Art style vs Story - Achieving a dark fantasy mood

Story is really important especially in an adventure game and we want to make sure we respect it with the right art style.

As we progress in building our charming village in the Island of Chelonii we started to feel more and more that although the Island looked gorgeous somehow it didn't feel right.

The Island of Chelonii is definitely in a tropical setting, in the Eastern part of the world of Khalandrie, but despite looking beautiful when we played the game it just didn't feel like that dark fantasy vibe we wanted. It didn't feel post-apocalyptic.

We had a good revamp of the models themselves to make them feel less flat and more man made but it wasn't still quite there.

Here are a good examples of the current setup in the Wharf of Chelonii:

Wharf Tropical Sun
Wharf Docks
Dialog with Aenor

Story centric design

After playing around with the models, lighting, colours and effects for quite a while we finally found what we were looking for, all we had to do was listen to the story.

When I think about the story of the Seven Tides, I think dark fantasy, I think sci-fi, I think mystery. 

This story is set in a world that went through a massive cataclysm and the human race is a broken civilization, struggling to survive in a world where land is scarce since it's mostly submerged in water with the exception of little islands. When I started thinking about what that means, it means man made structures, it means dirty ragged clothing and often a natural environment that has suffered some consequences (sun, ocean, land changed by man's destruction).

Ambient Color

With all this in mind we rolled up our sleeves and started experimenting.

As I wanted to have some reference, I started looking at pictures of movies I liked that sort of corresponded to the 'brief' I mentioned above.

Then, I ran some color detection scanners on those pictures to get some colour tones to use as a base for my experiments. I noticed that a lot of those dark tone pictures had one thing in common, a sort of greenish blue tone. So I grabbed some of those colours and set that as our ambient colour. Immediately the game got a darker feel but now felt a bit inconsistent.

Wharf docks blue ambient

The Sun

We had some torrid tropical sun going on in our game, which looked really nice but that sort of detracted from that 'dark tone' we were looking for. So I took the sun colour we had and started decreasing the value in the HSV model. We're getting there!

Wharf docks dark sun

The Skybox

Cool, dark tones and colours with a bright blue sky? Probably not. Because my art skills aren't fantastic (Perry will eventually draw a nice skybox) I just opted for a flat colour for now. Not great but easy to make consistent with the rest. What about a light grey sky? Getting darker.

Whard grey skybox

Effects

The game definitely was getting darker and much more inline with the story but something was missing. Just something to give it that extra spice. When I tried some fog to give a little mystery to the art things just clicked. I used exponential squared fog to really get that effect where you feel there is a thick area surrounding the assets.

I also tweaked the bloom settings to compensate a bit for that lack of colour and pushing the lights a bit more to the front.

The final touch was from Mark who suggested to 'turn on the lights'. By having soft lamp lights in the streets gave it that sort of eerie light.

Putting it all together

After all these tweaks, this is how our Wharf looks like. There are still things to tweak of course (such as that flat grey skybox) but this is really the direction that fits our story which means more flexibility in things like building dialogs, sound design and music.

Misty Wharf Docks
Dialog with Aenor (Misty)
Searching for clues in the docks

I hope everyone likes the new direction but you have any suggestions or comments let us know below!

Stay tuned for more updates!