Art style is often considered one of the most important aspects of a gameplay experience. Done well, it tells a story all by itself, and evokes the mood that immerses you into the character and the environment. Since the announcement of Star Wars: The Old Republic, there has been a great deal of interest regarding the game’s visual style. We’d like to share some more behind-the-scenes information with you and show how our Art Team came to develop what we have come to call “stylized realism”.
The overarching goal of the art for Star Wars: The Old Republic is to bring concept art paintings to life in 3D. This goal has led the artists to forego the use of photographs for surface textures in favor of hand-painting every asset. The concept art also drove the game art to match its heroic and idealized proportions of the characters and environments. Part of remaining true to the classic big screen vision of Star Wars™ is not only to look like it, but also to ensure that the art feels like it on the small screen. There is a fine line to follow in being true to the realistic expectations that we inherit from the movies while making style choices that will play well on the computer screen. This distillation of the Star Wars vision through a painters eye and a fan’s heart forms the core of the visual direction of the game. The stylized realism approach has many advantages. For instance, Star Wars: The Old Republic will have a unique and instantly recognizable appearance which will continue to look great as it ages. Being on the bleeding edge graphically is a lot of fun for artists, but as that edge moves forward, games that were once living at that frontier of graphics tend to look dated as technology improves. We want to achieve visuals that look great at the lower-end computers, knowing that if they look great there, they will look great on all machines, both now and in the future.
One of the visual style choices made for Star Wars: The Old Republic is a modeling technique we refer to as the “crease”. The crease can be described as the lines you would make when drawing a character in ink. Each line creates and defines the shape of a surface and is often seen in modern industrial design. It helps define surfaces and works very well with the in-game lighting.
Color is a critical component in stylized realism for evoking mood in an environment. The Art Team conducts a color study for each planet to determine its mood and compares it to other planets so that each newly visited planet has a unique feel. This applies to character design as well. The Jedi tend to have a softer, more colorful palette, while Sith gravitate towards darker colors with higher contrast. These colors are great in evoking Light Side and Dark Side affinity in the Star Wars universe.
When it comes to designing characters, the entire team has placed a heavy emphasis on the bigger picture of costuming as part of both the Star Wars and MMORPG experience. The Art Team has a large board of wearable designs, customized to both level and class, for comparing every new costume to all the others. From Design to Art, everyone involved in creating the game agrees on the importance of characters looking and feeling like their respective classes. A character should look like the role that they play. Keeping an eye on the bigger picture also allows us to better understand the importance of advancement for characters. Sophisticated Robes, intimidating armor, and other impressive signature items will be earned at higher level. If you see someone with the signature Jedi robe or Sith Lord cape, you know they have earned it.
Making robes and capes in real-time 3D is one of the most challenging technical aspects of character creation, but an important one! You can’t really have Jedi without the iconic robe or Sith Lords without a cape, can you? Armor also has a very important place in the Star Wars universe, of course, so we have definitely done some work on that as well. More garments, including armor, will be shown on the website as character classes are announced.
From mountains, to temples, to the smallest gadgets, much research and thought has been put in to the details to give each environment its own personality and to create a living, breathing world. Art Director, Jeff Dobson says, “The Art Team spends a lot of effort thinking through the right choices on the little things because we know that they will add up to a greater whole. You might never notice them, but you will feel it when you get that sense of immersion in Star Wars: The Old Republic.”