Accompanying this article, is our third Dev Diary video about the Art of Journey For Elysium in which the artists and game designer have their say:
The Art of Making Art
When we started development on Journey For Elysium, we chose a semi-realistic art style; on one hand VR is very immersive and we needed to adhere to realism so players could momentarily forget they were in a video game. But on the other hand, we also wanted to implement a unique style that would stand out.
We were fascinated by the illustrations of Dante’s Inferno by Gustave Doré. We figured his black and white etchings with high contrast lighting would be a very good fit for the game’s universe, so we decided to make it our main source of inspiration. Our initial try-outs exceeded the team’s expectations; it gave the Underworld the otherworldly feel we were looking for. Thus, the idea of making Journey For Elysium a black and white game came to be.
Although, we soon felt like something was missing. We started thinking of an element to add that would stand out from the black and white graphics, which is why we introduced the golden highlights into the game. It contrasts well with the lack of colour and would be useful to indicate the key objects for the player to interact with. We needed a reason beyond just adding a colour. Thus the idea was born to use these golden accents only on objects that would guide the players through the adventure.
One interesting challenge for us was that we wanted every level to have a unique theme. Most games would do this through the colours: a water temple would use a lot of blue, a forest temple would have mostly green hues and so on. In our black and white world, it would be up to the environment artists to still give each level a distinct atmosphere. Whether that is through lighting, the presence of fog or by introducing visual elements that really stand out, like towering statues.
Having set up the general environment of Journey For Elysium, our next step was to fill this world.
Making The World Come Alive
Journey for Elysium is set in the ancient mythological underworld, inspired by Ancient culture. More specifically, we wanted the game to be set in the Etruscan era, which precedes the Greek and Roman cultures most of us remember from our history lessons. Not a lot is known about it, which works in our benefit because it gave us a lot of creative freedom.
To design the world of Journey For Elysium, we went and looked at the architecture, both for those giant constructs but also for the smaller hovels. We wanted to reproduce what it felt like to be alive (or rather, dead) in those ancient times.
Whenever we get to working on a new asset, we first research what those should look like. The references from Ancient times is so rich, it gives a very enjoyable playground where to pick very beautiful pieces of art or craft. When the myths and legends of old are involved, we turn to encyclopedias and other useful sources. When it comes to designing props, like a helmet, we look at images and illustrations from that era in search of inspiration. Starting from these references, we give birth to new creations that will fit into the game.
We wanted to create a VR game that would really immerse people into its world. The tall temples and statues found in that era seemed like a perfect fit. Furthermore, scale is something VR can handle better than any other medium, but it makes developing the game trickier than a non-VR game.
You can’t lie in VR : as players are directly in contact with the universe, they can measure objects and buildings with their own size. Items not properly scaled could easily feel off-putting. Especially for our project where we are still aiming for realism (even if you are in the Underworld).
This means we constantly need to check our work to make sure it feels right. You could say “yeah, so does any other game development studio”, but in the case of a VR game, the process is more complex : as soon as we finish a draft, we update the new build, we put on the VR headset, jump into the game, try it out, make some small edits and start the whole routine again. Sometimes, the difference between two iterations might be just a few pixels, but the result is uncanny.
The Art of Suggestion
Even if we’ll delve more into the story that unfolds in Journey For Elysium in our next chapter, we’d like to mention the character design choices we made in this article.
At some points of Journey For Elysium, players unlock memories that will reveal the past of the character they control. These memories are modelled by clusters of lights put together in the shape of a human or an animal, but without being very determined.
This is made in such a way that players would understand it represents a living being even though they are not made of blood and flesh, nor with clothes, face, fur or details. The goal was to come up with a simple and general process that could be applied for any memory without having to design every single one of them. It was a real challenge to convey emotion through these, but in the end, we felt happy with what we achieved: their posture and body language in conjunction with the narration suffice to identify them.
In the end, we even realised that this method of telling the story worked better than if the characters were depicted in a more realistic way. Less detailed human models do not necessarily take away from the experience, on the contrary: one benefit of this approach is that people can easily project what a character should look like unto these shapes.
The Final Touch
Our creative process started with the story, that’s the backbone of every single decision we made. When we needed to start working on art for Journey For Elysium, we went over the story again and again for creative ideas to spawn. Locations, characters, items to interact with, the visual design of puzzles and how they would implement naturally into the world we’re creating.
These new ideas are sometimes as simple as a sketch on a napkin but other times an artist will make a more detailed rendering so the team can give feedback. In some instances, we even turn to our community and ask them for feedback. Like we did a few months ago to help us define the design of a key in the game:
Our team is full of generalists who can pretty much handle any task. But each person has their own strengths, be it character design, environment art, lighting and atmosphere. We always keep talking to each other, making prototypes to playtest and keep iterating on our work. The budget needs to be taken into account at all times though, not every single idea can be implemented. The scope and remaining time need to be considered as we need to release the game one day after all. It’s a process of elimination and it’s sometimes necessary to put certain elements on the chopping block.
Luckily we can often rework assets for other scenes. We will typically create item sets; a few variations of wooden planks and beams for example which can then be re-used to create scaffolds, ladders and other objects.
We hope the world we created for Journey For Elysium will enthrall you. We can only show some images and screenshots of the game for now. But once you put on a VR headset and plunge into the Underworld, you will experience a completely different level of immersion. Wait until you’re in front of the giant gate and you’ll see what we are talking about!
If you want to experience the art of Journey For Elysium for yourselves, we will be showcasing the game at Gamescom next week on the consumer showfloor. Come find us at the Mantis Games booth (Hall 10.1, stand F40).
We’ll be back next month with the last episode of our Dev Diary. This final chapter will explore the Story in Journey For Elysium.
Thank you again for accompanying us on this journey, fellow travellers!