Yellow Monkey celebrated 5 years last night and we had a nice little bash with close friends. We had taken the opportunity to announce our upcoming game HUEBRIX, a game we have been working on for the past 16 months. This morning I woke up to find a flurry of activity contemplating if HUEBRIX is a visual rehash of Puzzlejuice. I just thought I needed to put up our side of the story.
I started off the morning reading Greg Wohlwend’s blog post about Visual Systems. I enjoy his work and have nothing but respect for him and his work. We played and enjoyed Puzzlejuice and we think is a shining example of an amazing game on all grounds.
I want to now talk a bit our the Art style for HUEBRIX and how we got there. We used a minimal art style, not because we thought it was easy to do, in fact we know just the opposite, how difficult it can be to make a game with minimal art. We needed to use our art to efficiently enable interaction and gameplay. Which was our objective.
If you have played HUEBRIX or plan to play it, you will see that you need to concentrate on the grid and not be distracted by anything else. That was the primary goal of our exercise. We had started work on the game ages back and were comfortable with the gameplay and we tried a whole bunch of things with the art. This post is mainly going to go through the journey we took and the experiments we did with our art style
Initially we tried a bunch of things with the art to see what was visually pleasing and what could entice people to drag paths around (the major mechanic of HUEBRIX)
All of these styles didn’t really entice the player to drag these paths, nor did they look particularly pleasing. They were fairly short lived. It was here we realized that having curved edges to each square could not work as it was not creating a desire for people to drag and connect them (unless we had some kind of cool liquid physics thing going). The connected shapes would have repeated patterns of the curved shapes. In the end it was something we could not manage to get our heads around.
We then tried to create a slightly more friendlier look with a more scribbly art style.
This one was fairly popular, all our play-testers thought it was good but definitely not the best we could do with the game.
We then tried to do something with characters, something that may make the game easier to consume. We started of by creating a style with cute little worms.
The worms got a good response, but it did not do well with a lot of our female players. They felt it would be icky to be touching worms. Eventually we thought maybe we can try something else that is similar. We thought of mythical beasts and dragons with the help of a collaborating artist.
Simultaneously, we internally also tried out a style which would involve knotting balloons to complete the paths.
At this point, we saw that the character oriented art was not helping us attract any fringe players or “casual players” but it was turning off puzzle enthusiasts as it was creating too much visual confusion. Eventually we knew we had to do something really minimal. With the help of an old friend, who is a graphic designer, and is currently studying photography as well, we created some styles. She was kind enough to help us out part time and we would do the rest.
This was looking very visually pleasing and also worked well schematically. The square shapes connected with each other very well and created interesting seamless patterns which would give each level and each unique solution (our game each level can have multiple solutions) a good, unique look. At this point we were using a mild grey plain background.
We had another problem, our levels were of varying grid sizes. That meant, we could either resize the levels and have non-uniform size of squares or we needed to do something about all the negative space around the grid which was looking painfully empty.
We decided to use a texture. We started with trying a white and grey checkerboard texture. This would crete a weird visual illusion where the texture was interfacing with the level grid border, and also this reminded developers of transparency in Photoshop :). So we tried gridlines (which would later cause more confusion with too many grids in the game) and a diamond shaped checkerboard which had an awkward warping effect on the eyes.
To make the colors to stand out, the background needed to be darker. We changed over to a darker BG and a hatching lines texture merged with a carbon fibre texture to create something that worked for us.
Again we contemplated a slightly animated texture with particles in the BG but we thought it would distract people from the all important game grid. We also tried elaborate patterns for textures but they too were very visually distracting.
With respect to the colors, we had to accomodate 12 colors, all of which would look good together in the game at the same time. We had very little freedom to experiment with this once the BG was set. However, the colors were looking lively and the game was taking shape visually. We decided to go with this.
As you can see we had a total trial and error approach to the art. Greg is probably right in saying that using this kind of an art style requires a higher level of mastery, and our small team has very little art and graphic design resources and peharps too little understanding. We were just doing what we thought worked best for the game.
Our intention was not to offend anyone, or rip anyone off. Ours was and ernest and honest attempt at getting a game out that worked visually, facilitated interaction and maximized gameplay. I am sure we could have done a MUCH better job if we had the resources. However, I know everyone who will spend some time with the game and give it a fair chance will realize its a geniune attempt at a fun game.