Age of Wonders: Planetfall - Dev Diary #26: Key Art and Logo Development

Age of Wonders: Planetfall - Dev Diary #26: Key Art and Logo Development

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Hello! Rich here, I’m Lead Concept Designer at Triumph and responsible for a lot of the visual aspects of the game. For this weeks dev diary I’ll be talking about the development of the Key Art, and game Logo.

The key Art is an important part of a games branding and should tell people who’ve never seen nor heard of the game before what it’s about. This is especially true for new IP’s such as PlanetFall. It should solidify the games tone in one image as well as grab the attention on store shelves making you want to know more. Additionally it should adhere to strict formatting guidelines so it can be cut up for many different assets; box art, steam cells, posters etc. making the composition a tricky thing.

But essentially we wanted to answer 2 basic questions with the key art -

1. Who am I?
2. What do I do?

Answer – I’m a cool sci-fi hero fighting over a planet with different types of units under my command.

Now that we have our focus, we need to decide on the visual hierarchy. What races and units to show, their posing, the lighting and composition, how should the planet look, where should the logo be placed. Everything is a visual puzzle that needs solving.

From the get go we knew we wanted the Vanguard hero Jack front and center, humans are interestingly the most played race, the human eye always looks for faces and this would be vital to setting the ‘hero’ tone. If we used something more unusual like a Dvar or Kir'Ko hero it would be much harder to communicate expression. Jack's pose would go through several iterations which I’ll get to later.

Below we see some examples from other Age of Wonders games, they tend towards the warm hues but with PlanetFall we wanted to take the colour palette towards cyan, the game is very colourful and the cover should represent this. I then did rough sketches with different poses, races (sorry, no Syndicate or Assembly here!) and compositions, for example the image far right is inspired by the angles and differently scaled characters found in Star Wars posters.

DevDiary_26_KeyArt_Process1.jpg



After going through several quick iterations it became apparent that it was starting to feel too much like a game set in Space (Stellaris) as opposed to a planetary game. More focus on units fighting on/around the planet would help push this point. The star of the Logo was also getting in the way of the characters, we decided to implement it in other ways such as a patch on Jacks arm, and on his chest armour. Another issue was that having all the heroes in dynamic poses meant the key art was becoming hard to read, they were creating a lot of visual noise and tangents. In light of this we decided to simplify Jack’s pose, this created visual rest then play up the action and dynamics behind him, that way the eye travels around taking everything in in stages as opposed to getting lost.

We made a rough pose and lighting set up in the 3D package Maya, I then used this render as a base to paint over in Photoshop. We used angled stark lighting, that way the static pose still had movement and popped from the background. From here it was just a lot of painting and tweaking, getting harmonious colour and clear silhouettes (art tip1: explosions tip2: they were created using photos of fried chicken)

DevDiary_26_KeyArt_Process2.jpg


The final grizzled war Veteran Jack, surrounded by controlled chaos, I hope you like it! Is that a space dinosaur with laser guns I see there? Hmmm…

DevDiary_26_KeyArt_Process3.jpg



Game development is one giant iterative process, like we saw with the Key Art and the Logo is no different. The name of the game changed a few times during the development and with it the exploration and tone of the Logo. I made a lot of iterations, what you see below is a small taste of those different directions.

Early on I tried a more retro direction, almost like ‘patches’ that you would see on a baseball cap or T-shirt, and from there developed different star shapes. These star shapes went on to form the basis of a larger shape language that can be seen in units, environments and structures throughout the world, helping ground it as one empire. This became the Star Union and the main game Logo.

These early sketches are super helpful to shine a light on the right tone to take. Although our game has retro elements, it has a more serious undertone of fallen empires and big sci-fi questions, so we took the star as a basis of that fallen empire and iterated on it further. That’s not to say that the other explorations are thrown away. I’ve reused a lot of the initial designs and repurposed them as corporate brands that existed long ago, or as Mod Template Icons so you can still customize your squad into retro action heroes.

