What does evil look like? Two of the artists on Evil Genius recount the struggle to shape the characters in the game.
In Evil Genius, you'll get to play as, well, an evil genius out to take over the world. This upcoming strategy game from Britain's Elixir Studios promises to mix the base-building gameplay of Dungeon Keeper with the inspired humor of the Austin Powers movies. While you operate a tropical island resort as a cover operation, you'll be hard at work in your underground secret base, training minions and henchmen to take over the world while defending yourself from secret agents and commandos. But what does evil look like? In this game, that job came down to the visual director, Siku, and the character artist, Matt Clark. For this edition of our Designer Diaries, Siku and Matt recount their efforts to make the characters in the game.
One of the clay sculptures used to nail down the characters in the game.
Shaping EvilBy Siku and Matt Clark
Visual director/Character artist, Elixir Studios
The best ideas are simple, elegant, and leave people asking, "Why didn't anyone think of that before?" Or, "I wish I worked on that." At the very least, we can lay claim to the latter. It has been a privilege working on such an ingenious idea with the certifiable Sandy Sammarco (and his criminal distribution of chocolates) as lead designer. His special brand of humor exhibited in the game was not creative design solutions but a mirror image of the madness within.
Lead artist Brian Gillies' requirements required a novel approach, so I adopted principles of three-dimensional cubism/art deco, utilizing sweeping and resolved lines. My comic book experience was very useful in the creation of characters, many of which were created without briefing. Elias Barracuda is one example; the idea is to characterize form. That is, you know what a character is and does by looking at them.
As usual, the problem with art concepts for games is working within a determined polygon count. How one interprets a line or a curve in a game determines how true to the concept a model is. It requires a skilled 3D artist with a perceptive and anticipatory eye. Matt Clark thinks he fits the bill and I must reluctantly accept that he pulled it off somewhat miraculously. He even managed to make a habit of it, too. However, with original styling like this it is difficult to see every angle, and even I couldn't understand some of the nuances and character of the compound curves in 3D space, so I decided to build a sculpture out of clay. Sculpting our agent template was a revelation, and I subsequently improved the design of all characters. In collaboration with Matt, we finally resolved all of the unanswered questions and achieved clarity, meaning that Matt could no longer rely on his now-familiar repertoire of excuses.
With the environment made up of brushed steel and polished surfaces built by Brian and the other artists, texturing the characters had to be experimental. How do you texture cloth and skin in a manner not unlike metal? Traditional texturing methods would not be adequate; the geometry styling would not support it visually. After a couple of weeks, I had developed a solution and template with some help from Matt, who had been busy trying to find the fastest and easiest way to do his job.
I had carefully and painstakingly prescribed shadow and gradient characteristics, which could be adapted by any artist with an understanding of our rules. Matt, however, had a bright idea (which coincidentally reduced his workload by 80 percent), and that was to use automated light maps (based on our parameters) from high-poly (tessellated) models. He subsequently built and textured a model a day by the means of several plug-ins and scripts and devices, which I personally consider shameful.
A close-up of the sculpture.
Sometimes, original solutions look odd to an onlooker, and a creative person should be aware but not dissuaded by this fact; for if the viewer looks long enough to acquire familiarization, the strange becomes the acquired. Every character was designed with motion in mind; therefore, the full realization of its visual attributes could not be fully appreciated until animations were added. It has been great fun working on the project, even if I got stuck with "The Matt Clark" in the process. What do they say? No pain, no gain?