10 Years of Allacrost - Style (June 2004 - July 2004)

Submitted by Roots on Mon, 10/27/2014 - 07:02

    One of the most important decisions we had to make dealt with our artistic style. We needed to figure out both the technical details, such as the size of our tiles and sprites, and what the general appearance of the artwork in the game would be. We needed to establish our musical style and influences as well, which was a bit more nebulous to define than our art style. During this phase, we employed concept artists who read the story and interpret these words into stunning visuals, some of which are still in use today.

    Naturally, we turned to the artwork found in our two primary sources of inspiration to get an insight into how large our tiles and sprites should be. There were a few different options that we put on the table and discussed [1]. We ultimately settled on 32x32 pixel tiles, 32x64 pixel sprites, and a default game resolution of 1024x768. It proved to difficult to decide on this without being able to see it, so I quickly wrote some test code that allowed us to see what the game would look like with various size tiles and resolution. While there are algorithms out there to scale pixel art [2], we strongly preferred the game to run at a resolution that would preserve the dimensions and quality of the art.

    We need a style to match the serious and somewhat dark nature of the Allacrost narrative. It was easy for us to agree to seek a style that was realistic and slightly gritty. This meant avoiding cartoonish looking characters and soft, bright colors. In addition to the pixel art you’d find in a game like Allacrost, I suggested that we include more traditional artwork (we toss around the phrase “digital paintings” to describe this). Originally my idea was to have one or two “scene paintings” for every chapter of the game, but this feature was shot down by the rest of the early team for being too much of an interruption from the flow of the game. Still, there are plenty examples of this type of artwork found in the game today, from character portraits to location graphics and even battle backgrounds.

    To determine our sprite style, we searched around for games similar to ours and started a discussion. The goal was to agree on which of these styles would best fit Allacrost, and then use that source as our inspiration. The earliest sprite made was, naturally, for the game’s main protagonist. It was well done, but as you can see below it didn’t really fit the sort of style we were looking for. In a few months we would revisit this design and go a different direction entirely.

    I thought that getting high quality, original music into Allacrost was going to be the most difficult type of content for us to create. I was somewhat anxious about finding composers, as I thought there weren’t going to be very many out there interested in a project like Allacrost. Especially considering that they wouldn’t be financially compensated for their work. However, reality was entirely contrary to my expectations. Throughout the lifetime of this project, we have had to turn down several composers who wanted to join simply because we had too many. And the music that every composer on this team has produced for Allacrost has been phenomenal, and blew away my expectations for the quality of our soundtrack.

    The technical standard for our music was easier to define than our artwork. We knew we wanted to use Ogg files as MP3 files require you to pay a hefty licensing fee [3], and we didn’t want to invite any sort of trouble. Because Allacrost targeted PCs where storage space was plentiful, we chose a compression level that left songs of a somewhat high quality and file size. Some of our composers wanted to use an even higher quality (twice what had been agreed upon), but eventually agreed upon the standard as there was little to be gained from these higher qualities and they greatly increased the file size. Our music already consumed more disk space than the rest of the game’s content combined.

    Our early composed pretty much defined the musical style of Allacrost themselves. Rain and Loodwig were the core of our composition and remained so for many years, and the two together are the fathers of Allacrost’s music and musical style. They read through forum posts and after understanding what type of game we were creating and what our primary sources of inspiration were (both musically and otherwise), set to work. The first piece of music composed for the game was titled “Hopeless Desert” by StarPilot and it sounded phenomenal...but yet somehow very familiar. Eventually, I figured out that it sounded extremely similar to the piece “Sandy Badlands” from Final Fantasy VII. The composer didn’t even realize it himself, but had that tune in his head as he was creating the work (and to be fair, the music really fits in well with what he was tasked to create). After some discussion, we regretfully decided to pull it from the game due to this striking similarity [4].

[1] Artwork Technical Discussion

[2] Pixel Art Scaling Algorithms (Wikipedia)

[3] MP3 Licensing

[4] Issues with Hopeless Desert

Coming up next:

  • Writing source code for a game from scratch
  • Recognizing and dealing with ignorance
  • Setting the project’s first goals, and how we got them all wrong

Forum Discussion Thread