DevDiary_26_Logo_Process1.jpg



The next phase was font and logo treatment, what mood should it give? I took the star and made it appear old and worn, something very inspirational and celestial in decay. This was a nice contrast and fit the game world perfectly. We used this aged metal look throughout the interface design too, you might not consciously notice it but these elements push the sci-fi mythic aspect of our game.

Additionally we tried exploring a circular motif, something that can be seen back in our earlier Age of Wonders games. We ended up making the ‘Age of Wonders’ text golden, to tie PlanetFall to its fantasy counterpart.

DevDiary_26_Logo_Process2.jpg



Eventually we arrived at the final ominous PlanetFall and star union logo, greeting you every time you bootup -

DevDiary_26_Logo_Process3.jpg
 

Fenraellis

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While not typically my area of focus, it's quite interesting to see how the iterative process of the art went. From start to finish(albeit obviously skipping a lot of the interim steps, to cut down on the post). I do rather like how the final result is worn down, scratched, to signify the fallen remnants of the Star Union.

Even Jack Himself. The Amazon and Kir'Ko heroes there look relatively pristine, but Jack's armor is noticeably pitted and worn from use.
 

Mythox

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sincerly this game is very very promissing and specialy the team that work in it are just FABELOUS !!! i am more then impatient to play this jewel
 

Ryltair

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Love to see the older concepts and see how it all grew into the whole that it is now. Really nice stuff!
 

Jean-Luc

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You should make button pins based on some of those circular "patches", they're pretty cool. Give them out at events at such.
 

Ridixo

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Fantastic designs, the art of the game is great. Every single detail check and approved. Wonder if there will be some poster with the rest of the factions into it. Maybe the six ones fighting among the ruins of a Star Union city with some NPC factions in the horizon and the logo in the sky above all of the chaos.
 

Revan Katarn

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Wow! Really interesting to see some of the iterations, from the initial concepts to the final art. Also, I loved how you explained some of the concepts, like the heroe's poses causing too much tangents and so, very interesting (also that there are studies about that, trying to enter into the observer's mind to not just know what he/she may think but also to direct their thoughts).
I also find intriguing how the Amazon has lost her spear and changed for a "circular laser gun" (?), I guess that for some reason related to global harmony of the poster.
And, finally, of the small stars (the bottom row of the first iterations), the fourth reminds me a bit of the Star Trek pin, while the fifth reminds me of Atari's logo xD

Thanks for sharing the art and some of the thoughts behind!
 

mr_stibbons

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So why aren't the syndicate or assembly in most of these concepts? Were their designs not finalized in time, or was there story or marketing reasons to keep them off?
 

Goemoe

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Very interesting to see the process of logo development. There seems to be much more work involved than I thought. I like the final art. Well done.

Thanks for sharing arts and concepts!
 

Truewhit

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Ok, let me see the cover art ...

Generic white soldier guy in front, minority gal and alien stuff in background with explosions.

...

Yeah, I can see how you spent tons of hours into thinking up something original.
You don't need to be a jerk dude. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Art and design is complicated and sometimes it's better to play it safe. I think it's my favourite Age of Wonders cover yet. Way better then age of wonders 3.
 

LordTheRon

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Nice to read about the whole iteration process and all the thought that goes into it.
 

aroddo

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You don't need to be a jerk dude. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Art and design is complicated and sometimes it's better to play it safe. I think it's my favourite Age of Wonders cover yet. Way better then age of wonders 3.
I'm just saying that this cover has been made a million times.
Remove the text and slap "Star Wars: Rebel Soldier" or "Guardians of the galaxy 3" or "Battlefield 9: Future Wars" or "The Space Settlers of Cataan" on it and no one would think it's out of place.

Sorry, but this is basically a zero effort shortcut to promotional images: arrange some art assets in a pleasing way.
Sure, call me jerk for pointing this out, but you kinda want your promotional art to stand out and not blend in.
 

