[In this special column, originally printed on sister editor weblog GameSetWatch, Drew Taylor focuses on the art and substance of video game culture with a look at PSP title Patapon, speaking to innovative French artist Rolito about the visual style and the inspiration for his character designs.]
It's almost two in the morning, I'm dosed up on pain killers and my right wrist is sprained—possibly fractured—from a relatively nasty motorcycle accident I had earlier in the day. But that doesn't stop me from wanting to play 'just one more mission' of the addictive PlayStation Portable rhythm/attack game, Patapon
The narcotic effect is partly attributable to the simple (yet strategic) gameplay, insanely catchy rhythms and clever fusion of RPG-lite and rhythm/action genres. But it's the crazy-cool graphic style of French artist Rolito (real name Sebastien Giuli) that has me gripped in a 'fever'.
I want to see more.
Visually, the 35-year-old artist's work on Patapon
is like Willy Wonka meets Frank Miller's 300. A candy-shaped universe full of strong geometry and complementary color palettes. Cave paintings for a Disney-Pixar audience.
Cute, cyclopsian eyeballs on legs—armed with bows, halberds and axes—march to the beat of drums, battling giant fire-breathing dragons. Brave armies endure scorching desert sands, fight beasts of gargantuan proportions, and sail across vast oceans in Viking boats. Trees with scratchy heads dance to the sound of trumpets. Bird-riding warriors rain spears down on their two-dimensional enemies, while catapults lay siege to cowboy forts and medieval castles.
'Some of my inspiration comes from Pre-Colombian and primitive arts, but not only,' explains Rolito, in sentences of broken English. 'This spiritual/mystic aspect is rooted in my passion for mythology, antique civilizations, the unexplained and impalpable. The part of mystery is really important to me, and my work; this is—for sure—what gives [my art] that bizarre and poetic side.
'I think my characters have their own evocative power. There's no need to read any story about them; if you see them you can feel the innocence and poetry. It's a world between the kid world and the adult world, a place where everything is possible.'
Indeed, Rolito's internet sites—Rolitoland
, Black Polito
and his blog
—are filled with the kind of art, vinyl toys, photos and flash animations that seem to transcend ages and cultures; his graphic illustration distilled down to a bold, lovable comic book of humanity.
'My art style is cute and weird, [but the] indispensable element of my work is simplicity,' confirms Rolito.
For Sony's Japan Studio — the same team that brought LocoRoco
to life — Rolito's graphic style was a case of love at first sight, particularly when it came to the little tribe of the Patapon.
These characters inspired in game director Hiroyuki Kotani an image of beating drums, epic battles and great expeditions, and Rolito was quickly contracted to the new project.
'I created the Patapons in 2002,' explains Rolito. 'In 2004 they naturally became the main and animated characters of my web site. We can say that it was their first step to interactivity. To develop them in gameplay was, in a sense, a logical result.'
Logical, perhaps. But what makes Rolito's work on Patapon
so special is that he is one of the only artists in the world to have a game developed entirely from their iconic graphic style.
Hiroyuki based the genre, story and game system completely on Rolito's work; Patapon
being the first game in Hiroyuki's 18 years of game development where the final image of the game predated any hint of a game design document or gameplay ideas.
'This is my first time in the video games world,' admits Rolito, 'but from what I understand having a game based completely on an artist's own personal style is an unusual way of working [and making games]. It's been fascinating to have the opportunity to develop a whole graphic universe in a big project—such as a video game—especially since I was offered full freedom on the graphical style.'
On the bigger picture, Rolito adds, 'I believe there's the need for “open mind-ing” to other graphic [styles and] worlds, and not those already well known. I think that things of simple appearances can be really evocative. They may be considered by some to be less accessible than ultra-realistic 3D, but it seems to me that there are many graphical “new ways” that remain to be investigated, and which haven't been used in video games yet.'
'I really hope this kind of cross-over is going to happen more often in the future,' says Rolito, optimistically.
Rolito is onto something: the idea of putting aside the (frustratingly moot) 'Are video games art?' debate and looking at games as a method of—and vehicle for—art; perceiving games as a defining platform for the expression of art, and the exposure of different styles to a new audience.
This is not about a push-button slideshow of pretty images, an early 80s interactive CD-ROM, or 'borrowing' a visual style. This is about art and artists being the focal point through which game design is channeled.
This is about art as narrative. Art as gameplay.
This is about unleashing the genius of people such as Alberto Ruiz
, Nathan Jurevicius
, Joe Ledbetter
, Celia Calle
, Merjin Hos
, Zach Johnsen
, Luke Cheuh
Artists such as Rolito.
And this is about continuing the journey that has begun through the collaborative work of a Japanese corporation and a French artist. A journey of shared joys an visions; of opportunity.
A journey that ventures towards a brave new world of gaming design and culture.
Ask Rolito, however, about his thoughts on Patapon and the idea that it's taking his art to a new and different audience, and he answers with the same heart that sees him devote a considerable amount of his time and art to charitable causes.
'It is obviously very interesting for me to show and share my work to a wider audience, even if, at the same time, I expose myself more to the critics,' Rolito confides.
'I would just like the gamers to discover and enjoy Patapon's world.'
It's now after two in the morning, and I'm finally heading for bed, too tired to maintain the insatiable rhythms of battle.
Rolito should have no concerns, I think to myself, as my head hits the pillow. None at all.
[Drew Taylor works in the games industry in Australia and writes video game culture articles for various magazines. He is mightily thankful for full-face motorcycle helmets (without one he'd surely be lying in intensive care right now without half his nose, mouth or bottom jaw) and believes that the PSP is still being under-utilized with regards to all manner of creative media.]