Arriving at the V&A for the Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt Exhibit
Koen and I always seem to be visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum for a fashion exhibit, but this time we went for something a bit different – Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, a major exhibition that explores the design and culture of contemporary videogames. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I really loved it! So interesting to delve deeper into the creative process!
To quote the site:
This exhibition provides a unique insight into the design process behind a selection of groundbreaking contemporary videogames. Design work including concept art and prototypes featured alongside large-scale immersive installations and interactives.
New Emotional Experiences: Journey
Spreadsheet and color chart that was created to plot the players’ emotional progression across the game. It also acted to refocus the team of designers late in the production.
Concept Art Illustrations: Art director Matt Nava made concept art illustrations throughout the development process. After painting his earliest character designs in watercolor, Nava soon realized the process would necessitate quicker pencil sketches. His characters progressed from having arms and legs to a streamlined robed human-like figure that would eventually become the game’s protagonist.
Color scripts: Color scripts are created by the studio’s concept artists as a reference for creating atmospheric environments to fit the narrative. This script shows scenes in the university location during the autumn season in the game. On the left are images of the undeveloped blockmesh for major locations, with concept art in the middle. the clouds are a reference for the lighting and visual effects (VFX) teams, which build progressively as the narrative darkens.
Character design notebooks: The character designers at FromSoftware illustrated early ideas in notepads that would be developed into full designs. Shown here are the first iterations of characters including the Hunter, Doll and the Maneater Boar. They illustrate the attempts at producing the level of horror that director Miyazaki envisaged. Alongside these creatures are ideas for the intricate weapon designs that are an integral part of the combat in Bloodborne.
Developing the Cleric Beast: These images are from the 3D graphic development process. FromSoftware’s animators produced more realistic fur with over 200,000 polygons (the flat planes combined to produce 3D shapes) programmed to flow with the beast’s movements – a huge number for a single videogame character.
Level Planning Papers: The level design in Bloodborne is very important to gameplay. Each area of the game is extremely intricate, connecting in countless, unexpected ways and reflecting the Gothic sensibilities of the game’s influences. The level designers began their process in planning meetings where they worked up different ideas on paper for atmospheres, building types and routes around spaces, including suggestions such as moving staircases.
Character Progression Illustrations: This is a group of illustrations of character development, following the selection of the squid/humanoid concept but before the more developed digital concept design. There are variations on the player characters, their emotions and body language. There are also early considerations of clothing and weapons. Doodles show the first steps towards iconic characters like the game’s feline referee Judd the Cat – a remnant from when the players were rabbits, now the only surviving mammal in the squid world.
Jenny Jiao Hsia
Inspiration for Jenny Jiao Hsia
Polyominos and grid worksheet: Paper cut-outs are a tangible way for Hsia to explore game design. Inspired by Anna Anthropy’s puzzle game TRIAD, which used similar game mechanics linked to a narrative about three people and one cat sharing a single bed, Hsia wanted to create a mini-game around fitting food items on a plate. The challenge comes from piecing the shapes together on a grid – the food items are designed as different polyominos (geometric figures made of a combination of equal-sized squares).
Desk Toys: Hsia’s art direction is strongly influenced by her love of cute aesthetics. This is reflected in the toys and objects she surrounds herself with in her workspace. a small selection of these is displayed on the desk around her notebooks, including popular Japanese characters, stackable Disney Tsum Tsum soft toys and Style Savvy, a Nintendo DS fashion boutique game.
Kentucky Route Zero
Kentucky Route Zero: Literary Influences, the history of interactive fiction pre-dates videogames, appearing in printed texts and literature where the reader or player takes an active role in their experience of the narrative. Like Kentucky Route Zero, these works do not offer a linear narrative and expect a level of interaction from their readers (Colossal Cave Adventure, The Sound and the Fury, House of Leaves).
Typography: Cardboard Computer gave special attention to typography in their game. They selected the typeface Letter Gothic, created for IBM Selectric typewriters, and used in documenting the Dan Sandin Image Processor. This was a video synthesizer that mixed and modified basic video signals to create a visual output, in a similar fashion to an audio synthesizer, used by early video artists and in live performances. The designers treated the text as both a material and real-time component, borrowing from Japanese role-playing games that used punctuation as a score for dialogue. Each punctuation element pauses the dialogue for different durations, approximating the rhythms of speech.
A Belgian videogame!
Sketch of Oma Magriet (Michaël’s Grandmother), Book 32: This is a sketch by Auriea Harvey of Michaël Samyn’s 98-year-old grandmother. She was the partial inspiration for the design of the elderly woman in The Graveyard. However, Tale of Tales wanted the character to be an archetype for players to project their own experiences onto, and so supplemented their time with Michaël’s grandmother with researching images of other elderly people.
Izegem cemetery in West Flanders is near where Michaël Samyn grew up. Tale of Tales returned there to find inspiration for The Graveyard, describing it as ‘a very peaceful and quiet place [with] a certain harmony of human death and natural life that is very poetic’. As well as reference photographs of their visit, they also produced a single concept sketch to capture their vision for The Graveyard’s setting and tone.
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky: Science fiction literature from the 1960s and ’70s was a major inspiration for No Man’s Sky. Intrepid stories of discovering unknown worlds are reflected in the game’s optimistic intent. This was a deliberate contrast to the dystopian narratives that director Sean Murray felt dominated videogames set in space.
Book cover art inspired the game’s visuals. British illustrator Chris Foss, who created the cover art for Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, was particularly influential in his use of bright colors and architectural spacecraft design.