Tuesday, December 4, 2012

MIGS 2012 : Directing Visual Design in Games

It's been a while since I did a post of any sort due to GDW deadlines and what not. Now that it's finally over I can fill in some blogs I wanted to do a while back. First off I mentioned during my MIGs experience that I wanted to talk about one of the talks, which was the Art Direction for Rage.

It went over the following note points for the development of RAGE over the course of the hour long talk

  • Assessing the Visual state of the game
  • Assesing the limitations of technology
  • Priorities and Targets
  • Wishlist

First off the Director of Art for RAGE Stephan Martieniere talked about how he first joined the project. He spoke of how he had to adapt and make use of assets that were already in existence when he came in. By that time the RAGE development team had a lot of landscape already and a good skybox. However Stephan Martieniere had to take what already existed and not only improve it, but to find ways to fully implement it and work with the gameplay of RAGE. I will go over some of the notable points he talked about that really help show how important visual design is to the overall feel, look and even the gameplay of the game.


The first thing he improved was the skybox of the world. It is an essential look to the asthetic design of the game as he explained. Why is that? Well the skybox in a world like RAGE, where you can see it whenever you're out exploring the world makes it a very important asset to get right. You will be seeing it time and time again and it has to compliment the scenery and not be an eyesore. It needs to be pretty to look at and draw you into the beauty or ugliness of the world. Its more important than you would think at first glance.

Breaking the World

When he spoke of this he meant breaking the world that already existed. As I mentioned earlier he came into the project a bit late, when some assets were already in place. In this case the landscape of an entire world was already in place. What the team had to do was take this existing land and punch new areas that could be filled with content. But it wasn't just a simple, open up a new place and hope it works out. They had to actually plan out how the world would work. The places that would now be created needed to be logical to the geology of the world and needed to be located in a place relative to how it would reflect in the lore of the world. Breaking up this new places took a land that was already defined and made it seem even larger than it already was.

Avoiding Containment

When he spoke of containment he spoke of the presence of the high valleys and cliffs that cluttered the world of RAGE. He specifically got into how the large valleys would serve as a way to make the players feel more constricted and feel like they are in a smaller world. In that sense it meant making far away landscapes and more of the skybox visible. It allowed for a sense of change and direction as there was more to see in the distance. You could see landmarks or cities and have a good idea where to go. It would present itself to gameplay as well for the exploration and discovery of the world since you have more to see.

Establishing Narrative logic and Visual Coherence

Next he spoke about what I have mentioned a few times earlier in this blog and that the environment is about the characters as much as it about the story. The Environment needs to be a fleshed out world, a place that characters inhabit and therefore leads to the story. The gameplay needs to take into effect the characters and monsters you might face in the world, the cities they live in and how they might behave. Incorporating all of this together is visual coherence. For example you would put a character in a an environment that suits them, that they belong in. 

A high tech city gave way to bandits with high tech looking weapons and armor. This affected their visual asthetic for sure. This also affected gameplay as well as it might give access to new equipment as well. The characters would be designed to match and compliment the palette to the city so that they would not only fit but be visually pleasing as well.

He also briefly spoke about ways to enrich the story in subtle ways. Billboards in cities, signs, logos, landmarks were all used in RAGE's cities. Each of these tell their own story, some lore in the game that would help flesh out the world. You would see some billboards advertising products that fit in the world of RAGE, movie posters that would show what kind of movies they watched before the apocalypse, etc. These would help flesh out the world and make it it's own and though we might not always pay attention to these extra tidbits, they really do help make the world feel believable and engrossing.

Extra Tidbits

I can't really put the rest of what he said into one larger catagory but I'd still like to talk about them.

One thing he mentioned was that the design of the environemnt was all about the information that would be revealed to the players. This has an obvious gameplay aspect to it as it helps show and guide players where they might need to go, what to do, or just engrossing the player in the world itself. Environments should be composed in a manner not to overwhelm the player but to provide enough information and give them a good idea where to go and still have the beauty of the environment. Again this is visual coherencing and mixing game design with the art design.

Another neat thing he mentioned  was that when making environments he stated that it helped create the NPCs that inhabited them. Like was mentioned earlier, the NPCs are supposed to be able to inhabit the location they are at, or at least the world. Making a specific kind of environment lead to how inhabitants might dress, what kind of equipment they might possess and how they might act. This again leads to their AI, new weapons, new story and a lot more game design elements.


Stephan Martiniere had thought he had an hour and a half but only had an hour so he didn't have time to speak about everything he wanted to. Nevertheless I learned a lot and it helped reinforce in my mind that game design and art design really shouldn't be seperate at all. For higher level games they should be fully integrated together if a believable world is to be created. Even if the art design leads to level design, the gameplay needs to take place in those areas which leads to influencing how gameplay is. The large overworld of RAGE meant there would be a lot of driving and exploring which was an entirely new gameplay feature different than simple shooting.

It makes me want to discuss more about the visual design of the environments if I wish to make a fully fleshed out world for a game someday. This honestly sounds like the key to making a great environment to fit a great game.

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