What to do if your game just doesn’t want to look good, in spite of the best efforts of everyone involved?

This article is a translation of a feature first published in 2010 in Control, the dutch magazine for the games industry. It was written by the editors of Control magazine.

You can find the original article here: http://www.control-online.nl/gamesindustrie/2010/09/30/artstijl-graphics-met-karakter/

Above: The transition from the prototype (left) to the actual art used for the final game (right).

The art team of Deadalic Entertainment from Hamburg were looking at each other’s faces in silence during a crisis meeting concerning their latest production, “A New Beginning”. The game had been in pre-production for a while and was now actually ready to enter full production. But it didn’t feel good just yet. There was something missing. The game, tagged by marketing with a catchy “eco thriller” label, simply didn’t look cool.

Indentifying the problem...

The german developer called in help from the design studio KARAKTER, who had worked on Daedalic’s previous production “The Whispered World”. Artists Henrik Bolle and Tobias Mannewitz travelled to Hamburg, not just to figure out how to make the game look more appealing, but also to educate the artists on how to do this themselves. Mannewitz had played the game himself and knew what was missing: “The game was lacking a recognizable, fancy style. Older games from the same studio – “Edna and Harvey – The Breakout” and “The Whispered World” bore the characteristic fingerprint of their art directors. This game, however, did not have a strong lead artist’s stylistic direction, and was therefore lacking personality.”

Original art from the prototype.
Without losing it’s original look, a version with more refined lighting and textures was created.

... and tackling it

During the workshop, Henrik Bolle figured out that the background artworks could be made much more appealing with a few relatively simple interventions: A more explicit lighting, more subtle use of color, and more surface details. Bolle: “Their artists hadn’t done enough research when they were doing the prototype, therefore the pictures were still empty and lifeless.”. The reworked backgrounds were enthusiastically received by the whole development team, and the descision was made to adapt the game accordingly.The characters and animations could be kept, but a quarter of all background art had to be reworked.

Original art from the prototype.
More sohpisticated use of colrs and textures for the final in-game art.

The men from KARAKTER put up a styleguide with step-by-step tutorials for the background reworks. The downside of this, though, was that the game release had to be postponed, and it was also getting more expensive. But this was a sacrifice Daedalic was willing to make.

Original art from the prototype.
Improved perspective and a more distinctive vegetation add to a more descisive norwegian impression.

The payoff

The extra effort paid off: Reviews were praising the visuals of “A New Beginning”. Gamestar enjoyed the “fantastic hand painted graphics, always harmonious”, while 4players declares: “Well executed comic style, by all means realistic, so that even cartoon revilers will enjoy it!” Destructoid was anything but destructive: “Absolutely gorgeous artwork! Detailed, striking, and full of color! By wide and far the best thing about “A New Beginning”!” And Hardcoregamer.com states: “Art house style graphics. It’s the beautifully rendered 2D artwork that brings the world to life. Drop dead gorgeous!”

Deadalic’s Producer Matthias Mangelsdorf brought the experience to the point: “This thaught us that we need to be more explicit during the preproduction regarding the style that we want to use for our game, and that we should put together a style guide for our artists as soon as possible!”

Daedalic’s own productions were getting a lot of praise for the graphic presentation ever since. “A New Beginning – Final Cut” is still available via Steam.