Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
arrowPress Releases
July 23, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Apotheon makes ancient art work in a modern game
October 29, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

October 29, 2012 | By Eric Caoili
Comments
    18 comments
More:



Apotheon looks nothing like the last game independent developer Alientrap put out, Capsized -- that title inhabited a verdant alien world, lush with detailed hand-drawn illustrations of the planet's exotic flora.

This newest project more resembles the rash of silhouetted sidescrollers that have popped up in recent years, like Limbo, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, and Outland. But Apotheon stands out from that style by adopting an aesthetic that's hardly been explored in games, the "Black Figure" paintings that adorn ancient Greek pottery.



It's a striking look the Canadian studio might have never settled on if the team stayed with the project's initial concept: a cyberpunk, sci-fi-themed open-world game with some mythological trappings.

Apotheon started as "space Greek mythology" before the studio dropped the "space" part and realized classical mythology alone is a great source for stories that translates well to video games, which the God of War series can attest to.

"The Black Figure pottery art style seemed like a no-brainer after that," Alientrap artist and co-designer Jesse McGibney tells Gamasutra. "It's simple to animate, bold and easy to read, transitions great into a 2D platformer perspective, and perfectly meshes with the narrative and theme. We were honestly surprised that hardly any games have used this style before."

When you think about it, there are plenty of ancient art styles that have yet to be explored in video games. "You could flip to a random page in any art history book and find a goldmine of inspiration to draw on -- Egyptian hieroglyphics, Medieval tapestry, prehistoric cave paintings, Native American carvings," says the artist. "Heck, I would love to see a 3D game using crazy multi-perspective cubist Picasso paintings."

The limitations of an ancient art style

"Pretty early on in concepting we realized that a totally literal adaptation of Black Figure art wouldn't work very well," McGibney admits. Most of the art in Black Figure paintings are character-centric, focusing heavily on the people and gods in the stories they're portraying, with little environmental representation beyond furniture or plants.

"Obviously, a big part of an open world game is the environments, so we had to expand the style to show buildings, caves, forests, and many other locations that are totally absent in the source material. We're trying to create a unified language through the use of patterns and geometric shapes that are common throughout all the elements," he explains.

Something else the team had to contend with is that the art on ancient Greek pottery tended to be very flat, with no backgrounds or overlapping elements, which doesn't make for visually exciting or readable environments in a video game.


The artist explains, "In order to make it work in the game world, things in the background are faded out and there are parallax layers further back. If we didn't do these things, the game world would be extremely sparse and boring. The background of Black Figure pottery is just... red."

Beyond black and red

Another problem with the art style is that Black Figure paintings typically have just two colors, black and red (though sometimes accompanied by white and darker red embellishments) -- a limited color palette that doesn't give video game artists much to work with.

To create more distinction between environments and their tone, Alientrap ended up introducing alternative palettes and lots of colored lighting to break up the monochrome. The default palette -- red, orange, and yellow -- for example, is used for outdoors and cities, communicating bright and warm environments. Apotheon's forested or wild areas use green, while cooler sections (e.g. underground areas) are presented in blue.

"Player communication is also very important, and it's really hard to do that with only one color," McGibney adds. "If all the characters were black, all the items were black, all the environmental elements were black, it would be very difficult to tell what was important and what wasn't.

"We added splashes of color to draw the player's eye and let them know what they're seeing at a glance. Enemies all have red in them, the player is green, health items are bright red, money is yellow, etc. The Black Figure style is a great starting point, but we're trying to be flexible with it where the gameplay experience is concerned."

Togas and animation

Animating an art style that's a couple of millenia old and was never intended for movement was actually pretty straightforward for Alientrap, considering. McGibney used a community-developed skeletal animation editor, and set up the game's characters and animals like paper puppets, with parts hinging on their joints.

