Sunday, April 23, 2017

Purple-green colour schemes

One of my absolute favourite colour schemes to draw with, green and purple complement each other in a mysterious, otherworldly way. Green is a fairly common colour in nature, with purple being more of a feature colour, seen mostly in things like flowers. Seeing the way artists play with the combination, though, is always fascinating, and there are some great examples of this colour scheme.

Because purple feels somewhat opposite to the warm yellow light of the sun, it makes an excellent shadow colour, which suits scenes filled with lush, richly lit foliage, such as this scene from Quest for Glory 3. The purple shadows really help the greens to stand out. Especially interesting here is the leaves in the foreground - though they appear greenish, these are actually a mid blue - only appearing greenish because they're placed with such dark purples.

Another use of a purple among sunny green is as a nice feature colour to mix things up, as seen here. The leaves are nicely balanced, with the large patch in the top right corner evened out by the smaller patch on the left hand side, and a few smaller, individual details down in the bottom right corner. These work particularly well to break up the dominant greens, and add some wonderful variety and colour into the background.

In less sunny scenes, such as this one from King's Quest 5, the greens become less sunny and yellow, and shift to much bluer greens. The purplish blues seem to tinge everything, from shadowed sections of the path, to stones and foliage. This makes for an excellent gloomy feel, without losing the feeling of being in a forest that greenish hues bring.

Another approach is to have the sunniest greens in the background, with the nearer greens less bright, as shown in this scene from Shannara. Here the purples are just the merest hint of a rimlight on the left sides of the trees - it doesn't feel as dark and gloomy as the ominous King's Quest 5 example, but isn't as sunny and cheerful as the Quest for Glory 3 examples, either. A nice middle ground, suitable for a deep forest, without being too sinister in tone.

This scene from Gateway 2 still has a bright sky shining through the trees, but here it's a bluish purple. This light source means that the cool greens of the foreground leaves are well matched, in a very cohesive and beautiful colour scheme. The effect is still of a bright light, but less sunny and a little less friendly as well. Particularly interesting is that most of the darker colours are greens - an interesting subversion of the normal trend to make purples the darker colour in a scene.

This area from Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis does the opposite - instead of putting a bright, glaring purple in the distance, we get a rich, deep bluish colour, with a large, shadowy mountain jutting up above us, and the greens are relegated to the grassy areas. This is more a case of the materials informing the colours, but the lack of the yellowish greens in the grass, coupled with the very deep purple sky, give a feeling of a heavy, overcast day.

Sam & Max Hit the Road takes this to a fun extreme, here with a much more pink purple in the sky, and a very angular green feature in the foreground. This works for a VR simulation because the exaggerated colours make sense - It's easy to accept the massive, purple castle on the hill when it's delivered to us as part of a simulation. The greens and purples here make for a very nice complement, colours that might not work so well in a more realistic environment, but feel great here.

Fate of Atlantis also uses very warm purples in places - here the purples are being lit by lava, and so glow red in the planes where the light hits them the strongest, with bluer shades off into the distance. The green highlights really jump out here, and give the device an otherworldly look; the fact that this is an ancient machine running on mysterious energies is really represented well with the unnatural lighting from below and the presence of green lights - not a common feature in nature.

A third variant of this colour idea is evident in Fate of Atlantis, for yet another very different effect. Here the presence of stone walls is made more interesting by being lit by the eerie green lights, an interesting and mysterious change from the grey stone evident in earlier areas of the game. The purples in the shadows offset this nicely, and help some of the more interesting foreground details to stand out, while also making sure the mysterious feel of the lighting scheme is carried through into the shadowed areas.

For this eerie interior in King's Quest 5, a sickly green light does the same thing to an even greater degree, as offset once more by vivid purple shadows. Like the previous scene, the lighting feels unnatural and mysterious, and conveys an ominous atmosphere to the scene. The presence of blue sky through the windows is largely ignored as a light source, helping the green to shine unchallenged.

