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Opinions Wanted: RTS Art Direction

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I've been mulling over the art direction to take with a planned RTS project, which I'm writing an engine for, and I was hoping to get some feedback. The direction I keep coming back to, because I think it would be interesting, is a stylized adaptation of Sci-Fi from the first half of the 20th century. To show you what I'm talking about: Robots Ray Gun Rays The Great Machine Rocket Ship I'm picturing robots like those from movies such as "The Forbidden Planet" battling against tanks mounted with large "Death Rays". Flying saucers with "ray-guns" being chased down by sleek silver rockets. Computer displays of Oscilloscopes and Nixie Tubes. Super weapons such as the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator. :wink: Etc. The problem is, I don't know if other people would like this style as much as I would. So, what is your opinion of it? Would you play an RTS which looked like the sci-fi comics and films of the 40's and 50's?

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They're not RTS but Fallout and Fallout 2 mixed post-apocalyptic wastelands with sci-fi elements that were heavily inspired by the sci-fi of the 40's and 50's. They got a fan or two. [grin] As long as you can motivate the choice of style with gameplay that goes along the the same lines, I think it can be an absolute killer. [smile] It's often quite nice to play something that doesen't bother with realism but just looks good.

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The issue I'm having really, Is that I've got the gameplay mechanics and programming side of this project pretty much ironed out.

However, of all the various story and theme ideas for games I've had, none happen to fit the mechanics of this particular game very well. So, when it comes to the story and visual side of this project, I'm having some issues.

I did some brainstorming on the problem, and so far this retro sci-fi idea is the only one I really like. I like it because I find the visuals interesting, it escapes the 'overdone' category sci-fi games usually fall into, and it absolves me of any responsibilities to realism.

I'm betting that these retro sci-fi themes will allow for more creative flexibility. Because the 'science' in the genre at the time was largely 'handwave', in many ways this theme would fall just as much under fantasy as it would science fiction. For that reason, I believe players would give me more 'suspension of disbelief' than I would get from a standard 'near future sci-fi' game.

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I would not. I liked Fallout, but I'm not sure this would be the same idea.

There's nothing wrong with a retro art style (I think Spore does plans flying saucers with this theme), but to me it screams "CHEESE!" It telegraphs to me that everything's going to be silly or goofy (like Destroy All Humans), more aimed toward children, and that I shouldn't expect intricate missions or detailed content.

Now that's my admitted bias from playing other games with this kind of theme. You might be planning something totally different. You could pull off a very cool "Dark City" / "City of Lost Children" polish to things, which takes the retro feel and makes it at least a little more complex and modern, and then I'd probably be happy. (Heh, I'm obviously in the minority so far, so take this with a boulder of salt)

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If you can still capture the grit an realism and maintain the style and humor, like fallout does, then you would have done a good job. But thats gonna be alot more challenging than other artistic styles in my opinion.

I especially like the style implied by the 4th image, the large technological structures but cant see how you could capture that well.

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Original post by brent_w
I'm betting that these retro sci-fi themes will allow for more creative flexibility. Because the 'science' in the genre at the time was largely 'handwave', in many ways this theme would fall just as much under fantasy as it would science fiction. For that reason, I believe players would give me more 'suspension of disbelief' than I would get from a standard 'near future sci-fi' game.
I've been reading a lot of Phillip K Dick's sci-fi lately (50's-70's), and yeah, most of the 'science' was hardly explained and was just a tool for him to go off on philosophical explorations. Most of the 'science' was made up of relays, punched tape and drugs - from this he built anything from memory alteration to time travel to an androids perception of reality. It works for me ;)

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Original post by Wavinator
I would not. I liked Fallout, but I'm not sure this would be the same idea.

There's nothing wrong with a retro art style (I think Spore does plans flying saucers with this theme), but to me it screams "CHEESE!" It telegraphs to me that everything's going to be silly or goofy (like Destroy All Humans), more aimed toward children, and that I shouldn't expect intricate missions or detailed content.

Now that's my admitted bias from playing other games with this kind of theme. You might be planning something totally different. You could pull off a very cool "Dark City" / "City of Lost Children" polish to things, which takes the retro feel and makes it at least a little more complex and modern, and then I'd probably be happy. (Heh, I'm obviously in the minority so far, so take this with a boulder of salt)
Well, you might be the minority here but in the other forum I posted this question in, there has been more skepticism.
That is my biggest worry, however, that it will come across as cheesy.

As for the art direction, ideally, I would sort of merge the retro sci-fi theme with art deco themes ... attempting to "darken" it.

The best example for this I can come up with would be the "World of Tomorrow" scenes from the film, "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm".
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But to be quite honest.
I question whether I even have the artistic ability to pull that off.

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Original post by brent_w
The best example for this I can come up with would be the "World of Tomorrow" scenes from the film, "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm".

I was going to say, Batman: The Animated Series is one of the best uses of art deco design and other elements evocative of the era of which you speak (admittedly not sci-fi, though) without being remotely cheesy. The key (I have an album on the art behind the series, in which Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, among others, discuss the design decisions that shaped the show) is darkness: if you use 50s design sensibilities and have bright, happy colors, then everyone's going to expect slapstick and silliness. You might be able to be satirical, but it'll be a much harder task to pull off.

If, on the other hand, everything has a sombre coloring (and/or genius decisions like the red sky of Gotham in BTAS - which they kept in the new The Batman show, which isn't nearly as good), then you've automatically encouraged a more contemplative and perceptive response.

I say go for it, but do tests first to see if its pragmatic.

