Saturday, November 21, 2009

Visual Clarity in Character Design (Part II)

Saturday, November 21, 2009
In Part II we'll consider the key characteristics discussed in the first entry--silhouette/scale, color/patterns, and materials/detailing, and see if we can't make an existing set of less than optimal characters "read" more clearly in gameplay situations.

The very gothic Jericho Team.

For candidates, I looked no further than a game I had finished playing just recently: Clive Barker's Jericho.
It was not well received and mostly for good reason, but there are some inspired concepts running through it. It's ideal for our purposes because you control a larger than average team of six characters, and it's tactical enough that identifying characters different squad members at a glance makes a difference.

Hanne Lichthammer, an undead Nazi boss character in the game, seen out-gothing the Jericho team by a wide margin.

Trouble is, the game revolves around a decidedly goth-leaning, melanin-challenged (even the black man of the team is ghostly pale) supernatural special ops team with a fondness for shades of black.
With the exceptions of Delgado (the big chain-gunning fellow) and Church (the small-framed ninja), this is a large group of friendly characters that are difficult to tell apart in combat and/or low light levels--both of which recur regularly, often together.
Here's a collected image of the original characters and their names, so you know who I'm referring to for the rest of the article:

Where to begin? Many of the problems with the team extend further than just visual appearance and into their broad, even offensively stereotypical characterizations.
Delgado is the sass-talkin' latino, Father Rawlings is the deep fried southern preacher-type, Black is the militant lesbian sniper, etc.
(I think the game interesting enough that the follow-up to this entry will be a full-fledged design sketch.)

For now we'll stick to their appearances: in keeping with the gothic, spooky ambience befitting a Clive Barker game, the entire team is pale and black clad. This ends up as a significant issue in two ways.

The call is coming from inside the crypt.

First off, from the point of view of player investment and interest, these six characters are a hard sell--they walk into this hellish landscape overpowered with magic and arms, imminently well-qualified to deal with the problem, and the game mechanics as well as fiction hold that the team can both resurrect members and resupply them with ammunition indefinitely--so why do they need my help at all?
What's horrifying about these gothic sulks having to deal with the end of the world, aren't all their own apartments furnished in the same style as the oozing rivers of blood and hellscape they now traverse? In other words, the team seems to be lacking dramatic contrast to their environment. Far from being put out and suggesting fear and terror as appropriate responses, they seem at home.

Second, even if I did feel invested in the obnoxious stereotypes, I often have trouble seeing them at all, certainly in telling them apart at a glance. A few of them are attired in shiny black catsuit-type material, which improves their visibility somewhat in low light conditions, but not enough to be helpful. Most of the characters are designed with a kind of runic filigree covering their suits, presumably as a replacement for lack of shape or form differentiation, but it's none too successful.

At left is a sample palette of the game's environments, derived from pixelated averages of a few representative screenshots.
The game is heavily atmospheric--fog, smoke, fire predominate to good effect. Mounds of sloughed off rotting flesh and rivers of blood show up as with any self-respecting time-fragmented hellscape, so the general palette of the game tends to run to warm, flesh and earth tones, and generally very dark.
While thankfully the Jericho squad isn't wearing blood-red catsuits, which really would make for unfortunate camoflage, the black suits don't really help visibility, especially for the extended sequences shrouded in darkness (perfectly appropriate for a horror game).

So as we begin, we'll identify the specific issues we wish to solve: shape/silhouette differentiation (for when color information is not present), visibility of material and detailing in warm colored and low light situations, and finally player sympathy/horror game appropriateness of the character designs.

First things

The temptation for me as an artist is to get to drawing and painting characters immediately, but this isn't actually that helpful when I could end up with a lot of wasted time for a redesign of such a large team of characters. So we'll stick with a consciously simplified approach--not only does it keep artists from pouring too much effort into a design before it's well considered, but it's simple enough that little or no drawing ability won't stop someone from using the same process.
We begin with a simple diagrammatic layout of the team divided into their control squads, Alpha and Omega.

Like the L4D color comparison in the first entry, I'm using simplified representations for the characters in order so I do not distract myself with painting and rendering too early.
A well drawn character can mask design flaws that don't manifest themselves until it's too late--the model and texture are done running around in the game. Revisions at that point are extraordinarily expensive in money and man-hours; far better to squash as many problems before they ever happen when revisions are as cheap as the point of an eraser, the point of a pencil.


