The artistic direction for a game level is incredibly important in consolidating everyone’s work. Art direction helps to set the style of the level and push the composition of each scene. Artistic vision should be the driving force behind atmospheric environments like what we are striving to create, and as everyone on our team is a game artist, we need to use our creativity and artistic skill to problem solve and make the level compelling.
We have had so many ideas for this project, that it has been a challenge to unite them all. We divided our level into 3 major sections; the reveal of the Abbey – where the player gets their first sense of what the level will be about, the exploration – how the player enters our Abbey, and the discovery – what the player actually finds inside the Abbey.
As our game is only very short, we want the player to understand the time, setting and genre right from the very beginning. We looked to gothic films for inspiration, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992), Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940) and Nosferatu (F. W. Murnau,1922) and books to help us imagine visual imagery, such as The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and of course Dracula by Bram Stoker.
The Gothic theme is a well loved and well known genre, it was fun to explore its truisms, and to think about how we can come up with something which both satisfied conventional gothic themes and also gave a fresh revival of it.
Here is a breakdown of our level and the art direction for each stage;
We know that Dracula arrives at Whitby after being shipwrecked off the coast of Yorkshire. He had travelled from Transylvania in a crate on board the Russian Schooner Demeter. Looking at maps, paintings and images of Whitby gave us some great ideas to set the ruined abbey on the edge of the weathered and wind-beaten cliff. We agreed that we needed the scene to be at night with a brooding , stormy sky, hints of the murky sea and evidence of howling winds – however we still wanted to keep our level bright and colourful to give the scene life and vibrancy. So we decided to frame our first view of the abbey with a crooked tree shaking in the wind and tumultuous clouds in a bright, ethereal sky encircling the silhouette of the abbey so that it stands out from its surroundings.
We want the player to feel isolated, tense and fearful as they are exploring the grounds of the abbey and the crypt. We needed evidence of supernatural activity and vampire paraphernalia scattered around this section of the level (a cloister area and the crypt) to help the player understand more about the situation we have put them in. Ravens, bats and cobwebs were high priority on our list of props that we wanted to use to set the scene and reinforce that gothic feeling. We wanted our use of this to be tasteful and realistic however, so a lot of concepts were made to help us work out how we could set the scene properly.
In the flooded crypt we added two of our most visually exciting events in the level; the statue – designed to alienate the player, heighten the sense of unease and create an interesting illusion, and the column collapse – our most difficult technical feat which allows the player to progress into the next stage.
Without giving away too much of our planned ending; we want our final chapter of the player’s journey to be climactic and frightening. At this critical point, tension needs to be at its highest, and we really want the player to be concerned about what will happen next. At this point, our colours are saturated and dramatic. The focal point is the altar at the back of what’s left of the abbey. We designed our abbey based on actual blueprints of existing Cathedrals like Ely and Whitby, to help us understand the monumental scale of these fantastic buildings.
To conclude; the artistic direction for our level has been about bringing to life an interactive experience of vampire folklore and gothic literature. We want to keep the level sinister, but not too dark and desaturated. We focused on careful colour use and composition to get each scene to look intriguing, driving the player forward. It has also largely been about keeping everyone in the group happy with artistic choices, and finding interesting and unexpected ways to get Cryengine to comply with our ambitions.