One of our goals for the game was to have an incredibly low minimum spec so that we could reach a very broad audience.
One of the results of that decision was to do everything without shaders; we didn't want a small subset of our users to be seeing the game as intended and the majority of users getting something else.
When we opted to go totally fixed-function, we began exploring a more "artistic" take on texture styles, to not just differentiate our look, but also to try and keep things visually interesting in a hand-painted sort of way. We worked primarily with diffuse maps with spec and self-illumination options.
This choice also contributed to our straightforward art pipeline and allowed us to create a tremendous amount of assets and in a relatively short amount of time.
We had enjoyed the softer environmental tests we had done early on, which had a very painterly appearance, and we also thought a crisp, "comic book coloring" approach that we attempted on early character prototypes was worth pursuing further.
We liked the theory of classic animation: backgrounds which were soft and painterly, combined with moving elements with crisp outlines, a simplified structure, and clean, layered gradients for coloring.
Crisp and clean character textures versus loose, painterly, faux-watercolor environmental textures. This combination helps lift our characters and gear from the backgrounds.
I had desired to take this approach with textures for some time, but Torchlight was the first project where it felt like a good match. It was primarily a matter of hitting that look and finding a workflow that maintained consistency.
There was an adjustment period for both our internal artists and our outsourced team of artists to become comfortable in this style. But, once everyone had the style down, it proved to be a relatively fast method of texture painting -- which, admittedly, was a factor in pushing our team to attempt it.
This "burrower" highlights our texture style and shows our desire to take familiar things and present them in a different and interesting way.
The number one question we get asked regarding our art style is "why did you decide to go this route instead of something more realistic, dark, and gritty?" The answer is pretty simple but there are a few considerations.
The simple answer is that we're making a fun adventure game, not a bleak, gore-filled, depressing one. We want to present an inviting world that is fun and thrilling and create sections that are more grim and sinister in contrast to that. If the entire world is bleak and grim, it starts feeling samey and the impact lessens over time. We want to present interesting areas, creatures, characters, and storylines that support a fun adventure world first, and sprinkle in tonal changes in a more calculated manner for dramatic effect.
We want to create the single player game to set the tone and help establish the world. Torchlight is intended to be an inviting world for people to hang out in and explore. As we shift into the MMO, the tone can shift; dark elements can be introduced without suffocating players. Variety is the spice of life, as they say.
A sample of our whimsical designs. Remember, "fantasy" is the antonym of "reality".
Secondly, going realistic, dark, and gritty is fine for many projects. But because of that, there is no shortage of these types of games; the team here enjoys many of them. As a new studio with the opportunity to create our own IP, though, we wanted to stand apart and define our own look -- one that the entire team has a real, genuine interest in.
As a group, gritty realism isn't our thing. We're a whimsical, quirky, and playfully twisted bunch whose natural tendencies in art reflect that. We'll leave the gritty realism to the teams with a passion for creating that look.
The challenge for us has been finding the perfect balance that is inviting to new players, but not off-putting to fans of the ARPG genre. It's a tough line to straddle, at times, and some may argue that you cannot please both.
This may be true, but with Mythos we found that we got very close to that blend. We had hardcore players and absolute newcomers all enjoying what we were building. Our team learned from that experience by building upon our experiences, addressing our shortcomings, and adding in new ideas so that Torchlight would surpass it; we hope that it will do so in every measurable way.