Technogremlin

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The most important thing for cover art is that it represents the product, so you have an idea from a glance whether it will interest you. The geometrically impossible hexagon planet shows that this is a 4x game and the characters and units show the setting and visual style. Those are the key pieces of information, and I see no better way to get them across.

And I think you are being called a jerk not for what you are saying but for how you are saying it. You can criticise without belittling other people's work.
 

Ferrin33

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I'm just saying that this cover has been made a million times.
Remove the text and slap "Star Wars: Rebel Soldier" or "Guardians of the galaxy 3" or "Battlefield 9: Future Wars" or "The Space Settlers of Cataan" on it and no one would think it's out of place.

Sorry, but this is basically a zero effort shortcut to promotional images: arrange some art assets in a pleasing way.
Sure, call me jerk for pointing this out, but you kinda want your promotional art to stand out and not blend in.
Our brains react to images in a certain way, so there will be a composition that just works well. As an analogy; we don't use hexagonal wheels on our cars because round ones just work better, sure it'd look unique and draw attention, but it wouldn't work as well for what you want them to do.

Being original for its own sake is not a good thing, it's basically impossible. Every aesthetically pleasing design has basically already been used, and it's just a matter of pointing to its predecessor and saying "It's been done before!". It's a non-argument as it does not address any issues with the design itself, just that it's not unique. You can try to strive to be original, but there are certain things that either don't warrant the effort, or actively harm the end-product because you're just using a worse version like the hexagonal wheel example.
 

Revan Katarn

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Remove the text and slap "Star Wars: Rebel Soldier" or "Guardians of the galaxy 3" or "Battlefield 9: Future Wars" or "The Space Settlers of Cataan" on it and no one would think it's out of place.

Sorry, but this is basically a zero effort shortcut to promotional images: arrange some art assets in a pleasing way.
Although I quite agree that you could change the title and it still would look okish, I don't think it's a result of zero effort. I think it's because it's a poster that wants to attract as many people as possible, and therefore it goes after appealing "mainstream" looks, while still showing elements of the game. Also, how would you suggest a cover for the first AoW that is not fantasy but it's in space? Because I have no idea, without referencing elements of the previous games.

For me, this cover looks very good. It's appealing and hints that it's a 4X game (as @Technogremlin said), with several different factions (clearly shown Vanguard, Kir'ko and Amazons), that you can create your own badass-looking hero and that the game, although it has some relation with space, is mainly about strategy/battles in a planet (or series of planets), because there are a lot of ground units and only a very few of the flying units may look a bit as spaceships.
Of course, this is just my opinion, but even if I thought it's not great, I wouldn't blatantly say that it's "basically zero effort" unless I had made something better, from the outside it's always easier than when you have to do it. Also, considering all the iterations shown (which I guess they're not all), I don't get how someone can blame the author for not putting effort to it. :confused:

Anyway, what's more important is how the game looks, not its cover.
 

Truewhit

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Although I quite agree that you could change the title and it still would look okish, I don't think it's a result of zero effort. I think it's because it's a poster that wants to attract as many people as possible, and therefore it goes after appealing "mainstream" looks, while still showing elements of the game. Also, how would you suggest a cover for the first AoW that is not fantasy but it's in space? Because I have no idea, without referencing elements of the previous games.

For me, this cover looks very good. It's appealing and hints that it's a 4X game (as @Technogremlin said), with several different factions (clearly shown Vanguard, Kir'ko and Amazons), that you can create your own badass-looking hero and that the game, although it has some relation with space, is mainly about strategy/battles in a planet (or series of planets), because there are a lot of ground units and only a very few of the flying units may look a bit as spaceships.
Of course, this is just my opinion, but even if I thought it's not great, I wouldn't blatantly say that it's "basically zero effort" unless I had made something better, from the outside it's always easier than when you have to do it. Also, considering all the iterations shown (which I guess they're not all), I don't get how someone can blame the author for not putting effort to it. :confused:

Anyway, what's more important is how the game looks, not its cover.
When it comes to books movies and games, sadly the majority do judge it by its cover. At least according to my Teachers. ;)