Once I had submitted my Game Project Proposal, I had some time to reflect on everything I had written about this project thus far. I had the opportunity to take a step back from the detail and examine the game from a more general perspective. Additionally, I was also able to think about the time I had left until the due date and how I could best convey the essential experience of As It Lies within that time. Through this reflection and a series of discussions with James, I realised that perhaps I should I step away from 3D and instead focus on making this a 2D game that is dedicated to conveying the essential problem-solving experience. What’s most important about As It Lies is the set of mechanics, the exciting levels, the numerous solutions to each problem, and incorporating chance into them. There is nothing inherently superior about making this project 3D, other than the specific visual and low-poly style I was going for. Although this transition would introduce certain aesthetic limitations, As It Lies could function very similarly in a 2D environment. Therefore, as I am a more experienced illustrator and as I have only about three months to complete this project, I thought it would be most feasible for me to transition from 3D to 2D. This has simply been another step in the iterative process that will hopefully lead to a better and more complete game. In any case, I thought it would be something worth exploring.
Visual Research: Graphic Novels
Having made this crucial design alteration, it was important to explore potential two-dimensional visual styles that would suit As It Lies. That is why I began exploring a variety of two-dimensional art forms, most notably different comic book and graphic novel styles as well as different styles of animated films and cartoons. Knowing Zeta would be an absolute geek, I thought she is very likely to be really into comics, so first I had an extensive look at the different illustration styles in that media. I am addressing the visual style based on what my protagonist is likely to enjoy and engage in. The first chapter in the history of comic books is known as The Golden Age of comics. Throughout the Golden Age of comic books, the differences between heroes and villains were very stark and it was rather obvious who the audience should be rooting for. Additionally, those stories would get political at times, with superheroes overpowering famous political figures. In terms of illustration, the art style features light and clean outlines with blocks of shadow in the appropriate places. Due to the printing technology of the time, colors were rather flat and would appear quite muted. Backgrounds in these stories were not very detailed, but rather focused on actions and characters. The panels of Golden Age comic books were in the form of a rather standard grid and did not focus break from the structure frequently. Perspective was also rather limited, as panels would most commonly feature one-point perspective as that was the easiest one to produce technically. Overall, Golden Age comic books were primarily concerned with conveying their story, rather than their illustrations.
The next chapter in comic book illustration history is known as The Silver Age of Comic Books. The illustration of these comics was more varied and sophisticated, as artists explored a more abstract style. The pages of Silver Age comics would feature surreal scenes, representing the character’s mental state in a more metaphorical manner. Colors became much more varied and had different gradients, while the outlines and shading differed in thickness and intensity. In terms of storytelling, the stories became a bit darker as the horror genre was just starting to take off in this medium. Heroes and villains were still very distinct from each other and characters were still rather archetypal, however, writers began to slowly break from that. Overall, illustration during The Silver Age of comics greatly improved, adding more variety and abstraction, while the types of stories they were telling evolved in terms of genre and some of the concepts explored.
After the developments to the medium in the Silver Age of comic books, the Bronze Age further built upon those concepts and presented heroes with new types of enemies. The Bronze Age was famous for its blunt realism and for the first time ever, heroes were faced with abstract problems such as alcoholism, drug use, overdose, and more. The intangible foes offered a new challenge for superheroes and did not lend an easy answer to the issues they were facing. The illustrative style reflected this paradigm shift and was also rather realistic and cross-hatched, oftentimes imitating sketches of the great Renaissance masters. Anatomy became increasingly more important and illustrators aimed to be quite blunt and accurate. The Bronze Age of comic books marked a very significant chapter in the evolution of the medium as both stories and illustrations became much more mature and were tackling everyday issues head on.
Although new types of enemies were introduced in the Bronze Age of comic books, it was still very clear who the heroes of the story were and what was the moral thing to do in any situation. The Dark Age of comics completely turned that idea on its head and marked the most significant growth and evolution that the medium had experienced thus far. The lines between heroes and villains became blurred, with both displaying positive and negative qualities and ideologies. One of the most notable examples of Dark Age graphic novels is Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Illustrations became much more sophisticated with increasingly talented artists working in the industry and producing very realistic characters with both accurate and exaggerated proportions. What’s more is that due to advancements in mass printing technology, more striking and bright colors became possible, with higher contrast images that helped the story pop from the pages. Outlines were still maintained, but they varied in thickness and color depending on the needs of each panel. Typography became increasingly more important as it was oftentimes changed to reflect what characters would sound like while speaking. The Dark Age of comics marked a major step forward in their history, resulting in higher quality stories and artwork.
While there have been a series of distinct ages in the long history of comic books, modern comics and graphic novels do not fit into neat categories, but rather feature an array of stories and styles. They can contain multiple elements of Golden Age, Silver Age, and Dark Age comics, but can also branch off into their own thing that defies categorization all together. Both illustration and storytelling in modern day comic books are exceptionally varied and provide their audience with numerous different experiences. Casanova is an excellent example of a graphic novel that does not fit the traditional comic book illustration style, but rather uses its own distinct visual identity. They favor very thick outlines and caricatured characters with exaggerated proportions. Their color palettes are limited on each page, but work together in harmony and take advantage of known color theory principles to achieve their effects. Overall, Casanova’s visual style is incredibly distinct in line work, color, and characters, which translate excellently on paper. What I find particularly exciting about Casanova is the character proportions and exaggeration.
It would be unjust to conduct an analysis of various two-dimensional art styles found in comic books and graphic novels without having a look at at least one notable example of manga. Akira is a highly successful cyberpunk graphic novel by Katsuhiro Otomo, which paved the way for other exceptional works such as Ghost in the Shell and Armitage III. What I find most fascinating about Akira’s visual style is the exceptionally well made perspective shots of the environment and of movement. Buildings and city landscapes in Akira are incredible realistic and accurate in terms of perspective, resulting in some awe-inspiring scenes. They give an excellent sense of space and convey the mood of the environment equally well. Additionally, the lines in Akira are relatively thick and provide exciting high-contrast images in the finished panels. What’s more is that as Akira’s story is set in a cyberpunk dystopia, there are a series of strict mechanical illustrations that convey the overall urban aesthetic of the city. Overall, Akira has a very precise and high-contrast art style that approaches storytelling in a different manner to the other ones discussed thus far.
Thoughts and Reflection
I found this extensive analysis of different visual and illustrative styles for graphic novels very intriguing and entertaining. It was a pleasure to explore how different artists have approached stories and mediums that I am passionate about and to try and adopt some of the principles they explore in my own work. For example, I have really enjoyed learning about how different outline thickness and smoothness can result in completely different effects on the page. Thus far, I am very excited to try some of these art styles for As It Lies and Zeta and to see how they would work. Additionally, I think a comic book art style would be rather appropriate for the game as this is something Zeta would be very fond of and she is likely to think of herself and of her solutions in those terms. What’s more is that it would be an amazing guide for the branding of the entire project. Nonetheless, it will now be time to explore a series of different art styles from cartoons and animations to determine whether a visual style from those mediums would be more appropriate for Zeta.