that allows you to establish the correct tone for your game and one that gives you the opportunity to reinforce it's themes and mechanics.

Secondly there is the slightly drier (but also very important) angle to approach the beast from, logistics. Looking at things from a logistical standpoint introduces creative restrictions, which sounds super crap but actually can be AMAZINGLY useful in focusing your efforts. For example, think of the art production of your game as an equation (bear with me here) that has to be balanced.

Art Production = Art Style * (Scope + Time + Quality + Resource )

For us, all the things inside the brackets are pretty much constants; It's important to us that the game feels epic in scope, that there is a large characterful world to explore. We know we don't want Röki to be a sprawling project that lasts years and years so time is a constant. We know that we want the game to look amazing and draw people in so quality becomes a constant. Finally, we know we don't want to grow our team significantly, so resource becomes a constant as well. With all these constants (or creative restrictions) it leaves only one thing flexible and up for grabs, the art style.

We know we want to make a game that looks amazing. However, 'amazing' looking games can utilize a whole myriad of art styles, some which are more time consuming to work in than others. As a crude example take two games I've been playing in the last year, Horizon Zero Dawn and Inside, both look amazing but in very different ways: Horizon has a vast, dynamic, colourful and stunningly detailed world, whereas Inside is smaller, more focused, has a sparser use of detail and leverages lighting and atmospherics to maximum effect. For us, it was important that the art style we defined allowed us to work quickly whilst not diminishing the impact of the visuals and this was something we used the announce trailer to prove out.

I think that gamers' tastes and perception of what a visually 'amazing' game looks like is opening up. Certainly in the indie space people are increasingly open to art styles that aren't striving for a super detailed photo-realistic approach (although of course there will always be exceptions).

We've mentioned the two angles to consider when defining an art style but there are other important factors that need to be taken into account, you should also be looking to play to your strengths. Sure it's good to stretch yourself as an artist and explore the boundaries of your talent, but the aim is to make a game that knocks people's socks off so exploring areas (artistically) far outside your comfort zone may not be the best idea.

Ultimately, the art style is not the game. It will however be one of the first things that people see, a gateway, something to attract attention, giving a glimpse into your world and encourage people to find out more.

...and breathe, that's enough for today I'm sure you have things to do but we'll dig into the specific techniques and methods we've used (a meaty topic in itself) in a few weeks time.

Thanks for dropping by,

Alex and Tom.

Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou