Tuesday, July 10, 2012

BioHarmonious- Entry I: Discovering A New World, In Time for A Deadline

(Concept stages for amphibious inhabitant of the natural planet)

BioHarmonious is a small game project I'm involved in for Art Works for Change (http://www.artworksforchange.org/). As far as the overall development is concerned it is still a bit early to delve into the details so I can't explain too much of what it is in terms of how it is played and what the story entails. However, there is enough to talk about in regards to the art production at this point which will make for interesting dissection.

It is a small development team of five, Amanda Dittami (Lead Designer/Project Lead), Matt Farmer (programmer), Blair Kuhlman (Art and Design), Craig Deskins (Sound Engineer) and myself (Lead Artist, Animator). The game is about twin planets, one consisting mostly of manufactured elements and the other mostly consists of natural elements. The goal of the game is getting the planets in harmony with each other while rescuing the inhabitants of the manufactured plan from their self destructive behavior.

 In my role, I must direct the visuals and create art for the world we are building.  Hopefully if I do my part, we will have a unique style to support that world. Along with getting my hands dirty with silhouette work, painted concepts and asset creation; I do some writing to help define the architecture of the world, the rules found in nature, personality of the inhabitants and the aesthetic we hope to deliver with the interactive experience. This of course is done in close contact with the lead designer (Amanda Dittami) and along side the help of Blair Kuhlman (Designer and Artist) and Craig Deskins (Sound Engineer), to ensure that my vision for the game meshes with that of my team members. So although I have the final call at times with the art direction, it is very much a collaborative effort driven by plenty of concept reviews and feedback sessions.

When creating worlds I prefer to work through an organic, flowing experience. In other words I only write some base ideas for what the world will be and don't set up a rigid plan. Then through sketching and sometimes final concepts I let the imagery reveal the world to me. So at times, some detail about the inhabitants will come out as I work out the detail of the architecture and vice versca. Other times it happens while review reference images. This will then propel other concepts, sometimes leading to revisions to adjust to the subtle shift in course. This is easier to do in a small team. When only dealing with two people, shifting gears and changing directions on the fly is not as much of a headache. The important principle that remains consistent, is that there is a harmony to the details of the world and the individual parts. Aesthetically things need to mesh, but in this game I am making a point in particular to have things mesh in behavior and in the laws of nature that we created.

(Work in progress - Concept of a GyroBeetle, found on the natural planet. The symbiotic relationship between living creatures and planets developed into a key theme)

At some point there is a wrangling in of the art direction. I review concepts, create new ones making sure themes are consistent, but still different enough to avoid monotony or over saturation. Then I gather my final cuts and iterations for the week and upload them for the team to check out. Usually meetings take place weekly in which critique the current iteration of the art. By the end of the meeting I have enough notes and have read enough reactions to start to then incorporate the team's ideas into the art. This leads to yet another round of iterations and new concepts for the next meeting. 

One of the driving themes for this game is an exaggerated version of something that can be found in our civilization. The idea of amazing levels of technical advancement, coupled by mistakes or ideas that seem absurd when coupled with the previously mentioned. The world is based in a familiar aesthetic of earth's natural elements but I am trying to push it to the border where oddity meets uncomfortable strangeness. I don't want it to feel alien or creepy. It needs to feel like a unusual discovery that draws you in with apprehensive curiosity. The audience needs to relate to the issues the civilization faces, the laws of nature need to be vaguely familiar, but outside of that it should feel upside down. 

One source of inspiration that helps illustrate the point, is really contemplating the nature of ants and their behavior. Seemingly odd at first glance, but vaguely familiar, eerily similar, possibly mindless, but always having a hint of something more to be understood. Something more complex about their actions that is yet to be revealed.

By the time I write again I hope that i will find the art of the game to be settling in to the targeted aesthetic. Although, I hope not too tightly so that it still has space to morph into it's rightful place. Considering the nature of the smaller development cycle and the ambitious target of quality, there is a bit of an approach of doing pre-production and production alongside each other. There is a need to create things econmocially and quickly. The biggest challenge is finding ways to do so without things feeling cheap or rushed. I hope that the final product is one that feels rich and properly shows the amount of effort put into the art.We are approaching the stage of finalizing concepts. Soon it will be a matter of bringing them together and getting the seperate pieces to mesh. Then on to the task of producing the final game assets and injecting life through animation and secondary detail.

Pardon grammatical errors or mistakes. I am busy and only can proof read so much. That ran a bit long, I will try and keep it shorter. Maybe. You can stop reading......now.

(Teaser image of early concepts/silhouettes for the game's solar system)

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