For an interactive medium like ours, generally speaking, the first time an audience gets to experience our game will be through passive screenshots, gameplay videos and trailers. It's so crucial to make those memorable because they will be dissected to the nth degree.
Here are some images from current and upcoming 360/PS3 games that I think are successful in visual immersion and standing out from the crowd.
There's no mistaking Rapture's decaying art deco styling to any other game. That combined with the iconic Big Daddys and Little Sisters make the game memorable.
From the familiar chorus and orchestral music on the title screen to dropping the player into a HDR showcase lush jungle separates this sci-fi shooter from the rest. Very polished game.
Team Fortress 2
a perfect marriage of visuals/gameplay/tech. The character teasers Valve did sold the world so well. This game overnight became the de facto "stylized" look that all other games are compared to.
Gears of War
amazing amount of detail and interesting believable characters. Gears used post-processed color correction, desaturation, and Depth of Field to sell the mood well.
Simply epic. As a player you really got a sense of being a small part of a much bigger picture. An RPG like this one lends itself to more subtle character interactions and developments.
closest thing to an interactive painting. Great use of subtle layering.
Prince of Persia NextGen
Interesting re imagining of the franchise. Reminds me of a stylized graphic novel in motion. The look is suited well to the gameplay mechanics of corruption/restoration.
ultraviolent post apocolyptic world with twisted humor and deep gameplay. I never played the original Fallouts but this one looks very interesting.
bleached clean sci-fi setting, color cueing to help the free running gameplay. Good use of visuals for gameplay immersion.
I'm Chandana Ekanayake, Art Director at Uber Entertainment. People that know me call me Eka. It was 12 years ago in October 1996 that I started as an artist at Bethesda Softworks. Earlier that year I worked out of a house with several other guys at a startup CG studio. We pretty much took on anything that paid the bills, from architectural renderings, interactive virtual flythroughs to rendered game cinematics. I was working 80+ hours a week; learning modeling, animation, motion graphics, editing; and whatever else I could get my hands on. It was an intense crash course in CG production and those memories and the time we had as a small group I still treasure to this day. Even though we were pretty naive about the business and production practices, our hunger for knowledge (and just general hunger ) kept us going until Bethesda brought us in as full-time employees.
Since that time I've worked with both small teams and very large teams on a variety of projects and genres. What drew me to Uber was the collection of talent and the opportunity to work on a project from the ground up with a small focused team. I'm about to start on my third week and already we have a fun playable game that we playtest daily. I've been replacing the early prototype assets with more presentable temp assets that will be iterated on and turned into shippable quality. At the same time we're establishing the world, themes, mood and fleshing out gameplay mechanics which translates well into figuring out an aesthetic direction for the game.
I've been thinking a lot about how to stand out in the current and future marketplace. What is the style and the visual hook? How do we differentiate ourselves from the competition? What are the current trends and how will that change over the course of the project when we ship?
When starting a new project my motto is "Find the Fun First". I've seen too many projects ramp up a full production team based on a loosely written design document (or tome). They grind out new tech subsystems and art resources for a year or two only to discover the game isn't any fun. Why isn't it fun? Is it because the design doc is so incomplete? Are the programmers not delivering tech on time? are the artists falling behind in the production schedule? Having ramped up too early it's quite likely all of these are true, however they're not to blame for why the game isn't fun.
When we prototype our gameplay we use a process called "whiteboxing". This simply means we create the absolute minimal amount of code and art in order to support a particular game mechanic or feature. Often times the minimal visual representation is simply a white box, hence the term. If your game isn't fun with 100% whitebox assets and code then it isn't going to be fun with $10 million in beautiful art and robust game subsystems. The less you've invested in art and code during the prototyping phase, the cheaper it is to change things when they don't work out. What sounds fun on paper doesn't always work in game.
You can spend a year or more in this phase and spend relatively little money. The unfortunate part is that when trying to sign a deal with a publisher you're likely going to have to create something "pretty". This usually means the dreaded "vertical slice" which is one of the worst industry practices in existence. That's not to say there is no place for a vertical slice, but it certainly doesn't belong anywhere near the prototyping phase. This is a topic that deserves it's own post in the future. For now, I'll just leave it saying it's in our best interest to stay as long as possible in the prototyping phase. Lean and mean.
Once upon a time Scathis and I had the pleasure of working on a project together, just the two of us, for a solid year before even bringing on an artist. Our goal was to come up with some innovative gameplay that could be executed on some existing technology with relatively little changes. In that time we tested tons of ideas, threw out most, and eventually honed in on some really great gameplay. When we brought in our art director he brought in a welcome breath of creativity and was vital to bringing our fun, yet ugly game, to life. For this reason, we're very excited to have had our art director come on board last week. We intentionally wanted to bring him on early in the process as his virtuoso ability will enable us to prototype ideas that have advanced technical art requirements such as intricate animations and material compositions. Expect to hear from him soon!