So there are certain rules in the process of designing an environment; the first would have to be, be sure the environment is technically accurate. If the setting is in the Mediterranean, for example, make sure the trees, plantlife etc are all elements one would expect to find there.
Secondly, do the research- study each individual element of the scene in real life before attempting to draw it from memory.
Finally, try to include some sort of narrative, or open some kind of mystery, in the finished scene, or evidence of the things that have transpired there.
Environments and scenery are my huge kryptonite and I need to iron that out. Which makes this Environment Design project pretty difficult for me (BUT I CALL IT A CHALLENGE). As such, this is one of the few projects I haven’t started without seeing an image in my head to start from; I’m genuinely completely lost.
Anyway, my technique for setting myself some kind of starting point to work from is to take random words from the dictionary and see what fits together, and what the words combined connotate. In this case, I’m naming the area before I design it; candidates so far are Paper Bastion, Vector-Raster, Empyreal Cocytus, or a combination thereof.
So my favourite places in games have always been the ones that just feel truly, hauntingly empty. Inside the moon in Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the dream-sequence Zanarkand in Final Fantasy X, the strange “hidden rooms” and bonus maps (and the arena where you fight the Phases) in .hack//, the river where you fight The Sorrow in MGS3, and the very bottom of Aperture Science in Portal 2 are all perfect examples. These areas were all an abrupt and drastic change of scenery, and became instantly memorable because they were so out-of-place with what you knew so far about the world of the game in question. Not only were they radically different, but you were suddenly completely cut off from the rest of the world- it felt like the game itself telling you “You’re on your own, dude”.
So that’s exactly the feeling I want to achieve. Maybe by throwing in some surreal elements the way .hack// did.
Ideas are coming together; I decided I wanted to do something different with the sky, and possibly the surface of the ground. Cue bullet point format due to my short-attention-span brain and its lack of ability to process paragraphs.
- The sky I might replace with a ceiling, as if the environment exists in a closed space. Possibly a checkerboard-pattern.
- Or, the checkerboard pattern could work for the ground instead. But instead of a flat ground, an uneven, more organic one, like rocks or sand, only with an unnatural texture. Pavement would work just as well here.
- I kind of like the idea of static, too. Like, television snowstorm static, making it look like the object isn’t quite there.
- Telegraph poles. I want telegraph poles in here; but placed really randomly and all the wires are crossed over and tangled. For the horizon I might use a typical city skyline silhouette, but with said telegraph poles sticking randomly out of the sides of the buildings like some sort of fungus. Basically, I want them in place of trees or plantlife, as if they’d just sprouted and spread, the way weeds do when a place in abandoned.
- …I think I’ve pretty much decided there isn’t going to be much colour in this place. Shadoes of grey methinks.
- Red water. Apart from the red water. The water will be the only colour here, since water is an element that symbolises purity, and so is fire, which is associated with red. But I don’t want the water to look like blood, nor do I want to replace it with fire because fire is too energetic; water is still. It could work if it’s noticeably transparent, though.
- What if I use static for the sky instead? If it looks like the sky isn’t in place, the whole environment would feel literally man-made, from scratch, right down to the ground and sky.
- I think I have some scenes forming for some of the names I came up with. If I name it Empyreal Cocytus, there will be a river of red water with white waterlilies, and a bunch of stalagmites with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern. The idea here is that the river is comparable to the river Styx, leading to the underworld (‘Empyreal’ means ‘sky-like’ and Cocytus is another name for purgatory). For Paper Bastion, the entire surface will be submerged, with white islands dotted around from which the telegraph poles emerge, but in the distance there will be a random out-of-place fairytale-like castle. While the surface is in muted tones, the castle will be bright and colourful. I’m not sure whether it will be protruding from a small planet/moon or an upside-down floating island or something else altogether- I kind of don’t want it to be hanging from anything, lest it take away from the mystery.
- Actually, I think I’m going with Paper Bastion, I like the castle idea.
I’ve drawn out the components of the final scene; I settled on bringing in the white lilies too- I figured it would feel a whole lot more ominous to have something alive but that you can’t interact with than being completely alone.
Anyway, I’ve decided that Paper Bastion would be an RPG environment. Only, not a conventional area or level; each time the player dies or otherwise make a fatal decision, instead of ‘Game Over’ and losing progress, the player is instead sent to Paper Bastion, where one must run toward the castle in order to return. The first few times the player dies, this is simply a case of doing just that; running toward the castle until respawned shortly before one died, each time starting further and further away. But the more the player dies, the less forgiving Paper Bastion is. Soon, the water becomes damaging, meaning one has to run from island to island where health is regained. A couple of deaths later and the player is pursued by random enemies the player has defeated (similarly to the fight with The Sorrow in Metal Gear Solid 3), which progressively spawn in greater numbers with each visit.Also, it would be awesome if Paper Bastion was the setting for the final boss fight, and the castle was actually the final dungeon, although you wouldn’t know it at the time unless you’d stumbled upon a hidden clue (say, if there was only a few certain spots where you could see far enough into the sky through a window to notice the red water and telegraph poles above you). You land the finishing blow thinking it’s over, but wind up in PB; no bgm in the background, no skills and no healing, just one final straight-up (deliberately easy) fight to make you feel awesome.
Finally, I come back to the ‘rules’ I talked about in the beginning. In retrospect, I came up with something pretty evasive, being set in a surreal, sparse world (is this cheating…?). But, I did the research- waterlilies aren’t all that abundant in Biggleswade (just weeds…) and so I was forced to resort to the interweb, however. I was actually driven to Google images for the telegraph poles too, of all things- the only type nearby are the type that just look like huge stakes in the ground, with nothing at the top. In the distance on the horizon line of PB, they could be literally anything, so the design was too simple. But I didn’t want the kind that has too much detail, as they’d wind up looking like deformed trees. When I pussied out and checked google however, the exact image I had in my head was on the first page, so I took that as good enough. I did have a couple of books at my disposal when it came to the castle, however.
I want PB to be full of questions; for the player to question how the telegraph poles came to be there, whether the castle is upside-down or if they are the one that’s upside-down, how the lilies, something living, can bloom, or if they are even alive. I love surrealist art- I love the way Renee in particular can create questions about the image they are portraying (Is the apple huge or is the room small? Does the man with an apple in front of his face even have a face?), and how not being sure can inspire a feeling of uneasiness looking at his work. I wanted to capture some of this; I suppose I’m less trying to portray a narrative than inspire emotion. I had, however, had an idea to show underneath the water; the roots from the lilies would stretch down along with similiar ones from the underside of the island, to create a kind of dark forest at the bottom, where a greyscale version of my character, Milo, would be sitting against a root in the fetal position. There would be a staircase leading up to the surface, emerging right around the island she is standing on. I scrapped this idea due to lack of time, but it would be cool to add some more depth (literally), so if I finish earlier than I expected, I may be able to include it anyway.
Final image complete!
I desaturated the red in the water a little, it looked too bright. I want the surface to look dull and lifeless, while the castle is vibrant and inviting. I didn't have time to include the underwater staircase- but I may return to this at a later date. it was an idea I really liked.