Art Styles and their uses in the games industry

Video game visuals have always been a big thing for me. Whilst I’ll gladly enjoy a game with poor graphics if the gameplay makes up for it, better graphics or a distinct art style really add to my enjoyment of a product. Whenever I am playing a Bethesda game, I will attempt to make the game look as good as possible using visual mods. I have a large fondness for games that use cell shading such as Okami, Wind waker, XIII, Jet set radio and Veiwtiful Joe.

A distinct art style can make a game far more memorable and when used in tandem with the games design can be a great tool for effecting player behaviour. A good example of this is horror games and their use of post processing to help identify both stressful and peaceful environments. By obscuring the players vision, when coupled with effective sound design, the player is at unease and is likely to be on guard. Whereas a clear environment with sufficient lighting or visibility allows a player to feel more at ease and proceed without having to worry overmuch. Using these techniques, a designer can properly lay out players stressful encounters to ensure the player does not become over stressed and fatigued.

Art styles can also be used to set the mood/tone for a game which not only helps initial impressions but allows for the game’s visual style and design to work closely together. Darkest Dungeon is a game that attempts to instil a sense of dread in its players through the use of a high difficulty level, multiple systems to manage and a high fatality chance and perma-death for every character. The game is supposed to feel oppressive and bleak and the art style has been created to match this. Using a comic book-like style with Gothic styled art and a strong use of lighting, the game’s Art style matches its theme and gameplay elements.

A game’s art style is vital to its sense of identity and is also an invaluable toolkit in a designer’s repertoire. It can be used to manipulate player behaviour, expectations and moods which if utilised correctly is a powerful tool.

This is an area of inquiry that interests me greatly. I have to wonder what kind of questions I would ask in relation to it as being interested in it is only half of the issue at hand. Still, if I was going to choose an area of research that would be likely to hold my interest, I have a good feeling about this one.

*Addendum*

Need to work on my writing on this blog. Whilst I am conveying the information I want to, it feels a little too formal for my personal thoughts on the matters I am covering.

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Indirect storytelling methods in the games industry

In recent years, I have found some of the most interesting stories on a smaller scale have come from “From software’s” Souls series (Including bloodborne). These games provide very little in the terms of cutscenes and conversations with NPC’s to tell the narrative. Instead the story is mostly told through Item descriptions and locations in the world.

One story that particularly stuck with me was in bloodborne where you meet a small child whom asks you to find their mother who has not returned in a long time. This is a world where every night, people form large mobs of “Hunters” to track down infected townspeople that turn into beasts. The player is given a small music box and the child tells the player that “It was father’s favourite and they would play it for him whenever he forgot the mother and child. Also my mother wears a large Red broach, you can’t miss it”. Later on in the game, you encounter a large hunter that turns hostile when you enter the area. If you use the music box in the middle of the fight, the boss will reel back in agony which can make the fight easier. Halfway through the fight the Hunter transforms into a beast and the player eventually kills it. Upon looking around, you find a woman’s corpse near the site which has a “Red broach” item on it. The player then has the choice of telling the child or not. If they do, the next time they return the child is not there. If the player then explores the sewers nearby, they find a large pig monster which if killed after this drops a “Child’s ribbon” Item. This suggests the child attempted to find the mother/father and was killed along the way, bringing the whole story to a sad end.

This story was an incredibly small part of the game, but due to leaving allot of it up to player investigation and deduction, it stuck with me on a much more personal level. By involving the player in the process, even if it is just obscuring the advancement conditions somewhat, I find the personal attachment to the narrative is increased exponentially. The world of From software’s games are always incredibly interesting as well. Each area tells its own story and has its own history that relates to the world at large. And it is never told to the player directly through dialogue or a short text piece. Instead the player has to collate their image of the area through a variety of small text descriptions in items relating to the area and small snippets of dialogue from the few NPC’s available.

This admittedly makes it harder for the average player to attach themselves to the lore and backstory of the games. However, I find the small amount of extra effort not only benefits those interested, but also removes a lot of the non gameplay time for players with a desire to focus more on the gameplay.

Whilst certainly not an approach that would suit many games, I believe this method of storytelling can leave a strong, lasting impression on the user and would be worth having in more titles than it currently has been.

