Three Things An Old Computer Game Can Teach Us About How To Add Some Heavy Metal To The Fantasy Genre

Although I have a weird love/hate relationship with the fantasy genre, I recently happened to find something really cool in this genre which made me think about how to add elements of the heavy metal genre to the fantasy genre.

Although I don’t know when or if I’ll review it properly, it’s a fantasy/action computer game from 2002 called “Enclave“. Although this game has somewhat clunky combat and was clearly designed for consoles rather than computers, I still absolutely love this game.

This is a screenshot from “Enclave” (2002).

Why? Because it is about as metal as you can get 🙂 Whether you’re playing as a chiselled barbarian-like knight or a scary halfling warrior (yes, there are other playable characters, but these two are the only good ones I’ve found so far), this game exudes badassery in every way.

Seriously, it’s like the epic fight scenes from the “Lord Of The Rings” movies, but with added gloominess, mindlessness and general epicness. Although the game includes a vaguely movie-like soundtrack, I found myself fervently wishing that “Tonight We Ride” by Unleash The Archers was playing in the background of some segments of the game instead. In other words, it’s a brilliant example of heavy metal-style fantasy.

So, what can this game teach us about adding some heavy metal to the fantasy genre?

1) Simplicity: Although the game has a lot of vaguely Tolkien-esque lore (with lots of unpronounceable names like Dreg’athar etc…), one of the reasons why it is so metal is because the story of the game is relatively simple.

I hope you like fighting monsters…..

If you play as the “good” faction, the story involves breaking out of jail, defending the city from orcs, going on an epic quest through some scary wastelands etc…. I haven’t played the “evil” campaign, but the fact that you can also play as the villians is pretty cool.

Both stories are suitably heavy metal, but why? Simply put, they’re simple and focused. They don’t get lost in the minutae of mythical politics or magical lore. Although all of this stuff is still there as a background detail, the basic story is just a simple goal-orientated thing that allows for lots of epic feats of combat and dramatic battles. It doesn’t require you to keep track of twenty character names, memorise seven family trees or anything like that, it’s just a thrilling story that is there to be enjoyed.

So, if you want to add some heavy metal to your fantasy story, comic etc.. then keep the basic underlying story relatively simple.

2) Lighting: One of the best visual ways to add some heavy metal to the fantasy genre is simply to focus on gloomy lighting and death/destruction-related imagery. Again, “Enclave” excels in this respect. So far, I’ve seen creepy old castles, a besieged city, a decrepit ancient temple and some kind of hellish underworld. All of these locations are lit by fire, magma and/or moonlight. And they look really metal as a result.

Seriously, this location is pretty much an album cover in it’s own right…

So, when making comics, art in the heavy metal fantasy genre, then make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of each picture is covered with black paint. Likewise, make sure to include lots of fire-based light sources too. If you need more examples of this type of art, then just look at some classic-style heavy metal album covers.

3) Character design: The character designs in this game provide some instructive examples of both good and bad heavy metal fantasy character design. The good examples, which I mentioned earlier, are the “Knight” and “Halfling” characters.

The knight looks more like a Roman gladiator (in terms of his spiked shoulder armour etc…) or a muscular barbarian than a traditional medieval knight. Likewise, the halfling has spiky blond hair, grins maniacally, has scary-looking facial tattoos and looks genuinely fearsome. Although her costume design (eg: dark trousers and a crop top) doesn’t include any armour, her character design still has a rather practical and rugged look that wouldn’t be out of place in a lawless wilderness or a 1980s heavy metal concert.

Yes, THIS is how to design a badass heavy metal-style character 🙂

And this Roman-like area just makes the Knight look even more like a grizzled gladiator too!

The common factor with both of these characters is that they look like hardened warriors. They look like they’ve been forged in the heat of battle and exist to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies. Their general character designs are meant to exude toughness and they seem like they genuinely fit into a harsh world that is ruled by the sword and the bow.

On the other hand, the “Druid” character is a terrible example of heavy metal fantasy character design. Simply put, she’s wearing a swimming costume.

I’m not exaggerating, this outfit is more suited to a beach party than an epic battle with the forces of evil!

Even though the game recognises the sheer absurdity of wearing something like this into battle (by drastically reducing the level of protection against damage she has), her design comes across more as blatant fanservice than actual heavy metal character design. In other words, she seems like she wouldn’t last five minutes in the game’s world. And this completely breaks the immersion for the audience.

So, design your characters with toughness and practicality in mind and they will come across as considerably more “metal” than if you aim for fanservice or ultra-stylised character design.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What Can Old Computer Games Teach Us About Painting And Drawing From Imagination? – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about the differences between painting from imagination and painting from photographs/life etc.. This is mostly because I’ve found a brilliant computer game-related analogy for it that I want to share.

If you’ve played computer games from the 1990s/early-mid 2000s, you probably already know the difference between FMV and in-game cutscenes. If you don’t, then I should probably explain. Older games generally tended to get story information across to the player through animated video segments. However, these came in two very different varieties.

FMV (full motion video) was often created using high-end graphics software, then recorded and inserted into the game. This allowed games to include CGI footage that looked years ahead of the graphics in other contemporary games. Since these scenes required a lot of resources and preparation to make (and took up a lot of memory), they usually tended to be restricted to short introductory and ending movies. They look a bit like this:

This is a screenshot from a FMV sequence in “Deus Ex: Invisible War” (2003). Even though this footage is from about fifteen years ago, it could almost pass for something from a modern game. Almost.

