I’m going to jump straight into this post. It’s going to be about Prismata’s overall graphical look, and how we’ll be upgrading it as time goes on. We get a lot of questions along the lines of “Why don’t you have good art like Game X?”, where Game X is typically a work by a AAA developer with a budget in the millions. Even though these types of questions may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, we do intend to improve our graphics to the point where we are competing with the best-looking strategy games and card games out there. In the next year, you’ll be seeing big updates to our user interface, look and feel, animations, unit art, and tons of other aspects of Prismata’s appearance. Today, I’m going to explain our plans.
Before I get to that, let’s first take a look at the competition.
The Advantage of a Legacy
First off, I want to examine Hearthstone—a game that Prismata is often compared to. Even though Hearthstone itself has a relatively small team of designers and programmers (not much bigger than Prismata’s team), there were actually several hundred people involved in the creation of the game’s art, with many graphics, textures, environments, and visual effect styles reused from other titles in the WarCraft series. Moreover, some of the artists credited in illustrating Hearthstone cards charge thousands of dollars per commission (we know, because we’ve tried contacting them!) Needless to say, we don’t yet have the resources to spend that much on art, nor do we have a huge back catalogue of existing concepts to base our game’s design on. We’re starting completely from scratch!
That said, Hearthstone’s visuals weren’t always as juicy as they are today. Compare the look of this Hearthstone alpha screenshot to the final version of the game:
The key thing I want to stress (and if you take one thing away from this blog article, let it be this): Prismata’s current look will undergo the same level of improvement that you see above.
At least, that’s my hope.
While many of our die-hard fans would happily play the game for hundreds of hours even if it was illustrated using crayons on a napkin, we understand that increasing the visual quality of the game is very important to acquiring new users as we further grow our audience. And while we don’t have a multi-million dollar development budget, we’re in a great position after our successful Kickstarter campaign to really start ramping up the look and feel of the game.
Let’s take a look at some of the stuff we’re working on, much of which will undergo huge changes in the upcoming months…
Menus and Interface
Thus far, Prismata’s menus, panels, text, and interactable components were primarily optimized for ease of implementation (meaning we just put in the minimum amount of effort required to make stuff work). Many of the menu screens were slapped together haphazardly without much organization or layout design, and we haven’t put much thought toward optimizing the final look and feel.
That’s about to change really soon. We’re doing a complete revamp of every menu in the entire game, including a complete redesign of our entire out-of-game menu system, with the goal of achieving a final result that is equal or better to the menu systems seen in AAA online games. Here’s an idea of the direction we’re headed in terms of menu layout:
In addition to reorganizing the layout of just about everything in our menus, we’ve been experimenting with a variety of different looks for the panels, buttons, and other components. Though nothing is finalized yet, we’re leaning toward a clean, shiny, futuristic, and elegant look, with a bit of extra prettiness for some key elements. We’ve been playing around quite a bit with different fonts and graphical styles; here’s one of several mockups we made some time ago using our old layout. It’s already pretty outdated; we’ll post some more impressive shots in upcoming weeks:
Now, these are just concepts of some possible layouts and graphical ideas. Nothing is final, and things seem to change every day in our test builds, so please don’t nitpick them just yet. Once our designs settle down a little more, we’ll submit them to you guys—our fans—for your always-valuable feedback. Until then, feel free to tell us if there’s anything you like!
Prismata Unit Graphics
This is a complicated topic and there is a lot to explain, but to be clear: the current unit graphics will be in the final game, but may NOT ultimately be the “default” unit skins.
For reference, I’m talking about the following specific art assets, the “card art” of Prismata:
Prismata has a huge number of units—well over 100 planned—and there are several stages in getting the art for them. Initial designs are often done in-house; for example, I sketched out preliminary versions of the geometry-inspired blue and green defensive units, and our artist Dan has developed concepts for many of the mechanical and robotic units. These designs, or descriptions of them, are then given to our friends at Gong Studios who paint the final versions of the units.
The current style was chosen to achieve a number of objectives: it’s very iconic (and thus skin-friendly), visually understandable at small sizes, and not prohibitively expensive to produce. Keeping our costs low is pretty relevant for a small studio like ours; if we did what Wizards of the Coast does for the card art in Magic: the Gathering, we’d be paying 10 times more per unit. Of course, we could definitely go cheaper if we wanted to, but we also consider it important to maintain a good level of quality, especially in the concept design (since we can always re-paint the units later, but it’s a lot more painful to change what a Drone actually “looks like” once it’s been released to the public).
