Yesterday, we talked about the process of how Spartacus was designed for gameplay. Today, Art Director Simon Loche walks us through how the Art team comes up with the look and feel of the warrior. You’re up, Simon!
Usually we start with a general idea or description, we call it a one-pager in the studio. It’s a quick description of the archetype we’d like in the game. Let’s say we want a new melee warrior to balance out the roster because maybe there’s too many support warriors, too many tanks and so forth. The concept team will then start to work off of the one-pager.
The one-pager kicks off a dialog between the concept team, and design team, the animation team, to make sure the warrior is going in the right direction. It’s a conversation between the teams to make sure we have the right visuals, good animation that is doable, technically, and that the warrior serves the purpose of gameplay design goals.
The one-pager starts with a discussion between Creative Director, the lead producer and myself. When we are really sure about the warrior, our writer starts to shape the story of the character, while creating connections with characters already in the game.
There’s a section in the one-pager called keywords. This is where we define the immediate reads of the warrior. For Spartacus, one of the keywords was mobility. You can see it in his lack of armor, his Ramp buildable. Our goal was that, when a player looks at Spartacus in the game, they instantly know how he’s going to play.
Another keyword was courage, and in a literal sense, it’s difficult to visualize what courage looks like. It became a metaphoric process, and the lion is defined as the king of all animals. We thought the lion was a great ode to the gladiator. That’s why you see the lion motif throughout Spartacus’ armor.
We wanted to have to those very classic reads: the shoulder armor, the dual swords. He’s not that guy that’s trying to protect himself, he’s more of a show off. The original one-pager described that he was the most famous gladiator in the arena, the Emperor gave him freedom but he refused it. He still yearns to fight in the arena. He thrives off of the roar of the crowd. With every victory, he wants the audience to recognize his valor.
My main concern at the very beginning of the process is a shape concern. Breakaway is very fast paced, and the warriors are not huge on screen. You need to recognize a tank is a tank. Anne Bonny has a bigger than life weapon, because you need to immediately recognize she is a shooter. Art design starts with the shape first.
We really believe in shapes more than details. If the shape and structure of the warrior works, then the rest of the details follow. First of all, gameplay is paramount, so players need to quickly identify the strong shape of the warriors. Details are great, but they shouldn’t be a high-frequency disturbance in the art of the warrior. You can see the details on the warrior select screens, you’ll see chips in the armor, surface and texture detail, but it’s something that’s not going to be a visual annoyance while you’re playing the game.
Then there is what we call the 50/50 percent take. We want to be close to the archetype, let’s say we want to work on Anne Bonny, she needs to look like a pirate, but then we take a 50 percent creative take. Since Breakaway warriors are drafted from myth and legend, we don’t want the character to be so far away from what players could think a warrior should look like, but we can still take creative liberties.
Even during the production process, decisions aren’t set in stone. What happened to be our choices in the concept phases might be seen differently once we get the character in the game. We first wanted Spartacus without a helmet, because we thought he would want to show his face to the world. We thought it was a good representation of his personality. He’s not ashamed of himself. But it didn’t translate well in game.
There was a big debate about this: was his helmet hiding his personality, was it a part of it? My opinion is that a mask can enhance a personality. I’m a big fan of Batman, for example. You don’t have to see his face to understand the motifs of the character. Superheroes are great examples of this. You recognize the readability of the mask, and we thought that worked for Spartacus as well. One of the reasons why we thought it was important for him to have this Spartan helmet is that it represents where he came from. He’s not a Roman. He’s a gladiator. He’s a warrior. And while he does battle in the arena, his Spartan helmet reaffirms the reads we wanted to establish.