Hello! Anders here with some history of how the player avatar of Backworlds came to be what it is today. Without further ado, this was the protagonist of the prototype and Assemblee– entry Backworld;
The art of Bastian, Kenneth and Pernille was one of the first inspirations for Backworld. In some instances the available art inspired the gameplay directly – we started allowing the player to carry objects because we had the art for it. Adversely, the player could crouch even though there was no gameplay reason to do so.
We had to give up the Assemblee art going forward, but in code the player object is still referred to as the “bunny”.
Neither Juha or myself are professional artists but since we knew we had to replace the art at some point we started with the main character and began working out alternatives. pictured are some of these sketches, in the beginning they were all over the place in terms of style and theme.
We discussed the different options at some length and reached the conclusion that this guy, inspired by the Kodama of Princess Mononoke, had the right balance of expression and anonymity – there were thematic reasons for this that shall remain secret for now.
We did another large batch of sketches, some of which are pictured. I tossed in a quadruped character because I was inspired by the demo for Nothing, and Juha made some characters with the head separated from the neck by the jawline.
Going with these two ideas was mostly a technical decision. We wanted a square bounding box for the character since it allowed us to rotate the game object 90° without hassle and the four-legged creature made this more natural. Having the head being separate from the body allowed us to animate them separately and procedurally, saving time.
The scope of the avatar being narrowed down, we made some more sketches – at this point, Backworlds was still fully grayscale but we were experimenting more with full color art so a lot of these were just variations in pattern. The two tails started out as a random idea that we decided to keep as a reference to the brushes painting the front- and backworlds.
We wanted to have the new art in the presentation for No More Sweden mentioned in the previous post, so we finished the base set of animations and put it in the game. As mentioned in the presentation we had not decided on an art style so the new art was still just black and white outlines.
At this point, we had a more clear direction for the art style and settled on using different full-colored art for the front- and backworlds instead of inverting the outlines. The player art was colored with brushstrokes for thematic reasons.
We also removed the tails from the frames of the animations and started running a simplified rope simulation to animate them. This gives the tails the emergent behavior of reacting naturally to any movement we give the the player – while a hand-animated tail done by an experienced animator would look better and be free of graphical artifacts, redoing all of the tail frames would take a considerable amount of time.
This is the art used for the Backworlds demo; the art style is well defined at this point. Some choices where made for stylistic reasons, such as the paper texture, and others were made for gameplay reasons such as the color of the outline. Game art needs to be clear in its communication first and good-looking second – Derek Yu recently wrote about it and for Backworlds clarity has been a constant struggle since the screen can easily become a mess of paint. But more on that in another post!