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Embrace the night. Live the nightmare. Climb from rags to riches as a modern Vampire in a city where your secret has been revealed.
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Nighthawks Exposed #8 - City Of Colours

Posted by Richard Cobbett (Collaborator)
Some of Ben's art tests from the early days of the project.
Some of Ben's art tests from the early days of the project.

So, we've talked a lot about the game design and writing, but Nighthawks wouldn't exist in any form without the art of pixel-wizard Ben (as lovingly touched up by Ivan - the art, not Ben, at least as far as I know). I'm not going to dig too deeply into the art side, because that's not my field. I can barely draw stick figures. Still, I thought I'd talk a bit about how we came up with the look of the game and what we're aiming for in the full game.

The most important thing is that from the start, we agreed that we didn't want Nighthawks to just be a game of reds, blacks and greys. That looks good in a single shot, but over the course of a whole game you really do start to long for something a bit different. You can still be atmospheric and spooky with light and colour. While we've never agreed on a catchy name for this, I like to think of it as 'electro-goth'. The blue neon outside Nighthawks, the green hue of the streets, and in other areas not in the demo, taking a more comic-book sensibility to location design so that each area has its own palette, its own theme, and cool background details like the Chained Tree of Fountaincourt or [SPOILER REDACTED].

Urban Fantastic

Not all of Nighthawks will be set in the city, due to flashbacks, but even the bits within it need to be interesting. Even though it's a modern city and thus a more familiar location than somewhere like Thedas or Temeria or Taris, or indeed an RPG location not beginning with the letter 'T', it can still be a place that feels interesting to explore and which has its own culture and its own beat. Our four main districts are designed with that in mind. This should be a place that you probably wouldn't want to visit in real life, without vampire powers anyway, but would certainly find fascinating... before being shivved in the back.

The original art is further helped by the fact that our backgrounds aren't purely static, but short 4K movie loops. The idea is to capture a moment in time, but also make it breathe, with rain and lighting effects and smoke and similar. Unfortunately, compression on the Kickstarter video doesn't make this look its best, but trust me, it looks super-crisp and lovely when you see it live. Just a little animated detail really brings the life of the backgrounds out, and we're intending to make the ones for the full game much, much cooler.

Luckily, this is one of those projects where art and design is absolutely on the same page, and I for one can't wait to see what Ben and Ivan do with the rest of the stuff in the design. So far, it's been entirely a case of sending over the descriptions and getting back almost exactly what I had in mind, only way better looking. You know you've got the right artists on board when your longest and fiddliest artistic decision is about your bartender's bra. Not kidding about that. Suffice to say, if you see a character proudly sporting an incredibly frilly one in the final game, you'll know that's almost certainly Ben making A Point.


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    1. Richard Cobbett Collaborator on

      Yeah, absolutely!

    2. Edward Drummond

      Absolutely love the type of colour palettes explained here, sometimes refer to them myself as "Neon Noir" with that gritty duality of gloomy alleys and stark, neon lights, usually combined dull saturation street lamps (cue brooding protagonist sparking up a cigarette underneath). Constantine, The Wolf Among Us, that type of thing!

    3. Richard Cobbett Collaborator on

      The animated backgrounds are in there, but Kickstarter compresses things to hell. They're more visible on YouTube (The link is at the bottom) but you really need to see them directly on screen to get the subtlety of smoke wiping around, the animated text background and so on. It really does make a difference, especially since implementing that stuff in After Effects means that things like rain can bounce off things instead of just being a particle overlay.

      And yeah, that's the kind of thing we're looking for! The art and music and sound backing up the writing to create a sense of really cool presence, from the beating of rain to the creak of doors as you open them to (insert other cool ambient sounds here).

    4. Blessed on

      I could not click on the picture to see the original image, that probably is my only nitpick of this update. I had watched the trailer more than a handful of times but I did not notice animated backgrounds, maybe cos I did not realise they were there before. I will watch it again to appreciate it better :)

      I do wish to say the writing of this piece is great. Four districts? Wish to learn more about that. And visualizing the sudden lightning flashes, the light drops of rain falling upon the window, a lone lamppost glowing yellow in a dark night ... more than seeing the art, reading this gives me a mental picture and builds up that anticipation. Not forgetting something frilly :)