So now we've got three men, three women in simple outlines. The scale relationships of the team originally are a good starting point, so we'll stay fairly consistent to the original team designs.

Cole is the "medium" female, Jones the "medium" male, Delgado the largest of all characters, Black the tallest of the females. We'll make Rawlings a narrow, vertical form, while Church is the diminutive ninja form. Like so:

If it seems simple, that's because it is, but take the time, foundations are critical.
It's also instructive to do this kind of designing with all characters visible on a sheet--small as it is, this workflow reinforces the necessity of cross-checking all the character designs against each other as much as possible.


The biggest change here is giving Black a sort of Ghillie suit/dress, instead of the black catsuit that appears in the game (and makes her look very similar to Cole). Otherwise, most of what I'm paying attention to here is a simple factor of how much skin is visible. Something tells me tacti-shorts are right out when rethinking a supernatural tactical response team, so I'm mostly looking at collar cuts and sleeve lengths.
Though it's not pronounced at this stage, I'm already thinking of exaggerating Cole's augmented reality visor's scale in order to giver her more of a Daft Punk head silhouette (added bonus of hugely reflective helmet), whereas Jones gets a high, protective collar, almost like a bomb technician. Rawling's duster/great coat remains largely unchanged.
(There's evidence the development team ran into these issues, as the concept art for Church doesn't have the large suit cut-out panels. Either they realized the difficulty of recognizing the characters in the dark or needed some sex appeal--or both.)

Patterns and Colors

Knowing that most of the game's environments are in ruddy/earth tones, I swung to the complementary color on the wheel: green. Olive drab, more specifically. I considered this in tandem with my problem with the game fiction and player identification issue: even if there are potentially world-ending supernatural threats out there, I have a hard time believing that the government would actually give decent funding for their super secret "Department of Occult Warfare" were it to exist.

This gave rise to the thought of a second-rate secret force, a kind of discount BPRD: what if the team didn't get all the latest gear and an unmarked Blackhawk helicopter to deliver them to jobs? Still saving the world, but without commensurately magical budgets, because who would honestly believe them, anyway?
Certainly would help make the team less invincible-seeming, more personable, and helps free me from having to straightjacket all of the characters into the same vaguely high tech gothsuits.

I'll explore these concepts later, but for now it means that the characters end up more irregular military-looking, rather than pale and black everything. The black character in the group gets to actually be black, a small kindness.

I've also given the different squads identifying armbands with associated colors. Here again is some surprising vestiges of discarded decisions from the original team: if you look closely at the set of six original character designs, you'll notice that only the Omega squad (bottom row) have red armbands.
Looking at the original Mercury Steam concept art for Delgado (above and right), you can see a blue armband. I can only infer at some point, Alpha squad had blue armbands to go with Omega's red armbands, but in the continuing quest for true gothification, these were discarded, with the assumption that you only needed armbands for one of the teams, making the other team distinct by nature of having no armbands.

The fact that it took partway through writing this very article to discover that Omega squad only had the red armbands should be proof enough that this is less than successful. I can only think that the earlier thought of red and blue-coded squad armbands was the better choice, and in my redesign it is one I have reinstated.


Here's an animated .gif of the above stages, showing that it doesn't take a lot of time or even drawing ability to take a large group of characters and make them distinct from each other. And if you are an artist, it's a smart step to take before you launch into fully-detailed sketches. Time is money, or rather time is what you're wasting toward the end of the day when the art director comes over, sees what you've drawn, and asks for a complete revision.

Finally, the completed concepts, with accompanying revision notes (reference the laughably game guide-esque Wikipedia entry character bios for comparison, before they get scrubbed):

I made sure to exaggerate her defining feature, her helmet. Otherwise, her stance is the other major defining feature of her silhouette.
Instead of the nervy rookie presentation, Cole's bulbous augmented reality helmet (retrofitted 60's astronaut equipment as it happens) keeps her at a quiet remove from the rest of the team. Her modified FAMAS rifle scope feeds into the helmet HUD; it's 5.56 rounds are shared in common with Delgado.
Poise: shoulders back--professional and assured, high rifle carry.


Jones is reconfigured as a player surrogate, the most "normal" character for a shooter player; gear trappings like that of a modern soldier or PMC.
Though still a telepath, he treats his power with a matter of fact sensibility (reminiscent of Miles on Lost). He carries an old school M14, which can share rounds with Black's sniper rifle.
Poise: hunched combat glide of a trained, experienced modern soldier.