With that out of the way, let’s talk about…
In our “How Prismata Makes Money” video, I’ve discussed about how skins, emotes, and other collectibles will be the driving force behind Prismata’s “end game content” and much of our monetization. We hope to eventually have over a thousand unique skins. The idea is simple: for each unit in the game, there’s a bunch of different ways it can look, and you can re-skin your entire set of units if you like. Skins will be of different rarities and unlocked as rewards for completing arena runs and other in-game quests.
Skins will be organized into collectable “skin sets”—groupings of similarly-themed skins. Skin sets could be small and easy to collect (“pirate” versions of the Prismata base set, or a “natural” version of all the animal-inspired red units) or could span the entire list of Prismata units (a rare “golden” version of every unit in the game). Collecting all the skins in a set will unlock awesome bonuses, and there will be ways to influence the type of skins you collect (similar to manipulating your “magic-find” in some RPGs).
Not all skins will employ the painterly style that we’ve used for the above skins or the default unit skins by Gong Studios. Some skin sets will carry a more realistic look, or could even use cartoony or manga-themed styles (chibi drone, anyone?). However, skins will have an overall design and silhouette that is similar to the original skin, to avoid confusion on the battlefield. As an additional safeguard against confusion, we take the unique approach of displaying all unit names on the battlefield at all times:
In the long run, we’ll probably be looking to develop a new “standard” skin for the whole library of Prismata units—really awesome, highly-detailed versions of every unit in the game with a similar level of quality as seen in the card art in games like Magic: the Gathering or Hearthstone. It will be a pretty expensive undertaking (which is why we’re not doing it just yet) but could ultimately give us a big boost in growing our audience. If this does happens, the existing unit art would then be made available as an equippable “classic” skin set.
One final note on the matter: we’re currently seeking artists to help with our skins! If you or someone you know might be interested, send us a portfolio! (It also helps to let us know what kind of rates you can offer; e.g. how much you would charge to draw “fantasy-themed” versions of 20 already-completed Prismata units at a 300×300 resolution. Feel free to replace “fantasy-themed” with a theme of your choice.)
In-Game Aesthetics and Animations
Prismata’s in-game interface was mostly designed to optimize for functionality and clarity. Before adding too many shiny effects, we wanted to make sure that our players could easily give commands to their units, read the current state of the board, and understand the game rules. So until now, aesthetics have been mostly pushed aside in favour of making things as clear as possible. And though we still have some improvements to make (especially in making the combat and resource systems clearer to new players viewing Prismata on stream for the first time), we’re happy enough with our current in-game UI that we we’ve started work on enhancing the game’s looks with some fancier visual effects. Here are some examples of what’s to come (as usual, these are not final):
Often a very small bit of subtle particle-based animation can make a huge difference in the visual impact of an in-game event. Our plan is to create new, juicier animations for almost every action that happens in a typical game, so there will be literally dozens of these effects. Coupled with new AAA-quality sound effects (which we’ll discuss a bit later), these animations will provide great visceral feedback while playing the game, and enhance Prismata’s overall aesthetics. Dan (our effects wizard) is a 20-year industry veteran and has done a good chunk of the fire, smoke, lasers, and explosions in games like Bioshock 2 and Halo 4, so we’re in pretty good hands!
A few of these effects will probably make their way into the current Prismata alpha later this month.
Characters and Backgrounds
Our character and background art (at least the amount we intend to use in the first campaign release) is about 60% done. The pieces that are completed are more-or-less in a “final” state (we figured it made sense to get a chunk of it this art done early so we could use it heavily on our advertising). Static character and background art is a pretty cost effective way for us to put a lot of really pretty art in the game, and it facilitates the basic visual novel cutscenes that keep the campaign moving along.
Something you may not know is that all of our characters actually have a full set of “emotions” drawn for them:
Some of our characters haven’t had their final renderings completed and are still in the concept phase. I think we’re due for another reveal, so here’s a new face that we haven’t seen yet:
And that’s all… for now!
I hope you liked the preview, and I hope this post gives you an idea of the direction we’re headed in with graphics for Prismata. We’ve spent over four years developing Prismata’s gameplay, and the game’s looks have often been a bit of an afterthought. With Kickstarter over, we’ll be focusing heavily on improving the game’s presentation in the upcoming months, and as we progress through our alpha testing phase, you’ll get to see the graphical updates introduced little by little with each new release.
The next year will doubtlessly be an exciting one for Prismata. There’s lots of new stuff to come, so stay tuned for more news.
See you all in game!