Posted on December 11, 2014 by Sucha
Since revealing Backspace we’ve received lots of positive comments about the game’s distinctive visual style. So as a thank you, I thought I would take this opportunity to chat about how the look of the game came about and developed into what you see today.
As a child of the 80′s much of my inspiration for Backspace‘s art comes from a misspent youth watching movies like Tron, The Last Starfighter and playing plenty of video games on my C64 and Amiga (awesome machine). I loved the idea of being transported into another world and when Andy showed me Backspace for the first time back in 2009, in my office/laundry room, it was a chance for me to explore this concept.
The above image shows an early build of Backspace in all of its programmer art glory, no offense Andy, but I thought I was transported back to the 1920s rather than into a futuristic digital network. But I did like some of the features, the white tops of the walls stood out and framed the contours of a level nicely and the ability to see a layer underneath was really cool. Having the level as a sphere was also awesome; and this combination of ideas was something I hadn’t seen in a game before so it really fired me up.
The first stage of any artwork I do is to collect reference material for inspiration, so I looked into other games and movies to see how they visualized a digital world. The use of reference could be seen as cheating – something many of my students think when they first enter the Illustration course I teach. This is simply not the case, creating a visual style is about building a visual language to make something feel consistent and believable, and in terms of Backspace; the glowing edges and transparent wire-frame surfaces are part of a grammar that people have got used to seeing in various media. So just by looking at a screen shot, even before you’ve read the blurb on Backspace, the viewer has some familiarity with the world. The hard part is adding original elements to this foundation to make it distinctive.
My strongest influence was, of course, Tron – a movie that set a new benchmark for effects and generating that feeling of being zapped into a new world. I love it’s retro look when compared to modern sci-fi, the clean materials and lack of textures, probably down to the rendering tech at the time, was something I wanted to bring to Backspace. Another more practical reason for this approach was efficiency. Having a visual style that didn’t rely on lots of textures and shaders allowed us to keep the number of draw calls the rendering engine makes to a minimum. The first concept reflected the clean style I was after but I felt it lacked some detail.
I added a grid over the floor surface and along the walls a simple pattern of lines to help break up the areas of empty space. The glows around edges were also boosted to increase contrast along with the brightness of the curb wall top. The white tops of the walls, a feature I kept from Andy’s original artwork, are part of Backspace‘s distinctive look as it increases the contrast between the dark areas, is used to form room boundaries and draw the player to interesting areas. Another positive was helping the level underneath from being obscured too much by the foreground layout. I also began to look at the ‘void’ behind the level. My initial idea was to add a fractal pattern in behind the level along with the Core at the center resembling a sun. We thought this made the background look interesting but realized it would eat up a lot of resources to render it in real-time so we needed another solution. This is where the concept of the network came about with its use of inter-connecting Nodes to form a web.
To be continued…