This shot from The Dig shows another striking example of green and purple used in an interior, but here roles are reversed, with the highlights shown in vivid purple, the shadows in dark, rich greens, and just a hint of warmer green highlights coming through the distant tunnel sections. This is a very unusual lighting arrangement - there's really very few circumstances in nature, or even in modern cities, where this precise colour scheme can be observed, and as such it looks very alien to us - a perfect colour scheme to use for when exploring an alien ruin as we are here.

Green light light can also look very alien when shown to be very vivid. This bizarre green glow coming from the rocky cavern in The Dig is mysterious and unusual, and the purple rocks, offset by very rich blue and purple features, make this entire scene very unusual. I feel this scene is slightly unbalanced - the strong green really has no other greens to offset it - but perhaps an awkward lack of balance in an alien world is something that could be considered a feature, rather than a flaw.

Here we have a shot from Space Quest 5 that shows us very bright green lights, surrounded with metallic greens and purples. The purple ceiling feels cold and metallic - a common look for science fiction corridors, and the green lights help to liven up the scene and break up the large metallic areas. This adds colour, without ruining the feeling of a technological environment, and also helps to balance the warm, green exit to the left of the scene.

This is another great example, with the purple metal corridors broken up again - this time by much more organic, alien greens. The effect is very different, without losing the dynamic of being in a science fiction setting, and the much darker, less saturated greens suit the organic forms much better than the bright, electronic greens of the previous scene.

One final, rather iconic shot here, showing a green chron-o-john hurling through the vortices of time. What sort of backdrop colour complements a green shape, and also best represents the idea of a mysterious channel through time? Dark purple, of course.

Green and purple, then, is an excellent combination, useful for many different situations - especially for magical, or otherworldly applications. Whether describing organic forms, the idea of future technology, or a combination of both, it's a powerful blend of two hues that has a range of applications. It's a very useful colour scheme, and in the right situation, can give a game's scenery a great sense of atmosphere and tone.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The 's-curve' in composition

An extremely common element in composition is what artists and photographers often refer to as the 'S-curve'. This is where elements of a scene form a sinuous, winding path through the shot, often going back into the distance, but not always so. An excellent example is the above location from King's Quest V, in which we see a staircase leading up in a winding path to a throne. There's a few reasons this looks so good - the curving s shape is much more natural than a straight set of stairs, it balances the element so it exists either side of the centre line of the background as it travels up, and it adds a sense of distance, making the steps feel further away, because the path is longer - the shortest line between two points is always a straight line, and by curving this line, the path is made longer. This makes for a much grander set of stairs.

A great example of this is this path off into the distance in Quest for Glory 4. Here the path winds many times, making the journey seem long, and also making the path feel precarious. Aside from distance, it also makes the path more visually interesting - a straight path isn't very exciting to look at, and doesn't feel very 'designed'. This feels more elaborate and stylish; it's an interesting feature by itself, despite the fact that it's just a pathway.

Even when we can't see the entire shape, the s-curve is useful, such as in this scene from Shannara. Here we can see just a single curve on the path, but the presence of the manor doorway in the distance suggests to us that the path winds back to the left (even though the door clearly opens onto grass). The detail of the fountain here provides a natural obstacle for the path to curve around, and acts as a nice layer for it to wind behind.

The power of suggestion is evident, again, in this scene from Full Throttle, where the foreground path isn't defined clearly as a curve, but has markers that sit on it to form one. This acts as a natural continuation of the curve that leads back into the distance, and completes the s shape nicely, while also breaking up the elements so that we're not just looking at a single road.

This Discworld 2 shot has an interesting idea, in which the path veers all the way from the centre of the composition until its right edge is cropped by the edge of the viewing area, and then comes back into frame. The foreground barrel also feels like a slight continuation of this curve - it cuts in right on the sweep towards us, and then takes it back to the edge again.

The Dig has a particularly interesting version here, because it's an example of an s curved path that traverses the screen laterally, rather than back into the distance. Here, as with the other examples, it lends a great sense of a dynamic design, as well as a natural feeling. This means that the full height of the scene is used for playability, rather than just one small section, as is common with pathways that run across the scene in adventure games, and makes for a much more interesting scene.

