Last time I wrote an article on developing REDLINE’s visual art design and this week I wanted to take it on step further and look at how we put those design cues onto paper with the creation of REDLINE’s world through its style guide.
One of the challenges we had when making REDLINE was to make it stand out as something unique and apart from the multitude of sci-fi and mobile games out on the market. There are thousands of games out there that feature giant robots blowing each other apart and if REDLINE is to have any amount of success we wanted to look and feel different from the competition.
Worldbuilding – The construction of a world, especially a convincing fictional world for literature, film etc.
To accomplish this one of the very first things we did, before we even typed in a single line of code, was to focus extensively on the world REDLINE takes place in. What would a war in the near future with giant armored robots look like and how could it start? What are efreets exactly and what are they not? Should the they be giant five-story tall behemoths or more like tiny suits of armor like Iron Man? Perhaps maybe something in between? How do they function and where do they draw their power from? What weapons would they use? How does one pilot one and what do the pilots even look like in uniform?
We wanted to have all these answers and more as we started the game’s development to make sure REDLINE was a cohesive, relatable and engaging setting for our players to enjoy and get lost in. Even though our game is small, we still wanted it to feel big.
Think of your favorite sci-fi or fantasy movie as those are the ones where the importance of worldbuilding is most clearly evident. What many screenwriters will often do before they write their script is create a kind of “movie bible” about all the information that came before the main story. These bibles can be quite large and often end up bigger than the script itself as they act as a kind of history book and go to guide on how everything should act and look. For example, in 1967 when he was developing Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry wrote a short thirty-one page guide to his show that detailed how the Enterprise was to look and function along with show themes, character guides and even crew allocation. By referring to this guide it allows producers and directors to get a feel for what Star Trek was to look and feel like before a single episode was ever shot and it also allowed for consistency as the show was built.
This is exactly what I set out to make for REDLINE as I saw the value in fleshing out our universe and also in having a document to go back to when creative issues came up.
To do so I simply fired up Google Docs and got to writing out all the little details and backstories that would make up our REDLINE world which I’d like to share some parts of with you down below and how I approached them. This work was some of the earliest done for REDLINE as we were still trying to form what the game would look like as it took shape. One practice that was invaluable for us was looking towards the internet for pictures and examples of what we were striving to make. It’s one thing to try to explain through words how something is supposed to look and function, but it’s another to give a visual representation along with it. Pictures are worth a thousand words and having them as a reference goes a long way towards communicating and sharing your ideas with others. Google Images and even Pintrest are treasure troves of ideas and inspiration that you cna use to help jump start your game’s development, even before you’ve hired a single artist.
I strongly suggest to anybody developing a game of their own for the first time to start with a strong style guide. It’s much easier to share a well thought out doc with people than to explain ideas face to face or over email. I know without a doubt that early on when the game was in its infancy these style guides were powerful recruitment tools to get other talented individuals to help work on the game and see the potential of what we were trying to. I don’t care if you aim to make the next version of Angry Birds, Zelda or even Frogger, a style guide should be one of the first things you create as it will help cement your ideas and make it so much easier to share them with others.
REDLINE STYLE GUIDE
EFREETS: “With the smallest Efreet weighing in at 20 tons and the biggest at 80, they are incredibly versatile weapons easily adapted to the vast array of planetary surfaces mankind has encountered through his colonization of deep space. While traditional weapon platforms such as hover tanks can still be found on the battlefield, their inability to traverse extremely rough terrain has regulated them to the rear lines of modern war as garrison units or low-cost escorts. While having “boots on the ground” was a common phrase used in older wars to signify combat was imminent, having “Efreets on the ground” these days has become an expression used to signify victory is close at hand. Efreets have become the modern kings of the battlefield and have worn that crown for almost 100 years.”
“Able to carry a variety of weapons, Efreets can slag nearly anything in their sights, except for another Efreet. The miniaturized cold fusion reactors they run on provide more than enough energy to power an array of lasers, cannons, mini missile pods, plasma accelerator cannons, and electromagnetic rifles to and still have the leftover capacity to power sustain life support, sensors, and boosters. However all this massive power output comes at a cost as Efreets generate a tremendous amount of electromagnetic (EM) build up which can slow their top speeds and interfere with fire control systems. The best Efreet pilots are able to push their machines to the limit by balancing performance with the EM buildup that comes from sustained activity. To combat this side effect, Efreets are equipped with EM dischargers that safely vent excess electromagnetic static and keep the machines running at 100%.”
This was the first attempt to try and write out just what an efreet was supposed to be and how they worked. The idea was they were not natural evolution of the tank as they were still heavily armored fight machines but their versatility and mobility made them much more useful considering the varied harsh environments one would find in space.
Being the first whack at attempting to identify what efreets are it’s interesting to look back at these early ideas and see what stuck and what ended up changing. According to the REDLINE timeline efreets are a relatively new technology on the scene, less than a decade old when the game begins, when originally the idea was they had been around for nearly a century. Some ideas stuck like having them be powered by some kind of super efficient cold fusion reactors while other like the generation of electromagnetic static as a byproduct of that power source were dropped due to gameplay issues.
Also at this stage, we had no actual art for our efreets so instead we looked to the internet for mech designs we liked and wanted to aesthetically follow. Below are some examples of what we had in mind for the look of our efreets. We really wanted that walking tank aesthetic by emphasizing boxy angular armor plating, cockpits over the heads you see on many other mechs, and having exposed weapons and mechanical parts.
“Here’s some real world military vehicles that might help in designing styles and to keep the efreets a bit more grounded in reality. A lot of attack helicopters have that rugged look we want. Tons of complex machinery in place to keep them flying yet they have to be armored to survive being fired at. Armored engine vents, cockpits, sensors and weapons everywhere. Give the things arms and legs and they’d look a lot like a mech already.”
