Archive for the ‘aesthetics’ Category

I don’t know what this is but I want to do the art for it


Painted these while daydreaming about tile-based games:

What is it, the world map of an RPG set in a post-apocalyptic world, a spiritual successor to Fallout? (The only Fallout.) Is it Armageddon Empires with charmingly re-interpreted graphics and non-awful UI?

(From a design and aesthetics standpoint, I admit  it’s actually a combination of the idea of Danc’s Miraculously Flexible Game Prototyping Tiles with a reaction to Arne’s art style, particularly how he draws terrain, as you can see in the Cortex Command campaign map.)

Pixelcraft: The Colors of Frogatto


For quite some time I’ve been intending to write about pixel art technique. Today I stumbled on a pixel-art platformer game called Frogatto & Friends which has inspired me to get on this because I was struck by the game’s lovely art. (I haven’t actually played the game yet, though it is available for free on PC/Mac/Linux, and the code, but not the assets, is open source.)

So let’s see if I can explain what’s going on with the pixels of Guido Bos and Richard Kettering (who it seems also lead the art for Battle For Wesnoth; neat).

Use of Color

The artwork of Frogatto nicely demonstrates the intentional use of color (hue, in particular) to emphasize the depth of a scene. Warm colors pop out to the foreground while cooler colors recede to the background. I’ve pulled some of the color palettes out of a screenshot to show how this is operating:

Notice how much warmer the lighter colors are – the green and brown are pretty much the same shade of yellow at their lightest, while the stone’s gray takes on a noticeable brown tone at its highlights. On the other end, the green cools down even to the point of using a shade of blue while the stone goes toward a more neutral (and relatively cooler) gray.

The use of a blue tone in the tree is particularly interesting. It’s actually lighter than the mid-dark green but is so much cooler that it fits with the shadowy parts of the leaves – and the blue reflects the ambient, bluer light of the sky rather than the direct yellow sunlight — the use of color in the tree tells us a lot, very subtly, about the lighting in the environment.

As an experiment I replaced the original colors with “naive” color palettes that are simply light to dark gradients of a single hue with no change in ‘temperature’ or saturation.

The scene still works (ignore the yellowish leaves in the lower right), which is a testament to the skillful use of tone and shapes, but it’s flatter and less full of life than before.

  • In general, warm hues bring things forward, cool hues set things back. (Sometimes I like to play with inverting this rule to make a scene look weird.)
  • Ambiantly lit shadowy areas can be ‘lit’ with a color that offsets the primary lighting; Consider what color is coming from the rest of the environment, or what color the sky is.
  • Color can be used very subjectively. It doesn’t matter what exact color your color-picker displays, and it definitely doesn’t have to match the “naive” understanding of what color something is. What matters is how the color you use works in-context with the rest of the colors of the scene; Indeed, leaves can be blue.

[Yes, I’ve spoken out about how I don’t care for using small fixed palettes in pixel art. The upside of the practice is that it forces artists to be very conscious about their color choices, so from that perspective it promotes some artistic rigor and, on occasion, very creative use of color.]

And that’s that for now. This game has wonderfully rendered shapes – those pointy leaves and contrast between bulbous and cubic rocks – so it feels like there’s going to have to be another post on the art of Frogatto. Soon.

Against Pixel Art Formalism


Pixel art is for the pixels!

I don’t care for being formalistic about pixel art, of adhering to a limited palette or carefully anti-aliasing my lines by hand, of using all-or-nothing transparency (actually, I do the latter two more often than I’d like to admit). What matters is what I wish to do with the aesthetic of pixels – and what specifications I must meet for the graphics to work at all in the given platform. It is ridiculous to throw away perfectly good tools like brush effects, gradient tools, and overall image adjustments. Tedium is not artistically uplifting.

If the art is about pixels, it’s pixel art. It doesn’t matter how I make it.

I actually followed all the “rules” of pixel art to draw these. Oops. Then I used the adjust levels tool in Photoshop. Ha! I have overthrown the tyranny of aesthetic canon!

There! It’s not a manifesto unless you try to sound controversial in the first paragraph.


Gaslamp Portrait (sketches)


[Posted to the Gaslamp Games blog.]

For the Great Gaslamp Webpage Revival I’ve started drawing steampunk portraits of the crew of the good ship Gaslamp Games.