The curving, natural paths we've seen can also be shown to wind around a column as shown in this scene in Dune. Again, this adds depth, interest, variety and an interesting sense of balance to the scene, despite just being a background element. Stairs like this are particularly nice because we get to see both the lit and shadowed side of a pathway, adding in some wonderful value contrast to the element - a common thing to see in adventure game art.

Even more rigid shapes can benefit from this sort of approach - the stairs to the ground in this Beneath a Steel Sky background aren't curved, but still make an angular shape that veers right, then left, similar to the curves we've been looking at. The effect is similar, without ruining the angular, technological feel of the background.

This scene from King's Quest V shows another approach, in which our curved path is balanced by the opposite curve of the tree above it, a nice complement to the shape beneath. When broken down into simple shapes, this curve is no different to the others - it's a dynamic s shape that balances nicely in the composition and adds a beautiful flow to the scene. It means that the scene isn't just a straightforward composition - it'd be simple enough to have a straight tree above a straight path, but this feels both more natural and more varied.

This scene from Sam & Max Hit the Road shows another interesting approach, where the shape of the curved path is continued by the curve of the fence beyond it. In thumbnail the two flow into each other, creating one big s curve that runs through the whole composition. The fact that they share a colour scheme probably helps this - they connect to each other quite naturally.

It's not just pathways that can wind off into the distance, either. This shot from Quest for Glory 4 shows a similar approach with the water and the land - the land juts out in curving sections that forms a nice, winding s curve as it goes off into the distance. Again, this adds a feeling of balance, of interest and of a natural environment. Water doesn't form straight edges often - it follows undulations in the land, as it does here. This is both more realistic and more beautiful.

This Space Quest 5 background is another great use of the s-curve, with various different winding forms in the scene all working together to make a wonderfully alien landscape. Particularly nice is how the curve on the left frames the curving shape in the centre, leaving enough space for us to see it clearly, before then ducking back behind it at the top. This is a cool example of different curves working in unison, complementing each other and accenting each other's forms.

Even the slightest s-curve add to a scene, such as the one in this Simon the Sorcerer 2 scene. It's just the mildest curve down as we follow the shape of the chimney, but it feels much more interesting than a straight drop down would, and gives a greater sense of depth. The black framing helps to accentuate the shape, too, showing us the curve that goes directly from one side of the centre line of the background to the other as it descends.

Even when there's no direct s-curve, the arrangement of elements can 'lead' a path through a scene in an s shape. This scene from Willy Beamish shows this - the closest element is the clock tower in the very far left, which then leads to the grouped mass of buildings to the right of the scene's centre line, which points to a fountain back to the left of the centre. The next prominent object is another grouped mass, back closer towards the centre, and then a lone, but clear, building back to the far right. Even though there's no actual path drawn between these elements, their placements mean they form an s-curved composition going back into the distance.

It's very common to see the s-curve in compositions of all types, and adventure game background art is no exception. It's a powerful device that can assist the artist in adding depth, variety and interest to their scenery. Whether shown by an actual pathway, or just the suggestion of a curving line through placement of elements, they're a fantastic tool to have in one's composition toolbox, and can really help to liven up or balance a scene.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Interesting ways to frame scenery

Framing interests me in adventure game art, especially when outside the actual piece of art itself, and separate elements treated as a frame, as it's not something I've done a lot of. It's fascinating to see what other artists have experimented with. Some games frame their scenery with large interfaces, such as Waxworks, shown above. Here we can see a large amount of interface that naturally frames the shot - with elements like the inventory down the bottom, various options to the right, and movement controls to the left. One particular detail I like is the character shown in the top left corner, showing the person whose story we're experiencing at this point in the game.


This character graphic changes depending on which story we're experiencing, as can be seen here, and helps insert some of the character into an otherwise fairly generic interface. It was common to show a static icon or portrait of your character in games where the view is a long way away, or when we see from their eyes. Along with the decorations, such as the columns and stone relief details, they help to give the interface a nice feeling of style.

