16 Mar Enemy Art: A New Direction
Recently we lost two team members. Our character artists and our art director. We managed to hire a new art lead, Hugues Giboire who was an art director on Heavenly Sword, ten years ago now. After an arduous search, I’m also pleased to say that we also have a new character artist joining us in the first week of April.
As we only had one character artist on the Hellblade team, we have been without a character artist for several months now. I asked Hugues to help fill the gap as best he could and help set a new direction for the characters.
As the game is set in a hellish underworld, the original idea was to create an undead army of Vikings. Over time, I’ve felt less and less enamored with the idea of a zombie army. Call it zombie fatigue, if you like, but I felt that we could and should take it in a more original direction.
When exploring horror, I see two camps: the external horror as exemplified by Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead, or the Orcs in LOTR; or a more disturbing internal horror as exemplified by Silent Hill, The Grudge, Jacob’s Ladder. For story reasons, I was more interested in the latter but felt like we hadn’t quite found the right angle.
There are a few key influences that I had in mind. As the Vikings were pagan, they had a complex belief system that included animal-shapeshifting. The Wicker Man was a movie that had elements of this that I found appealing. Now, I don’t mean the slapstick-comedy version with Nicolas Cage but the weird and influential original with Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward
Another British horror movie that I drew influence from was Hellraiser which had a strong body-modification theme, something the Vikings were also known for:
In terms of sheer creepiness, Lucio Fulci’s zombies were ahead of their time. They simply looked filthy and muddy, barely an ounce of humanity visible on their faces. I felt that the Vikings should feel inhuman to Senua.
I was looking for something to tie these ideas together: paganism, animal shapeshifting, body modification and Vikings.
Hugues came in with fresh eyes and ideas and he told me about an amazing artist called Olivier de Sagazan who somehow crystalised what we were missing.
We went back to the drawing board and Alex Taini, our studio art director, worked up a new concept:
I loved this concept: in it, several ideas came together in a clear and simple manner – always sign of good design. With this concept in hand, Hugues modelled and textured an in-game character of astounding detail and clarity in only about 3 weeks.
I am very happy we have shifted our enemy design ideas and this should give our new character artist a new direction to run with when he joins. You could argue that we should have decided the direction for enemies sooner in development. In the real world, that doesn’t always work.
In typical project management, the concept phase at the start of the project is the box within which creativity happens. Then it is put into a GDD (Game Design Document) and the rest of the project is built to spec. Creativity beyond this point is considered disruptive.
However, if you restrict creativity to a concept phase at the start of a project, then you are unlikely to move beyond the obvious tropes: zombies, space marines, and orcs.
In my experience, creativity is a process of discovery and experimentation, endless research and constant dead ends. Originality comes from connecting diverse and chaotic ideas into one idea and that process can take many months if not years to set. Sometimes it happens at the start, sometimes in the middle, sometimes near the end of development. But when it happens, it takes on a life of its own and demands to come to life.
Until next time!