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Danielle Riendeau, Editor-in-Chief

March 29, 2023

6 Min Read
A very warm and cartoony view of 50s Los Angeles

GDC 2023 was ripe for in-depth talks on art, animation and related visual disciplines. While the Game Developer staff wasn't able to attend every art/animation talk (unfortunately, that's impossible, and we'll be looking on vault for the rest of the year), here are a few highlights from our coverage. We've included deep dives on the cinematics of Horizon Zero Dawn and Gotham Nights, the overall aesthetic of Supermassive Game's horror projects, interview notes from IGF-nominated-and winning projects such as NORCO, Afterglitch and RPG Time: The Legend of Wright and much more.

Designing the cinematic "theme park" of Horizon Forbidden West

The cinematic director for Guerrilla Games' open-world post-apocalyptic game describes their approach to adding epic flair.

"Before we get into defining these tools and having examples, I want to use the visual metaphor of a theme park," said Auray after he presented the two gameplay clips. "In a massive open-world game with cinematics, there are sometimes the main quests that will feel like a roller coaster, where it's a high-quality, exciting ride with bespoke cameras and animation."

Continuing with his metaphor, he explained that Horizon Zero Dawn was a combination of roller coasters and "spinning teacups" (the more relaxed ride), which worked for main quests and smaller events, respectively. He stated this was necessary on the original, as the first game's cinematics were produced around leveraging solid voice-over talent rather than having extensive mo-cap performances with the actors.

NORCO and capturing the spirit of Louisiana through sci-fi storytelling

NORCO takes players to a futuristic vision of Norco, Louisiana, digging deep into the look, sound, and feel of the place as it tells a story of a missing sibling.

"A lot of the visuals were informed directly by the landscapes of suburban New Orleans, having spent years photographing and painting the region. The visuals also got a massive boost when Jesse Jacobi came on board. He’s a very talented traditional painter and applied his skills to pixel art without a hitch."

notebook doodles bar and inn

Creating the look of a child's hand-crafted game in RPG Time: The Legend of Wright

RPG Time: The Legend of Wright contains a world of hand crafted games inside a child's notebook, capturing the feeling of creating games in your notebook as a kid.

"Instead of a skilled, experienced visual designer, a level designer who didn't do so well in arts and craft classes (yours truly) was the one creating the graphics, which naturally lead to a style that looked very childlike. Because the development period was very long, I was concerned that I may have gotten better at drawing or modeling and that might detract from the childlike style, but unfortunately (or not) I never did improve as much and so that issue never came up."

Evolving a horror aesthetic with The Dark Pictures Anthology

The creative director of Supermassive Games' anthology series explains how they built a growing subgenre of horror gaming.

"The aesthetic for [Until Dawn] was a horror movie, a kind of B-movie slightly cheesy horror movie, but the top-level design idea was a horror movie that you can play," said Heaton about the appeal of Until Dawn. "It was a notion that was delivered something that was quite close to survival horror, but what we wanted was something that looked and sounded and was plotted like a horror movie – we wanted to fool people that suddenly walked into the room to think that you're watching a movie."

How WB Montreal made Gotham Knights' cutscenes work for four playable heroes

WB Montreal's Wilson Mui discussed how Gotham Knights' cutscenes were made with its four heroes in mind, while ensuring they maintained their own individuality.

"Part of the cinematic process involved working towards capturing "the perfect take," which he described as the “best technical, audio, and artistic performance, including body and facial data.” Shooting those perfect takes with each of the four leads lightened the load for film management and outsourcing needs. But before those particular takes took place, Mui brought up how the cinematics team would do an “ugly but functional” first pass to identify what was missing or not working entirely."

aloy riding a tallneck in Horizon Forbidden West

Adding narrative texture to the people and places of Horizon Forbidden West

Guerrilla Games' lead living world designer Espen Sogn explains how the team worked to make each tribe in Forbidden West feel unique, and crucially, persistent.

"In order to realize that "living world" the second time around, Sogn's team created tribe-specific animations and resisted the urge to use them everywhere. The team wanted to avoid leaning on "information booth" NPCs to dump exposition on players, and hoped that by ensuring each of Forbidden West's tribes interacted with the world and other NPCs in visibly unique ways, it would hint at rich histories and cultures."

"'If you can't get an idea about who these people are by walking around and observing them, I don't think we'd have done a good job,' explains Sogn. An example of one of those interactions is how sub-faction of NPCs in the Tenakth tribe will draw their knife from a different place, subtly emphasizing their status as warriors."

Afterglitch Seeks to Stir Unknowable Emotions in Utopian Space

Afterglitch takes players on a spiritual journey through an almost-overwhelming vision of extradimensional utopian space.

"The utopian sci-fi aesthetic appealed to me. Aesthetics are very important in games for me. It was probably shaped mainly by sci-fi illustrations from the 70's and 80's. I was influenced by the work of Czech painter Zdenek Burian and also by Salvador Dali. Dali's famous work Corpus Hypercubus from 1954 became the basis for Afterglitch. It shows Jesus Christ crucified on a spread-out tesseract (hypercube). This led me to the fourth dimension and to think about how to portray it."

How To Hell With the Ugly brought a fantasized 50's L.A. to life through color

To Hell With the Ugly adapts the Boris Vian novel of the same name into a game of solving your own kidnapping in the boiling heat of 1950's L.A.

"The fans are spinning, we're in L.A., the mercury is rising, and Rock Bailey has "a chaud aux fesses" (a narrow escape) in this story. All of this reminds us of warm colors! The bright colors and strong moods also serve to refresh and make the artistic direction attractive. Also, the flat areas of bright color for the skin bring an original and modern touch and allow the identification of the characters in the more nuanced décor."

Read more art and animation coverage from Game Developer here.

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About the Author(s)

Danielle Riendeau

Editor-in-Chief, GameDeveloper.com

Danielle is the editor-in-chief of Game Developer, with previous editorial posts at Fanbyte, VICE, and Polygon. She’s also a lecturer in game design at the Berklee College of Music, and a hobbyist game developer in her spare time.

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