Dreamweb has the character portrait even bigger - our protagonist's constant presence takes up a pretty large section of the screen, and it juts out in an unusual silhouette. The actual framing of the scene, however, is mostly done by having the actual walls visible, and surrounding the rest with a vaguely metallic patterned texture. This acts as multiple levels of framing - the walls of the scene, then the backdrop of the texture surrounding, which is then framed by the GUI and portrait. This mostly works because of the very zoomed out view, and would probably be less useful for a more traditional sort of view.

Even the simplest of elements can help an interface that's framing a shot to feel more dynamic. The Dune GUI, shown here, breaks the otherwise straight frame with a sculpted figure whose silhouette breaks out of the frame and into the scene, an interesting and artistic alternative to the very common rectangular GUIs we're used to seeing. The fact that the figure's head looks up and down depending on our action helps this to feel more dynamic still, and helps the GUI and game from feeling so separate from each other. It might be a small connection, a minor intrusion beyond the boundary of the scene, but sometimes it's the little touches that count.

Loom, however, does the opposite. Here we can see the tip of Bishop Mandible's dark cathedral jutting out past the point where the letterbox frame - a very common way to frame an image - has its boundary. It's the smallest of touches, repeated often in the game, but it feels like a nice subversion of the image's frame - allowing this one particular element to jut out past the border of the scene feels like it's adding depth and interest to the scene.

Sometimes this can be taken to the extreme - as shown here in Laura Bow 2. Rather than painting the ceiling in, an unimportant part of the image, the artists clearly chose to leave it blank, making the pterodactyl stand out very clearly. It's an odd way to present scenery, and perhaps not the best, but it is certainly an interesting approach to adding an artificial framing element in, rather than painting something that would be unimportant anyway.

It feels a little more natural in Codename: ICEMAN, where the shape of the submarine we're in frames the shot, as well as some foreground elements. Here, rather than showing what's outside the scene we're in, they merely suggest the shapes of certain things, and deem the rest unimportant to show. This has the interesting effect of lending an interesting shape to the scene, redolent of submarines, and supports the art more nicely than the previous example.

This can be taken to an even more interesting, evocative idea - such as in this cave in King's Quest 4. The sinister nature of the cave is conveyed wonderfully by shaping the black frame of it like a skull, well supported by the niches in place of eye sockets. I love that the artists decided to make the shape of a skull here - it's bold, inventive, and doesn't get in the way of actually playing the scene. A great way to have fun with the shot and add some creativity.

Another option, other than using pure black, is to use a difference in saturation to guide our attention. This shot from Gold Rush shows the artists greying out the unimportant elements, using the coloured areas to guide our attention to where we need to look. This is an interesting idea - it means that the framing elements get a lot of detail that help show the world, without taking away from the important parts we need to focus on.

This shot from Future Wars shows a variation on this idea - here we see a cutaway of one scene, as framed by elements of another part of the scene. The small palette of the game makes this framing very effective - it's easy to see where one part of the scene ends and the other begins - because our framing is still being done in pure black. An effective way to outline one part of a scene, while keeping it connected to another part of the scene.

A really fun example of this idea is shown in this scene from Goblins Quest 3, where we can see one character looking in on another scene, and his presence acting as part of the framing of the shot. This is a really fun example - it not only shows two things at once, but does so in a fun way. I particularly like how the hands break the frame of the crystal ball, which breaks the silhouette of his face.

One particularly impressive - and bizarre - example is in the B.A.T. games, where we see multiple parts of the city at once. Within the frame that our mouse is focused on, we can interact and pan the scenery, while still being able to see wider shots of the city at the same time. This makes overall composition very difficult, as our eyes have many elements to be distracted by, but it definitely lends a unique feeling to the games, and presents us with an interesting alternative. The fact that each micro composition within a panel manages to be readable, stylish and evocative is very impressive, and really shows the power of strong compositions even around the thumbnail level.