Delgado is still the heavy weapons man, but stripped of both the distractingly overt power armor and stereotypical mannerisms. While the onyx sheath on his right arm was interesting, his former man-portable minigun was distracting and over-powered. The whole get-up distracted from his humanity, any sense that he might actually be vulnerable to attack.
Delgado pulls the glove off his right hand to unleash his pet fire spirit. He carries a vintage Stoner 63 machine gun.
Poise: casual swagger, nerves of steel.


Black retains the coarse manner, but ideally without the ill-timed and obnoxious barks. She's unhappy that she couldn't plan ahead with a hell-colored Ghillie suit--though even in the infernal backdrops of Al-Khalil, once her Ghillie suit is zipped up and hooded she makes for a hard target. She sports a bolt-action CZ 700 sniper rifle, which means she can share .308 ammunition with Jones, but he's not likely to get any of long-distance-balanced handloads short of begging.
Poise: crouching, furtive gait of a sniper out of position.


Father Rawlings is redesigned as a non-combatant--as glorious and hideous as his double deagling was before, it makes more sense with his priestly vows and deepens tactical considerations that the healer/resurrector of the group cannot directly defend himself.
He's considerably moodier and sardonic, less drawling southern; the missions of Team Jericho have initiated a long "dark night of the soul" for the priest.
Poise: hunched and glowering.


Church is still the ninja of the group but with a more elegant strain to her bearing. As a blood scribe, she wears a mysterious tattoo covering much of her back. She carries the coffin-magazined Italian Spectre M4 submachine gun, in addition to her katana.
Poise: strictly ninja.

As the modified dossiers suggest, another update will feature a wider critique of Jericho and a matching illustrated design sketch.
I feel as though I haven't explained my re-design choices all that well in terms of justifying their enhanced visual clarity, but this entry is getting quite a bit too long already--what say you?


David said...

This is a great post! The redesigned characters are easier to distinguish, and could inspire more interesting dialogue and interactions. My only disagreement with your design is Black's exposed chest -- it would make crawling on the ground very uncomfortable, and that's what snipers spend most of their time doing!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but the cleavage is killing me.

And although it makes sense that Church wears lighter clothing for manuverability(sp?), the whole exposed back is plainly ridiculous.

Great artile otherwise, obv. Certainly nice to take a break from all that space marine attire. I mean, for the love of god, even CoD6 is doing it, now.

Anonymous said...

Great article, please don't feel the need to constrain yourself in regards to length. Art is amazing as ever :)

Anonymous said...

does cole REALLY need to be showing that much skin? i mean unless you're designing an h-game you might wanna dial it down a bit!

gauss said...

Hey, thanks for the comments guys.

Regarding showing skin--this has a lot to do with what I wanted to expand on in the next entry, but no time like the present:

Part of what bothered me about the original Jericho is that the whole thing takes place in a hot middle eastern desert region, and then subsequently in time-sliced, hellscaped earlier eras of the same city, seemingly all of which are treacherously hot and humid (sustained atmosphere is something the original game does very, very well).

But not only are the invincible super soldiers running around in full-body suits for the most part, other than a few barks there are no reactions from the characters about this. They are the eternal machines of videogame characters; they can't be bothered by anything short of dying, and in Jericho even that's just a slight hiccup.

An age-old videogame thing, I know, but to me underscores the lack of credible sense of danger or fear in what should be considered scary, dangerous environments.

So I paid particular attention to the physicality of the team members, thinking about grounding them in the environment; something that doesn't happen a lot with videogame characters. You'll notice that all six characters have mud/dust caked on their shoes and pants, several of them are sunburnt. I've been scheming on a recurrent mechanic about getting clean water for canteens, but more on that later.

David: fair point, but I assumed that when Black goes to work, the Ghillie suit gets zipped up and the hood gets thrown on, too, so nothing exposed while crawling :) She's pictured sitting, easing off here.

The more aggressively members of the team are also the most lightly outfitted--Delgado and Church wear minimal tops (though if you'll notice, Church has none of the breast or thigh side cut-outs of the original design), and this was done partially out of my reading of their personalities and approach to combat--more devil may care than say, Jones' modern tactical conservativism--but also for the following aspect.

