Let's talk a bit about the new art style we've been trying out. The biggest weakness we have right now is that the team doesn't have a dedicated artist. I (Lars) consider myself a half-decent artist, but I've been so busy programming, blogging, running around putting out fires, etc, that I have very little time to dedicate to art at this stage of the project.
We initially assumed that we could just get away with using me for both jobs, but that's something we won't be doing again. Next project - dedicated artist for sure.
So, a few weeks ago we took a good look at our art style and decided to make some changes. Our goals:
1. Make something we're happy with
2. Create backgrounds that don't look like barf
3. Make the characters more expressive
Nothing good needs to be said about the old backgrounds. They're hideous, and they're all being replaced:
The old art style just clashed and was honestly something really thrown together while we focused on other parts of the game. The new style is simple, clean, and works well with the new character style.
As for the characters, the old art style was a collaboration between myself and our writer, James - he designed the characters and then I did some cleanup work, shading, etc. In the end, this not only took too much time, but had mediocre results (which I'll take the blame for). Although I'm partial to the comic-book style with outlines and shading, it takes way too long, and is prone to errors when I'm rushing (if you look closesly, you'll find places where shadows are going in two different directions). With a dedicated artist this wouldn't be a problem, but given our situation we decided a style without outlines and hard shading would be faster, mesh better with backgrounds, and easier to revise.
NOTE: We're not looking for an artist right now (at least not for this version of the game). We've already had people offer to work for free - we appreciate the sentiment, but we won't hire someone without compensation, and right now we can't afford more team members. If the game is successful, and we plan on a sequel or porting it to a new platform - then, definitely, send us your portfolios :)
For now, James is doing all the new art, with only a little bit of help from me, freeing me up to do a lot more programming and systems work. So, let's take a look at some of the new stuff:
I wasn't really happy with Azra's proportions, hair-style, and expressions. She also looked like a cross between an 8-year old and Kim Possible. We want good expressions to really sell the story, and the new art style frees us to do that. The lack of outlines and hard shadows makes it easier to just get in there and change things in a few minutes without getting caught up in detail. The previous style was very difficult to revise - so if we had a mediocre pose, we were more likely to stick with it rather than throw it away and start over. That, and we can crank out a lot more unique poses for specific lines of dialogue, rather than just re-using the same three or four over and over again.
Here's another cutscene from early in the game - I like the new background and characters a lot better. The textured paper makes it feel more like a story-book and meshes better with the character art than the old style.
All the characters have way more poses now, and the expressions are really great, the story feels like it's coming to life in a way that it didn't before.
For those who complained about the scene with Ketta from before - that was the first scene we did in the new style, so we'll definitely be giving it another pass before shipping :) Also, Ketta's new character design was inevitable regardless of art style, because a disturbingly large amount of testers didn't realize she was a woman, and in battle players had a hard time distinguishing her head icon from Slak's because they both had big red afro's. We'll post an updated version of that cutscene as soon as we polish it up, and hopefully it will address people's concerns that it wasn't expressive enough. If not, oh well - we can't please everyone :)
We've also updated in-game dialogue, which looks way better and conveys a lot more emotion:
Anytime you change an art style this drastically, it comes with risk. I've already gotten a few negative comments by people who preferred the old style, for instance. All I can really say about that is that I do appreciate any feedback we get, negative or positive, and I hope you guys understand that we'll do our best to address everyone's concerns, but ultimately we have to go with what we think is best for the game. Also, the little snap-shots I put out aren't always going to be indicative of what you see in the final version of the game, so we'll keep changing/polishing right up to the end.
We WILL be releasing a new version of the demo to coincide with our "Beta" launch, so you'll be able to see how it looks AND plays before deciding to buy.
We hope you like it! And if not, we hope you at least still like the game :) I'll be posting shortly about all the super cool amazing awesome stuff we've been up to.
I think you're really going to like Acts III-VII, and if I may say so myself, the final battle is pretty cool. We've been giving it a lot of special attention.