Perhaps the most bizarre and impractical use of interesting framing is in Fascination, where scenery is often shown as cutout elements seen in the silhouettes of various things that were somehow deemed relevant to the location - the shapes of books, cars, even the silhouettes of people, as seen here. This is such an odd approach, and rarely practical (would you believe that this is an actual playable scene from the game, with actual hotspots we have to click on?) but no doubt the artists had fun playing around with the idea.

Framing, then, presents many interesting avenues in which an artist can experiment. They're not always practical or useful, but for certain moments, or certain projects, framing a scene in an interesting way can add a lot to scenery. This is definitely outside of my realm of experience as an artist, but very much something I've admired and been interested in, and maybe there will come a time where I'll find an interesting use for such an idea. Until then, I'll simply keep an eye out for examples like these, and collecting as many interesting variations on the idea as I can.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A look at graphics: lighting the way

I followed up my debut article on Adventure Gamers with a look at the practical applications of light in background art. This is very much a utilitarian, functional examination, but no less important - whether it's reminding of something we already know as artists, or filling artists in on something they may not have yet considered when planning a scene, these are the sorts of things that are definitely worth keeping in mind to help your players "read" and understand scenery.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Maps in adventure games

Travel is a very common element in adventure games - in fact, the name of the genre itself implies that some travel will take place. \'Adventure' brings to mind visions of heading to distant lands, seeking fortune, fame, or the resolution to some mystery. Unfurling a torn, tattered old map - such as the one shown above from King's Quest 6 - makes us interested in the distant new places we can see, and want to explore them.

This isn't necessarily a limitation, of course - adventure games can successfully take place in a very small area. In times when they don't, though, we rely on maps to travel around. The map pictured above from Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis shows the classic cinematic approach to showing a large amount of distance covered in a very short span of time - a line that tracks progress between destinations over a map. This is very useful when we're simply interested in our destinations, with little care for the voyages in between.

Of course, sometimes the journey is part of our adventure, as is the case in Gold Rush! Here the map is overlayed with closer depictions of smaller maps, showing more specific part of the historical journey, as well as small thumbnails depicting certain landmarks along the voyage. This attention to detail really helps Gold Rush's story feel grounded - we're passing known landmarks while plotting our course along this map, and this makes it feel more like a historical account. The fidelity here is pretty low, of course, but it's a decent way to convey the idea.

A similar idea is shown in this map from Conquests of Camelot. We plot our hero's journey across the sea, with little moments of narrative telling us what's happening without much visual information to convey it. This is a more zoomed out, abstract map, which has much less detail than the Gold Rush approach, but here the focus is placed on visibility - it's much easier to follow the course of the trail here, even without needing to see it in motion. We don't necessarily need to see each section of the journey closer along the way if that's a minor part of the story, as it is here, which is just a simple cut scene between sections of the game.

When Conquests of Camelot requires us to choose a destination ourselves, the view is zoomed in, but the level of detail hasn't been increased to show much landscape beyond the coastline and the river Thames in further detail and our various potential destinations. The focus here is on visual clarity rather than any sense of detail, a simple, practical approach. The inclusion of the label marking the area and date is a nice touch that reminds us more clearly of our setting, and also fills up a large area of otherwise unused space.

When our destinations are more limited, as in this map from The Case of the Serrated Scalpel, the artists are now much more free to put in more detail. Here we see the river Thames again, but now we can see the greenery on the banks of the river, the various bridges, streets, buildings, parks, and even detail to the level of the individual trees. We're also looking at enough of an angle to see a little bit of perspective, making the features feel more deep and solid. This approach requires the map to scroll, due to the much closer level of zoom, but makes the individual map markers stand out by making them colourful icons, a nice visual symbol that explains and reminds very quickly what each place holds for us.

Gabriel Knight's map further abstracts the map markers from the map itself by merely showing the presence of city streets and blocks on the map itself. Here the markers themselves represent the only real details, but the nature of the map, as well as the slight variations in colour in blocks, suggests to us a real city with buildings and streets. This cements the idea that we're not necessarily looking to the map for a view of the city - it's merely a convenient way to travel large distances between two locations that interest us in a short span of time.