This is the most important point, to me: I wanted more skin visible generally on the team, not for puerile interests, but because to me it connotes vulnerability in a horror game environment.

Rivers of blood, oozing walls of flesh etc. personally make me shudder to think about having to deal with without a full zip-up neoprene suit. Which is exactly why I avoided giving it to the protagonists, much as they had in the original designs.
In my eyes, Delgado and Church are equal in this so I was a little surprised by the comments.

I've never given much thought to how I'd do a horror game before this, but I'm a great admirer of David Cronenberg's oeuvre and the whole concept of "body horror" I think is deeply primal.
I think it's hard to get across psychological or creeping sort of dread in a game when reloading a checkpoint or bunnyhopping or any number of different things you can do as a player can ruin a horror atmosphere instantly--but the lingering suspicions associated with the body horror genre, the kind of gut-level revulsion of a lot of exposed skin coming in contact with a leech, or something foul hits home to me.

Hope this clears some things up--and better yet, piques some interest for the full design sketch on Jericho! :)

draco said...

nice, quick read with a lot of thrills

Demon Beaver said...

I enjoyed reading it and agreed with almost everything. I played the original game and lost interest while still in the opening cutscene. The gameplay itself didn't hold me for long either.
While reading your article, I couldn't let go of the feeling that were you on the actual team, doing all you did now, at some point or another there'd be an order from the executives to change it. In fact, I'm almost sure that is what happened... "make it more gritty". "we want something like Rainbow Six with monsters" etc.
Anyway, great read! Keep up the good work (:

Johnnyburn said...

As I recall, the game allows you to play as each of the characters, right? I wonder if some level of design uniformity was encouraged to help prevent the player from picking a persistent favorite.

Clearly the marketing is involved here, too. I think your redesign is grounded and well-considered, but it also reflects your personal interests, say, military trappings and gun particulars. So while these tweaks are meant to improve gameplay, they also shift the sales demographic. Such is design, though, I guess.

(I like how 'cat-suit' is now a generic term. "Her purse was cat-suitlike.")

Sean said...

"What's horrifying about these gothic sulks having to deal with the end of the world, aren't all their own apartments furnished in the same style as the oozing rivers of blood and hellscape they now traverse?...they seem at home."

This caught my interest and gave me an idea that I probably won't be able to explain too well (especially since I haven't played the game). In short: I think it might be cool to take the idea of vulnerability with these characters much further.

Despite what the clothing and bad poetry of most real-world goth types would suggest, they're just as unprepared to face the demons of hell as they are unprepared to face the bullies of the high school hallways.

In this redesign, we still have a squad of outcasts, freaks, and weirdos, but most still look confident that they could overcome any challenge they might face. What if they were the kind of people who had significant trouble navigating life on earth, making the trials of hell not seem familiar, but rather far more terrifying, as their emotional makeup was shaky to begin with? The Wiki article on the characters details lots of psychological problems, and I think that could be emphasized in design and in-game while keeping with other ideas of this redesign.

I like your idea about the team being poorly funded when it comes to their gear. What if they were also somewhat poorly trained, too? As though someone took these odd people with special powers and tried to make them adequate soldiers, rather than having super elite soldiers who also happen to have supernatural powers. This would further get away from the original feel that they're more than ready to deal with the depths of hell.

So, yeah, I think the idea of vulnerability in this setting is a great one, and I think it can be pushed further in these designs without turning them all into sniveling cowards.

Anyway, some cool ideas in this article, and I look forward to the next one on this game (maybe I'll give it a try in the mean time).

Mark said...

These redesigns are really great, and show how much influence small touches in the design of a character can have over their personalities and the way the player percieves them. I especially like Jones, but maybe that's just because he's reminiscent of the tf2 demo.

Dancing Ferret said...

Historically, ninjas didn't use katanas. They used a similar sword called a ninjato.

Ninjato lacked the curve of the average katana and were a fair bit shorter, similar in look to a straightened wakizashi with a longer handle.

bhlaab said...

Gotta be honest, Cole's helmet looks fucking dopey as shit

Aubrey said...

"Gotta be honest, Cole's helmet looks fucking dopey as shit"

haha, I thought it looked great-- although one problem I have with games is everything trying so hard to look cool all the time, it makes me want to barf.

These last two posts have been a great inspiration, and really dialed-in for efficiency. I am going to have to try some of this out.

chiasaur11 said...