We also looked at real life military vehicles for some design cues, most noticeably from a lot of attack helicopters as they fit the look we were going for almost exactly. I’ve always loved military aviation growing up and trying to incorporate the engine exhaust from an Apache or the bubble cockpit canopy of a Soviet Hind into the efreets was really fun and worked out well creatively. Inspiration can really come anywhere.
SHAPE MEMORY CABLES: “If you were to open up and efreet or look underneath the heavy armor plating you’d find a sea of shape memory cables that look and act like muscle to provide a wide range of quick movements to efreets while also providing power to critical weapons and systems wires. By altering the electrical current in the cables they quickly contract with great force and will return to their original shape when current becomes normal again.”
We even went so deep into details that we brainstormed the parts that make up and efreet and how they actually function. To explain how they were so nimble and fast we gave them electronic muscles not much different than synthetic ones being devolved today.
INTERNAL FRAME: “Underneath the armor each efreet is built around an internal frame of either FOAM STEEL or ultralight NANOTUBE COMPOSITE ALUMINUM. Foam steel is a porous material that has high strength versus weight and was used on the first efreets chassis’s. The material’s porous nature highly simulates bone and had increased EMS dissipation capabilities. Relatively cheap to make, foam steel was common until the development of nanotube composite aluminum which has the same strength as steel foam but was even lighter. Modern efreets are built with nanotube frames even though they are not as effective at discharging EMS. The increased amount of weapons efreet’s can carry is seen as worth the tradeoff.”
When building our world, sometimes we did not need to look much further than our own for inspiration as it turns out foamed metals is a real world thing that allows manufacturers to create super strong yet super light materials the properties of which are still currently being researched.
UNITED NATIONS OF EARTH: “The UNE is what the US military would look like in the near distant future. Sleek, modern, with a focus on highly sophisticated technology. With all the major world powers having willingly left Earth like the BRIMEA nations or lost it like the former Russian and Chinese nations, the US has stepped up to fill the political and economic void. However, controlling and pacifying the vast population is no easy task since these mass exoduses are still recent and much of the people left in those vacant states are not pleased with their new rulers. Riots and protests are common around the globe which the UNE cannot ignore. As a result the UNE ironically finds itself barely holding on to the Earth itself.”
Of course we needed opposing armies to fight each other if we were going to make a game about a future war. What we tried to come up with was two factions that were based in current events and not necessarily “good” or “bad” but different shades of grey.
In REDLINE, the UNE is an amalgamation of western societies that’s left in charge of an Earth that has seen all its rival powers leave in one way or another. That’s not to say the UNE finds itself in an ideal situation as much of its resources are spent occupying the former territories of those rivals and the people who were left behind. Much like the United States today, the UNE is saddled with occupations of far away lands but on a global scale which was the point as I believe sci-fi is at it’s best when it is more a reflection of the present than the future.
Stylistically, we wanted the UNE to very much be grounded in a near future look and technology. Below are some examples of what pilots and solders within the UNE could look like with a lot of the Army’s future warrior ideas thrown in with fighter pilots and a bit of Call of Duty AW for good measure. 🙂
CRIMSON PACT: “Also known as the “Red Alliance” the Crimson Pact still has strong roots to their Russian and Chinese heritage despite losing their homelands. Largely made up of Russian and Chinese space colonists, the Crimson Pact is smaller in overall number than the massive Earth based population of the UNE. That’s not necessarily a disadvantage as they don’t suffer from the drain of supporting 9 billion people. In addition the Crimson Pact is relatively rich due to their proximity to the vast resources of the nearby asteroid belt. As a result they can focus much of their resources into maintaining a strong military and in their hurried efforts to terraform Mars.”
With strong ties to both Russia and China the hard part of designing the Crimson Pact was to not go after the low hanging fruit of simply making them future communists and be done with it. Instead, The CPact as we call them, have more in common with the original colonists in North America as they work to make a new home out of an inhospitable one but rich in resources. We wanted to push that astronaut aesthetic by making the Cpact a lot more sci-fi and futuristic when compared to the UNE and looked at astronauts and their spacesuits for much of their look and feel.
EARTH: For REDLINE we looking to develop a kind of “greenpunk” aesthetic. (At least on Earth) The game takes place in 2060, some 40 years from now and although it’s futuristic we don’t want to go full on cyberpunk. High technology intermixed with nature. There will still be big sprawling cities but nothing like Blade Runner or Neo-Tokyo.
Instead of having a dark and gritty sci-fi landscape like so many games and movies have we opted for something a little more open and inviting. “Greenpunk” is an eco friendly take on steam or cyber punk where trees, leaves and wood replace a lot of the technology. I liked greenpunk as a start for building REDLINE’s version of Earth as it put nature on an equal level with technology. Further research on Google lead to a lot of art by a well-known artist named Simon Stålenhag who is great at blending together high technology with scenes of normal everyday life for art that’s familiarly unfamiliar. A lot of his pieces ended up becoming how we envisioned the Earth of REDLINE in the not so distant future.
WHAT’S YOUR STYLE?
As you can see, having a style guide with some of the examples from above really allowed us to start work on the game with a strong vision of what REDLINE was going to be and made the task of starting a brand new video game from scratch less daunting. But it also helped to create a world that we hope is worth exploring. REDLINE has a history, we’re currently working on its present, and with any luck there is still a lot of story and world left out there to explore in the future as well.
Next time I’ll wrap up this little art series of articles with an in-depth look at what goes into the creation of all the fantastic concept art for REDLINE from start to finish.
Until then, don’t just explore your world, make you own.