Sam & Max Hit the Road shows an even greater level of abstraction - here we get a zoomed out view of the United States of America with very few details - it's recognisable, but barely more detailed than the maps in Conquests of Camelot. Here our colourful icons stand out well, once again, showing us specific highlights of each area. At this level of abstraction, we're basically looking at an inventory of locations, merely given character by the colourful art. A particularly nice touch here is the suggestion of being on the surface of a globe because of the curving lines of longitude and latitude shown. The header at the top of the map also helps to establish the feel of a colourful, friendly tourist map, which really helps reinforce the road trip feeling of the game.

Simon the Sorcerer is an interesting example - we're still seeing icons here, but the art itself feels less like that of an actual map, compass directions notwithstanding. This almost feels more like an artist's sketch from a panorama of the entire area, which isn't how we're used to seeing maps presented, but still conveys the information well. It also gives an interesting sense of how the land changes, because here details like mountains and a forest seem more like drawn elements than zones or regions. I particularly like the way it's been drawn to look and feel like a crumpled old map that we've had folded up in our pockets - a very suitable look, considering the adventures Simon goes through.

It's interesting to see this sort of change when comparing the city of Ankh Morpork between the first and second Discworld games. We see here the first game's approach, a view from directly above, that shows the layout of the city very clearly, but only hints at the nature of the buildings we need to visit very vaguely. It's a great way to show geography, but doesn't really sell the feeling of the city very strongly.

In Discworld 2 we're much closer to the action, and here we can see the buildings, the streets, and even fairly small details. This feels much less like a map than the way it's shown in the first game, but plays a very similar role, while giving a much more interesting, dynamic view of the city. It also gives the artists a change to play with colour - this feels like an interesting, moody panorama more than it feels like a simple, practical map, and is no less functional.

Beavis and Butt-head in Virtual Stupidity has a similar approach - the shot here feels like we're looking over the town from a hilltop, more than staring at the town's layout on a piece of paper. This feels more like a transitional shot between areas than it does a map, almost - a quick look at the entire town from afar, so we can easily pick our destination, then zooming straight in on that place once we select it.

Full Throttle's long shot of Melonweed is a wonderful example of this - a moody, atmospheric landscape that shows the town, and shares the same wonderful night palette. This means we're barely taken out of the atmosphere of the game - the mood is consistent between each location and the map screen. Full Throttle's map works particularly well due to the interesting, unique shape of each of the buildings we need to visit in the town - they stand out as being iconic without the need for special icons or brighter colours - here it's mostly just variations in value, and then the interesting and iconic silhouettes of each structure do the rest of the work.

Flight of the Amazon Queen takes this a step further by not only presenting us with a panorama that we can pan to the left and right, but also shows the character himself atop a stone peak, looking out with us. A really unique and interesting example, here we don't even lose our connection with the character when choosing our next location. This is taking the idea of a "map" to its most personal form - it feels like the character is picking his destination.

The Secret of Monkey Island puts the characters into the map too - in a very different way. The map of Melee Island is initially just that - an overhead map showing the geography, with the locations cleverly lit up to show us clearly where we need to go. At the end of the game, however, the map becomes the backdrop to animated shots, where LeChuck punches Guybrush across the island, and then flies after him. A fun way to re-use a map for comedic effect, and a rather unique use for this kind of shot.

One last fun, interesting and unique approach is this cutaway diagram of the ship from Leisure Suit Larry 7. Because of the complex, layered nature of the ship, trying to show a map of it could pose quite a challenge. The artists here solved that challenge very neatly by producing the sort of cutaway diagram common in depictions of ships. A very sensible and functional way of representing a very complex set of overlapping locations.

Maps, then, can come in many shapes and forms. While the term itself brings to mind a very specific kind of image, artists have played around with them to make them more interesting, more atmospheric, and even more practical, without changing their original purpose. There's no real limit on how you can present a series of locations to the player, as long as the functionality is kept intact, and seeing how different people have approached the challenge of doing shows a great range of successful ideas that achieve a range of useful effects which suit a wide variety of purposes.