I kinda like the helmet. Reminds me of the one on the protagonist in "Marathon" a little.

bhlaab said...

It reminds me of the time I accidentally put a motorcycle helmet on backwards

bhlaab said...

I think the smarted thing you've done with it is to make it black and opaque. Doing that, you could probably keep the original 'visor' design and still be able to distinguish her because of the big stripe across her face.

And it would go with the themes you've set up with her character and the general principles of your design:
From the front you can't gauge her emotions and she's distanced from the horror, but from behind she's vulnerable and flamboyant (bright red hair)

Chris said...

I'd like to see Cole's helmet more form fitting / more android like.

I imagine her with no hair and the black visor/helmet a cross between C3PO and Grace Jones, small nose, red lips painted on! maybe a few tubes for supply.

Chris said...

While I'm on a roll for Cole; her lips could convey emotion by display different shapes or symbols, magic lips!

Chris said...

ok, I'd like to take back my android comments, it doesn't fit the theme and doesn't help the silhouette.

gauss said...

Consider them rescinded. Now, if only this bum would get a new update up.

Steven said...

Nice. They kind of remind me of the various "teams of villains" you see in MGS games. (Namely MGS3, though that game didn't have a ninja) It does sort of hold true for a comparable design sense for an equally odd squad of super soldiers.

Anonymous said...

I dug the revisions, with one exception: Delgado's fire thing. He keeps it in check with... a glove? not a giant rune covered gauntlet thing that pretty much costs him the use of his hand?

Maybe he could have something like the arm off a medieval suit of armor with sigils and shit carved into it to keep the demon in check, or something similarly clunky yet distinctive? As it stands, he seems sorta generic.

Resin said...

I like the redesign - particularly getting rid of the space marine suit. Ninjas are so damn overused I kind of wouldn't mind to see something else entirely for Church.

Regarding what you said about the environment it would be cool to actually have them change outfits - light linens for the desert, that they doffed in the Hellscapes.

Finally I love the second rate BPRD concept - made me think of Men that Stare at Goats. Inserting comedy into a horror game would probably be a bad move, but I would still love to see a 'psychic' with no actual psychic powers. They could still kick-ass with a machine gun.

Anonymous said...

There's so much animosity these days towards the whole 'space marine' thing. I can understand many of the points of view on this, with two exceptions. Warhammer 40k and StarCraft (aka Wahammer 40k) Space Marines, these guys have a REASON, at least the 40k ones do, to be encased in these hulking powered suits.

Jericho made the same mistake a LOT of games are making these days, take a soldier, plop him in a 'normal' or even 'paranormal' situation and slam him in a suit of bulky power armor, wow and be amazed. In some cases the armor isn't even powered or conveys any bonuses to the character, a la Marcus Fenix. Delgado's was REALLY out of place, even though I thought his little gauntlet thingy was cool looking. I think maybe the design team went with "he's a big dude, he needs big armor, for some reason".

Even game universes where power armored Space Marines is an accepted fact, especially 40k, translating it into a video game setting would be hellish I would think. How the hell do you distinguish between squad members in a fire fight or melee? Unless you know the game universe well enough to instantly recognize rank markings (and even a person who really knows there stuff would be hard pressed to tell at a distance) the only differentiation would be weapon load outs, and even then you've got problems.

The article made me realize how little you think of things like this in terms of game design when you sit and think "wow I wish they would make a game out of this". Makes me wonder how Relic is going to handle 40k: Space Marine this year other than the small squad size.

Sorry for the rambling rantings! This article REALLY got me thinking, AWESOME.

Looking forward to the next installment!

Anonymous said...

Making the priest and healer mostly helpless seems like an easy way to frustrate players. I can understand non-combatant, but he would have to be quite a bit sprier than that little shuffle you profile him with to be fun to play, instead of a necessary chore (like playing the medic in TF2).
I think someone mentioned the MGS villain groups. They're also a pretty good example of quick, recognisable sketches, even though they never have to appear together.

Body horror, huh? I actually never found that too effective. Might be something to do with swimming in freshwater lakes as a kid. Not even lampreys really bug me now, and they're much more dangerous than a leech or the itch.

Jetmechradio said...

Oh, man, I've always wanted to do stuff like this. I mean, taking existing game concepts and giving them a facelift. The biggest targets (aside from space marines and the like) are JRPGs, which are getting to be incredibly tiresome retreads of the same old concepts introduced back in the 90’s. I especially like thinking about how radically better you could make a franchise by redesigning characters, setting, plot…pretty much anything. One of the goals I have when I get to college is to start one of these projects, maybe as a web comic, just to prove that logic.

