Find a style and stick with it
Whenever games are looked back upon for their visuals, there’s usually a single element that players can name to summarize the experience. Paper Mario’s unique handling of 2D objects in a 3D environment, or even Ori and the Blind Forest’s masterful use of colors and dimension. When creating an aesthetic style for a game, it’ll be key to find a style that makes a statement. Not everything can be unique, but a style can definitely speak for itself.
First, the style should be reflective of the game and genre that it’s purposed for. Small 2D sprites won’t lend themselves well to a fighting game where players need to read the opponent’s moves in order to create counterplay, and big, flashy graphics might get in the way of being able to see the opponent’s model. If the genre of the game is kept closely in mind it shouldn’t be a hard decision to figure out what sort of particle effects, character models, and environmental assets will be needed for the game. Really, no one needs hyper-realistic graphics to play reskinned Bejeweled, but people are drawn into those saturated and active colors!
Use a color scheme to enhance themes
This topic might sound easy to approach, but in reality, it’s hard to master. Colors will convey messages beyond textual context, and using them effectively can change a story from a boring retelling of Little Red Riding Hood to a thriller experience of Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf. Learning the importance of color theory will not only enhance the visual experience of the game, but also the emotional impact the game and its scenes will have. So many games forget to use basic color theory concepts and miss out on striking the audience’s emotions.
Desaturated tones can convey a stillness, while more saturated colors can convey a more active theme of aggressiveness or playfulness. Deep purples can drop a player into a mood of mystery, while darker greens, reds and blues could leave a player feeling horrified. Even a lack of color, or a specific color in a scene can convey the thoughts and emotions that the audience should be feeling.
Take some time to study critically acclaimed movies and analyze their palette choices. What colors are the romantic scenes using, or perhaps the more bloody scenes. Are the silent scenes rich with color, or perhaps the whole scene is neutral. Once these nuances of color become more apparent, begin asking why, and applying similar cognition to.
Understanding and utilizing basic shapes to communicate with the players
After getting color out of the way, the next step is mastering the shapes of the world, character and environment. It’s key to understand how line and shape play into the player perspective; the more jagged and bent a line is, the more unstable and erratic it appears. This line will hold kinetic values and communicate this to players. Straighter lines communicate stability, while softly curved lines communicate peacefulness and flexibility.
This trend also follows into shapes with circles, triangles, squares and their 3D counterparts. Circles are known to be the strongest shape, as they’re flexible and able to adapt, while squares are a foundation shape. Triangles are also strong, but also communicate a lot of kinetic energy.
These shapes can be applied to characters in order to communicate their types of personalities, even subtly foreshadowing that a character introduced as “good” has some wicked tendencies about them. Shapes can also be used to make a statement about the level itself; if players find themselves taking many twists and turns to progress through the level, they’ll find that it feels busy and hyper, while a level that’s one straight line would feel boring.
While this is a shallow look at adding a bit of power to the aesthetics of a game, taking some time to invest in studying fine arts would provide a lot more insight to design choices. Often enough the most subtle influences of a study on arts can create the most engaging game.
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