This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series.
Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery, which was nominated for Excellence in Visual Arts in the IGF Awards, follows the life of a painter, immersing the player in their ordinary days to see their inspirations and the processes involved in creating their final work for a gallery submission.
Silver Lining Studio spoke with Game Developer about creating an experience that shows the world that informs the work of an artist, what interested them in showing how personal lives reflect in an artist's work, and the challenges that come from giving players tools to create beautiful artwork when they may have little artistic skill themselves.
Who are you, and what was your role in developing Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery?
Weichen Lin: Hello! My name is Weichen Lin, the producer of Behind the Frame. I am responsible for the direction of game design, storytelling, art-direction, and most of the panoramic background paintings.
What's your background in making games?
I am a concept artist and illustrator with a specialization in character and environment design.
How did you come up with the concept for Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery?
I often think about how to tell and paint a story through imagery. While we are painting we often adjust, add, or erase some elements in the picture to perfect the composition and content placement. Which had me thinking: What if these adjustments came from emotional needs and regrets instead of from aesthetic sense? What personal experience has occurred while the painter designing their composition? What secrets is the painter maybe trying to hide? I found these questions puzzling and interesting. After I wrote a short story, the development process for Behind the Frame began.
What development tools were used to build your game?
We built our game with Unity 3D. Also, we used the panorama painting function in Photoshop.
What interested you in making a game about creating artwork?
Painting and drawing has been a big part of my life. There is always satisfaction and doubt in creating something that is extracted from personal experience. It’s not only a way to express our feelings, but also a way to soothe our regrets. I want the players to feel what our character feels and really see what these emotions are when translated into artwork. Creating artwork is not only filling colors and shapes, but also an adventure.
Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery gets the player to make art pieces of their own throughout the game. What thoughts went into giving players (who may not have much artistic ability) the power to create striking artwork?
Actually, we first designed our painting function as a freehand painting puzzle so that players can create their own masterpiece. But after our first player-testing, we found that not all players are comfortable in creating artwork, which contradicts our story atmosphere. So we decreased the scale of freehand to make it more approachable for all audiences.
The player doesn't just create artwork, as they'll also go through some of the more mundane tasks in the main character's day. Why was it important to capture moments of making food and other everyday tasks in the gameplay as well?
These daily chores are the things we call "ordinary" but important tasks. Everyone has their preference in their daily routine, or their ways to get into ”the zone”. As a matter of fact, routine tasks are essential to define an individual’s everyday life. The routine we choose is our way to introduce our character’s personality and her life as an artist.
What drew you to the game's beautiful art style? What inspired it, and what made it feel right for the experience you wanted to create?
We wanted this game to be warm and detailed as much as possible so that players can feel how much time and effort our characters have put into the environments and paintings on the wall. We wanted players to feel the emotion and atmosphere right away once they enter a scene.
We love Ghibli and classic Disney movies, not only for their warm atmosphere, but also for their hand-painted, unique aesthetic (which is essential to our story and game design). Once we felt like the painter was living in a beautiful hand-painted world, that was the time we felt right about the art style.
Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery also features many smooth, striking animations. Can you tell us about the process of bringing your characters to moving life?
We wanted players to experience a theatrical journey like a movie, so we followed that process. We wrote all the actions and movements of each character first, then discussed every act and expression with a storyboard artist. After making sure every shot matched the emotion we wanted the viewer to feel, we into the final rendering. It was a long process, but it was worth it!
What thoughts went into designing the world the player inhabits? Into creating a captivating city with colors and places designed to inspire an artist?
The world and environment was based on the color scheme and emotion of each painting. Behind the Frame is based on what the painter sees and feels in different moments, which is also reflected in the paintings.
For example, in Chapter 2, players see a red painting and get some red paint after solving the puzzle. Then they will visit the physical red building which is illustrated in the painting. The event depicted in the painting is happy and exciting—like what we feel when we see the color red. We tried to make this consistent throughout the game because this is a world of painters - we should see the connection between their world and their artwork.
This game, an IGF 2022 finalist, is featured as part of the IGF Awards ceremony, taking place at the Game Developers Conference on Wednesday, March 23 (with a simultaneous broadcast on GDC Twitch).