For instance, take “Dirge of Cerberus.” “Dirge” was a wholly forgettable, drab-colored shooter staring an especially one-dimensional character going on in a side plot that bears little to no resemblance to anything from the from the original Final Fantasy VII. What would "Dirge of Cerberus" have been like as a 70's cop show starring Vincent & Barret? The remarkably cheesy plot and acting would probably have be twice as entertaining without all the cyberpunk and gothic tones there to ruin it. Thrice as entertaining with Barret present, wisecracking-it-up and providing somebody for Vincent to play off of.

On the other end of the spectrum is making something more serious than it originally was. What if "Kingdom Hearts" had all of the "Disney" and modern “Final Fantasy” elements absent from it? I really think Kingdom Hearts would have made more sense if they had just used the very first original Folk/fairy tales rather than the more modern Disney reenactments (no disrespect to the Disney films, just the way they’re used in the game screams “marketable profit” at every turn). In retrospect, I think Kingdom Hearts was a sorely missed opportunity to display themes like how childhood innocence can be warped by the “grown-up” world, or the “outside” world. Instead, we get all the unintentionally gay overtones and horrible fan-fiction that the second game conjured up.

Speaking of which, could you really call what I’m doing “fan-fiction?” To me, fan-fiction is one of the worst terms/things/singular concepts ever made real by the internet, but I just want to make sure that I haven’t got this in the wrong view. If you take something of another person’s property with the full intent of making it better than it was (also assuming you aren’t a pretentious self-proclaimed genius and the like), then can that really be considered “fan-fiction?” Or is it something else entirely?

All I can say is, thanks for putting this blog up, sorry I couldn’t find a better place to post this, and I will be sure to check up on your work constantly.

Anonymous said...

I happen to think it's quite sexy that all she feels she needs underneath her ghille is a bra and panties. Snipers are definitely married to their job in that way.

Anonymous said...

While the sniper getup is DEFINITELY sexy, it's still hard to justify it if you're wanting to be realistic (or at least consistent).

Speaking of which, if they're in the desert, why aren't they wearing desert camo? I understand the idea of underfunding but you can't argue that desert camo is too expensive. Hell, I'm just a lowly security guard and even I can afford that stuff if I wanted.

Economics aside, this next part belies the fact that I've never played the game: Did the characters KNOW they were going into a Hellish dimension when they set on the mission in the desert? Because if they knew then, AGAIN, they would do better with tan/brown camo than green and black, considering Hell's landscape (and the whole body horror thing).

Anyway, just some food for thought. I like most of these designs, but you mixed up your "Alpha" and "Omega" colors in the description. Cole's helmet looks cool, and while you definitely screwed the pooch on the ninja's sword, I have to admit that deploying into a desert region with little clothing makes sense and would make further sense if they knew they were going into Hell. It's one of those rare times where skimpy and showing lots of flesh serves the story instead of being cheap unoriginal hackery.


PS: It's bullshit that the priest has to be a pussy-footing Southerner. Most Southerners aren't Catholic and he is--by the looks of his collar--Catholic or some facsimile relegated more to the North. Southerners are overwhelmingly Protestant, so he should either be Protestant or from some other region than the South...UNLESS you intentionally kept him as a Southern Catholic, in which case he'd likely have some psychoses that could play into character design.

But yeah, make the priest a fun person to play in your revisions. Don't be lame. You are way too awesome and skilled/talented to be lame. ;)

Andrew Kozma said...

I just wanted to point out that you can see the blue armbands for the Alpha Team in the original design. If you look at the left elbows of both Jones and Delgado the blue is apparent.

The point is, though, that you have to search for it -- I never would've noticed it except for your saying they weren't there. It just goes to show how ill-thought the original designs were that an armband that is supposed to be obvious and distinctive disappears into the general blah of the outfit.

AP said...

As SP on the project I found the articles on Jericho very interesting. With hindsight many things do indeed become apparent; time restrictions, remote development, compromises and other challenges prevented such in-depth 'inspect and adapt' analysis at the time or the ability to make changes. Whilst some comments smart a little, I have certainly taken the articles in the spirit they were written.
There are always reasons decisions are made, which could be construed as ill-thought, but the realities are 'to time and budget' game development, and those on the thread that are fulltime game developers know this and the constant balancing of time and money.
Some very interesting ideas to take away from this site though.
Like I say hindsight is a beautiful thing...

gauss said...