In-game cutscenes on the other hand, are animated scenes that are created using the same technology as the rest of the game. As such, they are considerably easier, quicker and cheaper for game developers to make. They take up less memory and they generally appear a lot more frequently than FMV in old games. However, they don’t really look as realistic or as good. Compare this example from “Deus Ex: Invisible War” to the FMV screenshot above:

This is a screenshot from an in-game cutscene in “Deus Ex: Invisible War” (2003). As you can see, the graphics look a lot less realistic than the FMV sequences.

So, why am I mentioning this? Well, one of the endearing things about old games is that they’ll often dazzle the player with an almost-realistic introductory FMV video, only to then show the player the actual game (which looks nowhere near as realistic). If you’ve played a lot of old games, you’ll be used to this. If you haven’t, then it will probably be at least somewhat disconcerting.

But, what does it have to do with art? Well, painting from imagination is much more like an in-game cutscene and painting from life/photos etc… is more like a FMV sequence. After all, if you’re painting from life or a photo, it’s easy to make your art look realistic since you can just copy what you see. Like this:

“Random Desk Still Life” By C. A. Brown

You also don’t have to worry about finding inspiration, since you have an “inspiration” directly in front of you when you’re painting. There’s a reason why a lot of famous artists tend to do this whilst making art.

However, painting from imagination takes a lot more work. You have to come up with an idea and then you have to work out how to paint it. Chances are, even with a few years of practice, it won’t look as realistic as a still life or a painting from a photo. And this can be somewhat dispiriting. But, it shouldn’t be.

“From The 1990s” By C. A. Brown

If you paint from imagination, then you can do so much more! Yes, it might not look as “realistic” but you aren’t limited by what exists in real life. Like how a FMV video is often less interactive than an in-game cutscene, paintings from photos and/or life are limited by the source materials you can find.

Not only that, if you can paint even vaguely well from imagination then you’ll find making paintings from life/photos fairly easy. However, if you only make art from photos/life, then you’re probably going to find painting from imagination to be extremely challenging.

It’s kind of like how even the worst computer and/or video games of the past could include cool-looking FMV sequences, but a really great game could include few to no cutscenes whatsoever. Anyone in the games industry could make cool-looking FMVs, but it took real talent to make an enjoyable game and/or compelling in-game cutscenes.

What I’m trying to say here is that the underlying imagination behind making art matters more than how “realistic” your paintings or drawings look. Yes, you should strive to improve (just like how in-game cutscenes have gradually got more realistic over the years), but if you have to focus on either painting from imagination or painting from life/photos, choose imagination. Your art might not look as good, but it will make you a better and more creative artist.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What Can A Retro Game Show Us About Making Recognisable Comic Characters?

2016 Retro games and comic characters article sketch

Although this is an article about making comic characters, I’m going to spend most of this article talking about an old computer game that I’m playing at the moment. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

As I mentioned in one of my art posts about a month ago, I’m planning to review a computer game from 1993 called “Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers” at some point in the future. At the time of writing, I appear to be completely stuck on one part of this game (despite using two walkthroughs) so I’m not sure when or if I’ll review this game.

Anyway, when I was taking screenshots in preparation for my review, I took a closer look at them and noticed something really interesting (that I didn’t really pay attention to when I was actually playing the game) – none of the characters actually have proper faces. I’m serious, they don’t.

Here are zoomed-in details from two screenshots to show you what I mean:

[This is a zoomed-in image of Grace Nakimura from "Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers".] Notice the lack of facial detail

[This is a zoomed-in image of Grace Nakimura from “Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers”.] Notice the lack of facial detail

[This is a zoomed-in image of Professor Hartridge from "Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers".] Again, notice the lack of facial detail in this picture.

[This is a zoomed-in image of Professor Hartridge from “Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers”.] Again, notice the lack of facial detail in this picture.

Of course, when you’re actually playing the game, the perspective is zoomed out a lot more and this is a lot less noticeable. But, apart from a dark brown pixel or two to indicate where the characters’ eyes are and occasionally a white pixel or two in place of their mouth when they’re speaking, they have literally no facial detail at all.

Even though the dialogue screens in the game include more detailed drawings of each character (so that the player can learn more about what they look like), the game’s characters are still very easily recognisable in the rest of the game for a number of reasons.

The first reason why these characters are very recognisable is because they all have very distinctive hairstyles and different clothing designs which allow you to recognise them at a glance.

For example, in the screenshot below, Gabriel is the blond guy in the trenchcoat and Detective Mosely is the brown-haired guy in the yellow jacket. Your imagination is left to fill in all of the remaining details about them.

 Notice how each character is instantly recognisable due to their hairstyles and clothing.

Notice how each character is instantly recognisable due to their hairstyles and clothing.

This is also why characters in many traditional animated cartoons and comic books often wear the same outfit all of the time. Since this makes them recognisable at a glance, it means that the artists don’t have to spend as much time and effort adding lots of small details.

And, when you’re making lots of comic panels or animation frames, then you’ll probably want to use as little detail as you can get away with.

So, by giving each of your characters a few easily-recognisable details, you can let your audience’s imagniations “fill in the gaps” about the rest of the character.

The other reason why these characters are so recognisable is because they each have very distinctive dialogue. Each character has his or her own “voice” which shows the audience a lot about their personalities.

For example, Gabriel often makes endearingly sleazy comments and cheesy jokes, Grace often makes cynical and sarcastic comments, Detective Mosely tends to speak slightly more informally and use more insults than the other characters etc…

As I’ve said many times before, when you’re making a comic, the dialogue matters a lot more than the artwork does. So, even if your characters all look virtually identical, you can still make them stand out from each other if you give each of them a distinctive personality and dialogue style.

So, if you give your characters distinctive outfits/hairstyles and if you make sure that each character’s dialogue sounds slightly unique, then you can get away with including a surprisingly small amount of visual detail. Your audience’s imaginations will fill in the gaps.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