Having found the perfect artist, it was time to put him to work. I knew what the overall feel and impression of the game would be, but now I needed to clarify and communicate that to Steve. I wanted a game with truly ominous-looking characters, but without anyone requiring therapy after viewing them.
Within the first few phone conversations, we were already discussing all sorts of ideas. The first key decision was where the line between "ominous" and "terrifying" would be drawn, as that would be crucial to how the rest of the imagery would be shaped.
The thing about a collaborative process that makes it rewarding is that while you imagine a world in a particular way, you're able to create a whole new and unique world through another's vision of that same world. This would be the case throughout this project. I would approach Steve with a detailed explanation of what I wanted, and he would run that though his own mind's filter of the world and come back with some initial sketches. After a few back-and-forth tweaks on what we thought would look cool, the sketches would be cleared for finalization. The key to a successful collaboration, I believe, is to create not a photocopy of what's in one person's head, but a shared reflection of what both people see.
The overall look of this game has gone through several iterations. Things I was certain were precisely what I was looking to do would prove less than ideal, or even undesirable, upon further review and shared reflection.
My initial thought was to re-create the imagery in the style of graphic novels or comic books. I adored comic books when I was a kid and consumed them voraciously. (I don't mean to leave the impression that I have some Sheldon Cooper-esque recall of entire comic book universes and their full plot arcs. This is probably heresy to some, but I don't think I could honestly tell you many details about the Marvel vs DC universes, the dozens of characters contained within each, or the dozens more characters of independent comics.) For me, comic books were not a collection of rote trivia and arcane facts, but a consumable – a true-in-the-moment experience of a story told beautifully through art. And I loved the way a story could be so elegantly and simply told in a few panes of a comic strip, with action, movement, emotion, and narrative all conveyed in simple strokes of pencil and ink.
It was in that fashion that I wanted to create this game. I wanted the action in the game to evoke what I recalled from comic books. I knew how I wanted the characters to look, and I proceeded to have Steve draw those characters for me. As you can see from these pics, I tried to emulate the look of what I thought I remembered.
While I was initially pleased with this look, a new challenge quickly arose: the fact that I was NOT creating a comic book, I was creating a game. A game must have structure and repeatable processes to be followable by a player – or, as a fellow designer friend would further clarify for me, it must have an interface. A comic book is evolving and fluid, a game, out of necessity, is more structured and static. A comic book has the freedom to elaborate on its narrative and storytelling with more turns of a page. A game must deliver its core narrative and tell its story clearly in a few cards and pieces if its interface is to be effective.
It would be my beloved, and her staunch belief in simple and clean design elements, that would trigger the next evolution in look and design. While I rather enjoyed the bright and flashy "action" reminiscent of a comic book, she found it distracting and confusing. To her, there was too much focus on the action within the cards and not enough focus on the interface that told her what to do.
So back to the drawing board I went, trying to find a way to deliver that cleaner interface while retaining the intent of the game.
As the interface continued to evolve, different elements were added, removed, re-added, moved, and changed again to reach the perfect balance. This latest iteration reflects a wonderful collaboration of intent, projected through artistic vision and expressed in a clean and elegant interface. Of course, endless changes and modifications could be made, as evolution is never static. But together, Steve and I have achieved everything I wanted in this game and more.
In the next post, we’ll dig into the mechanics of the game and the progress of its own evolution. So stay tuned!