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Actually Designing Things (Bonus: Monsters!)

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Step Four

Having done some research and analysis, the concept designer (this whole process works for creators of other kinds of game content like writing and music as well as artists) now has the knowledge base he or she needs to actually design some stuff. So now we need some guidelines for what kind of objects we want to design and what kind of artstic choices we should make in our design process. In a case like mine, where I am working for someone else, this means I am responsible for finding out what my employer wants and what will fit well with the rest of the game design.

Some designers/art leads are very helpful and will provide you with some design documentation and a list of desired fatures. Epic Frontiers, the project I am working on, provided me with descriptions of each of the cultures I would be designing clothing for, instructions on which culture to do first (desert nomads), the number of outfts desired, and concept art of a male and a female from this culture. I asked some further questions by email, and they responded by providing me with the screenshots of their models I needed to make my blanks, the general color scheme for the desert nomad culture (earth tones plus sky colors), some specific articles they wanted (veils, robes, cloaks/capes), and some information about how the clothing system in the game should work (including how a player acquires clothing within the game, mixing-and-matching articles of clothing to make outfits, and applying colors/textures to articles/outfits).

Note that I didn't do all these steps in chronological order - I got the first batch of info from the art lead when he hired me, and I did some additional searching for sources images after I started drawing designs... creating anything usually reveals new options and problems during the design process, so the process is not linear but has a lot of skipping ahead, backing up, patching holes, and smoothing everything out at the end.

Anyway, my first design decision I had to think hard about was "How revealing of clothes should I design?" Normally I like to design revealing clothes, especially using such elements as corsets, cutouts, fishnet, and criscross lacings. But from my research I had learned that desert clothing in the real world generally covers as much skin as possble to protect the wearers from the sun, and is usually made out of yards and yards of light, flowing cloth. So I promised myself I would use the corsets and things for a different culture, but for this one I would try to be true to what people living in a desert would really want/need to wear. I thought about gauze because it's the lightest fabric that actually blocks the sun somewhat, but gauze made me think of belly dancers and harems, which was too showy and feminine for what I wanted. I decided on light suede because being herdsmen this culture would have plenty available, a light, stiff cotton/linen such as Arabian robes are generally made out of, and one of my favorite neglected fabrics from the 70's and 80's, crepe cotton. Like crepe paper, crepe cotton has permanent rumples in it, giving it an interesting flowy texture that was a nice contrast to the other two fabrics which are very flat and smooth.

I had previously give some thought of my own as to how to design mix-and-matchable clothes (animal body parts too, but that was a different project). Because I wanted to use waistlines of various heights it was impractical to separate shirts and pants, so I decided on the following system:

Hat (optional)
Veil (optional)
Base Clothing (i.e. shirt and pants or skirt) (mandatory)
Belt and matching ties for hat and cuffs (mandatory)
Overgarment (robe, cloak, mantle, etc.) (optional)
Footgear (mandatory)

I drew some shoes with upward curving toes on my first sketch and really liked them - they had a unique cultural flavor and would be practical for walking in sand. So I decided that all desert footwear would have upward curving toes, and more specifically that each type would come in low- and high-point varieties, with the low being more practical and the high being more expensive and fancy. (Part of my job was also to suggest which articles of clothing would be for which sorts of people, e.g. soldiers, officers, nobility, merchants, and penniless n00bs.)

I also decided that to harmonize with the angular folds and edges of fabric that kept showing up in my designs, the decorative theme for this culture should be diamond shapes in a celtic knotwork-like pattern, usually done in embroidery and accompanied by scattered beads. For fancier pieces of leather clothing I drew the edges of the leather cut into matching shapes. When a common visual theme can bee seen between different articles of clothing they look more like they belong together in an outfit, and also more like the outfit was deliberately designed by a tailor and intended to make a good social impression. So naturally I used this theme most elaborately in the expensive pieces of leather overclothing intended for officers, noblemen, and rich merchants, and I didn't use the theme at all in the clothes intended for poor people. I also came up with a specific, 'uniformish' version of the diamond knotwork theme for the army, and a colorscheme for all of the military objects to be colored.

Since I know a lot of you are not so interested in clothes, here's some stuff about how I design monsters:

Most of my monster designs come from combining the traits of two or three animals. I have a couple illustrated encyclopedias of animals on my bookshelf, and when I want to do monster design I just look through one. I have a blank piece of paper next to me and I sketch whichever bits of animal anatomy look interesting, then I assemble them into animals at the end. Or another technique I use is to take an animal and try to re-implement it as a different kind of animal; in other words, if I start with a mammal I try to make it lizardy or birdlike, and vice versa. Some day if I ever get hired to do monster concept art for an RPG I'm going to have an area with all bird animals: feathered bison, foxes, tigers, deer, etc., because these are some of the most beautiful monsters I've ever designed.

Yet another technique is to substitute a body part for something else of similar shape - this results in things like cloud sheep, tortoises with soap bubble shells, deer with tree antlers, porcupines with harpoon-tip quills, foxes with little tails at the tip of their ears, dragons with mini wings as ears, etc.

And then of course there's looking at monsters other people have designed in their games. FF8 IMO has very beautiful animals, nd if you've ever heard of an adventure game caled Schism, it's got some fascinatingly bizarre flying inflatable zebrafish - I wish I'd taken some screenshots while I was at that point in the game.
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