Earlier this summer I set out to learn more about designing the visual elements of video games. So for the last month I’ve been part of Art Camp: Environment and Concept Design, which is a structured self-directed 3-month course supported by a community of very engaged students. It’s taught by Titus Lunter, a senior concept artist for the video game industry. I’ve learned a lot about the game design pipeline and creating my own project to showcase my skills and hopefully develop some fabulous portfolio pieces. Titus is a very articulate and knowledgeable teacher, and very importantly, is introspective – he gets how people learn and how to set up for success.
The second week focused on ideation and drawing based on three different prompts to develop mood-driven thumbnails. These thumbnails can later be developed in a variety of ways, but the structure underneath them is supported on shape language that communicates certain emotions. I tried my hand at the three prompts or art direction briefs, developing two ideas for each, and decided to go with the first:
The style of this game is based on Romanian neo-renaissance. It’s a classically structured vampire / werewolf clash with the availability of magic as a twist. Think Innistrad from Magic: The Gathering.
As often happens in ideation, my second idea was stronger. Here’s elevator pitch: It’s a classic neo-renaissance Romanian vampire and werewolf action RPG but blended with a Bioshock:Infinite-like city in the sky with a race/class revolution, plus a conflict of magic vs. steampunk technology. Influences also include Dishonored, The Witcher 2, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and movies like Van Helsing, Bram Stroker’s Dracula, and Underworld.
I’m interested in trying out some newer ideas with this game, such as:
1. Blending Romanian Neo-Renaissance architecture with futuristic steampunk technology.
2. Post-apocalyptic return to magic and magic-driven technology.
3. A heroine for our player-character, maybe a person of color?
4. Sentient werewolves and vampires as the underdogs, but not without their own threat if their needs aren’t met (such as starving, dying, and reanimating as creatures you have to fight). You can choose to side with one, both, or neither, and decide the fate of New Sinaia.
Continue on to read the long-version pitch and play “Name this Game”! But if you’d just like a quick peek at what I’m aiming for, here is the mood board I’ll be using for inspiration. Here’s the full brief!
The year is 2500 CE; ten years after The Change. In a world with increasing threats between mega-corporations soaking up the last remaining pieces of unaffiliated land and human institutions, scientists in Sinaia, once a small town in Romania that had since grown into a mountain city, had discovered a source of power that could rival nuclear energy under its own mountains. Once news had spread, corporatcratic powers panicked and released a black biological contaminant through the haze of fog into the city. Citizens of Sinaia fell into mysterious and deadly fevers and the government of Romania scrambled to protect itself, quarantining the city of Sinaia and enforcing martial law. Rumor was that the new source of power was the source of the disease, and riots broke out. Activists reached the research center in the heart of the mountain in an attempt to stop the drilling, but as they fought with the scientists and guards protecting the Source, they unwittingly unleashed the mysterious power. That power, they discovered too late, was a wellspring of magic that initiated The Change.
Three cataclysmic events heralded The Change. The first was the explosive launch of golden Steam that lifted Sinaia and its mountainous peaks it into the atmosphere. Within seconds a floating cluster of islands stabilized among the clouds. The city-state of New Sinaia was born, floating on golden Steam.
The second event changed the people of New Sinaia forever. Half of the population died in the first hour, but those who had also been touched by the virus, transformed and reanimated into creatures swathed in the black fog. Some resembled vampires, who were hungry for the blood of the living, and others grew fur, teeth, and claw and resembled werewolves. Those who had partial immunity or were bitten by the creatures, were self-aware and retained their sanity. They were almost indistinguishable from full werewolves and vampires save that they were not cloaked in the black contaminate, yet if they grew hungry could fall as ill as their predecessors. And those who tried to re-enter society were usually cast out of their families, shunned, or given demeaning labor. Only those who had never been touched by the virus, or were completely immune, could climb to the highest ranks of society.
The third change was the failure of conventional technology. Apparently, the Steam tapped below interfered with electricity. Everything from computers, cars, cell phones, and televisions ceased to work and attempts to revive the electrical grid failed. Over the past ten years, two schools of thought have emerged. Champions of steam power worked to replace electrical power with Steam and revive the same tools from before The Change or invent new ones. The other, more intuitive minds, let the magical energy through their bodies. Those precious few became mystics.
You are the eldest daughter and heiress of the Grand Duke, a pillar in this new society, believed to be immune to the Black Fog. You have memories of childhood before the Change, but you live a privileged life and are served by vampire servants. Through orientation you walk the streets of the capital island, interacting with people and creatures of all social classes, shopping and picking up on gossip. At one juncture, you come across a small mob beating a strange woman for worshiping at an altar. The mob is carrying devices that rely on Steam. You can choose to help her, ignore, or taunt her. When you return to your castle to sleep, you dream of the Mystic who hints of your destiny and bestows upon you magical powers – either as a curse or a blessing depending on your earlier choice. If you had chosen to ignore or taunt her, she tells you will have a chance to make it right the next morning. In the morning, you witness your father publicly punishing a sentient werewolf who had stolen from the kitchen to feed his pack, and exposing a vampire who is part of an underground movement for creature rights. A riot erupts and you are given the choice to save the vampire, the werewolf, both (if you chose to help the Mystic), or neither. Your choice manifests in your powers, and you either absorb the powers of a werewolf, vampire, a pure Mystic, or none. Your father is injured in the riot and you flee with the creature(s) you saved. Or, if you choose to save neither and defend your father, he equips you with a sword and hand-crossbow and tells you to run for your life.
The world of New Sinaia is a sandbox, you will have to learn about the world around you, its history, and the current social conflicts. It has an over-arching plot of revolution, racism, and isolationism. In a classical RPG system, you alternate between action-oriented fights, puzzles, sneaking and infiltration, foraging and buying/building better equipment, and phases with research and dialogue trees. You will develop along your skill tree: Vampire, Werewolf, Mystic (a blend of both Werewolf and Vampire plus unique spells), or the Creature Hunter skill track (similar to Van Helsing and The Witcher). Along the way you gain allies who you may romance, help complete their own arcs, or they may even leave you, depending on your choices.
Style is realist and the game is adapted to an adult audience. Strong saturated colors in some phases of the game with dark, desaturated, colors in other parts depending on mood and atmosphere. Visually it takes place in a rich neo-classical-gothic city of Sinaia reminiscent of other cities in Romania, overlaid with modern structures (steam-powered machinery and computers, hedge mystic shops, labs, trolleys, shrines and temples) and ruins of the post-industrial world we live in now. The few humans who survived and climbed to the top of the hierarchy are precariously situated on the main capital mountain-island in the oldest part of the city-state. Other islands and areas infested with thieves, rats, bats, wolves, and hybrids gone mad with the virus are blocked by guards that you must sneak past, bribe or coerce, or fight through. In the distance you see islands of mansions, forests, lakes, government buildings, laboratories, and a strange green mist hovering through the advanced sections where swaths of mutant hybrids died en masse, as well as raised cemeteries and abandoned palaces. Tunnels and bridges through the mountainous islands can be unlocked for quicker access, or at advanced stages of the vampire track you can fly to nearby islands.
What are you most excited to see come out of this story? What thumbnails strike you the most? Lastly, Werewolves & Vampires: Revolution is a working title, and I’m open to suggestions, so if you’d like to name my game, please do so in the comments below!