My team is hired by Canadian developer, Play Puddle to make map art for the ongoing Match 3 game, Pastry Party. And I work as the creative director for the map design.
As you can see, the story is a girl’s adventure in a world of pastries and candies. Everything on map should be represented as delicious food.
We need 20 zones of map for initial release, after that we need 6 new zones added each month. The task is challenging, for we need to make so many zones, the themes shouldn’t be repetitive, each zone should be rich in contents, interesting in looking, adventurous, and most importantly, should be able to grab female hearts.
My job as the creative director is simple, I’m sleuth for interesting looking things, then put them together to make the theme of map zones. I put basic ideas and some reference pictures in a document, and pass it to the art team, then they do the actual design.
Although I don’t actually draw the sketches, I find that what I do influences the final art very much. If I think a lot and make a strong document, the map would look very rich and well composed; And vice versa -if I make a loose document. Here I’d like to share a few points of how I do the job.
For our game, the level nodes are of fixed size, relatively large in mobile games. This gives good user’s experience to mobile users:
And as you can see, the width of the path takes away a good portion of the screen, there are not too much space left for putting things in. So it’s important to work out at first that what works and what doesn’t.
Look into these two games, they have vast space for interesting combination of giant castles, monumental buildings, mountains and forests. This doesn’t work for our game, for we simply don’t have that much room.
There are so many zones, we need a lot of ideas of what theme to use, what items to put in. When I read books, see movies, talk to people, I pay attention to every point that could be developed into a theme, and instantly record it in notebook(on ipad of course). I beg everyone for ideas.
Looking into the casual games we play, world famous sites and fairytale themes are used too much in maps. So I want something different.
I’m specially fond of small items, cups, teapots, clocks, toys. I find that their makers are very creative people, that they come in all sorts of shapes. For example, I’ve conceived a map of “Clock world”, below are the references I find(in fact the actual reference pictures are much more than these) and the finished art:
I avoid to use world famous sites. For example these are not good, they appear in maps too much.
And besides these, the world is still full of exotic places. I try to dig out less well known sites, yet with strong visual impact:
And some artists’ work are so sensational in shapes and colors, it’s great to populate the map with their immortal works. For example I like Gaudi’s architectures very much, this zone is inspired by his Park Güell in Barcelona.
I have in mind to use Vincent Van Gogh’s works to make a zone, you will see it in game soon!
And pay attention to trendy things. This zone is inspired by Mine Craft.
For our map format, you are essentially populating two sides of the road by things of various sizes. One important thing is to make the terrain interesting and different from zone to zone. I look into many games, they simply put different things on invariable flat ground, that would be very dull.
For example, when I have in mind to make a zone of rooftop garden. I do a lot research of the spacing. I even do a mock-up in 3D:
And I think a lot of colors. It’s proven that what I think about in this stage influences the final looking very much. For example I have in mind “World of shoes” , I gather a lot of reference pictures for colors.
And I try to find lots of items of interesting shapes. For example when I have in mind “Roly-Poly toy world”, I gather pictures of this type of toy from all the cultures.
And when passing the reference pictures to the team, I mark on them, that which are copyrighted design, for example Mr Potato and Barbie; And which pictures are of general or cultural design. Those ones with copyright we couldn’t use directly.
In hunting down ideas, I look into a lot of things, these are the few among them:
Here is a sample document I give the art team, which is the basic description of a zone.