E. Darwin Hartshorn: //Boilerplate

Medium Must Match Message redux

So here’s my problem:  I’m a half-decent artist.  I need to make art for Bestiary.  But the art has to fit the tone of the game.

The idea, in Bestiary, is you are a Sentinel, one of those people who can bond to and control the native creatures of Theria.  Since the powers of therians are fantastic, human colonists rely on Sentinels to keep them safe, to hold the line against the violent world just beyond their doors.  But those who control the monsters are suspected of being half-monster yourself, so your necessary role is also a curse.

Monster Games are really dark

It’s the dark and horrific story that lurks behind all cute monster games.  You thought Pokémon was about cockfights or slavery?  Think again: at least one in three children in the Pokémon universe are eaten by a monster because, as toddlers, they ran gleefully into the tall grass when their parents were momentarily distracted.  Catching and training monsters is the only thing that has allowed pockets of civilization to spring up in that world.  It’s not official lore, but it’s the only reasonable backstory.  Well, I’m making a game for the kids who played Pokémon on their Gameboy when they were little, and are now in their twenties and thirties wishing their game had grown up a little with them.

Bestiary must have an art style to match this gritty tone.  And Pocket Bestiary should, of course, match Bestiary.

Media Must Match Message

Now, a big production house might make some 3D assets based on quasi-realistic concept art.  Like so:

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

As a one-man team, even though I’m capable of such art, I don’t have the time or energy to do that and still ever release a game.  In order to make the game art functional and still release something, I need to do art more like this:


But if you’re going to do such cartoony art in a game meant for anyone over the age of twelve, you’d best be making a comedy.  I love cartoony art — it’s my specialty — and serious stories can be told with it.  Check out Avatar or Young Justice for examples.  But these stories are designed for children; they simply have enough depth to also appeal to adults.

So, I have a quandry: I must either change the art style to match the conceit of the story, or change the conceit to match the art style.  Or split the difference:  make the game a parody that “explores the dark side of monster-raising games with an ironic cartoony style.”  But I don’t want to be ironic.  I want to be straightforward.

I toyed with changing the conceit.  What if the monsters were computer programs, and you were raising them to fight viruses?  This has been done before, from Digimon to Megaman Battle Network, but I gave the concept a once-over, re-designing the critter for a more Tron-ish style.  The advantage there is I could use pixel art.  I rock at pixel art; pixel art takes less time for me to make, and less memory as well.

Digi PixZampleProblems:  I don’t want people to come to the game expecting a cheap knock-off of Digimon.  That, and I’m really, really married to the idea of telling a somewhat serious story in a monster-training setting.

Still, I had almost resolved myself for the need to make digital monsters (eKaiju?  iMonsters?).  Then it hit me:  I could tell a somewhat serious story with graphics on a level can produce in sufficient quantity.  I just had to draw on a different vein of art style.  Something similar to Ska’s The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, or the art of Mike Mignola.  A cartoony style indeed, but with a dark, brooding, roughness to it.  Chiaroscuro with a sharpie.


So that’s where I’m headed.  Next stop?  The animation editor!

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