DevDiary 10 - Art Direction
Hello and welcome to this week's DevDiary focused on the Art Direction for Jagged Alliance 3. My name is Nelson Inomvan and today I will have the pleasure of being your guide throughout the beautiful land of Grand Chien.
One of my many tasks as an Art Director is to help the art team in crafting a unique aesthetic for the project and make sure the original vision is preserved throughout the development process.
A Look Back
One of the first things we did when we started work on the project, was to go back and play the first two games. What we quickly learned was that what made those games be what they are was not in the realm of a specific color palette nor the technical bells and whistles of the time, but rather in what I call “the fantasy” element.
The concept at the core of the game, the big idea that revolves around you as a player assembling a crew of mercenaries, embarking on a thrilling adventure reminiscent of action-packed movies from the 80s-90s and that should still be key when it comes to the visuals.
I still remember the rip-o-matic we put together and shared throughout the studio. It was a mash-up of scenes from some of our favorite action flicks of that time, and we used it to set the energy in the team. It was a good example of what we sought to convey with the visuals.
Making that deep dive into the first two games, made us also realize and appreciate how rich and thought out those titles are. The attention to detail (e.g. crows and the fallen enemies) was on another level, and it became clear to us that we had to step up and match that standart at the very least.
Maybe this is the place to express our respect for the teams who created those classics. The immense passion, love, and elbow grease poured in those games is still visible even to this day.
The Road We Took
Throughout the pre-production phase, the game underwent multiple iterations until the visuals finally encapsulated the initial design concept we were striving for.
At one point, we experimented with a "dirty-gray" military aesthetic, but soon realized that something was missing from that picture, making the game look too generic. Thus, our search continued until one day something interesting happened, shaping all of our subsequent decisions.
We went back and took another look at the design documentation, which encompassed a vast amount of information about the world, and an idea sparked: What if we make the country of Grand Chien and, more importantly, the continent of Africa at the heart of our art vision, rather than the other way around?
This simple yet effective idea changed our thinking and the process led us to the concept of “contrast” or what we ended up calling it - “Wet and Dry”, those two words encapsulate the breadth of what the continent of Africa can offer and thus make it the central character in the stage of “art”.
Now we had the opportunity to explore the vast array of breathtaking locations, each boasting its own distinctive weather patterns, allowing players to immerse themselves in the continent’s remarkable richness. From the always wet muddy jungles filled with mosquitos to the dry savannas or scorching hot wastelands. Furthermore, many of these elements would have a significant impact on gameplay, thereby influencing your decisions as a player.
We've even taken into account minute details such as the presence of puddles in jungle areas and their potential impact on the effectiveness of your fire bombs.
Key features such as dynamic movement, exaggerated weather, strong lighting and cinematic-style color grading all played a role in pushing the world of Grand Chien and achieving this distinctive art style. Additionally, the ever present signs of entropy that can be seen in all human made everyday objects added a unique depth to the world.
We discussed the discovery of our artistic style, but let’s delve a little deeper into the meaning of those key terms.
The lush green jungles, the always foggy African swamps, and those enigmatic parts of the forest avoided by locals due to strange rumors are all part of what we refer to as the “wet” regions.
Moss will cover roofs of buildings, while plants and trees will create pockets of small settlements or cities where people will go on with their lives.
Winds will animate every blade of grass, bushes or trees, and during thunderstorms the whole jungle will react to the dance of Ọya, Аfrican goddess of winds.
As mercenaries traverse those regions, the foliage will respond to their presence, bending and swaying with their movements. Leaves will be cut by bullets, and explosions will leave scorch marks where bushes were, connecting the world to the actions and impact of your mercenaries.
Mosquitoes and other insects will be your merc's constant companions and sometimes this will show as they will try to get rid of the little buggers.
Rain storms will muffle all sounds (as already described in Dev Diary 6 about combat) thus giving you good opportunities for a more stealthy approach or it will deteriorate the condition of your weapons. And all of this interconnectivity is dynamic.
Cool colors with the occasional warm accent will compliment the overall picture and help create an impression of a wet, foggy part of the world where the weather is unpredictable and nature is in the process of reclaiming it.
On the other side of this art dichotomy we have the “Dry” regions with their wide open savanna plains and arid rocky wastelands where life still finds its way, but at a higher cost.
Mercenaries will tire faster and will complain about the heat.
Dust will cover everything and if you happen to enter a sector during a dust storm, you will be submerged in it, making the whole picture look almost surreal.
Heat waves and flash fires will color the land in warm hues testing your team endurance to the limits.
Presenting all of those beautiful locations wouldn’t work if the lighting of the game was not what it needed to be. We devoted significant time and effort on that aspect of the game, until our goal was met.
Savannas plains are not just hot, they are burning hot, and the sun creates a feeling that it will boil the land at any moment.
Similarly, in the jungles, sunlight filters through the clouds, casting reflections on mud roads, puddles, and metallic objects, creating a captivating play of light and shadows.
Indeed, as you can already gather, the concept of “contrast” is prevalent here as well making different regions look quite distinct from each other. The always foggy parts of the forest will appear dark in stark contrast to the sun bathed wastelands where the high temperature causes rocks to crack.
One last part that I want to mention is the “entropy” factor in all of our designs for world objects. Due to its turbulent past the country of Grand Chien and its people do not have access to new goods which forces them to improvise and repair what they already have and with time this will show.
A special attention was paid to this aspect for each and every asset we’ve created, ensuring that it aligns with the general idea about the world we are trying to build.
“We’ve built this city on Rock n Roll”
Speaking of “building the world” I can not talk about this process without mentioning the contribution of our Level Design team. These are the people that meticulously handcrafted every small detail from the smallest structure to… well everything.
The process begins with those design documents I mentioned earlier, but this time they are tailored to a specific region, containing details about the story of that particular sector and other important information. Then we prepare a mood board giving form to those ideas followed by concept art so we can better capture the essence and aesthetics of the location in question.
One of the challenges we aimed to overcome was the risk of the world appearing artificially designed solely for gameplay purposes (e.g. а broken columns every x meters) and lose its organic, representative aspect. We constructed the world so it is easy to read but still retain its authentic and immersive characteristics.
Conclusion and an Invitation
Throughout the development of every project, games go through various stages, and there are instances when tight schedules leave little to no room for what I call “the love period”
During this stage, a project has all it needs, all the necessary ingredients, yet we revisit it to polish and dedicate time to all the small ideas that were previously set aside.
I am happy that we found time to do that.
Ultimately, my hope is that when you and your team visit Grand Chien for the first time, you will be captivated by its beautiful landscapes, ever-changing weather, and expansive world-building meticulously prepared by our design team. For more details from the design team, check out Dev Diary 5 - World Building)
Two last things
OK, there is space for a tiny bit more text and one last gif. I have mentioned special FX and I could not pass this opportunity to show some explosions!
I made another small surprise for you - The 2nd wallpaper is now available! You can find both wallpapers here.
That’s it from me for today. To see more of our Art in action AND to meet Ian Currie (creator of the original JA1 & 2), join us on our stream this Thursday, June 22nd at 17:00 CEST / 11:00 AM EDT on the THQ Nordic channel: http://twitch.tv/thqnordic
We are now streaming EVERY THURSDAY at 17:00 CEST / 11:00 AM EDT!