AP: Thank you for taking it in the spirit in which it was intended. I do not mean to be unkind to fellow developers. After all is said, I played Jericho to completion. There are games I might say are better, but are they really that much better if I did not feel like beating them?

Hindsight and the beauty of the hypothetical are my two most underhanded allies on any of these 'reboots'--the allure of what could be is almost always more attractive than what is, finally, under the weight of time and budgets and so on. I enjoy doing these articles because I love tackling certain issues without any of the commitment that actually building a game entails. For every issue I've "solved" here I'm sure another dozen would pop up in practical testing.

Anyway, thank very much for posting your thought. I'm relieved at least someone doesn't think I'm playing at doing their job better than they can, rather simply enjoying a game's designs by filtering through my own sensibilities instead. Cheers.

AP said...

Without articles like this, being constructive and offering solutions, we wouldn't get better at game development.
What I do like is the fact you have taken time to carefully look at thoughtful improvements, and I found the level design article enlightening. It’s the ‘wood for the trees’ scenario that continue to plague games development; you know stopping and taking stock and weighing up the right thing to do when the hour glass constantly reminds you to be decisive. Sometimes not having time to see the very obvious.
Keep producing these as they’re great reference and learning material!
I’ll drop you an email, if you have any questions you want to ask offline.

Mohshin said...

Have you stopped updating because of these concerns? That writing design reboots may put you on bad terms with game developers?

gauss said...

Mohshin: not at all. Updates have been... charitably described as "stalled" simply because I wish to only post high quality material, as well as some other more prosaic concerns. I have several posts partially or fully written, but need revision and editing. Thank your for reminding me there are still people looking forward to more DR.

JMRinguet said...

I know this is an old post but I just found it today! I was the original concept artist on all those characters and since they were changed in the final game I thought you would get a kick out of seeing the original designs now posted on my blog:
I will point out that some design choices came directly from Clive Barker while others were my own. You can see that there was some variety in shapes, colors and silhouettes.
And by the way I really enjoyed your redesigns even if some go a bit against what the character is about (for example Delgado was supposed to have a 'firestarter' telekinetic ability and the metallic structure on his arm was designed to be a container for that fire). You did a very cool job.

gauss said...

Honestly it's a little embarrassing to look back on the blog now, if only for the hubris of it all--I didn't have a job so I played at other peoples', being a concept artist without a boss. But you're right, these are really great to see, and happy to notice that many of the main choices I made (more military fatigue look, olive drab!) are very much in line with your original take. Thank you so much for taking notice and sharing. I hope no offense was taken by my redesign work. I think the original concepts have a lot of the kinds of things I wished of the final production art.

Thanks for posting these!

Juan H said...

"With the exceptions of Delgado (the big chain-gunning fellow) and Church (the small-framed ninja), this is a large group of friendly characters that are difficult to tell apart in combat and/or low light levels--both of which recur regularly, often together."

But they are soldiers, it is supposed that they have to wear uniforms and these suits uniforms, that is, in my opinion they are already too different. Also all would have to wear helmets, for being more efficient. Why do you think Cole is wearing a helmet? Because she prioritizes efficiency because of her personality with Aspenger syndrome, but the army priorize efficiency for the soldiers regardless of your personality.

So how to differentiate them? For the type of armor: all would be exoskeletons, but some would be heavier than others for the needs of the role, for the type of weapon, for the face, the helmets would have to wear transparent visors, and for a unique radio code for each member.

"First off, from the point of view of player investment and interest, these six characters are a hard sell--they walk into this hellish landscape overpowered with magic and arms, imminently well-qualified to deal with the problem, and the game mechanics as well as fiction hold that the team can both resurrect members and resupply them with ammunition indefinitely--so why do they need my help at all?"

There are a lot more powerful game characters than the Jericho group, like Alex Mercer from Prototype and I do not see anyone criticizing this point. Jericho is supposed to have to stop the greatest threat in the history of Humanity so they have to be the best of the best without paragon, and even then it may not be enough if it kill the whole group at the same time.

What I do agree is that their suits would have to adapt to the weather, but for that they could wear refrigerated exoskeletons.

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