This is our first post that specifically relates to Bastion, our primary project here at 10×10. We’ll say more about Bastion as we get closer to having something ready for release; for now, suffice to say we believe we’ve hit on some important ideas about how a socially networked world interacts with old-school roleplaying, and that Bastion explores those ideas.
Though none of us are artists, we quickly determined that good art was critical to the experience of Bastion. Bastion is a fantasy world, completely inhabited by nonhuman races. It contains a lot of story, and flavor needs visualization as much as words, if not more so. And so we decided that we needed to make art a part of the creation of Bastion from nearly the very beginning, paralleling the development of game mechanics and code. (Ironically, I was the last one on the team to really embrace this idea, and I’m the one serving as our acting art director. Go figure.)
Players of Bastion can choose from any of the five races who have made the Retreat to the city of Bastion. We decided that it was critical to illustrate these races for players, and to give them a variety of options to choose from when selecting character portraits; we also knew we would tell better stories if we could visualize our own creations better. So we began with character portrait art.
Immediately, we had a fork in the road to consider. Should we try to find a starving artist to do the work? A friend? Or make the investment in an established artist? In the end, we decided on the last approach. Clichés like “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and “a picture is worth a thousand words” exist for a reason; we needed to count on having spectacular art in place, art that would convey that this is not a dorm-room project, but a complete, professional, and, well, awesome game that deserves your time and attention as a player. Established artists also have the benefit of extensive portfolios; you can browse and find an artist who really matches the aesthetic of your game.
To find the right artist, we looked at sources like Magic: The Gathering cards and Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks, searching for art that evoked Bastion for us: heroic, but mature; epic, nostalgic, dreamy; a little dark, but not horrific. Each of us began posting images from sources that we liked, with Justin really taking the lead. He also began writing to some of the artists, trying to get a sense of pricing and availability. Remember: none of us had worked with game artists before, nor portrait artists, though two of us at least had experience with creative teams and design/UI contractors.
Before long, we’d identified Chris Rahn as a likely portrait artist for Bastion. He was available, friendly, responsive – and we loved the fit of his style with our game. Of particular note were illustrations he had done for many cards in the Shards of Alara block for Magic. These were images of real adventurers: powerful, noble, but not cartoony; characters who could face the dark and turn it back. And as Justin wrote to him about our goals and setting, you could tell that Chris was engaged by what we were doing, that he was into the idea.
I think that matters a lot. An artist can be committed, efficient, and talented, and those are all good traits – but ultimately, you also need for him or her to care about what’s being created. How many times have you seen a movie where it seems like the actors or director just didn’t care all that much? And you could tell, couldn’t you? The same goes for game art. It is art, not just something you put on an assembly line, and cannot be treated as a mere product, by either the artist or the creative director.
In part 2, we’ll look at how we decided what should be in our first two portraits, and look at the back-and-forth process of refinement of the initial sketches.