This area interests me, but I have to question if this topic would cover two semesters worth of research. Its a fun idea, but I am not sure I will take it forward.

INITIAL AREAS OF RESEARCH

After giving it some thought over the last couple of days, I have come up with 3 main areas of inquiry I am going to be exploring over the coming weeks to see which one interests me the most. I am not locked to these ideas but I figure they are each an area of interest for me and could provide ample research material.

Some initial Ideas I have come up with are as follows:

  • Indirect storytelling methods in the games industry

    This kind of idea revolves around the minimalist storytelling in games such as Darksouls where the majority of the story is told throughout items and areas in the world rather than cutscenes and large amounts of dialogue. In my mind initially I felt it would create a game with minimal narrative and story focus initially. However, after playing a considerable amount of BloodBorne, the number of tales and interesting backstory that are available are huge if you are willing to invest a little time reading and closing the gaps yourself through deduction. This area interests me and could provide some interesting opportunity.

  • Art styles and their uses in the games industry

    Coming from, in part, an art background, I have a high level of interest in the artistic side of video games. From highly colourful adventures to sullen realistic drama’s, art styles in video games have a fantastic way of setting the mood and influencing player behaviour. Throughout the history of the games industry, despite technical limitations, there have always been a wide variety of different art styles and this would be something worth looking over and examining in comparison to the modern day uses. Speaking personally, I have always valued the gameplay area of gaming first and foremost, but graphics and art styles are a close second. A good game is made all the better by a strong art style

  • High skill investment gaming

    This idea seems more conceptual than the others, but interests me never the less. There are many games and game genres that can be enjoyed with minimal investment that become more complex and demanding the higher your skill level becomes. These games mainly take place in the Fighting and RTS genres and, when designed correctly, are both entertaining for an entry level user and sufficiently complex to allow for high levels of competition based on user time investment. The primary Issue I have with this genre is the entry level is still relatively high when player in a competitive nature. In fighting games, someone who have spent a certain amount of time in them in the past will be able to pick up a new game in the genre and dominate someone far newer to the genre. This is to be expected but can also mean a high level of frustration and can render the game unenjoyable.

    I speak about this from a personal level being someone who has invested a decent amount of time into fighting games and having trouble enjoying them with friends due to the skill gap. There has been a movement to introduce “Simplified” Control schemes that automatically do harder inputs for the players which is a step in the right direction as far as allowing a lower point of entry. But I have to wonder (And would like to research) if there are any other methods of allowing people with less time to invest a chance to play competitively. This could be a very fertile area of research if I chose to read more into it.

These areas are all interesting for me and over the coming weeks, I will spend some time looking into them before choosing one to take forward. Obviously if I come up with a new idea, Ill likely take that one forward instead if I prefer it.

Initial Thoughts

I am now entering my 3rd year at Abertay university and have been tasked with undertaking a research project of my choosing for the next 2 semesters. This blog will be a place to cover any research done on the topic of my choosing.

As far as I can tell, the requirements for this are very free-form and will allow me to select whatever kind of theme I want. This is good because I have many different interests as far as the gaming industry is concerned and being able to choose the one that interests me the most is exciting.

Coming from both a design and art background (Thanks to college courses in both art and design), Both areas are of high interest to me and I am hoping to base my research around one of them.

The next couple of posts on this blog should cover some of the various topics I could carry forward as potential research topics. I figure at this early stage of my course, giving a variety of ideas decent consideration will ensure that what I spend my time researching over the following months will stay relevant to my interests and allow me to produce sufficient work in relation to it.

That being said, there is a large margin for error at this early stage. If I get a month in and decide that a topic is not working out, it would be better to switch onto another idea than continue with a broken idea. With this in mind, I need to give a variety of ideas decent consideration to provide strong fallback options.

The games industry is growing fast and with new areas of interest entering the mainstream everyday such as Esports gaining relevancy and new ethical standards being argued, there is not shortage of topics that could be topical for the games industry of today. Likewise, looking backwards at our history might be a good way of seeing how we have created in the past and what lessons can be taken to the future.

With this project, I hope to discover, if not for others then at least for my own good, something new that will change how I view an aspect of the games industry.