He points out, "Most of the characters in the pottery are from a profile view, and occasionally straight on (no one had really figured out that whole perspective thing yet), so the movements are a pretty literal interpretation of the source material. Lots of guys running sideways on those pots."


But there were some challenges, the biggest of which was animating characters' clothing -- McGibney notes that many ancient Greeks loved wearing togas and long flowy capes, both potentially difficult to translate convincingly on an animated character.

"Some characters have big baggy 'skirts' built into their animation skeleton that can make convincing dresses or robes, but I still have to make a few design concessions when making new characters," he says. "Luckily, as much as they liked their togas, the Greeks seemed to like being butt-naked even more."


Related Jobs

Turbine Inc.
Turbine Inc. — Needham, Massachusetts, United States
[07.23.14]

Product Marketing Manager: Mobile Games
Xaviant
Xaviant — Cumming, Georgia, United States
[07.23.14]

Senior Quality Assurance Analyst
InnoGames GmbH
InnoGames GmbH — Hamburg, Germany
[07.23.14]

Quest Writer (m/f) for The West
InnoGames GmbH
InnoGames GmbH — Hamburg, Germany
[07.23.14]

Software Developer PHP (m/f)










Comments


Fernando Fernandes
profile image
It looks really cool and kind of reminds me of Patapon (not the gameplay, just the graphics). Also it looks original. :) Congrats!

Jonathan Rush
profile image
Fantastic!

Glenn McCord
profile image
"McGibney used a community-developed skeletal animation editor"

Does anyone know the name of this software? Thanks.

David Pare
profile image
I don't know if it's the one he used but if you are looking for a 2D skeletal animation editor you should take definitely a look at Spriter.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/539087245/spriter

Lee Vermeulen
profile image
We started before Sprinter was available, so we used this:
http://demina.codeplex.com/
then heavily modified it for our needs. Added physics integration (setting up bones / weight / joints), animation blending (have the torso do an attack while the legs keep running), and a lot of other small items

Remi Lavoie
profile image
"then heavily modified it for our needs"
Wouldn't it be great to have an out-of-the box solution for this? Seems like a lot of people have an interest in 2D skeletal animation, yet no complete solution exists. Lets hope Spriter will fill the void in this area.

Remi Lavoie
profile image
Wow, I just saw the latest update video from Spriter, looks like they added Bone Hierarchy, and IK.
Looks like fun :)

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Glenn McCord
profile image
Greek vase painting (to which this game's art style is inspired by) often depicted stories from Greek stories/mythology, so in a way, yes.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Argiris Bendilas
profile image
As a Greek and fellow developer, I would like to congratulate Alientrap for their unique graphics style, inspired by Ancient Greek art.

At Total Eclipse we've always wanted to make a game based on Greece's heritage, but we only wanted to do so in a way that would do justice to our legacy.

It seems like Apotheon has beat us to it! :o)

We wish you all the best!

Dean Boytor
profile image
As a fellow Greek and Dev as well I thought the concept is excellent and gives you that "Ooo! Why didnt I think of that!" but in a good way. Looks properly executed as well. In a lot of the design and dev at Ghost Lantern, draws inspiration from my heritage and Mythology from ancient Greece.

This game captures the essence of how ancient Greece is perceived through the art work we see today

καλή δουλειά Alientrap!

Carlo Delallana
profile image
What if someone did a mobile riff of the same visual concept but you actually played the game by rotating greek pottery on screen :)

Dean Boytor
profile image
@Carlo,
Kind of like Fez? that would be interesting.

Kale Menges
profile image
Saw the trailer for this the other day, I think it looks fantastic. Looking forward to the game.

Laura Stewart
profile image
Would be interesting to know what effect having a uniformly shorter weapon arm v. the arm with the shield has on gameplay, if it make combat shorter or extended?

Altug Isigan
profile image
It's beautiful.

Leigh Timper
profile image
Isn't it a little too close to what they did for almost all of Disney's Hercules?


none
 
Comment: