Happy Sunday everyone.
Today we're catching up with Paul McLaughlin the art director at 22cans, or as he is known to put it jokingly, art dictator. He's a wonderful guy actually and you also might have heard him speak in our original pitch video. Paul has been an artists on every Bullfrog game since Populous II and every Lionhead game.
Art Update by Paul McLaughlin
I'd like to say that the art direction for GODUS came about as one of those textbook design and development experiences I’ll no doubt be filling my mega-successful memoirs with in years to come but it didn't. Peter and myself had a kick off meeting and were tasked with laying down the foundations for the project within the hour. Fortunately there were some suitable ideas kicking around in my head and after a bit of filtering I proposed the approach you’re seeing now.
The game concept is somewhat retrospective, this part of its appeal to many but we still want to do something beautiful and original with it. I want our audience to feel positive about it, feel they’re playing with something beautiful and for no one to mistake it for anything other than GODUS when they see it. However, as a fall-back position, the prospect of doing naturalistic visuals was definitely on the table which scared the bejasus out of me. That would be such a shame as there seemed to be far more potential with this project. Fortunately the team is very open-minded and up for a challenge so I started scribbling. I’m very interested in cartography and how the language of maps can create convincing worlds in our minds. They can also be very elegant and beautiful to look at. Mix that up with a love of miniatures and model environments led me to look at architectural models. Hmmm, god as architect, overlooking a tabletop universe seemed like a pretty sound high-concept. This was the hook I was looking for and something that people seemed to get behind straight away.
Gary Leach (lead architect) practically lit up at the prospect of creating something with a unique aesthetic. It also provided him with some interesting tech and user interaction opportunities so he was bought in. Mattia (lead artist) seemed to see the visual potential which gave me great confidence as I really trust his judgment. Even Peter M (you know who Peter is) was sold on the idea without much discussion. I have to admit I did and still do see some problems; followers navigating a stepped world, scale disasters and FX that have real energy, creating empathy with tiny figures not trivialising the drama, and critically, audience acceptance. However I’m certain we can address all of those issues as we develop the experience.
Just to make sure we were all on the same page I did some 2d concept pieces and Mattia and Matt Leighton (artist) kicked off with some incredible 3d visualisations based on our conversations. We certainly wanted to explore the contour tiering idea but also to see if we could get a sense of drama and energy into the ‘god powers’ without breaking the scale feeling we were after e.g. we imagine the tornado to be about 12cm high in the god’s eyes but a massive tower of spinning destruction to the GODUS population. We’re trying to get it to have loads of barely contained energy, like a frenzied power tool, a router gouging through the world.
For the buildings in the world I’m currently referencing simple adobe type buildings and shanty towns like the Favelas in Brazil. The idea of dwellings being piled one on top of the other to create complex structures could give us something quite interesting and the modular nature is very game design friendly. Again keeping a sort of scale feel in mind I’d like them to collapse in a house of cards fashion or crumple like tiny boxes. Of course there will probably be an enormous range of buildings required for the game so this is just a starting point, the idea will evolve as the design is fleshed out.
Sara Calzada (Vis-Dev artist) had the job of designing characters that might inhabit this environment. The brief was for them to be visually simple, easily readable, charming and delightful. I felt they should be characterised by their crowd behaviour rather than any individuality, much like ants in an ant farm. You need to empathise with them though; we want you to care about them so perhaps sheep is a better analogy than ants (although we hope to have sheep too). They needed to feel somewhat primitive; proto-people without any real-world cultural references or history confuse things. These characters are ‘GODUS peeps’ not Ancient Egyptians, Celts or whatever. Hopefully they will evolve a culture of their own as we develop the game and we can create some lore around it. Anyway, Sara came up with some lovely simple, subtly cartooned and gently disproportioned little people. Almost like toy figures but still very believable. Her drawing style is very graphic, very clean and we wanted to preserve that if possible.
Matt was tasked with building them in 3d. He did a great job of capturing their graphic character ‘in the round’, unfortunately though they remained disappointingly lifeless, perhaps too much like toy figures. That’s where Tim Meredith (Character animator) came into play and once he’d breathed some lovely animator magic over them they turned into the charming little creatures we’d all hoped for. Very little of his work has found its way into the prototype yet but even what’s there will give you an inkling of the great things to come. Tim has a great ability to balance drama with whimsy and charm with action so I’m really looking forward to the full range of behaviours coming on line. For basic characters they can be very engaging and while our battlescene concepts do have a tabletop quality to them I really do feel for the individuals. They come in for some serious hardship in the game and you do feel for them.
