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Evolution of RATS Environment Art: Chapter 1 – Where we were

Evolution of RATS Environment Art: Chapter 1 – Where we were


Gamers! Honorable Citeremis supporters! It is I, the one who writes posts that are so long they are in fact essays! Due to my continuous struggle to keep my posts short & the realization that, in its entirety, this original text was longer than all my previous one’s combined, I knew the insanity had to stop. Therefore, I have decided to divide this topic into of series of bite size knowledge that will lapse over the next couple of weeks. Good, yes? It’s like the gift that keeps on giving! MouahHA!

So, today, I will discuss the first iteration I was presented with & how the first overhaul came to be since I have joined this adventure. RATS has so far been through two iterations & we are now working on a THIRD version. Yes, you read correctly & figured what better time to start writing about the subject! Suffice to say, after much consideration, we decided, in the best interest of the game & your experience, that the present state of the overall style simply does not reflect enough the absurd premise & gameplay mechanics of RATS. Don’t be misconceived by our decision, we are proud of its present state, but we desire to push the cartoon style even further & that folks, is a subject for a later date.

When Jonathan revealed RATS to me (fig 1), it was clear that two major aspects needed to be addressed. The first being that the game lacked a distinctive artistic style & the world was visually too busy. Therefore my goals were to re-imagine the style as a whole & the art work would need to simplified. As far as originality is concerned, this in itself is one of the most difficult undertakings for any artist to achieve & a necessary one if a game is to stand out from this industry’s fierce competition. I will elaborate further on the style in a future post dedicated to the characters since they are key to the changes that have been made in the environment. However I will mention that I felt it was necessary to keep the cartoon style in view of the game’s absurd premise.

First version of Rats Environment

First iteration of RATS environment art

Regarding the necessity of simplifying the environment. First, due to the overwhelming amount of visual information that was presented, it was difficult to discern the various elements within the environment as well as keeping track of the characters even though they were moving. Mind you, the fact that the characters were all wearing hats in a top down view did not help either. Second, it is pointless to display so much detail since Rats, at its core, is about time & speed which does not permit the player the luxury to stop & analyze the artwork. More importantly, the player would need to be able to easily navigate through any given level which signifies that all the elements would need be clearly distinguishable. The final reason was influenced by our desire to eventually launch the game on mobile devices. Considering our labyrinth like levels, even if mobile devices are boasting incredible screen resolutions, which does affect the clarity & sharpness of images, the size of these screens limits the amount of information that can displayed. In the end, the approach I used to simplify the environment was simple (fig 2). I did not use any textures, the patterns were simplified to blocks of color with the incorporation of the occasional gradient, restricted the amount of colors used in each element & finally, I minimized the amount of details so as to focus on the overall shape as opposed to its content. Please note that not all the elements had been replaced or completed in Fig 2. It is a long & ongoing process.

The last point I want to mention concerns the angle at which the walls & doors were presented. By cause of the deadline we had to complete the game in, we wanted to keep the top down view of the game however the perspective of the levels was modified in order to minimize the amount of work I needed to replace. Besides the fact that the walls & doors were taking up so much real estate, working with angles on such a small scale renders the task more difficult. Furthermore, since our engine uses 2D art assets & in order to keep the logic of the perspective created by the walls, I would have needed to produce a greater amount of versions for each element pending on their positioning in a room & the direction they are facing. Consequently, since the transformation, I only need to create three versions of each element which are: side, front & back.

2nd Version of RATS environment

2nd iteration of RATS environment

On a quick side note & to be brutally honest about the visual esthetics of the first version, I really disliked it. So much so that I had warned Jonathan that I would only work on this project if my proposed alternative was accepted by the team. You might consider such an ultimatum to be harsh, however fact is, the very little free time I have with my children, wife, family & friends would be spent on the project & therefore, it had to be worthwhile. It was also necessary that the team was excited about the change since there is nothing worse than working on a project that you hate looking at. Especially those days when you are tired, stressed & a milestone is around the corner. Besides, I wasn’t a complete ass about it, my goal was not to force the team to restart the code from scratch but I did create some headaches. In the end, unless they have lied to me to this point, we are proud of RATS & glad we took the leap. Well, I know I am anyways & the feedback has been positive so far.

After all that said, I want to leave by teasing you with a glimpse of the work I have been doing as of late & in my next post, I will continue this series by focusing on our new & improved art style! Until next time, same site, same batcave.

Teaser of RATS Revised Environment Art

A snazzy looking typewriter if I do say so myself

If you are in a reading mood today you can also check out:

From my main sound man, Joel: Concept behind rats game soundtrack composition

From the outstanding programmer Danny: Particle effects are charming!

Off Topic: E3 Review & my comfortable shoes