Brisbane Game of the Year
Released: October 2018
Studio: Starburnt Studios (University final year team)
Team size: 7
Genre: Adventure, RPG
Role(s): Lead Artist (Art Director), UX & Game Designer
Time spent on project: ~1 year
Game engine: Unity
Other tools used: Affinity Photo, Spine, Sourcetree
GCAP 2018 Student Showcase
QUT Student Capstone Showcase 2018
Netherworld Indie Dev Night (November 2018)
QUT Orientation Week Games Showcase (February 2019)
PC Game of the Year
During the pre-production phase, I developed an artistic direction which both myself and the Concept Artist/Animator would strive towards throughout the year. This process included creating mood and style boards, in addition to collecting further reference images for various aspects of the game.
The goal was to create a memorable world which stayed true to the Player Experience (PX) Goals of 'wonder' and 'whimsy'.
Throughout development, I considered the game's look and feel, providing periodic 'Look and Feel Notes' to the team. These notes gave suggestions for the combat, island traversal and user interface (UI).
As Lead Artist, my role consisted of both a management and asset creation side. For the management aspect of my role, I worked to:
Create and streamline the art production pipeline
Prioritise and assign weekly art and animation sprint tasks
Created and maintained an asset checklist
Ensure assets were correctly displayed in-game
The asset creation side consisted of:
Creating in-game assets for characters, ships, islands, buildings, and UI
Layering and exporting asset pieces for Animation
Creating marketing material suitable for multiple platforms
User Interface (UI)
I designed and created the game's UI. The goal was to convey information with minimal text and to be understood by players in a short amount of time:
Location-based action pop-ups to indicate a possible action and its keybinding
Combat tutorial panels with icons to represent keybindings
HUD displaying information such as player health, dash charge, and currency (Scrap) amount
In addition to Art and UI, I assisted with the design of the game. Many of my large contributions considered improving the look and feel of the game:
Merged the separate 'overworld' and 'combat' scenes into one for a greater feeling of adventure
Dynamic camera to capture combat action and increase the visibility of the world when flying at high speeds
Island traversal for increased exploration and allow for activities outside of flying and combat
Ability to go inside shop buildings to further make the player feel apart of the world
Our team created a pros/cons list for the two most promising game ideas we developed. Additionally, we brainstormed possible PX goals and systems which may be used.
I was tasked with developing a visual direction which follows the PX goals of 'wonder' and 'whimsy'. Wanting to stray away from steampunk, I considered how a civilisation (possibly beyond post-apocalyptic) living on floating islands might gather and use resources. This led to the initial idea of a 'junker' style, which mostly remained true for the buildings. However, I further experimented with Roman, Chinese and British ship styles, along with some unusual shapes.
Style & Animation Tests
After creating style and animation tests, I decided to go with the non-lined style as it felt 'lighter', something which I think fits a game set in the sky.
Sea-Themed Air Ships
Based on one sketch, the team was interested in the idea of having the ships inspired by sea creatures. The design at this point called for slow, medium and fast ships, so I gathered reference images and sorted them into these categories.
Mood board & Concept Art
To guide the game's art direction/look and feel I developed a mood board and created a concept piece. The aim was to convey a sea of clouds, vast sky and overall feeling of things being 'light'.
Art Pipeline Test
We used the house building to test the art pipeline, which started with some sketches. Keywords were used to guide their style: New world, reused, scrap, unstable.
After myself and the other artist discussed which aspects we liked, we further iterated on a design with concept art.
With more smaller changes, I created the in-game asset. I considered how it might be animated as to create appropriate layers.
Once the house was complete, I exported various pieces which might be reused later onto an asset sheet.
After the animation was finished, we decided to adjust the pipeline with the aims of increasing efficiency.
With the aims to have the prototype a few steps closer to the look and feel of the concept art, and potentially solve some user experience issues, I provided the team with various notes.
Major Design Change
As the design separated exploration and combat into different scenes, it created too large of a disconnect between the two. I worked with the Game Designer to solve this by merging the two aspects into one experience. Changes were made to the camera, combat controls, enemy behaviour, and user interface.
Weapons & First Ship Assets
Using the revised art pipeline, the other artist and I developed the heavy ship and four weapons with consideration of its functionality as per the design documents. Some reuse from the previous house asset helped to speed up the process.
Inventory, Upgrading & Purchasing
Following the design at the time, I developed UI for the player's inventory which could also allow for purchasing and upgrading. To avoid clutter, I utilised hidden panels and pop-ups, highlighting the relevant gun on the loadout if equipped.
To convey more information, I iterated by adding a currency ('Scrap') wallet, gun image, description, and stats. To demonstrate the UI of the upgrade process to the programming team, I created a storyboard with notes.
