One of my favorite games of all time is Fallout 2. I’m sure that this is at least in part because I happened to be at an impressionable age when it came out, but I still think that it did a lot of things very well. I enjoyed the feeling of freedom, while I often give up that freedom and play the game “in order” the fact that you can run straight to the penultimate area from the start of the game made those decisions meaningful rather than something the game forced me into doing. On top of all of that, the game had style.
The game as a whole looked lovely (for the time) but the vault boy illustrations really stuck out in my memory – perhaps it’s telling that these survive virtually unaltered in the more recent series. Somehow despite being a wildly different art style from the rest of the game, which wasn’t cartoony at all, they fit perfectly. They seemed to be in sync with the setting and their visual appeal made them stand up on their own. Something about the little guy’s facial expressions worked wonders too.
This isn’t a concept that I’ve seen a lot of in other places, but it has crept up in at least one other major computer game series that comes to mind. I’m not sure if it’s a direct inspiration, a result of taking inspiration from a similar time period or just that the chips happened to fall that way, but Bioshock has some wonderful little animations showing the effects of various vigors and tonics.
What these have in common is that the simpler style is used to capture the essence of an ability (be it a perq, vigor or tonic) and communicate it clearly to the player. The cleaner art form contrasts with the more vivid parts of the game, which emphasises both sides of the contrast. I’m not sure the image about would amuse me as much without the high resolution people running around on fire screaming or that the screaming fire people would seem so dark without this backdrop, but together it works.
Now a board game can’t capture some of the elements I’m talking about here, but Wizard’s Academy has a similar contrast to it that seems to enhance the game. Players wind up feeling both world shatteringly powerful as they gain the power to make any change they desire and crushingly powerless as it becomes apparent that they may not be able to make enough changes to save the day. So when our art director proposed an art style for the spells that could be used in a similar way, clean illustrations of optimal conditions sitting next to a board indicating that the building is burning down and full of demons, I loved the idea. Obviously the setting is very different to the backdrop for the Fallout or Bioshock games, but there is a similar style that would be common to high fantasy settings.
Woodblock printing has been around since 220 AD and has that same stylistic contrast present in the comparatively modern cartoons above. Ludwin’s been hard at work coming up with images for some of the spells in this style, as the spell cards are small and many need space for boost text most of them won’t be illustrated, but I think a few of these dotted about the spell grid will give it some character that a wall of text would lack. The examples that we’re seeing so far look great:
Walking to the library is apprentice work! Real wizards animate the books to write themselves so that they can focus on what’s important.
If ye enemies be bothering you simply smite them back to whence they came with a simple repulsion spell.
Pirates may say “bring me that horizon” but wizards actually do it.