(click to view full size)

From left to right: Nicholas, deranged technologist/bootlegger; David (myself), foppish art-lord; Derek, internet-tube engineer; and Daniel, merchant of ludology and man of science.

I’ll probably make them more overtly steampunk to fit the theme of the Gaslamp site, maybe with a sepia-tone photograph and vignette effect. Yeah, I stole my pose from a picture of Oscar Wilde; the rest I just winged. It’s hard to draw people you haven’t hung out with much in person (Derek in this case) or who are mysterious and don’t put pictures of themself on Facebook (Daniel the engima); Nicholas is probably the easiest to draw because he’s got crazy mathematician hair and is just … a real character. And for myself, it’s very hard to try to be objective with a portrait; It feels narcissistic. Not that I’m against narcissism as-such, it just feels like it could be very crass, indulgent, and cheap if done poorly. Rembrandt got away with self portraits, of course; And there’s Albrecht Durher and Egon Schiele, clearly narcissistic, but they’re allowed because they’re that good. But I digress: The website will be fun.

Experimental Perspectives on Tilesetting


[Originally posted to the Gaslamp Games Blog]

We’ve got a little design problem in Dredmor that Daniel has named “fighting arrows”. See the little arrow at the bottom of the screenshot on the left? It points to a blobby-monster just poking its little eyes out from behind a wall that otherwise covers it up. The arrow is a helper icon to make sure you notice that there’s a monster.

No, this is not elegant. We’ve also got issues with doors being difficult to see behind walls. Well then, how do games deal with the problem of stuff hiding behind walls?

One solution which came up was that of Zelda: A Link to the Past — they made it so that there is no ‘behind’ walls. See the right screenshot: everything has a rather subjective take on perspective. The player sees the face of all of the walls, no matter what direction they face! One column is seen from the front, another is seen from the right, and there is even some weird overlapping balcony thing. The world of A Link to the Past has a take on perspective that would make Escher proud, and the game manages to get away with it.

Could we?

I threw together some test graphics last night.

It would be painful to redraw all the tilesets, but it could be done, and a couple could be cheesily re-colored or something to cover all the dungeon levels. But what it comes down to is that the perspective our player character and monsters are drawn in is way too much looking like a strong front-view. All the characters in Zelda are, if you notice, rather squat, like they’re being viewed largely from above. And they’re smaller, just a bit more stylized, visually contextualized in a looser manner that lets them exist in an environment with a fantastic interpretation of perspective.

From talking it over with Nicholas, it sound like we could have gotten away with it if we’d designed the game this way from the very beginning (which was what, six years ago? And I’ve only been around for nearly two. Oh, and how many things I would change if I could have been there to help design the visuals of this game from the start!) Alas, we’re locked into a certain direction with only so much room to maneuver. Re-writing the rendering and dungeon-building code and redrawing all the tilesets is a bit too extreme a maneuver, I’m sorry to say. And before anyone suggests it, I think Nicholas would go into some kind of coffee-fueled berserker rage if we suggested he re-write the rendering code to support transparency masks or wall opacity when we’re halfway(?) through the game’s beta.

Don’t worry, we’ve still got tricks up our wizard’s sleeve.




If infernopunk isn’t yet the name of a genre of works inspired somehow by Dante’s Inferno (or, more generally, the medieval conception of hell), …  it should be.  And because someone is going to ask, perhaps the punk implies some kind of post/modern rather than medieval sensibility in approaching the subject and themes surrounding hell. Done.

What are some examples of infernopunk [in video games]? The big one: Id’s Doom.  But the latest I’ve been paying a little attention to in the indie game world is Vic Davis’ Solium Infernum. Outside of video games, there are all kinds of movies and comic books — Hellboy? — , and literature: I think of the Niven/Pournell novel Inferno or Blish’s Black Easter, though I think both of those stick to what is fundamentally a medieval hell upsetting modern sensibilities (which is itself perhaps postmodern?).

Or here’s an angle: Look at what made Blizzard North’s Diablo, the first one in the series, but not Diablo 2 so much — I’d contend that perhaps the difference between the two is that the former is somehow much more infernopunk than the latter (which is a subject fit for its own post). Or, in counterpoint, does Diablo play inferno straight and therefore not count as punk?

… This all came to me this morning reading an infernopunk game idea by some fellow on the GameDev forums and I couldn’t believe that infernopunk didn’t show up on Google. So I had to say it first.

[Image from “Hell“, a painting by Bosch ]