Art style as a Design device

The majority of cues in video gaming come from either audio or visual elements in the environment. Many games simply use UI prompts to direct player movement and behaviour which is straightforward and ensures clarity of requirements for the player to progress. Other games use less UI and instead rely on more subtle cues using the games art style as a tool for player direction. This carries risks but if done correctly and effectively can more naturally guide a player and improve the user experience vastly.

As previously mentioned, a prime example of this in action is “Journey” for the PS3/PS4. Through the use of subtle visual cues such as lighting emphasis placement, colour shifts and the use of empty space (With a daisy chain of objects in the visible distance leading in the correct direction), the player never feels lost despite no UI and vast open spaces more often than not. The game also uses a less subtle method of player direction within the art style in the form of a large environmental object with a lighting focus (The mountain in the distance).

Other games have also managed this kind of direction well. “Shadow of the colossus” provides a large open world and tasks the player with tracking down and slaying several giant beings. The hero has a sword that when raised points a large beam of light toward the location of the next colossus in line. This provides the player clear direction but also fits the game as part of the art style, with no UI prompts that feel exterior to the game’s world. When fighting the Colossuses, the player has to climb each one and find glowing icons that are weak spots to attack. These areas are not immediately obvious when climbing (Although they are visible from the ground in most cases) but once again the player can point their sword in the air and it will lead them towards the weak spots. The game uses very minimal UI elements which vastly strengthens the games visual appeal.

If designed correctly, Art style can be a powerful design tool that can guide a player naturally through an experience and also give them a chance to feel as if their advancement is natural and free flowing, regardless of the amount of railroading on the designers part.

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