After that series of divergent concepts, it was time to bang out some useable assets and see how they'd work in the game. Jonathan had already written an engine for building level maps from irregular chunks of any size.
He asked me to take a concept like the ones I'd already done, and break it down into pieces that could be copied and pasted to create the first world. (The first world the player encounters, for reasons initially unexplained, is World 2.)
Behind-the-scenes features sometimes create a false impression of ease and inevitability, like those glib "evolution" pictures showing a fish stepping out of the ocean, becoming a chimp, homo erectus, and then Groucho Marx.
Of course it only looks easy if you ignore all the species that died out over millennia of natural selection. For every image you see here, assume a half dozen variations that would have diluted this article but were nonetheless important.
And certainly some stages of a process go more smoothly than others. Looking at this overwhelmingly green concept, it's safe to assume I was not happy during its creation. The rock walls struggle from one approach to the next, looking like amphibious skin in one place and shattered glass in another. It was time to settle on something, but was what I'd come up with good enough? I kept searching.
This search led me back to the favorite from that earlier batch of concepts:
I adapted that pea green and chalky blue to a more detailed, physical approach. The grass looks soft and grassy, the rocks rocky. The background is partially abstract but incorporates white line drawings of houses and a cathedral.
I felt some relief; it was looking better. But Jonathan said the mood wasn't right for World 2. The colors were pretty but unnatural, slightly toxic. World 2 is the optimistic start of the adventure. It gently introduces the fundamental player actions, like jumping and climbing.
Most importantly, the featured time behavior is "rewind," the ability to take back a mistake and try again without penalty. It's a very forgiving world. The art had to add to that sense of forgiveness and positivity.
That lead to these more "normal" colors: brown rocks and a blue sky. The problem with this concept is the intrusiveness of the background. I was trying to create more "visual interest" by adding an arch in the background, and showing the field on the left rising above the foreground, as though it were receding three-dimensionally.
But as Jonathan explained, and as I appreciated more and more over the course of the project, there was no point adding visual interest in a way that was contrary to the gameplay. The things to reinforce were those things true to the gameplay.
For example, when the player comes to the edge of the cliff, with the ladder leading down, what matters is the cliff and the ladder. In this concept, the background extends the cliff further right. This interferes with the immediate perception of the cliff the way it really is.
Likewise, the bright yellow of the tree is very attention-grabbing, although it has no gameplay purpose.
Meanwhile, I was still trying to find the right look for the rocks and grass. You can see different approaches being tested in different parts of these pictures. Gradually I settled on something and started breaking these concepts down into pieces. These pieces would be imported into the game and arranged, copied and pasted using Jonathan's development tools. I'll explain that in more detail in the future.