Friday, July 2, 2021

The shape of people

 One of the games I've been enjoying quite a bit lately and using as research on non-pixel 2D character designs is the lovely Griftlands. While it's in a very different style to our project, there's still a lot to be gained from looking at the character designs and seeing what makes them work so well.

One thing in particular that impressed me was the fact that despite these characters are all the same size, clad in similar apparel and often with similar colour schemes, I generally find it reasonably easy to recognize the different characters. Here's a few assorted folks from various screenshots I've taken:

I think one of the many things that makes these designs so successful for me personally, is how individual many of the silhouettes are. I wrote about the power of silhouettes in character design some years ago, and it's something I always love seeing done well. And again, while these characters are all roughly the same height and width, and similarly dressed, I bet you can identify one of them from the pack above by silhouette alone:

For me, I think a strong silhouette is a key feature in character designs that I consider particularly successful. Having an identifiable shape isn't just a good default practice for making someone interesting, it allows us to identify them more immediately even when they're far away, facing away from us, poorly lit, or in a crowd. When I think of character designs in adventure games that work for me, they almost always have a clearly readable shape. That doesn't necessarily mean complex - Machinarium's protagonist, for example, is about as simple as you can get, and still very effective. Compare the examples below, and look at the outlines of their form, for example.

Today I was working hard on reworking some poor character designs, and one of my main focuses was trying to make for interesting silhouettes, while still keeping the style grounded. When I showed one of my designs to Daniel Thomas he immediately commented that the silhouette was more interesting. Victory! Feels good to have someone notice that effort spent.

So, how are my silhouettes in Old Skies so far, for main characters in the same pose, facing the same direction?

Not bad, I think! Not exactly the most diverse or dynamic, but definitely all different enough that I can at least tell them apart. Can I do better? I think so! It's good to check these things periodically, just to see how well the theory has sunk in. Knowing a good piece of design wisdom is definitely not the same as being able to use it well, or keeping it as a fundamental part of our workflow. Actively working at these ideas is the only reliable way to use them as tools. That's what I intend to keep doing!


Daniel Wolf said...

It's great to see you blogging again! I used to love your articles about colors and composition. And I'm certainly curious about any new insights you'll want so share!

BTW: What's with the silhouette of the person on the far right? Is that a censoring bar hiding the fact that she's really a floating ghost? A mermaid? A three-legged alien? Or merely stuck in a block of cement? ;-)

Ben304 said...

Thank you! I stopped writing for a while because I felt like I had said everything I had to say at that point. Now that I've been venturing out into new techniques it has expanded my vocabulary of ideas and techniques, so once again I have things to say!

And the bar shape is just because this character is always shown standing behind a bar, so their legs are never seen. I figured it made more sense to showcase them like this.

Thanks for commenting, and for reading after all these years of silence!