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I like your choices and think it shouldn't be particularly hard to pull off, but if you decide you can't make it work, then maybe you can go with a Steampunk retro style. I think Aether ships and pseudo-Victorian colonial wars in Mars and Venus would make a good RTS.

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I had a similar idea for a black and white FPS awhile back and I think that this retro-sci-fi would work fine. It's a widely underused theme in today's games.

You could actually GO for the cheese in this kind of setting, like 'Destroy all humans' did. The game didn't actually take itself serious, and that was a good thing.

For inspiration, you can take a look at the old (and even the new) series of Doctor Who. Those stories and sets are actually built of cheese. There are also alot of webcomics that employ this kind of style and I also remember a 'Voyager' (dumb, I know) episode that was done in black-and-white retro-style.
Also, check out the german Sci-Fi series "Raumpatroullie Orion" (I think it's called 'Space Patrol' or 'Space Patrol Orion' on the english market). Excellent use of cheap and cheesy effects.
Watch some modern Sci-Fi (for example Starship Troopers and Matrix) in Black-and-White to get a feel for how to cross modern with retro. Works with 'Bioshock', too.

I don't think the 'darkness' style would be a good fit, especially in an RTS. Instead, I'd go for cheesiness and fun. Most of the US Sci-Fi gets really depressing from the mid-50s on.

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I also remember a 'Voyager' (dumb, I know) episode that was done in black-and-white retro-style.
Actually, the last picture in my first post is "Captain Proton"'s ship from that very episode.

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Ahh, didn't recognize it. I loved the sets and the villain in that episode. Actually one of the few memorable Voyager episodes.

The original 'Flash Gordon' from the 1930's and the german series 'Raumpatroullie' are alot like it. Couldn't find subtitles on any DVDs of the latter, though. Worth watching to the art, anyway.

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Original post by Hegemon
Ahh, didn't recognize it. I loved the sets and the villain in that episode. Actually one of the few memorable Voyager episodes.

The original 'Flash Gordon' from the 1930's and the german series 'Raumpatroullie' are alot like it. Couldn't find subtitles on any DVDs of the latter, though. Worth watching to the art, anyway.

Thanks, I'll have to take a look at it.

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I'd say that if you were going with that art style you'd have to make things slightly more extravagant, for example animations for unit deaths exaggerated with a cartoony aspect to it such as it spinning on the spot a few times looking dizzy before it falls and explodes into a million pieces.

I wouldn't have it cell shade though because then it would become a complete cartoon RTS where as this way it could maintain it's semi realism and early years style while having a certain amount of quirkiness to it.

just remember that gameplay is always more important than graphics, if the game only looks good then chances are players wont play it for long where as if it's core gameplay is solid then they'll play for longer.

try and combine the two and you'll have a wonderful thing going for you.

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I like that sort of style and it doesnt have to be cheesy or overly dark to be pulled off.

Check out justice league new frontier - they pulled it off by updating the old style with a more modern edge without compromising the golden age comics art style.

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Original post by Daerax
I like that sort of style and it doesnt have to be cheesy or overly dark to be pulled off.

Check out justice league new frontier - they pulled it off by updating the old style with a more modern edge without compromising the golden age comics art style.
Wow, I had never heard of that.
I did a quick Google image search and their art is definitely something I need to take a closer look at.

Thanks for the heads up.

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I like that kind of style. I've got a few game ideas in my idea vault that are meant to be done in a retro sci-fi style myself. However my game ideas are deliberately meant to be a bit cheesy, goofy or cartoonish, so it's probably not quite the same feel you're going for.

I certainly wouldn't be turned off by the style though, no matter whether you went dark or humorous retro.

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Original post by Trapper Zoid
I like that kind of style. I've got a few game ideas in my idea vault that are meant to be done in a retro sci-fi style myself. However my game ideas are deliberately meant to be a bit cheesy, goofy or cartoonish, so it's probably not quite the same feel you're going for.

I certainly wouldn't be turned off by the style though, no matter whether you went dark or humorous retro.
Personally, I kinda like the humor/retro style.

But for an RTS I'm guessing it wouldn't fly ... RTS gamers tend to take themselves a bit too seriously in my experience.
Actually, I posted this very same thread in an RTS forum, and the response towards the retro sci-fi style there was rather negative.
(Especially from people who thought it would be goofy.)

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Original post by brent_w
RTS gamers tend to take themselves a bit too seriously in my experience.

No way! Red Alert games have been some of the best RTS's (IMO) and they're really stupid.

Even C&C Generals was really successful with it's "Can I have some shoes" terrorists and the "Shoes Upgrade +10%" expansion ;)

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The problem with RTS games is that their isnt enough off them to actually have a majority that take themselves too seriously.

> I had a similar idea for a black and white FPS awhile back and I think that
> this retro-sci-fi would work fine. It's a widely underused theme in today's
> games.

This is actually a really interesting idea. 3D games sort of missed out on the colourless era of entertainment and seemings FPS only really exists in 3d, then its definatly something that hasnt been done before.

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Original post by brent_w
But for an RTS I'm guessing it wouldn't fly ... RTS gamers tend to take themselves a bit too seriously in my experience.
Actually, I posted this very same thread in an RTS forum, and the response towards the retro sci-fi style there was rather negative.
(Especially from people who thought it would be goofy.)

I don't know about that. A couple of my ideas are Turn Based Strategy, and I'd have thought that genre tends to be even more serious. And most of the RTSes I remember playing seemed to be a little bit cartoonish. As well as Red Alert, Warcraft and Starcraft had a slightly silly edge to them.

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