Game Development: Evolution of an Art Style

(For more information, please visit dualwieldsoftware.com)

I don’t know exactly when Joe and I started working on The Regret of Vitrerran, but I started the game’s Bible sometime in September of 2012. For my part, I went for story elements and world creation while Joe started on programming a level editor. We talked nonstop and scribbled out sketches and diagrams of what we wanted, and things just started moving forward.

See, it’s easy to get lost in the evolution of a large project. When I open up our level editor now, I can see something near finished and with all sorts of bells and whistles (some of which I still don’t know how to work). I can open levels and enjoy the color and the lights and then add trees or water as needed.

That, of course, wasn’t always the case.

Before we had the level editor, we had sketches, and before that we had a vague idea of what we wanted. The discussion of an art style took place over the course of a two-mile walk, and we wound up settling on Joe’s first choice: stained glass. We discussed a few other options, but only because we felt obligated to.

Not long after, Joe drew this little picture to see how the tiles might look and fit together:

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It’s nothing special, and yet it totally is. It’s the start of what the game would ultimately look like, drawn in pen and on a piece of scrap paper that is probably in a landfill right now.

Joe began working on the level editor, working his programming skills that still seem like magic to me. I don’t know how it all works and I suspect I never will, but as long as it works–and it does–I’ll be happy.

The beginning of our level editor was a tiny thing in comparison now. We couldn’t copy or paste, we couldn’t add color, there were no trees or water entities, no events; there were only blocks.

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The blocks were simple white and blue things at first. When I first started designing levels, this is what I worked with. White blocks for terrain and blue blocks for buildings or major hills so I could tell everything apart. It wasn’t optimal by any means, but it worked.

It’s funny now that I think about it, but I designed a ton of level sections with white and blue blocks. Some I still haven’t gone back and colored yet, and shame on me there. I’ll get around to it though.

The day Joe added in actual glass tiles and color was a big one. Simple blue and white constructions could now become what they are now: the envisioned art style that Joe came up with long ago.

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The ability to add color was both awesome and kind of frightening. I liked the blue and white designs I had created, but giving them color was its own beast. It’s easy to look at a work-in-progress and feel happy with it because you know it isn’t done. The blue and white designs were safe from criticism because they were more ideas than anything truly finished. Coloring them in though? That was–and in some respects still is–scary. Everything has to look perfect.

We both knew simple glass tiles wouldn’t be enough, and so Joe got to work on some other options. A breathing world, even one made out of glass, needs details and intricacies. Castles need to be made out of bricks, and while ramps are nice, stairs are more the norm in larger cities.

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What felt complex got more complex, but that was good too. I remember designing Castle Alboiss in blue and white tiles and being happy with it. I remember adding color to it and being happy with it. And now I look at it, built with bricks and blocks and staircases and go, “wow, this is pretty.”

The future holds more tile sheets. Different kinds of wood are the big ones, but there will be others as well. Windows and doors. Railings. Each new set will be both surprising and kind of scary as I go back to places I’ve made and attempt to make them better. To make them perfect.

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