Gaining Currency Via Combat
As it wasn't clear when and how you gained currency through combat, I developed a storyboard to depict a possible solution of the 'Scrap' flying from the destroyed enemy to the HUD. This also helped to direct the player's attention to the fact this currency exists and where to find it on the HUD.
After finding the revised art pipeline worked well for us, we developed the assets needed for the home island. This included some style tests for trees and how forests would look if we had them.
Recolouring The Game
After the mock-up, I felt the colours of the assets were too dull for the feel of the game we were going for. As of such, I recoloured the assets to be more vibrant and rich.
Heads-Up Display (HUD)
With reference to a few similarly-styled games, I developed the heads-up display. This included a dash-charge meter, health and cloud strength bars, the currency wallet, and the tabbed map. A backing panel was added with the consider of white aspects of the HUD blending into the world's clouds.
Redesigning World Interaction
At this point, players were only able to control a ship and the guns onboard. The inventory/shop was only able to be accessed by being in close proximity to a shop island and pressing the interact key. Additionally, all ships were able to pass over each other and islands.
Having the aim of increasing the player's feeling of being apart of a world, I pushed for island traversal, being able to enter into buildings and collisions. This allowed for activities and exploration on the island themselves, visible characters, as well as the ability for ship ramming.
Pause Menu & Map
As we continued further into development, I created the pause menu and helped to iterate upon the existing map to include treasure maps, fog of war (uncharted areas), and removal of enemy locations being shown.
Adding a 'Physical' Character
Since we added a 'physical' player character, we need to develop a style for characters as well. Gathering reference images, I iterated on a style before we chose to change to a more 'squished' appearance to better fit the game's style.
Getting into the full swing of developing assets, we created treasure islands, reusable environment pieces, and shops.
Player Ships & Enemy Variation
Once it came time to create more ships, I went through various colour schemes, however, I decided to have the player's ships a shade of blue and the enemies black/grey with a red accent. The appearance of the enemy ships was changed from the player's as to be easily distinguished and quickly understood they're an enemy.
After finding that the 'inventory + shop' UI was too confusing to be understood. I solved this by iterated upon the existing design to include tabs separating the shop from the inventory, and furthermore the inventory to be divided guns, hulls, and clouds.
UI needed to be developed to facilitate the addition of character dialogue. This involved some iteration on how to display which character was talking and how the box would actually look.
The Puffer-Ship was particularly the most challenging asset to construct as it involved extra careful consideration on how it would be animated.
Following on from the style of the player character, I worked to the boss, the player's pet (Corgi), and three shopkeepers. Each following the personality as set by the team member in charge of the narrative.
Action Icon UI
To replace the placeholder text at the time stating 'Press E' plainly above an interactable object, I developed a key-prompt pop-up localised to the objects.
This pop-up bubble displays only when the player is close, as well as fades between an icon that represents the possible action and the interaction key.
Shop UI Creation
The way stats were displayed was changed to further avoid clutter. By hovering over the upgrade or equipped item, the player is presented with a stats pop-up. Additionally, as it was decided that guns, hulls, and clouds can only be purchased at the relevant shop (rather than at any), I set a goal to change the shop's appearance while keeping the same UI. This allowed players to quickly note which shop they were in if ever unsure.
As some playtesters had difficulty how to go about equipping an item, we solved this by a simple looping animation of a hand dragging and dropping an item to a loadout slot.
Before creating the tutorial UI, playtesters simply had text at the top-right corner of the screen explaining what to do. As expected, many didn't notice this.
I decided to make this UI more obvious to the player by having a fairly large box in the bottom-middle of the screen which clearly pops up from the bottom.
My goal for the instructions was to have a little text as possible, yet not be too vague. Images, highlighting specific keys, sandwiched between text made this task achievable.
Enemy Indicator UI
To warn the player of a threat the design called for a directional pop-up of a nearby enemy. The initial skull icon felt too much like it meant 'death' than a warning, so I created three tiers of warnings using the exclamation mark. Each tier indicates the strength of the enemy in relation to your ship and loadout strength.
Plans for Inside View of Buildings
As the team got closer towards the end of our development time and we were ahead of schedule for art assets, I sketched the insides of the buildings, including some environmental explanation of the story and characters.
Keeping true to the theme original set by the HUD, I created the additional menus needed.
Weapon Demonstration Videos
To explain the guns to players before they purchase them in a shop, I created a number of demonstration videos in a similar fashion to Overwatch's ability videos.
Rescoping the Building Inside Views
After creating most aspects of the buildings' inside view, we decided to reduce the size of what could be seen in an effort to rescope to the deadline. This meant reducing the inside view to one room per building and not being able to go inside treasure island buildings.