To accompany the gameplay overhaul and new engine, Outer Colony needed completely new visuals.
As you can see in OC’s videos and screenshots, its world view is comprised of overhead tile graphics. When we were trying to figure out the right approach for OC’s visuals, many options were considered. Ultimately, pixel art in the form of tile sprites is the right fit for OC.
The detail of OC’s data model is such that it can’t be practically expressed with visually. Is it possible to build 3D character models that change to show bruises, ligament tears, and broken bones? Is it possible to build vehicle models that can deform realistically as they’re hit by missiles? Is it possible to create dynamic item models comprised of parts that vary with their material composition? Yes, in 2015, these things could be done. But it takes a 7+ figure budget to pull off.
Without vast, vast, vast resources, there’s no way that the detail of OC could be rendered in 3D models. This means that the graphics ultimately have to be representational, which is to say that the world rendering has to represent the data model in abstract terms, obscuring some of the details and leaving them to the player’s imagination. Given that OC’s graphics would have to be representational, pixel sprites were a very appealing option.
For starters, OC’s simulation mechanics impose fairly extreme processing requirements that demanded a specialized, custom built game engine. A tile based, sprite rendering framework fit the engine like a glove and was practical to develop in house, and the computationally simplified graphics compliment the underlying processing framework by freeing resources for other tasks. Additionally, OC contains so many items, so many materials, so many people, so many plants, so many creatures, and so, so many things. From a time and budget standpoint, it’s much better to model them in gorgeous pixel art than to try to simplify our 3D modeling pipeline in an effort to do more than our budget can really accommodate.
Finally, we’ve been very fortunate in recruiting tremendous talent for the production of sprites. Elbert Lim joined the team last winter, and he’s been a veritable machine since day 1. Elbert has been producing huge volumes of sprites in short amounts of time, and this has enabled us to create a huge variety of environments, from bright and cheerful to dark and gloomy. We’ve got tons of character assets, tons of animations, scores of plant species, huge, multi-tiled vehicles, and more. I think the results look fantastic, they fit our time and budget requirements, and we’ve got the talent we need to produce attractive visuals on the team.
So, we’ve got great pixel art to create attractive, representational world views! Some of the onus for imagining the world’s details, though, is on the player. To help picture the environments, the creatures, the technology, and the people of OC, we’re integrating detailed illustrations directly with the game interface.
Jennifer Lange has been OC’s illustrator and concept artist since the early days of the project, having been with the team for more than two years. Like Brian Fairbanks, she’s toughed out some of the rough times the project’s been through and has continued to produce amazing, amazing artwork for OC. When it comes to really visualizing the details of the things in OC, her illustrations help provide details. OC’s pixel art looks great, text descriptions are helpful, but when you’re confronted with a creature called a probotorin…what is that?
That is a probotorin. So why not work these illustrations directly into Outer Colony’s in-game interfaces to help players further visualize details of the world? That’s precisely what we’ve done. Inspection interfaces, encyclopedia interfaces, event interfaces, and more are full of illustrations that provide more context.
With plenty of artistic talent on the team, OC offers multiple vehicles for helping players to visualize and imagine the worlds. I think the end result is an aesthetically pleasing, attractive game that’s a lot of fun for the eye.