Inspiration Inspiring Development (part 1)
My first foray into gaming was around the early 90’s when I was a young girl. With a console war going on, and with games only granted upon us for birthdays and for Xmas gifts, our selection was limited. (If you’re curious, my first console was a Sega Megadrive.) Internet access and information was limited, so we relied on magazines for tips and reviews. Cartridge swaps were frequent between classmates, hence an exposure to a larger library of games we normally couldn’t get a hold of. Screenshots and artwork seemed more precious, more analog in their creation, and now to modern eyes have a certain charm to them. Games and consoles had their own mysterious content within them, and seemed to appear and vanish quickly within that decade. It wasn’t until later when I got a Playstation that game prices gradually dropped, and my library grew to include more influences during my teen years that have since stuck around for longer.
But the ‘retro look’ is coming back, with many developers adapting 2D art and pixels for their games instead of 3D. It’s as if accessibility and the older 16-bit era playing styles have seemed to swap places. With the look comes the re-introduction of genres, playing styles and aesthetics that were considered abandoned with the onset of 3D games. Even modern engines such as Unity and Unreal offer 2D support, should one want to make a 16-bit game of their own.
Removing the nostalgia glasses for a moment, I want to talk about the elements from that older era that inspires my work in the present.
Design and Colour: since the technology and resolution was limited back then, it was important to use colours, layouts and simple, strong design elements for game characters and locations. When many games nowadays are criticised for using dull browns and ‘realism’ (or the infamous Must Have Blue and Orange in Sci-fi Games trope) in their appearance, it’s very important to keep simplicity and clarity in mind when designing the game world. Refining your concepts and levels before building the game saves a lot of headaches during production. Colour also affects the look of a game greatly, and subtly helps to tell a story, or reveal something about a character.
Character design: I’ve made a previous blog post about building up your skillset, but you need to apply some logic to your designs. Are they suited for the style/mood of the game? What angle will the player be looking at when they control their character (example: side view like in a 2D platformer, back view in a 3D platformer)? Are there too many elements on the character’s design that obstruct their silhouette, or too many arbitrary parts to animate? Again, thinking simple and within the context of your game will inspire and refine the design. My current projects at Nebula lean heavily on those points, as many of our games have been developed for smaller screens. I would design characters that would not only be recognizable from a distance, but also show clarity and presence in the game.
Layout: The same tips about character design apply here. Having a noisy, over detailed background will overwhelm the action and make the player feel lost, but having it sparse and empty will make the game feel bare. Having a path, or a couple of branching paths, that is clearly defined and introduces the gameplay mechanics almost all at once welcomes and prepares the player. It also helps to set the ‘rhythm’ and difficulty of a game level, setting down the puzzles and rewards upon exploring the world, but can also be treated as a sort of theatrical performance in 2D gaming, and also contributes to world building in 3D gaming.
Next time, I’ll talk about individual games that inspire my own processes. Hope this will give you food for thought!