Thursday, 25 August 2011

Make Over

So, if you're up for playing our little game of 'find the essence', I'd advise you to scroll down to the previous post first, ensuring that you pay no heed to the illustration in this post. Then meet back here when you've had a thought or two.

One advantage I have over my art team is that I get the instant hit. Sal will call me over and I'll wheel across to her desk, my heart fluttering with anticipation, and I'll arrive at her side as a player: I get an instant response, and that response is paramount in making decisions. Similarly, I wheeled over to Ben recently and my immediate response was something like 'Wow: that's a powerful scene. I'm getting the storm clouds preparing for battle behind a mighty stone cathedral and a derelict bridge languishing in the shade of blossoming trees; I'm getting the river and the graveyard of steam boats. I get the sense of destruction and unholy power - and the sense of change, as the beauty and tranquility of the town is falling away to reveal something much more sinister.'
However, I also found two elements which didn't work so well: the first distracted, the second was weak. Ben's composition was so overwhelming that he had created a regular vertical two-thirds of the way across the painting, and as a part of my instant hit, I found the sense that the piece was a kind of cut-and-shut of two distinct paintings. To remedy this, I recommended that Ben bled some of the golds across to the river and into the steam boats.
Secondly, his lamps were not achieving their potential. We had created an opportunity for orange street lamps (of a Victorian gas lamp style) set against the impending storm, and Ben had not quite made the most of the bright oranges - rather, he had stifled the glow beneath his adored repoussé metalwork. Two simple fixes upon a magnificent hit.

We all face this problem - the problem of become involved in the work and losing the perspective of a fresh-faced outsider. My solution is to take regular breaks, or to leave a work for a short time, and then to return with a slightly fresher perspective. But there's no substitute for having trusted eyes on your side.

So to Sal.
Which sounds like a great name for a character! So-to Sal. So Tosal. So To-Sal. Sot Osal. Soto Sal. Hmm. I like.
The narrative elements bombarded my bones like emotive X-rays, and lit up a panoply of responses...

I didn't really get enough of the sense of the Puritans' evil. Also, I wanted to feel more that Brites had been overpowered - that many burly men had swarmed about her and had actually relished the idea of harming her. To this end, we had already suggested this prepared intent by introducing the dual-functioning step ladder: on the one hand, it served as a functional means of crucifying her (and we acted this out to experience the problems of crucifixion); on the other hand, it demonstrated that the Puritans had come prepared, which is to say that this was part of a plan that had been brewing for a while.
As you'll know, I'm extremely fond of using devices that serve more than one function! Maximum impact from minimum work!
I knew we needed at least one more Puritan in there. I also wanted to up the evil ante. Imagine there's a crucifixion going on. You'd be horrified right? You'd probably be glued to the execution - at least momentarily.
I wanted this extra Puritan to have his back turned on the execution. Consider the effects of this. Perhaps this is his seventh crucifixion of the day and he's now bored of them. Pehaps he cares so little for the woman that he bears no interest. (Also, in body language terms, the act of turning one's back on another is the ultimate rejection and a powerful narrative tool!)
I then faced a new problem: What if the player invents an alternative, inappropriate reason for this action? Perhaps she will read the disinterest as revulsion? Perhaps she will invent a narrative (and this happens constantly and unfalteringly and we have to retain control throughout) whereby this extra character is so upset that he has turned away to vomit?
I read through the text again, looking for something with which I could regain control of the narrative, looking for some means of demonstrating evil.
We talked recently about motives and about humiliation. I found Brites' flowers and saw an opportunity to create an unnecessary action in this foreground Puritan: he tips her flowers from her basket. Also, by bringing him into the foreground, we were able to get something more from his expression, knocking a few of his teeth out and going for something of a leer.
To close the scene off a little more - to hone the sense of claustrophobia - I asked Sal to paint in some foliage across the top. We also looked at Brites' clothing and decided on a more authentic peasant dress with longer skirt and bodice; and then - and here's more duality - to return her bare legs to the scene, which were necessary for the crucifixion pose, we tore away a section of dress, which creates all manner of wonderful additional connotations. And lastly, I had Sal add a scabbard and sword to the torch bearer.
And all of these reactions, considerations, and resolutions occurred within me in under two minutes. And that's something that never ceases to amaze me about the writer's wily brain!

Sal is still learning about clarity - about simplicity and cleanliness. Consider all of my requests, and then decide how clearly these narrative features percolate from the illustration. (In particular, I had Sal use almost iconic flowers to keep the player from reading those small gangs of pixels as teeth or buns or anything other than flowers.) Do you get the torn skirt? Do you get the gappy grin and malevolence in the foreground Puritan? Is the sense of claustrophobia pervasive enough?

There we have another skill required by the art director: When do I let stuff through? How much of my bosses' real, actual money do I allocate to, say, a clearer flower? Or even a stronger narrative? Should I have let the previous illustration through? Or, for the sake of fifteen minutes work, are the effects worth the cost?

As a rule of thumb, anything within the first hour of gameplay needs to be as near perfect as we can achieve, as this constitutes the trial period, and is where the player decides whether to purchase the full game or not.
Also, anything that functions to drive forward the story and, hence, anticipation, context, and a powerful climax, needs to be as clear as an invisible crystal.
However, provided that the milestones are met, we face the miasmic question:
When is a heap not a heap?

No comments: