02 - Researching the art style

Deciding upon the art style of the game is one of the most important parts of game development process. The art style will communicate a lot about the feel and gameplay to your potential audience and many polls suggest that it is the most important first impression.

In some cases, this decision can be made after the initial prototyping stages, or it can be as simple as “I want it to look exactly as that game!” 

In case of The Operand, however, I wanted to take on the more experimental route and try (..and fail, many times) to prototype something unique.

Taking the road less paved

Thanks to the modern game engines , there is really not much standing in your way when it comes to creative expression through visuals. In fact, the amount of possibilities can quickly become overwhelming. This is the best time for setting some basic boundaries yourself. 

For me it was these principles:

  • Sharp contrast
  • Printed graphics feel
  • Mid-century inspired art style
  • Blocky, low-poly shapes

The next step after this was of course making a folder full of visual references that, in some way, resemble these principles. Here is what I found:

Overall I've found more than 200 images full of interesting visual ideas and was ready to narrow the visuals even more:

  • Stylized lighting with sharp shadows
  • No gradients
  • No unnecessary details

And then, combining these findings with the game theme and goals from the previous blog post, I could add these more specific requirements:

  1. The visuals should capture a certain eiere, melancholic feel, which is consistent with the game’s subject matter. 
  2. Since the game narrative takes place in the past (roughly 50s - 80s), there should be some kind of retro element to it, but not too obvious
  3. Visuals should reflect the fact that it takes place inside the main protagonists head as his fleeting memories that appear and disappear - shapes are not concrete, or, sometimes even recognizable, scenes morph into each other and there is no clear boundary between memory and imagination.

With these rules set in, I can finally start experimenting with visuals on my own.

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