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[Adonthell-artwork] Visual style

From: James Nash
Subject: [Adonthell-artwork] Visual style
Date: Mon, 2 Aug 2010 21:59:38 +0100

A lot of existing graphics discussion and documentation has revolved around 
technical aspects like angles, how big something should be, what file formats 
to use etc. but we've had relatively little talk about the actual visual feel 
of the graphics. I think maybe we should :-)

Unless this has changed while I wasn't paying attention, we were aiming to make 
a game roughly in the style of the 16-bit era classics like Final Fantasy, 
Zelda, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger. One of the characteristics of games 
from that time is that they primarily used hand-crafted pixel art. By that I 
mean graphics weren't just scaled down paintings, photos or 3D renders - they 
were actually designed down at the pixel level.

This was no doubt driven in part out of necessity: Low screen resolutions and 
limited colour palettes aren't great for ultra-realism. However, the flip-side 
is that it allows for more distinctive artistic styles. I'd also argue that the 
fact that pixel art tends towards the cartoony rather than the realistic, 
leaves a some space for the players imagination to fill in the blanks. 

I'm therefore keen to establish a pixel-art-ish look and feel for Adonthell. 
Since with 48 or even 64 pixel tiles we're already quite "high-def" compared to 
old 16-bit games, so I guess a strict pixel-art style would be too much work 
(and may also end up looking to busy). I therefore think we should aim for a 
sort of comic / pixel hybrid style.

In a way, this is what we've always done - I certainly had those old games in 
the back of my mind when I made the 0.2 & 0.3 map graphics. However, I think 
there's areas that can and should be refined.

Also, I think we should compile some kind of style guide for new artists. Our 
plans for Dun Barethsol are already quite ambitious and the ones for the final 
Adonthell game are even more so. It's too much for any one artist to make my 
him or herself alone, so inevitably we'll need to have several artists. A style 
guide could help ensure that each artist's work gels together nicely. The trick 
will be keeping the guide not too strict so as to restrict what people can do 
and alienate them, yet also not too loose so it just become a random collage of 
different people's styles.

Here's my suggestions for some basic guidelines. Please let me know what you 

* Graphics should be drawn in a simple comic-book style: They should have 
outlines (typically dark colours or even black). The trees gfx I designed a 
while ago are a good example of what I mean:

* Shading should avoid gratuitous use of gradients as this helps avoid 
everything looking like plastic (see )

* Characters and objects (in particular things a player can interact with) 
should have more contrast between their outlines and colouring than fixed 
scenery (in particular floors). In many cases a black outline is appropriate. 
This creates more contrast between the characters and the map which makes it 
easier for the player to recognise what's going on. (If everything is high 
contrast or everything low contrast, then it all tends to blend together).
"Secret of Mana" used this approach successfully - here are some screenshots 
for reference:

That's all I've got so far. Ideas and comments welcome!

Once this has been discussed a bit I can commit the guidelines to a wiki page.


                - James

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