Look and feel

Though I’ve already done a bit of art for the game, I’ve honestly been fluffing about this one for quite some time. I didn’t have a definitive look and feel so i’m setting one up now.

I had been discussing with B about how to really get into terms with this. I think my main problem, which includes the art I’ve already made, is that the inspiration came from simply an attraction to a particular artwork (in this case Gray Shuko), but had nothing to do with the theme or the feel of the game itself as I want to depict it.

This is 2400 AD:

Playing it when I was but a babe, I can summarise the overall feeling in several points.

  • Dark
  • Bright neon lights
  • Dirty and clean contrasts
  • Feeling of unease in the environment

Note that while certain feelings are not readily expressible from a lookdev perspective, it helped to focus on the overall emotion/feeling I was having when I played the game, because that is the sort of thing that motivated me to develop CITIZEN. Perhaps what seems unrelated might actually be useful when the time comes. Who knows?

As B pointed out, the darkness comes from the black background, and the ‘neon’ probably comes from the magenta-coloured gui frames.

The ‘clean’ is obvious, because the graphics are simple. But I think I there was a ‘dirtiness’ in line with what was going on as a game, so that there are those contrasting elements, especially when going from one area to another (eg entering a room from exterior).

The feeling of unease is harder to track down, and I think that’s more of a gameplay issue, at least from how it looks like right now. I think however, that it will also inform other design aspects, like how the robots will look like, and perhaps even how sound, or the writing is done.

With those 4 points guiding me I scoured for anything in the web for indicators that may give me an idea how to hammer home those things. The thing was, I didn’t necessarily look for the most beautiful images, because I knew that beautiful images were stuffing up my efforts to have an actual theme to the game.

Good examples and why

Dark, neon, simple shapes. This is one of the prime lookdev reference images. Note that I’m not aiming for pixel art, but rather, aiming for the simplicity in detail, as well as non-assuming design.
The colours are muted in the darkness, and the outlines are aesthetically-pleasing.
From the game ‘The Last Night’; again, not about pixel art — and not even about the sidescroller viewpoint, which is not what CITIZEN is, but rather, the dark mood.
From the game Black Annex, I keep this peg to remind myself of simplicity in rendering. Granted, this is rather austere, but the game (gameplay itself) gives a connection between the look and how the game responds and feels spatially, so that simple renders can be given a lot of life, and other considerations and compromises can be made depending on how the graphics are used.
The space is cozy; the rendering is more in line with my initial art. The outlines are pleasing (again), and the proportions are not so realistic.
Not every location in CITIZEN is in darkness, so in exterior situations, I think this lighting condition, and overall feel, is close to the feel I’m going for. I won’t be able to really represent atmospherics, but the cyan haze is appealing.
Though not dark, I can imagine myself filling in the darkness and the mood and tone. The appeal of this image is of the minimum detail to represent the scene. It looks very game-y, The colours are represented more matter-of-factly; while I prefer grading the artwork to fit the darkness, I keep this peg to remind me that I don’t have to go too overboard with it.

Lighting considerations

In respect to the Good Examples shown above, the most use of lighting was the picture of The Last Night which features area lighting, where one portion of the screen will affect a surface’s diffuse colour. This is fine as long as no shadows are implicitly cast (ie by use of explicit harsh lighting).

Note that even when neons were used in the abovementioned image, the overall effect was still diffused; as it is pixel art, there’s an acceptance of these compromises. The artwork that I have to develop should also have the same acceptability using those compromises.

A good example of area-based lighting. It’s basically a masked colour layer that sits on a particular region, affecting those elements that come underneath it.

Proportional considerations

The image shown on the right is probably the kind of character proportions/shape that I want. This means it is realistically proportioned, but not particularly realistically shaped or accurate.

Bad examples (to avoid)

While appealing in of itself, the rendering is a tad too realistic: reflections, soft and hard shadows which require any character in the scene to be rendered as such. Textures are also too subtle. I would like use gradient of colours more often than textures.
From ShadowRun, this is too realistic.
While I love this game, the rendering — like Fallout — is done with too many hi-freq textures.
Though I had originally imagined a scene in the Hills in the same mood and feel as this, this is the sort of lighting that is not practical to do, so I avoid not only these types of lights, but a pitch black exterior, where the only light will inevitably have to come from point sources.
Too simple to the point where I won’t get my tone. Outlines, when too thick, end up brightening the colours, which is the reverse of what I want to do.
Though a beautiful image, the grading is too biased and ultimately too realistic.
Amazing to look at, nevertheless, even static light sources where pronounced shadows are produced is going to be a problem. However, lights above the reach of the main level (eg player, npc, ground-level env), might be ok, even when animated like this picture. Rain might also be a good thing to explore at a later time.

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