We’re only at a prototype stage the whole thing has come along at blistering speed; I’ve never worked on a title that looked this solid after two weeks. It’s still very rough and ready though and I apologise for having to show it in such a raw state. Normally at this stage it’d be for internal eyes only while we drop things in and rip them out again. All of what you’ve seen so far is throwaway but hopefully it’ll give you a flavour of things to come.
Being early days we have very little in the way of pipeline or workflow established. It’s all very immediate with a sort of craft industry feel to it.
Assets are created exclusively in Photoshop or Maya (our 3d tool of choice for this) and are as often as not emailed to the concerned parties or dumped on a temp drive rather than checked in to Perforce (asset control). I do try to make sure everything is safely backed up in but mostly things have a short lifespan at this stage so losing something, while embarrassing, is not fatal.
No choice of engine has been made yet which means all our toolset is pretty minimal. There is no animation system to speak of. We export objects as FBXs from Maya and each frame of animation a unique mesh so there’s no in-game skinning, IK, blending or anything at this stage. That explains why our characters pop and buildings only have two or three construction frames. It’s frustrating for animators and artists and a pretty tedious process but sufficient for now. Fortunately Tim knows his way around Maya and is pretty handy at scripting so he’s been able to take some of the sting out of the export process. Gary Leach is incredibly inventive when it comes to working with minimal art input, I can’t wait to see what he achieves when we’re all tooled up. All that pipeline fanciness will come; it’s just not a priority yet.
I’m definitely looking forward to getting a successful Kickstarter campaign behind us and focusing 100% on development. The campaign has been a great motivator and catalyst for progress but also quite a drain on the team. I do want to thank all of you who’ve supported us so far; once we’re in a position to concentrate on development rather than promotion I think we’ll be well placed to create something wonderful.
Q: Can you tell us what you do at 22cans?
A: I'm the Art Director (and jokingly the art 'dictator') so I tend to come up with the initial direction for what the games should look like. Then I let the rest of the team force my initial direction into something worthwhile and workable while I retain as much credit and involvement as I possibly can. I do this by criticising everything and shouting occasionally.
Q: What work are you most looking forward to doing on GODUS?
A: Developing a title with new people is always exciting, I'm really looking forward to that journey. I'm probably most looking forward to the challenge of making something uniquely lovely looking even though the format is an already established one. While the gameplay is shaping up to be sweet I really can't wait to see what the artists and engine coders achieve together.
Q: What are you working on today?A: Some graphical user interface (GUI) stuff for the prototype. Not terribly exciting but it needs to be done. The result was rubbish so I’ll be doing it all again tomorrow :-). Creating web assets to support the KS campaign. Working with Mattia to figure out how modular buildings could work nicely in the engine. Creating height and content maps for the prototype landscape, that brought me right back to the black and white days. I was also speaking with an artist (photographer) from Vienna about getting some of his artwork on Curiosity. Working with the broader art community is always rewarding.
Q: What’s the best thing about working at 22cans?A: Well, the people are great and super easy to get on with, it's a very refreshing and outspoken group with few no-go areas. Plus, being a small team it's easy to change direction and iterate to achieve amazing things surprisingly quickly so here's a sort of 'seat of the pants' quality that's very exciting.
Q: What are your favourite games?
A: Bizarrely inconsistent 6ish a side Football with the Guildford gaming community on Mondays and Fridays. Computer games are great but running about with your mates is tops. I don't suppose that's what you meant is it?
Q: What is the best feature you have ever seen in a game?
A: We were talking about ‘full contact chess’ the other day which sounded like an interesting mix. How about musical football; where you have to sing opera as you play? Or the portal gun.
Q: What pledge tier would you recommend people pledge at?
A: No more than they're comfortable with. We're all determined to create a quality piece of entertainment for our audience and to do that we need all the support we can get but I realise it's not easy for a lot of people. Whatever anyone pledges, It's important they know that every pledge is appreciated and that we don't take any of it for granted.
Q : What do you have for lunch?
A: To be honest I prefer not to have lunch. I’d rather play footie, go for a run or just work through. It sounds a bit odd I suppose but I like to stay busy during the day and look forward to a proper sit-down meal in the evening. If I'm feeling grounded then I'll have a sandwich provided by our roving sandwich woman (amazingly; she’s been sustaining us for over a decade!)
Thanks everyone, enjoy the rest of your Sunday tomorrow we're back with an update on the prototype!